Service at First Church on September 8, 2002 by Rev. David HutchinsonOPENING PRAYER: BLESSING FOR THE CHURCH
O timeless God, we are the ones who look back to remember, but it is not our memory. It is the ears and eyes and minds of those who lived before. It is those who struggled and questioned, to live a life of resolve and meaning beyond their years yielding an unbroken continuance to this day. It remains today in this town and in this church. It remains today in the workings of our body and mind. It remains today in our spirit and soul. Timeless In this moment Passing into the next the unbroken continuance of our being… Bless this historic church and the souls who have gone before. Bless this town of Houlton; her leaders, her citizens, and her future days. Bless each of us now, regathered on this day to share our lives together in sweet remembrance of all and the all that shall remain always. AMEN.OUR CENTENNIAL YEAR
One of my Dad’s favorite catch-all phrases is, "You won’t know the difference a hundred years from now!!" I’m not sure where he picked this up, but since my childhood, I have heard this adage worked into an endless number of situations. It’s a remarkably versatile phrase!! Dad would typically use it when he was working on a piece of farm machinery that wasn’t cooperating or our old 10-horse Bombadier Ski-Doo. After the 100th or so unsuccessful crank he’d give up, but not before saying, "You won’t know the difference a hundred years from now!!" This phrase could also be used referring to the weather, a bad back, politics, religion, and especially food!! (A good meal or a bad meal.) For instance, "I don’t know why I ate that second piece of apple pie, but you won’t know the difference a hundred years from now…" And while this humorous approach may have some merit when we start to take ourselves or our problems too seriously, there are times when it does make a difference a hundred years from now. As we begin our centennial year celebration of this current church building, it is clearly evident that we are the recipients of responsible and visionary decisions of a hundred years ago to our benefit today. We are entrusted with the history, dusty artifacts, the ageless human spirit and the building of a religious organization that traces its earliest days back to the earliest days of Houlton itself. The story of First Church and the story of Houlton are the same story; a story that is still being written today as we mark this centennial occasion. The history of Houlton and First Church is directly tied to New Salem, Massachusetts, which is located in Hampshire County in the western part of the state. New Salem was land granted to Old Salem by the commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1724. They established the New Salem Academy in 1795 and one of their trustees on the school board was Samuel Kendall. (That’s a name you will see again.) The academy was in desperate need of funds so they decided to petition the state for a grant of land to endow their academy. By this time, Massachusetts was issuing land grants in the district of Maine. They were trying to find a way to interest people in the vast northeastern section of the district, but without much luck. (sound familiar?!) They had even tried a lottery, but only sold five tickets!! This is when they went to the land-grant model, where land was given to an academy or town and they would secure purchasers; the land share price going to the academies and tax revenues going to the commonwealth. New Salem Academy was given a land grant of a half-township consisting of 20 shares. The names Joseph Houlton, Aaron Putnam and Joshua Putnam are listed as shareholders on the original document. You even got to pick your own land grant location. (Massachusetts didn’t care at this point, as long as it was not anywhere within six miles of the Penobscot River!!) In the summer of 1801, Joseph Houlton and John Putnam sailed to Bangor, Maine and began their search for suitable land. They almost returned empty handed until good fortune directed them toward "the good land" along the Meduxnekeag River. They returned to New Salem with a favorable report and the rest is town history. In 1807, Joseph Houlton arrived on the grant land to begin the settlement. Later that summer his wife, Sarah Putnam Houlton, joined him from Woodstock carrying her famous china tea set packed in a basket on top of a pillow strapped to the saddle. (a prized piece of civilized life brought to the northern wilderness!!) To put this in perspective; in 1807, Lewis and Clark had just completed their western expedition of 1804, Thomas Jefferson was president of the United States, the country was in-between wars with Great Britain, Ralph Waldo Emerson was only 4 years old, Henry David Thoreau wasn’t even born yet, and Concord, Massachusetts along with Walden Pond was still a pre-industrial rural New England village. The area which is now Houlton, was the eastern frontier of the United States. To this day we still retain a few of those remote traits. Here is a passage from Thoreau’s Maine woods: What is most striking in the Maine wilderness is the continuous forest…it is even more …wild than you had anticipated…an intricate wilderness. These are not the artificial forests of an English king…here prevail no forest laws but those of nature. (We’ve had to add a few since, even Thoreau could see that coming!!) The New Salem Church was a congregational Church of the Puritan Orthodox tradition known in New England as the Standing Order. Since Houlton’s first settlers were members of the New Salem Church, it is no surprise that on October 10, 1811 this group organized the First Church of Houlton according to the congregational order. Samuel Kendall (remember that name?), his was the first signature on the document. Kendall served as one of the deacons of the church providing leadership in the absence of a settled minister, which was often in the early years. Rev. Alpheus Harding was the minister of the New Salem Church and he corresponded regularly with Kendall and the fledgling Houlton Church. Harding was also an old schoolmate of Aaron Putnam and Harvard graduate sympathetic to Unitarian thinking. During this period, the congregational church in New England was splitting into liberal and conservative wings. This was known as the Unitarian controversy. The Unitarian controversy came to Houlton in 1835 when Harding visited and explained the Unitarian position. The New Salem Church had already aligned itself as Unitarian and eight families of Houlton First Church decided to do the same. They withdrew from the original organization of 1811 and formed the Unitarian Society of Houlton with 27 original members. They erected a church building in 1837, the first church in Aroostook County of the protestant type, widely known as the Old Unitarian Meeting House. So, you may have figured out that we share the same date of 1811 with the Congregational Church located on High Street. (Take a look at their sign the next time you drive by.) The old communion set of 2 goblets and tankard, that the New Salem Church sent to Houlton in 1820, still resides at the Congregational Church in their fellowship hall. I’ll see if I can arrange to borrow it for a Sunday sometime during our centennial year. A question that keeps coming up the last couple of years has been, "Which date do we use?! 1811` or 1835?" Well, as I was perusing the clerk’s record of the annual meeting of February, 1900; it is recorded that the minister at the time, Rev. George MacIlwaine, proposed a committee of two to investigate the official change of our founding date from 1835 to 1811 as it would appear in the Unitarian Yearbook in Boston. At the next annual meeting of February, 1901, it was voted to approve the committee recommendation to officially change the date to the afore-mentioned 1811. Cora Putnam’s research in her definitive book, Story of Houlton, confirms this information when she checked the Unitarian Yearbook of Boston in 1952. So that is why the date on our sign out front reads as it does, First Church of Houlton Unitarian 1811. (The Universalist part was added in 1961 after the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations.) As we begin our 192nd year, we are in our 3rd church building (we’ve had bad luck with lightning and fires!!). A photograph of our 2nd church building appears in the service bulletin with a brief report of affairs circa 1895, which is kind of interesting. This structure sat just this side of the County Jail on a part of what is now Monument Park. It burned in the Great Fire of 1902, along with the United Methodist Church and Military Street Baptist. So these churches are celebrating the centennials of their buildings as well. And I believe the Houlton Museum and Historical Society building, the old McIntire-Donworth House donated to the society by S.L. White was also built in 1902. Of course, it's no coincidence that most of the buildings in this vicinity were all built around this time!! I am hoping that we’ll be able to link some activities together with the Historical Society during this upcoming year. Also, Jay Wicher has offered to give a historic tour of our organ and restoration work after one of our services, and we are hoping to open our church to the larger public with several concerts; the first one being this Fall, an evening with the sea-faring group Roll and Go on November 2nd, a Saturday night. (Mark your calendars!!) We are also forming an archive group to dust off the relics, do some research, and write some articles for the newspaper. Lib Putnam says she has stacks of new material (or actually, old material) that people have given to her that are thought to have Unitarian value!! So if anyone is interested in this sort of work, please let me know or talk to Susan Glick who is also involved in this project. We are making this a commemorative year. It’s like having an open house, open to the whole town. A friend of mine dropped by the office one day last Spring, and as I was giving him the standard building tour, he just stood at the back of the sanctuary and said that he’d lived here all his life, but did not know this building existed. He was struck by the silent space, the dark overhead beams and the soul. When I attended Nancy Harris and Peter Carr’s student recital earlier this summer, the church was full of music, flowers, children and families all sharing this great space; a space that is filled with history, beauty and so many stories. And each of us have our own stories, stories that are full of humor and sorrow, along with the sweat of hard work and the heroic financial support that keeps this place going. This is the kind of organization that I want to be a part of. I need it to keep connected to a sense of history and place. I need it to stay connected to a community of individuals who support and stimulate my inquiry into religion, self and social involvement. I need it to play a role in my life of challenges, celebrations, sufferings and at times of national tragedy such as this week with the one year anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. These are the times that we need each other and the times that we need our institutions. My prayer is that when we need these things, They are there. And I feel that they will be there. We will not be disappointed. And we will not be alone, if we have vested our energies in the right places. This has been a place for people to do that, and they have done that, for almost as long now as Houlton itself has been a place for people to live out their dream. May those who follow us be able to say the same a hundred years from now.
stones as these stones sit on top of and beside each other nothing holds them together but the invisible pull of physics - it is gravity and balance one stone related to the other in the same way we are here in the presence of the unseen that I sense in you - difficult to say but deeply felt - it may get knocked over but it can be re-stacked again and again - the resiliency of the unseen mystery sitting on mystery