Linda and I are returning day from two weeks in Salt Lake City and Moab, Utah. For the first five days we were two of more than eight thousand attendees at the 5th Parliament of the World’s Religions, the first held in the US for twenty-two years. The very first Parliament, which took place in 1893 in Chicago, played a major role in introducing a dominantly Christian America to eastern, Midwestern and indigenous religious traditions. During days at the Parliament we were surrounded by people representing eighty countries and fifty faith traditions, many dressed in traditional regalia.
Twice-daily plenaries were organized according to themes such as “Women,” “Hate and Violence,” “Global Climate Change,” and “Indigenous Peoples.” I can’t even begin to tell you how moving many of the speeches were, speeches begging us all, in many tongues and scriptures and prayers and passionate analyses of current events to unite around our shared values and work together towards peace and justice for all the peoples of the world and for our planet. We attended workshops led by Jain, Muslim, Jewish, Yoruba, Pagan, Sikh, and indigenous men and women; witnessed rituals and prayers led by Tibetan monks, Sufi dervishes and indigenous grandmothers; listened to an international children’s choir and a gorgeous cantata about the southwestern natural world called “Earth Songs”; shared lunch with several thousand people at a Sikh “langar,” a free meal open to the entire Parliament every day—salad, fruit, dal/beans, raita, naan, a paneer/curry, dessert, coffee and tea. Delicious and served with welcome and warmth.
At a workshop on “Trees, Forests and the Sacred” I heard about a grove called “Pando,” a clonal colony of a single male quaking aspen determined to be a single living organism, the heaviest in the world and at 80, 000 years old, among the oldest beings on earth. We went to visit our aspen grove relative just outside of Richfield, UT, a massive root system with genetically identical “stems.” A wondrous sight.
Yours with love,
Perhaps it is a little mysterious to you what all a minister might be good for other than a sermon or a newsletter column or, in my specific case, a loaf of homemade bread. Here are some good reasons to reach out to me:
- You need a sympathetic ear for problems or decisions you are facing regarding your job, children, marriage, relationship, or anything else; you are feeling confused, depressed, isolated or hopeless or have a joy to share.
- You have a friend or loved one who is ill or in trouble or you yourself are dealing with an illness, disability or facing surgery; you notice that someone you know in the congregation needs support.
- Someone you love is near death or has died or and you need help with end-of-life planning or a service; you’re planning to marry, struggling in a relationship or contemplating divorce; you’re pregnant but wish you weren’t or are thrilled you are; you would like to have a child dedicated; you are undergoing a major transition in your life and feel the need to ritually recognize the threshold you are crossing.
- You or someone you know has questions about religion or Unitarian Universalism; you want to build your theology, deepen your spiritual life or are in spiritual crisis; you’re considering membership in the congregation or have already joined and are wondering how you can participate more fully in congregational life; you would like to share your talents and gifts as part of one of our groups, committees, or classes, or serve as a volunteer in some other way.
- You want to affirm something good going on in the congregation or would like to discuss a congregational issue that is troubling you; you have ideas about sermons or programs or have a project you would like to initiate; you’re mad at me or someone else and want to air your feelings and work it out; you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us.
The point is: I am here to help, part of a larger circle of helpers. No one need feel alone or resourceless. So, cut out the “How to Get Help” memo below. Post it on your fridge, fold it into your wallet or purse, put the names and numbers into your mobile phone. And while you are at it, create a mobile phone entry for “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) and the phone number of your #1 go-to person. ICE is the entry that medical professionals will be looking for in your phone if you are ever in an accident or an ER and cannot speak for yourself. Put my number in there too under “My Minister.” If you or someone you love is ever seriously injured or hospitalized, call me and I will come immediately. I can help you navigate the chaos. Yes, ministers do that. A lot. And whenever you go to the hospital, consider letting me know. I’d be more than happy to come visit you there, send a card, chat on the phone, IM back and forth, help with a problem.
Finally, I urge all of you, no matter what your age and especially if you have children, to download and fill out our In Case of Emergency (ICE) / End of Life Planning form. Make copies for your family, doctor, lawyer and one for me. I keep them in a secure file in my office. The primary purpose of the document is to spur you to think about some tough issues and to plan ahead, and in doing so reduce the number of difficult decisions your loved ones will have to make if you were to be badly injured, very ill or dying. Meanwhile, my dear ones, live well, love much, and don’t hesitate to call,
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,
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!