University to Purchase Woodlawn Houses from Meadville Lombard

The University of Chicago has agreed to purchase two more buildings belonging to Meadville Lombard Theological School, located at 5707 and 5711 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Last month the University and Meadville Lombard announced the sale of the theological school’s main academic and administrative building, subject to the approval of University Trustees.

The buildings at 5707 and 5711, originally designed as single-family houses, have been used most recently by Meadville Lombard principally for office space. Meadville Lombard officials said its group of buildings on South Woodlawn Avenue no longer serves the seminary’s needs, because its educational model has shifted from a small residential operation to larger classes that use innovative distance-learning methods, combined with periodic intensive classroom sessions. The sales will allow Meadville Lombard to reallocate its resources to its core educational mission.

Meadville Lombard officials said that the search for new space is underway. An announcement about the School’s new facilities is expected toward the end of March.

University officials said that as the University continues to grow, these buildings will fill a need for academic space close to its historic campus, while honoring and maintaining the character of the immediate neighborhood.

The sales of these two buildings are expected to close by summer.

see announcement on meadville.edu

Wild & Precious: Homily 3 of 3 from January Vespers

Michelle Buhite, a Modified Residency Program student, delivered this homily at the final vespers of January 2011.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
–Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

I wonder how many of us remember how to fall down into the grass, to kneel there, and to be idle. Our lives are over-full with appointments, books to be read, and promises to keep. The world of instant communication and ready technology does not teach us how to be still, how to engage the intimacies of the natural world. Too often we awake and step into the torrent that is our lives, and like white-water rafters, we careen through our day until we find ourselves washed ashore amid the litter of plastic water bottles and the wrapper of the power bar we ate for lunch. Where is the time to connect with the Holy? How can we find the time or energy to put our principles into action when we are barely able to surface long enough to gasp for air? How can we possibly do one more thing?

The poem does not ask us what completed projects we will leave behind for others to admire. It does not ask us to provide a time card detailing our daily activities and dedication to our work. The poem asks us to fall to our knees in the grass in prayer and to stroll through fields and along paths, breathing in the scent of dying leaves and rotting apples; for everything dies too soon.

Who we are, together and to the world, will long outlive us. Our love – the unconditional acceptance that we put into motion – will ripple out from our immediate lives and circumstances to make the world a more loving and tolerant place. But this reflection is not just about our legacy, what we leave behind that is somehow quantifiable, although our impact on the world is certainly important. The question remains, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The question, taken in the context of the rest of the poem, is not just a DO question – it is also a BE question. We are not asked to show an accounting of our accomplishments, nor are we asked to provide references to vouch for our spiritual resumé. We are challenged simply to be; to be fully present to the world as it is presented to us. We are challenged to enter the flow of our lives, with all of the changes that come with being fully alive and fully engaged.

What will I do with my one wild and precious life? That question cuts through my personal to-do list and gives me clarity. What will I do with this one life I’ve been gifted with? Will I try to make as much money as I can? Get all A’s? Get my name attached to as many worthy causes as I have energy for and get my picture in the paper? Or might I fall to my knees in the grass and learn to pray? Might I stroll through fields and breathe my gratitude for the gift that is my life?

What might this faith community do to be present to one another and to name the loss that is the ever-present specter in our engagement? I think we need to speak of a love that never dies; a connection that cannot be broken, though life and death conspire to make us feel disconnected and alone. This is my 4th and final January here in Chicago, and it’s been a tough one. I lost one of my best friends a week and a half ago – and I’m still kind of reeling at his death. I have been lovingly supported by this community. I don’t know about you, but I find that by the last week of intensives, that I’m pretty fragile; I start to get that fluttery, panicky feeling of anticipated loss and disconnection. In his poem, “A Little Piece of our Souls,” Steven Smith says that:

Everywhere we go we take our souls with us.
And every time we meet someone we wrap a little piece of our souls around them
and pass it through them.
All our lives, we weave our souls
around and through everyone we meet,
tying a complex, tangled web to the earth.

That is who we are to one another – a community, a tangled web of love and attachment. We serve Love and we serve one another in love. We keep the flame of memory and hope burning when the world all around us has gone dark. In this circle of hope we lose track of where one ends and another begins, as we weave our stories, our dreams, our hopes, our tears together into a single narrative about relationship, caring and love. Each one who steps into our circle of compassion is challenged and changed. Each one who steps into our circle of compassion reflects the image of those others who hold the rim of the circle now and those who have gone before us. Because “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” You have woven a piece of your soul around and through me, just as I have wrapped my soul around you. Let us speak of a love that never dies; a connection that cannot be broken – and let us offer that love and connection to ourselves, to each other, and to a world that aches for it. What else were you going to do with your one wild and precious life?

From this house / to the world / we will go / hand in hand.

Standing in the Intersection: Homily 2 of 3 from January Vespers

Brock Leach, a graduating Modified Residency Program student, delivered this homily at the final vespers of January 2011.

Opening Words:

Good evening.  Many of us participating in the service tonight– Michelle, Dennis, Lisa, and I—are only too aware that this will be our last vesper service as Meadville Lombard MRP students.  It’s bittersweet. But we also recognize that this is a poignant moment for everyone gathered here– the last January vespers of this year, perhaps the last January vespers ever in this space– at this particular intersection of history and place.    So as we gather in that liminal space between our deeply rooted past and our exciting, frightening, unknown future, I’d like to open with these centering words from Rev. Bill Murray…

These are the days that have been given to us;
Let us rejoice and be glad in them.
These are the days of our lives;
Let us live them well in love and service;
These are the days of mystery and wonder:
Let us cherish and celebrate them in gratitude together.
These are the days that have been given to us:
Let us make them stories worth telling to those who come after us.
— William R. Murray

Reflection

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m standing right in the middle of very busy intersection right about now. I’m not talking about my course work– I’m talking about this one, this intersection right here at 57th and Woodlawn.  It feels familiar and beloved, but it also feels unnerving, exciting, dangerous, a little unpredictable. I think I know where I’m going– I just gotta get across this intersection.  I’m not 100% sure I’ll make it safely to the other side, but I see people here I love and trust.  I have faith that together we’ll see each other through.

That physical intersection right out there has deep personal meaning for me.  This is the very place where I found Unitarian Universalism 30 years ago when my wife and I were students at the U. of C. business school.  Walking through this intersection every day we noticed the provocative sermon titles on that wayside pulpit out there, and thought ‘now that’s an interesting church’!   We never went in.  It was only a few years later in Dallas, Texas when we had our first child and needed a church that we looked up “Unitarian” in the yellow pages…  and the rest is history.

And who could have imagined then that both of our kids would choose to go to the U. of C. and walk through this same intersection every day, or that I’d be standing here right now as a seminarian. . . lo these many years and fewer hairs later.  In a way I can’t explain, it all feels like it just was meant to be.

But this intersection has even deeper meaning for me, because it represents that dynamic space where great ideas meet and mingle; where theology collides with praxis, where we all return every January like weirdly disoriented migratory fowl to nurture and sustain one another on the path to ministry.

For eighty years this intersection has been witness to the ferocious winds off the lake, and even more ferocious winds of the spirit.  Gales of reason and scholarship have conjured up some outrageous heresies right here at this intersection. I don’t want to name names, but some of the leading heretics are among us right now.   It has been the meeting place of some of the greatest minds and hearts in our modern religious history—from the process thinkers and pragmatists to the humanists and scholars of liberal theology, to leading proponents of religious naturalism and post-modern ethics.  A disproportionate share of our denominational leaders have walked through this intersection.   More important still, it’s been the intellectual and spiritual crossroads to some 400 alumni who have led and served our faith with distinction.

More than any other I can think of, this particular intersection has been that unnerving, exciting, dangerous space where our past is joined to our future and Unitarian Universalism is recreated anew.

Like Dennis, I love the buildings, particularly that quirky neo-gothic building across the street for all it says about us.  Its age and solidity speak to all the history and depth of our tradition.  It’s designed to look larger and grander than it actually is, perfectly suited to a faith with influence larger than its numbers.  And just like Unitarian Universalism as a whole, it’s clear that art and thoughtful craftsmanship triumphed over anything practical in its design.   Where else can you avail yourself of modern plumbing and still know what it’s like to pee outdoors in the winter?

I’ll be among the many who will grieve the loss of our buildings.   But deep down I know it’s really the human institution I love, and my real fear is that all this change… in program and facility and governance and allegiances—despite all best intentions—will somehow cause us to lose this vital intersection of intellect and spirit.

Will Meadville be enriched and empowered by proximity to other progressive religions?   Will it be enlivened by a multi-campus presence and a cutting edge program that throws open the doors of the seminary– physically and spiritually?   Or will its unique role as the center of Unitarian Universalist theology and thought gradually decline and ebb away?

Personally, I’m willing to bet the institution will emerge much stronger, but there’s no sure way to know.  We can only be aware that we’re standing at an especially promising and precarious moment when anything is possible.

As Unitarian Universalists, that’s exactly where we’re called to stand. Not only does our progressive religion embrace change and growth as the very essence of life, but our faith in human agency calls us to intentionally stand right there in the middle of that intersection– in that liminal space between the past and future, present to all the creative possibilities of the moment and acting on those possibilities to create our future together.

And as ministers, we’re especially called to that role. This vocation we’ve chosen requires us to plant ourselves right along side people in that uncomfortable, uncertain space between crisis and healing, life and death, self-satisfaction and inconvenient truth.  It asks us to be companions to one another in the transition– present for the possibility of unspeakable loss as well as the possibility for creating a whole new beginning.

For me, it’s the fact that all of you have answered the call to be present for those possibilities that gives me courage and fills me with hope.  This year, meeting all my new partners in ministry was very exciting.  But every year when I’m back here and meet all the talented, passionate, loving people who make up this school my faith is renewed.  In every succeeding year I find my colleagues more determined to break down all the barriers that separate us from one another, more committed to building stronger alliances and more authentic relationships, more present to all the possibilities for restoring health and wholeness in the world around us.

You all renew my faith that we will safely see each other through this moment and many others to follow.  You give me hope that in another eighty years from now Meadville Lombard will still be the vital intellectual and spiritual intersection of a larger and more vibrant Unitarian Universalism.

I feel blessed to have you all as colleagues.  I’m so grateful that we are standing together in the intersection. I look forward to walking by your side in all the years ahead.

Wizardry and Stones: Homily 1 of 3 from January Vespers

Dennis Reynolds, a graduating Modified Residency Program student, delivered this homily at the final vespers of January 2011.

On the first morning of this year’s trip to Hyde Park, I got up early, had breakfast, put on my big puffy Chicago coat and headed over to Hogwarts. Yes Hogwarts.  You gotta admit, this place is definitely Hogwartian.

I mean, just look at the buildings like here in First Church. I remember the year when our convocation dinner was over in the main sanctuary.  With tables set out and the chandeliers it felt like we were dining in the great hall at Hogwarts.  Then there’s the Meadville building itself: steep stairwells and high ceilings, dark paneling and old portraits, some of which actually moved out of the Curtis room to places unknown.

When I got to campus, I ventured down into the catacombs, past the haunted bathroom to get my keys.  After that it was upstairs to check out the library and on to the third floor to see if the ghost of James Luther Adams, that brilliant teacher known as JLA, might be lurking about.

I invite all of you, if you haven’t already done so, to create notions of which faculty are most like which characters in the books. I have my version, but I dast not share that in public, at least not until I graduate.  The greatest similarity between Hogwarts and Meadville Lombard lies in the student body, in all of us, who were called to come here to study wizardry.  We packed up our books and owls and set off.  We trusted it would work out as we bravely crashed through the wall on our individual platforms number 9 ¾.

The muggles around us looked at us a little sideways and scratched their heads.  We just had to.  It seems that some power had put in our heads this wild notion of becoming wizards (I mean ministers).  Though we have no real scar upon our foreheads, a magical calling HAS altered our prefrontal cortex.

So, on my first day back I was off next to Diagon Alley to the Flourish and Blotts bookstore, actually to the Seminary Co-op, but those who have been there know that its crammed corridors and maze of low-ceiling-ed rooms contain a truly amazing array of books about theology and magic.

I pass the bookstore by and head for my favorite place on campus.  It’s a hallway off the courtyard of The Chicago Theology School.  It is ancient looking, with padded benches on one side and windows that look out on flagstone courtyard on the other.  I have spent many an hour there eating lunch and catching up on reading.  It is not too hot and not too cold, just right for relaxing and reading.

Down the corridor is the best part.  There is small chapel there.  It is stark and sparsely furnished with just a simple cross behind an unremarkable altar.  Its magic lies in its windows: wonderful stained glass windows made up of tiny bits of color that on overcast days give the space a warm ethereal glow.  When the sun shines, it is radiant, filled with dancing splashes of vivid color.

This time, the chapel was closed.  It seems that CTS has sold the building and the windows will be relocated into their new more modern space.  They’re taking a bit of the magic with them.  Out in the hallway I linger and marvel at the strange masonry there.  Among the red bricks are irregular stones stuck into the wall.  Each one has a carved label next to it.  There’s a stone from the Great Divide and a piece that simply says China.  There’s a bit of decorative molding from the Agora in Cornith, a shard of Wycliff tile from Queen’s College in Oxford, a Stone from Solomon’s Quarry and a wee bit of the Isle of Shoals.  There is a piece of Wartburg Castle, where back in 1521 Martin Luther slept.  There too, is a 4th century corner stone from Hebron.  Each stone is a talisman of history carried across time and space.

Gazing upon those stones from the past and watching the craftsmen remove the stained glass I think of what is happening with our beloved Meadville Building.  It’s official.  Hogwarts has been sold.

Perhaps, its time for us to think about what part of the place we’d like to take with us. I don’t imagine though that the University of Chicago, the building’s new owners, would take too kindly to our busting off chunks of the building as souvenirs,

I do think though there are some stones we can take with us.  It’s the stones that James Luther Adams, who walked those halls and climbed that stairway, called the 5 stones of liberal religion.  They are:

  1. Knowing that Revelation and truth are not closed, but are constantly revealed.
  2. That All relations between persons ought ideally to rest on mutual, free consent and not coercion.
  3. An Affirmation of the moral obligation to direct one’s effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community.
  4. Denial of the immaculate conception of virtue and affirmation of the necessity of social incarnation. Good must be consciously given form and power within history.
  5. The resources divine and human (and I might add Magical) that are available for achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of optimism. There is hope in the ultimate abundance of the Universe.

Yes lets take those with us

May it be so…