To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves. - Alice Walker
When you walk into our church building this month, you are greeted with a new stained glass window facing our entryway. “She rests from her labors and her works do follow her” is wrapped around a bouquet of wildflowers, “in memory of Mary Monell.” Of course this is not actually a new piece of stained glass, but a very old one, commissioned in memory of one of the founders of this congregation.
150 years ago, Mary Monell was part of a group of about a dozen people who gathered together to form a Universalist society in the newly established capital city of Lincoln, Nebraska. They had come together convinced and convicted by the words of a traveling Universalist Evangelist, who helped them raise funds to build a church - and then promptly disappeared westward, along with those funds. Mary Monell worked for years to track down that evangelist, and when it was clear that they would not be able to recoup the lost funding, she worked to raise it again. After her death in 1886, Eben Chapin, the first minister of the Universalist Society of Nebraska, preached: “Whatever this church might be in the future, it will be that, in no small degree, because Mary Monell was so faithful to the cause she loved in her day and generation. It is not usual for the Universalist church to canonize its dead, but I cannot think of this woman…without feeling that she was (our) patron saint.” The stained glass now hanging in our entryway was commissioned after her death, and moved from our congregation’s old downtown location to the basement at 6300 A Street, until our members hung it up in October.
Our theme for the month of November is “Holding History,” and it is appropriate that it falls at a time when we are marking our 150th anniversary as a community. Over the last two years, a group of our members have been working through our congregational archives, pulling out stories to celebrate. Many of those stories are on the wall in our gallery and will remain there through the month. When you have an opportunity, I hope you will take some time to browse what they have put together: we are part of a much longer story than any one of us will see. At the end of the month, we will take down the presentation in the gallery, but we will leave up the stained glass celebrating Mary Monell. May her memory be a blessing.
Rev. Oscar Sinclair serves as the Settled Minister for The Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska.