In the Wake of Yet Another Death

candlelight-vigilby Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Associate Minister

“How long, O Lord, how long?” are the words heard over and over, the Biblical refrain of lament. I hear cries of lament, of grief and rage, echoing across our country, hurled to the sky, lobbed at passers-by like the tear gas that has become almost as inevitable as the linked arms of protestors responding to the latest death of a Black man, woman or child.

I hear over and over again, this has to stop, at the same time I hear, but I don’t know how. And surely I understand the horrible tension and fear of trying to stop an unstoppable force. Systemic racism is a many-headed beast, a Hydra or a Cerberus, which will not easily be defeated. And yet, we must work together to defeat it, we must. We who are white must work to change the system we did not create, but from which we benefit. A system will work hard to remain in stasis, especially when forces are trying to change it from within. Knowing this we must push harder than the system’s need to remain stable. We’ve got to start listening. We’ve got to start amplifying the voices of people of color. And if you’ve already started these things, that’s wonderful, and let’s keep listening, amplifying, and pushing for change.

It is a fight for the soul of our nation, perhaps, but more than that, a fight for the lives of our comrades, our siblings of color.

Even as I write this, I am sure there is nothing to be said that has not already been said. And yet, I cannot remain silent. My initial lament of, “How long, O Lord, how long?” turns into a deeper understanding that in our Unitarian Universalist tradition, the question does not get asked of the Lord – an agent outside of us who is expected eventually to fix the problem. We must ask the question of ourselves.

How long, my friends, how long?

How long will we let the racist system triumph?

I once heard a colleague say that the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice, but that it is our job to reach up and help.

How long, my friends, how long?

DLRE Joy Berry: Snapshots From a Community of Faith on Ingathering Sunday

IMG_4393 (1).PNGHow does a person build deep faith identity?  By being welcomed into the circle, invited to share and know deeply the rhythms, rituals, and sacred spaces of their religious community. This kind of foundational faith development is taught not in a class but by, and throughout, the whole congregation.

Churches often refer to the first Sunday back together again from Summer as “Ingathering”. It’s a special word and a special occasion, a returning of the tribe from all over to the work and fun and worship and learning and music we do in faith community. We say we are a gathered people, and so it was last Sunday as we began putting into practice some of the goals and dreams that arose from our church-wide Visioning for the Future sessions in the Spring. Because a picture really is worth a thousand words, I’m delighted to share snapshots of the ways we came together in worship, classes, and activities at our Ingathering on 9/11.

Gathering in Time For All Ages (TFAA) at the beginning of every service is a change for us this year. It arose from a shared vision of more time together as a family and a congregation, hopes lifted up in the congregational visioning process this Spring. Worship literally means “what we give worth to”: by making room for all ages in our worship service, we demonstrate that we value the experience of shared worship as beneficial to everyone involved. As we begin to consistently share this sacred time and place, in our sanctuary, we tell our kids and families and RE teachers that they too are part of the whole congregation and that there is meaning and learning happening there that’s too important to miss.

TFAA is different qualitatively, too.  The “wordy bits” of announcements and greeting of visitors and the worship associate’s sharing have been moved out of the first fifteen minutes, now taking place after the RE community leaves for classes and activities. This creates space, in those brief moments we share each Sunday with our children and youth and teachers, for elements that get straight to the heart of  who we are: opening words and chalice lighting (now by a child or youth each Sunday!), a story for all ages or important ritual like teacher covenanting or child dedication, a hymn picked to be one we think accessible to everyone, and a ceremonial sharing of the congregational chalice to the RE and classroom chalices.

And those floor cushions! We wanted to make space for our whole community and for everyone to be comfortable. We also wanted to make a strong visual statement to newcomers about our commitment to making worship welcoming to families and children. The cushions have been well-received, giving young people a great view of what’s happening in worship. We also shared an insert in the order of service sharing our goals and suggestions for people of all ages, to help make this transition a good one. That will become a standard part of the literature available in the pews, as we go forward.

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Kay Aler-Maida: Open Space What?

We’ll be launching UUCA’s new active Earth and Social Justice movement this month, September 24-25, with a forum entitled JUST CHANGE using Open Space Technology.

Open what?just-changeflower

If you’ve registered for JUST CHANGE and are familiar with Open Space Technology, you can skip the rest of this. If not, please read on.

Open Space Technology is not the latest coffee shop for geeks (in fact, it has nothing to do with electronic gadgets) but a way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to hold meetings that get stuff done. Participants create and manage their own agenda in parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance.  

The result is effective connecting and strengthening of what’s already happening in the organization: planning and action, learning and doing, passion and responsibility, participation and performance.

Open Space Technology has been around for over 30 years and has been proven successful with groups as small as 5 and as large as 3,000 and with organizations of all types and structures.

How does it work?

The facilitator opens the space by inviting people to post agenda topics. These people become the conveners of those topics.

Participants pick from among the posted agenda items and join small group working groups led by the conveners.

  • All the issues that are most important to those attending are raised and included in the agenda.
  • All of the issues raised are addressed by the participants best capable of getting something done about them, although you don’t need to be an expert to join in. All you need is interest or passion.
  • All the most important ideas, recommendations, discussions, and next steps are documented in a report.

Everyone’s focus is on what speaks to their heart and from that comes the future. Its power lies in the simplicity of drawing on the passions of the participants and opening the space.

This is what we will be doing at JUST CHANGE – opening the space to include you and me and all at UUCA in creating the future of our Earth and Social Justice movement. The future belongs to those who show up.

Kay Aler-Maida, President, UUCA Board of Trustees

Rev. Mark Ward: What Worship’s About

Last weekend I met with Worship Associates for the coming year for our annual training session. It’s a good time to review what we hope to achieve in worship here, what we understand as the role of Worship Associate, and to talk over some of the mechanics of how we make it happen. I am deeply grateful for those in our congregation who volunteer to serve in this role. They are a huge help to me and contribute a lot to what happens on Sundays. Look for the following people to be helping out in the upcoming year: Louise Anderson, Juliana Austin, Jane Bramham, James Cassara, Lisa Forehand, Jennifer Gorman, Nancy Heath, Isabel Horak, Charlie Marks, Stan Nachman and Sharon Van Dyke.

Especially since I’m making a few changes in how we regularly do things on Sunday, I thought it might also be a good time to share some of my thoughts on how I seek to frame worship here. Not every Sunday follows the same pattern, but there is a rhythm that we try to establish, and there is a goal we are seeking to achieve.

We begin with an important assumption that is central to our tradition, which is that religion for each person begins with individual experience. We each have foundational experiences that shape our deepest beliefs. One way to describe the feeling is as a sense of wonder, that we are deeply connected to each other and all things. Those are the experiences where we discover the centers of meaning in our lives. The point of religion, then, is to help us get clear on these discoveries and then help us draw them together into an ever-evolving fabric that gives our lives a sense of wholeness.

Another way that we describe this is the journey of faith. We are all born with faith, a feeling of that in which we can trust. This sense evolves over time in response to our experience. Liberal religion celebrates trusting that is life-giving and hope-filled. But it also provides space for us to reflect on and challenge trusting that results in ways of thinking and being that are unhealthy or destructive. In the end, the goal is to help us each discern that which we can trust so that we might live with compassion, integrity, service and joy.

So, our services begin with a Gathering time that starts with music and words that we hope will take you into a space where you are ready to engage with some of your deepest concerns. And we frame this within our Unitarian Universalist tradition with the lighting of our chalice and the singing of a hymn.

The biggest change to our Sunday worship is that every week we will begin with our entire community gathered in the Sanctuary. This change comes in part from the request of parents who wish they share the Sunday experience with their children more often. But since announcing the change, I’m finding that older members are happy about having the children present more often, too.

So, there will be a Time For All Ages every week where we’ll sing together and share stories and rituals. Then, the children and adults leaving with them will light a special chalice that they’ll carry on their way.

Once the children leave, the Worship Associate will open worship with a personal reflection on the topic of the day and invite the congregation into the practice of generosity with the announcement of the offering. We will continue to name community partners, who we hope you will make an effort to learn about and consider volunteering with. The Offering of the last Sunday of each month will go entirely to our community partner.

The middle of the service is largely unchanged: Spoken and Silent Meditation offer space to bring your true self present and open your heart to the work of growing faith; and the Musical Reflection, Readings and Sermon are constructed to invite each of us to the use all of our senses in wrestling with our own journeys of faith.

The other big change that you may have already noticed is that the section I had called Welcome has been moved from the beginning to the end of the service and been renamed Work of the Congregation. This is intended to remind us all that the work of our congregation extends beyond Sunday into the rest of our lives. This is where we welcome visitors and make important announcements.

I hope that you find our worship services meaningful and that they feed your spiritual hunger. Please send me any feedback you may have on our worship program at UUCA.

The service is intended to offer many different ways that you might be fed: perhaps the sermon or reading will do it, or if not, then perhaps the music, if not the music, perhaps the Time For All Ages, or perhaps the blessed opportunity for a few moments of gathered quiet in this community of your choosing.
Rev. Mark Ward, UUCA Lead Minister

Rev. Lisa Bovee Kemper: What I Did This Summer

LBKI’ve always giggled at the idea of that obligatory grammar school essay titled, “What I Did This Summer.” I don’t recall ever being assigned one, but I know that I’ve thought about it, and never was sure what I would say. It feels so navel-gazey and boring. But this summer, while I was on sabbatical, I was able to delve into some learning and reflection, and I thought you might like to know a little bit about what I was up to.

When you tell someone you’re on sabbatical, they invariably get a bit of a glazed-over look, wistful, as if they wish they could have three months of paid vacation from work. And I totally get that. In some ways, sabbatical seems like quite a luxury. And it is. But one of the things I realized while I was gone is that there is an impact to being constantly on call. It becomes really difficult to stop and rest, to turn off your work brain. And (act surprised when I say this!) I tend toward over-functioning, so it’s easy for me to “forget” to take all of my vacation time, to work through my days off. And that tendency means that by the time I left for sabbatical I was pretty exhausted and ready for a break.

So, while on sabbatical, I was primarily able to experience life with just a little bit more spaciousness in it. I took more naps, and cooked more complicated recipes. I had the time to take a course through Columbia Seminary in Decatur, GA on “Leading from the Second Chair” (as associate minister, I’m in the second chair) which gave me some good insights into how I execute my job responsibilities, and how I live out my call to ministry in this congregation. Mark and I are slated to have some conversation about what I learned and how it might impact the ways we work together.

And, I attended General Assembly in Columbus, OH. Primarily, my role there was to be the lead Co-Chair of the Right Relationship Team. But I also walked at the Service of the Living Tradition, which honors transitions in ministry – I was able to celebrate attaining Final Fellowship with my family and friends, and a few congregants and staff from UUCA who were in attendance.

The folks from UUCA generously gifted me with a lovely stole in honor of that milestone, for which I am grateful. With that, and another stole given by a friend from seminary, I started reflecting on what the ministerial stole means to me. When I was in Massachusetts serving a more formal congregation, I wore a robe before I was ordained, but the stole was most definitely reserved for after ordination. To me, it symbolizes the weight of the office of minister and the sacredness of what I am doing when I wear it. It has never been a tradition for ministers here at UUCA, and I have followed that tradition since I have been here. And yet, I have missed claiming that marker of my role, and the way it calls me into a head and heart space that is different from my every day work.

Mark and I have since had some conversation about our personal thoughts and feelings about vestments of all kinds, and we know that every minister has different perceptions and needs around this sort of thing. Mark and I don’t land in the same place on this one. But the conversations have been interesting and illuminating. And so, as we begin to mix things up a bit in worship, our attire is going to get mixed up a bit, too. You’ll begin to see me wearing a stole when I am in the pulpit.

These deeper reflections on what ministry looks like, and who we are as individuals and together, are the kinds of things that get pushed to the back burner when I’m in the day to day of managing programs and solving problems. It is good to get to pause and go deeper.

As I said in my first sermon back, it was good to be away, and it is good to be back.
Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper is the Associate Minister of UUCA

DLRE Joy Berry: Making More Time for All Ages

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We all joined hands to learn about covenants this Spring. Feeling deeply included in this church is important for people of all ages.

This September, we begin a change in the way we worship together. As Rev. Mark Ward announced in his blog a few weeks ago, we will now begin each Sunday together as a faith community, for the first part of worship. Children and youth, as well as teachers, will now be with the rest of the congregation for the beginning of each worship service. This means they will be present for the chalice lighting (recruiting now for older chalice lighters: 8 and up), a hymn, a story or other element with layered meaning for adults and children alike, and a ceremonial leave taking, including passing the flame from the chalice. Then the RE community will go down for multigenerational classes and activities (at 9:15) and regular, age-separated classes at 11:15.

We believe this special time together, specially constructed to maximize involvement and spiritual development in children, will have many positive effects on the whole community. We also recognize that such a change can be hard to imagine, amd may present challenges for some. Change can feel hard! We will all be learning together how to be together, leaning in to our covenant and growing our sense of who we are, what we are called to do, and how we are, together!

It is in this awareness that I share the following document with you all, to help ease the transition. In it, you will find suggestions for parents and families, children, and others in the congregation, to support and enhance this time together.

We look forward to being “all together now” this Fall!

 

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Kay Aler-Maida: Religion and Politics

voteRELIGION AND POLITICS

I just love presidential campaigns. Months and months of drama. Best of all (IMHO) is the intersection of religion and politics. Fascinating.

There is the BBC News report about the formation of an Amish Pac dedicated to getting the Amish, who have never seen a Trump tweet, to vote for Trump. Amish generally don’t vote preferring to “leave it up to God.” However, they live in substantial numbers in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. So, I guess God is getting a helping hand.

Here’s a riddle: What do Donald Trump, Tim Kaine, and Pope Francis have in common?

Answer: all three were educated by Jesuits.

Catholics represent about one-fifth of the voters. Generally, 40 percent goes to each party, leaving 20 percent up for grabs. They are heavily concentrated in, oh-oh, the mid-west swing states.

So it has become almost a requirement to have a Catholic running mate. Obama & Joe Biden, Romney & Paul Ryan, Clinton & Tim Kaine (a Pope Francis Catholic) and Donald Trump & Mike Pence (an Evangelical Catholic.)

Be that as it may, let us remember the wise words of Richard Nixon – “The Vice President can’t help you . . . he can only hurt you.” And he would have known.

How are the campaigns doing religion-wise?

During the pope’s visit last February, Trump called him “disgraceful” and a “political pawn” of Mexico. Pope Francis responded, “A person, who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

However, James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, would disagree. He has assured gatherings of Evangelicals that Trump has accepted a “relationship with Christ” and is now “a baby Christian” implying that Trump would grow in this faith.

Meanwhile, Ben Carson is warning about Clinton’s connection with Lucifer. Clinton wrote her 1969 Wellesley undergraduate thesis on Saul Alinsky. Carson pointed out that the dedication in Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals acknowledges Lucifer as the original radical who gained his own kingdom. Carson asks, “Can you vote for someone whose role model someone who acknowledges Lucifer?” Could be a case of better the devil you know . . . ?

While Trump is dealing with a “Gender Gap,” Clinton is dealing with the “God Gap” – where regular worshipers more often vote for Republican candidates.

In this week’s news, it appears that Mormons, with a history of being an oft-maligned religion and with a commitment to welcoming refugees, are put off by Trump’s stance on Muslims and immigration. Their ambivalence is putting the strongly Republican Southwest into play.

See, I said it was fascinating.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Code limits the political activities of tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, including churches. They can talk about issues but can’t endorse candidates if they wish to retain their tax-exempt status.

A recent Pew Center survey shows that some clergy have been speaking out about at least one or more social or political issues – conservatives on religious liberty & abortion; liberals on immigration & environment; more divided on homosexuality & economic inequality.

The provision of the tax code that prohibits endorsing political candidates was added in something called the (Lyndon) Johnson Amendment. This year’s Republican platform calls for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment as it limits free speech.

Maybe. Is it really a very big step from opinion on issues to opinion on candidates?

On the other hand, candidate yard signs in front of a congregation might not be supportive of congregational harmony.

Which would you prefer?