A Message from Ross Martin

A Message from Ross Martin

Dear UUCC Family —

Last week, I sent a note around to a bunch of you to let you know some big news in my personal life and how it impacts my relationship with UUCC. Sara Davidson thought it might be good to share an edited version with all y’all. So here goes!

On November 1st, my not-so-new life partner, Alison Howard, and I closed on our purchase of a mountain cabin in Berkeley Springs, WV. Practical Ohioan that I am, instead of giving Alison a ring, I bought her a house on 20 acres. That’s a key to the cabin in the ring box depicted below.

Our long-term plan is to build a guesthouse overtop a garage/workshop, a yurt in the woods, a campsite or two, and hiking trails with spots for meditation and reflection throughout. We hope to create a retreat of sorts to augment Alison’s psychotherapy practice, share music, and generally create a meaningful space for healing and growth. It will take us a year or two (perhaps a lifetime or two) to fully realize this vision. Even before we build additional space, we will be set up with two guest rooms in the house and plenty of natural beauty to share. I hope you will consider visiting us once the dust of the move-in settles.

If you’re not familiar with Berkeley Springs, it is something of a hippie townwith “America’s oldest spa” (natural hot springs frequented by George Washington and others), vegan restaurants, artisan shops, antiques, and other interesting places. Our cabin is at the end of a mile-long gravel road in what feels like the middle of nowhere, but it is just 10 minutes from town and just 90 minutes from DC and Columbia.

To say that UUCC has been an important part of my life since January 2016 grossly understates what this community has come to mean to me.

Youand the spiritual space you have created togethergave me solace and a place to take action during the upheaval of the prior administration’s clumsy and destructive descent into power. I came just a few weeks before that fateful inauguration because I desperately needed community to weather the coming storm. I found that community… and so much more.

  • You gave me a place to experience and share music at a transcendent level… from hearing Michael’s virtuosity at the piano and the Chalice Choir under Tom’s direction for the first time…
  • To showing up at a bewildered Jay Paul’s home on the night of the DT inaugurationin desperate need of communityat what I thought was a monthly song swap. After sizing me up a minute, he shrugged and let me in for a long evening of musical commiseration…
  • To later joining Jay and others on those revitalized song swaps—both in person and virtual…
  • To adding my voice to those of the Choirfolk at countless services…
  • To hosting dozens of amazing concerts at One World Coffeehouse
  • To presenting my “One-Guitar Show” to a packed sanctuaryan experience that still stops my heart every time I recall the opening moment as the thunder rolled and the lights came up (…there is no net this time; who knows if I’ll even remember the first line; too late to stop now)…
  • To sharing special music at services with Anthony, Tom, members of the jazz band, Jay, Mark, and all on my own…
  • To co-hosting the UUCC’s Got Talent shows with Braidontwice…
  • To putting together an epic Battle of the Bands with the broader UU community…
  • To leading worship at the Deep Creek camping trip…
  • To performing at the UUCC Auction dinners…
  • To being part of the UUCC Tech Team and hearing the amazing compilations of gathering and postlude music at a time when those first virtual connections were so vital to us all…
  • To performing pandemic-friendly outdoor concerts on the Hazzard farm and Alice T’s backyard…
  • To having the deeply emotional and beautiful experience of hearing the one-by-one layered voices of the Stay-at-Home Choir grow as members came and recorded at my serendipitously and perfectly fit-for-purpose Pan-de-Mic Studios…

You gave me a place to learn about racism and white supremacy culture at a critical juncture in the world’s reckoning on the meaning of social justice. Alison is deeply involved in this work in her professional life. So I was able to come into our relationship with some modicum of understanding of the complex issues of race in our society and go even deeper into this space with Alison.

You gave me the opportunity to use some of my clinical and life experiences to facilitate OWL classes for our amazing 8th graders, where I learned far more than I contributed.

You gave me so much fun(!) in the form of auction item events, amazing dinners and choir pot lucks, movie nights, social gatherings, bike outings, beer brewing, camping adventures, cornhole competitions, museum tours, hold ’em showdowns, creativity connections… the list goes on.

You literally gave me a home when it was time to become “amicably unmarried.” The Lewman’s cottagethis cozy space in the woods that once served as a cow barn in the 1700s and, much more recently, as Lary Lewman’s recording studioproved the perfect place for me to weather the pandemic… and transition into singledom… and transition again into this new, wonderful love relationship with Alison. That magical “ski lodge at a summer camp” gave us the inspiration to create a nature-infused space of our own that we could share with others. Nancy and Lori were incredible hosts and neighbors!

You gave me a place to serve in countless little waysfrom hanging pictures, to helping people figure out how to get on Zoom for the first time, to working with Sara, Ken, Lindsay, Laurie, and Kim on the Staying-In-Touch Team in the earlier days of the lockdown, to hosting quarantined travelers who were stuck abroad at the beginning of the pandemic, to providing amplification equipment for youth group gatherings and for two youth-led rallies in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Each one of those small acts of service returned great blessings to me.

Perhaps most importantly (though it’s hard to extract this impact from all the others), you gave me a renewed sense of spirituality and personal growth through years of worship services that were as varied as they were profound. I still keep a large pile of Order of Service printouts from every service I attended (back in the Before Times). Though currently packed away in a box in our new cabin basement (in a space reminiscent of that closing scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark), they serve to me as a reminder of the cumulative effect of your soul-nurturing work on me.

Just typing out this litany of connections with all of you is a profound experience. As I reflect on the countless magical moments we have shared, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, love, and joy—and just a small measure of sorrow as I step into this next chapter. My sorrow is assuaged with the knowledge that I am not leaving UUCC behind, but will be carrying you all with me in my heart for the rest of my days.

What is the point of this exercise of remembrance and gratitude? I wanted to share both my deeply heartfelt thanks and my intentions for a future relationship with UUCC.

I will stay a lifelong friend of UUCC, but will be shifting my UU attention over time to All Souls in DC, where Alison is a member. I will keep working on the One World Coffeehouse in a limited capacity and hope to build some musical bridges with All Souls and perhaps a Berkeley Springs venue in the future.

Throughout this email, I’ve dropped hints about Alison for those of you who haven’t yet had a chance to meet her. We’ve been in a serious relationship since the day we first met some eight months ago through an online dating app that lasted all of about four days on my phone. The “Parade of Swaggering Narrators in My Head” or (PoSNiMHs as we enjoy calling them) started shouting in unison that this was someone who could be “the One.” Once we met in person, it was pretty much go deep or go home. We’ve hardly spent a day apart and have traveled, communed, prayed, and, yes, bought a home together in the days since. I do hope you’ll find the opportunity to get to know this remarkable soul soon.

This is all to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” My heart is full with the love you have all shared.

Yours on the journey,
Ross (and Ali)
rossnalioop@gmail.com

7 Comments

  1. Kathy Parker

    Ross, I wish you the very best in West Virginia. We will miss you for sure! I was so grateful to you when you video recorded my sermon for the Pittsburgh congregation back in Sept. 2020. This was my one little experience (very memorable) with your excellent Pan-de-Mic Studios! And it’s wonderful of course that you will be sharing your new home with Ali! All the best to both of you!
    Kathy Parker

  2. Gail Thompson

    My very best wishes to you and Ali in life together and dreams together. My own connections with All Souls are long in years and become closer with my life with John, a long time member there…and at UUCC. I would love to see how your dream comes out up there at the end of your one mile road. My WV connections grow stronger with time too.

  3. Carol Zika

    Much love to you and Allison and best wishes for a long and happy future together. The Google Earth view of your place is mind boggling. Trees, trees everywhere! You will be living in Nature’s Cathedral. Watch out for poison ivy. Put my name on one of those guest rooms!

  4. John Guy

    Good Morning Ross and Ali – May the joys of the hills of WVA bring you the delights of nature and the reverence for long lived trees. Your essay brings back many memories for me ,all the way to the 1930s when I was a single digit growing up in Guy’s Cash Store in Bentonville Va. Berkeley Club soda pop was a key pop my parents sold in the store. Berkeley Club ginger ale was the hottest ,fizziest ginger ale available in the Shenandoah Valley . Gail says Ross you might make a song about that drink. There used to be a museum for that soda company on Main Street . Please have fun pursuing such. John Guy

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