— From the pages of FLL#33 • Photo by Will Marks
PRE-LUNCH INTERVIEW[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Anne Mason, all five feet and one inch of her, sweeps you into her vortex as you are mesmerized by her charm, intelligence, personal stories, and humility.[/pullquote]
Friends and family frequently ask me about the person whom I have lined up for my next Lunch article. I read about this month’s subject in the newspaper last summer when Pennsylvania legalized same-sex marriage. My interview subject, Reverend Anne Mason, was the first in Lancaster to marry the many couples who finally found marriage equality in the passed legislation.
I wanted to test the waters preinterview, so I decided to share her name with a few friends and acquaintances. Never have I experienced such positive feedback. One friend shared, “Anne used to live in my neighborhood. Our collective IQ went up 20 points having her there.” Another told me, “She single-handedly saved our church.” And another gushed, “My parents love her, just love her!”
It was settled. This was a woman I had to meet for myself.
The restaurant tucked the two of us in a back corner next to the fireplace, decorated in holiday finery. The festive ambiance added excitement to the lunch crowd’s chatter. During this interview, the baubles, the lights, and the tipsy cheer of the crowd could have easily distracted the two of us. But, Anne Mason, all five foot and one inch of her, will sweep you into her vortex as you are mesmerized by her charm, intelligence, personal stories, and humility.
What struck me within minutes of talking with Anne was her stare. She was direct and knowing. I had a gut instinct that every change in the pitch of my voice, hand gesture or movement was being evaluated. I found out I was correct in this guess. She explained that for many years she was a voice and music teacher/coach for mostly high school girls. She said, “I learned to watch their breathing, their stance, the way they held their arms and I would be able to tell them how to do it better.” She stared—not critically like the ballet teacher of my adolescence, Miss Eva—but as someone who wanted to soak in every single thing I said and everything I was trying to say, like she was extracting drops of water from an empty canteen.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Reverend Anne Mason of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster was the first in the county to marry couples who found marriage equality in the passed legislation.[/pullquote]
Her skill for active listening serves her well as the Reverend of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster. Only a few years ago, this church struggled with its direction, with many of their parishioners left confused and seeking answers. Anne served from 1999-2012 as its Director of Music. She was a constant in a sea of change. Many came to her for counseling and she felt she was not properly trained for the job. With two teenagers and one year out of her marriage, she decided to go to theological school to help become what so many needed and to satisfy her own “hungry heart.” If these many people trusted her for her insight, she was going to give them the best and most educated version of herself. In her mid-forties she returned to school to earn yet another degree as she decided to pursue this new career path. In July of 2012 she became the church’s official minister.
Anne admitted she was a performer by nature. Since childhood she has taken dance and music lessons. She studied literature at Hamilton College, later earning another degree from the Boston Conservatory of Music. Her entertaining skills have been honed to delight all of her audiences. She is a soprano opera singer who can play the piano and the hammer dulcimer. Her understanding of story and rhythm weaves itself into her often current events-inspired 2,500 to 3,000 word sermons. The week of our interview, she wove the events of Ferguson, Missouri and a T.S. Eliot poem together for her address to the congregation.
We ended our lunch with Anne telling me (after I asked her for any last thoughts), “I love my congregation. They make me feel loved. I am, as Rainer Rilke says, ‘living the questions.’”
Debriefing with my high school juniors after a field trip sampling of Lancaster’s many sacred places, I asked them to share their thoughts on the day. Many of them quoted Reverend Mason back to me, “There is only one light, but there are many windows.” The other class favorite was, “If scientists tell us we are all made of stardust, then we are all made of the same thing.” I spend all semester exposing students to history’s wars, revolutions, movements, and provocateurs. The turmoil that comes from history’s messiness and the role of religion in this messiness (both historically and currently, as seen throughout the Middle East) can sometimes cloud the commonality that exists between all of us. In a thirtyminute stop during our extensive field trip, Reverend Mason restored that commonality, that sameness that bonds all of us to the potential of who we are, both collectively and individually. She reminded us of our ability to appreciate our differences, know and understand our history, and use all of this knowledge to remember the inherent worth of each person and to be the best that we can be, because that is what we all need.