by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
Albert Q. Perry was the minister of our church through some of its most turbulent times. He served our congregation from 1952 until 1961. It was during his tenure that we merged with the New Thought Temple, a subject which will be explored in more detail in a future Heirloom article. Difficult financial times also periodically plagued the church during these years.
Additionally, the neighborhood in which our Essex Street church was situated was beginning to experience an increase in crime, and the first explorations of moving to a new location were
begun. Our church was among the organizations in the community that discussed ways in which to deal with this threat to community safety.
Finally, Rev. Perry was deeply involved in the eventual merger of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations. Philosophically, he opposed the merger, and that strongly held opinion eventually led to his resignation.
Perry was born in 1915 in Portland, Maine. He graduated with a degree in Divinity from the Universalist college at Tufts University, and it was there that he was ordained as a Universalist minister. In his career he served churches in Essex, Mass.; Brockton, Mass.; North Hartley, Quebec; Harrisville, R.I.; Cincinnati; Providence, R.I.; Flushing, N.Y.; Pittsfield, Maine and Eastport, Maine. Perry was active in the Kiwanis – and during the Viet Nam War, ran for Congress as a peace candidate!
While serving as a minister here, Perry was a highly visible and active advocate for any number of causes. He orchestrated a long series of educational programs at the church by bringing in prominent speakers from all over the country. He served on various neighborhood councils, and spent considerable time dealing with the financial issues faced by the congregation. He was a prodigious writer, and many samples of his writings are included in our archives. In 1957 he wrote a 70-page curriculum for teaching the history of Universalism.
Initially, Perry was strongly opposed to the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist churches. In a sermon written by David W. Chandler, UU minister of the Saco-Biddeford, Maine, church and delivered in 2012, Chandler quotes Perry’s views on the two faiths as follows:
Universalists have had a long history of organizational weakness, even a certain willful ineptitude. They have had, however, a deep and abiding tradition of honoring and practicing love as the highest virtue, loving each other in congregation and indeed in all of humanity.
Unitarians had a different history. Well-educated and adroit in the skills and structures of organization and direction, they had not done so well with loving. Unitarians focused on ethics – what was right. Ethical behavior is good as far as it goes – which is far in this unreasonable and oppressive world – but once you have decided you are right, it can be awfully hard to love someone who is wrong … in the next country or the next pew.
It was this conflict that caused Albert Perry to resign his position with our church on the eve of the merger of the two faiths. Perry spent the next few years working in the civil rights movement, and was active in marches and voter registration in Mississippi and Alabama. Eventually, however, he returned to the fold and again became a minister in the UU faith from which he retired in 1990 in Eastport.
Perry died in 2001, leaving his wife of 63 years and two sons. A daughter had preceded him in death in 1998.
Several quotes attributed to Rev. Perry illustrate his love of the world:
“Let us transplant ourselves into the garden of gladness which is the ground of our faith.”
“Make room! Clear away the debris! Open the doors to your heart! The things that matter will not clutter and crowd your life. The things that matter will enlarge the orbit of your being until you are large enough to contain all that is worthy of being welcomed.”