Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


My congregation and Tuesday’s Big Day of Giving!

Although religious organizations like UUSS do not participate in the Big Day of Giving on Tuesday, May 5 in the Sacramento region, you can be sure that many individual UUs from our community are participating as donors!

A wide range of local not-for-profit organizations seek special donations on this one special day:  performing arts, education, environmental, domestic violence, food and shelter, community service and children’s organizations and a few other categories.

Personally I serve on the local YMCA advisory board, and I know how important the Y is to kids, families, and seniors, especially those of low incomes.  I attend many concerts and plays in this area. They enrich our community and my own life.  I know many hardworking human service professionals and volunteers who serve important local organizations.  I admire what they do.  All these organizations make this region a great place to live.

Last year our shared Big Day generosity generated $3 million in special gifts!  This year the goal is $5 million.  It matters that we give on this day, as each organization stands to gain special matching funds and prize money (for having the largest number of givers, for example).

This Tuesday is “24 Hours to Give Where Your Heart Is!”

Add a comment below stating two or three of the local organizations close to your heart that are part of the Big Day of Giving lineup.  Learn more at https://bigdayofgiving.org/

Yours with thanks,

Rev. Roger



The Surprise of Emptiness–and the Reassurance of Others

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,

Roger

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!



“Come As You Are” — UUSS Sermon from Veterans Day, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, California

Songs: #21 (in Las Voces del Camino):  “Ven, Espiritu de Amor,” “America the Beautiful,” vv. 1-3; #201 (in Singing the Living Tradition):  “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah (Since I Laid My Burden Down)”

Yoga Practice with Paige:  Warrior Pose (Stepping Forward), Seated Breathing (Acceptance)

 

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Now I invite you to a time of contemplation in word and silence.  Please take out the insert for hymn #21, “Ven, Espiritu de Amor,” so you have it handy at the end of this time.  We’ll remain seated to sing, and will hear the song played through once again before singing.

Now please settle your mind and spirit.  Notice your hands resting. Notice your feet and bodies, resting in the Spirit.  Notice the breath of life…as I offer these words.

Spirit of Life and Love, give us hearts full of gratitude for the gift of life and the gift of this new day.   As nights grow long and the air grows cold, we can be grateful for all who bring light to our lives, and for all sources of warmth. We keep in mind those recovering from hurricanes and snow storms, and those providing help.  We hold in our hearts all people around the globe made vulnerable by rapid climate changes now taking place.

Today is Veterans Day.  Let us extend prayers of care and thanks to all who have served, and to those now on active duty or in the reserves.

Let us also extend prayers of care and thanks to those for whom the call to serve has led them into other ventures, and often into harm’s way:  those working in the diplomatic service, volunteers in Peace Corps and Americorps, journalists working in dangerous, repressive places around the world, public safety employees in local communities, and activists who put their bodies on the line to bear witness to injustice and oppression in lands near and far.

We call to mind any veterans we know and love, and others who give of themselves in service. Let us now speak the names on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

At this time we may be thinking of loved ones we have lost to death—those lost recently, and those whose absence we mark at this time of worship.  Let us now speak the names on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

We reach out in care to those facing a family crisis, medical challenge, financial distress, heartache and loss, and burdens of the mind or spirit.  Let us say the names of those people we have on our minds.  Either whispering to ourselves or calling out our concerns for others to hear, let us now speak the names on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

Life has its light moments and joyful milestones also.  We give thanks for the moments of celebration, and we invite those names or events to be spoken into the space of our sanctuary.

May one another’s good news give all of us reasons for joy.

As we conclude another nationwide election, we can breathe a sigh of relief.  Now as the advertisements and arguments have subsided, may tensions ease.  May all of us be open to hear the hopes and longings of all our neighbors.

Let us move ahead with gratitude for this messy blessing of democracy.  From sea to shining sea, may the spirit of wisdom and stewardship guide our elected officials.   May all of us be guided by compassion.

Spirit of Life bless us, and bless this world with peace and healing.  Blessed be, and amen.

[Moment of silence.]

Now please remain seated for singing #21 together after we hear it again.  Ven, Espiritu de Amor.  Come, Spirit of Love.

Sermon:  Come As You Are

 

Driving on a summer day in the wooded hills of southern Indiana, I slow down as the state road takes me through a town with one flashing yellow traffic light: Bean Blossom.  On the left hand side I pass a memorial park celebrating a late great Blue Grass musician (Bill Monroe).  On the right I pass a clean white wooden church with clear windows.  It stands out against a bright blue sky.  Up high inside the gable, a painted sign: “Bean Blossom Mennonite Church.”  Just below the name, it says: “Strangers Expected.”

I’m not sure what that means.  Mennonites are an old sect, with connections to the Amish and the Quakers.  Most are of German ancestry.  Services are traditional; clothing is conservative.

Strangers Expected.  As a marketing slogan, a bit ungracious.  If it’s aimed at curious neighbors and seekers passing by—telling us that visitors are welcome—it’s at best antiquated.  Strangers?  Up-to-date wording would say: newcomers, visitors, guests, friends-to-be…

Maybe it’s telling us that visitors are expected — so, you better visit!  That’s kind of bossy.  Well, I am passing by on my way to Bloomington, where I will go to a UU church in the morning, so I can’t visit the service here to find out what they mean.  Before driving on by, I take a picture with my phone.

Strangers Expected.  I wonder if the sign is aimed at that church’s own members.  An existential reminder:  We’re all strangers here, in one way or another.  There is so much that we do not yet understand about one another, so much we do not know.  Whether first timers or long timers, we have much to learn, much to share, of ourselves.  Perhaps that is what it’s for.

Here in Sacramento, the regular invitation seen by visitors to our website says:  “Come As You Are.”  The words mean: Dress however you feel comfortable.  But the words mean more than that.

Come as you are.  Bring your whole self to this congregation.  Bring your history, your personality, your identity, your love.  Your hopes, passion, talent, creative enthusiasm.   Bring your loss and your lamenting.   Your doubts, quirks, bad habits, weaknesses, and failures.  Bring your energy and your exhaustion.  There is room to grow here, room to risk, room to be less than perfect.

It’s not a condition of participation to have your life nice and tidy, “issues” taken care of, questions answered, spiritual mess cleaned up.  If each of us waited till we had it all together before coming to church, this place would be empty.

It is not required to have all your stuff together before building a community for yourself.

Over the years, it has hurt my heart when someone says to me they feel embarrassed to come back to church, or to come for the first time, on account of their present condition… of grief, confusion, self-doubt, singleness, unemployment, underemployment, or having medical needs or emotional challenges.  This is when we need community, not when to shy away from it.

There are two main reasons that people start attending a spiritual community.  One reason is that somebody has invited you.  The other one reason is a transition in your life.  A new child, relocation, new job, lost job, retirement, death in the family, loss of relationship, an unwelcome diagnosis.

On the other hand, a big life change also can leave us shaken, and we may stop involvement in a community, or not even start going to one in the first place.  It’s a paradox—in our pain or doubt, just when we need caring people, we may keep them at arm’s length. When we need a place to belong, we may allow loneliness to keep us away.          Don’t do this!  Come as you are.  At its best, a spiritual community accepts us as we are, wherever we are.  And then it opens us to the challenge to grow beyond who we are, to be more than we were before.   We have to start somewhere. Why not start where you are?

Healing, self-acceptance and self-transformation are done best with the support of other people.              James Luther Adams, the great Unitarian theologian and activist minister of the 20th century, said:  “Church is a place where you get to practice being human.”  Come as you are.

A story from over ten years ago.   I received a phone call from a stranger, a woman living near the town of the congregation I was serving at the time.  She said that her father was in a local hospital with a terminal disease.  He needed someone to talk with.  He had requested a Unitarian Universalist minister. “Is that something you do?” she asked.

Her father was not a member of any church.  When she and her sister were young, he had taken them to a UU church elsewhere for Sunday school, but not for very long.  Knowing her age, I calculated that it would have been in the 1960s or 70s, back when I had attended church with my mother.  Ours was a middle-of-the-road Protestant congregation.  Attending was a regular thing, but I can’t say our family was immersed in the life of the congregation.  We did not bring our whole selves to church.  We kept the community at arm’s length.

Back then, churchgoing was just what you did, not something you chose to do because you felt a need for something more, a need for greater depth in life.  In those days, many congregations reflected the larger culture’s preference to stay on the surface of life, to avoid the depths and be quiet about the tender places of our lives.

Back to the woman’s request for me to visit her dying father.  Though I was busy, I made the time.  After services on Easter Sunday, I went to the hospital.  I made my way to a critical care unit.

There was little of the small talk that usually takes place between strangers.  I introduced myself, and he started talking.  “I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching,” he said.

He told me that he had married and had two children.  His wife had divorced him when the children were young.  After the divorce, he dated, but never remarried.  But the main burden on his mind was older than his divorce.  He told me that when he was 18 he had entered the Army.  He fought in Europe during World War II, as a member of the Army Signal Corps.  He shot at enemy soldiers.  He told me that he could justify his actions by the necessity of stopping the Nazis.  However, it was still a burden to think that he had probably killed other human beings.

For a young man who grew up with principles of nonviolence, he said, it was a disorienting experience.  He had never been able to resolve it.  He told me that he had never kept his wartime experiences a secret.  However, almost nobody had seemed to be interested.  Nobody had invited him to talk about his time in the war.

After telling me all this, he said, “What can you do for me?”

I said:  “I could listen some more; I could tell you my thoughts about what you have told me, or I could pray with you.”

He said:  “I’ll take all three.”

He talked more.  He had been a dentist for many years.  After earning a doctorate in re-constructive dentistry, he had worked on teams of volunteers who repaired cleft palates in people all over the world.  After his retirement, he became a volunteer leader in his town.  He established Head Start early education programs in the school district, and served on the board for years.  This man was the gentlest soul I had met in a very long time.

After talking he became chilled.  He requested a warmed-up blanket.  A nurse brought one, but he still shivered.  I asked for a few more.  By the time he was bundled up, he was agitated and anxious.  He asked me to sit with him for a while until he became calm again.  I sat in silence in a chair near the foot of his bed.  After a while, he said, “Thank you for staying with me.”

I said,  “I am honored to be here.”

After a while, he was ready to resume conversation.  The silence had given me time to think about what I might say to him, and time to pray about it.

This is what I told him.  I said that we cannot undo or erase the actions we regret.  But even if we cannot justify our actions, we might be able to understand how it was that they happened.  Then, with the life we have left, we can make choices that reflect what we value and what we believe in.  I asked him if his work as a dentist and his years of volunteer service had been his attempt to make life-affirming choices.  He said yes, that’s what he had tried to do.

The last part of his request of was a prayer.  Before I took his hand to pray, I thought I should ask him about his concept of the divine.  This was his answer:  “God… represents… the totality of all the love and caring that has ever existed.”

I prayed to the Spirit of Life and Love, asking for comfort and peace for him and those he cared about.  I prayed that he might know that he was forgiven.  I prayed that he might know what a blessing his life had been.   I gave thanks for knowing him.  I concluded:  Amen.  (It took effort for me to use the word forgiveness, but this is what I think he was seeking.)  Ninety minutes after we had met, we said goodbye.   He died the next week.

He said that he had never kept his wartime regrets a secret.  But few people had asked him.  He carried those burdens alone, for too long.  What if he had been part of a community that had asked him?  What would it have been like if he could have unburdened himself in a caring congregation? What a gift it could have been for younger people in a congregation to hear this man tell his story!  How many stories need to get told?  How many stories don’t ever get told?

Of course, we do not reveal our most meaningful stories easily.  We need safe places to be ourselves, in all our tenderness.  That is what we strive to do in this place.  Through our Ministry Circle groups, Lay Ministry volunteers, Youth Groups, adult classes, worship services, and  Parents’ Group, we strive to be and provide a safe place.  To welcome you as you are.

We even have an activity called Strangers Feasts.  These are dinners in peoples’ homes, sharing the roles of hosts and cooks.

Through many opportunities for fellowship and connection, we strive to welcome one another–not as idealized, perfect people–but as whole people.

Come as you are.  Bring your whole self here.  You choose when and how.  Of course you decide how and when to show yourself.  You decide when to reach out… whether it’s asking for help, or offering it, whether it’s inviting others to go hiking, play a board game, work on an event or a project, attend a show, or make a play date with your kids.

Let us keep on learning, keep on practicing what it means to be human.  We practice being human together.

Let us connect with one another as we are, without hiding our shadow sides, without ignoring our need for the warmth of others.

Let us connect with one another as we are, bringing forth our light and our warmth.  So may it be.  Amen.



Voices of the Beloved Community, #5 — UUSS worship service 10/29/12

We had a beautiful ensemble of members’ voices last Sunday, talking about how this religious community has touched their lives. This one is by a member in his early 60s who works in the environmental field and leads Buddhist meditation courses.  There are six entries here in total, including the opening words for the Chalice Lighting.

I did not come to UUSS by accident. When my wife and I arrived in Sacramento in 1988, we based our search for a place to live on three factors: work, the American River, and a Unitarian Universalist community.

We first became UUs at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis in 1979. We deepened our involvement at the West Hills Fellowship of Portland, OR in the early 1980’s. When we returned to California in 1982, it was to a rural town on the North Coast with no UU presence. After 3 years without a church, we moved to a larger town in the San Joaquin Valley as committed UUs in search of a religious community. As soon as we arrived, we looked up Unitarian Universalist in the phone book. I called the number. “Where do you meet? Do you have services this Sunday? What programs do you have for children?”  “We meet in a member’s home, but we’re not meeting this week – it’s Super Bowl Sunday.” With two daughters 3 and 6 years old, we decided maybe that was not the congregation for us. So from 1985 to 1988, we drove an hour each way to the UU Church of Fresno to sing in the choir and attend services.  Our girls attended religious education. The community was caring, intelligent, and deeply engaged in the affairs of the day.

So, as soon as we arrived here, we settled near the River and near UUSS. Over the years since then, our places of work have changed, but the River and UUSS have remained. They have literally “been there for us.” The River is a place to walk in nature, to allow the oaks and salmon and egrets to bear witness to whatever sorrow or frustration or joy we bring to that moment.

UUSS offers a different kind of engagement. I love that there are people here who are happy when I am sad. I love that there are people here who share their grief and fear with me when I am feeling grounded.

When we joined, I loved that there were people who were old when I was young. I was in a men’s group and a Latino awareness group called LUUNA with Frank “Paco” Winans.  Frank started offering our Day of the Dead services in 1999 and asked me to take over for him the following year. My wife and I were privileged to visit with him as he was dying in August 2005, to sing hymns to him, and to whisper in his ear as we left “Vaya con Dios, Paco.”

Now that I am old, I love that there are people here who are even older, and there are people who are much younger. I have facilitated the junior high youth group, served as a mentor in the Coming of Age program, and gotten to know children on our Annual Family Camp and through our Valentine’s Day intergenerational activity called “Special Friends.”

UUSS has also been there for our family. When our older daughter began exploring her sexuality as a teenager, she had people at UUSS to turn to with life experiences different than ours. The OWL program gave her a safe environment to learn about sexuality in a group of peers led by adults with a commitment to our youth and supported by a solid curriculum developed by our denomination. When she chose to research the HIV/AIDS crisis for a school paper, she found Steve. Steve was the director of The Lambda Center and he shared his own knowledge as well as the Center library to help her research. Steve moved on to become active in the San Francisco UU Church; The Lambda Center moved on to become the Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center; and our daughter earned a Masters Degree in Human Sexuality from San Francisco State University. In one of her first classes, the professor asked if anyone in the class had had any positive reinforcement of their sexual identity from a religious community. Rachel was the only one to raise her hand. When she was asked about her own “coming out” for another paper, she wrote that it was no big deal – she felt in our family and in this community that she never had to “come out” in any dramatic way. She continues her involvement with the UU movement and spent the last year in the first program for young adult activists sponsored by the UU Legislative Ministry of California – as a Fellow in the Spiritual Activist Leadership Training program.  She graduated at the UUA General Assembly in Phoenix in June.

UUSS has been there for my family and for me. That’s why I plan to be there for UUSS over the long haul.



Personal Reflection by Lay Worship Leader last Sunday at UUSS

With a story-filled sermon by our capital campaign consultant, Rev. Bud, this congregation kicked off our 2012 Giving Campaign this past Sunday.  The theme for this campaign–our first one in over 50 years–is Building the Beloved Community.

Here is the Chalice Lighting Reflection by the lay worship leader that Sunday, Deirdre.  Many of us were touched!

Given on September 23, 2012

 

 

September, 2009. I help my daughter move into her dorm room for her first year of college. She is beginning a new life.

I step off the plane back home in Sacramento, ready to begin my own new life. I have been divorced about a year. I have friends, a house, pets, and a part-time job. I am not looking for a new community, beloved or otherwise.

But I have been thinking about the things I want to have more of in my life, and one of them is music. I have decided I want to sing in a choir, but I’m not sure where to find one. I know that most churches have choirs, but I’m not going to pretend to believe in God just to sing in a choir.

Then, I remember. I do know of one church where they don’t ask you to pretend. That Sunday, I visit UUSS to find out if they have a choir. They do. I arrange to attend the next practice. I join the choir. I attend services whenever the choir sings. I start to make connections with people. I listen to the sermons, and sometimes, they move me to tears. I learn that this is a safe place where I can light a candle to give witness to a joy or sorrow. I never had that place before. My little candle seems to mean so much more when it burns in the bowl with the others.

In February of 2010, I become a Member of the congregation.

Today I light the chalice for finding the beloved community.



Congregational Prayer of Blessing and Gratitude–and Daily Meditations

The blogger of “Giving Speaks” sent this to me knowing that our congregation was launching the first Capital Giving Campaign in a half century.  She revised it somewhat from its original form in her friend’s UCC church, and I revised it in a couple of places.  It’s lovely.

The Spiritual Encouragement Chair for our Giving Campaign is providing a Daily Meditation during the campaign.  It’s on our website:  www.uuss.org.

This was the first one:

“Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, which takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.”

– Arnold J. Toynbee

 

 

Spirit of Life, fall afresh upon our community. Make us a people who remember, who give thanks, who bless and are blessed, and who dare to dream the beautiful dream of justice, healing, and peace that our hearts long for.

We remember our mothers and fathers in faith who listened to your call and worked to build this faith community with a wide and loving heart. We remember those whose generosity built our churches, whose vision saw beyond their own horizons, whose hearts and hands toiled in the vineyard of good works, works of justice and peace.

 

Make new, we pray, our practice each day of compassion and justice close to home and around the world; renew our hunger for peace in a world marked by violence and grief; strengthen the commitment of our leaders to speak truth to power and to work with those who shape our public life so that together we will build a more just society for all of your children.

 

We give thanks for the gifts of ministry and for ministry. Lift up and inspire the shepherds who care for our flock and the leaders who serve faithfully, quietly, joyfully, day in and day out.

 

Give us the energy and foresight of the gentle but persistent gardener who sees the rich harvest in the smallest of seeds: may our congregations flourish, large and small, old and new.

 

Prosper the work of our hands, so that, moment by moment and day by day, in every generation and every age, we will be salt, we will be light, we will be leaven in this world you love so well.    Blessed Be.

 

 

 

Adapted by Laurel Amabile, Unitarian Universalist Association, from a reading by The Rev. Kate Huey, United Church of Christ, with permission, Sept 21, 2011

 



Who Supervises Whom on Church Staff?

Members of the congregation voted to call me as their settled associate minister on April Fool’s Day.  Who was more foolish?  Not sure yet!  The board secretary said the 53% quorum of voters in person and by proxy was unprecedented.   The vote (on paper ballots) was 98% in favor of the call (199 yes to 4 no, and I didn’t vote).  I accepted this call, of course!

My role as manager of church staff and the main link to daily administration does not change by this vote.  I’ve been doing that since last June.  Thanks to the work of two 3/4 time consulting administrators, we have a new administrative structure.  This is a pilot project, to see if we can provide better service, more staff coverage, and a culture of customer and member service with more specialized staff roles.

Here is the current breakdown of staff and supervision roles.

It’s easy to forget, as we’ve had a lot of changes in the past year.

I supervise the Religious Education Assistant (16 hours/week position), Bookkeeper (30 hours/week), and Congregational Support Coordinator (CSC, 30 hours/week).  The CSC in turn supervises the Receptionist (full time) and our new Facilities Coordinator (FC, 20 hours/week).  Since late July we’ve been well served by a 3/4 time business administrator consultant; the current one will depart soon, with our deep thanks.  We also draw on the services of an IT consultant, one of the best values in that field.

The FC supervises three custodians and a maintenance technician.   The Lead Minister, along with relationships with lay officers, worship leaders, capital campaign and long range plan leaders, supervises the music staff, a  membership consultant and me.

In a later post I will talk about the division of my time here–and the non-divisibility of my time.

I will try to answer the question:

How much of my time at work is “ministry” and how much is “administration”?

(It’s all ministry!)