When I was a high school student, trying to figure out the world and my place in it, I joined the Unitarian Church. Of course, “joined” is a strange word. I didn’t pay dues or sign a membership card. But I attended services at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles and was active in its youth group, the Liberal Religious Youth (LRY).
Part of it was a seeking a sense of place. But who is kidding who? There was a girl I liked who was in the LRY at the Throop Memorial Church in Pasadena. The parties were great. We smoked Marlboro cigarettes (and other things), listened to old records of Mississippi John Hurt and read Siddhartha.
We had a camp up in the San Bernardino Mountains near Lake Big Bear, which we organized ourselves. We had one camp in the Spring and one in the Summer. It was during the Spring camp in March of 1965 (I was 17) that we got word that the Reverend James Reeb, a Unitarian minister who was organizing for the great Selma March, was attacked by a mob of Klansmen and murdered.
That night we gathered in Reverend Reeb’s honor with candles under the pine trees. Many of us were already active in the school desegregation battles raging in Los Angeles at the time. That night we all pledged to do more.
After high school, I left LRY and the Unitarian church. Although “left” is a strange word since I simply moved on to other things. But the fight for equality and social justice that is at the heart of the Unitarian Univeralist Association, as it is now called, deeply informed the lives of all of us.
I thought of those days when I heard about the shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church. It is a tragedy, but not a surprise, that someone who would so violently hate progressive thinking, tolerance, and social activism, would target a Unitarian church.
I was thinking of Reverend Reeb.
You can read Martin Luther King’s eulogy for the Reverend James Reeb here.