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,


Dear Ones,

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!

With affection,


Dear Ones,

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,


Dear Ones,

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!


Dear Ones,

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,


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