UUCM President’s Column
Yet if I am asked, “to whom do you belong?”, I would not want to answer, I belong only to myself”. I would say I belonged to those I love best. And to places, loved places, some inside and some outside the window, some two, three hundred miles away, but, as we say, “part of me.”
While on vacation this summer I came across a gem of cultural history. The Delicious History of the Holiday (2000) by Fred Inglis “renders lovingly” how after 1850 in the UK and USA an “egalitarian and democratic movement of popular culture” invented the family vacation. Working and middle class people found need and opportunity to “excuse themselves” from the new demands of urban industrial modernity: “to create a little space in which to renew the best, the most fulfilling and happiest relations of their lives: with those they love best, in the places they love best, and in the modest luxury life mostly denies them.”
It is worth considering what the history of our congregation in Meriden reveals in this regard. I’ll bet archival digging will yield insight into at least a few things we have inherited directly from the long summer’s past of our co-religionist ancestors.
Why, unlike most other religious denominations, do we “take the summer off” in a manner, by shifting to a lower key in our mode of Sunday worship services? Ingliss demonstrates the “mass” not just “elite” embrace of summer vacations that began in the mid 19th century. Popular church outings, retreats, study, and revivals figure significantly in this story. This alters my sense that this July/August practice came strictly from the upper crust character of many UU congregations— people for whom, as the joke goes, the word “summer” is an active verb- as in “where will you summer?”
Our congregation has always been filled with innovators, risk takers, restless critics of the conformities of their times. They sought to make change in business, politics, religion, and met with success. The grandeur and prominent location of our former stone church and by the family names of key Meriden streets— Pomeroy and Lewis— early church members, come to mind as evidence of this. How influential these model citizen leaders must have been for the congregation and the culture at large. Where did they and less well heeled congregants vacation?
The places we visit on vacation writes Inglis “provide little fables for memories to shape into biography. The places which are so enshrined become way-stations in the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, about our safe belonging, about our history.”
These pictures never wither. They join a mythic past to a free and fearless future. This is the great narrative we all seek to contrive out of our lives, the vivid coincidence of what each person believes about his or her life, with what their society can provide by way of loving corroboration and credible endorsement.