This year, on the night of September 29th-30th, there will be a Harvest Moon – the full moon that rises closest to the autumnal equinox. There’s special significance for that date in our Unitarian Universalist religion: on September 30th, 1770, John Murray preached the first ever “Universalist” sermon.
Coming ashore, he encountered a man, apparently waiting for him. The man, Thomas Potter, was an illiterate farmer, who came from many generations of Quakers. His own beliefs now rested firmly in the idea of Universal Love and Salvation.
Although we cannot be certain what occurred exactly between the two men, we can imagine. I see them shaking hands, one inviting the other to rest a bit as the sun set and the moon rose; the other sharing the misfortune of his stalled journey, and then moving onto matters of a more spiritual nature. I see the two men sitting under the trees on a late September day, sharing their views about life, God and the universe, and finding a commonality – both believing ardently in Universal love, and salvation for all.
Potter begged Murray to preach a sermon about their shared ideas on Sunday, September 30th at a small chapel he had built. Murray resisted, because even though he had been a Universalist preacher in England, he had experienced family loss with the death of his wife and child, and had left that life behind him, to start afresh in the new world. Murray eventually capitulated on the condition that the winds did not shift before Sunday to set the stalled ship straight and complete its journey to New York.
As he finished preaching, the winds shifted and he made his way back to the Hand in Hand. The association between Murray and Potter was a life long one, but it was the first sermon on Universalism in the United States. Some say their meeting was more than fortuitous – it was a miracle.
John Murray might not have known the seeds he was sowing. Neither did Potter. One man had waited for the other; one was the preacher, the other a seeker. Both found their beliefs united in Universalism. Today, two hundred and forty two years later, we are able to harvest the idea of Universalism – love for all, and salvation, if there is such a thing, open to all.
Writing this has particularly importance to me – our theme for the month of October is Harvest. I imagine the Harvest Moon shining on Potter and Murray, as sundown melted into moonrise, as together they sowed the seeds of a religion that we harvest today.
And so I ask you: were there times when you sowed, not knowing what you would harvest? Or do you harvest today something you did not know might have been sowed especially for you? As always, I would love to hear from you, either here on the web (in the comments section), or by email or in person.
And if you have a free Saturday or Sunday, take a trip down to Murray Grove. Its about an hour and half away.