Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Learning Spirituality from Plants! Flower Celebration Sunday Message

Homily (Sermonette) by Rev. Roger from UUSS Flower Communion Sunday, June 2, 2013 (All-Ages Worship Service)

 

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.

Preparing ourselves.

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.

 



“In the Flow” Jazz Festival Concert–at UUSS—Sunday night, May 11

UUSS is co-hosting two concerts.  See our website to find out how to get to us.

On Sunday night, May 11, we will be one venue for Ross Hammond’s annual In the Flow weekend jazz festival. The headliner is Dwight Trible, who will sing at services in the morning. UUSS will get half the ticket sales. The artists keep all the revenue from sale of recordings. There will be no alcohol, but if a UUSS volunteer group wishes to sell snacks as a fundraiser, let me know.

Ross will also coordinate and host a concert on Sunday evening, June 8, by a UU couple from Iowa known as Gate House Saints, with an opening act by local talent. UUSS will make money on this event as well.  If you can help out on June 8, please contact Ross. If you haven’t heard Ross on guitar in church on a Sunday, see www.rosshammond.com for his local venues.



April Newsletter Highlight #2 — From Grasshoppers to Goats — An Explanation

Some of you have been asking me about the goats you have seen on our church campus recently. They are truly adorable but are here for a more practical purpose.

They are not here every day but are brought here three days a week and watched (herded) closely. We have been blessed, finally, by rains and by new green growth of grass on campus. Unfortunately, our UUSS Grasshoppers —the teams of grounds keeping volunteers— need some new people to help out in the wake of retirements of longtime volunteers. (Call Elaine in the Office if you are curious about what the commitment and the tasks involve.) While waiting to get a larger group of human Grasshoppers, we have bought a small herd of goats to keep the grass and weeds cut back.

This purchase will NOT affect the funds available for the Building Project! The funds for the purchase of the goats have come out of the fundraising line in the operating budget. The goats will be… uh, gone before this Saturday night’s Auction Dinner.

Speaking of the dinner, you have one more day to buy tickets from the UUSS Office, since April 2 is the deadline and today is April 1. Thank you.



UUSS Campus Renovation & Expansion Project – Cost & Financing Issues–Meeting this Sunday

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.



Wow, am I tired! But a good tired. Happy 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.



Recap of UUSS Summer Worship Services 2013

This past summer we had a variety of service topics, styles and speakers.  We said farewell to Doug in June and to Eric in September.  

Religious Diversity:  Whether in sermons, special rituals, or with meditation, prayer or Yoga practice in the service, we covered a variety of religious traditions and perspectives, including longtime Unitarian Universalists and UU children showing how they put their faith into practice in the ways they try to make a difference in the world.

Behold:

May 26–Grievable Deaths (Memorial Day), Roger’s sermon.

June 2 — Czech Unitarian Flower Celebration (Flower Exchange), Roger’s sermon, plus a 10-year salute to our Grasshopper Groundskeeping volunteers

June 9 — Doug’s last dialogue service

June 16 — Worship Committee Ensemble Service:  Father’s Day

June 23 — The Common Good?  Part 1 (Adam Dyer, Starr King School for the Ministry, with my participation)

June 30 — Doug’s Farewell Message (Concluding 13 Years of Ministry with UUSS)

July 7 — Rev. Bob Oshita, from the Buddhist Church of Sacramento

July 14 — The Death of Me: A play in place of a sermon, offered by Theater One with Roger’s participation on the other parts of the service

July 21 —  Becoming Love’s People (Rev. Meghan Cefalu of UU Community of the Mountains, in a pulpit exchange with me; Roger preached “Money and Life” in Grass Valley)

July 28 —  Yoga Etc.:  Care for the Body is Care for the Spirit with Paige, Roger, and UUSS Monday Yoga class members

August 4 — The Common Good? Part 2, with Adam Dyer

August 11 — Faith Theatricals:  Tell a New Story, by Rev. Sonya Sukalski, with Roger’s participation.  Blessing Ritual for Youth Departing Sacramento for the First Year of College

August 18 — Touching Hearts Through Bullet-Proof Glass:  Visiting Immigrants Held in Federal Detention in Local Jails:  Roger, JoAnn, Mary Helen, and Joan.  Blessing Ritual for Youth Departing Sacramento for the First Year of College

August 25 — Annual Ingathering Water Ceremony.  Buddhist Metta Guided Meditation by Erik B.  Roger’s Sermon “Roots and Wings.”  The Water Ceremony has Earth-based themes and was first created several decades ago as a feminist ritual at a UU women’s organization’s retreat.

September 1 — Modern Slavery:  Kids Making a Difference:  Roger, Aliya, Ben and other UU kids  from the Kids’ Freedom Club.  Pastoral Prayer by Petra.   Farewell solo by Eric S.

Now what?  Two services starting September 8:  9:30 and 11:15 AM.  Religious Education for Children and Youth at 9:30 AM.  Nursery Care during both services.



Remarks to the Sacramento County Planning Commission

 

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.