On Monday, May 7th, on behalf of the Needham Clergy Association, Rev. Catie delivered the following spiritual reflection to members and officials of Needham Town Meeting:
Good evening, Needham Town Meeting members! Thank you for your service to Needham and all its residents. In an abolitionist speech delivered in Framingham, my nineteenth-century spiritual ancestor Henry David Thoreau bemoaned the federal Fugitive Slave Act, explaining that, “When, in some obscure country town, the farmers come together to a special town-meeting, to express their opinion on some subject which is vexing the land, that, I think, is the true Congress, and the most respectable one that is ever assembled in the United States.” You all here tonight, farmers and otherwise, have chosen to carry the mantle of concern, stewardship, and responsibility for the support and thriving of all of us in our town, and for your care and commitment, I am grateful.
I am Reverend Catie Scudera, minister of the First Parish in Needham, Unitarian Universalist. We’re just across the way on Dedham Avenue, and I am pleased to see many of my parishioners here tonight. Rev. Jim from the Congregational Church and I had a friendly debate of who would have the honor of mentioning our town’s Puritan ancestors during our reflection at Town Meeting, and because I’m here first, that will be me!
Since the earliest days of European settlement in this region, towns including Needham have practiced this representative town meeting as its governance. For over three hundred years here, residents have elected their neighbors and entrusted them with their tax dollars and decision-making power. I feel a special connection with this process, because this governance system shares a common heritage with the governance of my own church and because Needham Town Meeting gathered for decades in my church building, before church and state became legally separated in Massachusetts.
Of course, our town has changed greatly since those very old days — first settled by Europeans in 1680 as part of Dedham, then founded as a separate colonist town in 1711, changed in height and width by the Back Bay project and the separation of Wellesley in the 1800s, and only truly open to all potential residents with the federal Fair Housing Act exactly fifty years ago last month. We have celebrated with one another in times of joy, good fortune, and success, and mourned with and comforted one another in times of distress and trauma.
Most recently for us since Town Meeting last met, we were horrified to learn that our own hometown hero, Aly Raisman, was one of scores of survivors of sexual abuse by an Olympic physician, and we are dismayed that Aly is likely not the only Needhamite who has been subjected to such mistreatment in this #MeToo era. We have been grieved by the disconcerting Equity Report of our public schools, which — along with continued incidents of racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic graffiti — indicate that our students from historically marginalized backgrounds are not treated with respect and dignity. Our students of color; of economically disadvantaged backgrounds; of minority religions and no religion at all; who are LGBTQ; who are disabled; who are English Language Learners; who are not Needham residents; who are young women and girls… Many of these students are treated in a manner that makes them feel their lives do not matter to the town in which they are educated. And, of course, the tragic deaths of three precious young women in our town still weigh heavily in our hearts: Adrienne, Talia, and Olivia. I am sure each of us wants to be part of the solutions to truly welcome and support all young people in our town, to protect all our residents from abuse, and to ensure no other Needhamite is taken from us too soon by accidents and domestic violence.
In your deliberations that begin this evening, I charge you to remember the purpose of our local government — to ensure every resident, worker, and visitor to our town is treated with equity, respect, and safety. In the same speech I referenced earlier from Thoreau, he said, “I wish my [fellow citizens] to consider, that whatever the human law may be, neither an individual nor a nation can ever commit the least act of injustice against the obscurest individual without having to pay the penalty for it. A government which deliberately enacts injustice and persists in it will, at length, even become the laughing-stock of the world… The law will never make [us] free; it is [we] who have got to make the law free.”
Will you join me in a spirit of reflection and prayer?
Spirit of Life and Love, who we experience in many ways and call many names,
Grant all those gathered here peace, courage, and wisdom — peace from whatever is troubling us in our lives outside these walls, courage to share our convictions without stubbornness, and wisdom to lead our town toward the eradication of any poverty, violence, discrimination, and environmental disregard in our midst.
Each of those convened here tonight represents some portion of our beloved town of twenty-nine thousand souls. May these town meeting members tonight mindfully remember the most obscure of their constituents, of their neighbors. May these members’ hearts be both humble and bold, to listen to one another and share what their neighbors most need. May these members’ minds be open to craft policy and approve budgets that will offer the necessary compassion and respect for every Needham resident, employee, and visitor to thrive.
Let us take a deep breath together to center ourselves in the work, breathing in to fill our lungs, and letting our breath out. In the quiet together, let us individually bring to mind the prayers, inspirational words, and ethical guidance we each know we most need tonight…
Let us take one more deep breath together, breathing in, and breathing out.
May the ongoing pursuit of a better Needham be promoted by each and all tonight. Blessed be, and amen.