Tag Archives: Unitarian

Remembering Stuart


Stuart Williamson

A distant friend died a few days ago. Stuart Williamson was somewhat distant in miles and through infrequent contact. When I moved to Texas in 1978 it could not have been long before I met Stuart and his wife Beth, who were married 33 years.

We were all members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, TX. We also participated in weekend meetings of the Southwestern Conference, often three times a year for many years. Beth served the Conference as President, but Stuart was there, too, with quiet support.

Northwoods Church held a weekend camping trip on the Williamson property in Bedias, TX . We pitched our tents, enjoyed a glorious campfire, and appreciated their warm hospitality. A funny story: Bob Nugen, my first husband, and I went to bed relatively early, while others were still at the campfire. Morning reports were that Bob started snoring so loudly from our tent that neighboring livestock answered his “call.” I slept through it all.

Stuart and Beth were founders of a new congregation in Huntsville: now called Thoreau Woods Unitarian Universalist Church. I continued to see them at conferences around Texas. Occasionally I would travel to Huntsville to join others in protesting the death penalty outside the death house. The Williamsons would be there. It was particularly poignant when I knew the father of a condemned man. Karo Riddle had been a member of the church I served in Waco. His son Granville, an artist, was executed following a bar fight that went horribly wrong when he was 19. I was grateful to share his story with Stuart and Beth.

The last time I saw Stuart was in Livingston, TX, where I officiated at the memorial service for one of his fellow congregants, whom I had visited several times in a Houston hospital. Stuart and Beth were there along with family, friends, and many other members of their church. Six months later Stuart was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that progressed rapidly. He died at home with Beth by his side as he took his last breath.

There is a lot more to know about Stuart (see his obituary). Seeing him every so often for decades impressed me with his steadfast dedication, his devotion to Beth, and their significant service to Unitarian Universalism in a small East Texas community.

Friendship does not require daily contact. In our case, encounters were infrequent but always welcome. Repetition added layers of connection.

Rest in peace, Stuart. Cherish the memories, Beth.

Love and blessings,


Two Transylvanias


Back from a month of travel and books!

My last blogs placed me in Brevard and Asheville, NC, visiting friends. Beautiful people, beautiful forests, waterfalls, and cool air. On Sunday morning of our visit, Jon and I walked about 4 blocks to the Unitarian Universalist church in Brevard. It’s called Unitarian Universalists of Transylvania County, a very descriptive name (trans + sylvania = through a wooded land).

In May of 1999 Jon and I made a more distant journey to Transylvania, formerly part of Hungary and now part of Romania.  Many of the people are historically Unitarian. They experienced a great deal of persecution for their religion and language. The irony is that the Unitarian King John Sigismund issued an Edict of Religious Toleration in 1568 – “The Edict of Torda (or Turda), also known as the Patent of Toleration (Act of Religious Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience), was an attempt by King John II Sigismund of Hungary to guarantee religious freedom in his realm. Specifically, it broadened previous grants (to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists) to include the Unitarian Church, and allowed toleration (not legal guarantees) for other faiths” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Toleration)

Public schools do not teach Hungarian and no Hungarian is allowed in the public square on signs or in speech. Therefore the Unitarian churches keep Hungarian culture and language alive. Their motto, counter to Trinitarianism, is very simple: “God Is One.” In Hungarian it’s spelled Egy Az Isten and pronounced Edge Oz Eeshten. That simple yet profound declaration is posted over every church gate and in the sanctuary.

Our host in the city of Brassó (“Brasov” in Romanian) was the Rev. Sándor Máthé and his wife Sindike. They live next door to the magnificent church in a parsonage from which we could go directly down to the church in a driving rainstorm. Twelve children participated in catechism and Confirmation that day (11 boys and 1 girl!) and received as adult members in the faith. [Fun fact: they used Jon’s pen to sign the Membership Book.] The Unitarian Church in Eastern Europe is far different from this country’s. Its depths of history and tradition are inspirational.

A memory trip indeed! I’ll get back to my intended topic by and by . . . Happy Independence Day, wherever you live!

Kairos / Chronos


The close of my ministry with Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church is coming quickly. It boils down to a pastoral visit, a parable for the children, a sermon for the grownups, a farewell to and from all, and a walk through the building and through the labyrinth before turning in my keys.

I am a fortunate woman to have served this congregation for nearly nine years. That is a substantial chunk of time since my ordination nineteen years ago.

Chronos refers to time in ordinary terms, as in past, present, and future. It is measurable in nanoseconds and in geological eras. Events happen and recede into the past. We plan for the future and it’s here so quickly I often say, “The dates in your calendar are closer than they appear.”

In Greek mythology, Chronos is the personification of Time. Kairos has a different Greek meaning for time: the opportune moment. Typically something special happens at just that “right” moment in time.

In chronos terms, April 30 is my last day at Live Oak. I can look back over my time there and the history before then, and I can estimate with increasing certitude how the next few days will play out.

In terms of kairos, this is an opportune moment for nearly anything to transpire. Whenever there is a change in leadership the entire system shifts. Transitions begin with an ending, then go through a neutral zone of flux and possibility, and end with a beginning: something new and not entirely predictable. T.S. Eliot said it this way in The Four Quartets:

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

I don’t think he meant that in absolute terms. “Where we start from” changes and if we land there again we land with different experiences, wisdom, and insight (or a new chance to learn the same lessons again).

My immediate plans are to travel. My husband Jon and I will take a road trip to see friends in North Carolina. We have both been working so hard that a break will be most welcome. Yesterday was our 15th (!) anniversary. Time on the road will give us a chance truly to catch up while leaving ordinary responsibilities behind. A second honeymoon! We’ll be back in time for me to preach in San Antonio–perhaps an antidote to the temptation to “run away from home.”

June will find me on a journey to Tokyo to visit my son Rob, his wife Lin, and Lin’s extended family. The only other time I visited Rob in Tokyo was in 2003, I believe, the first year he moved there. Who knew he would stay so long, teaching English, working as a messenger, and now computer programming? Who knew he would meet his Taiwanese wife because she wanted someone to climb Mt. Fuji with her? He has been back to the States a few times; I’m excited about my return trip.

Returning June 14 I’ll have just barely enough time to reset my biological clock, do some laundry, and repack to fly to Phoenix on the 17th. This trip will be for the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We’re calling this one a “Justice General Assembly” to draw attention to our witness on comprehensive immigration reform. Where better than Arizona to raise our voices?

Those are chronos events, to be sure. The kairos comes in the possibility–no, the certainty–that my life will spin into a direction unknown. It won’t be Kansas any more, Toto! My ministry will form and reform as the months and moments occur. I am open to new possibilities.

I have such high hopes for Live Oak as well. Spinning a congregation in a new direction will also be inevitable, but it will likely be a little longer in duration. Have any of you noticed the speed of church? This transition will be rapid in congregational terms but terribly slow for the “early adopters.” I am so excited for their future. Since change is inevitable, let’s all make the best of it!

Be blessed, companions, as I have been blessed.



At a party last night I spoke with two brand new acquaintances about my trip to India. One of them is widely read in religion and physics (is there ultimately a difference?) and seems truly to have grasped the meaning of my experience there.

The other is the daughter of a Pakistani Muslim. She is doing her graduate studies on the Muslims who stayed in India after Pakistan was established in 1947. They had longed for a strong Muslim community and had no desire for a separate nation. Today they remain extremely observant to daily prayers, cleansing rituals, and traditional clothing. It is a way for them to maintain solidarity as a significant minority. The people she has interviewed are now in their 80s. They were in their teen and twenties at the time of Independence.

By contrast, Muslims in Pakistan are just as likely to be non-observant, like her father (who loves bacon and enjoys an occasional gin and tonic). My new friend pointed out the obvious: In this county it is perfectly normal to be a non-practicing Christian. No one in the U.S. questions you if you say you are Christian. Who cares if you attend a church? Who is surprised if you attend only on Christmas Eve and Easter?

We have a single notion of Islam, right or wrong, black or white or mixed. What we too seldom recognize are the multiple versions of Islam. They are not all the same! Christians are not all alike!

When you think about it, Unitarian Universalists are not all alike. We know that. Then we visit Unitarian or Universalists in another county–The Philippines, Transylvania, The Republic of Congo, the Khasi Hills in northeast India–and we know we’re not in Kansas any more.

Open your hearts, your minds. There is a whole world more than ever any of us could have imagined.

Unitarian Schools


From the Khasi Hills in Northeast India—Shillong, Meghalaya

This morning, 28 Feb 2011, we set out to visit 2 of dozens of Unitarian schools in northeast India. The Education Committee of the Unitarian Union now runs 37 Lower Primary Schools, 10 Upper Primary Schools and 4 Secondary Schools

The UU Church in Clearwater, FL, is a sponsor of the Margaret Barr Memorial School. The school has about 60 students from pre-K through 7th grade in the village of Lawsohtun. Founded in 1982, the school gets some funding from the State of Meghalaya but subsists mostly on donations. A few families can afford a materials fee of 20 Rs/month, but most of the students are from peasant families and do not pay. Most of them wore uniforms, and I’m sure they are handed down and altered.

Two rows of children politely lined up on both sides the gate to greet us with shy smiles and a corsage of ribbon and beads. Chairs were waiting for us in the shade of the porch where we enjoyed a program of welcome and songs from the children.

After the program we had a tour of the school. The computer room is the size of a closet. It has one working computer and one that needs repair. There is no internet, so all they can learn are applications. For languages, they study their native tongue Khasi, the more formal Hindi, and English. One class sang the alphabet song for us in English.

The head teacher and 7 other teachers receive appallingly low salaries—about 1800 rupees/month (less than $40). Government schools pay at least 3 times that amount, namely, 6-12,000/month. Even so, one of the teachers said he bought pencils and other supplies out of his salary. Before leaving the site, we took up a collection on the spot and gave each of them a cash bonus.

Margaret Barr, for whom the school is named, was a Methodist born and raised in Yorkshire, England. She became a Unitarian in 1921 as a student in Girton College, Cambridge, after a friend invited her to a service. The sermon that day was a scholarly and appreciative explanation of Hinduism. She loved the Unitarian approach to other faiths. Barr went on to become a minister herself.

While she was serving Rotherham Unitarian Church (1927-33) she learned about the indigenous Unitarians in the Khasi Hills of India and about their founder Hajom Kissor Singh. After a visit there she wanted to return. Several years later she got a job at a girls’ school in Calcutta that paid for her move to India.

Eventually she made her way to the Khasi Hills, where illiteracy, poverty, and ill health predominated. H.K. Singh had died and the congregations were floundering. She opened a school and trained teachers in Shillong. So that students didn’t have to leave home, she opened another one in Kharang, then a Dispensary, and finally made Kharang her permanent home. She would open schools in villages then turn them over to the Government. She died in 1973.

Clearly, Margaret Barr heeded the advice given to her by Gandhi: “Keep out of jail and find some constructive work to do.”