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You Are Invited! RE Celebration Service: Sunday February 19

By now I hope everyone knows that you are invited to a very special service this Sunday. Our children, youth, and teachers will be sharing and showing the work and learning they do in religious education classes.

Come and see what is happening in faith development here in our congregation! Hear how this faith community is changing lives, building UU identity, supporting families in teaching their children, and helping to strengthen the voices of our youngest UUs, to be the social justice and equality advocates of the future.

After each service, please plan to come downstairs, for our first ever RE Open House. The RE Council, church leaders, and RE staff will show you around our amazing spaces and bring you into the story of our innovative, exciting RE program. Don’t miss the chalkboard walls where our children/youth’s answers to some important questions on display: What is CHURCH For?  What is the best thing about this church?

One thing to share that surprised and inspired me: When asked, “What would you change about church?” children had one answer that was by far the most popular: MORE TIME. We have created a program here that children are excited to attend, and bug their parents to take them to church–and they leave wishing they had been able to spend more time there each Sunday.  You can see the word cloud created from these answers above. The bigger the word, the more times that word (or phrase, in the case of “more time”) appeared. As you can see, MORE, also appears alone–because so many children also wanted more art. more stories, more singing, more opportunities to be with their family upstairs. In a time when we hear how few families attend church regularly, it’s a blessing to know that UUCA has created a faith development program that leaves our youngest wanting MORE.

I hope you want to see and hear more too, about what we are ding and how we are doing it–and ways you can get involved, as a learner or a leader, in our classes and activities. Been thinking of taking up yoga? Wishing you had more singing in your life but can’t make Thursday night choir rehearsal? Want to have a chance to do art, or to have a contemplative hour with kids and adults (yes, it’s possible!) on Sunday? Make sure you attend this Sunday’s service and join us downstairs afterward, to learn more.

Not able to attend? Check out this slideshow, showing some our projects and activities this year! And please consider joining us in RE soon–as a participant or a leader in Yoga, Hymn Sing, Contemplation, social justice activities, building Little Free Libraries, gardening, MakerSpace Summer program, storytelling, OWL for adults, and so much MORE.

Joy Berry, Director of Religious Education

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Marching Forward

As my family and a few close friends marched on the streets of Washington D.C. a few weekends ago, my three-year-old son’s protest sign read, “I am kind. I am strong. I am brave. I am helpful. I am a problem solver. I am Jack.” This is a mantra we say often together to encourage him to be a good friend, to be confident and to be certain in the choices he makes. Now, more than ever, I also have to practice these same expectations, to be intentional in my thoughts and actions, to be loving to one another and to not give up.
While at the march I was overcome with a sense of awe, a healing of sorts. I witnessed thousands of women, men and children standing together in peaceful protest. It was powerful, it was peaceful, and it was inspiring. As I read the news stories the days following the march and learned of the vast support across the country and world I was motivated to continue this important work.
Now, as we move forward in this resistance we each do our part to make progress. As I entered back into my beloved community after this history making event, I am reminded of the power that happens right here at home. The community that surrounds and holds us with open arms is nourishing and supportive. I find the need to take time and to replenish, to connect with my friends and family on a deeper level and to acknowledge all the greatness in my life.

Kate Hartnett, Vice President, UUCA Board

 

 

Proclaiming the Possible

Mark-office-2016It is plain that we are living in a contentious and defining moment in American history. Just a couple of weeks into a new administration it’s hard to be sure just what is at risk, but we have seen enough to be concerned that fundamental rights and liberties long protected by our nation’s laws are under threat. Perhaps in time the heat of this political transition will settle down and wiser heads in courts or legislatures will prevail and preserve the freedoms and protections that we cherish. But we cannot presume that will happen. As Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock wrote in “Ella’s Song,” “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” That’s us, friends. Freedom is at the heart of who we are as a religious people: freedom to believe or not to believe, to associate, to speak, to think, to proclaim the identity that we assert is ours without restriction, to travel, to learn, to challenge, to question, to love and be loved. And in our tradition this freedom is paired with equality, the fundamental idea that all persons are inherently worthy in and of themselves. And, as the UU theologian Paul Rasor puts it, that means that “all human beings have a right to a meaningful and fulfilling life” and requires that “communities be based on justice, respect and mutuality.” As we launch with new will into the work of social justice, it’s important that we be clear that that work is grounded in a rich and powerful tradition of faith that has been a source of hope for generations and for tens of thousands of people today. It’s a hope centered not in the blithe belief that things are bound to get better, but in that phrase I offered from the philosopher Maimonides on January 15: the plausibility of the possible. Social justice work is never centered in the certain, always in the possible. And what makes the possible real is the determination, the commitment, the love of those who aspire to make it so. As my colleague Lisa told you in December we need to acknowledge that there are going to be rough patches in the days ahead, and when those times come, when our children see our frustration or our tears, this is what we will tell them: “We will fight. We will hold onto each other through the despair, and we will lean on each other when we lose the battle, And love, fierce as a mother bear protecting her cubs, will never die.” That’s what I pledge to you, friends: to stay in it and be in it with you, to hold onto compassion and hope, to enlist and join allies when I can and act where I must, to challenge us to join the work and live into our heritage and to celebrate the community we build together. Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

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Growing Together in Faith, and a Special RE Sunday, Coming Soon: Joy Berry, DLRE

Almost two years ago, I asked a question, using a traditional Masai greeting: How Are the Children? I described how pleased I was that the UUCA board wanted to “build access” to the whole church community. They were open to my invitation to visit the RE classes and talk to the kids and youth, hearing firsthand how it was with our children. Those conversations were focused on three questions:

What do you love about your church?
What would you like to do more of in church?
What could you imagine doing differently at church?

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Favorite thing ever at church? “My parents were downstairs with me.”

The conversations that arose from that “appreciative inquiry” were surprising, and wonderful. And they stuck with me. Our kids were so thoughtful, so engaged, so creative. And their ideas were excellent. I made a promise to them that day that I would carry their ideas with me, and do my best to bring at least some of them come to life. Today I am excited to report several successes in that effort.

The younger kids wanted more stories, more singing, and more time in worship! And just one more little thing: to have adults join us more downstairs, and for kids to be upstairs with them more. This inspired me. I told them I would do my very best to help make that change, but that I needed their patience. It’s wonderful to say now that we have helped these wishes come true, in a couple of meaningful ways: each Sunday, we now have time in worship together as a community of all ages, as well as the opportunity for adults to take part in RE classes!

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We began a practice of being together for a short time at the beginning of each service, the part called Time for All Ages–the first 15-20 minutes. The majority of feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, although the change has been challenging for some. Especially for those who have gotten used to church without them–understandably so, in this age when fewer young families and their children are joining churches than ever before in our lifetimes.

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And yet, our 3rd Principle calls us to find a way to be together in this sacred time and space. How might we be transformed as a church by this change–now, and in the future?
It’s an opportunity to share our beloved faith with our young people, and an essential part of their faith formation as UUs. With every-Sunday TFAAs, our children get more stories, the number one request in their feedback to the board. But so do the congregation’s adults, including RE teachers, who have never been able to be in worship on a regular basis when teaching! Families, too, report enjoying the special time together in the sanctuary. It’s a beautiful, sacred space and our children and youth want and need to be invited whole-heartedly into the experience of worship: after all, it’s what we mostly do as adult UUs.

 

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Yoga for All Ages at 9:15 has been VERY popular!

Another success has been inviting adults to join in religious education for all ages at 9:15, after TFAA. We have 41 adults who have registered: just under half the total population of students at the early service. In yoga, hymnsing, social justice, and act-it-out sessions, as well as OWL for parents and a multigen class in “Miracles” from the UU perspective, we’ve made real strides in growing our capacity for faith development as shared work–not just for kids! Our Fourth Principle calls us to continue learning and growing in faith, throughout our lives.

I’m excited to share one more new opportunity for integrated worship and faith development of the congregation here at UUCA.

Mark your calendars for Feb 19th: our kids will plan and lead their own special worship service, coming up on Feb 19th, called Growing In Faith.

It will be a special time for our all ages and children/youth classes to show, tell, sing, and share what they have been up to this year in our RE program. We’ll see PreK kids lighting the chalice, and bear witness to the testimonials and talent of Spirit Play kids, the yoga class, drama, and hymnsing . You’ll hear songs and music, reports and snapshots,chosen by 4th-7th graders to bring you into their experience of growing in this faith. Like the CoA and Youth Worship service, seeing the work and creativity of our younger kids, co-led in this special program by senior high youth, should be a highlight of this year’s worship services.

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As UUs, it’s truly a delight to bring our young people into the soul and center of our life as a congregation and to see them growing in faith, right along with us, learning with and from the congregation–and sometimes, having a chance to help adults learn something about this faith, too.  I hope they’ll see you there!

Caring Ministry

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A few weeks ago, I preached about how we are called to community. If you missed the service (there was snow and ice that weekend!) you can read or listen here.  Afterwards, many of you asked how you might get involved in our Caring Ministry. Here is an excerpt from the sermon, and at the end of this blog, you can read more about how to engage in this ministry.

For many years, we have had a special list called the Caring Response Network that allows us to provide rides, food, and other assistance to folks who are in the midst of a medical or other crisis. Despite many attempts over the past few years to add people to this list, we find ourselves unable to meet all the needs that we have – requests to the Caring Response Network go unanswered. I am grateful to those of you, especially the pastoral visitors, who have helped me pick up the slack when this happens.

We are working on finding other ways to meet the need. But the question remains, is it our work to care for one another? In other cases, when a program struggles like this one has, I would let it fall by the wayside. I would say, “this appears to be something that is not important to the congregation, since nobody is stepping forward to meet the need.” And I would let it go. But with this situation, I can’t do that. It is not acceptable to me to say to our elders and others in crisis, “I’m sorry, we can’t help you.” And my hope is that it isn’t acceptable to you, either.

It is all of our work to care for one another. How will you respond when the call comes to help a friend? That one’s easy. When a friend calls, we answer. But what if it is someone we don’t know so well? Our presence in this community calls us to reach out, and it calls us to answer when others reach out, even when we aren’t already friends.

It has been said that in a religious community, we don’t have to like each other, but we do have to love each other – we are, in a way, each other’s anam cara. As a community of faith, as a congregation that chooses association based on relationship rather than creed, we choose to be spiritual friends. We choose this place because it calls us to reach toward our highest aspirations, to create a network of connections that will support us, and that will allow us to support others.

In order to facilitate this essential ministry of the congregation, next week we will launch an email blast called This Loving Community (TLC) coming out at the beginning of the week. TLC has been included in the enews, but will now come in a separate message. In it you will find personal milestones, births, deaths, etc. You will also find requests for meals, rides, cards, etc., which previously were only sent to the 55 people who opted into the Caring Response Network. The weekly On Call Pastoral Visitor will be noted in the message as well.

If you would like to submit information to be shared in the TLC email, you can send it to me, share it with a pastoral visitor, or use this convenient online form. If you are sharing information on behalf of another person, please do make sure you get permission from them first.

This change will, I hope, make it easier for you to keep track of what is happening in our community, and will empower the whole congregation to be involved in the work of caring for one another.

Stories of Our Faith

 

kayThe story of our Unitarian Universalist faith is written in our lives and in the lives of our predecessors. It’s what we do, large and small, on a daily basis. A rather challenging task, but one for which there is help at hand. As our congregational covenant states: Our life together declares that the future of each depends on the good of all and the future of all depends on the good of each.

Need a boost, a pick-me-up? Check out the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society website – UUHHS.ORG. You’ll find biographies of Unitarian Universalists who have lived our faith.

When it comes to speaking truth to power there is nothing like The Rev. A. Powell Davies for inspiration. In rallying public support against the governmental abuses of the McCarthy era he stated “. . .  I have criticized the untruths and injustices of the investigating committees . . . I am what is called a controversial person; that is . . . one who does not keep quiet in the presence of evil.”

Davies was outspoken against the abuse of police power and judicial authority. He said, “If I believed an injustice was being done I would make whatever protest I believed I should and all the courts in America would not stop me.”

In 1952, Ross Weston, the Unitarian minister in Arlington VA was judged to be in contempt for criticizing a controversial court decision from his pulpit. This contempt citation threatened to gag ministers from speaking out against court abuses. Davies contributed to a successful defense of Weston and freedom of the pulpit. He stated, “The right to criticize is necessary in the case of public servants of every sort. Only so can we insure that evil is not entrenched, and prevent intimidation and tyranny.”

In speaking truth to power some use the arts. Rod Sterling, one of television’s most prolific writers, believed that the role of a writer was to “menace the public conscience.” He saw writing as a “vehicle of social criticism” and with science fiction opened minds to deeper humanity.

When speaking truth to power some organize. Mary White Ovington spent her life combating racism. To do so she became a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And as she said, “just because no one else sees fit to do anything about it is no reason why I won’t.”

And our predecessors guide us spiritually. May Sarton in her Journal of a Solitude wrote, “There is really only one possible prayer: Give me to do everything I do in the day with a sense of the sacredness of life. Give me to be in Your presence, God, even though I know it only as absence.”

May it be so.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

Better Together

Mark-office-2016Last August I told you that I planned to make a change in our weekly Sunday worship services by inviting our children to join us for the beginning of every service. It’s a pretty common practice among UU congregations, but not something we had done before. Instead, we had made room for a Time for All Ages just once a month, together with fully multigenerational services about four times a year.

The idea arose from feedback we received from the four meetings we had last spring in our RE Visioning process. Parents reported that they’d like more opportunities to be with their children in worship. And we staff, too, concluded that we liked the idea of beginning each service gathered together as one community.

I announced that we would try it through the fall season and then decide whether to continue the practice. I invited your thoughts about what worked and what didn’t about the new format, and I’m grateful that a number of you provided very helpful feedback. You may have noticed that along the way I have made a few tweaks responding to those comments. And we’re not done. I still welcome your thoughts. There are still some pieces that we’re working on.

So, what’s the verdict? Is it working or not? Are we going to continue?

My judgment is that it is working and we ought to continue. Let me share my reasoning. I begin with feedback I’ve received. The response to this change from parents has been uniformly strong and positive. Families welcome the opportunity to begin their Sunday experience together. And we’ve tried hard to make the experience at the start of the service accessible and inviting to children. We provide a story time and sing a hymn from among the songs that children are learning in their gathering time. And we’re experimenting with using pillows in the Sanctuary for some children to sit on during Time for All Ages.

Beyond the comments, though, I measure our success by a significant increase in attendance and participation by young families this fall. We now have 215 children or youth registered for religious education. Average weekly attendance for December was 142, up from 75 in December 2015. This influx is testing our resources, but it’s a nice problem to have.

The continued growth is good news both for the health of our program today and for the future of this congregation. But I also recognize that it’s a change in our culture, and especially for people not used to spending a lot of time around children, it can be a little disorienting. Kids can get squirmy, and the overall level of noise and energy is a little higher.

The situation is a microcosm of the way that diversity of any kind can push us, requiring us to put up with a bit of discomfort for the sake of being together. If you are one who is pushed by these changes, let me suggest that, rather than stepping back, jump in. There are many interesting activities going on in our Religious Education classes, and we’re always looking for storytellers to help with our Time for All Ages. How about volunteering every once in a while? The best part of doing that is you begin to make connections with our children and their parents, all of which will deepen your experience here and your own spiritual life.

I remember that when our daughters were growing up some of the most important adults in their lives in middle school or high school were congregation members who had made a point of getting to know them. Why miss out on the chance to make that kind of connection?

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister