Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

A Terrible Thing Has Happened

Some of you may not know that Unitarian Churches have existed in Eastern Europe since the late 1500s, early in the Protestant Reformation.  Many UU churches have partner church relationships with village and city churches in Transylvania, which is a Hungarian-speaking province in Romania.  I visited in 1998 and hosted several Unitarian colleagues to preach when I served in Silicon Valley.

Unitarians in Transylvania (50,000 of them) are ethnic and religious minorities in a country where Romanian and Eastern Orthodox nationalism are rampant and frightful.  They are Unitarian Christians who use the Bible for their worship services and sermons. 

 They look and sound rather traditional in contrast to most North American UU congregations, but they are religious liberals and often the only social liberals speaking out on issues of concern, such as fairness for LGBT people and Roma people (Gypsies).  Every year a minister from Transylvania comes to Berkeley to be a special student at Starr King School for the Ministry.

After Sunday worship at General Assembly I learned terrible news.  A village minister in his mid-30s, named Denes (=Dennis) Cseh, killed himself after murdering his two young sons.  His wife has had serious cancer for a number of years and was out of town, staying with her parents. Hence, she is left without a husband or children, and still facing cancer.   Horrifying and sickening news, to be sure.

In the early afternoon there was a support circle in the Minneapolis Convention Center for ministers from Transylvania as well as those who are friends of Transylvanian churches to grieve and offer support.  Please extend your condolences to any people you may know from Transyvlania as well as those North Americans involved in the UU Partner Church Council.

Two days after the deaths came this pastoral letter from the Bishop of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania, to be read at the Sunday morning services of all the churches on July 4.   (At 4:00 PM all the ministers of Transylvania were to gather in the village of Medgyes.)  The letter has been  translated from Hungarian into English by Lujza Nehrebeczky, a member of our UU church in Lexington, KY.  It appeared first on the
website of the Transylvanian denomination.

Pastoral letter to all congregations

 June 29, 2010
[Cluj-Napoca in Romanian]

To our Unitarian believers and brethren of other denominations:

This past Sunday, as we were preparing to go to church with gratitude to
God, we were shocked to receive the horrifying news. It caused us both pain
and bewilderment to find out about the terrible crime committed by the
pastor of our congregation in Medgyes. As a Unitarian minister and as a
church member, my soul was tried by hearing the news. This widely publicized
event evokes many questions in us both as individuals and as a community.

I write these words with the belief that God is near us even in such trying
times, only we don’t know how to look for him. Our forebears had succeeded
in finding their way out of severe circumstances. In case our faith in God
has been weakened or we have lost the path shown us by the exemplary lives
of our ancestors, let us hear the prophet’s message: “Seek the Lord while he
may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their
way, and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them return to the Lord, that
he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon”
(Isaiah 55:6-7).

One individual’s actions are not the actions of the community. However, this
event casts its shadow on all of us. Of course, we do not disown a minister
of our church who has served three different congregations over ten years.
And we certainly do not disown a family man who has shown exceptional
devotion in raising his children and seeking a cure for his terminally ill
wife. We regret enormously that this heavy burden that required superhuman
strength to bear caused a nervous breakdown in him. This man, who had
received psychiatric care for his illness, did not take those lives in his
position as a minister. His deeds reach far beyond the life of our church
and are considered explicitly criminal acts. While we stood by him, aided
him financially and followed his tribulations as his fellow servants, we
cannot bear the responsibility for the horrible murders he committed. One
individual’s actions are not the actions of the community, but this event
casts its shadow on all of us.

Many press sources have been objective in reporting on the immeasurable
tragedy that befell this family, and we hereby express our gratitude to
them. However, the scandal-craving tabloid media and the public opinion it
manipulates have attempted to judge our entire community based on this
event. Being Unitarian will become difficult in the coming days and weeks,
and it may remain so for a long while. Some people may ridicule or slander
us. Others may attempt to associate our faith with ideas we have never

We need the strength and sobriety of our religious community now more than
ever before. This community consists of us, of each individual person. Let
us stand by one another and our faith. Together, let us expect the blessing
of our providing God, which we can experience even in the darker days of our
lives. Let us remember that our forebears made difficult but sustaining
sacrifices for this precious faith, in order that they may pass it on to us.
Let us remember the pure and simple faith of our cherished Unitarian
religion that has always compelled us to love God and serve people. Over
four and a half centuries, our church has enriched humanity with
immeasurable values. Let us ensure that this legacy lives on.

Together, let us pray for the tried but strong congregation in Medgyes; for
our shaken believers; for the minister’s wife mourning her children and
husband. Let us implore our eternal, one true God to dwell amongst us with
his providence and power, compelling us to do what is right. May God protect
our physical and mental health, send us help in our illnesses, and defend us
from family and community tragedies. May God give us spiritual strength so
we can stand firm beside those in need. With our godly lives, let us prove
that we are brothers and sisters, children of God.

May the love of God remain among us.

Bishop Ferenc Balint


Wisdom from Harvard Business Review

I thought of our UU congregational culture and the plateau of growth so familiar to our denomination (and not only ours) when I saw this in the Life’s Work feature in the Jan/Feb Harvard Business Review: Condoleeza Rice was asked “What piece of knowledge from your research was most useful at the State Department?”

She said:  “The fact that I’d been concerned all my academic career with how institutions develop was very helpful when I found myself leading a Dept of State that was having to adapt to a post 9/11 world. My research affirmed that most organizations change only when they’re failing. They take cues too late from the environment. The question is, how do you get a relatively successful institution to respond to really new changes?”

Growing and Global Spread of UUism: Leaders from Africa and Other Continents at General Assembly

We had a large and lively delegation of foreign UU leaders at the 2009 UUA General Assembly.

We welcomed the newly elected bishop of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (Erdhely, in Hungarian), an ethnic Hungarian province in Romania where the first Unitarian churches emerged in the 1560’s.  Also in attendance was the young male minister (and his wife) who had spent the past school year as a Balazs Scholar at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.

We welcomed the new, young General Secretary of the Unitarian Union of Northeast India (from the Khasi Hills, in Meghalaya state).  His name is Helpme Mohrmen and he leads 60 congregations in a remote region; several of them have schools attached.  See a YouTube video of the area!

I was happy to meet three leaders from UU churches in Africa, here in the US for the first time (and what a place for your first visit–the city of Mormon headquarters!).

The UU church in Uganda is fairly new and reportedly the only gay-friendly church in the country; I sat next to Mark, its minister, at a luncheon.  He told me that the church sponsors a school for 400 children who are AIDS orphans, being brought up by grandparents, other relatives or neighbors.  About 30 of the children have HIV themselves, and they live at the church’s orphanage so they can take their medications on schedule and receive other care.

I also met the Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana, the leader of the UU church in Burundi, and Mr. Olufemi Matimoju, the leader of the UU church in Nigeria, which has existed since about 1918, when an Anglican clergyman converted because the Anglican church was not quite inclusive enough for his Yoruba cultural and faith tradition.  Former UUA President Bill Sinkford made a pilgrimage to Africa in 2008, along with the Rev. Eric Cherry, director of International Programs at the UUA (and a seminary friend of mine).  Click to see and hear some of the African church leaders at  General Assembly.

(Bill and Eric also visited UUs in the Republic of South Africa and learned about the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  My personal note:  I used to think Apartheid was a continuation of a centuries-old practice, like Jim Crow in the US.  Then I learned that it was legislated into existence in the late 1940’s!)

There is an article about the unique African expressions of our liberal faith in the recent UU World magazine.

Many UU churches in the US and Canada have a Partner Church relationship in Transylvania, Northeast India, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland and other lands.  Check out the UU Partner Church Council to read more about the purpose of these international relationships.

(Most foreign UU groups are part of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.  Only the UU Church of the Philippines is an actual member of our UUA denomination.)

Midweek Ministerial Message from the Family Minister

Dear Guests, Friends and Members of UUSS,

Greetings and Happy New Year!

Happy New Fiscal Year, that is. Our new UUSS budget year began July 1. Thanks to all our members and friends who keep UUSS going strong, year after year!

I’m happy to be back and look forward to seeing you soon. Let me know if you’d like an appointment, or just give me a call. I also feel sadness at the passing of our member Frank O. after a long illness, and I extend my condolences to Polly and family.

I’ve been in and out of state: in Boston with David Libby, Tina Chiginsky and five Coming of Age youth for the Heritage Tour; in the Bay Area to preach on H. D. Thoreau at the UU Church of Berkeley and to visit; in Seattle for a few days of vacation. Along with Rev. Doug, I attended Ministry Days and the UUA General Assembly, held this year in Salt Lake City. My weblog [this one!] includes a few posts from GA and my daily journal of the Heritage Tour in Boston.

There was too much at GA for me to cover everything, but I’ll mention that congregations re-elected UUA Board Moderator Gini Courter and gave a grateful and loving farewell to the Rev. Bill Sinkford as he ended his 8 years of service as UUA President. Congregations elected his successor, the Rev. Peter Morales. Read, watch and listen to more coverage at .
I took along with me our UUSS Green Sanctuary photo album (about our conservation and environmental education and stewardship projects) to display at the UUA Congregational Stewardship booth in the exhibit hall, and UUSS was honored as a newly designated Green Sanctuary church; our new certificate is on its way to us in the mail. We were also honored for being a Fair Share contributor of financial support to the UUA for the past fiscal year.

First the headlines, then the articles below:

This All-Ages Sunday Morning at UUSS

UUSS Member invites us to Special Art Show Opening this Friday and Saturday.

Family Friendly Restaurant Dinner Next Wednesday, July 15

Attention, Carpenters!

Entryway Improvement Project Now Underway

Community Partner: July Offerings will Support Local Organization

Poetry Feature

Conclusion and My Contact Info

Now the articles:

This Sunday Morning at UUSS

I will be leading a Service for All Ages this Sunday, at 10:00 AM
The topic (and your role in the service) this week is Tee-Shirt Theology. Please wear a shirt that states or depicts an aspect of your personal theology, philosophy, ethics, faith, ultimate concern, religious questions, or organizational commitments. I will preach briefly and we will invite all ages to show their messages in a quick procession by the microphone. Here are some examples of such short-sleeve spirituality I have seen in previous services: the list of UUA Principles, the Golden Rule, “Do No Harm” and the question “What If The Hokey-Pokey Really Is What It’s All About?” I remember a former parishioner’s shirt that was only a nature picture and another’s that said: “If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem will seem like a nail.” There’s the well-known citation of “John 3:16” which is a theologically non-unitarian Bible verse, and my blue Buddhist shirt, “Breathe In. Breathe Out. Repeat.”

Something Else New This Sunday:
The Religious Education Welcome Table will move to the main patio, near the wall between the two sets of doors. While we will have brochures and welcoming volunteers at the table, there will be no need to register children this week, as this is an all-ages service. For infants and toddlers, as always, there will be nursery care in Classroom 11 but the service is designed to include children and youth as well as adults. The Child/Youth Religious Education Committee holds its monthly meeting after the service at 11:30, with new chair Jeannine Newcum. If you’d like to know how you can help us get ready for our September liftoff, contact RE Assistant Janet Lopes or me.

UUSS Member announces Art Show this weekend.
Patty Taylor invites us to attend an exhibit of the Woodlake Artist Group titled “Back on the Boulevard.” Aka Taylor Guttermute, Patty is a member of the Woodlake Artist group which recently displayed their works at UUSS sponsored by the UUSS Artist Exhibits. Patty also demonstrated the use of nature-friendly art materials to our 4th/5th grade children in an RE class last Spring. Location: 1616 Del Paso Blvd. – Sacramento, 95815 (Home of the Supper Club, Actors Theatre, and Fran’s Cafe). Patty will be showing some of her 2D and 3D work along with five other artists from the group at the Special Opening – Friday July 10th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm and the Second Saturday Opening – Saturday July 11th from 6:00 to 10:00 pm. Here is a link to Patty’s website –

Family Friendly Restaurant Dinner Next Wednesday, July 15

I hear there were over 40 folks at last month’s dinner. Sorry I was out of town! This month we will be back at UUSS’s nearby neighborhood Fresh Choice, at 535 Howe Ave., just south of Sierra Blvd. Show up when you can, grab a tray and help yourself to wholesome salads, soups, breads, pizza, fruit and desserts of the wholesome and high-calorie kinds. Fresh Choice donates 15% of our purchases back to UUSS, but the real purpose of this event is to help folks get to know one another better and promote connections across the generations. (Note that the restaurant’s contribution does not apply to your total bill if you apply any discounts or coupons to your purchase, but don’t let that keep you from coming.) Find a flyer at or at the Welcome Table at church this Sunday. I may have a few extras in my pocket if you forget yours. I’ll be there from 5:30 to 7:30. This will be a nice time to connect before I go back home again to Indiana for a week’s visit.

Attention, Carpenters!

There are many ways that you can help us launch the Child and Youth Religious Education program, especially in launching the new Spirit Play method for elementary-age children. We need to build or buy a nice four-easel contraption so four children can paint or draw simultaneously. We also will need some story boards or sets (small props for classic stories) as well as storage cabinets to keep them from week to week. Contact if you have questions.

Entryway Improvement Project Now Underway!

Last Sunday after church many folks attended the ground-breaking ceremony and blessing of the church’s Entryway Project, between the parking lot and our sanctuary entrance near the patio. This design will improve the lines of sight, visual appeal and spirit of welcome. Many thanks to the growing number of donors to this speedy capital campaign. We are well on our way to the goal of $20,000 for this project. Many thanks to the facilitators, designers, diggers, planters and others!

If you’d like to add your gift to this capital campaign, contact lay leader Colene S or our Book Keeper Michele , or see our Pay Pal donation button at the bottom of our UUSS web site. If you drop off a check, make sure it says “Entryway Project” in the memo line.

Bob O. invites you to bring a shovel or a strong back this Saturday to help out: “We plan to begin removing the dirt from the triangular bed July 11, if you would like to help, join us at 9AM. Let us know if you are coming because we will be providing lunch and refreshments. Coffee and donuts at 8:30 lunch about 1PM.” Let him know if you are coming!

If you’d like to see pictures of the July 5 ground-breaking ceremony and blessing, go to our website, Additional photos may be found at this link:
or copy either link and paste it in your web browser.

Community Partner: July Offerings will Support Local Organization

All non-pledge contributions placed in the offering baskets every Sunday this month will be shared equally with The Birthing Project in Sacramento. Find out more at

Poetry Feature

a poem by Scott Cairns, American, born 1954
(Word Note: a coracle is a small, round boat made of wickerwork
covered with a watertight material, propelled with a paddle).

Prospect of the Interior

A little daunting, these periodic
incursions into what is, after all,
merely suspected territory.

One can determine nothing from the low
and, I’m afraid, compromised perspective
of the ship, save that the greenery is thick,

and that the shoreline is, in the insufficient
light of morning and evening, frequently
obscured by an unsettling layer of mist.

If there are inhabitants, they’ve chosen
not to show themselves. Either they fear us,
or they prefer ambush to open threat.

We’d not approach the interior at all
except for recurrent, nagging doubts
about the seaworthiness of our craft.

So, as a matter of course, necessity
mothers us into taking stock of our
provisions, setting out in trembling parties

of one, trusting the current, the leaky
coracle, the allocated oar.


Conclusion and My Contact Info

For other important UUSS events, see the Blue Sheet announcement insert, July Unigram newsletter, or the white board near the sidewalk leading from the parking lot to the Main Hall.

Wishing you all a good week
and hoping to see you soon,

Technology and Ministry: Put Your Purpose First

At the 2009 UUMA Ministry Days I attended an excellent workshop by the Rev. Nate Walker, of 1st Unitarian Philadelphia, about our relationship with technology, especially emerging communication, presentation and social networking tools on the web.  I made a last-minute decision to attend this one instead of my pre-registered choice, hoping that it would not make me feel bad about my slow adoption of new technologies and overwhelmed by all the new stuff coming out.   His workshop met my hopes with grace and inspiration.

In the “introductions” segment, we all spoke about our relationship with tech as if it were a person.  It helped to see the range of comfort levels and that as many of us are late adopters as are early adopters.  He noted:  we are all in this together.  

He said we should not forget our spiritual natures, roles as spiritual leaders and commitment to spiritual practice.  Given all the other things ministers must manage and navigate, we do have it in our power to have an intentional and not harmful relationship with new technologies.  

Some people have a rule of not looking at email sooner than 12 hours since the last time they read or wrote emails.  Before we knew what had happened, Nate swore all us ministers to give up email for Lent next year.  We will need to alert and remind parishioners and colleagues well in advance of Ash Wednesday.   This doesn’t mean we can’t phone people and ask them to phone us or to meet with us in person.  (And, I might add, handwritten notes are still gratifying.)  I’m writing it here so I can remember my commitment.

He gave examples of how he and his church have used YouTube for pastoral messages (as when he was out of state last July when news came of the shootings in the Knoxville UU church), as well as for worship and religious education presentations.  They replaced their membership photo directory with an online directory (with Flicker, I think); this can be password protected as well as more easily updated.  

The most exciting project:  they provided video cameras and mikes to church children and youth, who conducted a series of interviews with church elders and other adults, asking questions like “What religion did you grow up in?”  All the clips were brief, which kept every one interesting.  This was a great tool for connecting children to adults in the congregation. 

He showed us the opening scene from the movie “Crash,” which was used for a dialogue on race and ethnicity.  Notable line:  “We miss the touch so much tha twe crash into each other just to feel it.” 

 Of course, many churches now post and podcast sermons and other parts of worship services.  

The Mail Chimp program shows who comes to the church web site and why.  Google can track which pages of a web site are visited most frequently.  First Unitarian gets visitors from all states as well as 77 other countries.

His own Netiquette guidelines:

Real life does apply online.  Practice deep listening and loving speech, just as we try to do in person.  No expectations for a timely response on email.  Put out “flames” and do not participate in conflict by email.  Recognize conflicts but don’t try to resolve them online unless there is no other way to reach someone or have a conversation with them.  Respect people’s privacy.  Avoid sarcasm.  

We need to use the technology to help us enhance our ministries and not become slaves to technology for its own sake.  Hence, he asked us to identify and articulate our own sense of purpose.  When we are clear on that we can avoid being buffeted by all the new options and tools.

New UUA President elected

This is a press release that the UUA’s communications director just released.  I was surprised at the margin and sad at my candidate’s loss, as were all the others at the thank-you party Satuday night after the Ware Lecture.  Peter Morales is a dynamic and experienced leader, and both candidates have raised important issues in this energetic but respectful campaign between two accomplished ministers.
Note how significant is the number of absentee votes as a fraction of all votes cast. In some past UUA elections the winner has “won” even before showing up at GA because his campaign has locked up so many absentee votes in advance. Note also the “transition” period–less than 24 hours from election results to installation!  All other nominees were running in uncontested elections

Press release:(June 27, 2009 – Salt Lake City, Utah) – Rev. Peter Morales, senior
minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado, today was
elected to be the eighth president of the Unitarian Universalist
Association of Congregations (UUA) at the Association’s General Assembly
in Salt Lake City.
Morales received a total of 2061 votes, 1020 of which were cast as
absentee ballots. His opponent, Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, formerly senior
minister of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Texas, received a
total of 1481 votes, 827 of which were absentee ballots. Morales’
margin of victory was 580 votes.
Speaking of his aspirations for Unitarian Universalism, Rev. Morales
said, “I want to grow our faith, to reach all those people who are
looking for non-dogmatic, liberal religious community. I look forward to
working with partners in many other progressive and justice-seeking
religious groups. There are tremendous issues that we’ll be facing in
the coming years and we’re going to need one another.”
Rev. Morales, the first Latino leader of the UUA, will be installed in a
ceremony which concludes the General Assembly, at 6:30 PM (MDT) on
Sunday, June 28. Rev. Morales will succeed Rev. William G. Sinkford who
has served two four-year terms as President of the UUA.
See for the
complete story on Morales’ election. For’s coverage of the
Morales election, see

Tuesday report from Salt Lake: Ministry Days

The first day of our UU Ministers Association meeting (Ministry Days) has been devoted to continuing education for about 25 years. That will change after this year, when UUMA ceases trying to pack so much into one day. The plan is to establish a series of residential retreats for several days each for in-depth work on a variety of ministerial themes; for example, a week at Asilomar near Monterey. This will involve a near doubling of UUMA dues, but the rate will be more progressive, based on one’s salary.

Our speaker for the morning was Sonia Sanchez, the African American poet, teacher, activist, now from Philadelphia. It was a rather stream-of-consciousness talk interspersed with poetry. Many colleagues resonated with her words, and I copied down a few choice sentences, but I left at the mid-morning coffee break.
In the afternoon I attended an excellent workshop called “iMinistry,” in which the Rev. Nate Walker, the new young minister from First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia (oldest Unitarian church established as such in America).  We first spoke about our relationship with technology with regard to our ministries, and learned we were not alone–whether early adopters or those who need lots of hand holding, like me.  He gave several great examples of the use of internet tools for pastoral care, all-ages community building, social witness, administration, and worship.  But the point was that our ministry should use technology; we should not let the technology use us.   As with any relationship, boundaries are important.  As with all other aspects of a demanding occupation, spiritual practices are important to keep up. 


More soon.