We Started Abundant LUUv in the West End
By Rev. Duncan E. Teague
The rooms were filled by the time we were welcomed by our Southern Regional Unitarian Universalist (UU) staff, the Rev. Dawn Cooley, first on program. The Hammonds House Museum, where the Abundant Love Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Abundant LUUv) started worshiping, Sunday, February 11, is an old, big beautiful house built in 1872. We filled what were the formal dining room and the front parlor adjacent to it. The count of the people I could not estimate, as I was nervous about other things taking place. The number was not as important as the look of the room and the overall feeling of the crowd to me. At least half of the attendees were African American, with other people of color present also. We had changed the way the typical Unitarian Universalist worship service looked on our first Sunday.
After several years of talking about it, I was finally standing in front of our first congregation gathered to be the Abundant LUUv of West End, Atlanta. The room glowed with joy and people excited about this new opportunity. We had chosen the right place to begin. By starting our fledgling congregation at the historic Hammonds House Museum, an African American cultural center, we literally were altering the map of Unitarian Universalism in the Southern Region and the Atlanta Cluster. We were north of Macon, GA and south of Interstate I-20, even if only a few yards from the actual freeway in the core inner-city.
On the museum walls were African American photos—some iconic from the days of slavery— that the artist, Carrie Mae Weems, had altered with contemporary messages or photographic effects. Weems’ work is the thirtieth anniversary exhibit held in the former home of an Atlanta physician, socialite, and Black gay man. The house museum is named for its last owner, the late Dr. Otis Thrash Hammonds.
If you are wondering if it felt great? It did. We estimate about seventy people were there. There was a guest sign-in book on the table in the wide hallway that greeted people, as good Unitarian Universalists of this century, with plain and prepared name tags. There were smiles on most faces and hugs abounded. I was told of reunions of UU associates who had not reconnected in twenty years. It looked and felt like an amazing culmination of our Abundant LUUv Core Team’s hard work. The reality of our beginning worship services is settling on me.
We are grateful to have been joined on this occasion by fellow UU clergy: Rev. Sherman Logan and his wife from Richmond, VA, Rev. Joan Armstrong, retired Rev. Rhett Baird, as well as retired Rev. John Mackey, and ministers who came to bless our work from several traditions in Atlanta. This was a special service, so lots of folks stood at the pulpit, representing past ministries, present desires and future dreams. We were welcomed by the other larger, liberal Christian New Thought congregation—Hillside Center of Truth. We were blessed by professors and even an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, an older woman who my husband and I have proudly adopted as our mom.
People came, whether to explore this new congregation or just to celebrate its inauguration. We worshiped as many African Americans do, with lots of music, in the foreground and in the background. One of our friends (we’ve adopted him as one of our “kids”) was on the piano, Antonio T. Williams, from Statesboro, GA. Even the date was significant and added to the festivities as the anniversary of Nelson Mandela leaving prison. I cried during most of the festivities: smiling the whole time even through the tears. It was a celebration of our work to bring Unitarian Universalism to this part of Atlanta; it looked like and felt like a success.