Branching Out

Branching Out

Family of Man – Growth

Pentecost 114


This is the second part of our three-part Family of Man posts.  In the past when we have had bombings, I have taken some time for introspection but I think perhaps what we need is more talk and less silence.  We cannot continue to act as if we can do nothing.  We are only victims when we fail to take corrective measures and learn from these events.  We must branch out with strength instead of retreating in fear.


Did you awake this morning and stretch?  Most of us do.  And if we didn’t before we got out of bed, we certainly do some stretching while getting dress.  We stretch and bend over to pick up shoes, to open a drawer, to perhaps pull up slacks.  Let’s face it…We all stretch our bodies.  But what about stretching our minds, our activities, our souls, and most importantly our vision?


I referenced a folk tale yesterday about Willow, Branch, and Leaf.  There are over four hundred different varieties of willow trees in the northern hemisphere of this planet.  Some are bushy while others are quite tall.  The leave also vary but in all of these varieties, the roots are strong.  While the trunks vary as do the colors, the roots provide a firm foundation for the stretching of the plant above ground. 


Cotton has been a staple industry of the south for three centuries.  Many people, cotton would say that cotton is more agriculture than industry but the southern United States, particularly Mississippi and Alabama developed cotton, a crop that made Egyptian textiles plentiful and beautiful, into an art form.  The Mississippi Delta, land in the northwestern part of the state, grew some of the finest cotton in the world, thanks in part to the surrounding waters of the Mississippi River.  North Alabama became famous for cotton used for industrial purposes like towels and bedding, duvets, and upholstery.


Merrimack Manufacturing Company of Lowell, Massachusetts opened a textile mill in Huntsville, Alabama on July 9, 1900.  The company used Merrimack Hall, built ten years earlier, as the hub for the mill village.  Houses had been built for the mill employees and by 1913, Merrimack Mill Village consisted of houses, a school, hospital, store, and cemetery.  Ten years later the store which was a two-story building built in 1890 was enlarged to twenty-five thousand feet to serve as a community center.  The newly refurbished Merrimack Hall opened its doors with the Merrimack Drug Company, two barbershops, a grocery store, a bicycle repair shop, and a café.  The second story included a gymnasium and two large meeting rooms used by local civic groups and the community. 


Merrimack Mills (a second mill built within ten years of the first), grew to over sixteen hundred employees.  Today, a century later, the town of Huntsville has enclosed Merrimack Village.  Less than three hundred of the original duplexes constructed as employee housing remain.  Merrimack Village Historic District became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.  But what happened to Merrimack Hall?


In 2006 Alan and Debra Jenkins purchased Merrimack Hall and stretched their budget to renew the building and its purpose.  Today the building serves as a concert venue, the upper two rooms now an auditorium with a stage.  Musicals, comedians, and concerts delight the public.  Those are the sideline purposes, though.  Merrimack hall was renewed for a much larger purpose.  You see, Debra Jenkins was determined to stretch the vision of all who drove past the dilapidated building.  She was a woman on a mission, a woman with a purpose.


Today Merrimack Hall is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and that gymnasium on the upper floor serves as the home for Dance Your Dreams.  Their website says it best: “Our mission is to provide visual and performing arts education, and cultural activities, to children and adults with special needs and to provide quality professional entertainment to the community. Our Johnny Stallings Arts Program (JSAP) serves more than 500 children, teens and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities each year through a variety of weekly classes and special programs.  In addition to JSAP, Merrimack Hall also gives back to the community by providing facility use to other nonprofit organizations, and reduced or free tickets to the underserved. Since opening our doors in 2007, Merrimack Hall has given back more than $1.5 million to the community.  Each time you purchase a ticket, you are helping to fund our outreach programs, and we thank you for your patronage!”


Merrimack Hall has used the roots of its manufacturing history to stretch.  Today it stands like the willows in the surrounding neighborhood for social change and artistic endeavor.  The neighborhood has many different ethnicities, most from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.  The potential of Merrimack is neither threatened by them and can serve as encouragement as they strive to stretch and grow.


Some people walks in their neighborhood and others have walking buddies.  It may not seem like much but these are the things that improve our focus and bring our community into vision, giving us a clearer connection to all.  We all need to exercise not only our bodies and minds but also our spirits and that is best done by helping others.  Saturday September 17th some were planning to stretch and challenge their physical strength by participating in a marathon that benefitted others.  Instead a bomb detonated and cancelled the event.    


Not every branch survives.  Not every road leads to success.  We are better, though, for having made the effort and taken the journey.  There can be no growth when the intent is to harm others.  There is no purpose is harming ourselves.  Each day we must arise and stretch, not only our bodies but our souls.  We need to continue to grow and learn as well as travel familiar paths.  A tree must branch out if it is to grow.  It recognizes the importance of branching out in order to grow and stay alive.  We are similar in our need of stretching our living. What will you stretch today? 


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