Congregation celebrates 150 years of social action
The last of the leaves were falling, and the sun radiated off the stained glass windows of the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson while the strains of the organ sounded during a recent Sunday morning service.
It has been thus for 150 falls in the small church building, the oldest wooden structure in Hudson.
So last month, church members gathered for a worship service, concert, and luncheon to celebrate the anniversary.
The names and faces of members and ministers have changed over the past century and a half, but today’s group says the commitment to social justice remains the same - harking back to a time when the church founder’s home was a stop on the Underground Railroad and its first minister preached against slavery.
“We recognize we’re standing in a line of 150 years of history of men, women, and children who took a stand and worked for causes,’’ said the Rev. Alice Anacheka-Nasemann, the Unitarian Universalist congregation’s associate minister. “We’re the ones doing it today.’’
The building at 80 Main St. is a symbol of that commitment.
“It’s a cool little church,’’ said Johanna Ambrosio-LaPlante, the congregation’s unofficial historian. “Small but mighty.’’
Ambrosio-LaPlante said the church was formed in 1846. She said a man named Charles Brigham gathered a group of people who were “liberal religious folks’’ and all believed that slavery was wrong, and hired George Stacy, a noted abolitionist, as the congregation’s first minister.
Brigham’s home was one of at least three in Hudson that served as stops on the Underground Railroad, providing shelter to fugitive slaves before and during the Civil War.
The three-story church was dedicated on Nov. 19, 1861. The building is known as the Lawrence Church, since it was named for Amos Lawrence, a merchant and philanthropist whose home in Groton was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Notable antislavery orators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke in the church’s Union Hall to rally others to the cause, said Ambrosio-LaPlante. Other famous speakers included Mark Twain.
Local residents gathered in the Union Hall in 1866 to incorporate Hudson as a town; it had been a part of Marlborough known as Feltonville.
On July 4, 1894, a fire destroyed more than 40 buildings in the downtown, area, and church members took charge of helping feed the firefighters.
Hudson’s Unitarian congregation merged with Marlborough’s in 1972, and their members decided to use the Hudson building as their new spiritual home.
These days, the church’s 54 members come from multiple religious backgrounds - Christian and Jewish, some who lean toward Buddhism and paganism, and some who had no formal religion, said Anacheka-Nasemann. Various programs are offered, some of which are centered around developing individual spirituality, she said.
“There are also programs around building community and programs around service. We reach out into the world as part of our spiritual growth,’’ she said.
After the service, member Nan Rogers of Hudson said she joined the church a little over a year and a half ago. She was attracted to the Unitarian Universalist denomination’s message of individual spirituality, and embracing people’s individual quests.
“The passing of my father sparked me to live more present with my spirituality,’’ Rogers said. She also wanted to make more connections within her community.
“This is the warmest, kindest, friendliest group of people I’ve ever known,’’ she said. “There is good, genuine energy here.’’
Ambrosio-LaPlante, who lives in Marlborough, said she was drawn to the church back in 1992 when she was seeking a spiritual community after her father died.
“I knew I’d be in trouble without one,’’ she said, adding that from the moment she walked in, she felt at home. She attends services almost every Sunday and sings in the choir.
“I chose to be here. I love it here. It’s a huge connection for me, of the past and present. It’s for people who believe in a home for liberal religion.’’
Anachecka-Nasemann said the members share “incredible love and warmth,’’ and are a supportive presence to one another as people deal with challenges in their lives. Moving forward, she said, her goal for the church is to focus on becoming more green, and ending hunger.
Instead of charging admission to the anniversary celebration’s Nov. 12 concert, organizers asked people to bring food items, and enough was collected “to fill two cars to the brim,’’ said Ambrosio-LaPlante. It was donated to food pantries in Marlborough and Hudson.
The church also conducts a monthly food collection that serves area food pantries, and every three months members cook and serve a meal at Our Father’s Table in Marlborough, a service project they started six years ago.
The church also holds a peace vigil once a month on the front lawn “as a message that peace is better than war,’’ Ambrosio-LaPlante said.
Although its membership is small, the church prides itself on being involved in a number of community outreach programs.
It sponsors one or two local families every holiday season as well as Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and a knitting group is making an afghan and chemotherapy caps. Because a Japanese play group uses the church to meet, Anachecka-Nasemann organized a project to sell pendants that raised about $5,000 for victims of last spring’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The church’s long history resonates with Ambrosio-LaPlante, who says that “connecting with our past reminds me how important it is to seek your truth.
“They were so brave and committed to what they knew in their souls was correct that it reminds me we can do no less, and we continue that to this day,’’ Ambrosio-LaPlante said. “The difference today is we have many more diverse voices in this church.’’