It’s my birthday. Today I start the 60th year of my life. I am celebrating on Cape Cod where I celebrated nearly all my childhood birthdays except the actual day I was born. Here I am with my parents within weeks of that day. We lived at that time in a cabin in an apple orchard in Roanoke County, VA.
Birthdays here in Brewster always involved my father’s-side cousins, my Aunt Margie and Uncle Andy, my parents and little sister, of course, and my best summer friends in Brewster Park where our little cottages sit. Early in my life, my Grammy was there also, my Grammy the cake-maker. Her specialty was angel food cake with a burnt sugar icing, decorated at the base of the cake with fresh cut flowers from the little cottage garden she tended outside the kitchen door. Here are my dad’s parents, Pearl Ann (Allen) and Emanuel Alexander Goldenweiser, standing in the back of the big cottage in the 40’s. There were two buildings on the 0.3 acre lot: this three-bedroom cottage and a multiple-car garage that my grandparents are facing in this picture. That garage was later converted into a one-bedroom cottage for our family. That’s the one I stay in when I come up.
Another important birthday tradition in my early years was the birthday picture, taken always on the stairs that ascend to the second floor of the big cottage. I remember how hard it was to organize my long legs and big feet into something that might pass for a “ladylike” pose. These days my sister and I rent this cottage out all summer in order to be able to afford the expense of taxes and maintenance on the property.
I made a German’s Chocolate Cake for my birthday dinner and decorated it with flowers from my grandmother’s garden. As I do my daily portion of the work of research, study, reading, and planning that it takes to organize the coming year of ministry, I sit in the very same chair my dad used as he prepared for a new year of college teaching. I am so lucky to have such a nourishing place to retreat to when I am away from you on vacation and study leave. Here I feel grounded in the effort and love of generations.
I’ll see you all soon,
This time of year I start to turn my attention to creating the worship schedule for the congregational year to come. This is a great time to talk to me or send an email with any feedback you may have about the 2014-15 Sunday services and/or any ideas about topics you’d like to see addressed during the year to come: September 13, 2015 (our Homecoming service) through the third Sunday in June, 2016 (the service we call Flowers and Passages). Of course, we always love to hear how you have been moved and changed by a service, but the WAs and I also need your gentle, honest feedback about what gets in the way of your full participation in a service.
We aspire to create “Worship That Works,” which means a worship experience that moves people into, through and back out of a unique relationship to time, space and relationship—sacred space and time—during which we are willing to be deeply touched by what we see and hear and feel; transforms our sanctuary into a safe space in which to experience that kind of vulnerability; allows everyone to relax, relinquish control and quiet their inner critic, certain that the worship leaders (including musicians) can reliably hold them in this experience of corporate worship, that there is nothing they need to fix or worry about; elicits and moves the energy that is generated by the service elements and transitions in a smooth logical and responsible flow; incorporates a variety of content modalities (including verbal/oral, visual, aural, tactile, movement, etc.) and voices (minister, lay, congregational, etc.); delivers substantive and accessible intellectual content that is conducive to spiritual growth; features well-rehearsed and competently-performed music of a variety of styles, moods, and ethnic/racial sources, carefully selected to complement the service message and balanced in content and proportion with other service elements; balances ritual components (especially in opening and closing the service) with fresh and innovative arrangements and types of service elements; leaves most people inspired, energized and feeling positive, even if the service content has been challenging, controversial or emotional; actually changes those who experience the service in some way, great or small; inspires members of the congregation to engage more deeply and authentically in the evolution of the Fellowship’s ministry to the world and draws newcomers and non-members into that vision; speaks to everyone in the room across all kinds of human diversity, causing none to feel excluded, invisible, or inadequate for any reason; proceeds with adequate explanation to those who are visitors and unfamiliar with our worship, so that even those for whom our traditions are most foreign feel they are welcome and safe. Please let us know how we are doing!
By the way, I want to let you know that Sylvia Kirk, Gilda Candela, Lily Klima and John Casper have volunteered to manage the aesthetics in our sanctuary, to ensure that our largest gathering space is a beautiful, peaceful, richly communicative and evocative container for worship and other core activities of our community. I am very grateful for the commitment of time and energy each person in the group is making on our behalf. Their deep respect for what we do together in that room, their instincts as artists in their own right, and their collective wisdom about the principles of display are sure to serve us well in the months and years to come. Soon their team will have a name and a charge! Please let them know of your appreciation and if you would like to help them with future projects.
Enjoy this beautiful spring!
The Annual Meeting of UU Congregations of the Metro New York District is coming up on Friday and Saturday, May 1-2, at the Hyatt Morristown in Morristown, NJ. Please plan to attend!
This year, there is a special reason for attending: your Minister (and her congregation by association!) is receiving one of the named awards, the June Z. Gillespie Award. This award, named to honor a former District UUA Trustee and District President, recognizes an individual who has encouraged congregational participation in denominational affairs at the District or national level. I literally couldn’t have done it without you! Please come celebrate with me!
Here’s the math behind the decision:
- 10 of us attended the UU-UNO Spring Seminar in April 2014 (including our youth and adult envoys) and in June we got our second Blue Ribbon Congregation Award for support of our office at the United Nations.
- 45 people (20% of the voting membership) attended the 2014 Providence General Assembly.
- Nearly 100 of us joined the People’s Climate March in September.
- 20 UUFSBers marched in the Million Person March and other marches in the aftermath of Ferguson.
- Laura Lesch (1) is our Denominational Affairs representative. We collect on Sunday mornings for the UU-UNO and Standing on the Side of Love and the UU Service Committee.
- 3 UUFSBers serve on the UU Trauma Response Ministry Team (Margie, Linda A. and Gretta) and
- Linda A. (1) is also president of the St. Lawrence Foundation.
- 2 members serve on the Board of the Long Island UU Fund of the Long Island Community Foundation (Cindy Stewart and Linda Pfeiffer)
- Linda Pfeiffer (1) administrates the UU Student Activities Fund (in which a number of our youth participate annually);
- About 10 members of this congregation participate annually in the annual LI Area Council (LIAC) Spring Dinner.
- Gretta (1) is president of the District Liberal Religious Educator’s Assoc. Chapter and on the LIAC Board.
- Rich Hall (1) is Chair of the LI Leadership Institute. Frances McGuire and I (2) are the co-chairs of the Long Island Ministerial Leave Program
- I (1) am a member of the Metro NY District Board.
That’s total of 198 for 2014-15! Come stand with me as I receive the award!
Click here for more information. You’ll enjoy also music, the keynote address (The Rev. Scott Tayler, UUA Director of Congregational Life), three sets of workshops, a sumptuous lunch (and snacks!), and a UU Network Mall for all your gift and growth needs! Come celebrate our amazingness in the company of our District UU neighbors.
I’ll see you there,
Our by-laws designate the minister as Head of Staff. In the past, here as in other congregations, the job of oversight, support and evaluation of employees was often given to committees such as a Board, Committee on Ministries or the RE Committee. As you might imagine, that arrangement could be quite awkward. Committees and Boards tend to already have too much on their plates. Members might not have the proximity they need to assess the work of an employee. They might have trouble wielding their authority in the tender relational dynamic of a faith community. The thinking that shaped the decision to change our by-laws back in 2010 is that the minister, who leads the mission-visioning process and designs congregational worship and programming that will move the congregation towards fulfilling the mission, is the right person in the system to choose and oversee the staff. In my role as Head of Staff, I can get us all on the same page about what we are doing and why. I can make sure that we are making the best use of our energy in managing the organization, supporting its volunteer leaders, making course corrections, multiplying successes and strengthening the weak spots. In support of this model, the Board and I have been working hard to develop job descriptions that reflect the work that our Congregational Administrator (CA), Office Assistant (OA) and DRE are actually doing. We have also been creating and piloting evaluation tools for minister, Board and employees that invite us into conversations about how we are all doing and what we are feeling and thinking about the work we do.
When I asked our DRE, Gretta Johnson-Sally, and our Congregational Administrator, Susan Catanzaro, to keep track last year of the tasks they address annually, what they came up with was shocking to me and to the Board! Susan’s job description had never been updated since she joined us nearly 20 years ago. The fact is, even with Pat’s assistance for seven hours a week, Susan’s job is the equivalent of a full-time CA plus at least a quarter-time bookkeeping job, all in 30 hours a week. It is clear that no applicant for the job she leaves (whenever that day might come) would be able to manage it, even at full time, much less with her salary and benefits package, an embarrassingly low fraction of what we owe her for her dedication, her expertise and her notorious efficiency. Gretta doesn’t just manage a Sunday school. She develops and organizes a whole-life ministry for families and children that involves programs and activities that blossom into the week, build upon each other in calculated ways and bring children and youth into partnership with the rest of the congregation. The RE Program is the gateway through which young families (and our future adult leaders, their parents) enter our community. At three-quarter time and compensation that falls quite short of those of DREs in comparable settings in our area, we cannot expect her to carry out all the duties her new job description lists. Yet, cutting any of them out will seriously limit the experience of the children and families she serves. If we can’t afford to pour expert energy into the religious education of our most precious spiritual resource—our children—then we really can’t afford to be a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Please think of Susan, Gretta and Pat as you fill out your 2015-16 pledge form this spring.
In the spirit of fairness, generosity and commitment,
In the third session of the Belonging series, our orientation to UUFSB and Unitarian Universalism, participants read aloud together a document that lays out the “meaning of membership.” In it we read that members of this community can expect “recognition, care and support by ministers, staff and fellow congregants during times of crisis and sorrow” and that we all agree to “extend a warm welcome, respect and appreciation to fellow congregants and guests and to those who join us in the future, and to respond to them with compassion and help in times of need.” This is our commitment. We give ourselves to one another’s care when life knocks us off our feet.
One deeply meaningful way to live this promise out is to choose, as often as possible, to respond to deaths of members of our community or of people they love. Go to the funeral home for visitation hours or to the memorial/funeral service if you possibly can. Your presence makes a HUGE difference to people who are bereft and grieving, and puts you in touch with their family story. Your words of condolence – “I’m so sorry”; “My heart is with you and your family”; “I was touched in this way by this person you loved who has died”; “I didn’t know him or her, but I know you and I care and I am here for you for the long run” – these messages are not trivial. They open connections to the flow of nourishing and sustaining love that actually helps people maintain their balance through the most difficult losses and circumstances.
Send a card with a personal message when you see the “Sad News” email message or read about a loss, diagnosis, illness or injury on the Joys and Concerns board in the sanctuary. Contact the family to see if there is some task you can help with once or regularly, or let the Pastoral Assistants know that you’d like to be of assistance. Offer to take care of one or two things the person can't do: bring the trash down to the curb, clean the litter box, feed and walk the dog, bring in the newspaper and mail, offer to pick up some groceries. Drop off a casserole or other type of food, help with insurance forms or bills, do a little cleaning or laundry, or take the kids out for a treat. Take care of the vegetable garden/ leaves/ lawn. Think about your own talents and create something comforting, handy or beautiful.
When you talk to people who are suffering, remember that your purpose is to offer empathy, tenderness and support. This is not about you. Not about advice or curiosity. Not about hierarchies of suffering. Not about fixing anything or judgments or prescriptions or challenges. It’s about bringing your whole, present and attentive self into each moment of speaking and listening. So what do you say? Here are some leading opening statements and questions: “I heard about what happened and I have been thinking about you and your family.” “If you’d like to talk, I’m here to listen.” “Can you tell me more about what’s going on for you?” “What feelings have been coming up for you today? What’s on your mind right now?” “What kind of sense are you making of all this right now?” Or, “No need to talk. Let me just be here with you.” “May I give you a hug, hold your hand?” “I'll go with you (to the appointment, to the funeral home, to the hospital).” “Would it be better if I leave you to rest?” And you can also ask questions like these when you are talking to others who are close to the person in pain. Follow their lead: offer talk, silent companionship, space, help, distraction. The connections we make in receiving and giving care strengthen our congregation, and we need those muscles to power everything else we do as a faith community!