Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gettin' Medieval On Your... Unitarianism

Oh geez he's maundering on about a church he doesn't attend again.

Why, yes. Yes I am. And I might write a bit, and wax poetic, all the while trying to distract you from the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room with us all --I don't have a decent overall picture of this church.

"I got distracted, " My older son says. He's in the sixth grade, and if you send him to do something -anything- it's best if there are no butterflies or open books or glowing screens of any kind along his route, if you expect to see him anytime soon. His old man' s no different. I got distracted by the trees and forgot the forest.

I'd send you to the website for the church, but their pictures are worse still. They portray, but do not capture, if you get my meaning. What the hell, here it is: Fairhaven Memorial Unitarian Church.

Unitarians are not doctrinaire folks. I read one of their sermons. It was about exchanging fruitcakes at the holidays. The minister is British apparently, and she is surprised we don't like to eat them. She does like to eat them. She notices that some people give fruitcakes they were given as gifts to others as gifts . She says she does not because she likes to eat them. She says perhaps others re-gift them because they do not like to eat them. But she does. It's a sort of Seinfeld routine, without any jokes.

Then they're supposed to write something bad on a scrap of paper. Someone collects the scraps of paper, and they burn them. The mysteries of Unitariarism to me are profound.

The appearance of their rituals and the appearance of the building in which they celebrate them are at odds, visually. There seems to be a yearning for fellowship and not much else in the congregation, and the church looks like you might wanna burn a few heretics at the stake or flog the odd hunchback in front of it.

Gothic Revival was all based on the work, more or less, of two very influential men: Pugin, and Ruskin. Pugin is the driving architectural force behind Westminster in London, the prototypical example of gothic architecture. Ruskin identified the genesis of all gothic revival architecture as the Doges Palace in Venice. Anybody that knows what the Bridge of Sighs in Venice was for knows that this apogee of ecclesiasticalism melded to the city state wasn't talking to people about fruitcakes when questioning them in the Doges Palace. And the romantic notion of visually reviving this primitive piety through modern riffs on architecture gave us the look of it, without the reality.

It's OK by me there's no Savanorola preaching inside this church, or being burned outside it either. But it occurs to me that something should be going on in there. There sure are a lot of marvelous things going on outside.


paul a'barge said...

something should be going on in there

Whoo boy, with a Dad who is a Unitarian Universalist minister, can I ever relate!

tjl said...

The church is lovely. I think there's small risk of a Savonarola arising in Fairhaven Mass. Maybe that's what they need at the Turnpike Authority.

BTW, while driving from Providence Airport to the Cape last weekend, I noticed a small sign announcing the Sippican River. You can never escape the blogosphere.

SippicanCottage said...

tjl- You didn't wave when you drove past.

I'm hurt.

I stood on the bronze disk on the piazza outside the Palazzo del Vecchio in Florence commemorating the spot where they burned Savanarola.

No one could tell me if the monument was fer, or agin, burning him.

I noticed it had cooled off.

tjl said...

Sippican -

I will next time.

BTW, as you zip through New Bedford on the highway, you see towering over the roofs a huge Victorian Gothic church. It lacks the grace of the Unitarian church, but it's certainly commanding. What is it?

SippicanCottage said...

Hi tjl- "New Beige" as we call it around here, is a sad sack place. At one time, it was the richest place in the world, when whaling for oil was king. That was long ago.

The city is very small, and very squat. The faded aluminum siding on everything makes it a kind of low blur as you drive by.

I believe what you saw is a church spire that is visible from the highway. The church is on Coggeshall Street, which is a main thoroughfare. It's boarded up, and has been since I've been here, and I don't know what kind of church it used to be.

There is one famous church in NB; the Seaman's Bethel across from the Whaling Museum on johnnycake hill. It's in the Movie Moby Dick, and the pulpit is shaped like a whaling skiff.

I think the ceiling fell in recently.

Rick Lee said...

I always said that Unitarianism is a church for people who don't actually believe in God but nevertheless have a burning desire to get out of bed on Sundays and congregate. Just an impression I had... I wouldn't argue the point.