First Parish of Norwell


A GOOD AGE: Women's group at Norwell church 'going strong'

The Patriot Ledger
Sue Scheible sscheible@ledger.com

Date: Posted May 29, 2012

NORWELL -- It dates back to the 19th century and still has a certain “old fashioned” touch. The Alliance of First Parish Unitarian Church also is trying to point the way into the future – “to evolve rather than dying,” as their pastor, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein, puts it. You want them to succeed because they are so gracious, generous, smart and talented.

“The Ladies Aid Alliance,” as it was once called, was started in 1846 as a church sewing circle. Members made clothing for the town’s “worthy poor.” It’s a phrase that today is enough to make Phyllis Buell say, “You’ll choke on this one,” before she tells you. It was, indeed, a different era.

They held harvest bazaars and fairs, and for 33 years have had a holiday concert by the Broad Cove Chorale and the Unicorn Singers. In 1949, the Alliance started a preschool that is still at the church. Peg O’Connor, a younger Alliance member, is the school’s treasurer.

Today, with members aging, the need for additional younger members like O’Connor is keen. Shirley Bunnell, 79, membership chairwoman, noted that the group’s former guiding lights moved into their 90s and it is now 70- and 80-somethings who have moved up to take the reins. They know that can’t last forever.

On May 2, I attended the Alliance’s annual meeting and luncheon, with homemade casseroles, wine, salad and fresh flowers from members’ gardens. It was lovely. Much of the program was devoted to remembering Barbara Meacham, the Alliance president for 18 years, who passed away Feb. 4 at age 92. She was a church member for 65 years.

“Barbara didn’t want any funeral service and her family honored that,” President Helen Keeler, 80, of Marshfield said. “This was our first chance as a group to pay tribute to her and it meant a lot. You need that chance to say goodbye.”

Meacham, an energetic mother of four sons, helped start the Norwell Food Pantry in 1992, and it remained one of her favorite charities. Alliance members brought food items to the luncheon to donate to the pantry and told funny stories about Meacham’s no-nonsense ways at the pantry, as well as the Alliance, where she ran the meetings her way or the highway.

The Alliance meets monthly from September to May. “They still are going quite strong and have a very rich calendar of programs,” the Rev. Weinstein said. “Unfortunately, the women’s groups are a tradition that is dying out, but in this case, I hope, evolving.

“I have had such rich, deep theological conversations with them – about 19th-century sermons, feminist history and theology – and I came away amazed. They are so well read, it was inspiring. I thought, ‘What a treasure trove.’”

That same week, Muriel Savoy Moloney, a member of the Newcomers Club in Weymouth, emailed: “The club is celebrating 60 years in June and one of our members is putting a book together with histories of some of the members, why they became involved in the club and stayed all these years,” she wrote. “We have been so lucky to have this club, but I don’t think the women coming behind us have the time to make these kind of friendships, and that is sad.”

Is it true? I suspect younger women today get together online, through all the social media, and it is true that each generation does its own thing.

But there must be some women in their 40s and 50s who also see the value of keeping the old traditions going and might step forward to lend support, even if they can’t make the daytime monthly meetings.

To contact the Alliance, call 781-659-7122. You can also write First Parish Church, 24 River St., Box 152, Norwell, MA 02061 or email office@firstparishnorwell.org.

Reach Sue Scheible at sscheible@ledger.com, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, Box 699159, Quincy 02269-9159.

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