Notes on Two Hundred Years (and More)
by Douglas H. Parkhurst
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (UUCD) has for many years offered a program of worship services during the months of July and August. Such is not necessarily a part of the schedules of other Unitarian Universalist (UU) groups, however. Some take the summer off, some plan an occasional service or different form of gathering. Evening services may be offered during the summer by one UU church and another may open for one month and close for the other. There are small country congregations offering services only during the summer. A federated (multi-denominational, including UU) church may open their building(s) on a weekly or monthly rotating basis. And some, like UUCD, make July and August services a continuing part of their usual worship practice. There is no hard and fast rule UU congregations must follow.
Looking back to the mid-twentieth century we see what is now called UUCD using different summer-time worship schedules. Services might be conducted by the minister into July; he (there were no “shes” pastoring the UUCD then) would take a vacation in August. Other years there were no summer services. Typically the month of June would see the usual Sunday morning activities, perhaps a special service for Children’s Sunday, the close of religious education classes, and a congregational picnic. This writer remembers as a child attending family picnics for church members at Squantz Pond State Park in New Fairfield and Putnam Park in Redding and Bethel. June picnics were a popular activity during the UUCD’s West Redding years. Across the driveway from the Barn were the spacious and mostly level lawns around Founders House. These and the large back porch of Founders House were ideal for picnicking, barbecuing, playing games, and just plain sitting, relaxing, and visiting.
David Bryce, from the Unitarian Church of Westport, completing his studies at Yale Divinity School and serving a ministerial internship under the guidance of UUCD’s Rev. Barbara Pescan, led summer services at the Barn in 1991. Lay-led services continued the next two summers; members Henry Lewis, Gale Alexander, James Ramey, Bette and Paul LaCombe, Lynn Bernstein, and John Hofer were among the presenters. Seven services (plus one Sunday morning “field trip” to the Westport Unitarian church) were conducted in July and August 1994. Leaders and topics that season included Richard Erb and Douglas Parkhurst discussing Freemasonry. Ursula Goebel’s “An Ordeal to Remember” was based on her mother’s memories of forced labor in Nazi Germany. Marcia Brooker presented “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. Joanne Davidson’s topic was “Antoinette Brown Blackwell – Having It All in the Nineteenth Century.” June Volckhausen and David Volckhausen offered a program of music. Guest and Danbury historian Jerrold Davis spoke on the history of Danbury churches.
Summer services became well-established at the Barn. They sometimes included presentations with patriotic themes around Fourth of July; these were a “specialty” of long-time member Henry Lewis. Rev. Daniel O’Connell, ministering at West Redding from 1996 to 2002, led services some years in late August as a prelude to the new church year beginning in September. Other summer services of that era covered topics like spirituality, P.T. Barnum, poetry, friendship, and good and evil. More recently, July and August services at 24 Clapboard Ridge Road have included talks as diverse as on trade justice, human overpopulation, spirituality in music, sacred geometry, and improv comedy.
UUCD’s summer services may be briefer and more informal than those conducted during the rest of the year. Most continue to be lay-led. Child care and children’s programs have been available some summer seasons but not others. Rev. Kathleen Rudoff, consulting minister at UUCD for the past two years, as a lay person at the Barn organized and directed children’s activities during the summers of 1999 and 2000. Be sure to check this issue of Comment for details of the 2023 summer schedule.