Last year the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) moved it’s headquarters from 25 Beacon St. (right next to the Massachusetts State House) on Beacon Hill to 24 Farnsworth St. in the Seaport District. Twenty-five Beacon St. had been the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association before the merger of the AUA and the Universalist Church of America (UCA) in 1961. It’s a stately, historic building, befitting it’s surroundings on Beacon Hill.
Twenty-four Farnsworth is converted industrial space. I believe it might have been a mill (but I’m not certain). It’s removed from the rarified air of Beacon Hill – down with the people in the Seaport District. It’s near the Boston Children’s Museum and the Boston Fire Museum. It’s full of exposed brick and beam and open spaces. And I love it.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the First Year Ministers Seminar at 24 Farnsworth. I loved being there. I am delighted in this move.
Don’t get me wrong. I love history – I love old buildings (although 24 Farnsworth is old) and I love stately. But I think it’s not always the best choice. Sometimes it’s better to be with the people.
Beacon Hill is lovely. But we UU’s, we have a bit of a problem sometimes with our self-importance. We can get a bit full of ourselves. Do we really need to be right next to the Massachusetts State House? Is that really the hub of the universe? And do we really think, like the waining of the British Empire, that we’re all that? That we still have so much sway that Massachusetts just can’t make a move without us? Perhaps we ought to be looking more toward collaborating with other faith communities instead of touting our own sway. Perhaps we ought to be looking – dare I say it – beyond Massachusetts!
And then there are the Universalists. We are not the only religion to have formed by the merger of two or more denominations. Often, when this happens, the new denomination finds a new headquarters so as not to subsume one or more of the partners into a more powerful partner. We, however, moved the new association right into the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association. The time is long-overdue for us to acknowledge Universalist contributions to the UUA. We deserve a home that is a genuinely Unitarian Universalist home – not just a Unitarian place where Universalists are invited to bed down on the sofa.
The history has moved along to Farnsworth. There are historic brass and silver chandeliers hanging in the upper commons (the second-floor lobby just outside the chapel) amid the exposed beams and brick. There are antique grandfather clocks. There are the stately portraits in gilded frames. And there are the rotating digital portraits in newer gilded frames, as well. Well, it is the 21st century.
It’s old and it’s new. There is technology everywhere – so UUA field staff are able to attend chapel virtually. There are open work areas, and plenty of meeting rooms. Lots of places to eat and walk (try the breakfast at Flour if you go). It’s accessible by mass transit. It’s not perfect yet, but it could be.
Good move, UUA.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.