First Parish in Concord History and Impact of Social Action Grants

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Appendix 2

Interviews with First Parish Members

Individuals interviewed and subject matter focus are summarized here (Name – Topics):



  1. Betty King

  1. Lucy Saxenian

  2. Dick, Carolyn Shohet

4. Stewart

  1. Peggy Gallo

  2. Tim Warren

  3. Mark Connelly

  4. Phil Villers

  5. Katharine Esty

  6. John Esty

  7. Dave Dawson

  8. Di Clymer

  9. Gary Smith

  10. Jim Reynolds

  11. Rich Stower

  12. Loretta Ho Sherblom

  13. Winifred Campbell

  14. Ivan Massar

  1. Early history, Planned Parenthood, Refugee Resettlement

  2. Hernandez School

  3. Concord Prison Outreach

  4. Office Manager

  5. Collector

  6. Rev Jellis, Early SRC Leaders

  7. Rev Jellis, Black Churches

  8. SRC positions on issues, Refugee resettlement

  9. Jericho Road

  10. Greeley Foundation

  11. City Year

  12. Concord Prison Outreach

  13. SAC Policies, Open Table, Greeley

  14. Common Cathedral, SAC Policies

  15. Refugee Resettlement

  16. SAC Policies, Funding percentage, Open Table

  17. Renewal House

  18. Transylvania, Vietnam War, Civil Rights

Stories of SAC People

  1. Betty King. Interviewed 12/3/2010

She and her husband joined the church in 1972, as soon as they came to town. Eventually they had seven children who all grew up in the church. Very fond of Dana Greeley—he had his office right near the side door, loved to pop out and ask how things were going when you came in the door. One of his early assistant ministers was Pat Green (who later died)—he was in charge of SAC and was a real "go-getter."

She thinks that Betsy and Marc Connelly were the starters of SAC. Gene Brown was active, especially with a thing called “The Place”, a teen drop in center located (of all places) in Trinity Church. Betty did some mailing for this place. Maybe there were drugs involved---she is not sure.

Gene Brown was chair of the standing committee when Betty was on it.

Loretta and Peter Harwood were the two who got the percentage of the pledge money to go to SAC. Greeley supported it strongly. If there were a need for more, for a specific purpose, Dana would call up some of the rich people and get a donation.

The UUSC was supported, but it was not a big piece.

In later years, Jim Robinson, an assistant minister, was very involved. He actually gave his house to a family from Viet Nam (Diep To). Robinson wound up as the minister in Brewster, on the Cape.

Two additional families were cared for, the family from Chile, and the four teenagers from Bosnia. Bill Seaver and Loretta very involved in these events. Dian Pekin, too. The four kids eventually wound up under the care of two housemasters from Harvard, both female.

Planned Parenthood was an interest of several, including Ruth Backus (Anne Wanzer’s mother).

  1. Lucy Saxenian. Interviewed 12/5/2010

She and Hrand joined the church in the late 60’s. For the first years, they were involved with children. Lucy retired in 1994, and she and 3 - 4 others went down to the Hernandez school and volunteered to do tutoring for about 5 years.

  1. Dick and Carolyn Shohet. Interviewed 12/5/2010

According to Carolyn, the Prison Outreach began with Dana Greeley. He was running a class or group, and asked each member to think of a dream for Concord. [Actually, it was Ruth Johnson, not Dana Greeley, who was in charge of the group]. Di Clymer, in the class, took off with the idea of prison outreach. Initially there was a lot of opposition, and the authorities said they could make curtains for the day room. Slowly the idea of education took hold, as well as the Christmas Party. Now it involves five churches and is a 501c3 corporation (their lawyer was Jack Clymer).

FP involvement consists of two things---quite a few members participate, and SAC has given money (often $1,000). SAC as a committee has never gotten involved, and the ministers have no role, but FP involvement included Christmas caroling, and sometimes the RE group has put together little bags of goodies for the prisoners.

Dick teaches courses on literature, starting with himself and two other members of the CA faculty when he was there. He has kept it up. Others have joined, taken a class that he has taught, started on their own. Now he is at the max security prison in Shirley, prisoners who will never leave, they love it, and he would never think of skipping a class since there is a real bond.

  1. Margaret Stewart.

Interviewed since she was in charge of the office---and many other things---during much of Gary’s tenure. Responsible for ensuring FP’s contribution, via SAC, to the Concord Police Transient Fund, which was used to aid persons “passing through” town and not have the churches be responsible to keep cash on hand for that purpose.

  1. Peggy Gallo.

Interviewed because she was in charge of disbursing or receiving money from about 1991 onwards. Prior to that time, she worked downtown for the UUSC. She recalled that the 7.5% came from Peter Harwood and Loretta Sherblom.

  1. Tim Warren. Interviewed by phone 12/19/2010

He and Phyllis lived in W. Concord--Old Marlboro Rd--from 1950 to 58, then moved to Hubbard St. Tim joined church in order to sing in the choir. Rev. Daniels was just retiring as he joined---then an interim for a year, then Arthur Jellis. At first Jellis was quite conventional---Lord’s Prayer etc., but gradually left that approach behind.

Phyllis was chair of Social Responsibility Committee early on---which meant hospital visits, taking care of parishioners---what we would now call Caring Connection. Little outside the church.

Gradually dissension arose. Youth had different attitudes. There were two young people in the choir (the rest gray hairs) ---they "livened" things up.

Phil Villers was the driving force for a lot of protest. There was an “El Salvador service” protesting government actions there. Arthur Jellis was in the forefront of this. A split developed in the church---some of the more conservative members thought that the church should not be involved, protest and political action was a personal thing, not a church thing. Tim recalls---when she was SC chair---Lucy Ferber calling him up to state that very point. Of course, some conservative members also did not protest the war either, but it was more a question of institutional versus personal actions.

This came to a head with a protest about the My Lai massacre. Protesters walked from Library to flagpole, and around the flagpole. Jellis much in evidence. Tim was carrying the flag. Youths in cars bombarded them with eggs—which hit the flag mostly. Tim recalls the broken eggs dripping down the fabric of the flag. The fact that Jellis was obvious irritated conservative church members. An Episcopal minister also walked---reluctantly.

In addition to the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement was important. Jellis went to Selma, as did many other ministers. One Unitarian minister was killed. Tim knew several other non-ministers who went--very scary. Again, Phil Villers was a key force.

The Social Responsibility Committee was not very active. The Standing Committee likewise, until there began to be movement about asking Jellis to leave. He was a forceful preacher---loud voice, fire in the eyes. A biblical prophet. Various ideas and rumors were brought up about him; Tim feels these were a smokescreen. The basic issue was personal versus institutional activism. Tim was angry with conservative members, many of whom did not do much in the church, although members, and after forcing Jellis to resign, they did not do much to repair the damage, again becoming quite inactive. ‘They walked away.’

Tim recalls that this conflict—institutional versus private actions---was taking place all over the country. The issue was to have the advantage produced by an institutional voice. One of the protests (the My Lai Protest?) made the national news. Important to have this. There were often events, protests held at the North Bridge in those years.

Greeley came in after a term with a disappointing interim minister. Greeley’s views were no different, he had been quite involved with conscientious objectors at Arlington St---but his style was much more conciliatory. He knew Jellis of course; they often saw eye to eye.

  1. Mark Connelly.

Interviewed because Betty King said he was involved early. Mark said the first thing he can recall in the Social Responsibility Committee was in the Arthur Jellis years. A Lutheran church, a black church, burned down in Boston---probably arson. Jellis invited the minister out to Concord---a small man, a real force. He spoke at FP and other churches in town got involved. Raised about $10,000, as Mark recalls it. Many in the church were opposed---‘what are we doing spending money in Boston when we have plenty of needs here in the church.’

  1. Phil Villers. Interviewed 1/5/2011.

He was the chair of SAC for 12 years. The SAC was elected at each annual meeting. It met once a month, usually 12 people were on the committee. They had about $10,000 per year to distribute, most of the time 5% of annual pledge level.

During Phil’s time, the SAC was involved in matters of conscience, as much as social action. There was a lot of opposition to the Central American policies of the time. He and Jim Shannon (Congressman) and Paul Tsongas went to Nicaragua, and El Salvador was a hot spot. The Standing Committee established a rule--- used on many occasions---that the church itself would not take a position on issues of this kind, but the SAC was empowered to do so and often did. Rallies, letters to the newspaper. Amnesty Intl started then. A family from Chile (originally Argentina?) was given substantial aid.

  1. Katharine Esty.

She and Eric Van Loon were co-chairs in the early 2000’s. Trying to breathe life into the organization. Sponsored evening dinners, reports by people doing various projects. These were partially successful. Things were still quite scattered. They constructed the four pillars of SAC---education, works, grants and long range planning.

Then the idea that became Jericho Road came up, instigated by Jenny Rankin. Tom Bird was in on the beginning, and Mary Wren, then Phillip vanderWilden. Tony Gallo joined. They wanted something with systemic change, not just patchwork participation and giving out money. The mitten factory analogy was used. The committee consisted of 4 or 5 members, plus Jenny. Lowell became a target; the idea was to utilize the talent of the church. The entity was to be separate from the church, have its own money, and its own staff.

When JR searched for a staff person, they were fortunate to have Dan Holin apply---he was between jobs, was the obvious choice. Jenny thought of the name Jericho Road.

Since then JRP has been replicated, has moved out from the FP umbrella, and has volunteers from other churches. Although there is a FP “staff” person who works with Jericho, she receives no FP money. Communications with FP seem at this point to be slight. First Parish’s reputation greatly improved. Nationally prominent.

  1. John Esty.

Regarding the Greeley Foundation. He was on the Board from ‘92 to 2003. They had about $1.5 million to start with, with specific instructions from Greeley written out on a piece of yellow legal paper. A million came from a Japanese Buddhist organization. John’s role was partly to figure out where the money should or should not go ---there had been an expenditure of 500 K connected with Ruth Salinger, and a school in Russia. This came out of capital. Money was supposed to support Dana’s international interests. Eventually the Foundation was dissolved---Eric Van Loon, Ned Perry, and CC King were on the Board. Jericho Road got a large piece of money from it.

  1. Dave Dawson. Written 12/20/2010.

City Year. This annual event ran from about 1999 to 2004. At its peak, the project involved 5 different faith groups and about 150 people, who travelled to Boston on busses and spent the day working at various indoor and outdoor work projects. It was a logistical success although extremely complicated. The plusses were:

a. We supported City Year, a national organization started in Boston in 1988, in its annual fundraising Servathon. Our best year, we contributed $1500 as well as the work done.

b. The Interfaith Committee encompassed First Parish, Our Lady Help of Christians, TriCon, Karem Shalom, and a small number of people from other churches. We worked well together and had a fine time doing so. This was one of the positive aspects. People rode in on the busses together; the Youth groups often knew each other and worked together. Our Lady sent more than First Parish by far.

c. The Youth Groups from these faith groups had a chance to see a part of Boston they did not know, to help those places with their work activity, and interact with each other on a different basis than their usual CCHS contacts.

d. Although we usually did not interact with the rest of the City Year Servathon, there was enough knowledge about the City Year context and program to educate the participants.

e. Some projects went well. Painting doors and hallways at Hale School at Roxbury was good. The Dimock Center in Roxbury, a large health center and community center, was very happy for our removal of trash to dumpsters, painting, and outdoor planting efforts. We did work at Martin Luther King Towers, a 15 story affordable housing project, and at Warren Gardens, a large housing project near Dudley Square.

f. Jenny’s participation and support were important. Gary joined us for one trip. At the time City Year was going on, the Social Action Council (or was it a Committee?) helped indirectly, and paid for the busses the first year, before we began to ask for a contribution from participants. Paul Minor, Dan Shepard, Katharine Esty, and John Lowe made important personal contributions of time and effort.

g. There were spinoffs from City Year. A group of SAC people did other smaller projects around town. The least successful of these was a painting trip to a woman’s home in East Boston---we painted over wallpaper, it peeled, looked terrible, and she complained. The best was a renovation on Commonwealth Ave in Concord, of a house owned by the Concord Housing authority---many people working, inside and outside work, went well. I think that was the last project, in fact.

In addition to plusses, there were some negatives.

a. The complexity and logistical problems finally began to wear us down. Registering 150 people, getting their $25 donation (per person or family), arranging the busses, getting food downtown for lunch for everybody, etc. etc.

b. Sometimes it rained---for example, the second year, painting a gym at Hernandez school---was in a downpour. Tough on everyone since you were out there all day long. To be expected at the end of October.

c. As time went by, the number of people signing up faded downwards. The last group, in 2004, was just a Youth group, of about 25 total people. For many, once was enough.

d. Everybody concerned, from the Interfaith Committee, through Jenny and Gary, to the lowest participant, felt that we were only scratching the surface. Some participants would wind up raking leaves, or doing something that we all felt was somewhat pointless. The phrase “systemic change” began to be the word of the day---and we were not seeing it with the City Year Servathon.

  1. Di Clymer. Interviewed 1/12/2011

Concord Prison Outreach. About 40 years ago, there was a committee of WPA, the Committee on Social Action. Ruth Johnson was the chair. There were about six women sitting together, each supposed to dream up a project. As far as Di remembers, no one else did much, but she did. Had young babies at the time. Went to the prison, Mr. Gianakos, then head of the prison, took her down to the infirmary, showed her the big tall windows, and said they could use curtains. Di could not do it, but enlisted Debbie Greeley who made them. Di asked the prison, what next? That led to Christmas decorations in the kitchen. Jean Bell (from Trinity) had a large blue van that the family used for camping. They loaded this up with pinecones, branches etc, and picked up a correctional officer as they drove into the prison. They successfully unloaded, decorated the room with boughs and cones, and then started to leave. The correctional officer became interested in the many boxes in the Bell’s van. Opened one, found in there many feet of climbing rope, pitons, etc---enough for 4 men to climb easily over the prison walls. He blanched, said, “Let’s just leave quickly”.

Di was chair of the Concord prison Outreach for 12 years. They made a booklet for incoming prisoners, who had no clue what to expect in terms of programs for those in prison. They had an art show. Then they had a big reception for Concord town leaders----feeling that the town and the prison were completely separate. The head of the hospital, town leaders, etc attended, along with Mr. Gianakos who continued to be very helpful and supportive. Philip Suter suggested the committee---Di still the chair---become a town committee---she declined, thought they were doing well as it was. At one point, they had 150 volunteers involved. It continues. Renee Garelick made an audio tape of Di and Jean Bell talking about these experiences.

  1. Gary Smith Interviewed 1/13/11

Gary came in 1988. After death of Dana Greeley---who was very much the father figure, in on every decision. There had been a failed ministerial search just before Gary came. All in all, not an easy atmosphere. Debbie Greely was also in on everything---a big help in many ways

SAC seemed a closed group. Hard to break into. Gary went to only a few meetings. They did their thing, had the church write checks to groups they favored. Not much input from the rest of the membership. There were some members of SAC who were not church members- but voting on disbursements from the church. That bothered Gary

Gary had a background in elder affairs, elders’ nutrition. When in Middletown CT as a young minister, had taken a year off to work on that aspect of Middletown ministry. Then when in Maine, had worked with COA. So was very happy to support Open Table when it was proposed---not a SAC thing at all, it was an interfaith group---Peter Hilton would know, as would Claudia Nimar---he’s not sure of the dates.

People involved in SAC were Phil Villers, Betty King, Loretta Sherblom, Bill Seaver, plus others. They came from a political activism phase---especially Phil. Gary made it clear he was not Dana, not a marcher.

Gary felt the Greeley Foundation drew away energy that might otherwise have stimulated action within the church. The Foundation was supported by Dana’s friends, and by a million dollars from a Buddhist group. Gary was on the Board throughout, as was Debbie Greeley. The Board was mostly First Parish. She would say at meetings that she could tell what Dana would have thought of some issue. Gary advised her that she could only play that card once. She believed in parapsychology, messages from the beyond. The Foundation spent money on a salary for Ruth Salinger, and various enterprises abroad, Russia, etc. Gary felt the money was never well spent.

Jenny came in 1998, interested in social action. City Year was transformational. Got people out of the church building, kids were involved. Problem with not having real things to do---standing around, raking leaves etc. But opened the door to other events

He is very happy with the energy of the church now---55 committee chairs and other leaders met last Saturday—lots of energy now. He has always wanted to empower others---opposite of the Greeley approach. Maybe this reflects the changing times as well.

Gary mentioned Rich Stower--- SAC chair in the early days---has gone into the UU ministry.

  1. Jim Reynolds.

Common Cathedral. Jim organized a trip to El Salvador in 2010, for early teens (Pre Youth Group, post RE). Not really part of SAC, but illustrated an issue that was discussed many times in the SAC Grants Committee: whether to fund a person in First Parish for a trip like this. As Eric said, “We don’t want to pay ourselves for doing SAC things”. It came up first with paying for the buses for City Year (in the end SAC paid for only one year), then there was a question of funding a Youth to go on a trip to Navaho country, then another time to fund someone to go on one of the Transylvania trips, and in the end of course whether to pay the SAC Program Director from SAC funds. There was some feeling on the part of parishioners not in SAC, who felt that SAC should go ahead and pay for these things.

  1. Rich Stower. Interviewed by phone 1/20/11.

He joined the church in 1982, was chair of SAC (Social Responsibility Committee as it was then called), just after Phil Villers, before Loretta Ho Sherblom. He was chair for about 3-4 years, until 1987, then went to Harvard Divinity School, and is now minister at the UU Church in Scituate. When he became an FP member, Rev Greeley was the minister, and often attended SRC meetings. Charles Wilson was the interim minister after Greeley’s death. Members included Villers, both Kings, Winifred Campbell.

During his tenure, three kinds of activities occurred. There was concern about the sanctuary movement, protecting political refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala. Several meetings about it. Chet Atkins, then Congressman, was helpful. Chet Curtis, newsman on Channel 5, organized a report on TV. There was an event named Peace March around the World.

The second focus was the Habakasha (sp?), survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was a group of people from Japan, touring the country. A large meeting at First Parish, well attended, highly visible anti-war event.

Third was the resettlement of the Tom Diep To family, 10 people from Vietnam. Again, Congressman Atkins helped. Overall, the SRC budget was about $7,000 and they spent $5,500, sending it out to various organizations.

  1. Loretta Ho Sherblom.

Describes herself as head of SRC from about 1987 onwards. Preceded by Rich Stower, and followed by Dick Waters as head of SRC (later SAC). During her tenure the FP contribution was increased from 5% to 7.5%; Peter Harwood was in large part responsible. She and others called around to other churches. They seemed to be giving more than FP was to social action—that convinced people to up the percentage.

Her approach was to have one event per month. She organized a furniture drive--- for example a truck would come, pick up stuff, go from house to house. Another time it was money for Renewal House. Once a group of people went to Faneuil market, and gift-wrapped things for people, leading to donations---that was a fun event. Under her aegis Open Table started. She remembers presenting to the standing committee to get approval. Much of the impetus came from several Jewish residents of Concord, they needed a place to hold it, there had been suppers in Maynard and something in Acton, but a venue was need. Gary was in favor.

She held workshops occasionally---one on racism, another sponsored by the UUA, but her basic plan was one event per month. She and Gary did not see eye to eye on this. He was more interested in building up the church, expanding, growing, maybe he was wary about visible conflicts---she wanted more social action.
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