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!
Here is the “interactive prayer” I wrote for our intergenerational Winter Solstice service on December 21st. It is based on Hymn # 402 in the grey hymnal, a good mantra to take into the New Year: From you I receive to you I give, together we share and from this we live. Sing it around your table in 2015. Start and end with the whole hymn. After that, sing the first phrase in bold, then say the words after the colon or new words you make up. Repeat with the second phrase. Have fun!
From you I receive: a box, brightly wrapped with something wonderful inside! To you I give: a little something I made myself just for you, just for you.
From you I receive: the smile I sent you just now, your face shining. To you I give: the little hug your eyes just told me you’d like to have.
From you I receive: hope, when I can’t find mine anywhere. Darn it, where did I put that hope? To you I give: hope, when I still have some in every pocket and you are all out.
From you I receive: a steadying hand, when I am off balance and might fall. To you I give: a steadying word, when you are confused or upset and your whole basket of feelings is about to tip over.
From you I receive: something really good to eat. Yum. My favorite! You are such a good cook! To you I give: more when you’d like more; and less when less is better. When is less better? Oh, come on, you know!
From you I receive: love, when I’ve forgotten how loveable I am—how could that happen?—but it does. To you I give: love, when lonely, sad, hurt You comes my way like a zombie, saying “Ugh, life stinks.”
From you I receive: the amazing story of your day, your life, your hopes and dreams. Come on, tell me more! To you I give: my best listening ears; just listening, and sometimes asking exactly the right question. Exactly. The. Right. Question.
From you I receive: space and time alone, right when I really need it. As much as I want. To you I give: dinner and a movie, a ride, a joke, a dance, a game of Sleeping Queens, the company you need right when you need it.
From you I receive: a really good idea; the solution; a great list; something I like in every color; one more, even though you think I’ve had enough; the thing I lost that you found; the word that’s been on the tip of my tongue too long; forgiveness. To you I give: the extra one I have of this thing you love and can’t find; the hand [extend hand palm out] when you are going on a bit too long (It happens.); congratulations and condolences; a card, a bouquet, a call, gratitude.
Wishing you all a very safe, fulfilling and happy New Year! With affection,
As I sit to plan a nice Thanksgiving dinner for my Linda, Matt, my niece Mary and some minister friends, I am thinking of you all hanging out in your own oven-warmed kitchens over the next month or so, surrounded by people you love, all of you breathing in deep the sweet smells of the season. May you take in all the sweetness of the season with all your senses. Take it all the way in, for remembering. May you find comfort in the beauty, sounds, tastes, smells and feel of the season: candlelight and poinsettias, carols and brass bands, pie spices and roast beast, wood smoke and pine wreaths, soft flannel and cool champagne flutes. May you be visited by benevolent spirits from the past and may graceful spirits of holidays to come entice you with images of dreams and hopes fulfilled.
Here is a recipe I have been using to feed you at morning workshops and meetings for the last year or so. It is a special and easy upside-down kind of coffee cake, comfort food for everyone at the start of the day.
May (y)our New Year be a sweet one!
In 2004-05, this Fellowship completed the community educational workshop series required for becoming a “Welcoming Congregation” in our Association of Congregations and then brought the question of commitment to the program to a congregational vote. More than half the congregation at that time had participated in the workshops and the vote passed with negligible dissent. In 2010, when I first appeared among you, the rumble about my being a lesbian was fairly muted. Since then I hear occasionally about my having an “agenda” in regard to which social justice issues I support. I don’t worry about it too much. I know that anxiety about sexuality and gender run close to the bone in our society. It is unrealistic to expect even Unitarian Universalists to completely overcome the fear and prejudice that arises when we see the “rules” about gender expression and roles and sexual orientation bent or broken. Frankly, I have my own learning curve to grapple with. In honor of mine, I grant you yours!
Today 66% of UU congregations in the U.S. and 94% of Canadian congregations are formally recognized as congregations that make a special effort to be welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals who venture in or are invited into our faith communities. The program is supported by LGBTQ Ministries, a branch of the UUA’s Multicultural Ministries Team. Last year a small group of lay leaders and I led a series of “booster” workshops, updated by LGBTQ Ministries to include the latest thinking about transgender identity and the intersections of gender, sexuality, race and other identities in our society. In those sessions many of us became aware of our deep ignorance and angst about gender identity in particular. I think the phobia in homophobia is really not about sex at all. It is about gender, about men not looking and acting like Men and women not looking and acting like Women. Whenever the established gender binary standard (for bodies, dress, roles, characteristics, interests, capacities, work, etc.) is disrupted, we get very anxious. The thing is: a Welcoming Congregation needs to focus on who people say they are, not who we think they are or should be. And we aspire to true welcome to all who wish to join us, particularly those who feel unwelcome in most other places.
On Sunday, November 16th, in recognition of Transgender Day of Remembrance (11/20), I plan to offer some Transgender 101-type information, answers to some of your burning questions, clarity for some persistent confusion, practical advice to help us welcome our transgender visitors and members in a way that allows us all to be comfortable in our own skin, regardless of how any one of us dresses up our particular mix of chromosomal X’s and Y’s. After the service, the wonderfully charming and articulate Juli Grey-Owens, Executive Director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, will lead an equally knowledgeable panel in addressing your questions about trans identities and communities. It is rare to find a safe space for such conversations, so please take advantage of the opportunity. Bring your honest questions to some folks who have lived the answers and will honor your courage in asking. Welcoming is not a passive activity. Listening, asking and learning is the best starting place ever. After that, it’s all about compassion, care, service, growth and justice. And you already know how to do that.
Love the questions,
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 helpless. So, look at the “How to Get Help” memo below.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 emergently 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 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,
It is a bold thing to ask a congregation, en masse, to do something together that takes up significant time, involves a physical challenge and, by definition, may seem to leave some people out. I would only ask this of a congregation I am certain is capable of such a bold move. I am asking you all, if you possibly can, to join EarthKeepers, your minister and other UUFSBers of all ages for a day trip into New York City on September 21, 2014, to stand with thousands of others in support of immediate global action on the issue of climate change. For those who cannot join us (for whatever reason) WE WILL OFFER A SUNDAY MORNING SERVICE at UUFSB at the regular time. This will be a meditative service designed to align the energy of the congregation with the spirit and aim of the March that would shortly begin. We hope to send some video feed from the city into the home service so that you can “be there” with us, at least for a moment.
I strongly believe that this People’s Climate March will mark a turning point in the response of the human species to the threat of global warming. This is how we use our 5th Principle to support our 7th Principle. We speak for the voiceless plurality, for the earth herself and for millions in developing countries who will suffer disproportionately from a disaster they had no hand in creating. We must show up to join with allies in making our convictions and priorities plain. We are already inside an environmental disaster. This is indisputably true. We have run out of denial, doubt, debate and dilly-dallying time. Our faith clearly calls us to demand justice—RIGHT NOW—for the Earth and for the generations that follow ours. We are called to demand it RIGHT NOW when the leaders who can make this happen are gathering RIGHT HERE at the United Nations and the whole world is tuned in to our voices.
We don’t know everything yet, but we do know most of us will travel by train on Sunday morning from the Ronkonkoma station and then by subway to join UUs from all over the country in a designated area of Central Park near the Columbus Circle entrance. The March starts at 11:30 at Columbus Circle -> east on 59th Street ->south on 6th Ave ->right on 42nd Street -> left on 11th Ave -> 34th Street -> ending on 11th Ave. in the streets between 34th Street and 38th Street. Some of us may have the stamina to stay in the city for the 6:00 p.m. Prayer Service at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave).
Here are three ducks you must line up RIGHT NOW in order to to join in this all-congregation action:
- Register for the March with the Metro District UUs. Ignore the emails you receive from Meet-up, but keep an eye on this page. This is where new information will be posted by our District organizer, Peggy Clarke.
- We are more visible as Unitarian Universalist participants if we wear Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts or sweatshirts and/or hats. Get yours here. I’d like people to wear this SOSL gear also for the 2014 Homecoming photo on September 7th. SO order right away!
Please join us! Love,