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Our Historic Meetinghouse

From Rev. Katie Lee Crane’s remarks on November 1, 1998 on the occasion of the celebration of the restored Meetinghouse.

Out of the work of their hands and hearts and minds, the people fashion a symbol and a reality, the poet Eileen B. Karpeles says in A Place of Meeting.   The reality? We have restored a building. We have preserved its 18th century historic character and, at the same time, created a space ready to meet the needs of the 21st century.

The symbol? Like those west-country settlers who fashioned a place of meeting on this very knoll so many years ago, we have secured this place of meeting for our children and our children’s children. As stewards of this historic legacy, we have done what we could to preserve a place where all who meet here may come together in warmth and joy and openness, in courage and love and trust.

We see this meetinghouse as a center. A geographic center. A spiritual and intellectual center. It stands at the center of this community — and, for some, it represents the heart of this community. It is at the crossroads; it is a place of coming together. Certainly, for those of us who call it our spiritual home, it is indeed the cradle of our dreams and the workshop of our common endeavors. – Kenneth Patton in This House

The reality is that these now-renovated exterior and interior spaces both resemble the original and yet also change it. The symbol is that this place of meeting both resembles its original purpose and also changes it.

There was a time, for example, when the meeting house that stood on this very knoll was for the use of both the town and the church. On Sundays, the villagers gathered to worship here; throughout the week they came to pay taxes, to record deeds and births and deaths, and, whenever necessary, to meet together to make decisions for the common good. The deacons of the church were the selectmen of the town. But that time has passed. We now separate the activities of church and state. The Town Hall is across the street. This is the meeting house for a community of faith that calls itself Unitarian Universalist. And yet, last April when the town needed more meeting space for its Town Meetings, this space was the obvious choice. It was a fitting solution, given our shared histories.

There was also a time when those who worshipped here shared a common Christian belief. Yes, this was indeed a place of spiritual and intellectual life, a place of liberal ideas, but it was not a place of diversity. It is not likely that you would have seen a spiritual dialogue among local Native peoples and Christian believers. Nor would you have been likely to hear the voices of Jews or Muslims, Buddhists or Zoroastrians as part of that dialogue. Only those who converted to the Christian way were welcome to the full benefits of this worshipping community.

We Unitarian Universalists call ours a «living» tradition. We have changed since then. We’ve changed our name and we’ve changed our perspective. As we say in our principles and purposes (listed at the back of your program) we are grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith.

That is one of the primary reasons this community of faith has restored this place of meeting: to ensure that just such conversations can and do take place now and in the future—to guarantee that this place of meeting will remain a forum for the exchange of the ideas and dreams of a community/our community.

We want, for ourselves and for those who follow us, a place of meeting that guards the worth and dignity of every person, a place that is open to all voices and committed to hearing them. We want a place where questions are as important as answers, were action is as important as prayer. We want a place of meeting that guarantees not only the freedom to participate, but also guarantees the quality and purpose of that participation.

Out of our hands and hearts and minds we have preserved and restored this place of meeting.

We did it with your help — because we believed that we were giving back to those whose vision built it and giving forward to those whose hands and hearts and minds will ensure its future.

From the pamphlet/program distributed at the November 1, 1998 celebration of the Meetinghouse.

Welcome to the First Parish Meetinghouse celebration. We are honored to have you as our guests for this joyful occasion. In many ways we, the members and friends of First Parish, along with so many of you — citizens of our town, workers, volunteers, friends and neighbors — are humbled that the task of preserving and restoring this historic meetinghouse has been ours to do. We stand on the shoulders of the farmers and traders who built it. We are the beneficiaries of the contributions of hundreds of individuals and families who sustained and maintained it throughout its history. We are honored to count ourselves and our contributions as part of their legacy.
As Krista Zanin wrote in an article in the Sudbury Town Crier last year, «what distinguishes First Parish from a host of buildings that are even older than the church is how the community has rallied around it. Throughout its lifetime,» she continues, «both town and church folk have made sure its history is preserved.» What she says is true. It is for that reason that we come together today. We are here to celebrate more than a building; we are here to celebrate the heart of a community, the cradle of our dreams and the workshop of our common endeavors. May this always be a place of meeting where freedom, courage, love and trust flourish. May it be a place of sanctuary, joy and peace.

First Parish of Sudbury is located on a slight knoll in Sudbury’s historic town center. In 1796, using axes and wooden pegs, the citizens of this town built one large, open room with box pews on the ground floor and mezzanine seating above on three sides; the minister spoke from a raised pulpit on the fourth side. The cost of construction was $6,025.93. In 1842, the belfry was added and the main building divided into two floors; sanctuary on the upper and parish hall on the lower. The belfry inspired two additions, the bronze bell dates from 1844, and the town clock, a gift of Sudbury school children, dates from 1873. The Cole & Woodberry tracker pipe organ was a gift of the Women’s Alliance in 1895. Although its electric motor and blower were installed in 1928, it continued to be hand-pumped as late as 1950 for memorial services for older members. The Atkinson Building was added in 1964 and, in 1993, it was renovated, expanded and connected to the historic meetinghouse. The string of eleven horse sheds (originally there were 22) date from the last century.

As stewards of this historic meetinghouse, the members and friends of First Parish are pleased that we have been able both to restore and preserve its historic character and at the same time, provide a fully accessible, modern facility which we hope will serve generations to come.

More descriptions can be found in the Rental Descriptions