A Long Journey / A Pandemic Thanksgiving

A Long Journey

Laura K. Secor

Rev. Ethelred Brown

Hello my friends,

This week I’ve decided to tell you a story.  I have a friend who goes to a school to learn to be an oral story-teller, and I think it’s a lovely idea.  You could imagine that we are all sitting in my living room, sipping mulled cider, and you are going to kick back and close your eyes and let my words roll over you.  This story is about a young black man with a dream, and I think it speaks to our time.  We have a country full of young black people with dreams, and it’s a question how we can help them live those dreams. 

We have all been on a difficult journey this year, and I think we have an opportunity to make meaning out of the difficulty.  We are going into a winter that is probably going to be restrictive and stressful, and I ask you to think how you can reach out to other people, and connect in these challenging months.  I think this is going to be the winter of Zoom, or even just picking up the old-fashioned phone for an old-fashioned phone call.  We need to resist the urge to turtle into isolation.  We can help each other with our journeys.

A Long Journey by Janeen Grohsmeyer (adapted by Rev. Kirk Loadman-Copeland)

     One morning, a boy named Ethelred Brown went to the Montego Bay Episcopal Church in Jamaica where he sang in the choir. Usually the people sang the creed, which described what they believed. But that morning, instead of singing, the priest said a line of it, and the people repeated. It included these words: “The Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.”

     Ethelred thought, “What?” He was good at math. He knew that three wasn’t the same as one. How could you have a unity in trinity or a trinity in unity? How could three things be one thing or one thing be three things? It just didn’t make sense.

     In that moment, Ethelred knew that he didn’t believe the creed. That afternoon at his uncle’s house, he found a booklet entitled Unitarian Christianity by Rev. William Ellery Channing. He borrowed the booklet. After reading it, Ethelred knew he was a Unitarian. But there were no Unitarian churches in Jamaica.

     When he grew up, Ethelred worked as a civil servant in the Treasury. He married in 1898, and he and his wife, Ella, had four children. At the age of 32, he decided to become a Unitarian minister. This was the beginning of an amazing journey. Ethelred sent a letter addressed to “Any Unitarian Minister in New York City.”

     Eventually, he got a letter back from the Rev. Frank Southworth, President of Meadville Theological School. Southworth invited him to study there. Ethlered asked people he knew to help him through contributions of money. Then he sailed to Baltimore.

     When he arrived, he didn’t have the correct papers. He went back to Jamaica to try again. A second attempt failed when his father refused to help pay for his ticket. Finally, in 1910 he enrolled at Meadville. He completed his studies in 1912 and was ordained. Ethelred was the first black person to become a Unitarian minister.

     He returned to Jamaica and spent eight years trying to start a Unitarian Church, first in Montego Bay, and then in Kingston. Then he and his family moved to New York City, and he started the Harlem Unitarian Church in 1920. It had to be for blacks, because at that time, blacks and whites didn’t attend the same churches.

     It wasn’t easy. They still didn’t have much money, and they still didn’t get much help. His wife became sick, and one of his children died. Besides being a minister, Ethelred worked long hours at an extra job that he didn’t like.

     For the next 35 years, Ethelred was the minister at the Harlem Unitarian Church. Over the years, hundreds of people found their way there to pray and learn, to worship and sing.

     In honor of his ministry, one of the songs in our hymnbook has a tune named Ethelred. It’s the tune for I’m on My Way.

     It was a long journey, but Ethelred found a way to do what he believed in, and so should we.

A Pandemic Thanksgiving

Dianne Mann, Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry Coordinator

Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry logo

Last week I was at the Church filing something for the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry.  It just wasn’t the same.  Yes, I was doing my thing for the Pantry but the Church was so quiet.  I’d been feeling a little down about the Pandemic and the opportunities I don’t have to see the folks I love.  Jen was in her office working.  But Aaron wasn’t in his office.  The door was closed.  Robin was not there.  I walked through the Sanctuary looking for something.  It was set up for video for services.  It was so sad to me.  I miss the Church and all of you.  I left with tears in my eyes.

On Sunday we did a food donation drive-through for the Pantry.  It was really slow at first.  Betty Jenewin was there hoping she could get a picture of people dropping off food.  After about a half-hour she left and I was left hoping that at least someone would show up.  I was remembering the days when the carts would roll up the aisle at the Church brimming with food and the children in RE would sort them into bags for each of our families.  I really thought that, perhaps, no one would come. 

Then the trickle of people began.  Families dropping off goods before Youth Group.  (Note that Robin had done an excellent job earlier and there were already some donations in Fellowship Hall.)  The trickle became steadier.  People did come bearing canned vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and all the other fixings for a fine Thanksgiving Dinner.

I was so excited!  The goods would be there for our clients.  People I hadn’t seen in eight months stopped by.  Old friends and new friends.  We wished each other Happy Thanksgiving.  I left with a renewed spirit and hope that we will return to UUCW one day with hearts as full as mine.  There will be tears to match mine and hugs all around.

In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy Pandemic Thanksgiving in whatever form it takes.  Thankful that you, once again, helped make Thanksgiving better for our clients.  And, ever thankful for each one of you, my dear friends.

                                                                                    With Love and Gratitude,

                                                                                    Dianne Mann