Friday, November 17, 2017


Whatever else has happened or might happen yet, there is no question that I’m part of the history of the Unitarian Universalist movement, no matter the twists and turns of the UUA or even the UUMA, which is the ministers’ group.  A subgroup of that group is the UURMaPA, which is for retired ministers and their spouses.  The relevance of this is that the “official” archives of this group are at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library.  Also archived there are the materials of the UUA, the UUSC (social concerns), and Beacon Press.  Possibly even the Meadville/Lombard library, at least in part.

I hope they mean what they said which was, “We’re archivists; it’s our job to determine what’s useful, not yours.”  I don’t entirely trust their judgement of “useful,” but sending materials to them beats letting the boxes rot in the garage.  So I’ll make a case of “usefulness” for each batch I send in coming months.  (I would have to rent a UHaul to take the whole lot at once.)  One strong justification is that there are few records of sparsely populated stretches like the prairie, though the movement called "prairie humanism" is a strong source of UU ideas.  It takes a community of 2,000 to support even a fellowship with no minister.

Window by Brent Warburton
For the Browning Methodist Church

One collection I'll send is only quasi-UU and that is the record of the year I served as the pulpit supply for the Blackfeet Methodist Parish, a three-point charge in Browning, St. Marys, and Heart Butte, Montana.  Their original minister had done a runner, their newly called minister followed suit, but they knew I would stick since I was already here and in the Sixties had been part of the congregation.  A friend of mine, Brent Warburton, did the original stained glass windows that are a blooming marvel in a little rez town.  My ex-husband paid for one of the windows as a memorial to my in-laws.  Many small ties.  But I had to think about how a post-Xian UU minister could serve with integrity an assorted congregation that was supposed to be a Methodist mission to the Blackfeet.

I decided that I would use their forms: a lectionary (1988-89 version) that supplied weekly four Biblical passages for topics that are then used by liturgical churches: Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist — maybe others.  The set includes a Psalm, an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, and a bit of the Gospels, loosely linked by theme.  It was an elegant intellectual challenge to compose a sermon that included references to all four.

Then for the Order of Service, I followed the traditional service pattern of the Mass, which I had studied for my thesis in seminary, but filled it with images that were local, often simply what we saw: cows, wind, mountains, grass, hawks.  They fit a Biblical metaphorical context easily.  The congregation had no idea that I was doing such brainy stuff behind the scenes, but they really liked the results.

It seems like sending an interdenominational, multi-dimensional archive back to Boston (some say the birthplace of American Unitarianism) would be a good thing.  Too often a denomination is a guarded, walled community without thought for how it might contribute to a more universal world.  I’ll send both the sermons and the order of service.  They amount to a couple of legal boxes, maybe.

Some of my prairie sermons are collected in a book, “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke,” which I’ll send.  (Published by the Moosemilk Press, an arm of the Edmonton UU Church when served by John Marsh.)  Reflections on my Clinical Pastoral Education are also collected into a small booklet, which I’ll send.  I presume the UUA has sent the account of Bill Holway’s several-year effort to extend fellowships into organizations big enough to support a minister, commonly called “churches.”  I’ll send them my copy anyway.

Some archives are online as “" which had two previous names:  “Unitarians in Montana” and “Down in the Valley”.  When I began to contact the fellowships I had served during the UUMM years (1982-1985)  I was taken aback to discover that no one remembered that far back, many vital members had died, and the entire understanding of the movement had shifted from service to elitism.  Like the nation.  Missoula, traumatized by an effort to acquire an historic school building that got them denied, labeled a cult, and generally attacked, was password-protected and reluctant to even have contact with me.  

I thought a blog was a good way to get around the tendency for small groups with no building to lose materials or get excited about some new idea and throw out everything “old.”  Some of the random papers are posted there, with concentration on notable members in my time.  There won’t be any mailing involved, since I can just give them the URL instead of boxes of paper.

But the physical newsletters, crude as they are, might be interesting for an archivist.  The one for the three year growth project called the Unitarian Universalist Montana Ministry was called “How Beautiful Upon the Mountain.”  The allusion is to Isaiah 52:7.  It’s also a song: check YouTube.  is only one version on YouTube and there is calligraphy on Pinterest.  

An accumulation of my personal material is called “The Scriver Seminary Saga.”  My home congregation, First Unitarian Church in Portland, OR, had been supportive of my decision to become a minister and one couple even pledged $35 a month.  Others took up occasional collections and mailed me a small handful of cash.  It was often all that kept me eating, though I had scholarships.  

I didn’t have to work until the fourth year when I began to do transcription at the law school.  The principle in those days was that the UU ministry should be "learned", meaning in the PhD way, and it was damned hard.  I needed all the time and energy I could get, esp. since I turned forty there.  So in gratitude, I sent back a one-page single-spaced page for the bulletin board, telling what I learned, what it was like, what we were reading.  I think I might have two sets, the one I saved and the one I sent to my mother.  They're in a few 3-ring binders.  The UU Meadville/Lombard campus there has been sold to the adjoining U of Chicago, so it is indeed “historical” in the sense of saving the past.  

I am a manuscript preacher.  The sermons over the years are part of the 100,000 hours of practice they say are needed to learn a skill.  During the Montana Ministry I delivered each sermon four times and the faces of the audience were highly instructive.  (Physically, during that work, the brain is building an instrument of metaphor and reasoning.)  Most are not worth saving.  

The results of that training are not now delivered in sermons but in long-form blog posts, which I sometime gather into books at  I use the nom d’internet of “Prairie Mary” to avoid associations both with Bob Scriver and with ministry.

There is one Sunday morning event that can’t be archived.  It was a frog-centered celebration of Spring at Northlake UU Church in Kirkland, Wa, where I did an interim, slightly more freeform and experimental, which suited that congregation.  They were asked to bring everything they had about frogs: t-shirts, stuffed animals, songs, stories, and one boy caught a jar of real frogs.  We just shared all that, along with some hopping and croaking.  I still have a wax frog a boy made and gave to me to keep.  It’s in my kitchen right now.  I won’t send it to an archive.

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