We have lost one of our best and most representative ministers, As
I?ve said, It?s a little bit like losing Emerson, especially if
Emerson had stayed in the ministry! It?s hard to believe that Forrest
Church is really gone. Partly, as he said, because he preached 5
farewell sermons! But also because he was larger than life. because he
was my age, and because he was so full of life; yet he did die, and he
will be dearly missed by thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands if
you count those who read his books or were touched by his sermons or
programs over those thirty plus years of ministry.
Frank Forrester Church IV, son of the late Idaho Senator Frank
Forrester Church III, was born September 23, 1948 in Palo Alto,
California and died at his home of esophageal cancer in Manhattan
September 24, 2009 at the age of 61. He was better known as Forrest.
While the average service for a minister is seven years, Forest served
the historic All Souls Unitarian church in in New York City as only
their ninth minister for 30 years , and it grew by about 1000 members
during that time! He also wrote or edited 25 books and countless
articles. On their web site, their is a picture of him with former
President Bill Clinton, and you can go to sites where he was recently
interviewed by Diane Rehms, for the 2nd time by the way, also by Terry
Gross on NPR?s Fresh Air, PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, his
2008 appearance on the Channel 11 Morning News, a 2008 New York Times
article about Forrest,? His Death Postponed, a Minister Repeats his
Farewell Sermon.? and that?s just recently because of his cancer!
From the ?Washington Post? Obituary
?Through his books, TV and radio appearances and newspaper columns,
Dr. Church became a leading voice of Unitarian Universalism. He also
led his congregation into areas of public service, including an AIDS
task force formed in 1985, when the disease was little understood and
greatly feared. In addition, he set up a shelter for homeless women in
Harlem, helped organize 50 farmers markets in New York and started a
scouting program for boys and girls at a welfare hotel.
Although he had little experience in the pulpit when he began at All
Souls, he became one of the nation's most quotable preachers. Eight of
his sermons were selected for inclusion in the annual anthology
?Representative American Speeches.??
He was awarded the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom Medal April 9, 2008?
?As the Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in NYC for
three decades,...you have devoted your life tending to its frailties,
strengths and miracles of human condition. Passionate about your faith
and your country, you have written or edited more than two dozen books
that speak to a people and a nation always striving to balance what
you have called the twin traditions of ?sacred liberty? and ?divine
order.? THrough your ministry and your writing you have inspired us to
see ourselves as aspire to be - lovers of reason, justice, and
equality who also sense something divine in the inalienable rights
bestowed on each of us to ?life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.?
These goals- and the on-going tensions between them- you have
identified as the American Creed: that impulse to live ina nation born
out of the secular wisdom of the Enlightenment, with liberty and
justice for all, but guided by a higher authority that requires
respect for a moral order/ In your monumental work published in 2007.
entitled, So Help Me God; The Founding Fathers and the First Great
Battle Over Church and State, you explore how these creative tensions
shaped the character of America in the early days of our republic- and
shape us still- as we work to maintain the balance between faith and
reason, between order and freedom.
You have been acknowledged by scholars and historians as one of the
most important liberal theologians in the US during the last half of
the 20th century century, the only pastor to be so honored. In your
latest book, Love and Death, to be published in June, you have
eloquently brought together ina single compelling volume your beliefs
and teachings of the last thirty years about life, love and death. As
one distinguished reviewer wrote: Love andDeath, a meditation on the
end of life, is really a book about about life- a book that shows us
how to love ourselves and others, how to know God, how to live. Like
C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton, Forrest Church has deepened our sense
of what it means to be in the world. I read his book with
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
A letter from Forrest to the Congregation of All Souls:
With apologies for sending this word out so impersonally, I?m writing
to share with you the news that I have esophageal cancer. A bank of
tests conducted over the past two weeks has confirmed the existence of
a malignant tumor high in my esophagus, and we shall determine a
protocol for treatment (radiation, chemotherapy, and, if possible,
surgical removal) before the end of the month. Unhappily, this is a
particularly fierce form of cancer; happily, it apparently has not
spread. More important than any of these cold medical facts, I am in
good spirits and more grateful than ever for the gifts of life and
love. All four children have descended on the household, and Carolyn
is girding herself for the struggle ahead. She?ll be the general, I?m
relieved to report; I?ll simply be the battlefield.
After almost three decades as your minister, I have been graced with
so many teachers, whose courage in face of life?s troubles has been a
constant inspiration. I can also report that the theology I have
hammered out in your good company?religion as our human response to
the dual reality of being alive and knowing we must die, and the
purpose of life being to live in such a way that our lives will prove
worth dying for?offers me the same comfort during my own time of trial
that I pray it has given you in yours.
It comforts me also that All Souls is in such excellent hands,
ministerial and lay, and so strong in every fundamental measurement as
an institution, that my personal troubles should, while touching the
heart, have only the most marginal impact on the daily life and
progress of our beloved congregation. I will be taking a medical leave
of absence from my pastoral duties, but do hope to maintain my
preaching schedule if I can. Galen will be in the pulpit this coming
Sunday, and he will also find a way to keep you informed about my
progress over the coming weeks. Assuring you that I am in the finest
medical hands imaginable, I encourage you to send any messages to me
through the church. The best thing you can do to bolster my already
high spirits is to carry on all of your good works, continue to expand
our ministries during this critical period in the life of our nation
and world, worship to a fare-thee-well, and keep the budget balanced!
As for my three mantras?do what you can, want what you have, and be
who you are?I practice each every day, feeling myself blessed beyond
measure. Please know that you live in my heart, an abiding presence
that fills my life with strength and joy.
I first discovered UUism in 1980 when a friend invited me to come to
church because he thought I would like it and the rest is history of
course.. Forrest began his career just 2 years earlier at All Souls.
With in a year or two I would begin seminary and my journey toward UU
ministry. I would also hear this young minister preach a sermon on
the cathedral of the world which would become one of his themes and
his last book. Looking back now, I realize that he was still a rookie
when he preached it, yet it was brilliant and truly Emersonian in
depth and inspiration and even historical significance, as well as
personal significance for it has stayed with me for almost 30 years!
? Imagine the world as a vast cathedral.,? Forrest would preach,?This
cathedral is as ancient as humankind; its cornerstone is the first
altar, marked with the tincture of blood and blessed by tears. Search
for a lifetime ? which is all we are given ? and we shall never know
its limits, visit all its transepts, worship at its myriad shrines,
nor span its celestial ceiling with our gaze.
The builders have labored in this cathedral from time immemorial.
Daily, work begins that shall not be finished in the lifetime of the
architects who planned it, the patrons who paid for it, the builders
who construct it, or the expectant worshipers. Nonetheless, throughout
human history, one generation after another has labored lovingly,
sometimes fearfully, crafting memorials and consecrating shrines.
Untold numbers of these today collect dust in long-undisturbed
chambers; others, cast centuries or millennia ago from their once
respected places, lie shattered on the cathedral floor. Not a moment
passes without the dreams of long-dead dreamers being outstripped,
crushed, or abandoned, giving way to new visions, each immortal in
reach, ephemeral in grasp.?
I would come to read most of Forrest?s books, mark them up well. and
quote from them frequently in my sermons. I rarely missed a chance to
hear him preach or speak at General Assembly or any other opportunity
and eventually had the good fortune to get to know him a just a little
over the years.
?Above all else,? Forrest continues?contemplate the windows. In
the Cathedral of the World there are windows beyond number ? some long
forgotten, covered with many patinas of dust, others revered by
millions, the most sacred of shrines. Each in its own way is
beautiful. Some are abstract, others representational, some dark and
meditative, others bright and dazzling. Each tells a story about the
creation of the world, the meaning of history, the purpose of life,
the nature of humankind, the mystery of death. The windows of the
cathedral are where the Light shines through.
As with all extended metaphors, this one is imperfect. The Light
of God (or Truth or Being itself) shines not only upon us, but out
from within us as well. Together with the windows, we are part of the
cathedral, not apart from it. Together we comprise an interdependent
web of being. The cathedral is constructed out of star-stuff and so
are we. We are that part (or known part) of creation that contemplates
itself. Because the cathedral is so vast, our life so short, and our
vision so dim, we are able to contemplate only a tiny part of the
whole creation. We can explore but a handful of its many chambers. Our
allotted span permits us to reflect on the play of darkness and light
through remarkably few of its myriad windows. Yet, since the whole is
contained in each of its parts, as we ponder and act on insights
derived from even a single reflection, we may experience
self-illumination. We may also discover or invent meanings that invest
both the creation and our lives with coherence and meaning.?
Forrest was one of those rare people who made you feel like you were
important to him even as he became more famous and more people were
wanting a piece of him. While he was arguably our most famous UU
minister, he didn?t act it! Indeed, he often pointed out his own
mistakes and weaknesses, sometimes to his family?s consternation!
?A 21st-century theology, ?Forrest Continues? based on the concept
of one light (Unitarianism) and many windows (Universalism) offers to
its adherents both breadth and focus. Honoring many different
religious approaches, it excludes only the truth-claims of
absolutists. This is because fundamentalists ? whether on the right or
left ? claim that the light shines through their window only. Skeptics
draw the opposite conclusion. Seeing the bewildering variety of
windows and observing the folly of the worshipers, they conclude that
there is no Light. But the windows are not the Light, only where the
light shines through.
ONE LIGHT, MANY WINDOWS
One cautionary note: Universalism itself can be perverted in two
ways. One is to elevate one truth into a universal truth: "My church
is the one true church." The other is to reduce distinctive truths to
a lowest common denominator: "All religion is merely a set of
variations upon the golden rule." The Universalism I embrace does
neither. It holds that the same Light shines through all our windows,
but that each window is different. The windows modify the Light,
refracting it in various patterns that suggest discrete meanings. Just
as one cannot believe in "everything," to find meaningful expression
Universalism must be modified or refracted through the glass of
individual and group experience (which by definition would be less
than universal). One can be a Buddhist Universalist, a pagan
Universalist, a humanist Universalist, a Jewish Universalist, a
Christian Universalist. On the other hand, one cannot in any
meaningful sense be a Universalist Universalist; it is impossible to
look out every window. Neither can one be, say, a Universalist
Christian; when the modifier of one's faith becomes its nominative,
primary allegiance is relegated to but one part of the whole that
encompasses it...person's window, nor to apprehend the falsehood that
we ourselves may perceive as truth, we can easily mistake another's
good for evil, and our own evil for good. A Universalist theology
tempers the consequences of our inevitable ignorance while addressing
the overarching crisis of our times: dogmatic division in an ever more
intimate, fractious, and yet interdependent world. It posits the
following fundamental principles:
1. There is one Power, one Truth, one God, one Light.
2. This Light shines through every window in the cathedral.
3. No one can perceive it directly, the mystery being forever veiled.
4. Yet, on the cathedral floor and in the eyes of each
beholder, refracted and reflected through different windows in
differing ways, it plays in patterns that suggest meanings,
challenging us to interpret and live by these meanings as best we can.
5. Each window illumines Truth in a unique way, leading to
various truths, and these in differing measure according to the
insight, receptivity, and behavior of the beholder.
I am certain that others will refine and improve upon these
principles. I offer them as much to promote a dialogue about the
integrity and intelligibility of Universalism for our time as I do to
answer the many questions Universalism poses to the inquiring mind.
Yet I offer them with complete conviction. If we Unitarian
Universalists are unable to recognize the ground that we share, we
shall remain only marginally effective in helping to articulate
grounds on which all might stand as children of a mystery that unites
far more profoundly than it distinguishes one child of life from any
other. To the extent that we fail in this mission, we betray our
In his last sermon to his church he updated his old sermon with this
final statement- ?Fortunately, since the Light shines through each
window of the cathedral, as we ponder and act on insights derived from
even a single reflection, we may instead find illumination. In the
Cathedral of the World, we can discover or invent meanings that invest
both the creation and our lives with greater purpose. To me the
purpose of life
is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.
One final thought. We are each on a journey, a quest for life?s
meaning and purpose. I have found both in universalism. To save
yourself without damning another is a wonderful thing. Amen, I Love
you. And May God Bless us all.?
So may we be challenged to live up to our Unitarian Universalist
potential. Forrest?s words and deed will live on in our history, but
more importantly in our hearts, certainly in mine. His love was
profound and I leave you with these words-
?The purpose of life is to live in such a way that our lives will
prove worth dying for.?
?The only thing that can never be taken from us, even by death, is
the love we give away before we go.?
Love, love, love- love is the answer.
He truly loved his parishioners and ended his sermons with the words,?
Amen, I Love you. And May God Bless us all.?
Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be
upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A
Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one
more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to
ministry. ?Vaya con Dios? is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is
?Go with God,? So I adapted it to say ?Vaya Con Su Dios, ?Go with your
idea or interpretation of God.?
Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios
A Light Through the Cathedral Window: Reflections on Forrest Church, Rev. Arthur G. Severance
We have lost one of our best and most representative ministers, As