The Unitarian Society, East Brunswick
November 24, 2019
What if these walls were a cloud of witnesses? How can they not be? For 55 years they have offered their shelter and their witness to the comings and goings, the hustle and bustle, the ups and the downs of this congregation, a once bigger, now Little Engine that could… that can, that will.
What stories would these walls tell, were they to speak? Surely both symphony and cacophony; joy and pain; disagreement and resonance; delicious food and food politely left on the plate; conflict and reconciliation; voices far too aggressive and whispers so tender they were salve; acts of temerity and ultimate gestures of giving up.
This space had been home-central to the minister: meetings with lay leaders, pastoral care conversations, and thoughtful reflection in solitude. Not to mention a more convenient back and forth between Minister and Office Administrator than our current arrangement. We thank those who gave funds in Reverend R. Paul Mueller’s memory to improve what had once been his study, outside of which now sits a plaque that we might remember this beloved former pastor, leader, preacher, minister.
This room had been home to the burst of mural that laid claim to your attention as soon as you walked in, or even walked past, it commanded your gaze. A labor of love offered by former congregational president, Randy Bramwell, one of many artistic gifts he left so that we descendants might have art at the center of our collective identity. The mural enhanced and heightened the experience of this room for nearly half a century.
Then damage to the outer wall became damage to the inner wall, sadly neglected too long to be able to save the mural. You can see here, to the right, the salvaged remnant of the original mural, and here to the left, the first of ten prints by the artist, gifted to us by Shirley Bartlett when she learned of the loss of the mural. And here, between them, one of our current artist members, Coleen Tyler, paid homage to the mural and the artist, pulling out key symbols and painting them after the wall was repaired.
No more when you crank open the window does the glass pane fall to the ground outside. Through the efforts of the Building Task Force, under the leadership of Cindy Mussman and Paula Lieb, and others, too, this library once with encroaching shelves of books mostly left to gather dust, an aging paint job, and a large table difficult to maneuver, has transformed into a bright and welcoming space, where day-to-day and evening time liturgy of the congregation takes place.
I say liturgy, for the etymology of that work is ‘work of the people.’ That is what happens here now: the Board meets here; sometimes Shakespeare is read aloud here; on occasion, orders of service are folded here; this past fall, white fragility was examined and its demise plotted here. One day just last week, a succession of Montessori parents passed through the door and twenty minutes later out, for parent-teacher conferences.
This renovation is just one of the many recent signs of renewed attention by the congregation to the congregation. It was made possible by gestures of love that came from the affection and admiration that many – MANY – had for Reverend Paul Mueller – and dare I say, for he was not a man alone – for Peg Mueller Richardson as well. I have been here three-and-a-half years and it is a rare occasion that Paul’s name is uttered without Peg’s following close behind. What a legacy to see come to fruition, fifteen years after his death! What a gift of the legacy of his ministry here!
It is said that when a congregation honors, respects and yes, even idealizes, a past minister, it speaks not only to that minister’s gifts, but more so to the congregation’s ability to be in constructive and synergistic relationship with their minister. Not a guarantee, but at least a possibility. Not all congregations have this capacity ~ especially Unitarian Universalist ones, with our ubiquitous ambivalence towards authority.
So, well, done, The Unitarian Society, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, in so many ways. Well done. These cloud of witness walls are cheering us on. Cheering us on that we may not let another wall fall into such disrepair. Cheerig us on that we not lose yet another thing precious to us. Cheering us on that we may cherish the creativity and art that sparks our spirits and spread it abundantly here. Cheering us on that we may find synergies that create the path of the future.
May we hear the roar of their praise and applause.
May we continue to offer it to each other.