New address: 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210-1409.

Search Our Site

Page Navigation

Section Banner

Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Breakthrough Congregation

Play Video

(12 minutes)

Video Transcript

Song

Imagine a church that’s open to hearing your questions and doubts.
Welcoming all who come there. And leaving no one out.
Imagine all the people living for today.

[Cynthia speaking]

We have gone where few congregations have gone before. This congregation has taken the bold step. We are not only a church of ourselves, but we are a church of a community. And we have a community in need, in great need. And we need to get out of ourselves and assist them. And interestingly enough, by assisting them, we have helped ourselves.

[Wendy speaking]

This congregation is very bold, and has done something very bold by buying a second campus in the city of Harrisburg. And that’s very scary to the congregation and to me, but we did it anyway because we know that it’s an important thing to do…

[Clay speaking]

And I think that just purchasing a building and coming in and becoming a part of a community, a community that many of us really turned our back on, didn’t really want to know existed, and the opportunity to come, worship a few times a month has really helped people understand that many of the stereotypes and many of the ideas that maybe they had of Allison Hill and the people who live here really was unfounded. And I think that the more that we come to this place and make connections with the individuals here in Allison Hill, the better off we’ll be.

[Gloria speaking]

By the time we got to the end, the church had pretty much split. I had lost some of my dearest friends. It was just terrible. There was enough commitment by a few people—we were down to a very, very small attendance, but it went on. I don’t know that we saw much of a future.

[Cynthia speaking]

There is a little engine in this congregation that keeps on going and keeps on going. And I think it was getting down to the core, getting down to what the core of this church was, what they believe, and how important this church is to so many people of this area, and not being able to imagine central PA without a liberal religious community.
(Song)…deep in my heart, I do believe…

[Cynthia speaking]

And we started to forgive each other in what we had done, and then looked forward to bringing a settled minister in.

[Kevin speaking]

My family decided to stay with the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg after that initial attraction because there were so many different programs and classes and social action projects that we could be involved in, and there were people that invited us to be a part of that.
When I went to the Pride Fest, I was amazed again at the number of people from our Unitarian church and many of the Unitarian churches in central PA that were there to be the shield between the parade participants and the protesters.

[Kevin speaking]

I wish I was as good as some of the people who do…I mean, their doing that prompts me more to do the Race Against Racism and things that aren’t necessarily for myself.
Probably 2003-2004, I could see that we were physical having space issues and that there were limits to the programs we could do in the church because committees and groups would be vying for the same space.

[Clay speaking]

We all agreed that we needed more space; we just didn’t know exactly how to go about. Whether it be building a church or figuring out how to raise funds to renovate our current building, or moving into Harrisburg.

[JD speaking]

I saw the pitfalls of taking on a building this large and the age that this building is, but they didn’t really frighten me. What frightened me was that the congregation itself would experience a tension around the decision about whether to move forward with this, that the personal and emotional and spiritual bonds that held this church together wouldn’t hold. I’m relieved now a year and a half later to see that…I won’t say I needn’t have worried, but everything has turned out fine.

[Clay speaking]

Well, the congregational meeting in 2008 was really an experience to behold. It was…well, leading up to the meeting, none of us really know what to expect. We didn’t know if people would storm out in anger, or if we would all just hold hands and sing songs and agree on most things. It was one of the more interesting church meetings that I’ve ever been a part of.

[JD speaking]

It had been a week of controversy. Emails back and forth, flame wars even, people very concerned, on the one hand that we wouldn’t take this once in a lifetime opportunity that was so in line with what we said we wanted to do, and on the other hand, people extremely concerned about taking on a huge new expense, and debt related to that expense, right in the middle of a recession. Many people were concerned about the neighborhood itself. There was concern about whether there was an undercurrent or a conspiracy, maybe, to move the entire congregation to this building and get rid of this old building that was so beloved to many in the congregation…and that all came to a head during the last few days of that week. And in the end, it came down to a vote, either we were going to do this risky thing, or not do it. This was a decision where you had to vote yes or no.

[Leta speaking]

I think that any time you are on an adventure together, any time you are growing, any time you really are engaged in a good measure of discovery, and of taking risk, I think that’s a really messy proposition. And so, it hasn’t been neat, and we haven’t tied everything up in a bow, and there are times when we have argued mightily among us, and where there’ve been hurt feelings, and maybe not such great feelings, and I just think that’s part of our struggle together, and that’s part of the risk that we take in being together.

[Clay speaking]

We are striving to live out our principles. We come to church every Sunday, we sing, we hug, we listen to Howard’s incredible sermons, and that’s all good. But what really is going to be important as we go forward is to show people that we don’t just talk the talk, but we also walk the walk. We find opportunities, we look for opportunities, and we don’t just watch them from afar, but we get involved.

[Cynthia speaking]

There are no limits. There are no limits at this point.

Song

People all over the world, join hands, start a love train, love train. Next stop we make will be England. To tell all the folks in Russia and China too. Don’t you know that it’s time to get on board and that this train will keep on riding, riding on through.

[Leta speaking]

I don’t think we ever get this work done. There will never be a destination. And somehow we have to get settled with that, we just have to be ok with that.

[Cynthia speaking]

The congregation has stepped over this little white line, and is starting to see what it’s like on the other side, and I can’t imagine that they’re going to want to stop.

[Leta speaking]

We will never, ever get this work completely done.

Song

For my wandering now has ended, so goodbye, farewell, shalom.
Now at last I found to you I’m bound…I am coming home.
Coming home, coming home to see you again.
Coming home, coming home to you.
With the stars as my guide, I’ll be there at your side, I am coming home.

When the tides are calm and gentle, when the sea is mist and foam,
Then I’ll think of you with love so true, I am coming home.
Coming home, coming home to see you again.
Coming home, coming home to you.
With the stars as my guide, I’ll be there at your side, I am coming home.
I have traveled sea and mountain, distant pathways I did roam,
Now it’s time, my friend, for journey’s end.
I am coming home.

For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, September 5, 2011.

Sidebar Content, Page Navigation

 

Multimedia

General Assembly 2010 Event 4003 (Excerpt from Plenary IV)  

More Multimedia

Updated and Popular

Recently Updated

For Newcomers

Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.

Page Navigation