The congregational year—Homecoming in September to Flowers and Passages in June—is coming to a close. I am away for a portion of July and August. Services continue through the summer, but that interval feels quite different and is wonderful in its own way. Services during that time are led by members of the congregation (often not the “usual suspects”) and special guest speakers, and they focus on a specific theme. As people come and go on their vacations and fine-weather explorations, attendance is lighter by as much as half. The activity in the Religious Education wing shifts to single group and outdoor activities. Worship services generally feel more casual and also more intimate as you support your friends who have stepped up to the challenge of creating a service for their community.
My Letter of Agreement with you specifies that I must not take all of my vacation time during the summer. It used to be that most UU congregations closed over the summer. Gradually, we have realized, as a denomination, that we have an obligation to each other and especially to those who are searching for this spiritual home to be active year-round. UUFSB is not alone in having developed a strong tradition of lay-led summer services during the last decade or two when church was year-round with the minister still absent for two months over the summer. These days more and more of my colleagues are spreading their four weeks of vacation time, as well as their four weeks of study leave, throughout the calendar year.
For the last couple of years I have been returning for a work week and Sunday service leadership in July. This practice has helped me to stay in touch and I hope helped you to feel I am not so “gone” gone. For the past two years, Linda and I have taken two travel weeks in the pre-tourist-season spring. Ministers who take all their time away in the summer are generally exhausted by late March. In my first year with you I was worried that I would not be able to get enough R & R if I didn’t have the whole six weeks I was permitted in a row during the summer. But I am finding that I really can let go of minister-me and get some deep and restorative rest in those two spring vacation weeks.
I am going to experiment a little with next year’s vacation/study leave pattern. I’ll come back from General Assembly to work among you during the final week of June and the first week of July. My last service will be shared with the Worship Associates as we introduce the summer theme of “Wayfaring” (the first in a series of seven summer services). I’ll take the rest of July and part of August as a combination of two weeks of vacation and 3 weeks of study leave. I’ll be back at work the week of August 11th and leading the final service in the summer series on August 17th. This all allows me to take the final week of study leave at the end of October, adding another strategic break into the congregational year. We’ll see how it works. Click here to see the document “Margie’s Summer Schedule and 2014-15 Fall Worship Calendar.” If you have thoughts to share about my schedule, please be in touch!
See you around the place as we greet the coming summer together, MARGIE
I just finished writing my self-evaluation for this congregational year. In it I ask myself how well I have served you in eight essential aspects of ministry, areas like pastoral care, governance and administration, teaching and worship. Annual self-assessments like this were required of me during the years I was in preliminary fellowship. Now that I am in final fellowship, I am continuing what I have found to be a valuable practice. A disciplined look back over the year reminds me of my contributions to our accomplishments. I see where I have grown, the areas where my skills need strengthening, aspects of our ministry that need more of my attention. Our Director of Religious Education, Gretta Johnson-Sally, uses a similar tool to assess her year’s work. I, as her supervisor and in dialogue with her, add my comments to the document. Our self-assessments are shared with our Advisory Committees, with the Board of Trustees, with the Committee on Ministries of the Congregation (COMC) and with you all in the form of our Annual Reports.
This year the Board has been developing a job description for itself as a collective entity. In its current draft form, it lists and describes essential areas of competence expected of the Board. These areas include: mission, vision and organizational development; linkage (to and from the congregation), communication and process; strategic planning; conservation and protection; oversight, monitoring and evaluation; asset stewardship (physical plant, money and people); and linkage to our faith and Association. The document also describes a set of characteristics the Board needs to cultivate in order to be effective in those seven areas. For instance, we’d like the Board to become increasingly able to function with integrity and be regarded as trustworthy protector of the common good; to serve the congregation’s mission and help others do the same; to listen and observe well, think systemically; to communicate transparently and sensitively; to seek unity in diversity in its deliberations and to speak with one voice once decided; to think imaginatively and beyond the first few steps; to delegate work responsibly and to deliver and expect accountability for getting the work done. In the matching self-assessment form, members of the Board will be able to comment upon and rate the Board’s embodiment of the competencies and key characteristics and names their own contributions as individuals.
In these ways, and in a number of others, the Board, DRE and Minister, with the COMC, are taking steps to better define, focus, and coordinate everybody’s contributions to our partnership in ministry. This work is not easy to do well. We need your confidence and support as we lay it out and live it out. Let us know you are behind us in our pursuit of clarity and excellence.
In service, MARGIE
I think we all welcome with particular joy, after such a long, hard winter, those first promise-filled signs of spring. The snow drops are up in our back yard in the “M Section” of Stony Brook. Down the street tiny crocuses have bloomed a purple escape through the garden edging and out into the grassy yard. The buds on the maples and crabapples along my dog-walking route are visibly swollen. Robins and mourning doves and starlings and cardinals talk us awake through the window screens on these warmish sunny mornings.
Out on the edge of tree line along the left side of the green behind our sanctuary, the bright green blades of daffodil bulbs are turning aside last fall’s rotting leaves, heading for the sun. It won’t be long before they’re blooming. If all goes well, there will be about a thousand of them nodding their bright heads all through this spring, more than thirty varieties of them, in fact, of many different shapes and colors. They and their installation (by Megs Shea and a crew of two landscapers) were a gift from me on the occasion of my installation as your settled minister Sunday, October 20, 2013. It is my hope that every year they bloom, even long after I am only a name in your history book, you and your successors will remember with pride our Service of Installation and the powerful energy that was circulating in the web of our community that evening.
Spring enters human hearts in the form of hope for transformation, faith that, with careful nurturing, everything we invite into our lives and love deeply will blossom in time. At the Imbolc (Brigit Day) Sunday service in early February, we emptied into the aisles of the sanctuary all the debris of heart, mind and spirit that was cluttering our lives. A little army of broom-wielding children then swept that debris out the sanctuary door. Afterwards, I invited everyone to write on a card we provided what they would like to invite into the space they had cleared. Here are some of your longings, the beginning of a poem I constructed from the words that were written on the cards that morning. Click here to see the whole poem.
May I follow a new path, of light,
live the light that is me,
let that light shine.
May I share my light.
May I see the light in others in all its beauty.
May joy, abundance and light fill my home.
Joy and fulfillment in spring to all, MARGIE
Dear sUUper friends,
To a curious stranger, this building might appear to be just another church-like object along the road. “It looks like a little white church,” he could say, “no steeple, but hey. Fellowship? Whatever.There is a sign out front with the time of the service on it. The parking lot is full on Sundays, spilling out onto the shoulder of Nicolls Rd.,and many other nights of the week there is stuff going on. There is a big sanctuary with the same symbol above the dais as is on the outside of the building, visible from the road: a cup and flame. That room gets pretty full and someone speaks from the pulpit. Seems like there are different musicians every week and boy, can that room sing!Children come with their parents on Sundays too. You can see them doing different things in every room along that new teaching wing. Sometimes activities spill out into the grounds—a music festival, some kind of tag sale, a car wash, a demonstration along the road. Seem like liberal-minded people, to judge by the rainbow flag flying and the picture of Trayvon Martin in the front door window. A couple of hundred of them, maybe three. Hard to know, but they sure seem to be growing."
Little does that stranger know what power this “little white church” is cranking up inside! He sees “mild-mannered Clark Kent,” the typical modest Protestant presence and self-absorption. But no!Something SUUPER in that building is cooking up a rEVOLution. And you know it! You can feel the energy moving, see the tears, hear the laughter and the “Yes!” You can see the ideas popping, dreams becoming reality, activities swirling. Lives are changing here, and newcomers, drawn to our light, quickly fall in love with a religious community they thought they would never find. Children are laying in a faith good for a lifetime. We are making a difference—bringing the chalice light of LOVE and JUSTICE to oppressive systems and to the people in them who are suffering. This is a rEVOLution suiting up! And this rEVOLUTION is our next evolution! And you are part of it.It’s time for SUUPER UUFSB to power up these loco-motives, leap all tall barriers, stop those speeding bullets and give all we’ve got to the never-ending battle for truth and justice.
Please give “Mild-Mannered Three-Eighty Nicolls” the financial kick we need to take our Stand on the Side of Love. Fund the rEVOLution! I am asking you to make the most robust 2014-15 pledge you can manage. Move up to the mean pledge ($1200). Pledge at our averageif you’re not there yet ($1649). Go from one to two percent of your income or another one-step increment. Make a pledge that requires a doable sacrifice, a pledge that truly reflects your gratitude and love for this place, a pledge that will help us build, hire, paint, welcome, store, pave, beautify, march, lobby, innovate, teach, sing, save, fly, learn, help, support and make a difference in the world that future UUFSBers can look back on with pride. Invest in the love and power you’ve found here. Reach deep. Do what you can to fund our SUPEREVOLUTION.
I want to thank those of you who have been able to come to memorial services and interments in support of fellow congregants who have lost family members. There’ve been quite a few this year so far: the interment of Werner Schumann’s ashes; the service for Ursula Moylan; for Tom Krausz’s mother, Gerda Krausz, and her sister Alice Heisig; for Alan Vorwald most recently; and, in September, a memorial service for a beloved administrator in the Political Science Department at the University where at least four UUFSBers work or used to work. It is not always easy to make time for rituals of loss, especially those for people you didn’t know or only knew slightly or indirectly. Yet, oh my, your presence means so much to those whom the loss touches most. Your witness, your hug, your words are important reminders that the bereaved are not alone, that you recognize their loss, and that they are part of a larger web of love that will steady them in the days and months ahead. If you just can’t manage to attend the visitation or service, please consider sending a card of sympathy or an email or making a phone call—right away or down the road a ways.
When you join this amazing Fellowship you can expect to receive “recognition, care and support by ministers, staff and fellow congregants during times of celebration, crisis and sorrow in your life.” That’s what it says in the Meaning of Membership document we read together in the final session of the Belonging series, our orientation to UUFSB and UUism. We also read about the other pole of that covenant. Part of the expectation of members is 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 celebration and need.” It takes a village to get us through the hard times.
Be sure to keep an eye out for "Being a Healing Presence"--A Training in Pastoral Care Lay Ministry. The Pastoral Assistants (PAs) are excited to bring the Rev. ReBecca Sala to Stony Brook on Sat., March 29 (9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.) to offer us (and others in the District) this training in congregational caregiving. All the PAs will be there and we would be delighted if many others in the congregation would join us in learning together how to offer our companionship and assistance most effectively to people who are suffering among us. (Click here for details.)
Finally, the Pastoral Assistants and I are happy to introduce a tool—for the use of anyone connected to the Fellowship—that will help us care for you in emergency situations and at the end of life. Click here for a look. Please take some time to fill it out and give a hard copy to me for safe-keeping in a locked file in my office. You will be asked for family/doctor/attorney contact information, burial and memorial service preferences, a copy of your health care proxy, and the location of your will and other important documents, among other things. You are never too young to organize the information that those who love you will need in the event that you are seriously ill, incapacitated or dying. Get it started, anyway. You can revise it and add to it as time passes: change contact info, choose another funeral home, send me hymns or readings for your far-off-in-the-future memorial service. Meanwhile, get on with the living!
Right now I am going to ask you to think about taking a major leap of faith and put some money and time into it. My hope is that you will be leaping in good company and that the outcome with astound and inspire you! The 2014 General Assembly of our Association of Congregations will be landing in Providence, Rhode Island this June 25-29 (Wednesday through Sunday). Your Denominational Affairs Rep, Laura Lesch, and I are bent on getting as many of us up there for one or more days of the five as we possibly can.
We’re talking a multi-generational pilgrimage—adults, youth and children—to an annual UU community as hallowed and galvanizing as it is transient. Youth and young adults can join their own caucuses. There is child care for kids 6-months to nine years and a Children’s Camp for those who have completed grades 4 - 8. Throughout the week there are buckets of cool things to see, hear and do: speakers and workshops and friend-making conversations and singing and justice actions and worship experiences and UU shopping and dances and concerts and nights on the town and coffee-laced conclaves at the strangely entertaining business plenary.
I would especially like a horde of you to attend the Service of the Living Tradition on Friday evening (7:30-9:00PM). This is a service attended by thousands that honors fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders; remembering those who have died, recognizing those who have retired, and welcoming those who have received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year. I will be participating in the service as a minister receiving Final Fellowship (I deferred my “walk” to this year from last, just so you could join me for this important passage). Early in the service I will be called out from among you as we sit together as a congregation in the huge hall, a dramatic moment in a moving service. This service is one of several events that will be open to the public and free of charge. The Sunday Morning Worship and the Exhibit Hall (on Sunday only) are the others, neither to be missed!
The Ware Lecturer on Saturday evening is Sister Simone Campbell. During the 2010 congressional debate about healthcare reform, she wrote the famous “nuns’ letter” supporting the reform bill. This action was cited by many as critically important in passing the Affordable Care Act. In 2012, she was instrumental in organizing the “Nuns on the Bus” tour to oppose the “Ryan Budget” that would decimate programs meant to help people in need. The action received an avalanche of attention across the nation. Last spring Sister Simone led a new cross-country bus tour focused on comprehensive immigration reform.
Pre-registration for General Assembly (GA) 2014 will open on March 3. Registration ranges from $130-$335 depending on your length of stay. Financial aid is available at the Metro NY District (http://uumetrony.org/phoenix_witness_project.htm) and national level (http://www.uua.org/ga/registration/financialaid/index.shtml). Please take a look at these pages and the general GA information (http://www.uua.org/ga/) to see if you can make a family vacation of the week. It’s a SHORT TRIP to Providence, one we can easily make en masse. We can take the ferry to Bridgeport and up (a 2-hour post-ferry drive) or to New London (a 70-minute drive), perhaps renting a bus of some sort, or we can occupy a train car or two. There are lots of possibilities. Laura and I have some tricks up our sleeves to get us hotel rooms to share so that the cost isn’t crazy.
Come witness the biggest UU you are. Take the leap with me! We’ll all come home changed.