Blog went on hiatus because I’m struggling with depression – seasonal and post-election – and an overload of work.
In the midst of this miasma I had an experience that brought me to a world at once known and mysterious, beautiful and brutal, oppressing and uplifting.
A friend had invited me to a poetry reading for Marilyn Nelson’s The Meeting House. It is a collection that celebrates the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Old Lyme Congregational Church.
I’ve heard Marilyn read her magical verse before and was anticipating an intense experience. Sadly, a health problem kept her home, but “the show must go on,” and so it did. Members of the congregation did their star turns.
Through their expert readings, we experienced fires (more than one), a “marriage” of enslaved people, wars, religious awakenings, gossip. Each reader conveyed the poems’ intensity and perception and grace, along with Marilyn’s biting humor.
We began in 1666, before Lyme and Old Lyme became separate towns, with the first strike of metal on metal – hammer and nails invading the world of butterflies and Native Americans — to create the first meeting house, which we learn was segregated men from women, young from old, and sort of black from white.
The church’s charismatic young minister, the Rev. Dr. Steven R. Jungkeit (the nineteenth in the line), read the concluding poem, “Ruminations Down Lyme Street.” I was proud to note that Marilyn’s litany included “the Negro pharmacist.” That pharmacist was my Granduncle Fritz M. James, who operated the other James Pharmacy just up the road from the church.
It was thoroughly appropriate that Steve read the concluding lines: “A pastor might feel it’s a privilege/to serve and guide this faith community/that is trying to be the change we need to see.” For him, it is indeed a privilege.