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Jan Vickery Knost

1968 - 1979

Biography

Jan Vickery Knost was born on November 19, 1934 in Pasadena, CA to UU Minister Richard William Knost and Rosalie (Quigley) Knost. Because his father ministered to churches in multiple states during Jan’s formative years, he was raised first in Pasadena, next in Brewton, Alabama, and lastly in Peoria, Illinois where he graduated from high school and subsequently enrolled at New York’s St. Lawrence University. After earning a dual Bachelor of Science in Psychology and English Literature degree in 1956, Knost entered St. Lawrence Theological School where he completed a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1959. Rev. Knost was ordained on January 24, 1960, by the First Universalist Church, Providence, RI where he served his first ministry (1959-1963). It was in Providence that Knost met and married Lorna Ruth Smith with whom he would have four children.  In the mid 1960’s Knost was called by the First Universalist Church of North Attleboro MA where he established the Social Concerns Committee to mobilize congregants in support of the Civil Rights movement in which cause Knost joined Martin Luther King Jr. march in Selma in 1965. In May 1968 Knost accepted the First Church Dedham call and moved to Dedham that summer to begin his ministry. 

Jan Vickery Knost’s ministry at First Church could be characterized in one word: activism. During his tenure, Knost advocated that First Church should grow by becoming more engaged in the compelling social and political movements of the time.  Indeed, in 1969 Sarah Stone, chair of the First Church Parish Committee affirmed that although the 1964 congregant survey stated that First Church lacked purpose, “As we expand our horizons and as we develop programs which meet the needs both within and without our church, there will come this strong feeling. We will Have Purpose!”  Knost underlined this observation about the trajectory of his time at First Church in his 1969 minister’s report with “If anything has happened over the past year, in my perspective as your minister, would tell me that it is in the simple fact that more persons have become interested and involved and, correspondingly, our church has become more outward oriented in its vision and purpose.” In the first years of his ministry Knost personally modelled outward-orientation by means of his own social and political engagement. For example, by 1971 he was a volunteer with Boston Clergy Consultation Service for Problem Pregnancies, helped found Dedham’s YMCA,  organized a Conference on Human Development focusing on the  Problems of Aging, planned the Dedham Confrontation on Racial Understanding, founded the Dedham Village Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, conducted an Experimental Worship Workshop, chaired the Continental Study Conference to Determine the Theological Imperatives of Social Action in Cleveland OH, failed to be elected treasurer of the UUA, and ran successfully for Town Meeting. All this in the space of three years!

Knost and the Parish Committee implemented First Church’s “outward orientation” in several ways.  To begin with, church leaders took measures to raise the prominence of First Church in the Dedham community. A Public Relations Committee was established to provide stories about church events for the Parish Record, Dedham Transcript and the Patriot Ledger. This committee also produced regular advertisements about upcoming church services in the latter two publications. A new Committee on Music and the Arts was charged with culturally enhancing First Church services and events. In the mid 1970’s Knost even undertook to write a Minister’s Column in the Dedham Transcript. Next, Knost initiated several “special services”, for example. a Worship Workshop on Love and Marriage, Union Services with both the Allin Church and Temple Beth David, and an Ecumenical Service for Dedham Campfire Girls with Father Frances Daley of St Mary’s.  Also Knost took fairly militant action to address local problems by, for instance, rallying opposition to the Selectmen’s approval of the proposed construction of an asphalt plant in Dedham in 1971, and heading the 1972 Dedham Clergy Association protest against the closing of Dedham Medical Associates due to lack of parking, Lastly, Knost arranged for First Church to host several educational conferences on contemporary issues. The 1969 Conferences on Aging provided attendees with seminars on the social, psychological and health dimensions to getting older.  In 1970 Knost set up a conference  on environmental pollution at which ecology expert Dr. Joseph L. Fisher, president of Resources for the Future, held a seminar at a First Church conference on environmental pollution entitled ”The Challenge from Science” and Massachusetts Governor Francis Sargent led a session called “The Challenge to the Layman” where he promoted  a constitutional amendment to “guarantee man freedom to breathe clean air and enjoy clean water and open space and bring legal action “so that man can seek redress of law when pollution threatens his and his world.  A third First Church conference (also in 1970) on “The New Feminism and Women’s Liberation” featured speakers from National Organization of Women, UUA Women’s Federation, and Bread and Roses. 

Probably the most significant First Church effort at “outward orientation” was spearheaded by the newly constituted (1969) Social Concerns Committee. This committee was constituted to provide a forum for discussing national issues of concern and deliberating how the church might take action on them. In his January 1969 Minister’s Report Knost recounted that “Among the many problems we may address ourselves to are: the Generation Gap; Black Affairs and the Ghetto; Urban Renewal; The Vietnam War; the question of Draft Resistance; Drugs and alcohol; Air and Water Pollution; Population Control; Capital Punishment; Police Reform; Prison Reform; and Old Age” but noted that “we devoted most attention to Black Affairs.” In response, in the spring of 1969 Knost gave a sermon on African-American history in which he explained the recent efforts of UUA leadership to support black empowerment. Knost provided congregants with pertinent publications like the Bay State Banner and the Black Affairs Council Report and helped facilitate a 2-day Confrontation for Racial Understanding at Dedham High School to discuss racial problems with African American Bostonians. This informational blitz culminated in Knost’s collaboration with the church’s Denomination Affairs Committee to develop a First Church position on black empowerment for the upcoming May UUA General Assembly in Boston.

As it turned out, the 1969 UU General Assembly in Boston occasioned a major falling out among different factions of UU supporters of Black Empowerment which was complicated by the near collapse of UUA finances.  The “long, hot summer” of 1967 witnessed 150 race riots erupting across the United States in reaction to urban unemployment, police abuses, and restrictive housing.  As a consequence, many African-American UU’s experienced a paradigm shift from support for integration to black self-determination and in the fall of 1967 a number of them formed the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUC) Steering Committee. later the Black Affairs Council (BAC) and demanded that $1,000,000 (12.5%) of the UUA budget be given to the Black community over the next four years.  In the spring of 1968 African-American and white opponents of what they held to be the BAC’s separatist demands constituted a counter organization, the Black and White Alternative (BAWA), to offer an alternative avenue for the UUA to achieve racial justice through more integrated means. Early in 1969 the UUA Board voted to give $250,000 to the BAC, but also donate $50,000 to the BAWA, a gesture that the BAC was highly critical of.  This set up a confrontation at the 1969 Boston General Assembly with the commandeered the microphones to demanded that the meeting agenda be replaced by one putting the BAC funding first and rejected any funding for the BAWA. When this impromptu agenda revision was rejected, the BAC and their militant white supporters withdrew from the GA and so as to prevent a schism, the UUA Board acceded to their demands. The upshot of this organizational crisis in the denomination was that the newly elected UUA president Rev. Robert N. West, citing the near bankruptcy of the UUA, suspended funding of the BAC which then broke its ties with the Association. And Knost, whose Denomination Affairs Committee delegation had witnessed this fiasco, advised First Church to “give strong support to those groups that would return us to sanity and not a to put up with black empowerment to investing church funds to building black owned and managed living facilities by Boston’s African-American-owned Concord Square Realty Trust.

A secondary focus of the Social Concerns Committee was the War in Vietnam. Knost responded to the Committee’s validation of the importance of this issue in three ways. First, First Church crafted a policy on “symbolic sanctuary”. On October 16, 1967 280 draft resistors had burned their draft cards in the chancel of the Arlington Street Church and shortly afterwards draftees and deserters began claiming the ancient right of sanctuary within the walls of Northeast UU and UCC churches where they were nevertheless arrested and taken into custody by FBI agents.  Indeed, the 1967. Indeed, the May 1968 UUA General Assembly recommended that all UU churches “support young men of conviction… by offering symbolic sanctuary at time of arrest.”  The Social Concerns Committee was charged with coming up with a First Church symbolic sanctuary policy and after spirited debate the congregation approved of offering non-violent sanctuary for conscientious objectors. Second, First Church members witnessed their opposition to the Vietnam War by staging local protest actions, For example, the Vietnam Moratorium Observance occurred on October 15, 1969 on which date the First Church Meeting Hall was opened, as reported by the Dedham Transcript, for a “concerned community gathering… The topic is the War in Vietnam… After a 20-minute service which will include music and readings by Jan V. Knost, there will be an open discussion on the many points of view regarding the role of the United States in the war in Vietnam.” On the following day, October 16, a Peace March was held from St. Mary’s to First Church. As censorious Transcript reporter recounted “Yesterdays peace march in Dedham held in connection with the observation of the Vietnam Moratorium in the town was a flop.  Only 40 people showed up to take part in the parade from St. Mary’s to the Village Green. Practically nobody turned out to see the parade. Those who witnessed it just happened to be there. Knost read readings on the lawn.” In yet another First Church Vietnam action, the Concerned Citizens of the 11th Congressional district met at First Church to head to Quincy High School to speak with congressman James Burke at a public hearing about Vietnam. 

In November 1979 Knost accepted the call of the Unitarian Church in Summit, New Jersey. After a decade there, he and Lorna moved on to minister to UU congregations in San Antonio and Houston for another decade. His last decade and a half of ministerial service was as an interim pastor in Clearwater, Florida, Sante Fe, New Mexico, Norwell, Massachusetts, and Charlestown, Rhode Island where, true to his life-long commitment to social activism, Jan was also a member the Charlestown Charter Revision Committee, an elected member of the Charlestown Planning Commission, a member of the Regulatory Commission for the RI Department of Environmental Management, a co-leader of the Buckeye Brook Road Improvement Group, and a steering committeeman of the Charlestown Citizen’s Alliance. Knost passed away in Charlestown on Sunday, August 22, 2021.  His Boston Globe obituary observed that “He believed in and lived by the words of Henry David Thoreau, “to suck out all the marrow of life.” And characteristically, mourners planning to attend his First Church funeral in the autumn of 2022 were requested, in lieu of sending flowers, to “please consider donating to a cause in Jan’s name, that will contribute to the greater good of humanity.”

Bibliography


Black Empowerment and Unitarian Universalism | Harvard Library
Bruce Beyer - UB People - University Archives - University at Buffalo Libraries
The empowerment tragedy | UU World Magazine
First Church and Parish 350th Anniversary 1638-1988
History of First Parish Church of Norwell (firstparishnorwell.org)
https://charlestowncitizens.org/2021/08/25/in-memoriam-reverend-jan-vickery-knost/
https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,841355-1,00.html
https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/bostonglobe/name/jan-knost-obituary?id=21762508
https://www.uua.org/files/2022-06/2022_SLT_PRL_Memorial_Book.pdf
https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/resistance/workshop10/182598.shtml
TABLE OF CONTENTS (weebly.com)
UUA General Assembly Minutes 1970 | Harvard Square Library


 

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