97.5% of a 70% quorum of the UUFSB voting membership cast “YES” ballots on Sunday, January 13th, to call me as your settled minister. Board President Rich Hall asked me “Do you?” and I said “I do.” And then I stood in the wind of your applause and didn’t know what to do except clap along with you, open my arms in a big embrace and put my hands together in the mantra that means namaste—“the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you.” This is how I want it to be with us for a long time: exuberant celebration, abiding affection and mutual respect that honors our spirits’ source.
Thank you for the strength of your call, for your confidence and commitment, for the fabulous post-vote cake and the party Joan threw later on, and for the many excited messages and loving congratulatory cards. Thank you for being both the people that need what I have to offer and the people that offer what I need! The 13th was yet another UUFSB day that my family and I will remember for a long, long time.
Three years ago, Consulting Minister Carol Wolff’s “transition team”—Gil Hanson, Joanne Hammer, Marie Baltz, Shelly Psaris and John Williams—was charged by the Board of Trustees to respond to her desire to stand for a vote to call. Their challenge was not one for the faint of heart. They had already supported congregation and ministers through an unsuccessful search process, two interim ministries and 18 months of Carol’s consulting ministry. Hire-to-call consulting ministry was a new phenomenon in the Association, so they were really inventing a process about which even the UUA was unclear. The team addressed their charge with a high level of integrity and determination, accepting with complete faith some not-so-helpful advice from outside “experts,” and handling the unexpected consequences with patience, compassion and resilience.
The process that culminated in the vote to call me as settled minister was deeply informed by the experience of Carol’s transition team. Please take a minute to thank them next time you see them for their devoted and difficult service to the Fellowship.
At 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 20, 2013, we will gather for the Service of Installation, the public ceremony in which we formally covenant together as partners in ministry. We’ll be joined by local interfaith clergy, regional UU clergy, and officials from the UUA and District. Afterwards, of course, we will party in the presence of good food. Be sure to mark your calendars now. You won’t want to miss it.
Congratulations and love to you all, my Congregation,
For five summer days in 2008, I served on the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry Team that responded to the shooting at our congregation in Knoxville, TN. Jim David Adkisson had entered the sanctuary during a Sunday morning children’s performance of Annie Jr., taken a 12-guage shotgun out of his guitar case and opened fire. Two adults were killed and six wounded, but all 25 kids survived uninjured.
President Obama, in his statement at the 12/16 prayer vigil in Newton, CT, named “love for our children” as the ultimate value we fail to honor when we permit the conditions that make terrible massacres like this possible. (See Rev. Tom Schade’s blog, http://www.tomschade.com/2012/12/barack-obama-liberal-theologian.html)
“There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have – for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child's embrace – that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger – we know that's what matters. We know we're always doing right when we're taking care of them, when we're teaching them well, when we're showing acts of kindness. We don't go wrong when we do that.”
Our faith calls us to stand on the side of this “boundless love…that binds us to something larger.” I wrote the poem below for the vigil held at the Unitarian Church in Westport after the Knoxville shooting. May it inspire you, inspire us, to do all we can to reverse this horrifying trend in American life.
You Have the Strength
Sometimes there is no warning, or none that you are likely to notice.
Suddenly it just happens and it can be very bad,
Bad, bad beyond any reckoning.
And there you are, in that small body of yours.
Your eyes see. Your ears hear and your heart breaks,
knowing this horror cannot be undone,
only met head-on and grappled with fiercely.
In that moment between comprehending and responding,
you will know that I am with you.
I am Life, the power of the atom and the star,
the bone and breath and pounding heart of earth’s being.
Call me what you will – I have many names,
as many as I have detractors and disciples.
But right now, my name is your name, because
as your faith demands,
you have, over and over again, called me, honored me, claimed and rejected me, damned me, wrestled with me, sung me, studied me, worshipped me.
As your faith demands, you have become me.
And because you have become me,
you have the strength to stop the bullet on its path,
to throw down the shooter, to see to the wounded,
to keep the unharmed safe, to call for help,
to comfort the grieving and frightened,
to make the meals, plan the service, change the laws,
to be there, just be there, listening and watching,
no matter what happens next.
When there is no warning and you must act, must choose, must speak,
know that you are neither alone nor helpless.
The whole of Life flows through you. Together we are One –
Together wise, strong, courageous, compassionate, capable.
Together we can make what is broken whole again.
Standing with you on the Side of Love in this New Year,
Every year for the holidays I offer a favorite recipe, hoping you will find it useful as you plan your own festive meals this fall and winter. This recipe is an old Moosewood Restaurant recipe from Molly Katzen’s first book, the Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977. My copy of this vegetarian kitchen classic is held together with tape, the pages marked up with the dates on which I made different recipes and what I thought of them. The Moosewood cookbooks were my primary cooking teachers when I was a young adult. The recipes are basic, but not boring, illustrated with pen and ink drawings, logically laid out and well-explicated, just great for beginning cooks.
Cranapple-Walnut Cake (makes one very moist 9 x 13 cake)
You can make this cake with brown sugar or with honey. I have always made it with brown sugar.
1 ¾ cups light brown sugar
[or 1 cup honey plus 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate]
½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour (you can use ½ whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sliced cooking apples
½ cup walnut pieces
½ lb. fresh whole raw cranberries
[If you use honey, whip it first at high speed, for about 10 minutes or until it turns white and opaque.] Cream together oil and brown sugar [or whipped honey and orange juice concentrate]. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Sift together the flour and dry ingredients. Add to the first mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Stir in apples, cranberries and nuts. Bake in a well-greased 9 x 13 pan, 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees.
Happy baking to you, my friends, and a safe and joyful holiday season!
Here, for example, is what I mean when I say that this congregation has a special wisdom about how to cultivate the Spirit of Life as a community. You created a fiftieth anniversary celebration that will be a lasting congregational memory—neither a small effort nor a token one. You went all out. You reached out to the community around you, let them know what was about to happen and invited everyone to come on down. You reached out to the denomination, our interfaith neighbors, other Long Island UU congregations and local government officials. You provided a way for children and families to have fun, contribute, learn about themselves and the Fellowship. You brought together a cadre of young adults who had gone through RE together years ago. You welcomed curious strangers. You gave us all opportunities to grieve the loss of beloved friends who have died or moved away.
You worked your ministry of music at every single venue all weekend, from the Friday night opening event—the musical tour of Fellowship history through the 5 decades—to a children’s song circle during the Open House, to the Saturday night classical concert and the dance that followed, to the Unicorn Singers’ “Build Ye More Stately Mansions” with choir, violin, oboe, flute, cello, and piano and Claudia, Dan and Greg’s “All God’s Creatures,” “What Must Be Done” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Your music connected the dots.
On that Sunday morning, fifteen past presidents of the congregation, representing 37 years of strong congregational leadership, processed together down the sanctuary aisle. Your Minister Emerita and Director of Religious Education emerita stood proudly before you in the storm of your applause, living witnesses of your history of faithful collaboration with the religious professionals who have served you. The children came through the singing crowd from the RE wing, carrying the stories of our families on foamboard photo-collages, to share with the congregation the chalice lighting and “Principles Song” they use in their own weekly worship.
Between and before and after these events, your scene-changing magic happened. All the chairs got removed and set up and rearranged and the tables went up and down, the tablecloths and flowers and flyers and displays flew on and off them. The rooms and walls got cleared and filled with our art, our history, our faces. All the mikes and monitors and amplifiers and wiring got stacked and snaked and taped and labeled and synched and then they got disappeared. A dance formed in the aftermath of the concert and then yielded the room to Sunday morning chairs in rows. The snacks and hot drinks and raspberry bars and cookies and Sunday lunch-baskets and children’s mac & cheese and champagne and a hundred other yummy things to eat and drink got made and delivered and set out and consumed and cleaned up. All this in the hyper-organized, logistic-sheet guided, rain-plan-savvy, total pitch-in way you always do things. There is no way we can offer enough thanks to Edith Hull and Joanne Hammer and the 50th Anniversary Committee who spun this whole ephemeral world out of the void—three years of work, incrementally escalating in intensity!
I hope you all feel really, really good about yourselves. You strutted your stuff and it was deeply good. I felt proud, a glad witness to the Spirit of Life you are, you raise, you empower, you honor and you bequeath to those who will celebrate the 75th and the 100th anniversary year. Congratulations, my friends, on a fabulously successful anniversary weekend!
Congregations often live longer than people. During my first fall here, the congregation of the Setauket Presbyterian Church celebrated the 350th anniversary of their founding. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Stony Brook is 50 years old this month, a spring chicken on the scale of religious institutional life. Today the Fellowship still enjoys the presence of a founder alive and kicking among us. Some of the people who taught kids and listened to sermons in the other spaces we occupied over the years still sit in the sanctuary on Sundays. People who financed, designed and built this building, who raised gardens up out of the construction dust, who created our famous 1890’s Fair fundraiser, who made our congregational banner and laid out the poetry path—they still show up to work and play and learn and worship at 380 Nicolls Rd.
We are like the living cells in the long-lived body of this congregation. One day, every one of us, even the children in the nursery on Sundays, will live on only as stories in the latest history of the Fellowship, as names on wall plaques and memorial garden markers, as faces in the old picture directories, as signatures on the old documents and as thanked volunteers in the Annual Reports. In these halls and gardens, offices and worship spaces, other human beings, related and unrelated to us, will be living the mission and working out the vision of the congregation that survives us. And, if all goes well, they too, one by one, will bequeath to the future a living, growing, changing congregation still equipped and inspired to love and care for the world it confronts.
I’ve only been around for a couple of years now, but if I were to characterize the congregation as a very long-lived individual person named “We,” I would say this:
We are 50 now, a wise youngster with some experience under our belt. We’ve got our health. We are a jack-of-all-trades, capable of building or fixing just about anything. A multi-instrumentalist, we play whatever instrument comes into our hands. We are theological explorers, searching for the meaning of “holy,” a spiritual practice that moves us, a calling we cannot refuse. We’re not exactly outdoorsy, but we appreciate nature, love flowers, tall trees and a diamond of sky. We cherish our children. We like to play—the more the merrier—BYOB, but behave yourself, and, for God’s sake, clean up! If you are in trouble, we show up at your doorstep with love and gifts. And when the world aches, we do our best to save and salve. That’s just who we are. We wing things well, don’t see the need for a lot of rules or edicts. We have our ways. We can pull off the most complicated project with good humor and success. Money scares us. Often there doesn’t seem to be enough, but we can pull ourselves out of a crisis if we are diligent. And lucky. We’ve certainly been in worse shape! Yeah, we worry about the future. It is hard to look ahead—how can you prepare for something you can’t quite yet see? We live in the Now, for the most part. The Now is where life lives and it’s all we can handle. Mostly. Sometimes we dream, ask some new questions, think about the next chapter of this story. Sometimes we imagine what else we have in us to accomplish, wonder who we will be when we get to be 100 years old. Or 200. Or 350.
Happy Anniversary, UUFSB! I love who you are and who you are becoming. Here’s to the next fifty years!
In this faith,
Every fall I write something like this letter to remind you what to do when something happens and you need help. Isolation, shame and secrecy set up barriers to “the Spirit of Life” we nurture here. Reach out when you need help. As your minister, I am certainly here for you. When something bad happens, call me right away. I can come to the hospital, to your home, to your side wherever you are, to help you negotiate unfamiliar circumstances. But there are others who can help and may even be better equipped in some ways to get you the specific support you need in challenging times. The Pastoral Assistants are trained caregivers who bring us a variety of special knowledge, useful skills, and services, big and small. They can answer a little question or help coordinate a community-wide response to a big crisis. They welcome your calls (and your volunteer assistance to others in need!). Participants in the Shawl Ministry create unique and beautiful knit or crocheted shawls for people who are suffering or celebrating and need to be wrapped in the love and security of their UU community. Our Congregational Administrator, Susan Catanzaro, can often find people for you when you have neither time nor wits.
The “Refrigerator Guide” below has all the contact information you’ll need. Cut it out and post it, now.
Here are some reasons you might get in touch with your minister specifically:
- 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 notice that someone you know in the congregation needs support;
- you are trying to figure out how to respond to the needs of a friend or loved one who is ill or in trouble or you yourself are dealing with an illness, disability or facing surgery;
- someone close to you is near death or has died & 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, privately or publicly, the threshold you are crossing;
- you or someone you know has questions about religion or Unitarian Universalism;
- you are seeking to build your theology, deepen your spiritual life or are undergoing a 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 have suggestions about sermons or programs or have a project you would like to initiate;
- you want to affirm something good going on in the congregation or would like to discuss a congregational issue that is troubling you;
- you’re mad at me or someone else and want to air your feelings and work towards resolution;
- you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us.
Don’t ever hesitate to contact me. In this faith,