I am writing this mid-summer "Letter from Nearby" from my berth at the 25th Southeast Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute (SUUSI) in Radford, VA. Last summer, Linda, Matthew and I traveled back here to my home country, the Blue Ridge foothills, for our first SUUSI. We found a whole new UU world. There are 1100 of us here this year, UUs from all over the country, a true intergenerational mix, everyone so ready to relax, worship, recreate, volunteer and learn together on a college campus that is ours for five magical days. Check it out at http://www.suusi.org/pubfiles/Suusi%202011%20Catalog_0.pdf.
The day includes worship together after breakfast and dinner every day. There is a concert after the evening service, but outstanding music breaks out everywhere you turn -- in the dining hall, under the trees, in the bookstore. Here are some of the performers: David Roth (http://www.davidrothmusic.com), Brother Sun (http://www.brothersunmusic.com), Don White (http://www.donwhite.net/main.htm), Tret Fure (http://www.tretfure.com/).
Linda and I join six other UU couples in a Couples Enrichment class every morning. In the afternoon, we have circle dancing or drumming. On Monday we went on a trip to a swimming hole near the Appalachian Trail called Dismal Falls. Tuesday we went with a vanload of kids and adults to a Pulaski Mariners baseball game. Trips like these into the surrounding countryside are a SUUSI specialty. You can choose from a wide variety of options, including canoe and kayak, swimming, tubing, biking, hiking, horseback riding, slogging up waterfalls, lunches at wineries and herb farms, visits to cultural centers... Join us next year!
On the way down here, we stopped by Tandems East in Pittsgrove, NJ, where we worked with the genius owner to create a tandem that fits our bodies. In tandem-math, one plus one equals more than two! We love the fluid feel of being a tandem unit. We bought a blue da Vinci Grand Junction -- rolling soon down a Long Island byway near you! On our way home from SUUSI we will be spending an afternoon at Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. Linda has never visited.
Over the next few weeks I'll be hunkering down to another set of study leave projects and outdoor adventures: setting service themes for the 2011-12 year, doing some more prep reading, planning our August and September Sunday services, moving along in my new Rosetta Stone Spanish language course (!), swimming in Cape Cod Bay and my favorite kettle pond, Sheep Pond, and making some more biking muscles.
You take care of your minister in part by making sure I have time during the year to rest, learn, care for my body and my marriage, and refill the spiritual well from which my ministry arises. Thank you so much for this time away. Please know that I am using your gift well. See you soon!
Our Flowers and Passages Sunday service on June 19th included a recitation of our congregational milestones. I wanted to be sure those who were not there could also contemplate and celebrate our awesome first year of ministry together. Look what we accomplished!
We hired our new Consulting Minister on a three-year contract and are putting in place a process to guide us dependably when the time comes to consider a call to ministry together.
We hired Gretta Johnson-Sally as our new Director of Religious Education and have already seen a significant increase in RE attendance and new families.
We were one of nine "threshold congregations" chosen for a special program of the Central East Regional Group, a cooperative group of four Districts of our Association of Congregations. Our application showed that we are "ready to break through to the next level of activity and effectiveness," and they want to partner with us in making that happen.
Last September we successfully launched a new major annual fundraiser, the Woodlands Folk Festival, which replaces the 1890's Fair, a summer festival for which this congregation was long well known on Long Island. Woodlands happens again this coming September 24th. "Come, come, whoever you are." Help and enjoy.
We began to offer regular classical concerts here, Le Petit Salon de Musique, in an intimate parlor-like setting on Sunday afternoons, brainchild of Linda and Ed Mikell.
In January our Communications team launched a brilliant, flexible and useful new website that can be managed communally, a website that reaches out as much as it reaches in.
Ten UUFSB leaders and our minister attended the Long Island Leadership Institute's Healthy Congregations workshop series -- six day-long Saturday workshops -- where they learned the principles of supportive, non-anxious leadership in congregations experiencing change.
We piloted a new Orientation to UUFSB and Unitarian Universalism called Belonging, a series of three 2½-hour workshops for newcomers and oldcomers alike. We offered the series three times and nearly 50 people attended at least one workshop.
We started monthly "Inquirer's Gatherings" in the minister's office after the Sunday service - a place and time to ask those first and nagging questions about the service, the Fellowship, and Unitarian Universalism.
Together we Stood on the Side of Love: rallied on Nicolls Rd., for an end to bullying, for peace in our world. We engaged in a Common Read about people caught in our nation's immigration dilemma. We spoke out about civil discourse. Thirty of us took the UUFSB bus to the state capital in Albany in early May to lobby for Marriage Equality. We became newsmakers as we walked our social justice talk.
We welcomed 22 people into membership at the annual New Member Sunday service in May.
We started a Shawl Ministry, a circle of knitters and crocheters who create beautiful shawls as a spiritual practice and give them to people who are going through hard times or celebrating something wonderful.
We started a Buddhist meditation community, called a "sangha," which meets here weekly on Saturday mornings. In the wider Buddhist world, our group is known as "Stony Brook Sangha."
UUFSB was given the Hobbs Neighborhood Gardens 2010 "Helping Hand Award" at the Bethel Hobbs celebration at Bethel AME church in March. We were recognized for our volunteer activity in organizing and in the fields.
We celebrated the last Passover Seder under the auspices of Shelly Psaris, who has been organizing the Seder for twenty-five years, and we enjoyed the last Goods and Services Auction Ed and Linda Mikell will manage. Next year new leaders will be in charge of both.
We raised our pledges to the congregation by nearly 20%, bringing in just about $230,000, an amazing show of commitment to this new phase in the evolution of the Fellowship.
We created a new structure for the practical management of our gardens and poetry walk, allowing long-time gardening leaders Milly and George Michos to scale back into supervisory roles.
We put the horn back in the Unicorn's forehead and considered his place in our history and future.
We asked Hal Usher to raise the pulpit 4 inches and he did and nicely.
We hired Kelly Johnson-Sally to set up and clean up our Sunday morning coffee hour and she does and nicely.
Our Small Group Ministry Program, called here "Sharing Circles," completed the first cycle as a new ministry here. Thanks to Gil Hanson who brought the idea back from General Assembly and to the Rev. Carol Wolff for partnering with Gil to create it here.
A company of ten UUFSBers, among them our four official delegates, two workshop performers and one presenter, attended the 2011 General Assembly in Charlotte, NC.
We have had a very good year.
It sounds funny to say this, since we have hardly had a week of anything that seems like spring yet, but summer, believe it or not, is just around the corner.
In the June 12th service, we'll recognize the accomplishments and passages of our children and youth, and also say thank you to all our Religious Ed volunteers.
The June 19th Sunday service focuses on other important passages, celebrations, milestones and accomplishments in the life of our fellowship during the 2010-11 church year. Please bring a flower to this service! We will use the beautiful Flower Communion ritual as a frame for our naming. This will be my last service until mid-August! The summer lay-led services begin on June 26th.
On June 20th, Linda and I are off to the General Assembly of our Association in Charlotte, NC, part of a contingent of eight or ten UUFSB folks. We'll attend the UU Ministers Association meeting Tuesday and Wednesday. GA starts Wednesday evening and continues through the weekend.
The rest of the summer, a time of renewal and preparation for the 2011-12 church year, looks like this for me: Study Leave: June 28-July 12 (~2 weeks); Vacation: July 13-30 (~2 weeks); Study Leave: July 31-August 14 (~2 weeks)
One week of vacation will be a week of UU camp at the Southeast UU Summer Institute in Radford, VA. This will be our second year at SUUSI, where we join 1000 other UUs from all over the country and globe for music, workshops, worship, lectures and glorious outdoor experiences in my beautiful home country of southwest Virginia. She and I are both serving as chaplains while we are there.
For the rest of the weeks of study leave and vacation, I will be at home in Stony Brook or at my family place in Brewster on Cape Cod. I will be on-call for emergencies during study leave and Long Island colleagues will cover emergencies during my vacation time. I will be in touch all summer with Board President, Dixie Comeau, and Linda Kirk, Chair of the Pastoral Assistants. Please let them know if you have an emergency that requires my attention. Summer fun to you and yours,
Today I spent some time pruning the rhododendron and some shrubs I cannot yet name in the yard of the house we rent in Stony Brook. Last fall I took some branches off the maple, pine, dogwood and sycamore trees in the front yard, lifted the verdant ceiling of the place, pruned the windows back to light. The previous occupants of the house were ancient and ill and had been in the house since the 60's. The original plantings, all, I am sure, well-placed and proportional at a certain point in time, had been allowed to mature in situ undisturbed. Over the years the couple gradually hid themselves from their neighbors. When we were house-hunting in June last year, the house was the only one in the development we could not actually see on Google Earth.
The yards, front and back, are deeply shaded now, though we see the evidence of a vegetable garden from the sunnier past and a few determined spring bulbs struggle to bloom in the minimal light the old beds still receive. It is a hard scene for a garden-loving renter, but I am doing my best to support what's here and gratify the neighbors. Truth be told, though, I like a sunny yard and sun-loving plants.
Roses, for instance. I love roses. For many of my young adult years in Cincinnati and Virginia, I grew dozens of miniature roses at a time inside under lights. Some of the varieties I grew were no bigger than the palm of my hand, little jewels in their blooming time. My paternal grandmother and my mother are responsible for my attachment to roses. Each in her lifetime saw to the care of the "Dorothy Perkins" ramblers that have grown for as long as I can remember on the split rail fences around our place on Cape Cod. After their spring bloom every year, they have to be rescued from the bittersweet vines, pruned and weeded and then redirected and resecured onto the silvered cedar fence rails. I learned the art as a teenager, and after Mom died, the care of those roses fell mostly to me.
Pruning is the springtime art of shaping a plant for healthy growth and maximum bloom. The goal is threefold: to remove the dead and diseased growth, to open up the center of the plant so that light gets in and air can circulate, and to shape future growth by cutting just above buds that are headed in the right direction, stimulating their growth.
With pruning, as with other gardening tasks like thinning seedlings, you often destroy much more than you keep. But with experience you learn that you will regret any mercy. Pruning is tough loving. You have to let go of the old in order to make room for the new. Those of you who are in the process of moving or redecorating, changing jobs or reconfiguring your wardrobe, grieving a big loss, beginning a family, going back to school, cleaning the garage or basement -- you know what I mean. You've got to have a rule and stick to it. If it is not serving life, lose it. If you don't, then useless possessions, outdated ideas, uninterrogated habits and assumptions, meaningless activities, dead relationships -- well, they choke out the light. The breeze doesn't blow through. Mildew and blight set in. All kinds of flotsam and jetsam get hung up in your overgrowth. Gets so people can't find you inside all that tangle and darkness. Even you can't find you.
The springtime art of pruning is the art of choosing again and again to be fully alive, to let go of everything that is not a celebration of life. Light. Openness in the center. Simplicity. Elegance. Health. Direction. Flower and fruit. Come back to life.
Happy Spring, dear ones,
A relative newcomer to the Fellowship joined the regulars in Spirit in Practice for the first time right in the middle of the series "workshop #5 -Mind Practices." Afterwards, he told me how moved he was to have found himself in such welcoming and openhearted company. "It is so rare," he said, "to be able to relish a conversation like that, one that goes deep, where there is room to listen, put new ideas together, take risks."
That evening we had looked at how subjects that, over the course of our lives, have drawn us into serious study, were often linked to our process of becoming ourselves, to our spiritual growth. He's right. That's not a topic you're likely to explore on line at the grocery store or at coffee hour after the Sunday service. It takes a safe space, a covenant to guide the sharing, a quality of listening, some courage, a few shared "wow" moments, and a growing line of trust. There are other groups here that support this kind of conversation, the kind that has the potential to transform lives. You leave those rooms with a new piece in its place, with an insight that lives in you for days, with a question that intrigues you, with a bond with a stranger whose story you also have lived.
Whether you are new to Unitarian Universalism and UUFSB or an old hand, the Belonging series, our orientation to the faith and our Fellowship, is the place to found new friendships on conversations of substance. Tell the story of your spirit's journey to this place, talk about how you want to use the resources you find here to learn and grow and serve. Learn our history, be a part of our future.
This is how we weave community. One real conversation, one surprising connection, one stirring insight at a time.
Find yourself here,
About now in what still appears to be the middle of winter, something in or around us begins to feel springy. As I write today, Valentine's Day, we are sidling into a warming trend after this awesome series of serious snow and ice storms. When the smashed, gray-green grass shows itself again under the icy snow-melt, gardeners, even ones like me who haven't played in the dirt for a while, can't help but think about peas and potatoes and onions and kale and broccoli, the early crops of the gardening season.
It is time to start seeds, order plants, set up the lights, draw the plans. And even if you can't buy them or start them or bed them, you sure can eat them! With the first signs of spring human bodies begin to crave a spring tonic - those spicy green things. So here in the middle of February, I offer you this delicious harbinger of spring 2011, a recipe for Leek and Potato Soup from my tattered learning-book Molly Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Mollie and the Roanoke Natural Foods Coop (http://roanokenaturalfoods.com/) conspired, in the 80's, to teach me how to be a good vegetarian cook. This recipe was a favorite, and so easy. I have served it to the Board and others already. You will love it.
3 fist-sized potatoes, peeled, 1-inch chunks
3 cups leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 Tablespoons butter
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup stock or water
3-4 cups of milk (and/or extra stock)
Snippets of fresh herbs (or maybe dry)
Freshly-ground black pepper
- Place potatoes in a saucepan with the leeks, celery, carrot and butter. Add salt. Cook the vegetables, stirring over medium heat, until butter is melted and all the particles are coated (5 minutes).
- Add the stock or water, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft (20-30 minutes). Check the moisture-level occasionally. You may need to add a little extra stock or water if it gets too low.
- When the potatoes are tender, remove the pan from the heat and puree its contents in the milk (use a blender or a food processor.).Make sure the mixture is utterly smooth. Return it to the saucepan.
- Add optional herbs (or not). Grind in some black pepper. Taste to see if it wants more salt.
- Heat the soup, gently, covered, until just hot. Donâ€™t let it boil. Watch out that it doesn't burn on the bottom (scorch -- Blech!). Serve right away. ENJOY!
Bon Appetit, my friends!