Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

#1: Phoenix General Assembly and Ministry Days 2012, June 19-24, 2012



Brisk walk from home to Yolobus near Capitol, $2 ride to Sac airport Monday morning.   Caught a Phoenix cab to our rented house (thank God cabbies now have GPS) along with newly called minister to large River Road Church in Maryland/DC burbs.  She’s an amazing younger minister; her professor hubby just published book Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters.

My former intern and her minister husband like to find house rentals and avoid hotels for GA, and I’m one of the privileged.  We are in historic Encanto/Palmcroft neighborhood in a Spanish villa with a pool, TV room, wine chiller, and four bedrooms.  Wanna see it?  Click here.  With nine of us it’s cheaper than a hotel.  Two ministers made a grocery trip:  lots of chocolate bars!  A Florida minister made us a nice veggie dinner, which we enjoyed with reminiscences from seminary days.  Then a few of us did a run through of a readers’ theater play we will give at a workshop at GA on Friday.  We all turned in early.  Today’s temp was 112.  My roommate here has been a minister 24 years.  He did his seminary internship in our church 25 years ago!  Now serving in a co-ministry with his wife on an island in Washington state.



Today is Day one of the two Ministry Days (UU Ministers’ Association).  Got up at 5:30; the east coasters got up first.  Coffee by the pool after two folks swam, conversation about ministerial pensions and UUA fair compensation standards.  Half-hour bus or light rail ride to convention center; week’s pass only $17.  Hi-carb breakfast at the center, hello all around to familiar faces and a long conversation with a colleague in his 8th year in a southeast church of 650, just now getting a second minister!


Opening worship featured Susan Frederick Gray, minister in a Phoenix church, about the experience of serving in AZ with the police-state rule of Sheriff Arpaio here and the law known as SB 1070.   Powerful sermon, with prayer by my colleague from Milton, MA, who is on the UUMA Board.  Offering to support AZ Interfaith Worker Justice organization.


Coffee break led to more catching up with several folks and then a great presentation on social justice activism paradigms by Starr King School for the Ministry president and scholar from UC Riverside, and panel with UUA President, UU Legislative Ministry (California) Senior Minister, and African American minister from Arlington, VA.  Very thoughtful and thought-provoking.  Each presenter ended with a question we should discuss with folks near to us in groups of 2 or 3.

Chatted with CA pals on way to lunch room, then lost them.  Had long lunch visit with my first UU minister (from 1985!); a great listener!  Workshop on interfaith social justice activities with a panel of AZ rabbi, Methodist minister, Episcopal lay leader.  Coffee with senior colleague Doug and an accumulation of 5 other Pacific Central ministers at Starbucks sitting outside in 108 heat (thawing out after the AC morning).  Was approached by a few seminarians trying to find a church to do their internships.


Attended the Q&A with UUA denomination president Peter Morales.  In a past career he worked for the State and lived in Sacramento.  Went for a long walk outside to drop a greeting card off at a colleague’s hotel room to mark her 25 years in the ministry.  (Those marking 25 and 50 years in our ministry will be honored Wednesday morning, as well as those  ministers who have died in the past year.)


My eyes were dry, my lips were dry, my new tennis shoes may have been melting on the sidewalk, though a posted sign said it was only 108.


For dinner, met up with ministers from Hayward and Walnut Creek (CA) and central PA and Virginia/DC suburbs (both of them used to be in our district).   We dined outdoors, with ceiling fans and mist-ers; when the wind was blowing right it even felt chilly under the mist.  I found my way to light rail and the 15 minute walk home, with dry eyes again.  At the house, folks are watching the Seattle Mariners play the Arizona Diamondbacks.  I had seen crowds walking from light rail to the ball park downtown.

Gifted minister appointed professor of UU history at our UU seminary in Berkeley

Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie has been teaching UU history, polity and ministry for Starr King School–all the while shepherding a congregation near Columbus, Ohio!   Now she has been appointed associate professor at the school.  Read the school president’s announcement

A ministry and life cut short by cancer: In Memory of Nancy Shaffer

The Rev. Nancy Morgan Shaffer
August 11, 1950 – June 5, 2012

The Rev. Nancy Morgan Shaffer, a Unitarian Universalist minister known both for her poetry and for cutting-edge work in the ministry of lifespan faith development, died Tuesday, June 5th, at her home in Davis, after a yearlong struggle with cancer.

She was born Aug. 11, 1950, as Nancy Kathryn Brooks, the only daughter of Marjorie Ruth Tallmon Brooks and Lee Murphy Brooks. She was the sister of Michael Raymond Brooks, and the niece of George William Rutledge Tallmon and Robert Tallmon. She was married for two years to William Limon of Atascadero; they had no children.

She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from University of California, Davis, in 1972 and received certification in psychology at Sacramento State University, before beginning a career as a school psychologist in Vacaville and in the Chicago public schools.

She studied for the ministry at Starr King School for the Ministry, where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. She served an internship under the Rev. Dr. Frederic Muir in Annapolis, MD, where she was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry in October 2003. Rev. Shaffer served as Interim Minister of Religious Education in Monterey, CA, 2004-05; Parish Minister in Glen Allen, VA, 2005-07; Interim Minister of Religious Education in Evanston, IL, 2007-08, and Associate Minister for Religious Education in Ann Arbor, MI, from 2008 to 2012. It was during this settlement that she was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer.

Rev. Shaffer was grateful to the Rev. Chris Fry, who encouraged her to submit her poems to Skinner House, which published them in 2002 as a Unitarian Universalist Meditation Manual, Instructions in Joy. Of  her poetry, the late Rev. Dr. Forrest Church wrote, “Nancy’s world is riddled with epiphanies, her kitchen table an altar set for communion, her anger pure, her sorrow sacramental. Nancy reaches my soul.”

A volume of poetry and journal entries she wrote chronicling her year of living with a brain tumor is expected to be forthcoming soon as “Large Enough Thanks: Ministry After a Brain Tumor.”

As a minister, Rev. Shaffer was known among her colleagues and congregants as a deeply spiritual presence. Her work with children invited them gently into mystery and awe, especially through art and through original stories that presented possibility far more than conclusion.

Rev. Shaffer is survived by her parents, Marjorie and Lee Brooks. She leaves special, beloved colleagues, including the Rev. Beth Banks, the Rev. Roger Jones, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris, the Rev. David Keyes, and the Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz. She also leaves beloved friends, including MaryAnn Gholson, to whom she was grateful for organizing and providing end of life care. And, she leaves two beloved cats, Eliza and Hope.

She was a member of both the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis and St. Martins Episcopal Church.

A Memorial Celebration of Rev. Shaffer’s life will be held on Friday, June 15, at 2 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Living Tradition Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Introduction to Unitarian Universalism and UUSS

What is Unitarian Universalism now?

1.         An association of 1,048 autonomous congregations in the US, Canada, & Philippines

2.         A non-creedal religious movement which promotes freedom of conscience, tolerance of differences, respect for diversity, the practices of reasoning together and compassion.

3.         A community of free minds and open hearts who commit generously to the hard work of democratic governance, mutual support, and continuous learning from one another.

4.         An institution dedicated to enhancing individual dignity and promoting spiritual growth.

What was it originally?              Two ancient Christian heresies:  Unitarianism (Arianism, the humanity of Jesus); Universalism (Arminianism, universal salvation).

1.  Major Events in our Liberal Religious Heritage                

1.  European History

1531 Michael Servetus published On the Errors of the Trinity (burned at stake 1553)

1585 Polish Socinians founded Rakow press, the 1st official Unitarian press

1568 King John Sigismund of Transylvania issues Edict of Religious Toleration

1654  John Biddle, founder British Unitarianism, banished to Scilly Islands

1723  Theophilus Lindsey born; 1733 Joseph Priestly born, immigrated to US 1794

1750 British Evangelist James Relly becomes independent Universalist preacher

2.                  New England Origins

a.                   1805 Unitarian vs. Puritan Controversy:  elite, educated, formal

1819 “Unitarian Christianity” sermon preached by Wm. Ellery Channing

1836 Emerson publishes Nature; Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, transcendentalism:  direct intuition, individualism, social reform

b.                  Universalist movement:  rural, uneducated/self-taught, very pious & spirited

1770 widowed Englander John Murray’s boat ran ashore in NJ, where Thomas Potter awaited a minister to preach a distinctive Christian message;

Anti-Calvinist in theology:  1805 Hosea Ballou’s Treatise on Atonement

3.                  Westward Movement

a.                   1844 Meadville Theological School founded in Western PA; 1926 it moved to Chicago

b.                  1870s-1920s:  Iowa Sisterhood:  liberal women ministers established Unitarian churches in Midwest & plains states (e.g., Mary A. Safford, Eleanor Gordon)

c.                   1834 Wm Greenleaf Eliot took Unitarianism to St. Louis, founded Wash. Univ.

d.                  1860-64 Thomas Starr King, New England Universalist, came to San Fran’s 1st Unitarian; saved CA for the Union, raised $1.5 million for precursor to Red Cross.

e.         1904 Starr King School for the Ministry founded in Berkeley, CA

4.                  Radicals, Conservatives & Religious Humanism

a.                   1857 radical New England Unitarians formed the Free Religious Assn.

b.                  1852 Unitarian missionaries formed Western Unitarian Assn., Chicago;

its anti-creedal leaders made it theologically radical in 1870s-80s

c.                   1894 harmony achieved by unanimous declaration of non-creedalism

d.                  1933   The Humanist Manifesto signed by academics & Unitarian clergy


UU Social Action and Congregational Governance

5.                  Social Action—personal crusades or institutional stands, inspired by UU principles

a.         1800s:  leaders of abolitionist, women’s suffrage, and temperance movements

b.         1917:  Prof. Clarence Skinner’s Declaration of Social Principles adopted by Universalist denomination; he calls for “a this-worldly Universalism”

c.         1930s-40s refugee & relief efforts by Service Committees of both denominations

d.         1950-90s activism:  civil liberties, civil rights, Vietnam War protests, conscientious objector help, now more women in ministry than any other denomination, abortion rights, lesbian/gay rights, human rights worldwide. Standing on the Side of Love campaign 2009.

e.         Beacon Press, owned by the UUA, publishes books relevant to UU purposes

f.          UU Legislative Ministry of California founded by local and statewide UUs in 2001.

6.         The UUA Merger, the Statements of Principles and Sources, UU Church of the PhilippinesMajor Events in our Liberal Religious Heritage

a.                   1930s first of many merger talks occur; some denominational programs merge

b.                  1955  f irst contact between a Filipino pastor (Negros Island) and American Universalists

c.                   1961  formal merger of American Unitarian Association & Universalist Church in America

d.                  1984  UUA General Assembly adopts “Principles & Purposes” and “Sources” of UUism

e.                   1988  UUA bylaws change makes UU Church of the Philippines member of the UUA

f.                    1993  an updated UUA hymnal published:  Singing the Living Tradition

e.         1995  a close vote at GA adds “earth-based traditions” to the list of “Sources” of  UUism

7.         History and Organization of the UU Society of Sacramento

a.         1860 first Unitarian meetings held in Sacramento; 1865: $100,000 raised for Unitarian outreach in N. California.  First Unitarian Church of Sacramento founded in 1868 with 17 families.  But from 1873-87 no records of church activity!  In 1892 First Unitarian Society founded.  From 1901-11, there was minimal church activity!

In 1915 church building was built at 1415 27th St., in Midtown.  Stayed there 45 years.

c.  1960: church moved to new, modern campus, buildings designed by John Harvey Carter at 2425 Sierra Blvd.   2008:  Long Range Plan adopted.  2012:  congregation members unanimously an architectural master plan for the building and grounds for the next fifty years.  Capital fund raising campaign in fall 2012.

d.                  From 1971-83:  Rev. Ted Webb served  here, is now minister emeritus.  1976:  church name changed to UU Society.  1982:  world religions/cultures banners were hung.  2000:  Rev. Doug Kraft was called by a congregational vote.  2008:  Board hired Rev. Roger Jones on a yearly contract.  2012:   the congregation voted to call Roger as Associate Minister.

e.                    Budget of revenues/expenses approved at every May congregational meeting; month-to-month business is entrusted to elected volunteer Board of Trustees, meeting monthly.

f.                   Funding for our ministries, staff, programs, and services comes from pledged donations by members & friends, fundraising events, visitors’ offerings, and property rental revenue.

g.                   UUSS is a member of the local UU Pacific Central District (38 congregations) and the national Unitarian Universalist Association (1,048 congregations).  We provide voluntary annual dues to District & UUA (full rate is about $100/member; budgeted amount varies)

h.       Every church sends delegates to UUA General Assembly in late June:  2012 in Phoenix, 2013 in Louisville.  PCD District Assembly is on a weekend every April, usually in the Bay Area.

Revised 05/04/2012



For the Future… 

What a great youth-led Oxfam Hunger Banquet we had on April 29!  On April 1, Eli’s song and brother Eric’s loving-kindness meditation grounded us before the fool-ishness of Doug and Roger.  On Mother’s Day, our grade-school UUs were great when they acted out a Spirit Play story—at both services, no less.

We’ve been having more kids at church, including infants and toddlers.  They seem happy to be here, and they are so darn cute.

On June 3, we start our third summer ArtWorks series in Sunday School.  At 9:00 AM, on Saturday, June 9, we have an orientation for potential Spirit Play volunteers for the fall.  Interested?  Give me a call, shoot me an email, or just show up before 9 AM in Room 7/8.

In August, we pack a year’s worth of UU religious education into one week of kids’ Chalice Camp.  In the fall we start two new series of the sexuality and UU values program, Our Whole Lives.  (We just concluded an OWL series for sixteen 7-8th graders!)

It’s often said: “Teens and children are the future of the church.”  Well, maybe.  At UUSS we have enough life-long UUs and three-generation UU families to back that up.  Yet national trends now say that folks don’t stay in the faith of their childhood they way we did for much of the 20th century.

In truth, teens and children are the church of the present.  They are here right now.  Our presence as a community of adult supporters and volunteers makes a real difference in their lives, just as they touch our lives.

You can’t always know how the time you share, talents you offer, or money you donate will make a difference in their lives, or in anyone’s life.

But be assured, it makes a difference.  Whatever we do now will make a difference for them–building character and confidence, giving inspiration and hope, sowing seeds of understanding, self-acceptance, and compassion.

These gifts of the present will yield life-long benefits to their future.

Deep thanks to all of you who give so much of yourselves to build and sustain our ministry with all ages in this church.

Thank you for considering the invitation to serve, and then for answering yes.

I know you are glad you do.  So am I!


Yours in service,

Revelation Is Not Sealed–Liberal Religion and a Multiplicity of Revelations

The keystone of liberal religion–whether it be Unitarian Universalism or another liberal religious tradition–is that the revelation of religious truth is not sealed, it is ongoing and continuous.  Revelation is not sealed in a book of scripture, in one prophet’s historic utterances, in one set of myths, or any religious authority or hierarchy.  Revelation is not locked up or handed down by a limited few.  It is open and ongoing.

When I lead a Newcomer’s Orientation to Membership at church, I say this.  Then I ask the group:

What can you think of as a source of ongoing revelation of religious or spiritual truth?

Last night 24 newcomers attended an orientation and came up with some great answers.




Awareness of the mutability of human assumptions and certainties throughout human history

from inside yourself–your mind, feelings, conscience


The arts









Sacred scriptures

Religious traditions other than your own


Wow!  This was one of the most fruitful conversations I’ve ever heard in response to that question.  Perhaps it was inspired by the friendly hospitality and nourishing meal provided by our team of volunteers.

What would you add? What questions does this raise for you? Please include them in the comments section.

In Part 2 of this class, we will talk about ways to get connected and involved in the congregation, learn a bit of history of our own church (founded here in 1868) and take a tour of the buildings and grounds, take questions from the class, and talk about what membership in a UU congregation means.  I’ll add that to the blog June 13.

June 9 I will post my historical outline (one of the handouts for this class) Unitarian Universalism–An Introduction.

All the Media that Money Can Buy

This article summarizes the decline of the past 3 decades (except for those at the very top).  It also notes that Facebook and “The Avengers” are taxpayer-subsidized enterprises.   On July 15, retired not-for-profit executive and Peace Corps volunteer Bruce Hamilton will speak on economic inequality in a sermon entitled “Who Gets What.”