The Matriarch hates this hymn.
Every time I sing this hymn, I think of the Matriarch of the congregation I serve, a woman who is a seventh generation Universalist, whose family has served the congregation I now serve in lay and ministerial positions for nearly the entire life of the church. In fact, the Matriarch made sure that the second thing I learned from her (after her name) was her lineage here.
I have to be careful when I talk about the denomination, to lean into the “Universalist” a bit more than the “Unitarian” – because every time she thinks I forget I am serving a Universalist congregation, she reminds me that “Unitarian is the adjective that describes what kind of Universalists we are”…. and then she proceeds to get angry at those people who gathered in Syracuse in 1961 and agreed to the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America. Her arguments aren’t without merit – there were some concerning issues around the finances and leadership, and a fear that the Universalists would be subsumed. But yes, she is still bitter about merger.
And every time I use this hymn in a service, the Matriarch catches my eye and shoots a look my way that says “I am still angry, you know.”
Now those who know the history of this hymn will know why – for those who don’t, here’s the very short version: Marion Franklin Hamm wrote this lyric in 1933, in advance of the first hymnal shared by the AUA and the UCA, Hymns of the Spirit. It was intentionally written to celebrate the growing relationship between the two denominations, who were finding it useful to work together. As the final votes were cast and a new Unitarian Universalist Association was formed, the assembled sang this very singable hymn together:
As tranquil streams that meet and merge and flow as one to seek the sea,
our kindred hearts and minds unite to build a church that shall be free —
Free from the bonds that bind the mind to narrow thought and lifeless creed;
free from a social code that fails to serve the cause of human need:
A freedom that reveres the past, but trusts the dawning future more;
and bids the soul, in search of truth, adventure boldly and explore.
Prophetic church, the future waits your liberating ministry;
go forward in the power of love, proclaim the truth that makes us free.
Today, we sing it about the individuals who make up the church – but it is much bigger than that. It is about your congregation and mine, your cluster and mine, your region and mine, all of us together, agreeing that we are stronger together and that the future awaits OUR liberating ministry. And goodness knows the present needs us too.
The image is of the AUA and UCA symbols at the UU Congregation in Albuquerque.
A wonderful matriarch at the west coast church I belong to now (retired) also came from a long line of Universalists in New England. She was quite delightful about it all, but did manage with steely insistence to mention frequently how much she missed the cross that used to stand on the altar table. You’d better believe that it was present at her memorial service!
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Mr. Marion Franklin Ham (note one “m”)
Note the same meter of his first poem in: