Every December our 9th grade Coming of Age class travels to Boston, Massachusetts so that we can immerse ourselves in our Unitarian and Universalist past, present and future. This year a group of adults will be joining us.
Our trip strives to be environmentally friendly. Therefore, our group of youth and adults utilizes public transportation (NJ Transit and Boltbus) to and from Boston, as well as the subway system once we arrive. We stay at Hostel International which is a LEED certified building in the heart of Boston. We also endeavor to reduce our waste while we are there.
First, we are visiting the Unitarian Universalist headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street, the site of the new location. Our group may purchase a book from the UUA Bookstore which sells from our publishing companies, Beacon Press (“Unitarian Universalism’s voice for good in the world” ) and Skinner House (books to aid us in our search for truth and meaning). We will touch original publications of Unitarian and Universalist papers and magazines. Our youth will then attend a constituency meeting with the Youth and Young Adult Office. We will talk about the ways that youth (14-18) and young adults (18-35) are a vital force in our faith movement. One of those ways is the Youth Caucus at General Assembly in June where youth voices are encouraged to speak up on issues of the Association. Another way is the Lucy Stone Cooperative in Boston, a house where people are encouraged to live from their Unitarian Universalist values.
On some trips, we are able to ride the subway out to Cambridge and visit the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The Service Committee was originally started by both Unitarians and Universalists during World War II (remember, the two merged in 1961). It was their life-saving work that gave rise to our flaming chalice. During our visit, staff members will lead our group in an exercise where we have to live and act from our UU values to help others. The UUSC focuses on four areas: civil liberties, economic justice, environmental justice, and humanitarian disasters. They are the organization that has been currently helping us aid our partners in the Philippines after the typhoon. Their current Executive Director is the Rev Bill Schulz, who was the former leader of Amnesty International and President of the UUA. Our youth will also learn about the UUSC’s partner organization, the UU College of Social Justice. It’s an exciting new organization that seeks to deepen our justice work through experiential learning. One of our seniors in Summit spent a summer at the Youth Justice Training in New Orleans which the College sponsored.
Time to head to King’s Chapel and join the Bells and Bones tour. King’s Chapel was founded as an Anglican church in Puritan Boston in 1686. However, it was the first church in America to declare itself Unitarian in 1787. The pulpit is said to be the oldest in continuous use in the US, and it was the first church to use an organ in its worship service. Our groups enjoy reading from their original Book of Common Prayer where the words of the Trinity are crossed out. The crypt is also a huge hit. King’s Chapel is a significant building for our members in Summit as our sanctuary was modeled after it.
By dinner, our group is tired and hungry. It’s time to head to the North End for Regina’s Pizzeria. Sitting around several big tables we share the highs and lows of the day even as we argue about what toppings should be on the pizza! The evening is filled with the drumming of the Blue Man Group. Are you wondering how BMG is a part of our history? Well, wonder no more. The Charles Playhouse, where BMG performs, is the sight of a former Universalist congregation.
Saturday morning we are hoping for sunshine. Nevertheless we layer up and head out! Our first stop is Arlington Street Church, formally the Federal Street Church, where William Ellery Channing was the minister. Channing is the father of Unitarianism as he laid the foundation for Unitarian Theology in 1819. Channing also believed in religious education and encouraged young people to shape their own thoughts on faith. Very appropriate for our Coming of Age class that is doing just that!
The sanctuary at Arlington Street is absolutely gorgeous as it contains the largest collection of Tiffany windows in America. Each window is a depiction of the Beatitudes. Our tour guide this morning is Mark Buckles, the Director of Music, who will play their magnificent organ (over 400 pipes!) for us and then, guide us up a rickety staircase to the bell tower. Not all of us make it up the stairs as the climb gives some of us vertigo. But it’s worth it! In small groups we take turns pulling the cords to the bells and playing songs. Usually there’s a 5K race below, and the racers look up with interest. At the end of our tour, we will gather in their magnificent pulpit and speak the words of Channing whose statue in Boston Common we can see through the front door.
Next we head out to Concord to spend some time with Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond. Each year we meet him in his hut. There’s normally a fire going so we all huddle together in the small space. Thoreau is in the middle of living – mostly alone – on Walden Pond for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days. After he shares with us a little of his life, he invites us to walk with him around Walden Pond. He encourages us to walk in silence. “You can speak with one another every day, but you don’t get a chance to listen to the sounds of Walden every day.” We will spend the afternoon in Concord, eating lunch at the Colonial Inn, visiting the different historic sights (homes of Louise May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson – all Unitarians). In the evening we will return to Boston and Faneuil Hall for eating (again) and shopping. But we must head for bed soon as we’ll be worshiping at First Church Boston in the morning! Explore the history of First Church!
Our pilgrimage to Boston happens the first weekend (Thursday night until Sunday night) in December every year. It’s open to all ages! We invite you to join the real thing next year.