Plenary I: Our History and Our Heritage: Introduction
Good evening. My name is Mark Harris, and I want to welcome you all on behalf of the program
committee to the first joint session of the convocation on UU history and heritage. During the
course of the weekend, there will be three plenary discussions in which important scholars and
leaders will reflect on major themes of UU history and heritage.
Our first plenary is called “Our History and Our Heritage.” The words History and
Heritage have different meanings and uses for ministers, professional historians, educators,
and congregants. What are the tensions and what can each learn from the other? We are
asking each panelist to reflect for about ten to twelve minutes on their own response to these
differences, and then we will have time for questions and discussion.
In introducing our theme, let me say that this is a tension I have experienced
throughout my own career as minister and historical dabbler. I have felt torn as
someone who was in graduate school in American history, but never finished the
Ph.D., and went on to heed the call of ministry. I have mostly served parishes where
I have often created worship services of simple historical dramatizations that have the
spirit of the people and times involved but also include the use of some creative
license with the history facts. Yet I have also been involved in serious historical
research. How do we work on this boundary between heritage and history? Is there
some dividing line that is reflected in that one begins with his and the other with her?
Are these irreconcilable opposites or different approaches that all pursue the one goal
of learning about, teaching, and handing on our free faith.
Our panelists are:
Kathy Parker , a scholar and teacher in Pittsburgh, PA, who has just completed a history of UUism
in Western Pennsylvania, and is the editor of the Journal of UU History.
Dorothy Emerson , a community minister who has worked tirelessly on the Margaret Fuiller
bicentennial, was the founder of the UUWHS, and is the editor of that vital book of original
writings by UU women, Standing Before Us.
Gordon Gibson , a retired UU minister, emeritus in Elkhart, IN, and living in Knoxville. Gordon
is the president of the UUHS, and is working on a manuscript about the Civil Rights era in UU
John Buehrens , minister, theologian and historian. John is minister in Needham, MA, and former
president of the UUA. The author or co-author of several books, he has just completed Unitarians
and Universalists in America: A People's History.