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And service is its prayer . . .

The first time my husband and I came to Schenectady, in the fifties, he was assigned to the G.E. Physics Training Program and we were not inclined to settle down and create roots in what we both felt to be only a temporary home. But, as time went on, and several assignments later, he was assigned permanently to the Research Laboratory in Niskayuna – a dream come true because we had really come to love the area and our new friends. With, hopefully, our new permanence and a growing family, we decided to look for a church in which we could not only believe but which we could participate in as well. We had a head start in this respect, at least my husband did, for he was that rarity, a born and bred Unitarian out of Groton, Mass.

I, on the other hand, had a lapsed Catholic father and a Russian emigre mother who were so busy establishing their Podiatry practices that they had little time for organized religion. Imagine, podiatrists charged only a dollar a foot in those days. My older sister, however, discovered Unitarianism when she attended Tufts University, founded by the Universalists, a guiding principle of which was to bring people together from different backgrounds and experiences. She blossomed and I followed in her footsteps finding my future husband at Tufts, to boot.

Once settled in Schenectady, George attended the Unitarian Church while I taught in the Sunday school. I was impressed by the few services I was able to attend and a few words really impressed me: “And service is its prayer!!”

The first inkling we had that a new building was even being considered occurred at a chance meeting between our ambitious minister Bill Gold and a parishioner in a sporting goods store. Reverend Gold was an avid birdwatcher and the parishioner came upon him trying out an expensive pair of field glasses. The congregant mumbled something about “Why don’t you just ask the congregation to move to the front of the church?” It was as if lightning had struck. Crusades were based on lesser words and Bill Gold said, “Yes, yes!” We must change the shape of the church to bring us all closer together.” Lengthy discussions on the board level followed and soon two factions arose — one pushing the idea that it should take on the shape of a square and the other that it should have a triangular configuration. What to do?

Being good Unitarians and open to compromise, it was decided to toss a coin (I think it was a nickel). And do you know which faction won? Neither. They liked the shape of the nickel. Somewhere there is a nickel which should be adored and venerated but with a church budget consisting of only $20,172.30 with a few green stamps thrown in, it had to be returned to circulation.   During this period, about 1959, a site committee was established and we soon became possessors of the Steinmetz lot on Wendell Avenue. It was at this time when our minister Bill Gold, who was a strong supporter and a leader of the new church project became acting rather strangely. Always a thrifty man, he had to be cautioned about referring to the new lot on Wendell Avenue as the Promissory Land and signing his letters “Eternally in your debt.”

As time went on a number of architects of international reputation were considered and Edward Durrell Stone was chosen. During this interval, some people complained that we were being too materialistic — that we should note that some of the Eastern religions require no property or possessions to be effective. In response, a member who had travelled a good deal told of a conversation he had had with a Bedouin man who was tending olive trees from which he had just harvested a basket of olives. “Do you own this land?” the member had asked. “No,” said the Bedouin. “The land belongs to Allah. “What about the trees?” “The trees, too, are Allah’s,” was the reply. The Unitarian marveled at this man who seemed so unencumbered by material considerations until the Bedouin said, “Of course, I own the olives.”

In some ways, my career in Schenectady runs parallel to that of the church. For I soon decided that I would like to attend church on a more consistent basis and one of the first assignations I made was to join the Women’s Alliance – a most interesting group of ladies who did much more than provide cookies for church events. I was so fortunate to work alongside of many who have become legendary in this congregation. I would like to mention a few of them for they deserve to have their names echoed once again in these halls.

Lest we forget: Carol Valentine who was president of the congregation and active in Planned Parenthood. In fact, every year a fund raiser is held in her name at Planned Parenthood. Cal Chestnut who was instrumental in founding Schenectady Community College. It was Katie Rich’s idea to form EBWA so that working women could be part of the Alliance. And Katie was the first woman, ever, anywhere, to become a television broadcaster and for years she had her own radio show on WGY and after she retired she was the host for a series of public affairs programs on WMHT-TV.  And Dr. Gertrude Heidenthal, who worked with Albert Einstein in Princeton and provided some of the funding for our beautiful red carpeting. Indeed, it would be difficult to name any woman in the Alliance without extolling their work in education, science, community service and public affairs.

As time went on, I became the church oracle (my word, not the church’s) and I announced all the churches activities for the coming weeks on Sunday and used humor to make my points. It was great fun.  But I still remembered “And service is its prayer.”  I was chairman of Blood Services for the American Red Cross, President of AAUW and to my greatest joy president of Planned Parenthood.  I could do no less.


My head is full of voices

No, not the kinds you think

The ones that tell you they’re from God

Then push you to the brink

But rather they are echoes

Of words I’ve heard before

But they are now so muted

As if behind a door

But if that door were opened

And cobwebs cleared away

I’d still find them jumbled

and confused in every way

For we receive directions

From the day that we are born

On how to live and prosper

To prevail and to conform

No borrower or a lender be

The voices all relate

But others speak in unison

About the interest rate

A penny saved is two cents taxed

Does that mean I’d be better

To throw my money to the winds

And end up as a debtor

Eat only what is good for you

But always clean your plate

Never waste a single crumb

Be sure to watch your weight

A drink of wine is just sublime

When used in celebration

Beware the shot when it is not

For then it’s devastation

Do unto others if you must

And turn the other cheek

But keep a loaded gun on hand

To keep from seeming weak

Many hands make light work

Someone else has said it

I’ll agree entirely if I get all the credit

Is it better to give than it is to receive?

I’ve also heard the reversal

Save up all your gains

For that day when it rains

And try to refrain from dispersal

All these I have learned through the years

And for this I am now close to tears

To live my life faintly

At least somewhat saintly

I can’t even count on the seers

They said that when I grew older

I’d grow in wisdom too

But my youth has now passed by

I still don’t have a clue

To what the world is all about

I could not pass a test

So I’ll just keep on living

It’s the thing that I do best.


Judy Farrell