M Eloise Adams remembers the Four Corners

James Luther Adams, faculty 1936-1956

There is no one on the blog from Meadville that I remember. I grew up in Channing House from 1936 to when JLA left to go to HDS in 1957.  Is there anyone left from the history  in the 30’s and 40’s?  Does anyone remember the days when students whistled at the Channing House youngsters on Woodlawn Ave.  I guess not.  I have 8 millimeter movies converted to VHS and then to DVD and now in my computer.  I guess my sister and I are the only ones left to remember when Thanksgiving Dinner was a big event we shared with the students living at Meadville House which was part of the “four corners”.  I am M. Eloise Adams, James Luther Adams’ oldest daughter.  My remaining sister Barbara shares my nostalgia for the days growing up on Woodlawn Avenue and grieve over the way the inside of Channing House was destroyed in some “renovation”.   Now the school goes to Michigan Avenue which even recent students I have met wonder how that could happen!

Rev. Marvin Evans Remembers 57th & Woodlawn

I enrolled at Meadville fifty years ago and received a B.D. with the class of 1963.  It was in many ways a different day and age.  I was 35 with a spouse and two children.  My recollection, not entirely trustworthy, was that only three students were older: namely, Art Johnson, who did not graduate; Edgar Peara, who did graduate; and me.  I did not at that point have a graduate degree, but had been an archivist and research historian for eleven years.

I wrote extensively about those days in my memoir, Pearl’s Boy, which I published privately and distributed privately in 2010.

Relationships between faculty and students were quite formal:  we always used titles like Mr., Dr., etc.  Many students paid no tuition and in addition received a stipend for living expenses.  Chapel was four nights a week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday had a vespers service and Friday was a full service, followed by dinner at Meadville House.

The community gathers for an evening at Meadville House, early 1960s.

A rather quick perusal of the 2009 UUA Directory indicates that eighteen of us are still listed (although it is possible that some have passed away since that directory was published).  In any event, my list is as follows, in alphabetical order:

  •  David Bumbaugh
  • Bruce Clary
  • Ron Engle
  • Marvin Evans
  • Rudy Gelsey
  • Jack Hayward
  • Jim Hobart
  • David Johnson
  • Fred Lipp
  • Ralph Mero
  • Michael O’Kelly
  • Edgar Peara
  • John Robinson
  • David Sammons [later graduated from Starr King]
  • Neil Shadle
  • Allen Wells
  • Jim Wentz
  • Bob Wolfe

I later served on the Board of Trustees of the school in the late 70s and early 80s.

The Meadville Lombard Board of Trustees meeting, May 1981.

Rev. Dr. Randolph W.B. Becker Remembers 57th & Woodlawn

My first attempt to get to 57th and Woodlawn was an abortive one.  I decided to visit the school on my January break in 1967, as I was examining options for a September 1968 start to my theological education.  I headed west from Boston on January 27 on the New England States Limited.  We were running well until about Toledo where a great mob boarded the train with stories of the Interstate closed, no buses, no flights, etc.  By the time we reached the Englewood Station (where I was de-training for the crosstown 63rd Street bus) we were in the midst of the record 23″ blizzard.  Not only did I de-train but so did everyone else.  The tracks downtown were fouled with a derailment.  Soon, about 1500 people jammed the little station, and we found that the El had quit, that buses were all stuck (800+ in total), and no one was going anywhere.  I called Meadville Lombard and reached a janitor who said that no one else was there and to not even try coming over.  So much for my interview.  I caught the first eastbound train to come through, and headed out of snow country.

I did meet up with President Sutherland for an admission interview in Boston later that year, was admitted to both Meadville Lombard and the University of Chicago, and returned to campus in early summer 1968 to look for housing. The virtually empty, hot, and stuffy building at 57th and Woodlawn looked like something out of another era to me, a graduate of 20 year old Brandeis University which was filled with modern architecture.

Meadville Lombard President Sutherland speaks on the phone in his office, c. 1960.

I decided to share the upper apartment in the carriage house at 1214 East 57th Street, opposite the main door to the main building.  My move into that apartment became the summer equivalent of my initial Meadville Lombard journey.  I arrived at LaSalle Street Station on the opening day of the 1968 Democratic National Convention . . . long-haired, carrying a backpack and a bedroll (I was continuing on to the SRL Continental Conference) . . . and upon coming out the door of LaSalle Street Station I was asked where I thought I was going by a National Guardsman.  I said I was headed to the Illinois Central to go down to the UofC, and I was escorted to the IC station by a contingent of Guardsmen and told not to even think about coming back up into the city if I knew what was good for me.  That night, with the windows all opened to catch any breeze in the summer air, I could hear relentless sirens back toward the Loop.

By the September 1968 start of orientation, the Police Riot was history and we were ready to start. 17 of us.  Reduced to 16 by the end of orientation, with a theological career and a new marriage a casualty of orientation.  Some of the class had only set foot in a Unitarian Universalist congregation less than a dozen times. Others of us were lifers.  It was a mix of those who were there for careers and those who were there to avoid the draft.  Anger at the system, at the administration (US and Meadville Lombard), at life in general was in the air.

The library seemed archaic compared to what I had experienced as an undergrad.  The main building seemed more suited to a bygone era than the present, much less the future.  My D.Min. curriculum included all mandated classes for two years (8 quarters including Clinical Pastoral Education) and then two years of all electives, split between Meadville Lombard and the University of Chicago.  The main events of community life were weekly Chapel and community dinners, which underwent drastic curtailment by my second year.  With a majority of the students living on the north side, and an almost-majority not thoroughly committed to Unitarian Universalism, community was a elusive entity.

I said good-bye to 57th and Woodlawn midway through my second year, heading off to do Clinical Pastoral Education in Minnesota, get married, and complete a quarter at a Minnesota State University.  I then settled in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, while serving the Unitarian Church North in Mequon, Wisconsin “part-time” (part-time meaning preaching only 3 Sundays a month and being responsible for all other aspects of ministry).

In late Spring of 1970, I returned to Meadville Lombard, to the second flood classroom, to meet with the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee.  An hour later I had my “1″ from them, which left only my completion of the equivalent courses for an M. Div. to allow me to enter search and the completion of my D. Min. to obtain preliminary Fellowship.  (My Meadville Lombard program offered only the completed Doctor of Ministry . . . it was all or nothing.)   Later that day in Wisconsin my wife of two months was offered a teaching job in a district close to Mequon.

I commuted to 57th and Woodlawn two or three days a week for the next two years for courses in the main season and took graduate courses at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in the summer.  By June 1972, my class had been winnowed to three of us: Bart Gould, Don Marshall, and myself.  Graduation at First Unitarian Church was a moving event for us survivors, of whom only I am left in the Unitarian Universalist Ministry, Don having died long ago and Bart having chosen to follow his own ethical path not consistent with our Guidelines.

Over the years I have felt that the education I received at Meadville Lombard prepared me well not only to do ministry but to be open to continuing education.  But, the education was not about the physical plant.  When I arrived the buildings were already middle aged, too-well-worn, not really suitable to the tasks of the future.  Mircea Eliade could lurk in his upper floor office, library keys could be lowered by string to those on the sidewalk, formal teas and receptions could be held in the Curtis Room, and chapel held in a formal Hull Chapel.  But, as much as I enjoyed all this quirky reality, Unitarian Universalism was more my home than any Meadville building could be.

The main building of Meadville Lombard, c. 1970.

57th and Woodlawn was an address where the really important activity could happen, but that activity also happened at addresses worldwide as graduates went forth to embody and express what was envisioned there.

Now I know I will stop by the new location of Meadville Lombard for various reasons into the future, but I am not sure I will make a pilgrimage to 57th and Woodlawn except maybe to show my grandchildren where I studied as a benchmark to tell them about all that happened in 1968.

Saying goodbye to the corner, on the eve of my 40th reunion year of graduation from there, seems much less important to me than to wonder on what corner the future of Unitarian Universalism will find its inspiration and its education and its encouragement.

You see, it never was about an address, it was about an attitude.

Bearing Witness: J. Ronald Engel on Meadville Lombard and the Chicago Years

As part of the 2011 Commencement activities, on May 14, 2011, Dr. J. Ronald Engel, Professor Emeritus, gave the following address, “Bearing Witness: Meadville Lombard and the Chicago Years.” Meadville Lombard staff scanned photos from our archives and our Videographer, Ben Kolak, inserted some of these photos into the video. We are grateful to Mrs. Barbara Murry for her work in gathering and labeling these archived photos for us. This video is 1 hour and 5 minutes long.

The Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed Remembers …

… a life at the four corners of 57th and Woodlawn.

The following video was produced as a complement to the lecture given by Dr. J. Ronald Engel, Professor Emeritus at Meadville Lombard, during our 2011 Commencement weekend activities. The lecture, “Bearing Witness: Meadville Lombard and the Chicago Years,” will be posted to this blog in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Here are some of the still photos used in the video from our archive collection:

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


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…