First Universalist Society in Franklin

Faithful Tending Sermon Feb. 14, 2016

“Faithful Tending”

A Service to Honor the Faithful Nine

February 14, 2016

Rev. Carol Rosine

I had planned to tell the story of Dr. Oliver Dean this morning who was a founder and the major benefactor of our church back in 1856.  It is Dr. Dean’s dour visage that graces the back of our sanctuary.  It had been suggested that I tell the story again before I retire because those of you who have arrived in recent years need to know about him.  So yesterday, I was at my computer, revising an old sermon about him when I had to go into my files to check a date.  And lo and behold I discovered the service that we did back in 2009 when we dedicated our RE Rooms in honor of The Faithful Nine.  I realized that it was these stories that you really had to hear about on this day when we’ve had a rousing parade in their honor.   I promise to post an old sermon about Dr. Dean on our web page so that those you who are interested can read it.  But now to the stories of the Faithful Nine.

In my Ministerial Musings for the February newsletter, I reminisced about the first time I led worship for this congregation in the spring of 1987.  There were 12 or 15 people in church that day who had come to check me out and decide if they wanted to accept the Extension Minister who had been sent to them by the UUA.   It was either a thumbs up or down with Extension Ministers back then, a very different process from the one that will happen when you choose you next settled minister.  So after worship, we sat in a circle so that they could ask me questions.

In my musings, I told about Joe Cook who started things off by asking me why I would be willing to take a chance on them.  “Why would you uproot your family and move here in order to be our minister?” he wanted to know.    It was a good question because things were pretty precarious back then.  A handful of folks had been keeping the church going for a long time, but new families were moving into town, the demographics of Franklin were shifting, and so there was hope that the church might be able to attract some of these new families if they had the help of a full-time minister.   Joe had been making some wise investments with the church’s money and so they decided that instead of letting that money sit and accrue interest until the church died, they would take a leap of faith and invest the money in what they hoped would save their church.  In other words, me!

These were dedicated, courageous folks because not only did they take a chance on hiring a full-time minister, but a few months later when our RE program had expanded so much that a volunteer could no longer run it, they agreed to invest even more of their invested funds into hiring a part-time religious educator, our very own Claire Mallette.  These Faithful Nine were not afraid to take Leaps of Faith if it meant that their beloved First Universalist Society could become a thriving church once again.

You’ve seen their pictures this morning and now I want you to hear their stories.

Claire Mallette will tell us about Grace Buchanon who died in 1992 at the age of 94:

Grace Chilson Buchanon

December 27, 1897 – February 28, 1992

The last time that Grace came to church was less than two weeks before her death.  It was “Wear a Hat to Church Sunday” and how she laughed when an outrageous hat was plunked on her head.  Some thought of her as a Grand Lady with her ever-present pearls and carefully coiffed hair, but no one laughed more than Grace, and did she ever love this church.

Grace lived most of her life in Franklin with the exception of the years spent earning a B.A. in English at Tufts and an M.A. in English at Columbia.  She had wanted to be an attorney and instead she fell in love, returned to Franklin in order to marry Luther Buchanon, and started her family.  Career options were limited for wives and mothers back in those days, so Grace found other outlets for her energy and intellect.  She was involved in politics at both the state and national level.  She was a Trustee at Dean College and belonged to several civic organizations which earned her a lot of public recognition.

Grace’s family had been Universalists since the founding of the church, so when she returned to Franklin, Grace joined the women in keeping the church running, while the men, of course, made all of the important decisions.  She helped run fairs, church suppers, decorated the altar, sang in the choir, taught the children.   She had boundless energy, a wonderful sense of humor, a family who loved her, and a wide circle of friends.  She was a happy woman.

The church was important to Grace, so she took such delight in seeing so many young adults and children filling the pews on Sunday mornings.  She’d shake her head slowly,  eyes twinkling, and she’d whisper, “Isn’t it wonderful?”.

After decades of homelessness, the elders were anxious for us to have a home of our own,  a physical presence that would ensure that our liberal religious spirit would continue to be felt in the town of Franklin.  Joe Cook was a trustee at the Ben Franklin Bank here in Franklin and until he was in his late 80’s was a property assessor for them.  As such, he had a lot of knowledge about pieces of property that were coming onto the market.  Every once in a while, Joe and Ellie would call to tell me about some interesting land they’d found.  The three of us hiked through miles of overgrown grass over the years searching for the perfect spot for our new meetinghouse.

Laura Cerier who was the Clerk of the Church during this time is going to tell you a little about Joe who died in 1995 at the age of 94 and Ellie who died in 2007 at the age of 103:

  1. Joseph Cook and Ella Cook

                                   1901 – 1995                1904 – 2007

Joe’s family stretched back to the founding of our church in 1856 with his grandmother becoming a Universalist before Universalist preaching was even allowed in the town of Franklin.  The Cooks were one of the First Families in the church and yet they were relegated to the balcony because they could not afford to rent a pew in the sanctuary, a practice that was common at the time.  When Joe was asked how it felt to be denied access to the main sanctuary, he said that he never really thought about it.  This class division was just the way it was.

Joe and Ellie met at church social and it was love at first sight.  Joe, a true gentle-man,  adored his out-spoken and often feisty wife and said that during their 71 years of marriage, she had continued to surprise him every day.  Ellie said that Joe was her Rock of Gibraltor, the one who kept her balanced.  They were graced with a love that many long for but few attain.

Ellie, always quick to point out that she did not grow up in Franklin, said that she only became a Universalist because of Joe, but during their long marriage, no couple could have been more devoted and faithful to the church.  Joe was the Treasurer during the years in which the future of the church was in jeopardy.  It was his careful management of the church’s assets that enabled the church to become financially solvent and stable once more.  When the congregation began to grow, Joe was ready to relinquish the position of Treasurer, however for many years the Board of Trustees continued to meet in their home.  Ellie wanted to make sure that the young people would be faithful stewards of the church and cause no harm!   It was important to them that their church grow and become a visible presence in Franklin once more.

Alex Kinney is going to tell us about Edna Fitzgerald who died on her 96th birthday.

Edna Fitzgerald

February 18, 1904 – February 18, 2000

When Edna was in her late 80s, she broke her hip during a fall in a grocery store parking lot.  Instead of calling for help, she dragged herself to her car, drove herself home, and only later asked to be taken to the doctor.  What a strong, resilient, independent woman she was, traits she’d developed as a child.  Her mother died in the flu epidemic when Edna was only nine, and because her father was not dependable, it was up to Edna to raise her younger brothers and sisters.  She learned early to stand on her own two feet and do what needed to be done.

Edna remained single throughout her life, supporting herself as a ‘”typer” at the Power Company (the only position available for a woman back then) and indulging her love of sports.  She’d started out playing baseball, but the field was too big and she had to run too far, so she switched to basketball.  She played on a semi-pro women’s team for a long time and when she put away the ball, she continued to root for the Celtics.

Edna lived with her sister, Rachel, for many years, helping to raise her nieces and nephews.  They were both active Universalists with Rachel serving as the Clerk of the Church for many years, a position that Edna eventually inherited.  Even though there was no “Mr.”, Edna was also active in the church’s Mr. and Mrs. Club, a group that used to be by invitation only.  Her reading of the minutes each month were the highlight of each gathering.  Her dry wit led her to record every detail, which she embellished, until those gathered wondered at the fun they’d missed the month before.

What a wonderful spirit she was:  quick witted; twinkling eyes; infectious laughter; kind and yet not afraid to speak her own mind.

Judy Swaim will tell us about Marion Chilson who died in 2002 at the age of 98:

Marian Everett Lawrence Chilson

September 6, 1904 – October 29, 2002

During the years in which this congregation worshipped at Marvin Chapel on the Dean College campus, Marion, dressed in a neat suit and hat, could be found each Sunday sitting next to the aisle in the second pew.  She was so regular that if she didn’t show up, someone called after church to make sure that she was OK.

Marion’s family extended back to the founding of this church in 1856.  Her father, a business man in town who had not finished high school, insisted that his daughter receive a good education, so back in the days when few women went to college, Marion graduated from the University of Vermont.  She was an English and French teacher until her marriage to Walter and the birth of their daughter, Martha.

Marion was an active volunteer in the church but always as a follower, not as a leader.  It was her husband, who also had deep roots in this church, who was active as a lay leader.  He was the Chairman of the Building Committee that supervised construction of a new meetinghouse after Grace Universalist Church was sold.  It was a time of deep conflict within the congregation and shortly after construction was completed, Walter died.

Marion remained loyal, however, and when the church began to grow once more, no one was more pleased than Marion.  She loved seeing the new families and was gracious each Christmas when a horde of children and adults would appear on her doorstep to serenade her with off-key carols.

At the ground-breaking for the new UU meetinghouse on Chestnut Street, Marion, Ellie Cook, and Emilia Dean were the first ones to break ground at what was to become the entrance into the congregation’s new home.

Jeff Cerier will tell us a little about Dr. Lincoln Dana who died  in 1996 at the age of 84 and his wife Bunny who died two years ago at the age of 102.  Bunny was here when we dedicated the RE Rooms  six years ago and was so pleased at this honor.

Dr. C. Lincoln Dana      and        Bunny Dana

February 13, 1912 – June 25, 1996     February 29, 1912 – 2014 

When Lincoln retired from a long career as a doctor for the town of Franklin as well as Dean College, he and Bunny sold their home on King Street and moved to their vacation home in Plymouth.  They maintained connections with the church, however, and continued to host gatherings of the Mr. and Mrs. Club in their lakeside home where they often served Lincoln’s famous fish chowder.

Lincoln was always anxious for news of the church and was happy to hear that new families kept coming, that plans were underway to build a home for the church once again.  His family stretched back to the founding of the church in 1856 so it was important to him that the church survive.

Bunny didn’t become a Universalist until her marriage to Lincoln in 1942.  Her mother-in-law, Agnes, was a pillar in the church and so, in addition to raising her children, Bunny joined Agnes and the other women who were the ones who actually kept the church running.  It was the Ladies Circle that organized church suppers, ran the church fairs, raised money for special projects, helped those in need, and, of course, taught in the Sunday School.

After Grace Universalist Church was sold and the congregation built a new meetinghouse on Pleasant Street, there was conflict and disarray in the church.  Many of the long-time members left during this period of time, however Lincoln and Bunny continued to be faithful in their support of this church that had been so important to generations of their family.

And last, but not least, Meg Loring will tell us about Emilia Dean and her husband, Robert, who died in 1985 at the age of 61.  Emilia, at age 95, is the only one of the faithful nine who is still alive. :

Robert Dean and Emilia Dean

1924-1985         1921-

Our congregation had been keeping a liberal religious light flickering in Franklin during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, however the members who remained knew that something needed to change if the church was to survive.  With Emilia Dean’s urging, the decision was made to tap into the church’s invested funds in order to apply for acceptance into the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Extension Ministry program.  Emilia was the one who made frequent phone calls to district officials, the UUA’s Executive Director and even the UUA President, telling them that the church could grow if only they had the help of an Extension Minister.  They all knew what to expect when told that Emilia Dean was on the phone!

Emilia and Robert met during World War II while both were active military serving at the same Army base.  It was on a cross-country troop train that their romance blossomed and when they reached California, they were married.  When the war was over, Robert brought his bride back to Franklin.  He had not grown up in our church, however his grandparents had been active Universalists, and so when the children started to arrive, Emilia and Robert joined the First Universalist Society.  During the years in which their five children were growing up, they were active in the Sunday School program and the Mr. and Mrs. Club, and Emilia was part of the Ladies Circle.

Following Robert’s death in 1985, Emilia increased her involvement in the church, accepting various leadership positions including congregational president.  After the Extension Ministry began and the congregation started to grow, Emilia stepped back from official leadership, saying that it was time for the young people to take over.  But she continued to be one of the respected elders preserving institutional memory as well as supporting the rapid changes that were happening.  For many years Emilia could be found at the center of everything happening within the church, from board meetings to property clean-ups when she would appear with her rake and clippers.

My hope is that all of you will pause sometimes to remember these good people as you enter the rooms that have been named for them.  My hope is that you will tell the children about them so that their spirits may be kept alive within this congregation, for without them, this church would not be here.

There have been massive changes in the past 30 years, and there will be more changes 30 years from now, and 30 years after that.  From one generation to the next.

But may we all be faithful stewards of this church we love.

May we have the courage to continue to take Leaps of Faith when necessary;

May we preserve the liberal religious tradition that they nurtured so carefully, yet knowing that we will be carving new pathways for those who will follow.

Sing:  Forward Through the Ages   #114


Our youngest children remind us sometimes that we are the church of the open mind, the loving heart, and the helping hands.  May each of us commit ourselves to ensuring that this will continue to be so.

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We invite you to visit us at First Universalist Society in Franklin

Sunday services begin at 10 a.m. Children and youth religious education 10 a.m.

phone: (508) 528-5348


Our Meetinghouse is located at 262 Chestnut Street, Franklin, MA.

Our mailing address is: PO Box 316, Franklin, MA 02038