First Parish Church of Groton Unitarian Universalist
by Melinda Green
It must have been a hot, humid, heavy afternoon in the summer of 1795 when lightning struck
the steeple of the First Parish Meeting House in Groton, Massachusetts, setting it on fire. The
resounding crack of the lightning strike and the alarmed bellows of the livestock grazing on the Town
Common must have summoned folks from all directions to the big white church on the hill where the
members worshipped their God and the townspeople elected their Fence Viewer.
People in that time had a different understanding of natural phenomena, and the good folks of Groton
were not alone in the world in believing that fire caused by lightning could only be extinguished by
milk. So the story goes that the people (probably the men) ran to a nearby farm and carried milk back
to the blaze. Imagine: cows and pigs scattering, men running, Reverend Chaplain shouting
instructions. Chaos: wooden buckets yanked from a cool stone cellar, milk sloshing down the fronts
of the men’s breeches and stocking, as they race up the hill.
By the dedicated application of milk, the men extinguished the fire and saved their
meetinghouse from destruction. The very same meetinghouse still stands today—blackened beams in
the bell tower and all—and a hardy congregation of Unitarian Universalists worships there.
The story of the people offering life-sustaining milk to rescue the burning meetinghouse—the locus
of Groton’s life-sustaining community—inspired me to write this poem. In the process of doing so, I
discovered my own call to Unitarian Universalist ministry.
(Notation regarding milk extinguishing fire caused by lightening is from Applied Science - Physics (3B)
Post Lab doi:
First Parish Church of Groton, Unitarian Universalist
In the summer of 1795 lightning struck the church. The ensuing fire was said to have been
extinguished with milk from a nearby farm, the thought being at that time that water would not
put out a fire ignited by lightning.
-“Our History” http://www.uugroton.org/history.html
When lightning smote the steeple,
haunted by their grandparents’ whispers
(“the Prince of Power of the Air!”)
the people lugged milk to the Meeting House
where they worshipped their God and
elected their parish Fence Viewer.
hauling up buckets of the day’s labors
Reverend Chaplain’s palms blistering on the pail handles
columns of milk flashing into steam and sugared smoke
throats closing on ashes and prayers.
heads bowed over butterless supper tables
seventy-two stair-treads, dung-muddy and souring.
I imagine it all but cannot believe the milk.
Yet I’ve seen blackened beams in the bell-tower
and surely, the clamor that calls me here
is the same exhortation
to give what I have
to save what matters most.
Melinda W. Green 2006