Worship Script 4

 Ancestors Lost and Found

 Worship Script (4 of 4)


“The Paradox of Ancestry” by Christopher A Rothbauer

 We gather together this morning,
Because others came before us.
Some have left examples for us to follow,
Others lessons for us to learn from,
and the paradox is that many have left both pain and joy.
We honor our ancestors this morning, not because they are perfect,
But because, without them, we would not be here,
Sharing our joy, our pain, our living and our dying.


HYMN #354 We Laugh, We Cry



By Irena Klepfisz, Adapted, #119 from Lifting Our Voices


These words are dedicated to those who survived


Because their second grade teacher gave them books

 Because they did not draw attention to themselves and got lost in the shuffle

Because they knew someone who knew someone else who could help them and bumped into them on a corner on a Thursday afternoon

Because they played it safe

Because they were lucky


These words are dedicated to those who survived


Because they knew how to cut corners

Because they drew attention to themselves and always got picked

Because they took risks

Because they have no principles and were hard


 These words are dedicated to those who survived


Because they refused to give up and defied statistics

Because they had faith and trusted in God

Because they expected the worst and were always prepared

Because they were angry

Because they could ask

Because they mooched off others and saved their strength

Because they endured humiliation

Because they turn the other cheek

Because they looked the other way


These words are dedicated to those who survived


Because life is a wilderness and they were savage

Because life is an awakening and they were alert

Because life is a flowering and they blossomed

Because life is a struggle and they struggled

Because life is a gift and they were free to accept it


These words are dedicated to those who survived 


 [Bashert (Yiddish): inevitable, (pre) destined]



Excerpt from the Introduction of “Tearin’ Through the Wilderness: Missouri pioneer episodes, 1822-1885, and genealogy of the Watkins family of Virginia and Missouri” by Marie Oliver Watkins and Helen (Hamacher) Watkins.

 It is a family tradition the James Richardson Allen came alone to Missouri in 1821 to buy land, but we have no proof of it. His brother, Dr. Thomas Allen, may have accompanied him and they may have joined a caravan.

We do know, however,  that twenty parchment General Land Office certificates, dated  April 15, 1822, were issued at Franklin, Howard County,  Missouri, to Thomas Allen and James Richardson Allen.  The certificates described the location of seventeen eighty-acre tracks and three larger tracks comprising 1842 acres and state the price as a $1.25 cents an acre.

For James R Allen the years between 1822 and 1833 were busy ones. He returned to Missouri in 1822, bringing slaves and livestock with him. First he cleared some land;  then he erected a saw mill, built cabins for himself and slaves, set out orchards and planted crops necessary for  subsistence.


HYMN #123 Spirit of Life


“The Three Maries” by Teresa Honey Youngblood from Braver/Wiser

 You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are.”

—Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

My maternal grandfather was one of seven children, four girls and three boys. All three of the boys grew up to marry women named Marie. Now, these women were all born in the nineteen-teens, when the name Marie was in the top 20 as recorded by the Social Security Association, but it always struck me as uncanny just the same. Similarly, growing up in the 1980s, my younger sister was one of four close-knit friends all named Katie. Their given names were variation on Katherine and Kathleen and such, but all went by Katie, and again, it struck me as uncanny.

But was it really? My grandparents were of German- and Irish-Catholic descent. My mother married my father, an Irish-Catholic man. They moved us into a neighborhood that literally shared a property line with the Catholic church in our suburb. Both Marie and Katie are, of course, traditional European (and specifically Irish-Catholic) names.

What once struck me as an amusing coincidence I now recognize as evidence of our very profound segregation, of our family’s unwitting, generations-long participation in the structural racism that keeps white people set apart—often in the areas with the better resources—and people of color in the areas that are left. Neighborhood friends, school friends, church friends, were all drawn from this very narrow pool of individuals; in overt and covert ways, I was trained by my culture to see this as “normal.” It took me 37 years to recognize that I had been cloistered off from the beauty, the richness, and the heartbreaking complexity of other people’s experiences. My humanity has atrophied. I have so much now to learn and to do, and some nights I lie awake mad at myself and the system I was raised in for the lengths we go to to stay comfortable at others’ expense.


Goddess, who in my mind’s eye sometimes takes the form of the blue-shrouded, brown-eyed Mother Mary of my childhood faith, help us to recognize pain, disappointment, hurt, anger, and fear as sacred emotions, too, with great power to move us toward love and justice for all—family, friends, neighbors, and not-yet neighbors.


“Messiness” by Orlanda Brugnola from “Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer”


We would live in an ordered world

not a world that is oppressive

a world that makes sense

But our world is not so easy

it is often messy

We think we can lead ordered lives

through sheer will and grit

But that is next to impossible

Birth is messy

Infancy and childhood are messy

Adolescence is very messy

Adulthood does not solve it either

Feeling anything is often messy

Thinking is ordered only sometimes

Really creative thinking is messy

Just being alive is messy

that's all there is to it

So may we learn to be accept some disorder

for that is how we learn to live, really live

May we struggled to keep our failings from hurting others

and forgive those abundant small weaknesses

which remind us that we are human



Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.



Ancestors Lost and Found, by Meg Riley, senior minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship

One sentence launched me into discovery about my ancestors. It’s the first line of a book, Tearin’ through the Wilderness, which my great-Aunt Marie researched, wrote and self-published in 1956, long before self-publishing was a thing. Boxes of that book sat around in my childhood home, but I never read it until my Dad died and my siblings and I each obligingly took home the one with our name printed on the brown paper cover in my grandmother’s writing. My grandmother—sister to the author, both long-dead by the time I acquired the book—had inscribed one to each of us kids, but my father had never passed them on to us!

Here’s how that book begins, written by great-Aunt Marie in the 1950s:

“The Allen, Rives and Watkins families left a Virginia country environment where they were relieved of the drudgeries of workaday life by the labor of slaves…”

The book then goes on to describe my ancestors’ decision in 1821 to leave Virginia and migrate west to Missouri, now that Missouri had entered the union as a state where enslaving other people was legal. My ancestors, and others they knew in Virginia, did their best to recreate the southern culture they loved, establishing part of the state still known as “Little Dixie.”
I grew up on stories of my brave ancestors heading west in a covered wagon. Indeed, “Covered Wagon” was one of my favorite imaginative games in childhood, fed by the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Never had anyone mentioned the centrality of enslaved people to that narrative. If you’d asked me, I wouldn’t have even known that Missouri was a slave state. (Wasn’t it in the Union?)

We never had anyone play the part of enslaved people when we divvied up roles in the game of “Covered Wagon.” Yet those people I’d never heard about are absolutely central to my family history.

After I took in this new information about my ancestors, I wanted to know more. I took some sabbatical time to go to Missouri and to read everything I could lay my hands on about them. Luckily, my grandmother sent all of my great aunt’s papers to the Missouri Historical Society when Aunt Marie died. So there was a lot to read!

Along with reading, I consulted some local history buffs who helped me figure out the location of the house my ancestors had built—as an exact replica of their home back in Virginia. Driving up to it, on beautiful rolling hills of fertile farmland, miles from the nearest town or highway, I was struck by how much it looked like the photographs I’d seen in my aunt’s book. Because I didn’t want to scare the current inhabitant, in case they were home, I went to knock on the door and introduce myself.

“Hello,” I began, when an elderly woman answered the door. “My ancestors built this house and…”

She interrupted me as if I had announced she won the lottery. “YOU’RE related to the Watkins, the Allens and the Rives!?” she shouted. “OH MY GOD!”

She invited me in. She got out her own battered copy of Tearin’ Through the Wilderness. She told me that the reason the house looked so much like the old photos in it is that her son and daughter-in-law had gone to Virginia and found the original house and modeled their porch on that house. She told me her late husband lived for a time with my late great-great uncle, a man I’d come to know through reading all the historical papers. 

We were getting along swimmingly, though I knew this wasn’t going to last. I let it go by when she referred to a politician I admire with a racist derogatory name coined by Bill O’Reilly. She took me to the old family graveyard next door and I saw the gravestones of many people whose stories I’d been reading about.

Then her daughter-in-law, summoned to meet me, came over to the house. Another overtly racist comment was made, this time about recent protests in Ferguson, and I said, “I am sure we see many things very differently, but what you just said was very painful to me.” I then inserted a few sentences about the way I saw things—I figured I had just suffered through their interpretations and they would live with mine.

Conversation felt forced and strained after that, and I left before long. As I drove through the countryside on my way home, I reflected on the ways we are both keeping my ancestors alive. They are certainly more committed to that house than I am, and they know my ancestors’ names and stories at least as well as I do. Their current belief systems about humanity are more in keeping, probably, with the ways that my ancestors understood morality to function in the 1800s.
I am honoring my ancestors’ lives in a very different way. I am listening to their stories, coming to care about and even love them, and attempting also to be accountable for at least some of the pain and damage they inflicted. I’m allowing them to keep evolving and moving, though many of them died during and right after the Civil War.

I am taking them with me as I try to inhabit spaces of consciousness, accountability, and justice. I hope my own descendants will do the same for me!

HYMN #317  We Are Not Our Own


By Maya Angelou, #152 from Lifting Our Voices


History, despite its wrenching pain

Cannot be unlived, but if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.


Lift up your eyes upon

The day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.