Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Building Projects, Church Finances and Stewardship, Special Events, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: accumulated assets, building and grounds of church, building project, capital giving campaign, congregational decisions, generosity, loan for construction, new challenges, new sanctuary, UU church life
Frequently Asked Questions for the Congregational Meeting–February 23, 10:30 a.m.
1. What is the status of the building project?
As of today, the project is paused, or on hold. Jackson Construction, the general contractor we have engaged for this project, has provided us with cost estimates for Phase 1a that significantly exceeds the money we have raised to date. This financial “gap” is approximately $1.1 million. Before proceeding any further, the members of Implementing the Master Plan (IMP) Committee and the Board of Trustees (BOT) decided it was necessary to pause the project and come up with a funding strategy to close this gap. This means the construction and move to the Sierra Arden United Church of Christ will not start in May of this year. A new start date for these events has not been determined.
2. Where does the gap come from?
The Capital Campaign, sale of the duplex apartments and the identification of UUSS Endowment and Bequest funds resulted in a budget for the project of $2.0 million. However, Jackson Construction estimates that general contractor costs and competitively bid subcontractor costs for our project will total $3.1 million. Jackson Construction evaluated our design for a renovated Main Hall/Sanctuary building, landscaping, parking lot and utility repair and improvement–and the costly changes we are required to make by the County–and told us they estimate the project costs would be approximately $3.1 million. This estimate includes almost $600,000 in infrastructure improvements and costs for parking lot repairs, a new fire hydrant, raising the level of the floor, and sidewalk, gutter and curb installation on Sierra Blvd – all required by our use permit from Sacramento County. The remainder of the gap is a result of higher construction costs than expected for some of the items, but not all.
3. What are the options?
The IMP and BOT members have identified 4 alternatives:
A – Raise and/or borrow the additional funds to finance the project as currently designed;
B – Raise and/or borrow additional funds and re-scope the project to match those funds;
C – Re-scope or scale down the project to match only the currently available funds;
D – Stop the project completely.
4. What is being done now to evaluate the alternatives?
Leadership teams from the IMP/Building Committee and the BOT have initially rejected alternative D. Due to the time, energy, work and cost already expended, and the great need for repair, upgrade, code compliance and accessibility, it was decided that walking away from the project entirely would be a strategic mistake. Furthermore, the energy and momentum demonstrated from the calling of Roger as the new Senior Minister indicate strong congregational support for moving forward and growing as a presence in the larger community. The aging grounds and facilities we have here need to be updated and modernized for the future, and this project is critical to that effort.
A small group of lay leaders has been exploring the option of borrowing from various lenders. The UU Church in Davis experienced a similar challenge of cost increases with their building project and their members have been very helpful to us in sharing their knowledge and experience. Members of the IMP team and the Finance Committee have been in touch with lenders and have received indications that we could successfully secure a loan. In addition, we believe a renovated campus with a new commercial kitchen would result in much higher rental income and would be a strong argument in our loan application. We also have a strong recent history of annual pledging and giving to the church.
Borrowing for this project would add loan payments or new debt service obligations to our annual budget and the impact of this increase is being analyzed. The results of pledges made in the current Stewardship Month will be important information to consider our ability to make loan payments. Our Capital Campaign team is considering options for additional fundraising.
The IMP Committee is exploring new designs for the Sanctuary and Welcome Hall that would reduce the number of structural changes planned in the original design. This could lower the overall costs. The use of the RE wing for housing all of our office staff is also being explored as another cost-saving step.
5. What should UUSS friends and members be doing to stay informed?
There will be a congregational meeting Sunday, February 23,between the services at 10:30 a.m. We hope many of you will attend. This meeting is designed to bring everyone up to date on the project and share more background and context regarding the information in this document. There will be a brief period to ask questions at the meeting. Members involved in this project will be available in a classroom this Sunday after the 11:15 service to answer additional questions and solicit ideas and input from you. Another conversation is being planned for a Sunday in March. Members should ask questions and share their opinions on the alternatives since this “home remodel” will affect all of us.
This project will transform UUSS for many decades and the support of the congregation is critical to its success. We all need to be engaged and informed since balancing our annual budget while investing in the future is not just the responsibility of the BOT but one that belongs to the entire congregation.
6. What is the background of the Master Plan? What about the Capital Campaign?
UUSS focus group conversations led to the congregation’s adoption of a long-range plan in 2008. In 2010 members unanimously approved the 50-year Master Plan for our campus. The plan included renovation of the existing Main Hall to retain the character of our UUUSS home and to save on the costs of a new structure. In 2012, a fundraising consultant conducted a feasibility study and then supported us through a successful capital campaign among members and friends. In 2013 members voted to sell the duplex apartments and use the proceeds for this project.
At 3:00 p.m. Sunday, March 16, lay leaders will hold a Capital Campaign Update. We will invite those who missed the 2012 campaign. All members and friends are welcome.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Theology, Uncategorized, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: UU parody
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Comparative Religion, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Prayer, Spirituality, Theology | Tags: Advent, Buddhist meditation, California International Marathon sermon, everyday spirituality, Mandela, Mother Goddess, Nasruddin, solstice, spirituality, Sufi, UU Buddhist, UU Christian, UU Christmas, UU pagan, waiting
NOTE: Many folks did not hear this sermon because the California International Marathon made it very hard to get to church. It closes Fair Oaks Boulevard from Folsom, CA, to the Capitol. Traffic near the church slows down as race fans try to find parking to walk over to Fair Oaks and as the police make drivers detour at both of our nearby intersections. The first hymn was my conciliatory nod to the Marathon, but it remains an annual frustration!
UU Society of Sacramento
Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013
Shared Offering benefits St. John’s Shelter Program for Women & Children
Hymns: #348 “Guide My Feet (While I Run this Race),” #100 “I’ve Got Peace Like a River,” #352, “Find a Stillness,” #91, “Mother of All.”
“Do you know what message I am going to preach to you today?” This is what the great Islamic Mullah said as he looked out on the people gathered for Friday prayers. Nasruddin, the Mullah, appears in many Sufi stories as a wise trickster and sort of a goofball. He asked the crowd this question, and they shook their heads—no. He said: “Well, why would I waste my time speaking to people who don’t know my message? Go home!” They did, but they invited the great Nasrudin to come back the following Friday.
“Do you know the message I am going to tell you today?” he asked. Yes, yes! We do! they smiled. “Go home!” he shouted. “Why would I take the time to repeat what you already know?”
This troubled the congregation. They really wanted to hear from this wise Mullah! So they made a plan. The next jumah, the Friday prayers, they had him back. He asked, “Do you know what I am going to say to you?” And half of them shook their heads no, and the other half nodded and said yes! “Finally,” Nasrudin said. “Now, those of you who know what I am going to say, turn to those who don’t know what I am going to say, and tell them.” And he left.
This is a story about one kind of expectation—an assumption of the way things are. It’s when you are counting on something—and in this story, you don’t get it. Something else happens from what you expect.
On Monday I was at a Catholic retreat center in with a group of UU clergy colleagues. In the dining hall we found these little plastic containers of coffee creamer. On the cover it reads: “Non-Dairy Creamer.” Under that it says, “Contains Milk.”
This wording led to speculation on our part. Can you get milk without a dairy? We laughed it off, and someone found a carton of 2% milk and a box of soymilk. We were amused by this experience of having our expectations upended. We didn’t get what we were counting on.
That’s one kind of expectation. The other kind of expectation is the experience of waiting. The Reverend Dr. Christina Hutchins is a professor at Pacific School of Religion. A year ago she gave a sermon on Advent, the season of waiting for Christmas. She said that the experience of waiting is a complete and authentic spiritual experience on its own. It is not merely the delay of an event, not the denied gratification of an authentic experience. Expectation is a complete experience on its own. Like all spiritual experiences, it’s worth paying attention to it. This is the spirituality of expectation—finding wisdom in the waiting, seeking to gain from the journey along the way.
Right now we are waiting for Solstice and Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Kwanzaa and so on. Growing up in a mainstream Protestant household, Christmas was what I waited for. But in truth, I just wanted to get it over with! This Thursday morning I will be one of the speakers at the UUSS Alliance’s holiday lunch program. Alliance chairperson Vivian Counts invited four of us to tell of a holiday memory from our lives. I’m glad there are three others talking, because I can’t think of any inspiring Christmas memory from the years before I was a minister.
As a child I dreaded the loneliness I felt when school was out for those two weeks. Television was the distracting technology of those days, and the TV often was on, but it did not satisfy. I craved the many shiny packages under the tree, but after tearing into them on Christmas Day, the emptiness inside me felt even sharper. The alcohol abuse and animosity among my relatives made me feel as if I was walking on eggshells. For me, Christmas was to be gotten through. My family went to church many Sunday mornings, but somehow it never occurred to the family to go to church on Christmas Eve, nor to attend any community concerts or special programs in our town. Had we done such activities together, it might have given us a little spiritual nourishment. Perhaps by this Thursday’s Alliance meeting I’ll remember some suitable holiday memories to tell. If not, I could ask the gathering, “Do you know what I am going to say to you today?” Then they can tell one another.
Among the human family, with the broad variety of conditions and situations in which we find ourselves, we human beings have all sorts of waiting to do. We have many ways to experience waiting, ways to think about our waiting, and make use of the time.
People in prison are people who are waiting—waiting for their sentence to end, waiting for a friendly visit or a letter, waiting for the next meal. For some, the wait is a long time. Yet in that time of waiting, some prisoners are lucky to find a way to grow. Some have access in prison to theater arts and poetry, or to study for a GED or a college degree or to learn, simply, to read and write. It’s my impression that prisons are some of the places where people are most likely to begin an intensive spiritual search or to deepen one. Great spiritual classics have been written in jail– by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Apostle Paul for example.
I’ve read and heard many ex-inmates testifying that a spiritual practice is what saved them. In prison many people experience conversion to Islam, or accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, join a 12-Step group, or begin Buddhist meditation. The online congregation known as the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship supports a prison ministry by mail, and some UU congregations have their own ministries to nearby prisons. In a book about Buddhism behind bars, one convicted felon writes that mindfulness meditation has been a tool for him in prison, and a blessing. His waiting for the end of his sentence is the occasion of his practice in mindful awareness. Sometimes, he says, they throw him in solitary confinement, a common management practice in prisons today. Solitary sounds frightening and lonely to me. Yet this man says that he tries to think of it as an opportunity for a deeper practice of mindfulness. This blows my mind! Those in confinement have no choice—only the choice between awareness of the moments at hand and suffering in agony about the long wait for confinement’s end.
Nelson Mandela spent 26 years in prison under the white Apartheid government of South Africa. What a long, uncertain wait! His passing last week at age 95 makes me want to learn about that experience, as well as other details of his life in the freedom struggle in South Africa. I want to know what sustained him. He could never be sure if he would live his entire life in prison, be released, or be executed. Did Mandela know his people had not forgotten him? Did he know that activists around the world were demanding his release? He practiced the spirituality of waiting.
A friend has told me a story about Mandela’s time in confinement. After some years, he was transferred to the Robben Island prison, infamous for its harshness. He found himself doing hard labor, with other political prisoners. Their task: breaking rocks in a quarry, pointless. Robben Island also held other inmates, those convicted of murder, armed robbery, sexual assault. Many were members of criminal gangs with reputations for terrorizing other inmates. They tried to push the political prisoners around, take their food, or disrupt any political conversations. By this harassment, they were trying to provoke the activists to reacting.
Members of these gangs labored in the quarry, but in separate groups from the political activists. One day they began singing a song, taking a popular tune and changing the words to mock the political prisoners. They were again trying to provoke them into a reaction. And they got one.
The political prisoners decided to fight back–by singing. In response they chose a rousing, familiar song. Typically it was not a political song, but in this context, they charged it with political accusations. The two groups competed by singing, back and forth. For several days, these opponents confronted one another–in song. Nelson Mandela later claimed that his men had much better voices, with wonderful harmony. He and his group would often get lost in their music-making. They would forget all about the gang members, who had taunted and threatened them. Soon the gang members became quiet. They only listened, as the political prisoners made music. The singing brought peace.
When the prison guards figured out what was happening, they demanded that the music cease. They didn’t even allow whistling. In the stillness that followed, it was clear to Mandela that fears had melted away. By pushing back, creatively, the political prisoners converted hostile opponents into people with a shared plight, a shared condition of confinement and waiting. By choosing creative action, Mandela’s colleagues sang away their passive despair and their fear. They brought meaning into their time of waiting by choosing to be creative.
When I think about the waiting of people in such painful situations, it’s embarrassing to say I want to get the month of December over with! It puts into clear perspective my feelings of dread of the loss of daylight, my irritation with holiday commercialism, my frustration with traffic, like the slow traffic on this Marathon Sunday here in our neighborhood. I say to myself: So what! How lucky I am only to have to wait for traffic to move! The Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh writes that waiting in traffic at a red stop light is a chance to practice being mindful. Red light, notice the moment. Notice our experience of sitting in the car or waiting at the cross walk. Red light, notice the moment. Blessed be the red light, great companion of our waiting!
What are you waiting for? Most of us are waiting for something… a job, a pension or Social Security, a baby to be born or an adoption agency to call with good news. We wait for an upcoming trip, happiness, our next birthday, this semester’s grade report. We wait for a diagnosis or lab results from a clinic, for moving day, for Christmas Eve. Most of us are waiting for something, most of the time. Meanwhile, we have days and moments in which to live and move and have our being, we have a journey called what’s going on right now.
Personally I am waiting for January 26, the day of the congregational vote here at UUSS, on my candidacy to be the called senior minister. I’m now in month number six of my seven-month job interview with you. It’s a long wait. Part of me would like it to be over. But you and I have seven months of life to live and ministry to do before then, while we wait.
So I am doing my best to enjoy the journey, enjoy the moments of ministry that pass before that big day. After all, if I were walking on a sidewalk under a tall building and moving men were maneuvering a grand piano out of a window and it slipped out of their control, and it fell on me, my waiting would end right then. This example, this wise warning, is handed down to us in the sacred scripture of the Warner Brothers cartoons, with which I grew up.
Given the uncertainty of anything we are waiting for, why not choose to pay attention? Give some attention to the complete, authentic experience of waiting? Explore the journey of our experience of each day.
Sooner or later, what we are waiting for does not arrive, or we do not arrive at that point. The piano falls. The traffic light turns red and does not change back to green. In matters of life both great and small, we will end… before we reach the end. To do authentic waiting is a challenge–and a paradox. It means we need to invite patience, be gentle, and practice curiosity. Yet given that we cannot count on reaching every goal, every end, it seems we should not wait on some things.
We should not wait to live with courage. Should not wait to speak the truth and speak with kindness. Not wait to live as our conscience and heart are asking us to live. We should not wait to be grateful. Not wait to be generous. Not wait to take care of our health and our spirits.
We can stretch ourselves, open our hearts, and practice a bit more courage as we wait. By the way we live in the time of waiting, we can prepare ourselves better for whatever we might be waiting for.
We are waiting for Solstice, when the night is longest, and the days begin to have more light once again. Meanwhile we have a new day to welcome, every day. We have sundown by 5 PM and sunrise by 7 AM, and a day full of whatever it brings, with the touch and flavor of waiting as an authentic part of the experience.
The experience of expectation is an authentic and complete spiritual experience by itself. Waiting for the green light, for the holiday, for the solstice night, is not the delay of the prize or its absence; it holds a prize all its own. With awareness, we can move toward wholeness in the moment. On every day of our journey, we can pause to notice what is already here, and give thanks. And give thanks. So may it be.
Filed under: Eating Mindfully and Sustainable Agriculture, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Prayer, Reflections, Sermon Archives and Excerpts, Spirituality, Trends in Religion | Tags: Advent, Christmas, dark of winter, healing darkness, sad, solstice, spiritual practice, spirituality and darkness, UU holidays, UU prayer
Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento
Music: Hymns: #226 “People, Look East,” #118 “This Little Light of mine,” #1008 “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.” Solo: “The Dark” by Mary Grigolia, sung a capella by Rev. Lucy.
Litany of Darkness and Light (see at end)
I sat looking out the kitchen window well before 7 in the morning, just last week. I felt the chilly air seeping in, and a mug of warm tea in my cold hands. I was ready to watch the morning light emerge, was waiting for the sunlight to change the look of everything. But I felt sadness. The tea had caffeine—how long would it take to change my mood, if it could? This mood was not of deep grief, and not a heavy burden of depression on my shoulders, yet it was a decidedly not-fun feeling of sadness. I said my morning prayer anyway.
I gave thanks for the gift of life and the new day, for a night’s rest in a warm, safe place. I lifted up the names of parishioners who need good wishes or prayers, brought their faces to mind, plus those of colleagues, friends, and relatives. I stated my intentions for living the day with gratitude, generosity, curiosity and kindness. The light was now making the street visible, and showing the colors of the cars parked on it.
Then it occurred to me: that pre-dawn darkness was just the right place for my sadness. The shadows could receive it. The shadows could let the sadness move, in its own gentle way. Had it been 7 AM in June or July, the sun would have claimed the whole scene by now. It would be urging me into the many tasks of the day: Get going, look alive! But the morning darkness of December seems to say, “Take it easy and slowly–I am taking it easy and slowly, after all. Let it be. Feel what you feel in this moment. You will notice how it changes.”
Soon it was bright and clear, and my day was on its way. And it went fast. The night came in the middle of the day—5 o’clock. Wait! I’m not finished with my day yet!
For years I have resisted and resented the early evening. I’ve dreaded the shrinking hours of daylight, starting in early November, when we set our clocks back an hour.
But as this December Solstice approaches, I try to appreciate what can happen in the dark. I would like to mention a few of the gifts of the time of darkness, but first I want to say: it’s not a gift for everyone, no matter what a preacher or a poet might say.
Like many people, a friend of mine has a clinical, biological reaction in the winter darkness, called Seasonal Affective Disorder. It does not help that she lives at a latitude even farther north than we do, and it’s cold there, for a long time. You know what they would call the chilly weather we’ve had this past week? Springtime (without the mud).
She sits under a special kind of lamp every day, to give her body and spirit some extra rays of light. In retirement she has the time to travel, so she spends a few weeks in the winter visiting friends in warm, sunny places. When she can save up enough money and find a cheap deal, she takes a trip to a warm country. Not speaking Vietnamese, she made her way around villages in Vietnam by pointing and smiling. In the sunshine of Egypt a few years ago, she heard people speak with hope right after the overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. She enjoyed the January summer of Argentina, taking in the spray of Iguazu falls, the marvel of a glacier, and some penguins in their stiff cuteness. Rather than cursing the dark and cold, she follows the sun. Of course, this is not an option for most people, and she gives thanks for the privilege to do so.
It’s important to note that seasons of darkness and cold can be very hard on the spirit, hard on the emotional health of many people around us. It may not only bring up grief or painful memories of past experiences, it may bring depression that weighs on our minds and even on our physical bodies. This can happen to people young or old, in any occupation or stage of life. When other ways of dealing with the shadow side of this dark time don’t seem to help us, it may be worth seeing if anti-depressant medicines, psychotherapy, or a 12-Step recovery group can make a difference for us. Whether as individuals or as families, we can look for professional resources and community support as we pursue emotional healing, personal growth, and the ability to accept the gift of life with joy.
Personal growth can happen in the dark times and places. Seeds will sprout in the cool dark of the earth, and begin their journey toward the light. As a tree stretches toward the sun, it also grows downward, inward, into the dark earth. We can be like the trees. As Henry David Thoreau said, “In winter we lead a more inward life.”
Another friend of mine lives not so far north, so the weather’s not as cold and the nights not as long. Yet the winter darkness does mean a change of her pattern of living, toward a more inward life. She spends more time under the covers, reading a book propped on the pillow next to her. In the living room she brings out candles and a string of holiday lights. They remind her of our inner light, of an eternal spark. Believing that winter is the best time for exercise, she puts on layers and goes out for a brisk walk. The leaves crunch underfoot, the air chills the skin of the face, the nose runs.
In winter, she says, we need exercise to stimulate our endorphins. Of course, we can be tempted to medicate our mood by drinking more alcohol and eating more, especially sweets and other carbohydrates. But the boost we might feel by consuming alcohol and sweets can have a down side. It can make us feel worse—edgy–after the boost wears off. This December I am taking some of her advice. Of course, I may never stop my holiday consumption of cookies, cake, fudge and anything else any of you might wish to make for me. But I’m eating more almonds and pecans and not forgetting my veggies. And I am having less alcohol, and drinking less often. I’m not crazy about green tea, but I’ve been drinking so much of it lately that soon I may turn the color of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
One Unitarian Universalist family I know has created their own Solstice tradition. With candles and cloths they make an altar of their table. They bake a light brown, round ginger cake—dense and only an inch thick. They serve it on a large round plate with a rim glazed with dark blue like the sky, and specked with stars. They pass the cake around, each one cutting a piece for the next person, who indicates by nods and silent gestures how large of a piece to cut.
As the cake is served, what is revealed underneath it in the center of the plate is a round red sun. The sun returns! For Solstice dinner, they eat only foods with round shapes, evoking the sun. They read prayers to the divine light and sing chants to the source of returning warmth. The parents hide little suns around the house and the kids go searching for them. By finding a likeness of sun, they are bringing the sun back, helping it return. This family does not rely on the dominant culture to tell them what they need to do or to buy for making spirits bright—they create their own traditions. Any of us can be creative. We can join with nature and with other people to create our own light, and share the light, now in the dark of winter.
For many people, winter is a time for making soup and other warm foods, and eating more of the fresh foods that our season brings out. In California we have so many winter crops. Those in cold climates now can benefit from quick transport of fresh foods, but in the old days they kept food in the root cellar, and dried meat and beans from the summer crop.
Back home in Indiana, my mother’s fridge held many frozen foods for our winter meals, and this was fine. But around the corner from our house, my uncle and aunt had shelves of clear glass jars with green beans, tomatoes, corn and other produce they had canned in the summer. My uncle Roger had been a cook on a ship in the Navy during the Second World War. As a boy I helped him in the kitchen, including his major undertaking of putting up all that food, with Mason jars boiling in big pots of water and other steps for cleanliness and safety. That was a summer activity, but the memory of it warms me in the winter.
Now I can see that we were storing sunshine in shiny glass jars.
The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time the eye begins to see.”
The darkness can help us to see the truth… that we are not in control of everything. We can be so busy in our lives, have so many expectations. So many technologies at our fingertips and conveniences in our daily experience can lull us into thinking that there is an online menu tab for peace of mind or an iPad application for wisdom, courage, and grace.
The world does not revolve around any of us, including me; nor does earth rotate at my command. Its creation is a miracle and a blessing. The operation of the heavens is a wonder. And it all goes on without my permission or involvement. It will go on without me. The darkness comes and goes—my cursing it or my blessing it affects only the condition of my own spirit. The season’s advice to me: you need not be in control, and in fact you are not in control. Let the darkness hold the future. Let go!
We can be intentional about living in the darker season. This is why candles appeal to us: the darker it gets around them, the more they show their beauty. Looking at a candle flame, or a string of lights on the tree or around the window, we can think about the meaning of light, and the bringers of light—like our nearby star, the human mind and heart, the source of love and light eternal, the creative spark, the divine fire of courage and compassion.
Solstice rituals use fire and food and song—to bless the darkness with beauty, while praising the cycles of the seasons of the earth. People hang lights at Christmas to praise the source of life, celebrate the story of the star of Bethlehem, and remember that sun and warmth will return.
On Christmas Eve at UUSS, our sanctuary fills with members and their friends, and with guests we see only once a year. In the weeks leading up to it, folks ask me the time: seven o’clock, same as always. They ask me if we will light candles and sing “Silent Night,” at the end. Of course! We will make a circle around the walls of the sanctuary, and exchange the light with one another, and then enjoy the darkness, filled with song and silence, and with faces illuminated by the flames.
Folks never ask: will we sing the carols and hear a homily, will we have some instrumental music, prayer and silence and an offering? All those things are like the setup to the “Silent Night” candle light finale! Yet without those elements, the finale would be weak.
Without the darkness, our candles would be weak. Likewise, without the embrace of the darkness, we might not have the reminder to plan ahead, create meaning in the season, and reach out for fellowship and support. The darkness holds an invitation to let go of all that we cannot control, and accept with serenity all that we can’t change.
At my kitchen window, in my early morning watch for the light, the dark of winter seems to say: “Take it easy, and go slowly–I am taking it easy, and going slowly, after all. Let it be. Feel what you feel in this moment. You will notice how it changes.”
The dark of winter is a time to consider the sources of light we can count on, and give thanks for them. It’s the season for tasting the warmth of nourishing food, made by human hands from the gifts of the earth for our sustenance and our joy. It’s a season for creativity, planning ahead, self-care and care for others. It’s a time for digging deep and for reaching out toward others with compassion, openness, and kindness.
It’s a time for patience and letting go of control, for releasing the past and opening to the mystery of the future. May we all be so blessed.
In the days to come, may you welcome the gifts of light and warmth you can bring into the darkness. May the days and nights ahead bless us with light, learning, warmth, patience and peace. Blessed be.
Litany of Darkness and Light
Part A (Before silent meditation/prayer)
Voice 1: We wait in the darkness expectantly, longingly, anxiously, thoughtfully.
Voice 2: In the darkness of the womb, we have all been nurtured and protected.
All Voices: May we feel comfort in the darkness.
It is only in the darkness that we can see the splendor of the universe– blankets of stars, the solitary glowing of distant planets.
In the darkness of the night sky we feel beyond time – in the presence of the past, and with the promise of the future.
May we feel hope in the darkness.
In the solitude of the darkness we may remember those who need our love and support in special ways–
the sick, the unemployed, the bereaved, the persecuted, the homeless, those who are demoralized or discouraged, those whose fear has turned to cynicism, those whose vulnerability has become bitterness.
Sometimes in the darkness we remember those who are near to our hearts – colleagues, partners, parents, children, neighbors, friends, congregation members. We pray for their safety and happiness. We offer our support.
May we know healing in the darkness.
Part B (After musical interlude following sermon)
In the quiet darkness of the night, we may hear that still, small voice within.
In the blessed darkness we may be transformed, changed by what we face in the dark.
May we feel the challenge of the darkness.
In the darkness of sleep, we are soothed and restored, healed and renewed.
In the darkness of sleep dreams rise up, calling us to possibilities, calling us to know our connection to the world.
May we feel joy in the darkness.
Sometimes in the solitude of darkness our fears and concerns, our hopes and our visions rise to the surface. We come face to face with ourselves. We find the road that lies ahead of us.
Sometimes in the darkness we wonder about the important things, the deep things, and inexpressible things. We watch for glimmers of hope and glimpses of grace.
May we feel renewed in the darkness. May we be guided by the light of our hearts. Reflecting the divine love that shines at the heart of life, let us reach out to this troubled world with compassion.
-New Century Hymnal, adapted
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Books (includes sermons based on books), Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR, Magazine & Newspaper Articles, Religious Studies: History, Trends in Religion | Tags: church growth, membership decline, progressive religion, rethinking church mission and vision, trends in religion, UU congregations
This article comes from the Alban Weekly, an email from the Alban Institute, of which I’m a member. It’s by a well known mainline church consultant whose lectures and workshops I have attended. Of course UUSS is not in decline but poised for new growth and a renewed mission in the larger community. But Unitarian Universalism has barely held steady over recent decades as other liberal denominations have lost hundreds of thousands of members–or not replaced the members who have passed away.
This is an excerpt of the article, which is adapted from one of his books, Adapted from A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope by Peter L. Steinke, copyright © 2010 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
Back to the Future
by Peter Steinke
At a workshop I was leading, a woman stood up and said, “If 1950 were to return, my congregation would be ready.” Succinctly, she summarized a nagging problem for many churches. The context in which congregations now find themselves is quite different from 1950. “How we do church,” though, has been quite persistent: Become a member of the local congregation, contribute money and effort, participate in communal events, volunteer time and goods, and worship regularly or at least several times a year. This pattern of “church” continued for decades in North America, but then things changed quickly.
There once was a world where the church functioned according to what some have called the “attractional” model (others have named it the participatory model). People come to a place, consume the spiritual goods, and serve as patrons to “meet the budget.” But a shift has happened. North American culture has taken new turns.
We are living in a new context where old certainties are disappearing, old institutions are less dependable, old assumptions are questionable, and old neighborhoods are less cohesive. Logically, if not spiritually, we may even have to allow for the possibility that these dislocations could be part of God’s new creation. It may be God working through the unknown …. taking history into unexpected turns.
The challenge of change for a congregation on a steady downward slope is precisely to redefine and redirect its mission. They have to realize that decline is not an end to mission. Yes, they are mere shadows of their past. Yes, rethinking mission is difficult, for congregations are burdened by big or deteriorating buildings, smaller staffs, a paucity of young families, and a shortage of hope. But expansion is not the sole gauge of mission orientation. One problem with this thinking is the belief that, for congregations, all things are equal. But congregations are not in the same place, same stage, or same circumstance. That’s not reality.
Congregations may hanker for a technique that will bring about results they want to achieve; they want to replicate what has been discovered by someone else: “Give me a copy of the wonderful plans.” Seeing what those plans have done for others, they want the same result—but without going through the process that got the others to that point. The shortcut of imitation certainly bypasses a lot of pain. How churches hunger for precisely this situation!
Meaningful, lasting outcomes are the result of the journey and the learning that takes place. Maybe a word of caution should be stamped on all programs: “Not transferable.” Transition time is life’s curriculum. Being on the path opens new insight; being on the path, not the steps one takes, is the very condition necessary for learning.
… The process of thinking, testing, and exploring contains the lessons. Congregations need to remember that no handbook is available on freelancing mission. Only by going out, being there, and seeing from a fresh angle will the process lead to learning. Discovering how to respond to shifts and changes is the learning. Self-confidence is a byproduct. But growth is in the struggle, the push, and the journey.
Filed under: Comparative Religion, Inspiration, Religious Studies: History, Sermon Archives and Excerpts, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: dance in worship, Emerson, everyday spirituality, mystical Unitarian, ordinary miracles, Thoreau, transcendentalists, UU spirituality
UU Society of Sacramento
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Shared Offering for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes
Dance with Music: Sarah Bush Dance Project with “Sing When the Spirit Says Sing” by Sweet Honey in the Rock and “The Last Bird” by Zoe Keating.
Hymns: #126 “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” #21 “For the Beauty of the Earth,” #163, “For the Earth Forever Turning.”
Reading (followed by “The Last Bird”) with Dance: William Blake:
To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour…
“A spiritual awakening is taking place in the world today.” So writes Macrina Wiederkehr, a Catholic sister who lives in a Benedictine monastery in Arkansas. She says: “An authentic yearning to touch the depths of who we are is urging people to seek out ways to rekindle the soul.” In her book about “seeing the holy in the ordinary,” she finds this a “promising sign” for the future. But as a spiritual teacher, she does offer a warning.
She explains: “I am concerned about the many people today who are lured to extraordinary spiritual phenomena that are manifested, … in sensational ways. Stories abound about visions and trances, weeping statues, rosaries turning gold. Celestial beings are emerging everywhere, and angels are in danger of becoming trendy.” In other words, across the wide landscape of spirituality, she sees a few “cautionary flags.” These flags look like angels. Too many angels for her, and she’s a nun! Too many supernatural events.
Of course, questionable accounts of unnatural occurrences have been splashed on the cover of tabloid newspapers in the supermarket for decades. Now the Internet provides a nonstop supply of sensational spirituality. This may not be just a harmless and amusing distraction. It can be spiritually dangerous. This is because, when we look outside our own lives for spiritual validation, we may neglect our own gifts. We may diminish the ability to find meaning in our own lives and comfort in our everyday surroundings. When we seek the sensational, out there, we cannot explore the depth of our own souls, in here.
The nun seems to say: You want miracles? Go down to the river or up to the mountains. Visit a local park, or a nature preserve, and look up at the trees. You want angels? A tree is “full of angels,” Sister Macrina says. She’s talking about leaves, flowers, and fruit, about the miracle of growth and the web of nature. There is holiness in the here and now. Whether we identify as religious or not, too many of us today are suffering from a lack of noticing the grace of the world at hand.
Yet she is not blaming us, only diagnosing a problem for us. She says: “The fast pace of our lives makes it difficult for us to find grace in the present moment, and when the simple gifts at our fingertips cease to nourish us, we have a tendency to crave the sensational.”
Yes. It’s hard to find grace in the moment if we’re struggling “in the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life,” as Henry David Thoreau pictured our situation, and he was writing back in 1854. We live with a stressful pace of life, and the distractions of technology, media, and a consumer culture that doesn’t know the meaning of enough. We feel the tensions of economic uncertainty, the growing inequality of wealth, the pressing demands on our time. We see suffering around the world, and in our own towns and in our circles of care and kin.
So much can weigh on the spirit. We need spiritual comfort and nourishment. I know I need it, and I think some of you feel the same way.
Sister Macrina’s message reminds me of something from our own religious tradition. The Unitarian Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson made a similar pronouncement. In 1838, a few years after he left parish ministry, he spoke to the graduating class at the divinity school at Harvard, nearly all of them freshly minted Unitarian ministers.
In Boston in 1838, Unitarianism was barely two decades old. Many Unitarian ministers still believed that Jesus of Nazareth had conducted supernatural miracles. Even some Harvard professors still taught the miracle stories as literally true events. To the Boston Unitarians, even though Jesus was not God, the fact that Jesus conducted miracles was evidence of God’s favor. The miracles proved that the moral teachings of Jesus were true. This name for this doctrine is supernatural rationalism.
Emerson would not have it. According to Emerson, “the word Miracle,” as most churches use the word, “gives a false impression.” By their worn-out literalism and limited imaginations, he said, they’ve turned the word miracle into a “monster.”
A true miracle is the life of a human being, of every human being. A true miracle is visible through nature. A miracle, he said, must be on par “with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”
Whatever faith you preach or practice, Emerson said, “[that] faith should blend with the light of rising [suns] and of setting suns, with the flying cloud, the singing bird, and the breath of flowers.”
You want miracles? Go outside on a clear night and look up! Emerson said: “Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. [Any person] under them seems a young child.”
The Reverend Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar is a Unitarian Universalist from New Hampshire. She says that children are inherently spiritual beings. Naturally open, children are predisposed to experience the world as a place of mystery and wonder. They are “natural poets and natural mystics,” she writes. They can become totally absorbed in the progress of a caterpillar or the movement of the clouds, losing all sense of themselves.” (Nieuwejaar, 65)
Nieuwejaar recounts a story about Howard Ikemoto, who is an artist. He said: “When my daughter was seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college, that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?’” (Nieuwejaar, 62, citing Gregg Levoy)
As an adult, Henry David Thoreau kept and cultivated his childlike wonder. As another of our Transcendentalist spiritual writers, Thoreau devoted his time to doing just enough ordinary work to sustain his life, and used the rest of his time to reflect on his life. Thoreau said: “I see, smell, taste, hear, [and] feel that everlasting Something to which we are allied, at once our maker, our abode, our destiny, our very Selves.”
The good news from our Unitarian Transcendentalists is this: everyone has the right to a sense of connection to life, to all the forms of life around us, to the Mystery of life. We may not wish for mystical visions, but in any case the sense of connection and wonder is not the privilege of the few. The wonder of life should be available to all, here and now. It should be open to us if we but open our hearts!
Yet some people may still ask—what’s all the spirituality stuff about? Some of us may feel left out, uncertain, non-mystical, un-poetic, even spiritually inadequate. Sometimes I can be one of those people. As today approached, I worried what to say in my sermon about seeing the holy in the ordinary. But then I decided to take some time, a few moments every day to slow down and watch. Slow down, take some time.
As I sit in the morning light at the kitchen window of my apartment, I decide to trust that miracles will reveal themselves to me, or at least I will be able to say I tried to be open to them. Just outside the window between the sidewalk and the street is a big tree with narrow tapered leaves. This week, they look so yellow and full on the tree, even though the tree has shed many already. A few of its leaves still have a trace of green in them, but mostly it’s a big ball of yellow fire coming out of long, rough angled brown limbs. Wow–I have a kitchen window with a big bright yellow tree just outside! How did I forget that? Even though I’ve sat at that window more than at any other window in my apartment, for five years, it feels as if I haven’t noticed it before. Noticing. I want to remember to notice.
This is what I take from the notable spiritual teachers of our heritage and those less famous ones who on Sunday mornings are seated in the chairs of this sanctuary, this Unitarian Universalist congregation. If we are open to noticing the feel of every day and every night we’re given, maybe we can sense the power and energy around us. If we decide that we wish to take some time to slow down, sometimes, we might be surprised.
Thoreau said: “We are surrounded by a rich and fertile mystery. May we not probe it, pry into it, … a little?” (Journal 1851)
Thoreau did his daily chores, but he did not let practical concerns get in the way of his open study of life. He said: “The things immediate to be done are very trivial. I could postpone them all/ to hear this locust/ sing.” How wise he was! And how lucky, that he did not have to worry about making a house payment. And how convenient that he did not have children to shuttle to school or medical appointments or athletic practice. How lucky that he did not have to prepare a sermon to deliver on Sunday! His simple and single life made it easier. Yet he was not writing to boast about his spiritual depth, he was writing with care and compassion for our shared spiritual hunger. He was suggesting: Just say that you wish to notice life’s miracles. Just be open. You deserve it. You deserve to be nourished by the ordinary miracle of life.
This past Thursday morning I rose early, shaved and brushed my teeth, and walked to the nearby YMCA to exercise. It still was mostly dark outside, but sunrise had begun. I walked to the corner and turned east. The dawn sky was cast with a bold purple-pink light. A long stretch of wide, flat ruffled clouds glowed with that beautiful color. I gasped: “Oh my God.” I usually don’t speak out loud when I’m walking alone, but I did. As I turned another corner, heading south, I kept my eyes on that view, knowing that as the sun and clouds moved the view would not last much longer than my walk to the Y, where in any case I would be indoors.
I must confess that right after I gasped at the texture and color of the dawn, I felt a sense of relief. I thought: “Sermon illustration! I found an ordinary miracle with days to spare before Sunday. Whew.” Perhaps I was not as deficient in the spirituality department as I had feared.
Perhaps it made a difference that I had told myself that I wanted to notice. I had made the intention, had actually said that I wish to be open to seeing ordinary miracles.
There are many ways to experience the holy in the ordinary. Whatever that might be for you…. Merely take time–with others or by yourself–for a practice, an activity, or a pastime that has no obvious practical purpose. Just say to yourself that you wish to be more open to the miracle of ordinary life.
Thoreau asked: “What kind of gift is life unless we have spirits to enjoy it and taste its true flavor?” [8/10]
There are many ways to make our spirits ready to enjoy the gift of life. Let us remember that we deserve this enjoyment. You deserve it, and I do, and so does everyone alive on this earth. May we strive to shape a world more just and fair, in which the whole human family can taste the true sweet flavor of life.
May we live with openness to the miracles of the ordinary day. And, being open to them, let us enjoy them, and give thanks. So may it be. Blessed be, amen and Namaste.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Divinity School Address,” July 15, 1838. See http://www.emersoncentral.com/divaddr.htm
Nieuwejaar, Jeanne Harrison. Fluent in Faith. Boston: Skinner House, 2012.
Thoreau, H. D. A Week on the Concord & Merrimack River and Walden.
Wiederkehr, Macrina. A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009, p. ix.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Eating Mindfully and Sustainable Agriculture, Family Ministry, Special Events | Tags: church and holiday, thanksgiving dinner, UU thanksgiving
Our holiday at UUSS began with a brief circle worship in the Fahs Classroom, a first for us since I’ve been here and perhaps for a very long time. We had 14 folks for candle lighting, music, silent contemplation, readings of scripture, poetry, devotional reflections. We remembered those who are departed and named those who are away from us this holiday, and named what we are thankful for.
Then the decorating of the main hall began, and more folks came in to bring dishes of food, plus the turkeys and hams that volunteers had cooked at home. We began just after 2 PM with words of welcome, a reading from the back of the hymnal and a song. We had about 75 people, including at least four grandchildren of church members plus friends and relatives of members. We had new and long time members. Every table had its own unique centerpiece.
And we had food.
There was WAY too much food. And I ate WAY too much food. I rested and table hopped before feeling that I could justify any dessert. By then there was less of it. Just as well. For the past two hours we have been cleaning, tossing, recycling and storing. Thanks to Randy, who comes every year and runs the dishwasher/sanitizer for hours. He’s still there. Soon I’ll go over and lock up the building and set the alarm. My feet are tired. I can’t imagine that I can sit and read without dozing off and it’s not even 6 PM!
God bless us, every one.
Filed under: Musicals), Reviews, Theater (Plays, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: choral music, Christmas concerts, gay-friendly music, holiday concerts Sacramento, music, UU music
Feel free to add your choral, instrumental, dance, theater or other group’s blurb for holiday events. Include the website address, of course. You may email it to me for posting, or just post it yourself by putting it in the Comments section. I will publicize a link to this blog posting so UUSS folks can go to one place to see all that is available. Break a leg! –Rev. Roger
Kathryn Canan is a long-time member of UUSS, a former Board member and Adult Enrichment Chair, and now serves on the Candidating Committee. She’s also a musician in many venues and a teacher.
Kathryn Canan, recorders and flutes:
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2 p.m., Capitol Rotunda with Renaissance Choir of Sacramento, Free.
Saturday, Dec. 14, 7 p.m., Pioneer Congregational Church, Songs of the Season, benefit.
Sunday, December 15, 1-2 p.m. Capitol Rotunda with Sacramento Recorder Society
Thursday, December 19, 7 p.m., with Renaissance Choir of Sacramento, Christ the King Retreat Center, Citrus Heights.
Wed, Dec. 11 and 18, 5 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 22, 1:30, caroling at Nevada City Victorian Christmas
Rick and Paul are lay leaders from the North Bay UU Fellowship in Napa. They come all the way to Sac to rehearse and sing with the Gay Men’s Chorus. Rick and I have been talking about having them sing at UUSS on a Sunday in 2014.
The Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus will be presenting its concert, “Cool Yule (A Big Band Theory)” early next month. Performances will be at the First United Methodist Church of Sacramento, corner of 21st and J Streets in Midtown, these dates and times:
Friday, December 6 — 8 p.m.
Saturday, December 7 — 8 p.m.
Sunday, December 8 — 4 p.m.
Tuesday, December 10 — 8 p.m.
The program features a lot of seasonal tunes arranged with a big band jazz/swing style uptempo feel — you’re sure to love it! There will be some surprises on the bill as well.
Tickets are $40 for VIP seating, which includes a pre-concert reception; or $25 for general admission seating.
Please visit www.sacgaymenschorus.org to purchase tickets. They are also available at The Gifted Gardener, 18th and J Street.
Meg Burnett is a member of our UUSS Board of Trustees and our Program Council. She’s our volunteer choir director. And she is president of her chorus organization.
River City Chorale: ”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
Directed by Dale Morrissey
Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 7:30 PM–Northminster Presbyterian Church, 3235 Pope Avenue, Sacramento
Saturday, Dec. 7, 7:30 PM–Faith Presbyterian Church, 625 Florin Road, Sacramento
Adults $15 if preordered, at the door for $20. Youth under 12 are $5.
Discount for orders of 10 or more tickets. see www.rivercitychorale.org to order yours!
Rev. Lucy Bunch–our Assistant Minsiter at UUSS– is a member of Sacramento Master Singers. She often leads our singing on Sunday morning or offers an a capella solo!
Sacramento Master Singers: The World of Christmas
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, at 3:00 PM; Saturday, Dec. 14, at 8:00 PM; Sunday, Dec. 15, at 3:00 PM; Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7:00 PM. All the above held at St. Francis Church at 26th and K Streets. Order tickets at www.mastersingers.org
Master Singers Children’s Holiday Concert: Jingle All the Way! Saturday, Dec. 14 at 2:00 PM. Order tickets at www.mastersingers.org
Master Singers: The World of Christmas at the Harris Center in Folsom–December 22. Order tickets at www.threestages.net
#5 (with 3 listings!)
Tom Derthick, UUSS member and bassist
12/7-8: performances by the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento. As opposed to various styles of holiday music, CMS always does a all-Baroque concert of popular classical concerti and chamber music. This year features Bach’s E major violin concerto with Kineko Okimura, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with William Barbini. I will be in the tutti (backup band). Saturday at Bet Haverim Temple, Davis; Sunday at St. Paul’s Church (right next to the Convention Center, 15th and J); both shows 7:30. http://www.cmssacto.org/performances/
Also opening this weekend: Sacramento Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Last year, the ballet used recorded music for all performances to save money. Needless to say much December employment for professional musicians was lost, and many audience members were very disappointed. This year they are trying an experiment: for about half of the shows, live music will be provided by the Sacramento Philharmonic (12/7, 8, 12, 15, 20 and 23) at a slightly higher ticket price…but without the riveting score performed live, you miss half the experience! Be sure you support the live music shows! www.sacballet.org
Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra December 14th, 8 PM at Memorial Auditorium–the premiere choral ensemble in Sacramento presents its annual Home for the Holidays Concert. Don’t be late and miss the candlelight entry of the chorus! www.sacramentochoral.com Happy Holidays! Hope to see you at one of these events!
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views
By the Acting Senior Minister
Given the revenue challenges in last spring’s budget preparations, we have only 1.5 ministry positions this fiscal year, versus the two ministry positions that UUSS enjoyed the prior 10 years. Fortunately, we have an ideal match for our needs in our Assistant Minister, the Rev. Lucy Bunch. She is here on a year’s contract on a half-time basis.
Lucy supervises our Bookkeeper, Facilities Coordinator, and Congregational Support Coordinator, who in turn oversee other dedicated staff members. She leads our biweekly staff meetings. Lucy provides ministerial support to the Finance Committee, Property Management, and Implementing the Master Plan (for our building project and the related relocation for the year when the renovation takes place).
Lucy will preach eight times this year and is at worship on the Sundays when she is here. Often she leads a hymn or sings a solo. As time allows, Lucy provides support to other committees. She’s available for pastoral care, especially for any stresses and needs related to the many transitions we have begun or have gone through already.
As Acting Senior Minister, I supervise the Assistant Minister, the music program and staff, and the dedicated Religious Education Coordinator, who in turn supports our nursery staff and many volunteers.
I provide ministerial support to our volunteer teams for Stewardship, Religious Services, Music, Adult Enrichment, Child/Youth Religious Education, Social Responsibility, Family Promise, “Faithful Friends” Jail Visitations, Lay Listening Ministry, Membership/Greeters, Theater One, fundraisers, and the Endowment Trust.
I write the Ministerial Message for emailing to all. I lead the Newcomers’ Orientation to Membership. What am I forgetting?
I provide much of the pastoral care and, sadly, conduct our memorial services. I’d like to do some baby dedications, soon! In the senior minister position, I continue to be the minister who oversees Religious Education and All-Ages Community Building. You could say that I am still a family minister–but for me, “family” now means the whole congregation!
Lucy and I both serve as ex officio members of the Board and Program Council and meet with the Executive Committee, which gives us input on management issues. We share a Committee on Ministry, which meets monthly to reflect on the pulse of UUSS and the congregation’s overall ministry. Lucy and I meet often, as well
I appreciate her wisdom, talents, commitment and energy! I appreciate all the staff and volunteers who serve UUSS!
See you in church,
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Inspiration, Theology, Trends in Religion | Tags: Unitarian Universalism, Unity
Sometimes people will ask me if UUism is the same as Unity. It’s not the same, but there are several similarities.
When I began a spiritual search as a young adult in a new city in 1985, I visited both a Unity Church and a UU Fellowship regularly. I took a night class using the book The Story of Unity. I liked both congregations, and though I retained a couple of friends in Unity, I was drawn to make a commitment as a member to the UU Fellowship. At the time the UU congregation had a more explicit and regular mention of social justice and issues of the common good–a more external focus than an inward one. Since then, I chose to pursue spiritual growth through various avenues, and our UU movement has expanded its embrace of spiritual and theological exploration, while never leaving behind the urge to build a more just world and promote understanding among different religions. I think local Unity Church congregations may be less socially conservative than some of them used to be, and I know many of them have done good work in community service and interfaith relations.
Here is my take on the differences.
Unitarian Universalism (UUism) has been more of an institution-based movement from the beginning, while Unity has been more of a message-based movement, with an extensive publishing outreach that touches people beyond its churches. Of note is Unity’s “Daily Word” devotional booklet.
The Unity School of Practical Christianity was founded by a married couple in the late 1800s, as part of the New Thought Movement, which includes Christian Science. Unity started as a movement, and became a denomination. Its Unity Village headquarters is in Kansas City.
Unitarianism was a theological break within congregational churches, rejecting Calvinism, starting in the early 1800s. While William Ellergy Channing delivered a foundational sermon in 1819, a manifesto of sorts, entitled “Unitarian Christianity,” there were many other founders of this liberal Protestant sect in the Congregational churches in Massachusetts. The use of reason in studying scriptures, the humanity of Jesus, and the dignity of every person were founding ideas. Less than 20 years later, the Transcendentalists added more ideas to the tradition.
Universalism also was a revolt against Calvinism, and it started in the late 1700s. It spread more like a movement of ideas, though new churches were started along the Connecticut River Valley. Founding ideas were a denial of hell as a place for the dead and an affirmation of the boundless love of God as a loving, non-condemning parent. Both denominations grew and spread across the continent, and merged in 1961. Boston is the location of our denominational headquarters.
Neither Unity nor UUism are considered orthodox or traditional expressions of Christianity, though both had Christian origins.
Many conservative Christians explicitly say that both traditions are theologically and spiritually dangerous heresies.
Both UUism and Unity affirm goodness in everyone and divine love for all. Both have a diversity of concepts of the divine in their literature and in their congregations. However, there are very few UUs who like terms like Father or Lord, and Unity is often comfortable with it.
UUs include many self-describe Religious Humanists–who are atheists or agnostics and don’t respond to God language. Most UUs, especially Humanists, disagree with the idea that there is a soul separate from the body.
Unity, as a modern descendent of Gnostic theology, often includes expressions affirming that a soul exists apart from the body. UUism does not have an official teaching on this, but I think most are not Gnostics. Many UUs also are uncomfortable with the Course in Miracles, or would be if they took it. It is popular in Unity and in Religious Science, another New Thought movement.
Unity and other New Thought churches affirm many of the spiritual ideas of the American Transcendentalists, many of whom were Unitarians, like Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
But the spiritual philosophy of the Transcendentalists is only one thread of our heritage, and many UUs think it is too idealistic or too mystical for them.
Unity strives to be inclusive of the wisdom of all faiths, and so do we. But Unity’s background and primary connection is Christian, and many of our Humanist atheist or Jewish UUs are uncomfortable with that connection on an explicit and regular basis. While most UUs do recognize the liberal Christian origins of both sides of our UU heritage, they value our inclusive embrace of the wisdom of diverse traditions. Humanists and theists and all others who are committed UUs join together in affirming the baseline of humanistic values in the UU faith tradition.
Most people who tried out a UU church and ended up in a Unity church made the move because they sought a more spiritual focus and spiritual practice, and explicit, regular talk about spirituality. They may have found UUs too “cerebral,” and not “spiritual” enough–that is, with more head and less heart, and they found more heart in Unity. I’m busy most Sundays, so have no recent eyewitness experience!
Unity affirms human possibility and human goodness, and we UUs strive to affirm that. However, Unity has a more optimistic view of human life which some UUs would find naive.
James Luther Adams (a minister and professor who saw the evils of the Nazi takeover first hand) and other modern UUs have stressed the tragic dimension of the human personality and human life. In my experience, Unity teachings disavow evil as a real force in human life.
While many UUs would say that every event or accident or phenomenon has causes that can be explained, most of us would not agree that everything happens for a reason or according to a plan, while I often hear “Everything happens for a reason” in Unity and other New Thought traditions. Some things do not happen for a reason–they happen, and sometimes they are terrible. We are here to reduce harm, ease suffering and help those to whom bad things do happen.
UU process theologians assert that there is an infinite variety of possible outcomes and events, rather than a plan for any person’s life or a plan for the planet as a whole. Process theology imagines a Divine Lure toward the good, but the outcome is up to human choice, causal relationships in nature, and randomness.
I think the religious landscape is enriched by the presence of Unity churches and Unity publications. We are not the same but our similarities are important and worth affirming. Thanks to my Unity colleagues in ministry for all the leadership and care you provide.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: bequest, congregation, generosity, legacy, will
Many of our members have included UUSS in their trust, will or other estate planning documents. This generosity ensures that your community will remain a strong presence of liberal religious values and spiritual hospitality in this region.
Share the following suggested wording with your estate planning attorney to add to your will or living trust if you would like to support the congregation’s mission, ministry and programs after your lifetime. This information is provided by the UUA’s Office of Legacy Gifts. Click the link for more information. Here is the suggested language for a will.
“I give to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, 2425 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95825, the sum of $_____ (or _____ percent of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate), for its general purposes.”
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, Inspiration, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views
This is a fun-raiser! Bring a can or bag of drip grind coffee or make a tax-deductible donation of $10 or $20 to help us replenish our supply of condiments, cups, and tea. Before each service on Sunday, November 3. (This is the “fall back” day—set clocks back 1 hour on Saturday night.)
We’ll have fun with this fun-raiser, singing the UU song “Coffee, Coffee, Coffee.” Let me know if you think singing this parody hymn is a bad idea for the service.
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee
(sung to the tune Nicaea (known in the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”)
words by Christopher Raible
Click here for the tune: http://www.hymnary.org/tune/nicaea_dykes
And read the words here:
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee,
Praise the strength of coffee.
Early in the morn we rise with thoughts of only thee.
Served fresh or reheated,
Dark by thee defeated,
Brewed black by perk or drip or instantly.
Though all else we scoff we
Come to church for coffee;
If we’re late to congregate, we come in time for thee.
Coffee our one ritual,
Drinking it habitual,
Brewed black by perk or drip instantly.
Coffee the communion
Of our Uni-Union,
Symbol of our sacred ground, our one necessity.
Feel the holy power
At our coffee hour,
Brewed black by perk or drip or instantly.
Filed under: International, Politics, Elections, and Government, Prayer, Rituals, Prayers, Elements of Worship Services | Tags: pastoral prayer, refugees, Syria, UU meditation, UU prayer, UU Yom Kippur
On these warm and shining days, it is a blessing to draw the breath of life. Let us give thanks for this day and for all our gifts. Sitting near us are fellow seekers on the journey toward wholeness, joy and hope. We give thanks for this time to be still and reflect with one another.
We come together, in part, for celebration of the joys and achievements of life. On this opening day of a new year of Religious Education, we give thanks for a committed corps of adult volunteers and for so many full-hearted youth, children, and babies. Today we say farewell to four homeless families after a week of hospitality here through Family Promise, and give thanks for the generosity of our many volunteers. At this time, let us call out and give voice to the glad occasions of our own lives and of those people we celebrate. PAUSE.
On many hearts are those who need healing and care. We embrace those among us mourning a loss, living through transitions, tending an injury, worrying about jobs or finances, facing an unwelcome diagnosis, wrestling with addiction, or working a recovery program, one day at a time. We send our love to you. We send our love to all who are healing from surgery and other treatments, including Mary, convalescing after a broken hip. Tami, home after surgery. Ginny, regaining strength after a heart attack. Jerry, back with us after a long bout of pneumonia while out of the country. Now let us speak the names of others on our minds. Whether whispering to ourselves or saying a name aloud, let us bring into the space of our sanctuary those who need our loving wishes. PAUSE.
On this day also we hear of wars and rumors of wars. So many are living with fear, pain and loss in zones of conflict, including the civil war in Syria. Wedded to power, the Syrian tyrant kills children and adults without mercy, even with chemical weapons, dealing death and agony to hundreds. A hodgepodge of rebel forces, understandably outraged, now has grown to include extremists. They use weapons, fighters and money from terrorists; they bring boys into battle and scar their souls. We, as caring people, feel helpless. American leaders debate an American military action, bombing. Such an action seems to have no clear objective, but has many unforeseen risks. Many of us may protest against military action, but we must also grieve the bloodshed that continues. There is no good answer to this dilemma. Who can say? There may be no answer at all. Certainly, no answer can make us pure.
We contemplate this tragedy in humility and in mourning. Now two million Syrians, having fled the strife of their nation, try to stay alive and sane in refugee camps. Let our hearts reach toward them. Let our efforts our nation’s generosity hasten to their aid and their survival. As we speak for nonviolence, let us pray for mercy. As we long for mercy, let us act for healing in all the ways we can, wherever we may be.
In all the choices of life, let us act for healing and wholeness, and give thanks for all our gifts. On these warm and shining days, as we draw the breath of life, let us remember how fragile is the gift of life. Now let us take a minute of silence, just for the simple gift of being alive, here, together as members of the human family. Amen.
ONE MINUTE OF SILENCE. SOLO VOICE SINGS #218: “Who Can Say?”
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Inspiration, Prayer, Rituals, Prayers, Elements of Worship Services, Sermon Archives and Excerpts, Sermons and a Whole Lot More, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: church involvement, congregational life, hospitality, making friends, roots and wings, sermon, service, spiritual community, start of church year, UU water communion, volunteer, water ceremony
Ingathering Sunday, August 25, 2013
Prelude Prelude from Suite Bergamasque
Nicholas Dold, Guest Pianist
Invocation Rev. Lucy Bunch
We come together this morning to remind one another
To rest for a moment on the forming edge of our lives,
To resist the headlong tumble into the next moment,
Until we claim for ourselves awareness and gratitude,
Taking the time to look into one another’s faces
and see there communion: the reflection of our own eyes. This house of laughter and silence, memory and hope,
is hallowed by our presence together.
*Hymn #347 Gather the Spirit
Welcome & Announcements Rev. Roger Jones
Welcome to UUSS. I am Roger Jones, happy to serve here as the acting senior minister.
Whoever you are, and however you arrived here, and whatever you may be seeking, please know that you are welcome here. This congregation strives to be inclusive regarding the diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices reflected among us, as well as of gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, economic situation, and political opinion. We strive to see diversity as a source of strength and richness.
With me today making the service possible: Rev. Lucy, Religious Services Committee members Deirdre and Diane , and Erik , our Sound Manager Ian , our new Board President, Linda .
Our two music staff members are not here today, so I am happy to introduce you to our guest pianist and a brand new Californian, Nicholas Dold. Read about him in Thursday’s Ministerial Message email or in the order of service.
We also give thanks to the ushers, greeters, coffee and tea servers– today and every Sunday. We offer special thanks today to the salad makers for the lunch of salad, bread and dessert that will follow the service. Thanks to Glory and Keith for planning and putting this on, along with her volunteer team. [Other groups will be invited to sign up to put on a Salad Sunday.]
This lunch is a mini-fundraiser for the church, with a sliding scale of donations ranging from 4 dollars per person to 4,000 dollars per person. Trust me, this lunch will be worth it!
Three important conversations after the service, for your salad-munching consideration. Please see the Blue Sheet.
Coming of Age orientation for youth interested in this special program for making friends across the generations, developing UU identity and building your own set of beliefs and articulating them.
There is an American Friends Service Committee presentation on the 49-day hunger strike in California prisons by prisoners protesting the widespread use of solitary confinement in our State.
Our Implementing the Master Plan team offers you a Master Plan Update – here in the Sanctuary. First part of our master plan is our outdoor Labyrinth. Diane Kelly-Abrams invites you to come Saturday morning till 2 PM on September 7 to help lay the bricks and finish the Labyrinth.
In two weeks, on September 8, we move back to a schedule of two Sunday services. Religious Education for youth and children will take place during the 9:30 service.
Today’s service is our Ingathering Service, when we kick off a new church year in our congregation. This is our welcome service.
If you have been away the past few months, welcome back. If you have been taking the summer off from church…I hereby forgive you. Almost completely. And I say, welcome back.
If you are just now visiting us for the first time, checking us out, looking for a spiritual home, we extend a welcome to you. Every person sitting here has been in the same situation as a first time visitor, and we have hung around and kept coming back. We invite you to fill out a Newcomer Form at the Welcome Table in the back after the service, and to make a nametag for yourself after the service. We invite you to please stay afterwards so we can get to know you.
Greeting with the Hand of Fellowship
Now please we ask you to put your cell phones on their most reverent setting for the rest of the worship service. It would be nice to have an awesome review on Yelp about our congregation or a happy Tweet about the service, but please wait until afterwards.
Now I’d like to invite you to reflect on the freedom and power that each one of you has. No matter whether you are a brand new seeker here or a long time church member, young or old, rich or poor or somewhere in the middle, you have the power to give an amazing and welcome gift to a few other people. And that is the simple gift of the words, “Good Morning! Welcome!” You could make it better if you introduced yourself by name. Let’s try that now. Please rise as you are able and reach out and greet a few other people.
*Hymn (words on insert) Spirit of Life/Fuente de Amor
-Carolyn McDade; Spanish trans. Ervin Barrios
Our Mission, Values and Covenant
We come together to deepen our lives
and be a force for healing in the world.
We value the goodness in everyone,
the openness and curiosity that illuminate that goodness
and the love and courage that sustain us.
We, an intergenerational community, travel together
with open minds, open hearts, and helping hands.
We value justice, compassion, integrity and acceptance.
We seek spiritual growth, intellectual stimulation,
caring and laughter.
To these ends we pledge our time, talents and support.
Commissioning of Rev. Lucy, Assistant Minister
See separate attachment
Prayer and Meditation Erik B.
Gift of Music “Ondine” from Preludes, Book II
Sermonette: Roots and Wings
Our song “Spirit of Life” sings: Roots hold me close; wings set me free. That’s what I’d like us to think about for a few moments. Roots and wings.
The writer Brian Nelson says:
People think of the roots of their lives as fixed, while their lives keep growing toward the sun. But roots keep growing, too, in unexpected ways and directions…. Your story changes as you grow and learn new truths about yourself. Even as your wings set you free, make sure that you keep track of the … ways in which [you are] grounded.
One of the reasons we seek out religious communities, I think, is to put down roots and spread our wings. We practice new expressions of ourselves. We find opportunities to learn, reflect, put our gifts to use, and stretch ourselves. When we first get involved, we may not know what to expect, but if we stay engaged with anything for a time, opportunities for growth appear. Opportunities to stretch our wings appear.
I first became a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation when I was 24, starting my first career, living alone in a new city in the middle of the Illinois prairie. People in the church were friendly, and after my first visit, some called me by name. It helped that I wore a nametag, of course, but as a new person in a strange town it was nice to hear the sound of my name.
After a number of visits, an usher asked me if I could help: to hand out the order of service, and receive the offering. A simple thing. But let me tell you, the first few times I walked the offering basket up and down the aisle, I felt as self-conscious as if I’d been singing a solo or giving the sermon. It was a small step, but I was exercising my wings.
The result? I began to learn that I could stand up in front of a group of people I didn’t know… and survive. And of course I would get quite used to standing in front of church people. It started in that congregation. One more thing: I felt useful, I sensed more ownership of the place. I started to grow roots.
Looking back, I find it odd that they asked me only to be an usher, but never to serve the coffee. Was it easier to trust a newcomer with collecting money than the making coffee? I don’t know, but I suspect all we had back then was instant coffee, anyway. After all, it was 1985 in the Midwest. The trend of really good, brewed coffee had not yet begun.
Also back in the 1980s, coming out as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person was more daunting and lonely than it may be now for a lot of people. I had begun edging out of my own closet three years before, mostly to myself and my friends in college. I had little practice speaking my truth in other settings. Here I was, in a conservative city in a new job, and in a new church, in 1985. But in truth, most of the barriers were in my own mind, most of the fears in my own heart. I needed practice at being myself and feeling accepted. Our church had a series of Sunday morning discussions–a small circle of chairs bringing together all those who showed up on a given day for a given topic.
One Sunday a lesbian therapist from the church led a talk about homophobia. I found myself contributing to the conversation among these new people in a way I had not experienced before. I used the words “we” and “us” when speaking about LGBT people, rather than keeping my words at a safe, academic distance. Nobody shuddered; the walls did not fall in.
In that circle of kind people, I stretched my wings and hopped out of my nest of self-silencing. It was a subtle change, but also part of a lifelong transformation into a happier human being. Some time later, I began working on a committee, and became friends with a shy middle-aged woman. She spoke to the group about her brother who had died, but spoke only vaguely. Later she told me that he had contracted HIV, which was nearly always terminal back then. Having been married, he had remained in the closet through death, and the family was holding this great secret, adding to the grief of their loss of him. Yet for his sister, the burden lifted a bit when she spoke to me, because I had opened up. Thanks to that church, she and I both grew stronger wings. We both poked our heads out of the nest of our own fears and vulnerabilities.
A year later the Religious Education Committee asked me to teach Sunday school. First and second graders. Who, me? I had barely seen a first grader in years, let alone try to have a conversation with one of them.
Did that committee see the potential in me? Who knows–they merely might have been desperate. Of course, desperate was how I felt. Yet I had a co-teacher – a dad in the church. He was easy going and reliable. We had a book of lessons to guide us. Some props required, but the lessons were planned. We would talk every week in advance of Sunday: who was leading what, who should bring what. I survived that year, and so did they. I learned things, and left with fond memories.
Not all congregations help everyone spread their spiritual wings, of course. Especially when it comes to religious ideas and personal expressions of spirituality. Some discourage the stretching of wings.
On the other hand, there are plenty of ways beyond a congregation to stretch your wings in 21st century North America: hobbies, sports and cultural organizations, book clubs, Yoga studios, personal trainers, community colleges, website courses. But here in a congregation you may wander into a way to spread your wings that you had not been looking for. Rather than doing a methodical review of opportunities on local websites, and finding an opportunity that you choose, in a community like this one, in a congregation, the opportunity may find you.
You may grow in a way you were not seeking to grow. Learn lessons you were not looking for. A benefit of a larger congregation like ours is that we have diverse ways to participate, many opportunities to learn, grow, try out new things, serve, and help out. You can get involved here in one activity for a while, and if later you feel ready to try something else, we’ll try to help you do that.
Outside of a congregation, if you drop out of a book club, you may not see the people again. If you give up Yoga class, you may lose your Yoga classmates. In a congregation, you might slip out of an activity, but you are still part of the community. You have roots!
Even better, you can use one commitment in order to decline another. I’m sorry, I can’t install paving stones in the labyrinth next Saturday out in the hot sun with you. I’m co-leading a workshop at the UU church in Davis, which by chance is indoors in the air conditioning. Sorry!
[In truth, the Labyrinth is in a well-shaded area here.]
For some folks, the opportunity for growth provided by the church could be… just sitting in one place for an hour. For others, the stretching of wings could be the invitation to rise to your feet and sing with a room full of people. Or to greet a few others and say, “Glad to meet you.” Even if you don’t know for sure that you’re glad about it, you do know it feels good to be greeted, so you decide you will reach out.
In this place, we can watch one another stretch and reach and spread our wings. We can encourage one another. If we stumble or flop, we can catch one another. If we are the ones flopping or falling, we might feel others easing us down to a soft landing.
And while all this is going on—the stretching of wings and the efforts at flight—something else happens. We get rooted! As we encourage others and receive encouragement, as we strengthen the wings, we deepen the roots. We ground ourselves. Roots grow as we add to our life story by the moments we spend with others. At a shared meal, we nourish the roots, not only by the food, but also by the fellowship aroundthe food.
Roots grow as we let ourselves be known.
Most of us, I hope, begin to realize that we belong. We experience a deeper sense of connection and rootedness, not only to a community, but to Life and the spirit and the whole human family. As we stretch our wings, we deepen the roots of belonging to Life.
The presence of others makes a difference. All those with whom we invest our time and our gifts can support the roots as we dig deep into life. And we can do that for others. You can do that. Your smile, kind word, outstretched hand, your voice lifted in word and song, can do that.
On this Ingathering Sunday, I ask you to remember that your presence matters to others around you. Even to those you have not yet met.
We come together to receive encouragement for ourselves, but by showing up, we also extend encouragement to others. Just by coming together, you help others to dig deep roots into life and stretch out the wings of the spirit. What a blessing it can be, when we come together.
So may it be. Blessed be, amen, and Namaste.
This congregation has a tradition of giving away half of every Sunday morning offering to an organization doing good work in the larger community beyond these walls. For this month, the month of August, we share the offering with Sacramento Family Promise. This is a program of hospitality and support services to homeless families with children, including school for the children and assistance in finding employment, stable housing and self-sufficiency for the parents. Several families will be staying overnight with us in our church buildings for a week starting next Sunday night.
Your generosity today will keep this important program thriving and successful. Thank you for making a difference. The shared offering will now be given and received.
Offertory Cancion y Danza No. 1
- -Frederic Mompou
Roll Call and Water Communion Ceremony—Rev. Roger
See separate attachment
In a congregation of our size, transitions are always taking place, even in years when we don’t have a construction project in the works.
In addition to the good news of Lucy’s joining our ministry here, we also have the sadder news that Eric has announced his resignation from the position of Music Director. He’s held this job since 2011. Last week he wrote to our Board and staff members, and his letter to the congregation will appear in the Unigram. Next Sunday will be Eric’s goodbye service with us—one service at 10 o’clock. The Music Committee is planning a farewell for him after that service, with cake. Please come. Also, if you would like to contribute money toward a gift, you can see Judy today after the service. Next week, we will honor and thank him, and I bet he will sing to us.
Other transitions in the life of our congregation, every year, include the passing of a number of members and friends, and family members of congregants.
You will find an insert in your order of service entitled In Loving Memory. This is our roll call of those who have died since last year’s Ingathering Service. If you think of a name that should be added, or if you have in mind others who died in years prior to the last one, we will take a moment after the roll call. As we conclude, our Board President will pour into this empty vessel some of the water that has been collected from Ingathering Rituals in years past. This jar includes the waters brought here by people we have known and lost over the years. And after today it will be mingled with the waters that you will pour into the vessel in a few moments.
Now please join with me in saying these names one at a time, with a brief pause to hear each name in our heart.
[Unison speaking of the Roll Call.]
At this time, if you are holding in your heart other loved ones who have died, we will take a few moments to hear the sounds of their names spoken into the space of our sanctuary. [PAUSE.] May their memory be a blessing.
[President Linda pours about half of the tall jar into the cylinder.]
Water Communion Ritual—Rev. Roger
If you have brought a small container of water, this is the time when we will mingle the waters together. Whether you are bringing or just remembering waters from oceans visited, glaciers, lakes, local rivers, or a local tap, you are invited to mingle the waters.
If you didn’t know about this ritual, forgot, or didn’t read the newsletter, there are containers of water up here for your use. Please line up on both sides, and when it is your turn, use the microphone, alternating between right and left sides, and speaking loudly. You may say “This water is from _________” or “This water represents ______.”
At the end I will say a blessing.
*Hymn There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul, and It’s Tellin’ Me that I’m Somebody
-Rose Sanders, arr. Kenny Smith
Led by Rev. Lucy
[words are at #1007 but we didn’t use the hymn supplement book]
If you are comfortable, please join hands or just be with us for this Benediction. At the end, you may be seated for the Postlude, or you may come back to the Lobby.
In the days to come, take the time to consider when and how you are deepening your own roots and your own sense of belonging to life and to community.
Consider opportunities to stretch yourself and try your wings. And remember that your presence makes a difference. Your presence can help others to find a place to put down roots, and can help us all to try our wings.
As you go out beyond these walls, may you see blessings around you, and may you know that you bring a blessing into this world we share.
Postlude Prelude in c-minor WTC vol. 1
-J. S. Bach
Filed under: Advice, Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Inspiration | Tags: church, community, connection, loss, neighbors, UU
Acting Senior Minister’s Newsletter Column September 2013
I didn’t expect I’d miss them.
The male-female couple in the apartment across from mine moved away in May, taking the calico cat they had inherited from previous neighbors. Due to allergies, they made her a bed in a box outside their door. During the day, she lounged around in the courtyard. She visited neighbors like me. She was the community’s kitty.
They and I often chatted in passing, and waved to each other from our living room windows, but we never “hung out.” After moved in, she brought me two cupcakes. When I was away on a trip, they noticed, and asked about it.
That same week, the neighbor downstairs moved to a Section 8 apartment across town. She had filled the courtyard by our two doors with flowers and potted plants. I hid a key under her Kwan Yin statue. She lent me her ironing board, and I lent her a listening ear now and then. Now I have some of her surplus plants around my front steps. We were friendly, but not friends.
I was not prepared for the feeling of personal emptiness after both of their apartments became empty. I entered the courtyard on arriving home and look toward their doors. Inside my place, I looked out the window for them. Going out, I expected to greet the dozing kitty. But they were all gone. I missed them.
Wow! I had gradually become attached to them. Their presence had been reassuring to me. Part of what made my apartment into a home.
This makes me think of church, and all the people who choose to make it a spiritual home. Most of us come here because we are seeking, hoping, and wanting to receive something for our own lives by participating. That is natural.
But there’s more.
We get attached to each other, even if we don’t know everybody’s name.
By coming here on Sundays and at other times, by giving the gift of your simple presence, you are making a difference to others.
Your presence at UUSS is a source of comfort and reassurance to other people at UUSS, even people you do not know.
Thanks for all that you do and all that you give. And most of all, thanks for being here!
See you in church,
PS—Don’t forget: We switch to our two-service schedule on Sunday, September 8. Religious Education starts, at the 9:30 service. Thanks to our RE volunteers!
Filed under: Advice, Books (includes sermons based on books), Children and Youth, Family Ministry, Inspiration, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: birth and death, doula, spirituality of parenting, Unitarian Universalism
I’ve been in conversation with Amy and thought I’d pass this along. Read an excerpt of her book in the Fall 2013 UU World magazine.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, Politics, Elections, and Government, Special Events, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: building project, capital campaign, church expansion, church renovation, county board meeting, master plan, minister testimony, our new church
On our UUSS Master Plan and request for
a use permit for phase 1a of the building project
By Rev. Roger Jones
Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento
Monday evening, August 12, 2013
[Following presentation by Jeff Gold, Architect]
Good evening, and thank you for your service.
My name is Roger Jones and I having been serving as a minister to this congregation since 2008. Currently I serve as the acting senior minister.
Our church was founded in 1868 by 17 families in Sacramento. Now we are a community of more than 400 adults, children and youth.
In the late 1950s, when we bought our current property on Sierra Boulevard, that parcel and those around it were farmland, with a few houses. We built our main meeting hall in 1960 and added an education wing a few years later. Except for those few homes that already stood on large parcels, the neighborhood grew up around us.
The master plan that you are considering today would be our first major improvement and renovation in a half century. We are excited about it. Last year, members and friends of the church committed $1.3 million in a capital fundraising campaign for the project. Gifts ranged from $100 to over $100 thousand.
From the outside, nearly every house of worship can seem like an institution that exists only for its members, with a focus on what goes on inside. While we do have a caring community in the church, we are also committed members of the larger community.
Many of our local neighbors come over to our wooded campus for a brisk walk or a stroll away from the street. Some neighbors walk their dogs, push their babies in strollers, or help their kids learn to ride a bike with training wheels on our parking lot.
Several not-for-profit organizations hold monthly meetings in our classrooms. Often we’re the site for funerals or memorial services for leaders from the local community and other folks who may not have had their own house of worship.
In the 1960s, our church founded a community theater, which continues to stage two productions every year in our main hall, with good attendance from the larger community.
One thing I’m very proud of is this:
At every Sunday morning service we give away half of the freewill donations in the offering basket to local charities. This is above and beyond what members pledge to the church operations. In this last fiscal year we contributed $25,000 to 13 not-for-profit organizations through the Shared Sunday Offering and Christmas Eve giving.
During the holiday season we also collect food, clothing, toys and money for local charities.
Along with several other houses of worship, we are a host for Family Promise. Four times a year we welcome homeless families with children for a week of dinners and overnight accommodations on our classroom floors. During the day they attend support programs or school downtown.
Personally, I participate in Sheriff Jones’s Community and Faith-Based Advisory Board meetings, and in my first year on the job I attended the District Attorney’s Citizens’ Academy program.
Our annual budget supports 15 full-time or part-time staff members, all of whom are county residents. A number of our employees live just walking distance from the church, and several families from our congregation are homeowners in the neighborhood.
Our vision of an improved and renewed church campus is a strong statement of our commitment to be involved citizens, responsible stewards, and good neighbors.
Thank you for your consideration of this vision.
Filed under: Comparative Religion, Eating Mindfully and Sustainable Agriculture, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Prayer, Sermon Archives and Excerpts, Sermons and a Whole Lot More | Tags: aging, body image, embodied spirituality, God, health and spirituality, illness, jogging, mindfulness, physical and spiritual, physical pain, sermon on exercise, Spirit, swimming, walking, Yoga
Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento
-Songs: “Ven, Espiritu de Amor,” “Comfort Me, O My Soul,” “Touch the Earth, Reach the Sky.”
-Yoga Practice in the Service with Paige Labrie
-Reflection on a Tai Chi Contest by Lonon Smith
-Testimonies about Yoga Practice by Jerry & Patty
- Reflections on Chair Yoga by JoAnn Anglin
What I like is how each lesson is both dependable and surprising.
The order of the moves varies, but they still have a flow and rhythm, so it becomes like following a partner in a dance. And it ends up feeling logical, as if that is the perfect order for that day’s motions.
I walk for an hour 3 days a week, but aside from gardening and occasional house work, most of my ‘activity’ is done while sitting – writing, reading, driving, conversing or on the computer.
Then at chair yoga, I get a real sense of where my body is, and a heightened feeling of its core, the centering connection for all the other movements. And I think this helps my sense of balance overall.
Another good thing is that there is no emphasis on perfection – just an opportunity to do what you can, and maybe a little more. We are many shapes and sizes and abilities in our chair yoga class, but our instructor helps us see our possibilities – in a way, she introduces us to parts of our bodies that we didn’t realize were there.
And finally, we get reminded to breathe deeply, which is not as automatic as one would think.
And you know, another word for breathing is ‘inspiration,’ the same root from which ‘spiritual’ comes.
-Pastoral Prayer and Meditation by Roger Jones
Please join with me now for a time of contemplation in words and silence.
Notice your feet on the floor and your body in the seat. Become aware of your breathing. After these words, we will take a minute of silence, and the silence will be followed by music.
O spirit that breathes in us, we are alive!
Let us give thanks for this new day of life.
O love that moves in us, we are here.
Let us give thanks for each person around us,
as they give thanks for our presence.
O ground of being, hold us and sustain us
as we live each day with joys and sorrows, longings and hopes. Help us take one step at a time, living one breath at a time.
O spirit of compassion, show us the strength dwelling in our hearts, the courage to behold the tragedies and perils of our human family…. Among other events, we call to mind the ongoing strife in Syria, the killings in Egypt, the train crash in Spain.
We strive to extend our care to those who grieve or those who suffer in body, mind or spirit within these walls with us, and those far beyond these walls.
We touch this earth with gratitude for its beauty, and we are mindful of its countless inhabitants, mindful of all the forms of life on earth.
Now in the moments to come, let us be in stillness and become aware of our breathing. Aware of our neighbor’s breathing. Aware of our common breath, which is the breath of life.
Let us take some time in that silence which is more than the absence of sound but which is the source from which we all emerged and to which we eventually return. Amen.
- Sermon by Rev. Roger Jones
Paige has been teaching Monday Yoga here at our church for a number of years. She also volunteers several Sundays a year in our Spirit Play religious education program. [The fees for Monday Yoga are modest, and a good value, by the way.] We appreciate the gifts of her time and attention, and her grounding in her own spiritual practice.
People attending Paige’s Monday morning session at 10:00 use chairs for seated Yoga and for stability while standing—chair yoga.
On Monday night at 6:30, it’s the more familiar kind of Yoga. We used to refer to these classes as Easy Yoga. Then I went to one of them! “Easy” was not my experience. So now I say, let’s call it Mat Yoga, and bring a mat if you have one. Of course, when a new person enters a class, an attentive Yoga teacher like Paige will notice how the person is doing and will give extra encouragement and instructions that are more thorough.
But any kind of Yoga remains a challenge, and that is its purpose. After all, the root of word YOGA, from the ancient Sanskrit, means an effort! It also means a joining, as Paige told us. But it is an effort, and of course all disciplines do take effort.
It’s the same for any spiritual practice as it is for any physical practice, whether it’s an exercise workout or physical therapy. Honoring and caring for one’s inner life takes intention, effort, patience, and some discipline. Honoring and caring for one’s physical body also takes intention, effort, patience and some discipline.
Walking and mindfulness
I have always enjoyed walking, and try to walk when I have that choice, such as when running an errand. Rarely do I just go for a walk as a practice for its own sake, for just slowing down and calming my spirits. But in classes on mindfulness meditation I’ve been taught that walking can bring us to the present moment, noticing every step, moving with intention and ease.
While walking, or even while running, we might notice our breathing, notice how the parts of the body work together. We might also notice how the ground holds us up, how the earth sustains us, and welcomes us. We might imagine the whole round earth on which we move, along with so many other beings.
If we walk with friends, children or other loved ones, we can appreciate the chance to be together, either walking briskly to get the heart pumping, or gently to slow down and take it easy—sometimes both. We can talk, and then we can walk for in silence for a time.
Whether together or alone, running or walking is a way to cultivate peace and gratitude as well as to promote our health. With mindfulness, if we pay attention to where we’re walking or running, we’re less likely to fall in a hole or trip on a rock. I’ve done such things while running or walking, because I treated running or walking only as a way to get someplace, or only as a way to exercise.
With mindfulness, we can honor the motion of the body and see it for the miracle that it is. We can do this by walking. We can do this by any kind of exercise. We can do this by sitting still. Just by noticing the body and the breath, and giving thanks for it. If we can do anything more than sitting still–if we have the time and the ability and health to exercise regularly–we can count ourselves lucky.
Swimming and life
The intentional exercise practice I have sustained the longest is swimming. In my mid-twenties I started going to a pool a few times a week. To be sure, there have been phases when I thought I was too busy. And I have tried other exercises—weights, treadmills, stretching, even using a professional trainer. But swimming is what I have come back to.
When I think about what happens to me in the pool, I can appreciate the spiritual experience of it… of being held by the water and buoyed up in it, of having a glimpse of a different world under water. My favorite thing during the workout is to swim the first length of the pool all underwater, on only one breath. Sometimes I can swim back, doing a second length on a second breath. When I do, I feel my arms and legs screaming for oxygen. I know I’m alive.
But I must be honest with you. I didn’t start swimming as a spiritual practice. I did it because I was afraid that I would die of a heart attack at a young age, like my father. Just as when, during my 20s, I obsessively avoided salt and cholesterol, swimming laps was a fear-based habit and a fierce one, so I could stay alive. There are worse habits, aren’t there!
I’ve done my lap swimming at various YMCA facilities in the cities in which I’ve lived. Many private health clubs have pools, and they may have newer, bigger facilities, but I like supporting the Y’s mission of building strong kids, strong families and a strong community. I like seeing neighbors, kids and families taking care of their bodies and spirits, and taking care of one another. Furthermore, unlike many private clubs, the YMCA always has lifeguards to watch over us while we swim. Someday I might need one.
In my 20s and 30s, when I lived in Chicago, my habit was to stop off at the New City YMCA during my subway ride home from work. That Y was on the near north side, with towers of sad-looking public housing nearby in one direction and upscale condos, cafes and shopping centers in the other direction. At that younger age, I swam longer at a stretch than I do now, and more vigorously. I pushed myself.
In that YMCA, on the white cinderblock wall above and next to the pool, running its entire length, were painted graphics of dolphins and fish. And painted above them, in big block letters was this message: “God Loves Us!” (Exclamation point.) Perhaps it was intended for the kids from the public housing projects. Perhaps it was intended for all of us. Of course it was.
Sometimes, near the end of a workout, as I pushed myself to do a bit more, a bit faster, I’d look up and read those words. Then I would feel the energy of that affirmation in my legs and arms. I’d feel the love of life in my thumping heart, and in the breaths I was taking. God loves us! I am alive! I am so glad I can do this!
That message on the wall renewed my perspective on what I was doing. It was a reminder, a refresher. I was not only trying to forestall death by a heart attack. Not only trying to guarantee a longer life. I was alive. I was living, in that moment.
As Paige says, honoring the body, caring for the body, is honoring life.
Pain and Aging: Swimming Less
Unfortunately, in my late 30s and early 40s, I developed neck and shoulder pain while swimming. It hurt when I turned my head to breathe. For months I neglected it. I pushed on through, kept swimming. Finally the pain was sharp and chronic enough that I took several months off. After medical examinations, a cortisone injection and many treatments of physical therapy… not much progress. Finally an MRI scan showed that I have degenerative disc disease in my neck. So far I have avoided neck surgery. Since then I’ve managed my condition well enough to be able to swim. I now use a snorkel that goes right down the middle of my face, so I can breathe without turning my head. Also, I don’t swim for as long a session as I used to, or as vigorously. I take it more easily.
At some point in my life I may not be able to swim as much as I do now. At some point I may not be able to swim at all, or even make it to a YMCA or other location for exercise.
At my current YMCA, I’ve become friendly with several of the regular swimmers and other members and staffers. We chat and visit. Sometimes we notice when a fellow member no longer comes to exercise as often as before. Then we notice, they no longer come at all. Such a decline and loss of ability is natural, unfortunately. It’s inevitable for most of us. It can be frustrating, depressing, saddening, painful.
It is my hope, as I become less able to use my body in the years to come, that I will not hate it, but will remember to honor it in thought and word, and in whatever efforts I’m still able to make. Whatever happens, we can still honor the body that we were given. We can give thanks for it. The march of time, the wages of chance, the inequities and unfairness of the varying conditions of life on this earth—such things can reduce the options we have. Still, we can give thanks for this gift of the body. We can honor it. To care for the body is to care for the spirit.
The body is the vessel of our mind and spirit, our channel for the life force.
Our bodies and the breathing of our bodies connect us to all other beings, to all that is. Life is a gift, and so is the body. Let us be good stewards of this good gift. So may it be, blessed be, and amen.
A Benediction by Rev. Mark L. Belletini
Go in peace.
Live simply, gently, at home in yourselves.
Act justly. Speak justly.
Remember the depth of your own compassion.
Forget not your power in the days of your powerlessness.
Do not desire to be wealthier than your peers
and stint not your hand of charity.
Practice forbearance. Speak the truth, or speak not.
Take care of yourselves as bodies, for you are a good gift.
Crave peace for all people in the world, beginning with yourselves,
And go as you go with the dream of that peace alive in your heart.
–#686, Singing the Living Tradition
Filed under: Church Finances and Stewardship, Eating Mindfully and Sustainable Agriculture, Reflections, Stewardship & Finances | Tags: finances, generosity, gratuity, labor, money, servers, tipping, tips, travel
As I sat in my favorite pub, I contemplated whether to leave a generous tip or just an adequate one. “Would that extra dollar make more of a difference to the server, or to me?”
Summertime for many of us is a time of travel, dining out, recreation and entertainment. For many others, it’s a time for landing a seasonal job, or finding a few extra hours of work in a restaurant, motel, bar, or valet parking lot. Such extra work may help to feed the family, pay rent, cover medical costs, save up for school, or enjoy some recreation time.
Most of those venues do not pay much to their workers. Restaurant servers rely primarily on tips. A café of empty tables yields very small wages! Hotel maids clean and turn around rooms in 30 minutes, risking injury with heavy mattresses.
I admire the energy and hard work of people who give their time and talents in service to me and to others. I try to say “thank you” and show patience when it might help. I also try to leave a generous tip. In a motel I leave a couple of dollars on the bed every morning, unless I really have made a mess. I tip if someone carries my bags, but in the motels I use, that’s not likely.
The standard gratuity these days for restaurant meals is 15% of the total bill for adequate service, and 20-25% for very good service. (The total bill includes the tax.) For terrible service… talk to the manager.
My nephew Scott has worked in food service at various levels for over 10 years. I was amazed when he told me that dining patrons often leave without paying the tab! He also confirmed a newspaper article that said we should leave a tip in cash, as restaurants may not pass on the full amount of the tip to the server if it’s on a credit card.
Showing gratitude and generosity is a way to affirm and promote our sense of inter-dependence. It’s a good personal practice at any time, whether away on vacation or visiting local eateries. It’s good for our own spirits, and it makes the world a better place. Blessed be!
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Inspiration, Magazine & Newspaper Articles, Travels, UUA General Assemblies | Tags: spiritual but not religious, spiritual community, spiritual growth
At the June meetings of the UU Ministers’ Association, we had an entertaining and inspiring (as well as challenging) talk by the Rev. Lilian Daniel, a liberal Congregationalist minister from a Chicago suburb. Her somewhat snarky blog post of 2 years ago went viral. Her more recent book includes that but has a lot of other, more charming anecdotes and reflections about church community and the calling of parish ministry. Anyway, take a look:
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: church groundskeeping, Czech Unitarian, flower communion, gardening, nature, spiritual growth
Unitarian Universalist Society, June 2, 2013 Hymns:
#38, Morning Has Broken; #2, The Sweet June Days; #175, We Celebrate the Web of Life
Religious Education Volunteer Appreciation
Flower Communion (Flower Exchange Ritual)
Grasshopper Grounds-keeping Volunteers’
10 Year Anniversary Celebration
Writing in his journal in 1859, Henry David Thoreau says that “the mystery of the life of plants” is like the mystery of our own human lives. He cautions the scientist against trying to explain their growth “according to mechanical laws” or the way engineers might explain the machines that they make. There is a magic ingredient, to go along with air and sun, earth, water and nutrients. There is one part miracle to every living thing, he says. The force of life. A force we can feel and recognize, but cannot create or control.
For my birthday I received a planter from our Religious Education staff person, Miranda. To ensure its longevity I left it in her office, and it has flourished. But when she departed for two months in Ghana, a post-it note appeared on the planter: Roger, remember to water me.
I am not reliable around green things. I have nearly killed off a cactus—a small one I got last Christmas. I remember when I was little, in school, planting seeds in Dixie cups with dirt an inch deep. Watching the sprouts, helping them along; it was fun. Then, a few years later, a friend of the family helped me plant a garden in the back yard: green beans, tomatoes, onions. Delicious, for one or two summers.
But my horticultural karma was all downhill from there. In high school I mowed grass for a few neighbors and friends of my mom. One family had a large yard around their large house. They asked me to pull or cut out the weeds growing close to the house. This was before the days of the weed-whacker, which would have been fun to use. Using my bare hands—not fun. So I drizzled gasoline on the weeds near the outside walls, all the way around. Killed all their weeds. Filled the house with fumes, I found out later.
To the good fortune of the plant kingdom, in my adult life I’ve never had a yard or a garden, nearly always lived in an apartment. Here in the church’s community garden, which we call UURTHSONG, a few summers ago at lunchtime I helped myself to a few meals of tomatoes and chard, but I haven’t dared to plant a garden plot.
I know many of you garden, with lovely flowers and gorgeous vegetables. You have citrus and plum and fig trees and so many other kinds. Some of you are Master Gardeners. Some of you sell plants for a living, or you work in landscaping and grounds-keeping.
Some of you volunteer with plants, like our member Jerry, who spends many a weekday tending the flowerbeds and flowerpots here at the church. Some of you, like Nancy and Gail, give tours at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center on the American River Parkway, among other outdoor places. Annie and other UUSS Waterbugs tend our thirsty trees and bushes year after year.
As I noted, my experience with plants is questionable, so I can’t be sure what it’s like for people who put hour after hour into the lives of growing green things. But this is what it might be like. Planting, tending, watering, weeding, harvesting, transplanting… it involves a mix of your own physical power, and the patience to wait and see what happens. It calls for intention and effort, and then for humility.
One cannot bring plants into bloom, or force them to bear fruit. You have to learn enough to know when and where to plant them, how much water and fertilizer to give, how much to weed, when to prune or plow over, and of course you need to know what not to do.
You do your part, waiting, watching, tending. You wait on the force of life. You wait on a miracle, an everyday ordinary miracle. Seeing a vine crawl, blossoms yielding fruit, colors calling for bees and other pollinating insects. Miracles happen a lot. But we can’t make them happen. We can’t make life happen.
I wonder if this is a helpful way to think about our spirituality. There are new and modern resources for spiritual growth, and there are ancient practices. We can draw on all of them, of course. Yet the main ingredient is paying attention. Watching ourselves, noticing reactions, sensations, desires. Observing the world around us—the plants, the people, the traffic, the sunlight. Gently tending to the needs around us.
Perhaps we can think of spiritual growth from the perspective of a faithful gardener. Not a prizewinning perfectionist whose work is on the cover of a magazine. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I bet most of us aren’t up to that much effort in spiritual practice (or in gardening).
I’m thinking of a gardener like a humble companion, a curious visitor. As a humble gardener tending our own growth, we remember to check in with ourselves, on a regular basis. We notice the world around us. We tend our gardens. We wait in humility, and we remember to practice patience. We don’t worry about explaining too much, about figuring ourselves out, as if we were machines, predictable and controllable. We don’t try to fix, only to encourage, nurture, water and feed.
We can’t make plants grow, but we can help them, and watch the miracle happen. We can’t force ourselves to grow spiritually—and we certainly can’t make somebody else grow. But we can be present and attentive. Be intentional. Notice what might help, or ask. Practice a bit more patience.
Then, we can enjoy the results. We give thanks for what we are able to harvest, thanks for the results of our waiting and watching.
Give thanks for the ground of our being. And celebrate every ordinary miracle.
So may it be. Blessed be. Amen.
The Flower Communion
Speaking about enjoyment of the results of our work, the Unitarian Flower Communion is about sharing and enjoying flowers with others. Many of you brought fresh flowers and placed them up here in these vases. All of you will be invited to take a flower with you which someone else has given. Even if you didn’t know to bring a flower today, we have plenty to go around. Don’t be shy. Also called the Flower Celebration, this ritual was created 90 years ago in Prague, by a Czech minister and his wife, Norbert and Maja Capek. Born a Roman Catholic, he became a Baptist at age 18, and soon entered the ministry.
Norbert and the family came to the United States in 1914 and stayed for seven years. They joined the Unitarian church in Orange, New Jersey. In the 1920s the family returned home and built a Unitarian church in Prague. The church grew to have 3,000 members, and it helped other ones to start. Because Capek had many former Catholics, Protestants and Jews in this liberal movement, he wanted to create a ritual in which all members could participate without any reservations, in order to bind the members closer together in spirit and fellowship. They created the Flower Communion and began celebrating it every year on the first Sunday of June.
During the Nazi occupation, the Capek family became activists, and Norbert spoke out from the pulpit. In 1941, the Gestapo arrested Norbert and his daughter, Zora, who was 29. She was sentenced to a forced labor camp, and her father was executed in the Dachau concentration camp. After the war, Maja Capek moved to the United States, and she brought the Flower Communion with her. She introduced it at our church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Today on the first Sunday in June, we will celebrate this ritual.
Grasshopper Groundskeepers Appreciation
Rev. Roger Jones, Sunday, June 2, 2013
[last names omitted for the online/printed version]
Once upon a time in the history of this congregation, there was a budget shortfall. Imagine that! It was 10 years ago. As members conversed in the congregational budget meeting, David and Clair conceived a plan. The church could avoid paying $1,200 per month for lawn mowing and cleanup– if a volunteer group could answer the call to do the work.
These two began calling members and friends on the phone. They recruited five teams to be scheduled on a rotating basis, with four or five people on a team. This meant that each team would work less than once each month mowing and trimming.
Despite a few pitfalls, they persisted. Over the years, as many as 85 men and women have been part of these teams, keeping the campus tidy and saving the church lots of money. These happy and sweaty volunteers call themselves The Grasshoppers. In the early years, Carol made a logo for tee shirts.
Also involved back then… were Velma (of blessed memory), Aggie and Sally. Around the same time, Annie began the Waterbugs; these are the volunteers who water many of the plants on campus. In past years, the Grasshoppers and Waterbugs have been thanked with dinners hosted by volunteers, or catered, or held as potlucks. Nancy wrote a Grasshopper song to the tune of the Davy Crockett theme song. We’ll sing it after the service, out on the patio.
Please, everyone, join us after church for a slice of grasshopper cake. Don’t worry–it’s not made out of grasshoppers.
Now we honor those men and women who’ve been Grasshoppers for the full 10 years. These people were on the original teams, and they are still serving.
Jeff Dave Fred Pete Dick Clair
Delmar—He keeps the machinery operating.
John—He is the coordinator.
Sally— She is Scheduler in Chief.
After the service, you all can enjoy cake, look at our tractor, and give your thanks to our Grasshoppers. AND, yes, you CAN find out what it would mean to join a Grasshopper team or be a Waterbug. Maybe you’ll even sign up.
I believe that our oldest Grasshoppers are nearly 90, and our youngest Grasshopper is nearly 60. So think about it. We invite you to be part of this ministry. It’s a ministry of caring for our church grounds while making friends, building community and, of course… saving money, for important things, like dessert.
Last names of living people are omitted for the online version of this but spoken aloud.
Please join me now for a time of contemplation in community. You are invited to settle your bodies in your chair, feel your feet on the floor. Relax your eyes, or close them if you wish. Notice your breathing. A few times in this prayer I will invite you to speak the names of people, places or events on your heart, whether you whisper them to yourself our call them out so others may hear what you say.
Spirit of Life and Love, we give thanks for the gift of life, and this new day.
In this new month, let us greet each day with curiosity and practice patience with ourselves and with others. The sweet June days have come to us in this region with hot sun and gentle breezes. In other places, powerful winds or heavy rains have devastated neighborhoods and taken many lives. To those grieving and struggling in the wake of disaster, we send our prayers of care. We give thanks to those tending their needs with food, shelter, medical care and monetary help.
Let us remember the fragility of life on this planet, which we share with our human kin and other forms of life. Help us tend our home with care. We send prayers for peace around the globe, and out into our own cities and neighborhoods.
In this congregation, we extend our condolences to those living with loss. In early May, Delmar and Joan lost their son Scott, at age 49. He used to help his father maintain our mowing equipment. We give thanks for him and hold his family in our care.
At this time we may have other names on our hearts of those we have lost recently and those lost some time ago. Now into the space of our sanctuary, let us call out the names of those we mourn and remember. [Names spoken aloud.]
May their memory be a blessing.
We lift up those dealing with financial or health problems, chronic pain, loneliness, or uncertainty about the road ahead. There are people on our hearts who need good wishes, prayers, or gestures of care. Ruth is frail and receiving care at home. We send our love to Ruth. At this time we say the names of others we know, whether whispering to ourselves or speaking their names and needs aloud in the space of our sanctuary. [Names.]
May they feel encouraged in their struggles. May we find the courage to reach out and the grace to give the simple gift of listening.
We recognize, also, that life has its joyful milestones. Many of the younger people in our lives are celebrating commencements at all kinds of schools and at various levels. Let us mention aloud those who are graduating at this time. [Names.]
As our voices rise with joy, let us also remember those young people who struggle with school, those who face high barriers to achievement, those who are beset with addictions or other dangers to their well-being. May they find encouragement and healing. Let them all know: they are loved and worthy of love.
Others among us may be recognizing different celebrations and reasons for gratitude. Let us speak the names or events that give us good cheer into the space of our sanctuary at this time. [Names.] May another’s good news give to all of us cause for joy.
Spirit of Life and of Love, give us hearts full of gratitude, kindness and courage for the living of our days.
In the name of all that is holy and all that is human, blessed be. Amen
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Children and Youth, Church Finances and Stewardship, Special Events, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: annual report, congregational change, Congregational Meeting, minister, ministry
Unitarian Universalist Society May 19, 2013 Congregational Meeting
Report and Vision by Associate Minister Roger Jones
It was five years ago that I moved here to serve as Family Minister, on a year-to-year contract. It was just last September that you installed me as a settled Associate Minister, but that grand celebration now seems like ancient history. So much has happened this year. A few highlights: Doug’s announced retirement as Lead Minister, the architectural Master Plan adopted unanimously, the first capital giving campaign in a half-century, and the vote to authorize sale of some UUSS property and move assets toward our building renovation. Meanwhile, popular activities kept going strong, our staff worked hard to support us, and lay leaders devoted many meetings to deliberation and decision making. Babies have been born, friends moved away, and beloved members have died. These are all signs of a vital congregation. They also can bring on a bit of stress! Indeed, life here is full. I feel honored and blessed to be serving in ministry here.
Ministry in Time of Transition
As you may have read (or heard in Budget Discussions) the Board has invited me to serve as Acting Senior Minister for the next year. While I’m sad at losing Doug, and sobered by the big things ahead, I am honored to be able serve in this role. I pledge to do my best to make it an enriching year, building on our current momentum, learning as we go.
Of course, I’m disappointed that the proposed budget includes only ¾ of the ministerial positions we now have, with only a half-time assistant minister to be hired for next year. Yet I am hopeful that this is a temporary reduction during a lean time for UUSS. You have had two ministry positions for over 10 years, and it has made a difference in the program life and vitality of the Society. One may ask: Why have a minister rather than another administrative staffer? There is always more work to be done, for sure. More positions could be added or expanded, if the contributions and other funds were there.
The advantage of trained, ordained ministers is that they are familiar with congregational systems and able to navigate church cultures. Ministers must bring a holistic view of how the various parts link together. Ministers in congregations cannot hold rigidly to job descriptions. We are expected to be flexible with “other duties” as things emerge or shift in church life. We try to choose when a given moment calls for a pastoral response, an administrative one, or one that involves deeper learning and group discernment. I hope this makes sense, and invite you to let me know if questions remain for you.
Doug and I have worked hard these past years—long hours, but gratifying ones. Even so, we haven’t covered as many bases as we would like to. There’s so much going on in UUSS and in our members’ lives. The idea of putting all of this load on ONE minister is blood-curdling, especially if I would be that one person. Moreover, after a beloved pastor’s departure, there are some parts of traditional Interim Ministry work that need attention, even if a church is not hiring an interim minister. For example, many people will seek to express their grief over Doug’s absence and their longing for Doug’s particular gifts and style, and it helps to be able to tell a minister. It would be more compassionate to all involved to invite them to do such “processing” with a pastoral minister who is a newcomer, not the one who is here in his sixth year of ministry.
My Vision of Ministry in the Coming Fiscal Year
I would be the main preacher and pastoral care minister, manage music and RE staff and supervise the Assistant Minister. I’d provide primary oversight of most program committees, and I’d be the main link to the Board, Program Council and a few other groups. The Nominating Committee has sought my ideas and arm-twisting, for example.
The Assistant Minister (working about 25 hours a week) would participate in worship and would preach a few times in the coming year. The minister would provide pastoral care when invited by Members or Friends, or when I would not be available.
We need a minister with administrative experience and supervisory gifts, as she or he would supervise the administrative staff members (which I do now). And with such talents, the Assistant Minister would also be the main staff supporter for the Implementation Group in the coming year of construction planning, especially with logistics as we seek alternatives to the Main Hall for worship, office and meeting space. (Doug has been the lead minister to the Master Planning group for five years, and I have not had the time to do more than watch and cheer them on as they sped toward the congregation’s stated goal.) Activities in adult RE, child/youth RE, ministry groups, social action, etc., would be open for negotiation. All this would be subject to the half-time limit. Showing flexibility and engaging in continuous, reflective conversations will be essential to navigate and negotiate a collaborative ministry.
This is a tall order for a half-time minister–so imagine if I were facing all of it alone! I am a not a “lone ranger” minister, but a ministerial collaborator. I think it’s better when ministers can bounce ideas and impressions off each other. Just as I learn from and with talented lay leaders and various church staffers, I learn from ministers, as Doug and I have done these past five years. Moreover, over the years I have mentored several seminarians and new ministers. Working with a colleague brings out the best in me.
Child/Youth Religious Education
For three years, Miranda has managed more and more of our RE programs at UUSS. She supports our RE volunteer leaders, and she now recruits, hires and manages our Room 11 Nursery staff. I provide ministerial oversight to the program, help with trainings and recruiting volunteers, and make sure it is a visible, integrated part of the whole church. The proposed budget enlarges her weekly hours from 16 to 20, and it changes her title to RE Coordinator. Miranda provided the following statistics for this church year in RE:
- Room 11/Nursery and Storytime Sunday attendance: average 13, highest 23. Current staff: Beka and Annie. Champions: Amanda T. & Karen B. (Storytime)
- Spirit Play (grades 1-5) attendance: average 12, highest 17. Champions: Carolyn W. & Lee S.
- Junior High Youth Group attendance: average 10, highest 14. (2007-08 avg.: 2) Adult leaders: Ginny, Bruce, Damon, Denis, Karen W.
- Senior High Youth Group: average 6, highest 18.
Adult leaders: Tami, Yvonne, Dirk, Patricia, Christopher, & ministerial visits.
All our RE volunteers will be recognized in the June 2 service. UUSS is notable for a high proportion of RE volunteers who don’t have teens or kids in the RE program!
In addition to regular Sunday morning programs, UUSS has offered these programs:
*Our Whole Lives grades 4-5 and 10-11 (Leaders: Sally & David and Ron & Julie.)
*UU Chalice Camp (One week in summer. 2012 Director: Mary. 2013 Director: Matt)
*Parenting Group (started by Jessica & Megan). *Kids’ Freedom Club (Aliya & Roger)
*Sundays in the UUrthsong Community Garden (Glory, Keith, and several others)
*RE cannot take credit for Monthly Game Nights or the Holiday Party, but they were big successes. Likewise, the June All-Church Camp is a great cross-generational occasion!
Administrative and Custodial
For over six years, Michele has kept track of pledges, other monetary contributions and other sources income, prepared payroll and other expense payments, and provided monthly financial statements in support of our Treasurer and Finance Committee. She files employee benefit materials and does numerous other tasks.
For nearly two years, JoLane has facilitated most church communications, managed membership data, and promoted connections among visitors, volunteers, and our many committees and activities. For nearly two years, Elaine has been the first friendly voice people hear when they call the church; she also helps to link people to whom or what they are seeking. For over a year, Stanton has managed our church buildings, grounds, duplexes, and the room reservation system. He tends to the needs of outside renters and in-house users of UUSS rooms. He supervises four hardworking custodial/maintenance staffers and supports the Property Management Committee—all in 20 hours a week
We’ve had a year and a half of experience with our new structure and new staffers, as proposed by two business consultants. If you are a volunteer, you know we have a dedicated and hardworking staff of newer and longtime employees. If you have been attending church for several years, you know the facilities have never been cleaner.
Maintenance and upkeep are better, and this saves us money. We have better staff coverage for on-site events plus assigned staffers to lock up the buildings and set alarms at night. If levels of pledging to UUSS could increase enough, we would have the ability to grant raises to recognize exceptional service to the congregation. Meanwhile, please join me in showing your appreciation to our employees. With my pending shift to duties of the acting senior minister position in the coming fiscal year, direct supervision of these administrative staff teams would shift to the half-time Assistant Minister.
Membership Committee/Greeters/Newcomers’ Orientations
Our volunteers welcome new visitors every Sunday of the year. When I came in 2008 we had several ushers, but just one guy making coffee and no more than two actual committee members. Now we have an enormous hospitality team and a smooth system to help everyone feel welcomed and valued and caffeinated. Our Congregational Support Coordinator and Receptionist now handle the organizing, and volunteers provide the food for our quarterly Newcomers’ Orientations to Membership (average attendance 20).
With the added help of a seminary intern a few years ago, we jump-started this committee and it’s become an amazing part of our church. We have more activities going on here during the week than even the most energetic person would have time to attend. Every Sunday in Connection Central, volunteers from the AE Committee spread a banquet of opportunities for enrichment and community building. It’s a joy to work with them!
I’ve been able to return from my Tuesday day-off in time to meet with the Religious Services Committee a few more times this year than last. Their commitment to depth in our worship services is gratifying. I look forward to meeting regularly with them in the coming church year and to having a more frequent preaching rhythm in my new role. With regard to diversity, I’m pleased to say that I recommended or suggested most of our guest speakers this year, nearly all seminarians or ministers of color or women ministers. The world around us is amazingly diverse, and UU values appeal to people across differences of culture, ethnicity, and age. Hence, I hope we will continue having a diversity of styles, voices and faces in our preaching and music life. This is just one part of raising our awareness of what an inclusive and multi-cultural commitment entails.
I could say more but will close by saying that I love UUSS and I love serving with you. It’s an amazing congregation, with great accomplishments and great potential. Thanks!
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, Stewardship & Finances | Tags: church financial crisis, church life, fundraising, generosity, revenue shortfall, stewardship
This letter arrived in the email in-boxes of members and friends and, for those who don’t use email, in US Mail boxes a few weeks ago. I am so grateful for the leadership of our Board of Trustees and the loyalty and spirit of our congregation! Don’t miss the May 19 congregational meeting!
Dear Fellow Members and Friends,
What a year this has been. We’ve had great challenges and great successes. We’re transitioning smoothly toward Doug’s retirement, and have adequately funded the first phase of our building project because of your amazing generosity. However, the building funding and our annual operating budget are two completely different items. Funds for the building project are totally separate from our yearly budget, and, unfortunately, this year our pledges for next year’s expenses are significantly down. We need one more success.
Right now, we have pledges amounting to about $411,000 for the 2013-2014 year, which is about $50,000 less than what we pledged for the 2012/13 year. That is a huge difference, and it will affect all of our staff and programs. In addition to the pledge income being down, allowing our building project to move forward means that we will lose income from some of our investments and from the duplexes. We will also lose rental income from the main hall during the construction process.
The Board has already taken steps to curb our expenses for our next fiscal year. We are now working with a budget that will cut our ministerial staff to 1.5 ministers instead of the two ministers that we have enjoyed for many years. We are also looking at additional options to reduce staffing, such as cuts to custodial and other staff hours, and possible cuts to the present music program, including having an accompanist only occasionally. Not funding our UUA/PCD dues fully is also under consideration. These are drastic measures that would have long-range effects.
So, we have some hard choices to make. Having less ministerial presence and support will affect all programs offered at UUSS. Reducing staff would have a similar effect. Not paying our UUA & PCD dues would leave us without denominational support in this time of great change. We would cheat ourselves and our denomination.
Here are two possible ways that you can help:
- Please think of these cuts and reconsider your current pledge to UUSS. If you feel that you are in a position to dig more deeply, please increase your pledge.
- Give a one-time additional donation to supplement your pledge.
If either of these options works for you, please contact our Bookkeeper, …..
or speak to any Board member.
As always, thank you for being a member of our UUSS community. You are our most valuable asset and together we will successfully solve this problem.
President, Board of Trustees
PS from Rev. Roger: To download or look at the Pledge Commitment Form for the 2013-14 budget year (which is what Janet is writing about), click here.
Filed under: Advice, Books (includes sermons based on books), Family Ministry, Inspiration, Sermon Archives and Excerpts | Tags: Brene Brown, compassion, courage, Daring Greatly, resilience, sermon series, shame, unitarian sermon, UU sermon, vulnerability
Rev. Roger Jones, Associate Minister
Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento
With Spoken Word Artist Mahsea Evans
Hymns: from Singing the Journey: Comfort Me; from Las Voces del Camino: Ven, Espiritu de Amor; from Singing the Living Tradition: #108, How Can I Keep from Singing?; #151, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.
Pastoral Prayer: printed after the sermon
Imagine that you are at a weekend art fair, and you are one of those artists or craftspeople sitting by their creations, sitting in a tent as folks wander in and out. You’ve put your talents and time and soul into the work. Strangers come in, glance around, look bored and walk out. Others grimace. Some complain about the prices. What’s it like to go through this? Probably a different experience for every artist.
Of course it can be reassuring when you have a deep conversation with a visitor intrigued by your work—and even better when you sell something. Yet your success is not in your sales or your status, it’s in the fact that you put yourself out there.
In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown asserts that engaging vulnerability is the key to personal growth–stretching your comfort zones, daring to show who you are. Being authentic is the key to living “a Wholehearted life.”
Brown advises, however, that being vulnerable does not mean letting it all hang out or “over-sharing.” It means choosing when to “go out on a limb,” and with whom. It means having a support system in place when you take a risk. Being vulnerable feels uncomfortable, but to those around us, it looks like courage.
Yet shame hinders our courage. Shame gets in the way of growth.
Shame is the fearful feeling that you are not good enough: not worthy of acceptance, belonging, or love. Feeling shame is not the same as feeling guilt. Guilt is the regret you feel when you have made a mistake, let others down, let yourself down, broken the law, or broken a vow.
Guilt is when you say: “I am not the kind of person who wants to hurt others. I’m sorry.”
Shame says: “I’m a sorry excuse for a human being.” With shame, we take any mistake or imperfection to tell ourselves that we are worthless. Or to tell others that they are worthless. Indeed, shame is a tragic weapon that we too often use on one another.
Shame is a bad idea and a bad habit. Having studied vulnerability, shame and courage for 12 years, Brown says: “There are no data to support [the idea] that shame is a helpful [guide] for good behavior.” From this misunderstanding of shame comes the humor in a legendary cartoon of a sign posted in an abusive workplace: “The floggings will continue until morale improves.”
Historically, our liberal faith was a spiritual assault on shame. Against the idea of innate human depravity, early Unitarians argued that human beings are capable of making better choices as well as bad ones. We are able to grow in character and virtue. The Unitarians said no better example exists than Jesus of Nazareth, a fully human teacher, healer and prophet. His life shows our human potential and our worth. The first Universalists preached a compatible message. They proclaimed that our worth came from a loving God. Their creator was not a judge or tyrant, but an accepting divine parent. God is love, they cheered. You are loved. No matter what mistakes you make, you are called back to love. Their answer to shame was to celebrate the love that will not let us go. You are held in love.
Given our theological heritage, it would be nice to say that by entering this congregation, all our shame-based habits would melt away. It would be great if by setting foot in this place, our self-acceptance and our acceptance of others would rise in the heart. Shame would vanish! It would be nice, but even our loud and proud human-affirming heritage is not a silver bullet for shame.
Brown says shame is part of our survival instinct. Part of our fight-or-flight mechanism. Sadly, neither fighting nor fleeing is useful for building connections with others. Fight or flight will not help us reason our way out of challenging situations. When shame attacks, it can feel deep inside like a matter of survival. Yet Brown urges us to move from just surviving toward living “a Whole-hearted life.”
Human beings are hard-wired for connecting with others, Brown says. Yet shame blocks us from having true connections. It’s frustrating. When I engage from a place of protectiveness, I can’t respond with my best self. If I react out of hurt, it’s not a productive conversation. Sometimes when another person and I are talking about something of importance, I want to shout: “I can’t have a conversation with you while you are listening to that voice in your head saying that you’re no good! Stop listening to it! What want is an open talk, just the two of us.”
One reason shame can block us is that shame is pain. It is an emotional and physical feeling. I wince when shame hits. I feel a flash of heat in my temples, a narrowing of my field of vision. A memorable experience was my first outing to learn how to water ski. I wasn’t a kid; I was 30. I was out on a lake with a person I was dating and people I didn’t know very well. Self-conscious, I felt inept around this boisterous bunch of experienced waters skiers. I tried several times to get up on the skis. Every time, I splashed and sank into the lake. They assured me that it can take many tries to learn how to stay up. I didn’t have it in me. Every time I splashed into the water, I felt a burning tightness in my gut. It was the pain of shame. It was irrational, but it was real.
Brown explains that we try to shield ourselves from shame in a number of ways. They are all self-defeating. One shame-shielding tactic is avoidance. After I got out of the water, I didn’t try to skiing again the rest of the day. I didn’t try it for years! Another time, I took offense at something a relative said, and I pulled away. Steered clear.
Another shame shield is to numb our feelings. We numb our anxiety with alcohol, tobacco, prescription and other drugs. Or we stay “crazy busy,” with never a moment’s rest or a time of reflection. But even if these tactics take the edge off our anxiety, they also block experiences of connection. Numbing dulls our good feelings too–our “joy, belonging, … and empathy” (312).
Another shame-shield is the addiction of perfectionism. This is the drive to do everything without flaws. “If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can … minimize the pain… of judgment and blame,” Brown says.
Yet there is no “perfect.” To live as if there were is exhausting. Perfectionism crushes creativity; if we imagine a perfect outcome and fear we can’t achieve it, why even try? Perfectionism is not a cure for shame, Brown says. It’s a form of shame (131).
Other shame-shielding behaviors include hyper-criticism and shaming of other people. If we are harsh toward others, it’s a good bet that deep inside we are too hard on ourselves, too worried about our own worth. Brown says that our level of acceptance and regard for others will be no better than our own self-acceptance.
A poignant example is that of parenting. To parent a child is to expose oneself to doubt, uncertainty, mistakes, and the scrutiny of others. Parenting is a minefield of shame, Brown says. So much is riding on it: our kids’ success and their very survival. So many parents feel that every step along the way of a kid’s life, every ability, disability, success or setback is a reflection of their own human worth. Too many of us are quick to scowl or scold parents about how they deal with children. Even if we don’t have kids, if we feel anxious about our own lives, pointing at others is a way to direct attention away from ourselves. Yet this merely builds a wall. Instead of isolating ourselves, how much better if we can come together in kindness! How much better if we can show compassion and empathy—to ourselves and others!
Shame-shields don’t work. Avoidance, self-numbing, perfectionism, judgmentalism. They only keep us apart. Living a wholehearted life takes being connected, being real with one another. But shame is real. And it hurts. So what’s the answer?
The answer to shame is the life-long work of building shame resilience. Resilience means getting back up, embracing life again. Shame resilience means being able to go through feelings of shame with awareness and with a choice about how to respond.
Brown outlines a number of the elements of shame resilience. One is to recognize shame, and learn its “triggers” for us. Brown has a mantra when she feels a shame attack. She says the word pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. She says it over and over, to see the pain and recognize the shame. She asks herself, and she asks us: “Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grip of shame, feel your way thorough it?” (75)
After we see the shame attack, Brown invites us to reflect, try to “figure out what messages and expectations triggered” it (75). We can do a reality-check on the messages we’re hearing. We can examine the expectations that are driving our shame. Are these expectations “what you think others … want from you?” Are these expectations achievable? Attainable? Realistic? Are you measuring your worth by comparing yourself to others? Are you listening to toxic voices in your head?
Another key to building resilience to shame is to talk about it. Shame “derives its power from being unspeakable…. [It’s] so easy to keep us quiet,” Brown says. Don’t let it get away with doing its dirty work in the silence. If we practice noticing it, naming our shame, even speaking to it, “It begins to wither” (67). Its grip loosens.
Another key to resilience is to speak to ourselves with kindness. When looking at our painful moments of shame, we can try to use compassion. It is a practice we can learn. It matters how we talk to ourselves.
If you are that artist sitting in a tent at an art fair, selling your creations, Brown says, you can remind yourself: “You are far more than a painting.” Money and fame are nice, but they are not a reflection on your worth. Whoever we are, we can remind ourselves that our human worth does not rely on the appraisal of others.
Brown has learned, she says, to “talk to myself the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I’m trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown.” For example, say to yourself: “You’re okay. You’re human—we all make mistakes.” “I’m here for you.”
We can choose whether to follow the toxic voices that plague us, or we can respond with kindness and reassurance.
A friend of mine is the mother of two kids in elementary school. She told me this:
The spiritual challenge of parenting
– for me — is both to be present (which means that I’m not multi-tasking when I’ve given my kids indications that I’m listening to them) and also to be aware of my own emotions and psychological state. Sometimes I’ve yelled or been dismissive to my kids out of my own frustrations, my own sadness, my own anger about other things. And then I feel crappy. And sometimes that’s shameful feeling “What a bad parent you are!”
And of course, I’m not a “bad” parent. But it’s not the parent that I’d LIKE to be. It’s been meaningful to apologize to my kids and say something like “I’m really sorry that I acted so angry at you when you wouldn’t come to the table. I do need you to help the family and come to dinner when someone calls you, but I wish I’d used a different tone.”
So I get to apologize, my children (hopefully) get to witness an adult making a poor choice and making amends, and the family covenant is re-affirmed. Everyone gets to start anew.
Cultivating a sense of humor also builds resilience. Laugh about your imperfections, and you’ll never run out of material. The 20th century cartoon character Pogo—an opossum living in a southern swamp—said this: “We have faults which we have hardly used yet!”
But if the pain we feel is too strong at first for a laugh, we can start with breathing. Take a breath, give yourself a breath. Breathing can calm us, and give us moments to try out a new perspective on the shame. Breathing is a good start.
When we have the urge to hide, avoid, or numb our distress and anxiety, we must reach out to others. Of course, this calls for courage. It means asking for support from those we can count on, from those who can earn the privilege to know our vulnerability, those who love us in all of our imperfect human packaging. Resilience means knowing when we need support, and reaching out.
Back in my twenties I volunteered for a city council election campaign when I was living in Springfield, Illinois. My candidate was a woman small business owner, an upstart running against a candidate backed by a political machine. A doomed campaign, but such hopes we had! One sunny afternoon I was walking door to door with campaign flyers. Once I knocked and a lady opened the door. No sooner did I say hello and my name and my candidate’s name, and … SLAM! In my face! Just like in the movies. Stunned and hurt, I stumbled along the sidewalk. Perhaps this is why campaign volunteers now seem to walk precincts in pairs–for moral support. Yet I was by myself. How could I keep going? No cell phones back then, no way to call a team captain or friend. I thought of going home.
Instead, for my next stop, I chose to knock on the door of a house where my own candidate’s yard sign was displayed. The door opened, and I got a cheerful response. I told this lady about the door-slamming, and about my shock. She commiserated. She thanked me. She cheered me on. I had followed the impulse to reach out, and I was grateful.
Now, so many years later, I count on friends, mentors, and colleagues to listen to me through times of self-doubt or pain, to cheer me through my failures and setbacks. I started learning how to build this kind of support when I was a brand-new church-going Unitarian Universalist. In our UU congregations, I envision opportunities to practice resilience with one another, to cheer each other on. I can hear the invitations to share compassion, empathy, tears and laughter.
We can reach out. We can practice resilience together.
We hear the message: “You are more than your performance, your appearance, your job or lack of one, your mistakes and missteps.”
We hear: “You are not alone!” We say it: “You are not alone!”
This is our heritage. This is our message: You are worthy of acceptance and care. You are all right! You deserve joy! You are loved.
We are loved. We belong. We belong here, on this earthly home. We belong together, in this human family.
Let us Practice Resilience.
When we overcome separation, we are healing. When we practice patience with ourselves and with others, we are making peace. When we show compassion for ourselves and for others, we are finding liberation. So may it be. Amen.
Last names of living people are omitted for online/printed versions.
Breath of Life, Spirit of Love, we give thanks for the gift of life, and the gift of this new day. We give thanks for the world we share with human our kin and other forms of life. Our planet is fragile as well as resilient. Help us tend our home with care.
On this day, wars and rumors of war tear apart our human family together. We send prayers for peace around the globe: the Korean peninsula, the Middle East, and our own cities and neighborhoods. We remember the Holocaust on this day, which is Yom Hashoah. We celebrate the courage of women and girls around the globe who insist on their education and their dignity in the face of hostility. We celebrate the poets, artists, writers and journalists who express themselves, seek truth, and speak their own truths.
In this congregation, we extend our condolences to those living with loss. Linda’s sister Mary died from a head injury sustained in a fall while on vacation. We send our love to her family. Taylor’s father passed away last week. We extend our sympathy to Taylor and to his sons on the loss of their grandfather. Our longtime friend Leon Lefson passed away this past week. We give thanks for his long and active life, and we mourn his passing. We extend our condolences to those among us who have lost their beloved pets recently: Denis, Karen and family on the loss of their dog, and JoLane and her sons on the loss of their dog.
At this time we have other names on our hearts of those we have lost recently and those lost some time ago. Now into the space of our sanctuary, let us call out the names of those we mourn and remember.
May their memory be a blessing.
We lift up and extend our hope to those dealing with financial troubles, a health crisis, chronic pain, isolation and loneliness, and uncertainty about the road ahead. In particular, we extend our love and care to Anne, recovering now from pneumonia. To Jeane, in treatment for a blood infection. To Barbara, in the ICU at Kaiser with liver complications. There are other people on our hearts who need good wishes, prayers, or gestures of care. At this time we say their names, whether whispering to ourselves or speaking their names and needs aloud in the space of our sanctuary. May we find the courage to reach out. May we find the grace to listen and give the gift of our simple presence.
We recognize that life has its joyful milestones and reasons for celebration as well. Today we celebrate our Junior High Youth Group and adult volunteers on their field trip, as they visit local sites to learn about our Unitarian Universalist heritage in Sacramento. We celebrate our Parenting Group, Alliance Program, Games Night, and all the activities by which we create community. We congratulate Maxine and Bob, marking 60 years of marriage this coming week, and sharing a cake with us next Sunday. At this time let us say the names or events that give us gratitude and good cheer. Let us speak them into the space of our sanctuary. May another’s good news give to all of us cause for joy.
Spirit of Love, give us hearts full of gratitude, kindness and courage for the living of our days. In the name of all that is holy and all that is human, blessed be. Amen.
 Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, by Brene Brown, Ph. D, M.S.W. Gotham Books, 2012. All page number citations refer to this edition.
Filed under: Prayer, Rituals, Prayers, Elements of Worship Services | Tags: in memory, prayer, public prayer, UU church service
[Last names of living people are omitted for the online version of this but spoken aloud.]
Breath of Life, Spirit of Love, we give thanks for the gift of life, and the gift of this new day. We give thanks for the world we share with human our kin and other forms of life. Our planet is fragile as well as resilient. Help us tend our home with care. On this day, wars and rumors of war tear apart our human family together. We send prayers for peace around the globe: the Korean peninsula, the Middle East, and our own cities and neighborhoods. We remember the Holocaust on this day, which is Yom Hashoah. We celebrate the courage of women and girls around the globe who insist on their education and their dignity in the face of hostility. We celebrate the poets, artists, writers and journalists who express themselves, seek truth, and speak their own truths.
In this congregation, we extend our condolences to those living with loss. Linda’s sister Mary died from a head injury sustained in a fall while on vacation. We send our love to her family. Taylor’s father passed away last week. We extend our sympathy to Taylor and to his sons on the loss of their grandfather. Our longtime friend Leon Lefson passed away this past week. We give thanks for his long and active life, and we mourn his passing. We extend our condolences to those among us who have lost their beloved pets recently: Denis, Karen and family on the loss of their dog, and JoLane and her sons on the loss of their dog.
At this time we have other names on our hearts of those we have lost recently and those lost some time ago. Now into the space of our sanctuary, let us call out the names of those we mourn and remember.
May their memory be a blessing.
We lift up and extend our hope to those dealing with financial troubles, a health crisis, chronic pain, isolation and loneliness, and uncertainty about the road ahead. In particular, we extend our love and care to Anne, recovering now from pneumonia. To Jeane, in treatment for a blood infection. Barbara, in the ICU at Kaiser with liver complications. There are other people on our hearts who need good wishes, prayers, or gestures of care. At this time we say their names, whether whispering to ourselves or speaking their names and needs aloud in the space of our sanctuary.
My we find the courage to reach out. May we find the grace to listen and give the gift of our simple presence.
We recognize that life has its joyful milestones and reasons for celebration as well. Today we celebrate our Junior High Youth Group and adult volunteers on their field trip, as they visit local sites to learn about our Unitarian Universalist heritage in Sacramento. We celebrate our Parenting Group, Alliance Program, Games Night, and all the activities by which we create community. We congratulate Maxine and Bob, marking 60 years of marriage this coming week, and sharing a cake with us next Sunday. At this time let us say the names or events that give us gratitude and good cheer. Let us speak them into the space of our sanctuary.
May another’s good news give to all of us cause for joy.
Spirit of Love, give us hearts full of gratitude, kindness and courage for the living of our days. In the name of all that is holy and all that is human, blessed be. Amen
This is one of three member testimonies about personal passion from a recent service where I was the preacher.
I’m 15 years old and spending my lunch period in my history teacher’s classroom. His name was Greg Parker, and this is where all the kids went who didn’t think it was a good idea to have their lunches devoured by hungry, ravenous gulls. I’m playing chess, I had since made a habit of playing chess for money. I slide my queen to H8 and that’s checkmate. My opponent has nowhere else to go, and I have a free lunch coming my way, free french fries always taste better. But today, I received an important lesson about the importance of a subject that I would’ve otherwise thought worthless, and by extension the whole of my education. Mr. Parker comes up to me, and says “Mr. Brady, I know you don’t have a very high opinion of history, most kids your age don’t. But you’re bright kid, so I’m going to to tell you something, the reason we study things like math and history, even though we may not use them directly, is so that we can look at the patterns of the past and the present and have a better idea of what we should do about them.
It’s been roughly 14 years since that day, and I’d like to think that that day played a significant role in me becoming the best under credentialed tutor in the humanities you can find. I work with kids and people going through lower division undergrad work in college, I tutor in Spanish, English, American government, and when I’m feeling adventurous maybe even some mathematics. My work on the fringes of education has taught me that patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity, and one that I admittedly find myself in short supply of at times.
But being a tutor means you are in a constant state of learning, you can never allow your knowledge to become stale and it forces you to always see things from someone’s perspective other than your own. That’s what it’s done for me, it’s helped me realize that I can’t unknow what I’ve learned, and when I’m able to see things from perspectives other than my own, as I so often tell my students is necessary, I’ve come to understand that compassion is the most fruitful byproduct of education. And it’s the greatest gift I can give any student; the ability to see in themselves the interlocking of each of these subjects that he or she may be studying, and how it leads to a broader sense of empathy for both them and me. And it’s through this work that I’ve come to realize that education is the gateway to compassion, the building of a global spiritual community, and as someone else much smarter than I once said, the highest form of human wisdom. Thank you.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, Inspiration, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: financial stewardship, generosity, James Reeb, pledge testimonial, stewardship
UU Society of Sacramento, CA. Given by the Rev. Vail Weller, Guest Preacher, Special Assistant to the President for Major Gifts, Unitarian Universalist Association.
The bike I choose for my daughter’s 6th birthday is purple and glittery with butterflies on it. I sort of wish that mine looked like that, but in any case. She has outgrown her older bike, it was time for a new one, and so I pick out this purple glittery bike and present it to her on her birthday. She is very excited to receive it…that is, until we go outside the next day to go for a ride. That’s when she discovers it is bigger…much bigger than her old one was. She is afraid. “I don’t want to ride it. I don’t want to ride!” We reassure her that riding it is the same as riding her old one, and that this one is better suited to her size. After all, she has grown and is now a big girl, and this is a big person’s bike. “I don’t want to. I don’t think I can!” But we reassure her, and remind her she already knows how to ride. She is very leery, but with wide eyes, she gets on and wobbles into a starting position.
At first, we guide her, walking beside her with a hand on her back to help her feel our presence and to know she is not alone. And so she rides. Nervously. But she rides. Then, life gets a bit busy, and we don’t go out on the bike again for quite a while.
Many weeks pass. A beautiful day dawns. I suggest a ride. She is as nervous as if she had never ridden the big bike before. I remind her of how big she has gotten, and assure her that it will be even easier this time. She moans. She groans. But all the while she is getting on her jacket and making her way out to the bike. She does really want to try again. She does really want to ride.
And it’s like magic. She *has* grown, remarkably. She *does* remember how to ride it, and much better than before. She rides along, now bravely turning and even going down hills. She is beaming brightly, sooo proud, feeling her own growth and maturity.
There is no way to learn how to ride a bike other than to do it. Reading the owner’s manual will not teach you how to ride. You just have to climb on and try. You will likely fall a few times when you are new at it, and it is tempting to give up at that stage. But if you persevere, you will be rewarded by actually learning to ride the bike.
There is a joke told about Unitarian Universalists – perhaps you have heard it. Outside the pearly gates, there are two signs. One says “heaven” and points that way, and the other says “discussion about heaven” and points the other way. The joke is that the Unitarian Universalists will choose the discussion of heaven rather than the real thing, every time.
This joke really does point to something true about us! We like to think about ideas. We like to learn. We like to discuss (and it’s true, we even like to debate). But the point of the religious life is not to learn about being kind; it is to BE kind. The point of the religious life is not to intellectually consider theories of love; it is to BE loving.
The point of the religious life is not to read about being generous; it is to BE generous. But, like riding a bicycle, we cannot read a manual and “get it” – in other words, we don’t learn to be generous by learning about it in theory. We learn how to be generous by doing it, in practice. The only way to “get it” is to do it, to be generous.
How is it that we, who have so much, can act as if we have so little when it comes to giving? We live in a culture, of course, which tells us that we can never have enough. That we can never KEEP enough. But the goal of religious life, as all of the sages have told us through history, is to experience an unclenching of the fist, an unlocking of the heart, an opening of the hand, to share. There are many ways to practice the art of generosity.
Be generous with your attention. If you are busy making dinner and your child is trying to talk with you, pause from the cooking and turn to your child as if they are the most important person in the world and listen for 3 minutes. Or when you are standing in the airport, put down your phone, and look around you. Make contact with the real live human beings all around you. Give the gift of your presence.
Be generous with your spirit. When the temptation arises to be angry, or stay angry, with a co-worker, a friend, or a family member, experiment with stepping out of the emotional stream. Cultivate a sense of compassion for them, and for yourself. You are both sacred beings, sometimes wounded, but always precious. Gift the gift of softening your own heart.
Give the gift of your money. I invite you to do something uncharacteristically generous this week. If you go out for lunch after church on your way home, leave an extra-generous tip. The point of this experiment is to do much more than you would ordinarily. See how it feels. Buy a co-worker’s lunch. Pay for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop and leave without them knowing you did so. Again, give with a level of uncharacteristic abundance. See how it feels.
Find ways to practice the art of generosity. These are practices which will nourish your spirit. The poet Maya Angelou says, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”
In Northeastern India, we have a huge number of Unitarian churches. In this very humble setting, they have found a way to support the church financially that is quite inspiring. Before cooking each meal, a handful of rice is put aside. At the end of each month, a representative from the Unitarian Women’s group visits each Unitarian home, and collects the gathered rice, which is then sold.
(75% of the money from the rice collected goes to support the local church, and 25% to support the national Unitarian body, the equivalent of the Unitarian Universalist Association.) If each household had been asked for money, they would have struggled. Yet we all have something to give. Carley Lyngdoh, the (former) General Secretary of the Unitarian Union NE India says: “Even the poorest families feel proud that they [can] offer something out of their daily food to the works of God.”
The villagers in North Eastern India surely don’t have much disposable income. They have far, far less than we do, of that I am sure.
And yet, even in the most humble of circumstances, they take a scoop of rice out first, before feeding their own family, to support the faith movement that has enriched their lives. “Even the poorest families feel proud that they [can] offer something out of their daily food to the works of God.” Can you even imagine giving that generously? I am still working with this one. Recently, I had cause to stop and think about it, and I realized that I have never felt my heart so opened that I have given from the core of my being, and not just from the cream on top, and I am the poorer for it. I think we have a lot to learn from the level of generosity practiced by our Unitarian friends in NE India.
(An aside: Did you know that statistically speaking, Unitarian Universalists are the second-highest earning religious group? That is statistically, now. And do you know where we fall compared to other religious folks in terms of our giving to support our own faith? Want to guess? DEAD LAST. We can do better. We must do better.)
When I served as parish minister in San Mateo, California, we had a partner church in the Philippines, and I was fortunate enough to travel there to visit.
You can’t imagine a more rural setting. In the village, there is no running water, no electricity, no passable road. There are no diapers for babies. I also visited the Unitarian Universalist congregation that meets in the slum area of Manila. The setting there is anything but rural, but the poverty is just as extreme. When I met with both of these groups to worship, we sang Spirit of Life, listened to prayers and a sermon, and when the time came for the offering to be taken, every person present put money in the plate. Every person! I wondered what they were doing without in order to support the church. And I also realized how much it meant to them to be able to give. They gave joyfully, and proudly. Giving is part of the way they express their faithfulness, open-heartedly enriching the spiritual community that nourishes them.
Theologically, the Unitarian Universalist church of the Philippines brings freedom in an overwhelmingly catholic culture. Our Universalist strain which historically emphasized the love of God is mostly what I heard preached on in the Philippines.
I understand that living in a harsh reality with the constant presence of violence and poverty must make the presence of a loving god extraordinarily welcome. The local church also provides learning for their children, character education in the form of teachings based on our principles, and food. The church in our village runs a meal program, which ensures that the people in the village – not just the church families but all families – eat a nutritious hot meal once a week. Their bodies and spirits are nourished, and they give of their abundance, truly generously. Our Unitarian Universalist friends in the Philippines are great teachers for us.
My colleague Rev. David Usher told me about when he was sent by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists to visit with the UU group in Kenya, Africa.
(When a group somewhere in the world discovers Unitarian Universalism, and goes far enough into our tradition to want to actually affiliate and call itself Unitarian Universalist, the ICUU sends someone to meet with them, to help them with leadership development, get to know them, and generally help them to learn more about what it means to be Unitarian Universalist.)
These folks discovered our faith within the last four or five years. They were nearly all unemployed or just scraping by. They are on fire about Unitarian Universalism! They are so excited that they are free to believe what they believe, and not be told what they have to believe. They can be fully who they are. It is life-giving, life-affirming, live-saving for them. They are on fire! They want everyone in Africa to know about this faith they have found, and they are doing their best to spread it, as evangelism comes naturally to them and (again) is culturally expected. In Kenya, religion is central to the culture.
It is core to their identity as Unitarian Universalists to do for others. They run schools, orphanages, cottage industries of all kinds, micro-lending groups. Again, let me repeat, they are all nearly unemployed or just barely scraping by. And these justice and outreach efforts are not “in addition” to whatever else they do, it is absolutely core to their identity.
Rev. Usher confessed to me that he felt embarrassed when they had asked him how many members he had in his local church, how many social justice projects they ran, how much money they gave to the local church – not because his congregation wasn’t doing anything, but they were much much larger than the Kenya group, and their tangible service to the world didn’t hold a candle to what the Kenyan Unitarians were accomplishing. He came home from that trip realizing that while ICUU had sent him to help the Kenyans learn more about what it meant to be Unitarian Universalist, they had actually been the ones who had been teaching him. (I love stories like that, when our expectations are turned on their heads.) The Unitarian Universalists in Kenya are great teachers for us.
David Bumbaugh is Professor of Ministry at Meadville Lombard Theological School and Minister Emeritus, the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ, and he writes about the invitation that Martin Luther King, Junior had sent out to clergy, asking them to come to Selma, Alabama to help with voting rights.
“I did not for a moment believe he meant me,” Bumbaugh writes.
It never occurred to me that an invitation to the clergy to come to Selma meant me, too. I did not go.
Then came the terrible news that James Reeb, one of our Unitarian Universalist ministers who did respond to that call, had been clubbed to death in the streets of Selma. Another call went out—this time from the Unitarian Universalist Association, urging as many ministers as possible to go to Alabama for the last stages of the march from Selma to Montgomery. I read the call, but once more, it never occurred to me that I was included.
The next Sunday, as I was about to enter the sanctuary, two members of my congregation stopped me and asked if I was going to Alabama. I must have looked very confused. I explained that we had a small child and another child on the way, and I really did not have the money to spend on a plane ticket, and…. They interrupted my ramblings to say, “We have the plane ticket; will you use it?” And suddenly I knew that all the sermons I had ever preached, and all the sermons I would ever preach, would be hollow and empty unless I walked through the door they had just opened for me. And so I went to Alabama.
Isn’t it true that we live like this, so often? While hearing the latest news about global warming, we think to ourselves, “Someone should do something about that!” When we are reminded of an injustice, we think, “Someone should do something about that!” When pledge season rolls around and we hear that the church is asking for generous support, we think, “Yes. Yes!” But I am not sure that our agreement always translates into our own generous giving.
My ministry now focuses on Stewardship and Development. I travel around the country and meet with generous, committed Unitarian Universalists to help their dreams come true.
When people have resources to give, and they care a great deal about our faith, they WANT to use their money to support their highest values. People assume this is unpleasant work. Nothing could be further from the truth! I have found that people love to give to something that they care a lot about. When pledge time rolls around, we are invited to give out of our core, to reflect on how central the community is in our lives. Then we are asked to stretch – to be truly generous – to pledge from the heart, to match the place the church and the faith have in our lives.
It is not a coincidence that I am involved in stewardship ministry and I have also done a lot of international work. Meeting fellow Unitarian Universalists from around the world – from Transylvania in Eastern Europe, from the Khasi Hills of India, from England and Germany and Africa, from the slums of Manila in the Philippines – meeting fellow UUs from around the world has taught me first-hand just how much we have to give.
My international work inspires me to experiment with greater generosity in my own life, and to preach and teach about stewardship in this context, which is in a culture that tells us over and over again that we don’t have enough, we can never have enough, we can’t possibly have enough, yet finds us easily adopting the latest technology, traveling regularly, purchasing many things without a second thought, barely registering the level of abundance that we are blessed with.
The wisdom traditions throughout time have taught us that being generous, truly madly deeply generous, is a fundamental aspect of nourishing the spirit. “Giving liberates the soul of the giver,” the poet says.
And so, I invite you to try it. I am not inviting you to talk about it, or read about it, or even to do a lot of thinking about it. I am inviting you to be generous. And like the call to Selma that David Bumbaugh didn’t think was for him, let me be clear: I am talking to YOU. To ME. To US.
For the sake of people we have never seen, will never meet, and can only imagine: we must strengthen Unitarian Universalism, to help heal this hurting world. We must do this! The stakes are very high.
There is no way to learn how to ride a bicycle without just getting on it and starting to ride. No matter your circumstances, it is possible to scoop out a handful of rice. Just try it, and see how you begin to see the world, and your own life, differently. I close with the words of Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry.
whatever you discover them to be
can be used to bless or curse the world.
The mind’s power,
The strength of the hands,
The reaches of the heart,
the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting.
Any of these can serve to feed the hungry
bind up wounds,
welcome the stranger,
praise what is sacred,
do the work of justice
or offer love.
Any of these can draw down the prison door
abandon the poor,
obscure what is holy,
comply with injustice
or withhold love.
You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.
Friends, your lives are a blessing.
This community is a blessing in your lives.
Your gifts, generously given, serve this community
which in turn helps to transform the world.
Choose to bless the world.
Get on that bike and ride!
Let us sing together hymn #151 – I Wish I Knew How.
 From “Cherish the Dream” available online at http://www.questformeaning.org/page/reflecting/how-do-i-live-a-good-life
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Special Events, Stewardship & Finances | Tags: pledge drive, stew
Sustaining Our Vision–From Year to Year and From Generation to Generation!
Every winter a volunteer team invites other members and friends of the congregation to make pledges of support for the coming church budget year (2013-14). Our church budget year starts July 1. This happens every year at this time so the Board of Trustees can reliably develop a budget for income and expenses for the budget year (fiscal year).
All our pledge commitments for the coming year are crucial for this planning process. Our yearly operating fund’s budget depends overwhelmingly on pledge contributions from members and pledging friends.
The operating budget includes compensation and benefits for all our ministerial, administrative, custodial, education, and music staff music. It funds our utility payments, building and grounds upkeep and maintenance, supplies, refreshments, security, online maintenance, and our dues to the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Every pledge is important. Please bring your 2013-14 Pledge Form to UUSS so our budget will be accurate–and happy. If you have already turned it in, thank you!
If you don’t plan to make a pledge for the coming church year, just fill out $0.00 on the pledge form. That will save our volunteers the task of making a reminder phone call. If you do plan to make a pledge now for the coming budget year, please know that every pledge is important.
Pledge Visits--Anyone may request a visit by a trained Stewardship Team pledge visitor—in your home or at a café. In addition, we will contact a limited number of Members and Friends for in-home visits for this year’s pledge drive. We try to reach out to some portion of the congregation every year to connect, hear feedback, and relay questions to lay leaders, ministers and our staff. This year of big changes surely has many of us thinking deeply about UUSS. If you would like to request a visit by one of our Pledge Visitors, let us know email@example.com.
For inspiration regarding our theme and the fiscal year to come, read below for testimonials given at recent services by dads, moms and youth in our congregation.
I loved all of them!
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Children and Youth, Church Finances and Stewardship, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Reflections, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: annual budget, baby dedication, church budget, financial support, ministry to children, pledge drive, spiritual community, spirituality, stewardship, Unitarian baptism
Every Sunday during the pledge drive we have been hearing what this UU community means to people, and why they support it with their financial pledge. Our pledge drive ends soon. So far we have received 98 pledge forms for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Only 300 to go!!
This is from Amanda, a mother of two little ones who is new here and already on the Religious Education Committee. Her husband, Darrel, has been here on Saturdays working on the grounds of our church campus. Their kids are quite charming too. You can tell that the words she quotes are from a few decades back, as now our baby dedication ceremonies use gender-inclusive language, but clearly the sentiment and heart were there in 1979.
It was a cold morning in March in the year 1979. The place, My Grandfather‘s “old” Unitarian Church on North Broadway, New York. The minister spoke, “When one baby is born it is the symbol of all birth and all life, and therefore all men must rejoice and smile, and all men, must lose there hearts to a child.” The words spoken and heard there were the words that have traveled with me in the depth of my heart wherever I have gone. This was my dedication ceremony at two months old, as a Unitarian.
Given that I was dedicated as a baby in the church, one might assume I have been in a Unitarian congregation throughout my life. But the truth is the furthest thing from that. I cant say for sure, but I am pretty sure I hadn’t stepped foot into another Unitarian Church until I arrived here at UUSS. This isn’t to say I wasn’t involved in any religious movement at all throughout my life. We regularly visited the Self Realization Fellowship, the church of Science of Mind, and whatever other alternative form of seeking my family interested themselves in.
But here I am back where I began. It was about a year ago, after a major move here to Sacramento, I found myself wondering about reconnecting to these roots. I was a transplant. My roots were in major need of some good wholesomely rich natural nutrients to grab a hold of. So, I returned.
In my dedication ceremony the minister said, “In the church the child will be introduced to his world, there he will learn meanings men has found in the skies, the fields, the hills, the valleys, and the cities of men. There he will be able to count the number of his days and weigh their meaning, to gather into his mind the wisdom of his ancestors, to know why men call one thing right and another wrong, to treasure beauty, mercy and justice in the deep places of his being.”
I am a mother now. I have been given two amazing children to guide and help grow. But I believe children are guided not only by their parents but by the people surrounding them; their friends, their family, their neighbors, and their elders. What the Unitarian Universalists are and are not, what they stand for or against, what they consider, what they notice, what they act on or not at all, is what I want my children to grow up around.
And I don’t want to stop there. What I want for my children, is what I want for all children. I want all children to grow up learning how to stand up tall. I want all children to grow up learning how to use their minds. I want all children to grow up knowing they can make a difference. This is why I think it is important for this congregation to stay strong, keep growing, and be the force for healing in the world it already is for many generations to come.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, Family Ministry | Tags: church community, congregational health, Family Ministry, financial support, pledge drive, spiritual home, stewardship
Sustaining Our Vision: From Year to Year and From Generation to Generation.
Good Morning, my name is Chris, this is my wife, Tamara, and our son Nicholas. We’ve been members here for a little over a year now. Shortly before joining UUSS, we moved to Sacramento from Massachusetts, the birthplace of Unitarian Universalism in this country. It was in Massachusetts that we first learned about this unique spiritual community. From what we read on the web, the values and principles of UU’ism aligned closely with our own, so we promptly joined a local congregation.
Each town around where we lived had its own small congregation so there couldn’t have been more than 50 of us on a busy day. Services were held in an old historic church with a tall white steeple typical of every New England town. The building belonged to the congregation but had deteriorated over the years from lack of maintenance. The paint was pealing off the walls and the steeple leaked in several places. The cost just to maintain the building was beyond the resources of our small congregation, so repairing it was not an option. Instead, we had the steeple removed and a cap placed over hole left in the roof. As a result, the building stood out like a sore thumb next to Baptist and Episcopalian churches across the way.
You can imagine our surprise visiting this place for the first time. We couldn’t believe how many members there were and how peaceful the campus was with its large oak trees. Attending Sunday services in this place helps us connect with a spiritual community and re-energizes our souls. After our experience in Massachusetts, we appreciate what it takes to create and maintain this special, nurturing environment, both today and for tomorrow. As our covenant emphasizes, it requires a commitment of time, talent, and support.
We support UUSS in this pledge drive because we understand the importance of investing in the things we value most. UUSS, through its activities both here on campus as well as in the broader community, represents our values. As busy working parents, financial support of UUSS is an important piece of our family’s time, talents, and support. We view our pledge as an investment in the future, for ourselves and Nicholas, to help realize the world we envision and strive for. Thank you.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Children and Youth, Church Finances and Stewardship, Comparative Religion, Family Ministry, Inspiration, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: finances, fundraising, generations, generosity, pledge drive, spiritual community, spiritual parenting, stewardship, vision, youth group
A young woman from our UU Youth Group delivered this testimonial on Sunday at both services. The congregation was quite responsive! I look forward to the Pledge Drive Kickoff this Sunday, Feb. 17. I also look forward to training our Pledge Visitors this Saturday (for those who would like a home visit to give feedback and make a more personal connection to UUSS). Enjoy…
Why should the UUSS community be around for future generations?
I know a lot of people who have been coming to UU churches since before they were born. They have always been familiar and comfortable with their church. Or there are people on the other end of the spectrum, who hadn’t started coming to this church until they were well into adulthood.
Neither of these were true of me. I think most of the people here come to church willingly. I can see why. We are what I would consider the ideal church. But I did not come to church willingly by any means for a long time.
When I was younger, my mom would decide my brothers and I were inadequately holy, and pick a church at random that we would attend for about a month. Then she would have a disagreement with somebody or be offended by something the minister said and we would never go there again. I grew to despise churches. I did not like how looked down upon questioning that which was preached was. I did not like being compared to a lamb because lambs are invariably dumb. I did not like the painful christian rock that was played before or after church, even though the musician had a cool beard. I did not like that God’s love or a vast eternal plan we weren’t allowed to know about could explain away every mystery in this world. And I certainly did not like that the minister referred to the children as “cherubs”. I knew I was anything but a cherub, and I was convinced my little brother was a little ball of evil.
In hindsight this church was not that bad. It was open-minded, as churches go, and not everyone considered original thought slanderous. The minister was well intended. But the assumptions and stereotypes had solidified in my mind, and to me church had become nothing more than getting up way too early on a weekend to go listen to people I don’t like talk about things I neither cared about nor believed in. I had lost any interest I’d previously had in learning about other people’s beliefs or culture.
My mom has since given up on making me go to any church. It helped that I no longer stay at her house on weekends.
When my dad announced that we were going to church, I was horrified. He was supposed to be the sane one. And what person who wasn’t crazy would want to go to church? I fought this new, alien hexagonal church with my entire being. The people here only want to tell me what to think and what kinds of people are okay and all about this great God and how much he loved me and wanted the best for me and whatnot and about how those other churches who were saying the same thing were utterly wrong.
I didn’t want to hear any other opinions about this church. I would not hear it. I had developed the same blind insistence that what I believed in was all there is that had made me so intolerant of religion in the first place.
But slowly I began to warm up to this new church. It wasn’t like the others. I was never told where we came from or what entity was out there or what happens before or after this life. Those were all questions for me to determine the answers to. This church had values, not strict beliefs, and I recognised after reciting them for a few months how much I agreed with them. They seemed like perfect ideals. There was no judgement of those who strayed from our moral views. There was no judgement, period. We were welcoming, and open. Recognising the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Who needs a heaven when you’ve got that?
I know there are a fair number of people who don’t like churches for the same reasons I had. And church isn’t right for everyone. But there will always be people who question. There will always be people who traditional religions don’t approve of. But if there is always a church like ours available, there will always be an option for these people.
A lot of what we preach isn’t contradictory to what is preached in other churches. But what I like most about us is that big questions are left to the individual to answer, because everyone has their own truth or lack thereof, and a right to decide what that is. It’s okay to believe the same things as other people, but it should also be okay not to.
And our values are that of acceptance. Everyone deserves to be accepted in a community, regardless of who they happen to be or what they happen to be like. The people in unitarian churches are, as a group, incredibly accepting. Everyone is welcome. That is amazing. I would previously have thought it unachievable.
And UUSS is the biggest UU church in the area. It has amazing ministers and youth leaders and coffee people. It is an incredible community as a whole. There are few people who would not fit in among us.
That is why UUSS needs to stick around and grow. Future generations will inevitably be in need of a church like this, and they deserve to have it available. Thank you.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Special Events | Tags: financial stewardship, generosity, interfaith, priceless, spiritual community, Unitarian Universalism
Ah, remember the day you installed me!
A member of my doctoral class at Berkeley had something to say about it. He is Korean and a Protestant minister. He had come to that ceremony. He’d brought his mom, also a Korean Christian immigrant.
During our seminary course recently, I was talking about Unitarian Universalism to my religiously mixed class. He said, “I didn’t know much about UU theology, and I still may not understand it all. But what I felt at Roger’s installation really impressed me.”
In particular, he said, was the sense of inclusiveness in the service and from our congregation. Priceless!
He was struck also that the service had beautiful music, eloquent liturgy, dance and other arts, and a woman’s deep and powerful preaching. He noted the participation of children and youth in the service and congregation. The reception food was generously abundant and flavorful.
Most of all, he said, “I could really feel the love there.” So could his mother. She told him that if she lived close to UUSS, she would want to come regularly. Whatever the theology, he said, the message they felt was deep and impressive—the love.
It was great to have an outsider’s fresh perspective. Priceless!
Isn’t this the reason you are here? We long to experience the gifts of depth, beauty, love and hope in this place. This place to belong and be cared for—this is why we keep coming back. These are priceless gifts. You could NOT put a price tag on what this community creates.
The combined gifts—all that we do here—are indeed priceless. Yet providing all of this congregation’s component parts every year does call for cold, hard cash.
To sustain Religious Education and music, put on services, support our hardworking staff, and reimburse dedicated committee volunteers, we must raise money, year after year. To pay utility bills, support our denomination, produce newsletters and host the web site, we must raise money.
By paying our way year after year, we sustain our vision from generation to generation.
That’s why we have the annual Pledge Drive for the operating budget.
I hope to see you during this year’s brief pledge drive: February 17 is Kickoff Sunday. February 24 is a Pep Rally (an Appreciation Reception for all ages). Then March 17 is Touchdown Sunday. Thank you for pledging your financial support, year after year.
P.S.—The pledges we make this month will enable the board to present a budget proposal to the congregation to fund our programs and staff needs in 2013-14. Our budget year starts July 1 but we need to plan ahead every year. Thanks again.
Filed under: Church Finances and Stewardship, Special Events, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: finances, fundraising, healthy congregations, pledge drive, spiritual community, stewardship
Sustaining Our Vision: From Year to Year and From Generation to Generation
Dear Members and Friends,
Each year at this time, we ask you to start thinking about our upcoming fiscal year, 2013 –2014, which begins on July 1. Our Stewardship Team coordinates the Pledge Drive and has already been hard at work planning special events to bring to mind and celebrate all the things we enjoy and count on here at UUSS.
The Pledge Drive is critical for planning the coming fiscal year because it allows us to put together our operating budget. This insures that such things as programs, ministers and staff compensation, facilities and grounds upkeep, utilities, and UUA dues are paid for. Your yearly pledge is essential in supporting our efforts as a congregation to fulfill our mission and values.
The first event coming up is Kick Off Sunday, February 17. This officially starts the Pledge Drive and is your opportunity to meet your Stewardship Team at tables on the patio or in the sanctuary after both services. They will give you your pledge form, your last year’s pledge information, and a “fair share” information sheet. We encourage you to fill out your form and turn it back into a Team member at that time.
If you are unable to pick up your pledge form on February 17, it will be mailed to you on February 21. At each Sunday after the Kick Off, your Stewardship Team will be available to accept your completed pledge form.
February 24, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. an Appreciation Pep Rally is planned. This is a family fun night with refreshments, inspirational words, and entertainment, including a chance to express your love for and dedication to UUSS by “cheering” with our fellow UU’s. We will be happy to accept your pledge at this time, too!
Finally, you don’t want to miss Touchdown Sunday on March 17, which will be the conclusion of our Pledge Drive special activities. A guest minister will give the sermon, we will hear a solo from our own Eric Stetson in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and refreshments will be served after each service. We are hoping to have all of the congregation’s pledges turned in, on or before, this Touchdown Sunday.
I’d like to thank Lauren and Chuck Todd for chairing this year’s Pledge Drive, as well as the Stewardship Team; Patti Nogales, Jorge Jimenez, Ron Selge, Linda Clear, JoLane Blaylock, and our Stewardship minister, Roger Jones.
UUSS Board President
January 25, 2013
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Church Finances and Stewardship, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Special Events, Stewardship & Finances, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: appreciation of church community, fundraising, generation to generation, generosity, pledge drive, spiritual community, UU pledges
This letter is going out in the U. S. mail along with a brightly colored brochure about this year’s annual pledge drive for the operating budget. It includes a “ticket” to our Pledge Drive Pep Rally, which is an appreciation reception for everyone on a Sunday evening.
Two weeks earlier, a letter signed by the UUSS board president arrived in our mail boxes to explain the annual pledge drive and the dates for the drive’s Kickoff Sunday (February 17) and Touchdown Sunday (March 17).
Dear Members and Friends,
Being a member or friend of UUSS means taking both a personal and a collective spiritual journey. We choose our own path together, so to speak, which is illuminated on our way by the many gifts we receive from UUSS.
When thinking about what our spiritual home offers, we often consider the adult education classes we have taken, such as Liberal Religious Bible Study, where we learned about Jesus through historical context, and felt blessed to welcome the teachings of a Unitarian Jesus to travel with us on our spiritual journey. The great minds of our UU heritage joined us on our path during UU Theologies of the Mind and Heart. We became residents of Forest Church’s Cathedral of the World and gazed up at its many windows, gaining a new understanding of how to feel connected to the people of the world’s diverse religions. William Ellery Channing increased our gratitude for our free religion.
In the Big Five Questions, we defined our beliefs and formed guideposts along our path. We felt a sense of belonging, appreciation, and sensitivity, listening to the beliefs of others, as we all searched for meaning, direction, comfort and life’s purpose.
Practicing relaxation, joy, clarity and peace, we take refuge in the Buddha (our inherent, enlightened nature) the dhamma (how things really are) and the sangha (the collective wisdom of those who have walked the path before us) in our meditation class. When heartfelt questions have arisen regarding relationships and moral and social dilemmas, Doug and Roger, through their sermons and through private conversations, have provided the way to self-understanding and motivation for change, respecting our unique perspectives, and have aided us as we tied down our own values and beliefs and aspired to act accordingly.
Roger officiated at our daughter’s wedding last year, which was attended by Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant family and friends. The ceremony was eloquent and captivating, as Roger made every person present feel spoken to and included in this beautiful event, as he began his blessings for family and friends with, “As we gather today, we call forth all the goodwill of humanity. Coming from different faith traditions and perspectives, together we bring with us the world’s longing for love and respect, for tenderness and understanding.” We were not only very proud parents of the bride, but also very proud to be UUs with Roger representing our faith so perfectly to the family and friends we love.
UUSS fills our lives with love, fun, music, and words of wisdom, from all who attend, and from those who serve the congregation and from our two supremely real ministers who are unflagging in their inspiration and guidance. Our efficient staff keeps things running smoothly and our buildings clean, safe and attractive. Religious Education supports all kinds of families here at UUSS.
UUSS is truly our sanctuary. It shapes our lives in the best possible way. This is what we pledge to support financially.
This is the legacy we want to leave our children. This is the message we want to bring to our family and friends. We invite you to join us. Please consider the enclosed materials, and make your annual pledge soon. Your generosity makes a difference, and we thank you.
Lauren and Chuck Todd
Stewardship Team co-Chairs
Filed under: Books (includes sermons based on books), Church Finances and Stewardship, Comparative Religion, Family Ministry, Inspiration, Sermon Archives and Excerpts, Stewardship & Finances | Tags: meaning of life, money and life, money and marriage, money in church, sources of meaning, stewardship
Roger Jones, Associate Minister
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Unitarian Universalist Society
Hymns: #346 in SLT (Come Sing a Song with Me), #21 in Voces del Camino (Ven, Espiritu de Amor), #201 (Glory Glory Hallelujah), #298 (Wake Now, My Senses) both in SLT.
In our culture and society, money and stress…seem to go together. The topic of money occupies our time and mental energy. Disagreements about money can divide people in families, congregations, and communities from one another. Secrets about money can leave us with lasting regrets, can poison or damage relationships.
Spiritual or emotional problems with money can exist whether you make a ton of money or a little, whether you are wealthy and well-situated or struggling under enormous debts.
What amazes me, though, is how many folks I know who don’t let it get them down. Not all, but many of them seem to pursue lives of meaning and purpose, and remain grateful and optimistic, even with financial challenges.
I know a man who is now 40 years old. After high school, he served a tour in the military. Then he worked various jobs, learned a new language during overseas travel and moved across the country to live near the mountains of the American West. He lived simply, renting rooms from friends or sharing an apartment with a girlfriend. In some years, he received financial help from his parents, and once or twice he moved back across the country to live at home. After many jobs and schools, he graduated from a good college at age 36. Unfortunately, just then the Great Recession was revving up and the economy was going down.
After a while he got a job in a business call center, which didn’t pay well and was a miserable environment. Not a sweatshop, of course, but not enjoyable. Last year he found a job with a landscaping maintenance company. There is plenty of overtime work, and on Christmas Day plowing snow earned him double-time pay. That’s good, as he makes only $12 an hour. He hopes, before long, to advance to a salaried management job, with benefits. At age 40 he is married, and he has no health insurance or savings for retirement. Nor does his wife. She also works at a low-wage job.
Their economic situation is like that of many people of their generation—those born in the 1970s and 80s. So are their leisure habits: local entertainment and restaurants, costly computer and phone technologies, and a modest vacation now and then. They work very hard, and they enjoy a lively urban life. He told me: “I might not ever do another office job. And I don’t know if I even want one.”
Of course, this couple’s parents worry about their future. So do I. Yet they feel blessed. Are they making the right choices? Who am I to say? On the one hand, they are not planning aggressively for needs of their health, possible children, and retirement. On the other hand, they are making choices about what gives meaning to life from the available options. They feel blessed. Given their measures of meaning, life is meaningful.
The experience of meaning is important to all kinds of people, all over the world. No matter our wealth or poverty, no matter our culture, human beings pursue the experience of meaning. A Silicon Valley friend of mine wrote a book entitled Making Meaning, along with two of his colleagues. As business consultants, they work in the field of design strategy—that is, how a firm can design its offerings to appeal to customers, meet their needs, and build customer loyalty.
Using demographic research, the authors conclude that people increasingly seek meaningful experiences when we make our consumer choices. No longer is convenience, color, a catchy slogan or even “coolness” enough to engage consumers. People are looking for a sense of connection with sources of meaning in all parts of life, including the realm of consumption. Companies that connect us to our sources of meaning can make a lot of money.
Their company conducted over 100,000 interviews in different countries to help its clients understand their markets. The authors list fifteen categories of what people consider meaningful experiences. The fifteen categories include most of the common types of meaningful experiences across the countries and cultures of the globe.
Are you curious? These categories appear on the cover of your order of service, so you can take the list home. Perhaps you can talk about them during coffee hour today, or bring them up for conversation in any small group in which you participate. Thanks to Julie, the member who offered to design that “word cloud” on the cover. I assume it was a meaningful experience for you!
I ask you now to stop looking for a moment, and just listen as I read you the list. See if it makes sense to you as a whole. Then I’ll quote a definition for each one. The authors put the list in alphabetical order (as no category is more important than any other). [i] They are: accomplishment, beauty, [creativity], community, duty, enlightenment, freedom, harmony, justice, oneness, redemption, security, truth, validation, and wonder.
Here they are again:
“Accomplishment—achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent, or status.”
“Beauty—The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses or spirit.”
“Creation [or creativity]—The sense of having produced something new and original, and in so doing, to have made a lasting contribution.”
“Community—A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection with other human beings.”
“Duty—The willing application of oneself to a responsibility.”
“Enlightenment—Clear understanding through logic or inspiration.”
“Freedom—The sense of living without unwanted restraints.”
“Harmony—The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole, whether in nature, society, or an individual.”
“Justice—The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment…a sense of fairness and equality.”
“Oneness—A sense of unity with everything around us.”
“Redemption—Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline, … or deliverance from a less desirable condition to a more pleasing” one.
“Security—The freedom from worry about loss.”
“Truth—A commitment to honesty and integrity.”
“Validation—The recognition of oneself as a valued individual, worthy of respect.”
“Wonder—Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding.”
This book offers advice on how to design and market services and products to appeal to our need for meaningful experiences. The book’s business message is: understand the customers—your current or potential ones. Consider what’s important in their lives. Consider how they might experience what it is you are offering. What sense of meaning do they feel?
In the 1960s and 70s there were just a few soft drinks on the market. The leader was Coca-Cola—just plain old Coke in one or two standard sizes. Coke’s marketing appeal was the experience of community. Some people had drunk it all their lives; it had become a friend. Advertisers turned a popular song about human kinship into a commercial: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.” By now, Coke is merely one of many types of soda pop. There are numerous flavors, containers and serving sizes. These options are aimed at the experience of freedom of choice. The authors write that freedom of choice has grown in significance in the consumer field.[ii] I confess that it’s not so meaningful for me. I am often overwhelmed by the multiplicity of options out there.
From the crassness of a carbonated beverage, let’s look now at the experience of meaning in an important human endeavor: the rearing of children.
For many people, this activity is filled with meaningful experiences. Yet, the kind of experience it evokes will depend on your personality, circumstances, background, culture and location. For example, children can reflect the creative urge—the desire to extend your family through adoption or birth, and to shape a new life. Or… in many societies, children provide security, a guarantee against isolation, or a source of extra hands to till the fields or staff the family business. In many traditions, having children is what you do to be a responsible member of society, so it reflects a sense of duty. It can also give a sense of accomplishment to have reared a child. Some of us do not have children, but we find meaning in connections to them—in our families, in work and volunteer activities, and here in this congregation. For many non-parents as well as parents, children can evoke an experience of wonder—a sense of awe at a fragile, growing person, and a sense of unity with a child, with humanity, or with life itself.
The book Making Meaning does not encourage companies to trick people into accepting false experiences of meaning, though some companies try. A sense of meaning is not something you can force on others. Nowadays more consumers pursue experiences that resonate with our values and sources of meaning. To be successful, companies must try to understand such motivations. Such an approach calls for inventors, designers, and marketers to cultivate empathy for the customer, to imagine the customer’s experience.
To some veteran business people, this may feel too philosophical. Empathy? Sounds touchy-feely! Does this have any place in business?
Some religious people, on the other hand also may have an urge to reject this. To link the search for meaning to the pursuit of profit? How crude, how petty! People should find meaning on their own. Nobody needs to sell it to them.
Yet we do pay for meaningful experiences in various ways.
Consider the gifts of culture, the arts. Remember that beauty and creativity are in that list of sources of meaning. We pay to attend concerts, plays, and wine tastings, and to come to fundraising dinners and concerts here at UUSS. We pay to visit zoos, nature preserves art museums and aquariums. Many of us contribute money to support them. We pay to see movies. We pay to read books and magazines and buy songs from the Internet. And companies make money when they make these experiences available to us. Of course, many songwriters, novelists and poets write without expecting to make much money; they do it for the love of creating.
In a poem by Marge Piercy (“For the young who want to”), an experienced and celebrated writer offers advice on doing the work of writing for its own sake, its own meaning. She writes:
Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.[iii]
…. [The poem concludes:]
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
While other folks were not paying for this poet’s work back in the early days, she was paying for it. Her pursuit of the meaning she found in creativity did have a cost. By devoting her time to writing, she was making a sacrifice. A sacrifice full of meaning for her. An investment.
Millions of people enjoy Walt Disney World. The Disney experience is designed to evoke wonder and awe. Yosemite National Park also provides an experience of wonder and awe. So does the Sacramento Zoo. Even a stroll along one of our nearby rivers can evoke wonder and awe. All of these experiences have a cost involved. Whether it’s airfare, lodging, parking, food and the price of tickets for Disney World, or the admission charge to the zoo, or just the time you take away from another activity to stroll along the local river, these are expenses; they are investments. Investments in activities in which we experience meaning.
Some of us buy coffee that’s labeled “fair-trade.” For us, doing so evokes a sense of justice and fairness for growers and workers in other lands, and the coffee is delicious. Some fair-trade is brewing for us back in the kitchen right now. Here at church we buy fair-trade coffee for these reasons, and because a portion of what we pay will support projects of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. For me this practice evokes justice and community. There’s also an aspect of beauty, which is a source of meaning. That is, when I’ve got caffeine coursing thorough my veins, the world looks beautiful!
Many people in retirement enjoy going on Elderhostel trips. Elderhostel is now called Road Scholar. That not- for-profit organization sells cultural and educational travel packages to several thousand destinations a year, with pleasant accommodations, well-planned sightseeing, lectures, and performances. It’s a success because it has determined the needs and interests of the people it wants to serve. If any for-profit company provides comparable travel experiences to a similar customer base, it is likely have similar success. To make money while you offer a meaningful experience is not a bad thing!
Nine years ago I spent several weeks in India. I wasn’t sure what kinds of meaning I was looking for. I wanted to see what would happen to me. I did have the meaningful experience of enlightenment—insights about other places and cultures, and about myself. I also had an experience of accomplishment, because I survived all of the ordeals of that solo journey. But it took more than my having the proper attitude to get meaning out of the experience, it took money to get me there!
Writing in his journal in 1861, the Massachusetts mystic Henry David Thoreau asks: “What are the natural features that make a township handsome? A river, with its waterfalls and meadows, a lake, a hill, a cliff or individual rocks, a forest, and ancient trees standing singly. Such things are beautiful [he says]; they have a high use, which dollars and cents never represent.”
Of course, nature is a key source of meaning for us. Often we think of nature’s bounty as priceless. Not a commodity, but a free gift of creation. Thoreau continues: “If the inhabitants of a town were wise, they would seek to preserve those things, [even] though at a considerable expense.” So, he says, we should spend money on this. Even an idealist like him admits that money is related to sources of meaning.
We must make choices to experience, protect and preserve what we value, and what gives value to us. Choosing to value some experiences more than others is an investment. An investment of our time, attention and money.
Yet in these busy times, too much competes for attention. So much claims to be a valid pursuit of meaning, so much claims our time and money and attention. How do we know what to choose, and what to leave aside?
Thoreau famously spent weeks and years thinking about what mattered to him. Most of us do not have that much time. But however much time we can carve away to think about how we treat the sources of meaning in our lives, it is time well spent. If we can settle down, calm ourselves, look inside and look around us, it can be time well spent.
Any sliver of time in a day or a night in which we can contemplate what we care about, and how we choose to make use of our time, attention, and money—that sliver of time can be precious. Consider it an investment . . .when you take time to think about, write down on paper, or speak to another person about what you appreciate and value, what you aspire to, where you express your sense of meaning.
Let’s look not only inward, but look around. Let’s notice what we are blessed by, what we appreciate, and what we give to. Investments in our sense of meaning.
If we are lucky, the ways we spend our time, attention and money are wise investments in meaning. In particular, they ways we handle money can reflect how we pursue meaning.
How we earn or gain money, and the gratitude with which we receive it and own it, and the spirit with which we save it, spend it, and share it can express our sense of meaning. If we are able to reflect on the use of our time, attention and money, it will be worth it.
May we know when it is worth it. May we know when we are blessed. So may it be. Amen.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Children and Youth, Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR, Religious Studies: History, Trends in Religion, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: church culture, church growth, congregational change, curiosity, hospitality, spiritual community, young adults in church
In 1985 I was 24, in a new city (Springfield, Illinois) and in a first job in a new career. In retrospect I see that I was starting a spiritual search that included participation in four very different kinds of denominations and traditions. This journey has included friendships with ministers and members of all four. (Eventually I put down roots in one of those four traditions–Unitarian Universalism–and found a call to ministry here.)
In that new city, I paid only one visit to a church of the mainstream Protestant denomination in which I had grown up. It was an elegant, large limestone building with familiar music, dark wooden pews, and reassuring stained glass. As I slipped into a pew behind an older male-female couple, the lady turned around, smiled at me and gave me her welcome. “I hope you stay,” she said. “We need young people.” I smiled back. I’ve heard this kind of outreach referred to as the vampire approach—we reach out because we need fresh blood.
Ten years ago, at a district workshop on outreach and hospitality, a UU colleague in his late 50s spoke about his first time in a UU community. At age 16, having had a Catholic upbringing, he learned about Unitarian Universalism. Intrigued and interested, he found the local church in his Florida town. He rode his bicycle there one Sunday. Perhaps they had no “youth program.” If they did, but I don’t remember that from his story.
After service he visited the church bookstore and met a woman there. As she got to know him, she learned that he was curious about our approach to religion and that he liked to read. She handed him a book, asked him to read it, and invited him to come back to tell her what he thought of it. On a future Sunday he brought the book and himself back to the church on his bike. He and his adult friend discussed his thoughts about the book. She gave him another book, and said she looked forward to another conversation.
This routine continued; this friendship developed; this young man later grew into a minister and an esteemed coach and consultant in our movement. This was not the result of an organized outreach campaign, an advertising blitz, or a sermon series on UU evangelism. It was a simple, one-to-one gesture of curiosity, patience, and the gift of time. This is true hospitality.
When I was 16 I had a driver’s license and could easily drive to Indianapolis, 30 miles away from my home. I’ve wondered: What if I had found out about All Souls Unitarian back then and taken Mom’s car up there on a Sunday?
Would I have received the kind of warm welcome—the gestures of curiosity about who I was, what I cared about, what brought me there?
Perhaps, after shaking someone’s hand, I would have been directed to the staff or a volunteer leader of the “youth program.” [Message: This is where and how you fit in.]
Or maybe I would have heard an apology that they did not have a “youth program.” [Message: Sorry that you don’t fit in.]
Or maybe I would have heard: Maybe you could start a youth group here; bring your friends! [Message: What can you do for us?]
Every time I hear, in a congregational setting, some innocent and well-meaning questions—“How can we attract more [x] people?” “How can we appeal to them?”—I want to ask Why?
We value diversity, and we value everyone’s individual outlook and personal journey. If we start with a practice of true curiosity about whoever is standing in front of us in the moment, it will matter less whether they are x or y, whether they like the majority of the congregation or are different in some way.
To me, this is the question about younger generations and our congregations: Are we looking for what we can offer, and the ways we might serve real people with real needs? Or are we looking to survive as a congregation in the forms and habits we are used to?
Is our goal to serve, or to survive? Do we wish to pursue growth or hospitality?
Some may ask: Can’t we do both? Probably so, but we need to determine which motivation is driving us, which purpose is calling to us.
If we are drawn mostly by nostalgic longings to perpetuate the church we used to know (or to create the one that matches our ambitions or our idealized memories), I fear we will continue to be frustrated and confused, and to miss out on many creative opportunities to enrich our souls and serve our larger community.
If we are drawn mostly by the opportunity to be of service as a community, and we approach that with curiosity, patience, flexibility and perseverance, I am confident we’ll find and summon the resources to follow this calling.
Filed under: Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR | Tags: changing religious landscape, congregational change
Can We Thrive in the Changing Religious Landscape? First of a Series
Are We Protestant? Is this “Christian” Faith Formation Research Relevant to the UUA?
The Changing Religious Landscape includes Declining Attendance in the UUA
The UU Religious Landscape: More about Growth and Decline in the UUA
Summary of 13 Trends in the Religious Landscape plus 4 Possible Scenarios (some scary!) for the Future of Religious Life in the U.S. URL: http://wp.me/pe51o-Fl
Details of Trends & Forces Affecting the Future of Faith-Formation: A Changing Church in a Changing World
Emerging Adulthood and Younger Adults and “Tribal Church”: Trends & Forces Affecting the Future of Faith-Formation—Trends #7 and #8
The Hot New Trend in Religious Identity: Nothing in Particular
The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated: Threat, Opportunity, or Not So New?
– Post 1 of 2. URL: http://wp.me/pe51o-Fh
The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated: Threat, Opportunity, or Not So New?
– Post 2 of 2. URL: http://wp.me/pe51o-Ff
Navigating the Road Ahead: With Anxiety or Humility?
Final Post, Final Questions: Surviving or Serving? Growth or Hospitality?
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR, Religious Studies: History, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: congregational change
To see the big picture means learning about the context in which we are working, to see ourselves and our organizations as participants in larger social trends.
By studying trends and forces that affect our work, we can think together about the systems we use, live in, and perpetuate, and think together about how to articulate the changes for those we serve and those we serve with in our churches.
Lifelong Faith Associates is “committed to helping congregations develop lifelong faith formation for all ages and generations, increasing the capacity of leaders and communities to nurture faith growth.” Its report was discussed at the LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) Fall Conference in 2009.
The report’s main audience and area of focus is Christian communities and the report’s language reflects this. However, it’s relevant to UU congregations, even those where Christian theology has a small presence.
Historically and sociologically, UUism is Protestant. As part of the Main Line of American religion, we do reflect the dominant culture, and changes in culture affect most Main Line churches in the same ways. While theologically we may be closer to a Reform synagogue, by and large a Jewish congregation preserves its distinctiveness from the dominant culture. Indeed, it’s hard to convert to Judaism. UUs have thin boundaries with the larger culture.
What I share with the report’s authors is the vision and the hope that our faith communities can shape lives from birth do death, can promote worship, service, learning, community-building and wholeness in human relations—both in our churches and in the communities where they are located.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR, Magazine & Newspaper Articles, Religious Studies: History, Trends in Religion, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: congregational change, demographics and church attendance, mainline Protestantism
Presbyterian seminary professor Michael Jinkins describes the pejorative attitudes and stereotyping that some older adults display when talking about lower church participation by younger generations, with such accusations or labels as slackers, entitled, short attention span, no ambition, and lacking the idealism, civic duty or activist spirit of earlier young adults (as the older adults remember their generations). 
Jinkins calls this defamatory, but attributes it to the sense of anxiety that many older adults in congregations feel regarding the loss of numbers, resources and prestige that their denominations and congregations have experienced. Yet, Jinkins warns, “Anxiety makes a poor counselor, and age alone makes no one wise.”
Unitarian Universalist Association president Peter Morales, citing organizational scholars and consultants, told the 2011 General Assembly that human organizations decline or fail not so much because of challenges they face but because they hold on too much to past success.
Of course, for mainline, mainstream Protestant denominations, the founding stories of all our faith movements are the stuff of legend in seminary history and polity courses and in an inspiring sermon now and then. Furthermore, successes from the Baby Boom era, like church expansion and prominent social action, remain in living memory.
Spiritual writer Frederick Buechner says that “dreams of fame and fortune die hard if they die at all.” L. Roger Owens and Anthony B. Robinson quote him in their recent article, “Dark Night of the Church.” Considering multiple studies of American religion, they give this summary of decline in the mainline, or the in mainstream denominations and congregations: “Loss of market share. Conflict. Absence of young adults. Financial crisis.”
Whether we are facing the fast plummet of moderate Protestantism or the less frightening plateau of Unitarian Universalist membership numbers, it is clear: Things have changed for us. First, we must recognize this fact. Next, we must recognize our anxious longing for a clear explanation and a prescription. Then we must explore.
This moment is a spiritual in-between time for organizations. It’s like the “dark night of the soul” which St. John of the Cross famously identified as part of our individual spiritual journeys. The dark night is not spiritual death and not necessarily clinical depression, but it is a time of uncertainty and of discomfort. This calls for enough detachment to explore, consider, and create. I think it calls for humility.
We are humbled in our presumptions that we knew how to do this church growth business very well. We are humbled in our presumptions that our congregations could operate as we always have and continue in power and local prominence even as the landscape around us has been changing.
Perhaps, the authors write, we have allowed external measures of identity to define us—numbers, money, social prominence, and proud peak moments in our history. In this “dark night of the church,” we can continue to work and serve, and to be confident that creativity is a key resource for congregational communities.
We can continue to discern our primary mission as congregations, and practice that mission. To be the church. To be the religious society.
To be an authentic religious community in the world in which it now exists, and to be an alert community as the world around us continues to shift and change.
 Jinkins, Michael. “Foreword” to Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation. Alban Institute, Herndon, VA, 2007, p. viii.
 L. Roger Owens and Anthony B. Robinson. “Dark Night of the Church.” Christian Century, December 26, 2012, p. 28.
Filed under: Comparative Religion, Family Ministry, Graduate Theological school/PSR, Religious Studies: History, Trends in Religion, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views
For Trend #7, Faith Formation 2020 describes the trend of “emerging adulthood,” which means that “the transition to adulthood today is more complex, disjointed, and confusing than it was in past decades. The steps through and to schooling, first real job, marriage and parenthood are simply less well organized today than they were in generations past.”
I was born in 1961, at the end of the Baby Boom, and received a bachelor’s degree on schedule in 1983. I went straight to a graduate professional school and began my first career in 1985. It was assumed in my demographic (white middle class) that a young adult would either go to college and then find a job or would find a reliable job soon after high school. The expectation for young adults to have a career, family and home of one’s own was dominant in my culture, even if exceptions were not hard to find.
That expectation no longer describes life for adults in their 20s and 30s. Upheavals in the labor market and larger economy have shrunk opportunities and kept per-capita income nearly flat in three decades. Economic booms and burst bubbles have brought instability.
Citing a 2006 book by Anya Kamenetz, Carol Howard Merritt notes that “the median job tenure of workers from 25 to 34 is just 2.7 years.” They change jobs and industries more often and “have more frequent periods of unemployment and underemployment.” This rings true with my personal experience with younger adults in church, nearly all of whom are smart, creative, compassionate, living with large debts or poverty-level incomes or both.
I know plenty of congregants, colleagues and my own relatives whose adult children are living at home—still or again—or depending on regular financial support of their parents. Financial-advice columnists worry that most younger workers have saved or invested little toward their retirement needs. Stagnant incomes and frequent changes in jobs mixed make this hard. So does the merchandizing of our consumer culture, and the rapid upgrades on expensive technology.
Trend #8 is “the rise of a distinctive … faith and spirituality” in the post-Baby Boom generations. Faith Formation 2020 speaks of the “uprootedness and change” experienced by most young adults, but it also explains that this life stage involves considerable creativity and exploration. Its report cites the social scientist Robert Wuthnow’s image of “religious tinkering” among people in their 20s and 30s.
While the “tinkering” image shows curiosity and experimentation, it does not necessarily imply commitment to a religious institution or even longevity in any one location, which we have come to identify as an aspect of long-term commitment.
The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt calls younger adults a “nomadic generation.” In her 2007 Alban Institute book Tribal Church (which is also the name of her blog), she also refers to them as “the missing generation,” which means missing from churches.
I’ll post more on Tribal Church.
 She is a progressive Christian minister who grew up in Presbyterian churches and has served a number of them as a young woman; having hit age 40 she no longer calls herself a younger adult. Also, she prefers the terms “older adult/younger adult” to the terms of sociological jargon like Boomers, Generation X, Millenials.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR, Religious Studies: History, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: church culture, church decline
This is a continued post on the nuances of lower church participation and what Molly Worthen says is the new visibility of unaffiliated religious people. (See her New York Times opinion article “One Nation Under God?” on Dec. 22, 2012.)
Regular worship attendance in the U.S. is less than 30%, she writes, “even as 77% still identify as Christians and 69 percent say they are ‘very’ or ‘moderately’ religious.”
Given that many UUs identify ourselves as not Christian (and many Christians would say that as well), we may feel that we could be an exception; we should not expect a low rate of participation among people who say they share our religious approach. I doubt we are so exceptional.
The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association writes:
[The] number of people who identify as UUs is about four times the membership of our congregations (about 160,000 adult members and about 650,000 people who identify as UUs). In other words, for every adult member there are three non-members who say they are Unitarian Universalist.
The second largest gathering of UUs, after General Assembly [which draws about 4,000 registrants to a different convention city every June], is the Southeast UU Summer Institute (SUUSI). A significant number of people who attend SUUSI year after year do not belong to any UU congregation. There are other UU camps and conferences that draw similarly large numbers of unaffiliated people.
The above is from his January 2012 paper “Congregations and Beyond,” (launching an initiative of the same name).
Some of us may think this means our death knell as a movement, or at least as a brick-and-mortar denomination.
How can we keep our churches going if people stop going to our churches? How can we embody our values if we have no institutional embodiment of our tradition? This is a valid concern, yet the fact that our message and values live and breathe in camps, conferences, on-line communities, and friendship networks raises a question: Do we want to preserve our church only for the sake of its preservation, or do we want to explore new forms for making an impact on the larger society and world?
I have not attended SUSSI or another regional summer , but I know lay and clergy friends who do. One couple of old friends of mine have dropped out of active lay leadership in their home church. They did this out of despair at persisting patterns of unhealthy congregational conflict and the experience of behaviors that undermine trust. It seems they have been driven away from their congregation by its lack of faith and not by their own loss of it. Indeed, their family keeps to their spiritual practices and maintains fellowship with UUs through a summer camp. As their kids reach adulthood, I can’t imagine they will lose the UU values with which they have been reared or their commitment to community involvement. Maybe the kids will keep to a spiritual practice, though plenty of people who regularly attend services in a variety of traditions do not easily keep up a regular personal or family spiritual discipline.
Speaking of kids and youth, Morales says:
The majority of children raised as UUs do not join UU congregations when they are young adults. However, they continue to identify as UUs and share core UU values. Often they have close friendships with fellow young adults they met at church or at “youth cons.”
True, most of our youth do not join congregations in adulthood. I’ve known UU teens who were continental youth leaders but now don’t attend church, but I know of others who became UU ministers. I know many children of UU ministerial colleagues, now young adults, who do not belong to a church, even though they might attend a service occasionally. Yet there are preachers’ kids (PKs) who go on to seminary. I don’t know many PKs who make up the middle ground between the poles of minister and lapsed UUs, that is, younger adults who are regular UU church members and lay leaders. It could be they are easy to overlook if one is looking only for the disaffected and drifted away.
Did we drive the no-longer-affiliated young adults away from us, or did we fail to hang on to them? Or is this a fair choice of question. Perhaps there could be complicated, multiple, and overlapping factors we should consider.
Note that the majority of adults in our congregations grew up in another tradition or in “None of the Above.” Are their childhood churches berating themselves because they didn’t hang on to them as adults? Should they?
Consider, perhaps, whether this fluidity is a persistent aspect of the American religious landscape. Ever since Alexis de Tocqueville first came to observe and write about Democracy in America, we have been known to have a marketplace of competing congregations, all with their own traditions, spiritual styles, ways of outreach and hospitality, and programs.
As Americans have become increasingly transient and less rooted in one place for the long term, it seems natural that congregation-switching would accelerate. So would withdrawal from participation. As we move around, it can be harder to establish a new church involvement after leaving one where you had a sense of deep roots and connection.
Yet this geographical transience, and the personal isolation that often comes with it, points to an opportunity for ministry. Instead of hand wringing over denominational statistics, we can get curious about needs that we might be poised to serve through our local congregations.
I am sure nostalgic institutionalists among us will worry that such virtual and viral forms of decentralized UUism may dwindle away over time. Moreover, as the leaders who help raise the funds to sustain a congregational home (with its buildings, programs, and staff), we can worry about the failure of our tried and true financing models to keep things going. Given that the landscape is changing, we must consider alternative financial models for programs and ministries that will still need money. This takes us to another part of Morales’s summarizing of the new reality:
Some of our committed and generous donors [to denominational operations or specific projects] do not belong to congregations. I recently met with a donor who gave us $300,000 and yet has never been a member of a congregation. A few weeks ago I spoke with another non-UU who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I’m happy to know there are visionary and generous people willing to make large donations to support our denominational programs. Yet I take this not as a clear solution, but as evidence that there is more complexity to the current landscape in which we do our ministries.
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR, Trends in Religion, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: congregational change, Faith Formation 2020, spiritual community, trends in religion
The Faith Formation 2020 report from LifelongFaith Associates (published in 2009) cites 13 trends of the changing religious landscape. I am exploring and reflecting on these in greater length in separate posts, but I thought it would be good to list them all in one place.
Trend 1. Declining Participation in Christian Churches [conservative as well as moderate/mainline, which is sociologically where UU churches fit]
Trend 2. Growth in No Religious Affiliation
Trend 3. Becoming More “Spiritual” and Less “Religious”
Trend 4. Influence of Individualism on Christian Identity and Community Life
Trend 5. Increasing Social, Cultural, and Religious Diversity in the U.S.
Trend 6. Growing Influence of Hispanic/Latino Religious Faith
Trend 7. Identifying a New Stage of Life: “Emerging Adulthood”
Trend 8. The Rise of a Distinctive Post-Boomer Faith and Spirituality
Trend 9. Changing Structures and Patterns of Family Life in the United States
Trend 10. Rediscovering the Impact of Parents and Families on Faith Practice
Trend 11. Living in a Digital World
Trend 12. Educating in New Ways
Trend 13. Increasing Numbers of Adults 65 and Older
Depending on how and whether these trends continue, and perhaps depending on how congregations and other religion-based organizations respond, the Faith Formation 2020 report imagines four possible scenarios. In other words, the U. S. religious landscape might look like one of these four:
Scenario #1. Vibrant Faith and Active Engagement in the Church Community
Scenario #2. Spiritual, but Not Religious
Scenario #3. Unaffiliated and Uninterested
Scenario #4. Participating in Church Activities, but Faith and the Spiritual Life Are Not Important [maybe religious, but not spiritual?]
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Comparative Religion, Magazine & Newspaper Articles, Religious Studies: History, Trends in Religion, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: church growth, congregational change
In her New York Times opinion article “One Nation Under God?” (Dec. 22, 2012), Molly Worthen writes: “Today’s spiritual independents are not unprecedented. What is new is their increasing visibility.” A history professor, Worthen gives us some history:
In the Middle Ages, for example, ordinary people often skipped church and had a feeble grasp of basic Christian dogma. Many priests barely understood the Latin they chanted — and many parishes lacked any priest at all. Bishops complained about towns that used their cathedrals mainly as indoor markets or granaries.
In 1584, well into the Protestant Reformation, she notes, “census takers in Antwerp discovered that the city had a larger proportion of ‘nones’ than 21st-century America: a full third of residents claimed no religious affiliation.”
Worthen’s article is in response to politically right-wing Christian assertions that the “rise of the unaffiliated” in the United States is an unprecedented sign that America has lost its Christian moorings. According to such right-wing arguments, our new lack of piety and morality is the reason God is letting bad things happen to us.
Worthen explains, however, that while church affiliation (i.e. membership) has always been a high proportion of U.S. population, participation has not been as high, even during the perceived golden era when Baby Boomers and their parents were driving church growth and expansion of church facilities:
Rates of church attendance have never been as sterling as the Christian Right’s fable of national decline suggests. Before the Civil War, regular attendance probably never exceeded 30 percent, rising to a high of 40 percent around 1965 and declining to under 30 percent in recent years — even as 77 percent still identify as Christians and 69 percent say they are “very” or “moderately” religious, according to a 2012 Gallup survey.
As Worthen says: “We know… that the good old days were not so good after all.”
Filed under: Becoming and Being Part of a UU Congregation, Comparative Religion, Comparative Religion, Graduate Theological school/PSR, UU Denomination and Pacific Central District News and Views | Tags: church growth, congregational change, Pew Study, religious participation, spiritual community, spiritual not religious, The Nones
Topic: The Decline of Church Attendance and Rise of the “None of the Aboves”
The Pew Forum’s research study has been blogged about, talked about, and featured in op-ed newspaper columns. Here’s a quotation from it:
In 2007 Pew Research Center surveys, 15.3% of U.S. adults answered a question about their current religion by saying they were atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” The number of religiously unaffiliated respondents has ticked up each year since, and now stands at 19.6%.
That is, the largest change in religious participation as a share of our population has taken place among those termed “Nones,” including atheists, agnostics, and nothing.Unlike other commentators, I don’t speak of this group as the “The Nones” because it sounds like “The Nuns.” The orders of women religious have their own problems with vitality and loss of members, but I won’t venture there. I call them the “None of the Aboves.”
According to Pew, the share of Christians in our population has declined from 78% to 73% even as the overall U.S. population has grown. (This category includes Catholics, Protestants of both Evangelical and Mainline streams, plus Mormons and the Orthodox.) The aggregate category of “other faiths” has grown from 4% to 6% of our population. So the “unaffiliated” are more than three times as large as the grouping of “other faiths.”
Who Are the Unaffiliated?
This is from the Pew Forum summary:
In terms of their religious beliefs and practices, the unaffiliated are a diverse group, and far from uniformly secular. Just 5% say they attend worship services on a weekly basis. But one-third of the unaffiliated say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives. Two-thirds believe in God (though less than half say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence). And although a substantial minority of the unaffiliated consider themselves neither religious nor spiritual (42%), the majority describe themselves either as a religious person (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%).
Where Did They Come From?
Pew says “the growth of the unaffiliated has taken place across a wide variety of demographic groups,” i.e., education level, income, and geographic region. However, the most striking aspect of the unaffiliated is age-related or genearational. The 2012 survey revealed these reported levels of no affiliation by the era in which respondents were born.
Younger Millenials (born 1990-94): 34% of them are unaffiliated
Older Millenials (1981-89): 30% unaffiliated
Generation X (1965-80) 21% unaffiliated
Baby Boomers (1946-64) 15% unaffiliated
Silent Generation (1928-45) 9% unaffiliated
Greatest Generation (1913-27) 5% unaffiliated
There is no earlier statistic than 2012 for those born in 1990-94, but in every other generational category shown here, the above percentages are higher in 2012 than they were in any of the prior years back to 2007.
Only 8% of Americans identify as not having been brought up in a religious tradition. However (as noted above), 19.6% of Americans are now unaffiliated. This means most have left something behind. Indeed, 74% of the unaffiliated report having had a religious background.
Politically, they are liberal: 24% of those who lean toward or are registered in the Democratic Party identify as unaffiliated. In contrast, only 14% of Democrats are Mainline white Protestants and 16% of Democrats are Black Protestants. Twice as many of the “None of the Aboves” say they are liberal (but there are still conservatives among them). Nearly ¾ of this group supports the legal right to an abortion and same-sex marriage equality. As you might expect, a chunk of the unaffiliated have some negative attitudes about religious institutions, but let’s consider that in another post.
What can we conclude from this trend?
a) The growth in the “None of the Aboves” may hold promise for a spiritually inclusive, religiously eclectic, non-dogmatic and socially progressive congregation. We may appeal to some of those folks. After all, many of them are socially or politically progressive and are not drawn to strict or traditional views about God, human sexuality or gender roles. (This is a summary of Pew results not enumerated in this post.) Many identify as “spiritual but not religious,” though there is no shared agreement on what that means.
b) The growth in the “None of the Aboves” is a cautionary trend for all religious congregations, as it shows a decline in religious participation and attendance. This reflects a growing loss in the decades-long American tradition of going to religious services and turning to congregational institutions for spiritual guidance, fellowship, and inspiration.
Which conclusion do you think is right: (a) or (b)? Why do you think that?
Might both conclusions have some truth? That is, the landscape in which we do ministry is changing. Our population is growing, but religious participation is declining. Whatever brand of religious community we’re selling, we cannot count on a reliable market for it. Yet as the landscape changes, we have more opportunities for ministry. If 19.6% of the American people are “nothing in particular,” and if we reach out to, attract, and embrace merely 1/19th of that demographic group, that’s 1% of the whole population. We UUs would grow enormously. The same goes for any denomination, but since we are smaller than the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jews and the UCC, it would be a bigger boost for the UUA.
“Are You Looking for a Religion that Would be Right for You?”
This question was asked of the “unaffiliated” survey respondents. While 88% said no and 2% didn’t know or refused to answer, 10% of them did say yes, they are looking. So if 10% of an estimated 19.6% of American adults are unaffiliated but looking, I think that means 1.9% of the population is at looking, or least open to participation.
And this does not count those who might be surprised to find a religious community about which they can say, “I didn’t know how much I needed this until I found it,” or “I had no idea a congregation like this even existed!” Both statements come from adults who have joined UU congregations in which I have been involved, but I can imagine a happy “seeker” might say the same thing after finding a congregation that has another brand name.
 To be sure, we have atheists and agnostics in UU churches but as a movement we are statistically insignificant no matter where our numbers would be categorized.
 See elegant summaries of the Pew results with background details at http://www.pewforum.org/Unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx – ranks
Filed under: Uncategorized
well said. I like the comparison with the GPS and directions
Originally posted on Speaking of...:
A little background: On Thursday, the UUA announced and unveiled a new logo as the first step of what seems to be a multistep process to update our image. You can read about it in this UU World article. Needless to say, the blogosphere and social media exploded with critique.
I want to take a number of steps back, one at a time, in order to better understand the critique. I am not going to get into the value or design of the new logo – I want to look at process.
View original 679 more words