Dear Ones,

As I mentioned in my opening words at my first post-return Sunday service on August 23rd, I begin my work with you again filled with gratitude: for six weeks of rest, recreation, re-creation, reading and preparation; for finding you all still here and percolating amiably along your own summer way; for the delightful spectacle of your faces and colors before me once again in our beautiful sanctuary; and for all your welcoming words and hands and hugs! At the end of our closing hymn that Sunday, I looked up from my hymnal to find all eyes looking and many fingers pointing to two very young fawns grazing in the yard near the old playground, curious and unperturbed, their big ears cocked towards our song. Our topic that morning was “Why I Come to Church.” The presence of the fawns underscored one common reason: we create together a safe, peaceful and welcoming space for all; humans, flora and fawn-a.

One major portion of my study leave activities is the preparation of our worship calendar. I review the previous year’s Orders of Service (OOS); look at special anniversaries, events and holy days coming up in the year ahead; study emerging issues of the day and our Association’s Congregational Study Action Issues (CSAI); think about you and what you as individuals and a community might like and/or need to consider together; discern what I am curious or confused about as a growing individual and as your minister. Out of that process emerges a draft calendar that I then circulate to Worship Associates (WA) and musicians and a number of lay leaders for feedback. More than half of our services during the 2014-15 congregational year were focused on social justice issues: climate change, Black Lives Matter, Moral Monday, escalating inequality, reproductive rights, the reinvention of gender, the disintegration of our democratic process, rights of indigenous people. It was a tough year in America and our services, in response, were tough, demanding calls to action. This year’s calendar gives us more places to rest and restore: in the fall three services on the night sky; in the spring three services on the natural world; and in the course of the year a number of services about the challenges of being human. The hundred people who collaborate to bring you Sunday morning worship experiences hope you find your lives enriched by your participation.

The WAs and I made a number of adjustments to the OOS last year to help to stabilize the length of our services. Since I arrived at UUFSB in 2010, my goal for service length has been between 60 and 75 minutes. A service should never last more than an hour and a quarter, but sometimes they have. We’ve reduced Announcements, eliminated offering instructions, shortened the Welcome, and tightened transitions between service elements, among other strategies. This year we will be experimenting with other changes: reducing repeating verbal announcements, eliminating lyrics in the OOS (this because of copyright law), shortening the Sermon and Opening Words and possibly reconfiguring the Prelude-Offertory-Postlude pattern that an Interim Minister put in place after Rev. Kate Lehman retired. This coming spring you will be asked to respond to a survey regarding how well we are meeting our goals for Sunday morning worship (see my 4/29 “Letter from Nearby” for a list of those goals).

Don’t miss the Homecoming Service and Potluck Barbecue (9/13)!

I’ll see you there or sooner,


Dear Ones,

margie babyIt’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.

margie grandparentsBirthdays 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.

margie girlAnother 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.

cakeI 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,


Dear Ones,

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!


Dear Ones,

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!

Every year I enjoy meeting with my minister and religious educator colleagues Thursday evening through Friday afternoon and then joining hundreds of members of UU congregations at the District Annual Meeting that begins on Friday (registration at 4:00, Ingathering at 7:00). Childcare is available for children age 4 and under and programming 5-12 year-olds. You can afford it! Rooms at the Hyatt are discounted (and reasonable, especially with multiple occupants), registration fees are sliding scale ($59- $139 for adults and $59 for youth) and scholarships are available (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). I can offer financial help also with Minister’s Discretionary Funds for those who could not attend otherwise (just ask!).

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,


Dear Ones,

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,


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