Here we are on the cusp of summer vacation time, though our Earth seems still in the process of deciding what season she is bringing! This Memorial Day weekend I was in Brewster on Cape Cod with my sister preparing our property for the upcoming rental season. The cold snapped, with temps in the 50’s! I hope things brighten for you, weather-wise and spirit-wise, this summer, and that you find some time to rest and refresh before the busy fall is once again upon us. Here’s a little preview of some features of the congregational year to come.
First of all, the Summer Service Series this year, “Connecting Across Difference,” promises to be superinteresting: UUFSBers will be talking about communication between guide dogs and their human companions, with autistic children using music as a bridge, from outside the gender binary norm, across the partisan divide, between parents and their own special needs children, across the barrier between life and death, across differences in human ability, and across cultural and religious divides within our own faith. Come support your friends when you can!
Secondly, after our annual “Flowers and Passages” service on June 17 (don’t miss it), Linda and I head out to this year’s UU General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. (You would love it—think about coming with us one year. It’s always the 3rd week in June.) GA is preceded by the annual professional meeting of UU ministers. We fly back to you on June 25. I’ll be participating in the 2nd service in the summer series on July 1, with Summerland Church of Light’s leader, Frank Kotowski, and then beginning some summer time away, using a combination of the vacation and study leave time you generously afford me. I show up again in mid-August recharged and prepared for another year of ministry with you! Let me know if there is a topic you’d like to hear addressed from the pulpit between then and June 2019.
Thirdly, please don’t miss our annual Homecoming Sunday and picnic barbecue on September 9. On our rotation through the elements, we’ve come back around to Fire, so our service will include a Fire Communion. And, of course, we’ll take a picture of the whole congregation of us looking like a big ol’ bonfire on the lawn!
Fourthly, a heads up that the next two years of our partnership will be a little different, as I will be taking my first ever sabbatical leave, in two three-month increments: Jan-March 2019 and March-May 2020. I haven’t decided yet on the nature of my sabbatical pursuits, but I am really looking forward taking some of the time I’ve earned (at one month per year of service) and spinning up some gold for us. Each month a Long Island UU minister will be on call for pastoral emergencies beyond the capacity of our Pastoral Assistants, and that minister will preach the first Sunday of the month. Other Sunday services will be led by guest preachers I am lining up and monthly lay leaders the WAs will, as usual, identify. Don’t worry, you will be fine!
Definitely yours, ❤
We have things we want to do with that money—important, life-saving, world-changing, child-shaping, hope-making things. For example, the DRE search committee and I are about to finalize and distribute our job posting for a part-time DRE and also for a part-time RE Assistant. We’re taking a big gamble that all of us together are going to come through with the money we need to provide our new employees the fair compensation they deserve for their vital work.
Did you notice that the group of new members we celebrated on March 25th included six sets of parents with young children, a total of eight children just entering our program? This past Saturday, I dedicated 3-month-old Elijah Keith Jack as his 4 year-old brother Bentley looked on with the rest of their extended family. Bentley and his parents spent some time with us a few weeks ago. Samantha was impressed that Bentley later remembered and applied that morning’s circle worship lesson about loss and hope. I hope the Jack family will also choose to settle in with us. We probably aspire to nothing more important in our congregational life than helping our children to calibrate their own moral and ethical compass and employ its guidance as they navigate a world that, increasingly, doesn’t seem to have a such a compass at all.
Friends, we need an average pledge of $1900. If you can, please prune your expenditures to help us get there. If you can’t right now, creep on steadily towards that goal. If you can afford more, take a deep breath and cover someone among us who is less financially secure.
Together, we can do this.
Those of you who attended the New Member Sunday service on March 25th might have recognized a portion of the promises we made to and with the 13 (of 18) new members whose commitment we celebrated.
“As members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, we join together to challenge and to nurture one another in our efforts to speak honestly, to act with compassion, to love without prejudice, to seek clarity in our common work, to respond to the call of justice with courage, and to live out our personal beliefs and communal agreements with mutuality and integrity. We support this congregation whole-heartedly, determined to move it faithfully from this generation to the next—an ever more purposeful, responsive, healthy, and sustainable instrument of service, and a loving community which receives all that life offers courageously, with gratitude, resilience and hope.”
Yep, it’s that experimental Affirmation we read together in unison during most Sunday services last fall. If you have been wondering what happened to that experiment, here is the scoop. On the first Sunday in January a group of 15 or so people gathered after the service to talk about the idea of an affirmation in general and to offer feedback on this particular affirmation. We all agreed that this particular affirmation is too long. We clarified that is not a creed, a set of required beliefs, but an aspirational affirmation of our core purposes as a Fellowship and a description of how we want to to interact as we try to live into those purposes. Everyone seemed to agree that the message of the affirmation was a good one. A newcomer among us mentioned that this affirmation had helped her and would probably help other newcomers understand and explain to others how our seven principles actually play out in our congregational and personal lives. A number of people in the circle said they thought that saying the same words aloud together in every service was not only profoundly boring, but also deadened the meaning of the words over time. Others in the group said that this kind of repetition reminded them of the meaningless blah-blah that they had deliberately left behind in the religion of their childhood. Some, though, mentioned that words that held deep meaning for them in a previous congregational setting still resounded in their hearts and guided them today because they were repeated by their congregation most Sundays long ago. Most agreed, as we thought about all these comments, that if there were a time when words that remind us of why we are here and what we are doing together as a WE should be lifted up by all voices and heard by all ears, this is probably the time—in our Fellowship, in our nation, and in our world.
In the end, we more or less agreed upon the following conclusions. The affirmation we adopt needs to be half this length or shorter. Every word must count. The words would not differ week to week. We’d say the affirmation together at least monthly. The Affirmation could be carefully reconsidered and revised over time as we and the world around us change. We also decided that responsibility for producing the next draft Affirmation would fall to the Worship Associates. The WA tri-Chairs—Kay Aparo, Dave Tarbell and Laura Lesch—welcome your input.
The words of my colleague Linda Ramsden for you today:
Blessed are you who can question your own assumptions and listen with an open mind; you will receive new insights beyond your imagining. Blessed are you who suffer the attacks of others to stand up for what is right; you will not be alone, for your courage will inspire others to rise. Blessed are you who take delight in people; you will not be bored in meetings.
Blessed are you who agitate the placid waters of complacency; you will create waves in the inertia of privilege, and will know the thrill of riding the surf of change. Blessed are you who lead with enthusiasm and confidence, resisting the temptation to shame the apathetic or self-absorbed; you will inspire curiosity and hope in others. Blessed are you who play as well as work; you will have more fun, build more energy, and will draw the powers of the impish to your cause. Blessed are you who ask for help in your role as leaders; you will find teachers at every turn, and your work will remain interesting and alive.
Blessed are you, when wrongfully attacked, find safe outlets for your righteous rage; your mind will be clear, your decisions strategic, and your progress will not be derailed by the backlash of the fearful. Blessed are you who do not demonize your opponents; your eyes and your hearts will be open. Blessed are you who offer thanks and praise five-fold for every critique; your children will want to visit after they are grown, people will want to serve on your committees, and friends will be interested in your opinions. Blessed are you who study the rhythms of history; you will have knowledge with which to shape the future.
Blessed are you who work in coalition rather than in principled isolation; you will meet great people, learn things you didn’t realize you needed to know, and have partners for the journey when you are in the lead, or in need. Blessed are you who volunteer to be secretary and take good minutes; your words will become history, and your efforts will move steadily forward rather than running absent-mindedly over thoroughly discussed ground. Blessed are you who can change your mind; you are still alive. Blessed are you who will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good; you will see progress in your lifetime.
Blessed are you who live from a place of gratitude; for you will know the meaning of Life.
As many of you know, I am a member of a hyper-local interfaith clergy group called Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association. The Rev. Kate Calone (Open Door Exchange) leads us now and the Rev. Dr. Linda Anderson, my spouse and our affiliated UU Community Minister, serves as secretary. Other active members include the Rev. Canon Richard Visconti (Caroline Episcopal), the Rev. Mary Speers (Setauket Presbyterian), Rabbi David Katz and Cantor Marcey Wagner (Temple Isaiah), Rabbi Aaron Benson (North Shore Jewish Center), Father James Mannion (St. James Roman Catholic Church), the Rev. Chuck Van Houten (Stony Brook Community Church—Methodist), the Rev. Steven Kim (Setauket Methodist Church), the Rev. Greg Leonard (Bethel AME Church), Elaine Learnard (Conscience Bay Friends Meeting, St. James), and Ismail Zahed (Selden Mosque).
We meet on the first Monday morning of the month at one or other of our congregations to support one another as colleagues, to learn about each other’s faith traditions, to describe what’s going on in the congregations we serve, to look for opportunities to partner in ministry, to make joint public statements, and to plan interfaith events. Many of you have attended the Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service we lead every year. Most years, we also offer an educational forum, often a panel and discussion about how our faiths address universal religious concerns—topics like birth, coming of age, religious education, marriage, prayer, death, and scripture. Our group has covered a lot of common territory over the 25 or so years that it has existed.
For this year’s educational forum we are designing an “Interfaith Dialogue on Guns in America.” I hope many of you will be able to attend the forum at North Shore Jewish Center on Sunday, March 4, 3:00-5:00. We’ve asked former LI Council of Churches Executive Director, the Rev. Tom Goodhue, to facilitate an innovative conversational process. The process will look something like this, though the plan is still evolving. We’ll begin with small groups of clergy talking to each other in response to three broad questions. We’ll then invite four members of different faith groups to come out of the audience and sit with each other to discuss a common question. After several such mixed groups have had a chance to interact around their question, we’ll bring the event to a close with a Q & A directed from the audience to individuals on the whole clergy panel. We’ll also provide some sort of fact sheet, as balanced as possible, about relevant NY State laws, the wording of the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution and various interpretations, and national and state statistics about various kinds of gun use and abuse.
This year’s educational forum is a stretch for us as an interfaith clergy group. A lot can go wrong. It is clear to us, though, that people of faith can play an important role in modeling and encouraging civil discourse on issues that concern us as citizens.
Here’s a little bit of happy news in this brand New Year. The UUFSB Board entered a trial contract to rent space to Summerland Church of Light (SCOL), a 30+ member religious community chartered in 2004 by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC). They will be holding services and related activities in the double Green Room 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every Saturday, starting Jan. 6th. In addition, they will gather for a class in the Blue Room on Thursdays from 7:30-10:00 p.m. Our Board and theirs have reached satisfactory agreements for storage in the room, keys, chairs, RE entrance signage while in occupancy, and flexibility for the limited occasions when we might need to reassign spaces. They do not want a roadside sign and will not object to any public statement of our values that we may make. This arrangement will boost our income by ~$10K/year.
The SCOL Board president, Frank Kotowski, describes Spiritualist core beliefs and values in this way: “We believe in a non-anthropomorphic higher power which we call 'Infinite Spirit’ or 'Infinite Intelligence’ or ‘Source’; in self-determination and personal responsibility; in Natural Laws (of which the supreme law is Love); and that action taken against Natural Laws will result in negative consequences.” Spiritualism is a non-Christian-based faith that views figures like Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and others as Master Teachers and eschews dogmatism and proselytizing. Frank tells us that their overarching goal is “to create a community of spiritually minded individuals who support each other in an atmosphere of love, sharing, and mutual respect for all human beings, living creatures, and Mother Earth.” The 9 principles of Spiritualism include the primacy of the Golden Rule as a moral guide and affirmation of limitless opportunities for the reformation of the human soul before and after death. Spiritualism evolved as a faith of high moral standards and progressive thinking. Many Spiritualists were involved in the abolition of slavery and in the struggle for women’s rights. Spiritualists advocate today for individual rights regardless of race, gender, orientation, or abilities. The foundational belief of Spiritualism is that life continues beyond physical existence and that death is not an end. Where some UUs would say that science has nothing to say about the continuity of life across death, Spiritualists believe that communication across that threshold is proven in their practice.
Our congregations are highly compatible in regard to values and, in fact, both Unitarians and Universalists in the latter half of the 19th century were involved in the evolution of Spiritualism (http://uudb.org/articles/spiritualism.html for UU connection; www.nsac.org for more about Spiritualism). We come together in mutual support under the roof of a Fellowship that honors theological differences. The SCOL Board invites UUFSB members to join them for their first worship service on Jan. 6 at 10:30 a.m. This first special service includes: Presider’s Greeting; First Hymn; Invocation; Short "Hello"; Declaration of Principles; Healing Hymn, Prayer and Reading of Names; Guided Meditation and Hands-on Healing; Second Hymn; Spiritual Address; Announcements and Blessing; Third Hymn; Clairvoyance/Message Work; Benediction; Fourth Hymn. The service is followed by refreshments and fellowship. Please help our new tenants know they are welcome!