Boston is far from home, in miles and in culture, yet the city still managed to touch us deeply in kindred ways. Our roots are Californian, in our generation, and to go back a few gens we have Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Sweden. So in terms of the rich familiarities one might seek in a faraway town, Boston should offer less for us than other places. Yet it surprised us. The city knew us better than we thought.
It was off-putting at first. Boston traffic was not a good mediator as we adjusted from 2 weeks of countryside and small town US. Welcome back to the big city, now pay attention and drive. After a Saturday morning in the pines and quiet of Maine, and a weaving route through foggy coastal towns, this was quite an adjustment in the late afternoon.
All was forgiven come Sunday morning. After a ride into town on the T, we emerged from the subway at Boston Common to the sight of the Park Street Church spire, set among the array of more recent (but still old) structures, as if the centuries could be summarized in one eyeful. And then we entered and worshiped.
I was surprised how emotional this was for me, and found I could not keep composed well enough to finish the first hymn, The God of Abraham Praise. The pipe organ went into the last verse with a flourish and the lyric caught in my throat while tears brimmed. This historic denomination, the one which first ordained me to ministry so long ago (Congregational), this church still ministering here, still reaching the city, feeding the hungry, telling the old, old story after hundreds of years.
This was the first thread that spoke of home to me. It did not look like my church at home, its worship was different in many ways, but the message was the same ancient and refreshing one that has bound the family of God for millennia. It was the same for me, but placed in a different context; it was the same but in a different place. We were in Boston, but we were home.
Another thread was experienced at Fenway Park, later that day. Now this place bears nothing of the same kind of theological meaning, but it’s a thread nevertheless. And for some people, ourselves not included, the game borders on a kind of religion. Here’s a different stadium and fan/team cultures, yet the pastime is the same. I don’t know another person among these thousands, but we all know the meanings of inning, out, strike, fly, foul, etc.
Then there was the deeply moving story of our nation, so present in the city, etched in the freedom trail, spoken in history retold by guides and docents, on plaques and church walls, monuments and in preserved homes (like John and Abigail Adams’s Peacefield). These are the places where my country was first imagined and then realized: Faneuil Hall, Boston Massacre Site, Copps Hill, Bunker Hill, USS Constitution, Old North Church.
I have called these features “threads” but another metaphor comes to mind. It’s as if while walking through this unfamiliar house that we encounter a hallway. For a moment, as if in a dream, a glance up and down this hallway shows how we stand in a common place with hundreds who belong to us or share that with us. In a common faith, a common message, I can see down the hall to all who hold the gospel, who have told that story and recited the creeds. And even in the shared pastimes or national histories, we have these hallway moments where we see ourselves as belonging.
Trip notes: Saturday—Drive from Acadia to Boston, found our way to Wompatuck State Park, had to change sites there to be by facilities that work; Sunday—drove to nearby subway station, rode the T to Park Street Church and then again to the ballgame at Fenway; Monday—subway again to lunch with Kevin and Billie Jo Weiss, new friends we met through a shared friend, and a walk of the Freedom Trail with a terrific guide; Tuesday—Visit to John/Abigail Adams homes in Quincy, the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill.
Campground notes: Wompatuck State Park was convenient and adequate, ok spacing between sites, make sure if you camp there that the facilities near your site are working.