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

Advertisements


An Amazing Testimonial for > “Building the Beloved Community” < from Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, at UUSS

Bill, a member in his late 50s, gave the testimonial yesterday for our capital giving campaign, Building the Beloved Community. 

It was so heartfelt and inspiring, there were many tears and applause when he finished.  (Though it took him awhile to finish, as he was reeling from the news of Arnie’s death last week.)  The architect will be here after the 11:1 5 am service this coming Sunday to show us the latest color pictures of what our new home will look like.

 

At the age of twenty-four I spent a year attending a Lutheran seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, intending to enter the ministry.  Over the course of that wonderful year I discovered what my religion was – and was not.  For one thing, I discovered my religion was not Lutheranism.  I also discovered that what I believed, according to the Lutherans, had little to do with religion.  The loving religious community I found at my African American internship parish was real religious experience.  Traditional dogma, the foundation of clerical control, was not, at least for me.

After that year, I did not step foot into a church for the purpose of worship for twenty-nine years.  I could not imagine the possibility of an entire faith community organized around community as the core value of shared religious experience. My home-grown theology was a lonely one, but being alone in my search was far more appealing than feeling intellectually bound. I was not drawn to fellowship with people who claimed to gather because they shared not only common belief, but also quiet pleasure in excluding those who did not.

However, I understood the lonely safety of my cynicism did not protect my children from being primarily nurtured by our consumerist society, and I knew that as adolescents they would eventually perceive its emptiness and look for something deeper and more meaningful, or they would self-medicate.  Their spiritual vulnerability drove me to cast about for authentic religious experience to share with them.

I subjected my kids to Native American, Hindu and Buddhist celebrations, but it was the UUSS website’s description of Unitarian Universalism that made taking the church-risk seem worthwhile for the sake of my kids.  On my first visit, and on many to follow, I braced myself for the news of some belief I would be required to adopt in order to belong, some secret handshake that would be painful, for the other shoe to drop, but it never did.

My son was fifteen at the time we began attending here six years ago, and to my surprise he particularly appreciated the adult service.  What I didn’t know was that my son was preparing himself for coming out to his family and friends.  It was here he found a community of people who publicly affirmed his full value and worth as a human being on an institutional as well as a personal level.

 

I believe it was the unequivocal acceptance of his genuine worth by this community that allowed him not only to come out with confidence, but also to later re-establish the gay-straight alliance club at his school and actively confront the bigotry of his peers and many important adults in his life.  Now a senior in college 3,000 miles away and not currently active in a UU congregation, he still self-identifies as Unitarian Universalist on his Facebook info page.  Despite his absence here, it is this community and its lasting commitment to him that remains with him still.

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento provides rare, but critical refuge for those seeking deep religious experience in a community of spiritual seekers.  Our ministry is to our shared imperfection, our common struggle to understand and accept ourselves and each other.  I am grateful for this precious spiritual home and grateful to be part of sustaining it for future angry ex-seminarians, the scared dads & moms, those learning to love their own identity, and anyone who cares to share their human journey with our community.

***

You can read a Daily Meditation provided by our Spiritual Encouragement Chair at www.uuss.org.

 



Busman’s Holiday/Minister’s Vacation–Northeast Worship visit July 8

In Ithaca, NY, area on Sunday, July 8, it was the second Sunday in the pulpit for the new pastor at the liberal United Methodist church.  He had started his job with them on July 1, when many clergy are starting vacations.  We two UU ministers (traveling companions and friends for 16 years) skipped UU alternatives because we had done some research:  We wanted a real service, not a “talk” with “feedback” by the congregation on some issue that might be interesting to the regular UU church friends and community of the lay speaker but might not spiritually feed first time visitors.  And another UU church in the area was shut down for the summer.  We enjoyed a warm congregation (and warm, humid sanctuary), robust hymn singing to organ music, a strong soloist (as the choir was off), a relevant prayer for the challenges of life (even while one is on vacation), a kids’ story before they went out for Backyard Bible Study, the summer RE program there.

The Bible reading was from the Gospel of Mark 6:13–Jesus says a prophet is welcome everywhere but in his home town, he urges his disciples to take no possessions with them and not to be picky about accommodations in the towns they visit, and if they are ignored or spurned by the towns to which they seek to minister and witness, they should shake the dust off their sandals and move on to the next stop.

The sermon was not a stem-winder, but thoughtful, subtle, delivered in front of the pulpit with no notes, with the middle aged man in a shirt and tie but no jacket or robe).

Folks were friendly but not so outgoing to intercept us before we left.  Two of them gave us walking directions to our next stop.  One note:  At the start of the service, they ask you to pass “pew pads” down the row, signing in your name and whether you are a visitor or member, and if you have any requests.  The pad of paper makes its way back and forth, so you can read to see who else is there with you.  I asked a man in our row if he was related to a UU minister with the same last name, but he wasn’t.

We got the impression that this was a genuine spiritual community with a lot of health, a progressive heritage, a presence in the local college-oriented community–not perfect or stellar, but solid.  It was also explicitly and clearly in opposition to the official stance of the United Methodist Church on full inclusion and affirmation of LGBT people.  (The denomination recently had voted not to accept non-celibate gay persons as clergy or to affirm marriage covenants in same-gender couples.)  This church was having a series of films like “Fish Out of Water” and “Incompatible with Christian Teaching.”  Gotta love those progressive Protestants who keep the faith, and maintain a stance of open doors, open minds, open hearts.

We discussed the sermon with interest and appreciation while walking to meet my friend’s daughter (26), who had spent the morning with coffee and the Sunday New York Times at a bakery.



SERMON from 3/25/12–Roller-Coaster Ride on Sierra Blvd: Our Congregation’s History—the Last 50 Years

 

Part 2 of a 2-part series given at the

Unitarian Universalist Society

Sacramento, CA

Shared Offering:  To Children’s Receiving Home

Moment of Silence:  In memory of Trayvon Martin, in sympathy with his family, and in solidarity with all who work and long for justice, peace and equity.

Hymns:  51, Lady of the Seasons’ Laughter; 361, Enter, Rejoice, and Come In; 360, Here We Have Gathered.    Vocal music: Across the Great Divide by Kate Wolfe, sung by Tom Hiltunen

Conversation with All Ages

I have an exercise for you.  Think about how long you have been in this congregation.  As you are able, please stand or raise your hand, as I ask these questions.  If you’ve been at UUSS at least 50 years, please rise.   Please remain standing.  If you’ve been here 40 years or more, please rise.  30 years or more.  20 years or more.  10 years or more.  5 years or more.  3 or 4 years; that includes me so I should stand.  If you’ve been here 2 years, 1 year or less, or if you just walked in the doors, please rise.  Give yourselves a hand.

Sermon

Perhaps in the year 1959, when the members of this congregation bought this five acres, a former horse ranch, they thought they could create a haven from the world.  They couldn’t.  The struggles of the world entered their lives and this church.  The people of the church did not hide behind these hexagonal walls.  Our members gave leadership to the local community.  As a church, we engaged in the ups-and-downs of the nation.

Let’s remember how we got here.  The original Unitarian congregation in Sacramento was established in 1868 by 17 families.  (They had been drawn together by the preaching of a minister from San Jose came up here on horse and buggy every Sunday.)  Until 1915, we met in theaters and meeting halls downtown.  Then we moved to a cedar-shingled house at 27th Street between N and O Streets.  We constructed this building in 1960 as our fellowship hall.  A sanctuary was to be built later, over in the grove of oak trees.   Didn’t happen.

During this Baby Boom era, most churches were bursting at the seams.  In 1962 we had 500 adult members.  1963, 600.  1964, 700 adults, with “several hundred children.”   Rather than getting a second minister, our church leaders chose the idea of spinning off new congregations.

Across North America many smaller, lay-led UU fellowships sprang up in the 1950s and 60s, part of a growth strategy of the denomination.  In 1962, the new Central UU Church met in our old church building on 27th Street, as we had not sold it yet.  This ended in 1965.  Yet in that same year, the South Area UU Fellowship started meeting, in the very same building.  Our minister lent his presence and support.  Forty families launched this fellowship.  As listed on the Sacramento Bee’s “church page,” Sunday service topics included social and political issues and religious and moral values.  It lasted three years, till the building was sold.

In 1964, several other families from our church rented the Grange Hall in Fair Oaks, and started the North Area Fellowship.  Attendance that year was 46 adults and 26 children.  One member recalls having to be at committee meetings every night.  This routine led working parents to burnout.  In spite of their vitality and their efforts, the group eventually stopped meeting.  Many of them merged back into UUSS.

It was not until 1991 that a permanent second congregation was founded in Sacramento, with denominational help and much effort by local Unitarian Universalists.  The UU Community Church celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, with about 100 members and a full-time minister.   Members there are friends to many of us, and a few people attend both churches.  So far they have been a nomadic church, renting space south of downtown.[i]

Our minister from 1960 to 1970 was Ford Lewis. He nearly declined our search committee’s invitation to be the candidate, given the painful rifts in the congregation over the forced retirement of Ted Abell, our minister of the prior 15 years.   The church hadn’t known that Ted had a brain tumor, and he died five months after leaving us–right after we started using this building, which he had helped us to achieve.

Ford Lewis was born in 1914 to a Baptist family in the Ozarks–southern Illinois.  In the Depression, his family lost their farm to foreclosure.  At age 20, Ford stayed back to close down the farm, as the rest moved to Arkansas.   He couldn’t afford state university tuition in Arkansas, but a friend lured him to Salem College, in West Virginia.   The school’s president got him a job pruning apple trees in the college orchard, and Ford’s aunt lent him $50.  Later, back in Arkansas, Ford earned a graduate degree, interrupted by navy service in the Second World War.  He and Barbara Lewis came to us after he served as an associate minister at First Unitarian of Portland, Oregon.

Soon after his arrival, we had a capital campaign to start construction of the first rooms of the Religious Education building, to which we added more sections later.  Till all the rooms were built, we had double Sunday school sessions.  We used an old cottage left here by the former owners.  We put kids and teachers on the stage, in the kitchen, the alcoves, and a rented trailer.

Helen Bradfield led Sunday School for the next decade or so, with 33 volunteer teachers and a committee of 10.

Highlights:

A weekly Church School newsletter—The Juniortarian.

Festivals on Easter, Christmas, and United Nations Day.

A favorite course—The Church Across the Street—with field trips to other houses of worship.

Our senior high youth group was part of Liberal Religious Youth, attending regional and national UU conferences.

Boom times!  Yet “by the end of the 60s, attendance in our Church School was dropping rapidly.”  Our historian wrote:  “At the beginning of the decade, we thought we had many answers, but by the end we were not so sure” (108).

We had many discussion groups for adults as well as volunteer opportunities.  In 1961, congregation members founded Theater One, a group which continues producing community theater to this day.  Today, in fact:  a matinee at 2.

The local Planned Parenthood chapter started in our church.  In 1963, Helen Gardiner, the president of our Women’s Alliance, noted that poor women in Sacramento (among others) could not get information about birth control.  The church allowed her space for meetings of the Planned Parenthood steering committee, which included Evelyn Watters from UUSS.  Ford Lewis chaired the advisory committee.

In March of 1965, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called on American clergy from all faiths to join a voting rights protest in Selma, Alabama.  Days earlier, a state trooper shot and killed Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black man, as he tried to protect his 70-year-old mother from a police beating.  On March 7,a nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery had been turned back at a highway bridge by police with brutal force, giving the day the name of Bloody Sunday.  Our minister Ford Lewis went, among thousands of other clergy.

Three white northern UUs ministers went to dinner one evening in a black-owned restaurant in Selma.  After they left, they were attacked.  A white mob clubbed and kicked Orloff Miller, Clark Olsen, and James Reeb.  (An elder in our church told me that Ford Lewis had been invited to go to dinner but had declined in order to rest.)  Two days later, James Reeb died.  One of Sacramento’s short-lived UU spinoff churches was renamed in Reeb’s honor.

In 1969, the Black Power movement confronted the white privilege and power structure of our denomination as well as that of other mainline Protestant faiths.  The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly made a large funding commitment to African American organizations.  A year later, the UUA canceled this promise when a new UUA president found out the previous administration had mismanaged the finances and there was no money.  The wounds of this controversy have run deep and long among friends of all colors and commitments in our UU movement.[ii]

Another cause of turmoil for us in the 1960s and 70s was this country’s war in Viet Nam.    Either quietly or publicly, many ministers and churches—including this one—helped young men avoid the draft by filing for status as Conscientious Objectors or by moving to Canada.  Some churches gave more vocal and radical opposition to the war.  Sometimes the acrimony pitted friends against one another, even split congregations.  [I hope our church’s written history on this era can be filled in a bit more.]

In that era, the U. S. government spied not only on activist groups, but on churches, sending agents to infiltrate congregations.  Jack Mendelsohn, then minister of Arlington Street Church, our flagship church in Boston, has told a story of when a young man admitted having attended Jack’s church.  But his military service was coming to and end, he said.  He liked the church very much, and wanted to join it!   If there are any spies here today, please know you are as welcome to be here as anyone.  Just please remember to turn in your pledge card.

During the women’s movement in this country, lots of activist energy came from religious women.  Much of it took place within congregations, especially Unitarian Universalist ones and at the denominational level.  In 1977, delegates to our denomination’s General Assembly approved the Women and Religion Resolution.  A landmark for us.  This committed our denomination to eliminate sexism in governance documents and policies, UUA hiring, ministerial credentialing, and hymnbooks and worship materials. Women’s Alliances in this and other UU congregations included many activists, and sent money to the UU Women’s Federation.  Our Alliance began in 1898, hosting literary and artistic events, giving money to charities and the church.  It continues, with meetings the second Thursday morning of each month.

In 1971, Ted and Marguerite Webb and their family and came from Boston to Sacramento in 1971, when our search committee named him as the ministerial candidate.  Born in Maine, Ted grew up as a Universalist long before the merger with the Unitarians.  He served northeastern churches and in a UUA District office.  Ted served us here until 1983. When the Alliance opened membership to men, Ted was the first one to join.  He attends church now at age 94, as our Minister Emeritus.

Advancements during Ted’s ministry—the start of the Religious Services Committee.  It continues now, with a number of lay worship leaders.  The Public Forum —led by Mark Tool, Ben Franklin, Mike Weber, and other members.  Volunteer speakers came to address timely issues; admission fees helped the church budget.  The Forum continued until a few years ago.  The Servetus Club started then as an activity group for single adults.  In 1983, it had 100 members, many of them not from the congregation.  It continues now with monthly meetings.

In 1973 Anna Andrews became the director of both adult and children’s religious education, serving for five lively years.  The fee was 5 dollars per student (116).  These 18 banners of diverse religions and cultures of the world [around the top of our sanctuary] were created by artists and craftspersons in the congregation in 1982, near the conclusion of Ted’s ministry.

Ted shocked the church when he announced his resignation, after 12 good years.  Our church historian wrote that Ted he was burned out by the demands of serving this large church with no assistant, and by a stressful controversy involving a church staff member.

In a newsletter column Ted expressed his disappointments and joys.  He had wanted us to be more engaged in social action in the community and state, given that we are in the capital city.  Yet years later he did express joy at the work of the UU Legislative Ministry in California.  It was founded in 2001 by lay leaders at the UU Community Church.  Several of us here are donors or volunteers for the Legislative Ministry.

Ted also expressed regret that our financial giving was not as strong as it could be.  He said this kept us from pursuing our full potential and from paying better compensation to hardworking staff members.  Yet he was gratified by the sense of adventure, humor, and friendship which he felt among us, and by the commitment of our lay leaders.  The congregation celebrated Marguerite and Ted with an event at the River Mansion, a luncheon after a Sunday service and a generous monetary gift.

In the early 1970s, few women ministers were serving Unitarian Universalist congregations, and we had almost no openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender ministers.  In thirty years, this changed.  The 1980s and 1990s were a time of learning, struggle, frustration and growing openness.  By 2000, over half of our ministers were women.  The first woman to serve this church was Eileen Karpeles, who came here in 1989 as an interim minister.  From 1992 to 94, the Reverend Richelle Russell was assistant minister.  From 1997-99 the Reverend Shirley Rank served as pastoral care minister.  In the position in which I serve ,the Reverend Lyn Cox was here with you for three years.  Then the Reverend Connie Grant served here for two years.

In the early 1990s many UU congregations began a process of self-study and consciousness-raising in order to be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people and their families.   This work still takes place in our denomination.  It leads to certification as an official Welcoming Congregation in the UUA.   This church earned that recognition in 1996.[iii]

In 1990 we called as minister the Reverend Don Beaudreault.  He stayed only five years before pursuing a call to another church.  [To save time I’ve skipped a number of interim ministers in this history, but they are listed on the website.]

Our next settled minister was John Young.  A number of members remember his gifts of intellect, preaching and leading adult education classes.  Yet many experienced the relationship as antagonistic.  A mismatch, perhaps.  His tenure ended in six years with a negotiated resignation and severance payment.  No matter how generously such a departure is handled, nearly everyone feels bruised.  Healing takes work and a long time, but some folks do drift away from church.[iv]

In that year, 1997, I began a ministry in the Bay Area.  Later, at our UU district ministers’ meetings I met your interim ministers, Sidney Wilde and Dennis Daniel, a heterosexual married couple with twinkly eyes and storytellers’ enthusiasm.  In 2000 they told us that the Sacramento search committee had found a candidate, some guy named Douglas Kraft.[v]  Who?

One minister said, “Can he handle them?  Will they eat him up?”   During his week of candidating with you, Doug may have wondered that himself!  In reality, as he recalls, he did see a prickliness in the congregation.

Yet he also sensed love under the surface, a deeper caring.  He saw the commitment of the lay leaders to their congregation in good times and bad.  “These were not fair-weather friends,” he says.  Doug grew up as a UU in Houston, attended national youth conferences with many other kids who ended up as ministers, married a Quaker, and attended our seminary in Berkeley.  Over four decades he has interspersed parish ministry with work as head of a program for street kids, a pscyhotherapist, and computer graphics programmer.

Doug writes books, plays the guitar and writes songs.  This is too much talent, so I’ve had him abducted.  He won’t be coming back tonight after all.

Doug’s 12 years here have included, most notably, his aging.   Seriously, though:  you and he have established Ministry Circles, the Lay Ministry team, Worship Leader trainings, the Program Council, and two services on Sunday mornings.[vi]  Recent years have seen better financial transparency and balanced budgets, rather than draining bequest funds to cover deficits.  A few years back, our church’s Mission statement was reaffirmed, and we adopted a long range plan.

Last month the congregation approved the Building and Grounds Master Plan by a unanimous vote.  It’s on the back wall and our website if you’d like to see it.  During Doug’s time you’ve had four seminary interns.  The ministry position I hold has been funded continuously for the past nine years.

Doug and lay leaders remember the days of long, argumentative meetings.  The Board was a lightning rod for frustration and unkindness in the church.  In his 10th anniversary report a couple of years ago, Doug said that Board meetings are shorter now and more satisfying.  So are congregational meetings.  More people now are willing to stand for election and serve their congregation.

“The general mood is more optimistic and less prickly,” Doug writes. “We … enjoy one another more.”

Originally a church of city members, in the past half-century we’ve become a regional congregation.  Thank you to all of you who drive a distance to come here!

Our wider embrace has become not only geographical, but theological.

In the1980s and 90s, Unitarian Universalists across the continent started getting spiritual… again.[vii]  Rather than disavowing religion, a new generation of adults wanted to explore it.  Jewish UUs looked into their culture and spiritual roots.  Some of us began to visit the Bible—again or for the first time ever.  Unitarian Christians found inspiration from the radical teachings of Jesus.  Some of us took up Buddhist meditation, contemplative prayer, or yoga.

We turned back to Thoreau and Emerson and found nourishment in contemporary spiritual writers.  Pagans ritualized the turning of the seasons.  In 1995, the General Assembly added earth-based spiritual traditions to and official list of the sources of our living tradition.

None of this has been an easy transition in the UU movement.  A rationalistic humanism had held sway since the 1920s.  Many ministers and lay people had assumed humanism’s unending and exclusive dominance.   They had thought of a UU church as a refuge. It was an alternative to religion.  Now it has become a religious alternative.

Our embrace is larger now.  Our welcome is wider.  We are a home for seekers as well as skeptics.  Many of us identify as both seekers and skeptics!   Let’s remember, inclusiveness is not only a value, it is a practice.  Building community takes work, in good times and bad.  But it’s worth it.

Let us be grateful for this legacy, and …

Give thanks all those, named and unnamed, who have brought us to this moment…

Be joyful that we have the chance to build and pass forward a legacy of our own for this congregation.

Let us move into the future with an ever-wider embrace.  Let us move into the future with joy and hope. Amen.



[i] On April 22 they begin renting from Pioneer Congregational Church, in Midtown.

[ii] If you want to learn more about this controversy, Google UUA Black Empowerment Controversy.  The Wilderness Journey, a recent video shows people on all sides of the issue recalling those times.

[iii] LGBT people seeking a new church can find out which ones are Welcoming Congregations at the UUA website: http://www.uua.org/directory/congregations

[iv] While John was here, the church hired the Reverend Shirley Ranck as a second minister; she’s known as an author adult curricula on earth-based and feminist spiritual traditions.  As I understand it, she departed after two years here in the months after John’s resignation, not out of conflict but to a steep drop in funding.  If you can tell a more accurate history of recent years, please update our history!

[v] Our compiled history, In Good Times and Bad, goes through Ted Webb’s ministry, ending in 1983.  We have well-organized church archives covering the last 30 years, but we’re waiting for people to step forward to update our congregation’s history.   This means I can say only a little about the years at UUSS before Doug arrived.

[vi] The Program Council supports all the program activities and committees, which frees the Board to focus on finances, personnel, facilities, and long-range plans.

[vii] In 1868, our church was founded as a liberal Christian congregation, and it remained so for the first half century.  Starting in the 1920s, religious humanism grew to theological dominance here and in many Unitarian churches.  In 1960s and 70s, many UU churches reflected a religion dominated of social concern activism.




Proud to be UU–A simple way to help our outreach and hospitality grow larger

Chalice Lighters is a program of the UU congregations in this Pacific Central District.  If you identify as a Chalice Lighter, it means you are willing to make a donation three times a year to a project selected for a grant by our district’s growth committee.  I’ve been a member of the committee since 2000!

Take a look at the current winner of the grant-selection process.  If you want to help out, find a link on the web page.  Gifts of any amount will make a difference.  I usually give $35 each time there is a Chalice Lighters aware.  Because this is for a very cool church in my region, and the ministers and congregation are really on the move, I stretched and sent a check for $100 this time.

If you cannot afford to send a donation, I hope you will ready about their progress anyway, and let your good feelings and good wishes head their way!  Read about it at this link.  Thanks for reading!