Last Words of Rev. Carol Rosine
Delivered on June 12, 2016
At The First Universalist Society in Franklin, MA
I just finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns which is the history of the massive migration of African Americans from the southern states to the north. This history tells the stories of those who fled lynching mobs, share croppers who escaped in the dead of night, and multitudes who took trains north to Chicago, Detroit, Harlem, all in search of a better life. The years of this Great Migration extended from 1915, following World War I, to 1970.
As I read the stories of the way in which Jim Crow limited and impacted and brutally ended the lives of African Americans in the south, as I read the stories of the few who had the courage to rise up out of the muck and say “no more,” as I read about the high cost of voter registration during the 60s, I wondered where I had been throughout that time. Why didn’t I know any of this? Of course in the 40s and 50s when the Civil Rights Movement was beginning, I was living in rural Iowa with no television or city newspaper. The radio delivered hog futures, the local newspaper covered Lady’s Teas, and it was the bible that was preached from the pulpit. Only whispers of the outside world were heard.
And even in 1961 when I left rural Iowa for the big city of Des Moines, I ended up in a private hospital where the only African Americans that I came into contact with were those who worked in housekeeping and most of them kept their heads down. It wasn’t until 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and cities went up in flames that I started to wake up. I was an Army wife in 1968 with a husband who was on the DMZ in Korea. Anti-war protests were certainly on my radar screen that year, but the anger grounded in racism was not. At least, not really.
I often wonder how different things would have been for me if I had been active in a Unitarian Universalist church back then, because it was not until we joined the UU church in Manchester, CT in 1974, that the world came rushing in. The war was over by then, so instead we marched in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and for Reproductive Rights, we took buses to New York for the Big Peace March, we celebrated Martin Luther King Day before it became a national holiday, we put on the Missa Gaia, the Earth Mass, before Earth Day was even founded. In doing what we were doing we were merely following the traditions of Unitarians and Universalists, religious ancestors who had always been committed to making the world a little bit better. Our minister, the Rev. Arnold Westwood, had answered Martin Luther King’s call for clergy to come to Selma in 1965, and so it was with his preaching, his leadership that we felt empowered to engage in the world.
It is broadly understood that it is the responsibility of ministers to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable and so throughout my ministry with you I have always intended to do both: comfort and afflict. The comforting is something that we all need when life brings those things too big to be endured or when life brings the petty annoyances that plague us all. But the afflicting is important as well when our comfortable lives lead to complacency and indifference. When the impulse is to sit on the sidelines of life. It is this afflicting that gets me into trouble sometimes, trouble that I anticipate, which is why I sometimes walk into this pulpit with a bit of fear and trepidation.
When I was doing my internship at the West Newton church, I was terrified at the thought of preaching in front of that congregation. Because of Newton’s demographics it was a congregation filled with attorneys, college professors, scientists, artists, well-known authors. My supervisor, Gerry Krick, kept assuring me that I could do it, because my task was to study and reflect on things that most people didn’t have time to ponder in the midst of their busy professional lives. I was to be a generalist with broad sweeping interests so that I would be equipped to help open their minds and hearts to things that they, perhaps, had never considered. And so, for the two years that I was there, I stood in that majestic pulpit every month, gaining the confidence to preach in front of a congregation.
I have one story to tell about this: in one of my first sermons there, I quoted the Anne Sexton poem in which she Welcomes Morning by saying “there is joy in all….” I noticed that a woman was weeping as I read it. Afterwards she introduced herself to me as Anne Sexton’s daughter. Her name was Joy and the poem had been written for her. I never knew who would be listening. But I did find my voice in that congregation.
When I look back 30 years, I am able to recognize the advances that have been made—the way in which the arc of history bends toward justice. In some ways, in spite of the persistence of racism, homophobia, sexism, and class-ism, things have changed. I think about all of you who took part in the Gay Pride parade in Boston yesterday. I know that for some of you at least, especially the allies, the thought of marching in that parade would not have crossed your mind before joining this church. Am I right?
It is for this reason that this church is important, that it has to be sustained so that it not only continues to be here for those who would be comforted, but for those who need some afflicting as well. In spite of worries about the economy or a host of other things, most of us are so privileged, so comfortable out here in the exurbs.
I’ve tried to do my part in both the comforting and afflicting but now the time has come for your next minister to pick up the reins of guiding this congregation forward. My prayer is that you will lend Rev. Jenny Rankin your full support because she will be bringing with her a deep wisdom grounded in her experiences of life.
Now that I am your Minister Emerita, eventually I will be able to reappear from time to time and check in as you embrace the next chapter of your communal life. And the next chapter of my life is out there as well, just waiting to be discovered. I want you to know how grateful I am for all the ways in which you have invited me into your lives. I am so lucky to have had the best seat in the theater of life for so long. With all of you. I do love you, you know.