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,
Midsummer greetings to you all! I am so grateful to be enjoying a few weeks in Brewster, MA on Cape Cod, on the little property my sister and I are preserving for the enjoyment of the fourth generation of our paternal grandparents’ family. It takes a lot to keep the project within the financial capacity of a village librarian and a UU minister. We have renters to prepare for and care for and a third of an acre of buildings, fence line, plantings and gardens to monitor and maintain. A “vacation” here entails a significant portion of work that we might hire out had we more money. I always come home with a case of poison ivy, testimony to my struggle with uncivilized invaders in the wilder corners of the property. I enjoy the physical work entailed in the yard work and gardening, truth be told. The reward comes in the form of bouquets like this, a pretty good tan and a stronger, more flexible body.
This year cousins from afar convened to introduce their newborns to our extended family. Because ministry is all about weekends and holidays and is, in soulful practice, quite a bit more than a full-time job, I don’t have as much opportunity to gather with family as some. It was a delight to meet cousins Chloe and Tom’s baby Grant, Ben and Jen’s Hanoi-born little May, to hang out with Kristy and Abe (awaiting their fourth: a third boy) and to bring a board-book signed in-person by Tomie dePaola to a seaside baby shower.
Preparing for the coming year is a big job. It’s taken a few years to figure out how to balance the research, reading, contemplation, and planning with the exercise, relaxation, socializing and spiritual renewal of vacation. I practice during this time the kind of balance I struggle to achieve during the congregational year. I do a little bit of study activity every day. I read novels (fiction and poetry is the protoplasm of ministry): The Golem and the Jinni, The Kite Runner, The Round House, All the Light We Cannot See, The Invention of Wings, Guests on Earth, All God’s Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw
Thank you again for this time you afford me. I make the most of it. See you soon! Love,
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