All Souls Memories

Updated: Jul 28

by Jane Levenson.


Here are some notes about key memories, interesting events, social mores, etc., over the last 60 years...

PART ONE: The Kring years and the selection of Forrest Church.

I took part in many things, and will include some of those as I know the details well.

I went to All Souls as a youngster, not church school - I just came to church. There were few younger people, so before college, during, and shortly after, I was shy to go to coffee hour too much, with "all those grown-ups". After 1963, when I signed the membership book in Dr. Kring's office the week after the JFK assassination, he and others asked me to serve in various ways. My first highlight was giving one of three lay readings at the 1969 150th Anniversary service. That reading was by William Laurence Sullivan, a former minister of All Souls who had been a Roman Catholic priest with progressive thoughts all along. The reading I selected from a few offered by Dr. Kring was: "To Outgrow the Past." (See below for the text.)

Returning to general mores of the church in the 1960s, there were social habits that were (small "c") conservative, while thinking, preaching and freedom of thought was open and progressive. We had sermons with much science, plenty of Darwin with no excuses or apologies, and an assorted mixture of invigorating topics "clothed" in conservative style. Ushers were male only, dressed quite formally and just about everyone, myself included, wore business or neat clothing and decent shoes (no sneakers). About January 1971, I was the first female usher, about a year after I had had the nerve to question the policy of women being "hostesses" and men being ushers. Actually, I had refused to hostess (politely but firmly, since it seemed wrong).

A year or so later, while I was ushering, some young people came to church in blue jeans. Another usher asked me to go up to those two young people, as I would probably know what to say to them. I remember suggesting we should say,"Good morning," like everyone else.

The Worship Commission was chaired first by Ed Costikyan, then by me, then by Steve Dietz, each for a two year term. We met with Dr, Kring to suggest ideas and act as a sounding board and found he was most receptive to new ideas (sometimes his) if we could "take the blame." He was conservative about change if it would offend the congregation, but he really liked it. Thus we had Bernstein's Mass at church and an afternoon program of Jesus Christ Superstar. I believe Schuyler Chapin helped with these music specials. We also started lay openings of Sunday services during Steve Dietz's chairing term.

We had Republicans as much as we had Democrats, but most of each were of their respective "progressive" wings. Yet while most were strong on civil rights and freedoms, they were not high activist, nor did we have many social action programs. Guy Quinlan started some of the early petitions and items of social concern--not pushy but now available. It grew later.

A startling event occurred during a church service when the music director, George Markey, walked up to Dr. Kring during a Sunday service, said, "It's been nice knowing you" and left! The search committee chose John Grady as his replacement, but before he started he asked to be excused from his contract as he had just been chosen by St. Patrick's Cathedral. As a Catholic, it meant a lot to him. So a quick search, mostly by Schuyler Chapin, found Walter Klaus - our beloved Wally for 38 years. This was during our search for a new minister after Dr. Kring had submitted his resignation with a two year search time. Music was to take a new glorious turn with truly special Christmas Eve services, great weekly music and in due time, Musica Viva.

With the need for a new minister following about 23 years with Dr. Kring in the pulpit, a careful and thorough search process took place from early 1977 through early 1978, with a planned start date for the new minister in September, 1978. Before the actual search committee selection and search process, much of 1977 included surveys, discussions and voting on the process for selection, and decisions about the key directions for the future of the Church and key attributes for the new minister.

Decisions included: a committee of seven, five to be voted on by a detailed process which required 50% of the vote, with repeated ballots until it was achieved, then two search committee members would be appointed by the Board following the voting on the first five. The seven members were: Bert Zippel, Steve Dietz, Florence McKinley, Jeanne Walton, Ricardo Mestres, (the first five were elected); Jane Levenson and John French (these two were appointed by the Board). As a member of the committee, I can attest to thoroughness, respect for all applications and information, and good team work.

We had about 48 candidates from various sources (I read 46 dossiers); 24 or 25 were selected for two hour interviews, and after group discussions, six were selected to spend a full weekend with us, including preaching in their church if workable, or in a church as a "guest minister preacher" somewhere in the region.

The Committee attended the service where the candidate was preaching, but walked in as visitors, and we were not together in our entrance or seating. In due course, we eliminated a few in early discussion, then came to a group decision to ask Forrest Church. Now we were happy with our choice but wondered how to present his young age to the congregation. He was 29 and 1/2 in presentation and voting time but he would be a week or two before 30 years old in September. Should we say he was 29 or instead, that he would be 30 the month he would come? Our famous long term minister in the 19th century, Henry Bellows, had been 30, which we would mention. Anyway, the "candidating week" went very well; the vote was almost unanimous.

PART TWO: The Forrest Church era

A fun detail I left out of the selection process, in the search for a minister, involves Wally Klaus and his hope that we would look into Forrest, following a guest sermon by Forrest on an August Sunday. I had been asked by our committee chair to attend the service as the chair had heard Forrest, and was impressed with him. We also had a big recommendation from Rhys Williams from First Church in Boston where Forrest was interning. During a search, a candidate is not supposed to preach where they are applying. Forrest wasn't planning on applying, nor knew those rules, as he was considering a professor type position. So we went ahead, with the urging of Rhys. I found Forrest a fine choice, and reported back to the committee, who went forth and invited him for an interview. We were not to tell anyone outside of our committee (or our Boston UUA contacts) who we were interviewing or our opinions. The next week Wally stopped me and said, "We really must go after that wonderful young minister" he liked so much. I said I would tell the committee his suggestion, knowing we had already scheduled an interview. He also stopped Jeanne Walton, who was also discreet. Wally reminded us again and we kept quiet the fact that we had interviewed and liked him already.

After Forrest arrived, he was always interested in people to taking a chance on a new committee or program and often said "go try it!" He wasn't against the long standing "bottom up" suggestions being tried.

Later in Forrest's tenure, John Buehrens, and then Galen Guengerich, joined the ministerial team. Also the Board and others were tending to more "top down" leadership. Both styles have their points but some tensions emerged. Changing the Bond of Union was considered an important event. The first change from "service to man" to "service to all" had gone quite smoothly. However, the second change, ultimately resulting in the change from "in the Spirit of Jesus" to "in the Spirit of Love," was subject to a too quick suggestion from the ministers and/or the Board to vote on something not well received, and to be voted on IN A MONTH. "Not so fast!" was the congregational response, and in due course we took about a year to discuss different ideas, and more importantly, to discuss the meaning of having some covenant, albeit with freedom of understanding it. Then the change went well.

An interesting month took place in a January when Forrest had a one month leave to teach at Dartmouth. We had four non-minister preachers on those Sundays: George McGovern, Lewis Thomas the scientist, an astronomer whose name I forget, and Leonard Bernstein the musician. The program was a big success even though Forrest was welcomed back happily in February. Lewis Thomas was interesting, as he spoke with great style about liking that he had different personalities at different times. He delightfully said he would be bored with himself if he always thought the same way. Of course it was woven together well. The big surprise and wonder was Leonard Bernstein. Known for some arrogance concerning music, his sermon was humble, religious in a perfectly good UUA way and at the end he was sweating heavily and said he hoped it was okay as he never preached in a church before. I was head usher at the time and he embraced me and another usher in gratitude and relief as people applauded. It was very special.

As many know, Forrest was a big baseball fan. When he came to NYC, he embraced the Mets. In the late 1980s, the Mets made it into the World Series. In an important Saturday night 6th game where a Red Sox win would end the series, the Mets rallied and won at 1AM in the morning, forcing a game 7. Then on Sunday morning, Forrest Church greeted us on the Church steps wearing his Black and Crimson Harvard robe with a wildly clashing Mets cap in Orange and Royal blue. A wonderful tacky outfit fit for the situation. And yes, the Mets won the series in a tight game 7.

In due course Forrest wrote many books, even two after a spreading cancer. He and Galen Guengerich worked out a transition of duties as Galen assumed the role of Senior Minister following a vote.

During this time we had several fine assistant or other titled ministers and directors of religious education but these have been appointed, not "called" by the congregation

A few more notes: Dick Leonard has been an assistant minister and is now emeritus. He has married the most number of couples imaginable, many from Japan, remains active at 90 years, and importantly, was an official marcher at Selma. He wrote a book on that which is well worth reading. He has also written many fun stories and short items.

Galen was married to Holly Atkinson at All Souls in a lovely ceremony and they both returned from Scotland in September 2018 following the marriage of their daughter, Zoe. There is much on Galen but I have concentrated here on history except the last two notes.

PART THREE: The Oral History project and the writing by William Laurence Sullivan that I read in 1969

The Oral History project came into being as we thought about formal records of the 19th century and early 20th century but without the real voices and thoughts of many, including critiques and enthusiastic feelings, which may be missed in "documents." Some of the first interviews were by Nina Mende but soon after, the bulk were done by Jane Levenson. They were audio recorded and many were later transcribed.

Lorraine Allen, as former keeper of the Archives, oversaw safe their keeping. Recently oral histories and other archival materials were transferred to Meadville Lombard Theological School, with Mary Ella Holst in charge.

I know many of the oral history subjects but may have forgotten a few. We did tell people they were for the future and we wouldn't publish while they were alive without permission. I suspect most would approve their being published, but there may be a few from younger people following 9/11 that could be more confidential. Nina Mende interviewed Forrest Church, Wally Klaus, Jane Levenson and the old timer group following 9/11. Most interviews were with individuals, but we decided on four group interviews for special circumstances. Three groups were conducted following 9/11, one with 18-35 age-group members, one with 40s and 50s, and one with long standing members, mostly deacons. A fourth group was interviewed with the Post Katrina support team.

Some of the individual interviews were with people who escaped from the 9/11 area, including Bernie May. Linda Moskin, M.D. was interviewed regarding her call to downtown as city M.D. and her work in the following month including the Anthrax scares. This might be confidential in part. Additional regular interviews include: Galen Guengerich, Dick Leonard, Cheryl Walker, Jan Carlson-Bull, Melanie Mashburn, Lorraine Allen, Maurice Green, and others.

The writing by William Laurence Sullivan, former minister at All Souls (and a Roman Catholic priest before) that was read by Jane Levenson at the 150th Anniversary Sunday in 1969 is titled "To Outgrow the Past..."

To Outgrow the Past, by William Laurence Sullivan

To outgrow the past but not extinguish it;

To be progressive but not raw,

Free but not mad, critical but not sterile, expectant but not deluded;

To be scientific but not to live on formulas that cut us off from life;

To hear amidst clamor the pure, deep tones of the spirit;

To seek the wisdom that liberates and a loyalty that consecrates;

To turn both prosperity and adversity into servants of character;

To master circumstances by the power of principle,

And to conquer death by the splendor of loving trust:

This is to attain peace;

This is to pass from drear servitude to divine adoption;

This is to invest the lowliest life with magnificence.

And to prepare it for coronation.


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