The Split: The Old Guard vs. The Young Turks

Published by FirstUUAdmin on

by Colleen Appel

In a chapter from the book Upcycle Your Congregation, Rev. Vanessa Rush Southern says, “The work of re-storying a congregation begins with…looking for the signs of life, grace, or call beyond the mantra of problems and barriers and then weaving them into a new story, credible and real. Credible, because it is grounded in truth and reality; real, because it speaks to the possibilities of the present moment.”

Now, as the official church historian, appointed by the Board to take up the work started by charter member Marjorie Hill and Jim Broadstreet (joined in 1957), I aim to bring First UU’s stories of life and grace to you. Marjorie and Jim’s collaboration resulted in the publication History and Memories (2002). Much has happened in the years since, so now I’m slogging through bankers’ boxes of newsletters, photos, documents, and possibly some surprises in order to create a digital archive and to revive the stories.

Marjorie is deceased, but Jim and History and Memories contributor Joyce Pyle have given their permission to quote from their work. I chose today’s post “The Split” to illustrate a time when conflict was a catalyst for growth. Healthy churches have healthy anecdotes like this one.

In the book History and Memories, Jim and Joyce tell their stories separately. Jim speaks for “The Old Guard” and Joyce speaks for “The Young Turks.” Marjorie adds another chapter titled “After the Split.” I’ve chosen to weave the three pieces together. A paragraph prefaced by a name means that I’ve quoted the author directly.

Jim: Let me begin by stating that “The Split” did not turn out as badly as most of us predicted it would. A strong UU presence in the Ozarks came about with our later reunification.

Jim reports that on Sunday, April 24, 1966, the congregation gathered for their annual meeting at his home because the Hod Carriers’ and Laborers’ Hall where they had been gathering for worship was entirely unsuitable for the formality of the event. (Children left Sunday services “filthy dirty” due to the grimy conditions, and adults left “coughing and wheezing and smelling of stale cigarette smoke.”)

Jim: There was a faction in the group who felt passionately that we could use some respectability. They felt that Springfield was, or should be, ready for a UU Church rather than a Fellowship, with a minister and a church building…Some dubbed these folks “The Young Turks.”

Joyce: The annual meeting…was held to elect a slate of officers which would have given The Young Turks the balance of power. We had come into the Fellowship the previous fall and worked hard to change the way things were being done. Make it more “church-like.” It didn’t occur to us how this might have been perceived by the existing group. 

Jim: Among the [Old Guard] were people who could not see how, when we couldn’t afford rent payments on [our previous] modest building, we were going to make that giant leap. There were others, probably, who liked the Fellowship concept and who believed that the wide variety of programs and speakers was interesting and appropriate…Debating turned into more like argument resulting only in people getting more strongly attached to their respective positions.

President Dennis Jackson finally called for a vote on the slate of nominees. The slate included Harlene Henderson for secretary, a person favored by The Young Turks, but The Old Guard offered another name when nominations were called from the floor. The Old Guard candidate won, leaving the Young Turks without a majority on the board.

Jim: Six people rose in unison and headed for the door. One of the most memorable moments in my history with this organization was when Lee [Kinsey] turned to me as she neared the door and asked, “Jim, are you coming with us?” My reply was, “Hell, Lee, I can’t leave. I live here.”

Joyce: It may not have been our finest hour, but I agree with Jim’s analysis. It did turn out to be the best for both groups. The Young Turks learned a little humility, and the older members learned that new ways of doing things would not necessarily diminish their beliefs and principles.