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,
Here are a few things I want to make sure you get on your calendar if you are interested:
--Linda and I will preside at the Blessing of the Animals that is part of the Little Shelter Pet-a-Palooza weekend in Huntington, August 18th and 19th, 9AM to 6PM. The Blessing takes place on Sunday at 3PM and we would love to see you and your pets there! Look for the flyer for the event elsewhere in this Unicorn issue.
--The first 2012-13 installment of the Belonging series, our orientation to Unitarian Universalism and UUFSB, will take place at the end of August. All are welcome, from brand new visitors to long-time members and friends. I will offer the series again in Nov/Dec and in March/April. All sessions take place in the Fellowship and food appropriate to the time of day magically appears. There is more info elsewhere in this newsletter. Here’s the August schedule: Belonging Session I: Connecting (Saturday, August 18, 9:30-12:00); Belonging Session II: Deepening (Tuesday, August 21, 7-9:30PM); Belonging Session III: Belonging (Sunday, August 26, 12:30-3PM).
--I will be leading the August 19 and 26 Sunday services. Hope to see you there as we gear up for an exciting fall! Don’t miss the Homecoming service on Sunday, September 9. Wear red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo or violet clothing that day as we will arrange ourselves rainbow-wise for our second annual all- Fellowship photo that morning on the back lawn.
--You will have an opportunity to reflect together in small groups this fall about the decision to call me as your settled minister. The Committee on Ministries of the Congregation and the Board are working together to create the optimal settings and facilitation for those conversations. Deciding to call a minister is kind of like deciding to get married. An open, thoughtful airing of dreams, concerns, and questions is critical to the discernment process. Please keep your ear to the rails for further information. The congregational vote will take place in January.
--Be sure to block out the whole weekend of October 19-21 for our all-out celebration of the Fellowship’s 50th Anniversary! It is going to be a fiesta of fiestas, culminating in a special Sunday service with The Rev. Fred Muir and the dedication of our building and grounds to a new half-century of graceful service.
--Two little bits of celebratory news from Linda and me. On July 27th we will be welcoming a new puppy into our family, a 10-week old Tibetan terrier. Come meet him or her at the Pet-a-Palooza in Huntington! And finally, Linda and I will be honeymooning in Peru in March—a two-week Bryn Mawr College tour guided by a professor of Spanish. Your generous wedding gift is helping to get us there! Thank you so much! We are SO EXCITED!
Brilliant summer days to you and see you soon!
For some of us, summer is calling: warmth, relaxation, shorts and T-shirts, ocean waves, the still blue welcome of the lakes, the trail that disappears into the verdant woods ahead, the view around the bend. For some travel and fun will fill the summer days. Others look forward to just a few blessed oases of leisure in a work-a-day summer.
You minister looks forward to a change of pace at this time of year, a time of study and reading, visioning and preparation, travel and nesting and, yes, relaxation. On June 18th, Linda and I will be headed off to the annual meeting of our Association, our General Assembly, this year being held in Phoenix, a GA unique in our history in its intentional focus on immigration justice in partnership with local advocacy organizations. After that I will head to our place in Brewster on Cape Cod for 2 weeks of study leave, where I will work on the 2012-13 congregational calendar, including our lay- and minister-led Sunday service schedule through to next June. (And I will also do a lot of biking and swimming and gardening). I will be back with you for a July work week beginning July 9th and offer my own “This I Believe” as service leader on Sunday, the 15th. Hope to see you there! If you or your committee would like to meet with me that week, please let me know. Mid July is a good time to begin to think about goals for the year to come.
July 16th, I begin two remaining weeks of vacation time (having taken two earlier in the year, in January and April), during which I will do my best to empty my head of ministry and allow mind, heart, body and spirit to play in the beautiful world, here in Stony Brook, on the Cape and elsewhere. I will have two more weeks of study leave in August. The focus for the two remaining weeks of study leave in August will be on reading and prep for services, classes and congregational projects and processes. I’ll be back with you for the new congregational year starting August 13th!
The Worship Associates (WAs), musicians and I are preparing a summer of great (mostly) lay-led services for you. We are looking for service leaders who would like to take on our 2012 summer theme: “This I Believe.” Does the challenge of working with a WA to create a summer service sound interesting? This is a great opportunity to look back over your life for the meaning you have made of it so far. What truths have guided you? What experiences shaped your identity and your sense of your purpose in the world? What people modeled for you a way of being in the world that seemed honorable and productive? What would you say to your children, in a letter or a video, if you knew you were going only going to live a few more weeks? What wisdom would you offer for their ongoing life journey? The lay-led summer service dates are 6/24, 7/1, 7/8, 7/22, 7/29, 8/5, 8/12, and 9/2, a total of 8 Sundays. Let Frances McGuire know if you would like to partner in leading one of those services. Support and guidance will abound.
The PAs and/or Board will respond to needs in the congregation when I am on study leave. They will be in touch with me about any issues that arise and I can return if needed during those intervals. Members of the Long Island UU ministers cluster will offer emergency pastoral care coverage when I am on vacation, though contact will always be through our UUFSB Pastoral Assistants (PAs). More information will be forthcoming about who to contact if you need support between 6/17 and 8/13.
Please support your UUFSB friends as they lead the congregation in worship while I am away. I will be leading services on these summer Sundays: 7/15, 8/19, and 8/26 and I hope EVERYBODY will be able to attend our Homecoming Sunday service the Sunday after Labor Day. On that Sunday, September 9th, please wear a bright shirt/dress or blouse in any of colors of the rainbow. Meanwhile, may a truly great summer be yours!
FOR YOUR FRIDGE (snip and post):
June 17: Margie’s final 2011-12 service (BRING A FLOWER OR FLOWERS)
June 18-24: General Assembly (denominational)
June 25-July 8: Study Leave (2 weeks)
July 9-15: Work Week
July 15: Minister-led summer service
July 16-July 30: Vacation (2 weeks)
July 31-August 12: Study Leave (2 weeks)
August 13: start 2012-13 work year (Minister-led services on August 19 and 26)
September 9: Homecoming (WEAR BRIGHT CLOTHING IN ANY RAINBOW HUE)
Never far away,
You may have noticed something new going on in the sanctuary over by the foyer sliding doors. We now have another way to share personal information. The idea for the new Joys and Concerns Board was conceived by the Pastoral Assistants, refined and designed by PA Linda Mikell and Ed Mikell and constructed by Mike Serie. It has been in place for the last 6 or 8 weeks and people have been using it!
Many Unitarian Universalist congregations include a time during their Sunday services when people can speak out loud in community about something that is going on for them--something wonderful (an accomplishment, a milestone, a birth, a wedding, an opportunity, a new job, an encounter with beauty or joy) or something painful (a failure or loss, a distressing diagnosis, a financial blow, a death, a separation or divorce). Sometimes spoken Joys and Concerns in the context of a worship service can be very moving and very effective at strengthening the bonds of community, but there are definite downsides to the practice (as you might easily imagine) and UU experts in welcoming and growth agree that this kind of sharing can seem exclusive to newcomers. UUFSB has experimented on several occasions with spoken sharing, but it never “took,” for good or for ill.
So how do we make it easy for people to share with others what is going on in their lives, to invite others to join in celebration or sorrow, to ask for a high-5 or help? Well, we often begin meetings with a check-in. Sharing Circle gatherings and groups like the Men’s Group focus on our stories. The Unicorn brings us news of deaths and other passages. But, truth be told, we don’t really have a lot of avenues for exchanging the gifts of being real with one another.
This Joys and Concerns Board is a new vehicle for personal connecting (not for politics, social issues or jokes). Tell your community what you are carrying and, in so doing, share your joy or your burden with people who care about your success and wellbeing. The instructions say that anonymity is OK—and it is—but I encourage you to include your name. The more we risk telling the truth about our lives, the more we learn about one another, the more we reach out in concern and celebration, The more mutual trust builds and the stronger we become.
The Pastoral Assistants and I will be monitoring the Board and, when it seems like it might be helpful, responding to notes. When we gather for our monthly meeting, we will remove notes that have been up there for a while and read them out loud. Then we will lay our hands on them and say together these words by Becca Reynolds: “May love permeate your every heartbeat. May faith guide your every step. May truth and compassion be your Eternal travelling companions and may a deep, abiding Spirit rest joyously in your every waking wish and your every resting dream.” This will be the prayer we send into the web of our community.
The heart of Justice is the stories we tell and the compassion with which we meet them.
Meg Riley, Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, our largest congregation (http://clf.uua.org/#), wrote this for the April edition of Quest for Meaning, the CLF monthly for religious liberals (www.QuestForMeaning.org). I cried when I read it, because I have had this experience myself and have heard many similar stories over the years. I offer you this edited version of Meg’s story, one sweet articulation of the Easter story, the story of how we die and how, in various ways, we never really do.
The hawk or, in my case, the mourning dove and the fox, are messengers. They remind us that those whom we have loved well and lost do rise again in memory and that the basic elements and energy of which we are all composed are surely conserved in earth’s continuing creative process. There is much we do not understand. But there are, I believe, messengers.
Happy Easter, friends,