Gratitude for This Beautiful Congregation
Jun. 17, 2019. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. This is my last blog for UUCF. While we’ve known since very early in the congregational year that 2018-19 would be the end of my time at UUCF, it still feels like it has gone so quickly. We started some good work here together and I’m very proud to have been the assistant minister for this wonderful congregation. You have helped shape my journey and allowed me to use my skills in ministry with your blessings - including ordination, something I worked toward with 3 years in seminary, 1 year in residence as a hospital chaplain, 1 year working in ministry while creating a packet to summarize everything I’ve done since starting the path and culminating in an interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston. Your love and support affirm a calling that means I dedicate myself to deep connection to both the peak and valley experiences of humanity. By giving myself to this work, I am not allowing myself to shy away from all that is our world and our doing. I am promising to call those around me back to our, as Howard Thurman writes, High Resolve. It can be exhausting work. It is easy to be tempted to turn away and distract oneself from the truth, be it positive or negative as even growth toward our best selves means struggle. In moments of doubt, I am able to include the soul-lifting day of ordination and the subtle moments of pastoral care conversations in the encouragement to continue on this path. On Sunday, I’ll preach my last sermon as UUCF’s assistant minister. With the monthly theme of beauty in mind, I plan to highlight all the beauty found within this community. How you care for each other by volunteering to bring meals or give rides to those in need. How you give time and talent teaching our young ones. The ways that learning to hone active listening as part of the Pastoral Care Associates means you hold space when people are in times of stress. There is so much to love about this place, and so much to build on as you continue to practice the Beloved Community here. Thank you, UUCF, for the time and care you have given me these last 2 years.
Goodbye As We Journey Together
May 27, 2019. Major transitions remind me that we humans are irregular time travelers. We move through time with experience and memories accumulating in a fascinatingly unique manner, like a decorator crab adding random objects to its shell. No two journeys are alike. Significant or intense events are enshrined in the heart and mind, and too many names and specifics may be only vaguely recorded. You will notice this if you talk to any two people who shared the same experience; they often argue endlessly on the date, food eaten, people present and so on. It is as though they hold different pasts. We all do, although our memories and experiences crisscross through time. With our unique histories, we each move into our own future. When we encounter new events or people that resonate with our past experience, especially emotionally intense experiences, we are launched into our past - reliving the feelings, memories and dreams buried even in our distant history. Moving into the future we continually weave in the past in unique loops, again crossing paths with all those we journeyed with before. As you may imagine, I have been reflecting on transitions lately. I returned from Chicago the weekend before last, where I graduated from seminary and said goodbye to dear faculty and friends. Then on Tuesday, the staff held a parting lunch for Rev. Sarah Caine and me. After I say goodbye to UUCF on Jun. 2, I will not contact this congregation for at least a year. This is the usual rhythm of internships, and it is part of a beautiful process where teaching congregations help launch a new ministry. Although I will not make contact, I will always be in contact with our journey together. Every one of you has touched my heart through this part of my formation. Your presence and greeting on Sundays, cheers for my call and my ordination, deep questions in Religious Exploration classes and groups, greetings at coffee hour, your struggles and illnesses, joys and celebrations. You are all part of my ministry now, like the building blocks of the decorator crab’s home. For all the days ahead, I will continue living and growing from our time together. Humans are irregular time travelers, and this is a blessing even when it is a challenge. Even though we part and forget some details, we continually weave our past into the future. This is how we carry a soul through time. And so, I say goodbye. But our paths will surely cross again, dear ones; I could never move into my future without you. May it be a joy for you to re-encounter our journey, just as it will be for me. With gratitude, blessings and joy, Rev. Pippin
Coming of Age With a Different Kind of Creed
May 13, 2019. By Youth Ministry Coordinator Courtney Firth. When I was 13, I was baptized in the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterians usually baptize babies, but this one vestige of my mother’s Southern Baptist roots held on so that I could make the choice on my own at an appropriate time. So I spent a year with another church member who talked about my faith with me, helped me memorize the Apostles’ Creed and generally prepared me for life as a fully fledged Christian. In Oklahoma, Presbyterians were considered generally more liberal than the Baptists down the street. And while I was able to think for myself and choose what to believe, there was definitely a level of indoctrination into a world where everyone believes in God, the Trinity and, in a less preachy way, being saved. When looking back at the time, I think I chose to go through it, partly to make my parents proud and the rest for the attention I would get doing it. (All of my peers had already been baptized.) Eternal salvation and knowing that I would be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven? Meh. The Coming of Age program here at UUCF is somewhat similar to what I did in PCUSA. But instead of a baptism at the end, the youth are asked to present their credos and share the beliefs they have formed throughout the 7th-grade year. They have worked hard to form their ideas, ideals and faith during one of the most trying times in a young person’s life. The results are always full of hope, joy and the promise of a denomination continuing on a path of true community. As many UU congregations struggle to find a path in a changing and unpredictable world, seeing the potential of our faith in the faces of these youth is a remarkable exercise in hope. I urge you to attend the services this Sunday, not for eternal salvation, not because the youth are “so cute” to stand up in front of the congregation and speak, and not even because the words they speak are so profound that we might all be “saved.” Instead, come and welcome them into being fully fledged members of the community with the thoughts, ideals and hurts we all have. As UUs, we may not have a memorized creed to live by, but lifting up the humanity of all of our community seems to me to be creed enough.
Where Two or More Are Gathered
Apr. 22, 2019. By Young Adult Community Leader Tyler Coles. Three weeks ago I had the opportunity to take part in the Gathering Summit, a virtual convening of community builders from around the world. The core of this convening was twofold: to ponder why people no longer engage traditional places of “meaning-making” and to share best practices around “innovative gathering strategies.” As you might suspect from an online conference that frequently referenced such phrases as “innovative gathering strategies,” there was a collective tendency for the cumbersome and heady. But what do you expect from a group of people who willingly gave up their weekend to discuss shifting social trends and age-old traditions of being together? After all, these participants ranged from academic researchers to grassroots organizers, from religious leaders to social entrepreneurs. Yet beyond the headiness, several points stood out to me, a few of which I have learned from those involved or adjacent to The Community (the tentative name of the young adult collective I have been gifted to serve over the last several months). Two points in particular were clearly articulated back to me through Gathering Summit presenter Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.” Priya shared that if gatherings are to have meaning today, they must first address a specific need within a particular group. Second, Priya pointed out that if we are to acknowledge and address a need, we must intentionally slow down. This is the heart of effective community-building: slow down, discover the need, and then address the need. “Yes,” I proclaimed! In her words, and subsequently in the words of all those with whom I have interacted in the young adult collective, community, the ties that bind can be just this simple and weightless. This idea conjures in my mind the passage in the Book of Matthew in which Jesus is quoted to have shared, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (18:20).” Whether the name or need is to comfort the lonely, to explore the city, to create with the Spirit in mind, there we see the faint shimmers and sparkles of the Beloved Community thrive among us. When we gather intentionally, slowly, to know and be known by others, there we hear the soft melody of hearts in harmony with one another. Forming community can be really just that simple sometimes: slow down, discover a need and address it. On this bright new day, I invite you to join with me in this prayer: Spirit of Life, God Eternal Let us be caretakers to the in-breaking of this present moment, in this holy place where heaven and earth meet Enable each of us to be soft today when it would be all too easy to be rigid and hard Let us be mindful of not just our own needs, let us be mindful of the needs of our siblings around us And in so doing, may we tend to those needs with the soothing balm of meaningful connection and heartfelt attention. Ase, So Be It and Amen.
Apr. 15, 2019. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. When I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love. Hymn #1009 “Meditation on Breathing.” Some days I sit in my office at UUCF and watch the emails stack up in my inbox and I think, just breathe David, just breathe. This continues if I go on Facebook, or look at the news or think about all the information going in and out of my head on a minute-by-minute basis. The rate of information in this world is dizzying and sometimes it is important for us just to stop and breathe in and breathe out. I was thinking about how different the flow of life and information must be from the early days of this congregation in the 1950s. There was no Thursday congregational email, no Facebook page, no website. There were no cell phones, texting or cable TV. Even copiers weren’t commercially available until the late 1950s. The rate of change and the flow of information about programs or activities were completely different both in pace and methods of delivery. As things are now - the rate of change, the flow of information and our capacity to hold it at any given point on any given day - can certainly be a challenge. There are lots of “experts” who will tell you a lot more than I can about how to cope with all of this, but here is one simple suggestion: Breathe. And yes, in some ways I mean that metaphorically and in other ways I mean it physically. In an article titled, “Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response,” folks from Harvard Medical School talk about the benefits of deep breathing: “Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response. The first step is learning to breathe deeply. Deep breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.” It goes on to say, “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange - that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.” We all need to take a little time from the endless stream of data that gets input to our personal computers. Go for a walk, notice our surroundings, enjoy the newfound buds of spring. Read a poem. Sit quietly. Sip a nice cup of tea on a cool day. Yes, the pace of things has changed and is probably only going to increase as enabled by technology. Thankfully, in addition to breathing, there is one thing we can still control when it comes to all of our electronic gadgets: We still control the on/off switch.
Breaking Toward Wholeness
Apr. 8, 2019. By Lay Minister for Membership & Outreach Shannon Williams. “We cannot be everything at once. Instead, when you are with me, and I am with you - when we are part of this community grounded in Love - we are enough … we are whole.” - Alexis Engelbrecht, Soul Matters Family Ministry Coordinator In spring 2017, I had the pleasure of participating in the UUCF Membership Committee’s Anniversary Dinner. One year later, as a new lay minister, I assisted the committee in planning this lovely event, which recognizes congregants who are celebrating membership anniversaries. Both years, I enjoyed what appeared to be a seamless, masterful orchestration. Every piece fell into place. The 2019 dinner was sure to be a breeze, right? Our team had all the systems in good working order. It was just a matter of putting them into motion. You may have heard the Yiddish proverb “Mann traoch, Gott Lauch.” Rough translation: We make plans. God laughs. The event machinery hit rougher terrain than it had encountered before. Expecting the usual last-minute cancellations, we were unprepared for so many walk-ins. We had more people than chairs. The absence of long-term UUCF volunteers due to health and other circumstances and the tragic death of Flori Diaz the week before had many in our congregation reeling emotionally. Those losses added uncertainty about how to manage the setup and cleanup demands. While those attending the dinner told us they had a great time and appreciated the celebration of their membership, those of us planning it left feeling a bit wrung out. When I went home that night, I wrestled with the urge to give up. My mind kept wanting to interpret the challenges as confirmation that I’m not cut out for this work. Throughout my life, a notion that dogs me is that if something comes easily, I must have a talent in that area. Ease equals proof of capacity and acumen. While this notion might appear sound on the surface, it leads to a dangerous inversion: If something is hard, then maybe I’m not good at it. Maybe I never will be. Fumbling becomes a sign of some fundamental absence of talent and, as a result, I should steer clear of activities that I don’t master right away. This mindset functions a little too perfectly in Northern Virginia, a region that prizes professional competency and achievement. In our work lives and communities, many of us find ourselves walking among Wikipedia entries - experts with surgically tuned resumes and a whole alphabet of letters after their names. Gaining entry into many of our fields requires us to pretend that we, too, have all the parts in the correct places with the edges sanded straight and smooth. We protect the illusion by avoiding what might shatter it - both in others’ eyes and in our own. Isn’t it fitting that our Unitarian Universalist theme for living this month is Wholeness? The April Soul Matters guide asks us to consider the messy journey of becoming whole: “We were meant to be broken, broken open to be exact. Over and over again, our faith reminds us that protecting our personal wholeness is only half the game. The equally important part of life’s journey is about letting in the wholeness of world!” What happens when I revisit the anniversary dinner carrying this new light? How does the story unfold when glimpsing it through the cracks that invite an opening toward true wholeness? Like this: Knowing that the operations team was running a skeleton crew, almost the entire Membership Committee and several friends arrived early to help set up the Sanctuary. The first trickle of guests turned into a steady flow, and every attendee came bearing goodies in abundance. We had to unfold two more side tables to accommodate the cornucopia of dishes. When our extra guests showed up, others moved place settings closer together and made room for extra chairs. After Rev. David Miller gave a touching blessing over the food, two friends stepped up to engage with the preschoolers so their parents could enjoy the dinner conversation. Members who have been part of the congregation for decades (and some, for just a few months) told stories of their time at UUCF that brought many in the room to tears. Countless guests stayed late to help haul coolers, break down tables, plunge their hands into dishwater and leave everything as tidy as possible for Sunday morning services. Our 2019 Anniversary Dinner was not perfect because it was seamless. Instead, its flaws allowed for a different kind of wholeness to come to life. By recognizing that none of us could manage the event alone, the team had to ask for help and graciously accept the help offered. The endeavor was neither the Shannon show nor the Membership Committee show. It belonged to everyone who offered a hand, a voice, a story, a word of encouragement. As much as I would have liked to stay hidden inside my illusion of mastery, the circumstances nudged me out into honesty and into relationship. The evening gave me the opportunity to admit that I had not anticipated every eventuality, and the crew needed help handling the actual situation before us. Like it or not, others would have to see me in my cracked, duct-taped state. This revelation of my imperfection seemed to trouble exactly no one and surprise even fewer. Maybe we all know that just about everyone else is faking it a little, and that just about everyone else is as tired of it as we are. What if in this faith community, we don’t have to fake it? What if here at UUCF, we get to work with each other to bring our shared vision to life even if we don’t quite know how to do it exactly right? What if here, more than anywhere else, we get to stretch beyond our sense of what we think we can do, and try new ways of creating, leading and becoming? What if here, when we take on new challenges and reveal the broken places, we will be held with patience and tenderness? What if others welcome our attempts with enthusiasm? None of us has to wait until we’ve mapped our exquisite plan before taking the next step. We get to venture out even when we’re scattered in a jumble of pieces. Here, held in love, we can explore how the choices we make expand our spirit. Let’s build our connections through our brokenness. As we deepen our journey, let’s become whole in relationship with each other and with the world. How will you let the cracks show as you open toward the wholeness of connection?
What Am I Doing to Impact the Healing in My Community?
Apr. 1, 2019. By Director of Music & Arts Laura Weiss. While working on my master’s degree, my professor and I met each week after he observed me directing the choir. He was beloved by his students, and his mentorship was invaluable to me. One week, he quietly asked me if I ever made audio recordings of my rehearsals. I expressed that I had and that I listened dutifully each week to the choir’s tone on the playback to assess how to improve the group’s sound. My professor leaned back and cautiously asked if I had ever listened to myself on the track. I was sure that I had, I replied. He asked me to record the rehearsals for the next few weeks and write about what I heard. At first, I didn’t understand. I didn’t hear anything especially interesting (though, oh my gosh, is it humbling to listen to yourself singing warm-ups!) so I returned to my mentor confused. He encouraged me to go back to the recording one last time and listen deeply. Later that week, I was driving in my car, listening to the same recording for about the fifth time, and my stomach dropped. In the car that afternoon, I heard a new voice: the voice of my father. Once I made this connection, it was as if I was hearing the recording for the first time. When I approached a topic or area that made me uncomfortable, I would puff up my voice. I would change my tone at the end of sentences to indicate that I was in the position of authority and I would make statements that implied that the learners should rise to my level of wisdom if they weren’t already there. I said things like, “You know what I mean” and “Right?” as if the choir members should already agree with me or understand. The number of condescending phrases far outweighed the humble ones and I realized my father had often used this tactic whenever he felt uncomfortable or out of his element. I was so embarrassed. Here I was attempting to teach them authenticity and my example was showing them the opposite. Even simple phrases have impact. The way our voices rise or fall can have lasting effects on the self-esteem or sense of self-worth in others. I was crestfallen to think of how many youngsters - or adults for that matter - had been wounded by my voice, and yet my professor reminded me that we can’t change where we have been. My new responsibility was to work to heal a deep wound that had most likely existed in my family for generations. I will never forget this lesson, and Pippin Whitaker’s Mar. 24 sermon reminded me of the importance of uncovering the wounds that live in our bodies. I have since pledged to work to have a voice of healing. I want to use the power of my voice to help others find theirs. I want to work to center those individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. What an amazing world it will be when we learn to use our collective talents to empower others, not to strip down or demean. This month, I couldn’t be more proud of the collective of empowering voices in this community. Whether the voice is through fingers on instruments, songs in a choir or testimony through the visual arts, our program is living this vision. On Apr. 7, we will center women’s artistic voices on Empowering Women and Creativity Day. That Sunday, we welcome women from all over the DMV to share how art has shaped their spiritual practices, and after both worship services, these women will participate in a large arts sale in the Commons. On Apr. 27, we center UUs of color for our “Voices” concert series, centering racial justice in part to fulfill our pledge for the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith campaign for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism. And on May 4, we raise money for victims of school gun violence as we sing Gabriel Fauré's “Requiem” along with voices from All Souls, the Arlington UU choir and children from Temple Rodef Shalom. Lastly, we center LGBTQ voices for Reston Pride on Jun. 1. I am proud to be part of this community and to participate in this amazing work. How will you use your voice?
Affirming My Call to Military Chaplaincy
Mar. 25, 2019. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. As I near the close of my time at Chaplain Basic Officer Learning Course (CHBOLC) here at Fort Jackson, SC, I’ve been asked to reflect on how this course has helped forge me as a chaplain. CHBOLC is an odd mixture of orientation to the Army and ministry because people arrive for the course with different levels of familiarity with each piece of the job. We spend most of our days in classrooms learning about regulations, Army writing and pastoral skills in the pluralistic environment. We do have the occasional opportunity to do cool Army things like the Victory Tower (rappelling 40 feet), the Night Infiltration Course and the Fit-2-Win obstacle course. The aspect of CHBOLC I have found most valuable is the amazing ability of chaplains from various backgrounds to come together and agree to serve for the good of the soldiers rather than to further any one particular faith tradition. While I am the most progressively minded chaplain this session, the group is able to transcend differences with grace and compassion. It’s not a perfect situation - things are still very Christian-centric and heteronormative - but it is a hope-generating one. This is how we live into Beloved Community. We recognize the sacred tension of authentically representing a specific faith and yet vow to meet the spiritual needs of a diverse population alongside a diverse group of chaplains. We trust each other not to harm the hearts and souls of those to whom we minister and, what’s more, we trust each other to aid in the nurturing of those very hearts and souls. While the daily practice of working out for an hour followed by 8 hours of classes can be taxing some days, the majority of my time here has been life-giving and affirming of my call to military chaplaincy. I don’t think any of what I have learned here is mind-blowing, but it is refining my understanding of myself and specifically how I fit in the bigger roles of chaplaincy and the Army. Prejudices I wasn’t aware I had are crumbling as I get to know my classmates well. I wouldn’t give the official CHBOLC program credit for the transformation I’ve experienced, but it does offer the space for transformation to occur. As in life outside CHBOLC, being open to these opportunities for growth and learning is the biggest part of forging awakening. Chaplains are forged by what they put into their own development within this context. I’m grateful for this particular chance to refine myself further.
The Last Campaign! Really??
Mar. 18, 2019. By Terry Goplerud and Dave Wiemer, UUCF Generosity Team co-chairs. If you’ve been a member of UUCF for a while, you know that each March, everyone in the congregation is asked to renew their annual pledge. There is usually a theme, a brochure, a banner, posters, sometimes videos and many talks from the pulpit by various people imploring us to make or increase our pledge and to turn in our pledge cards. It involves lots of volunteer and staff time and usually culminates in further staff and volunteer time tracking down missing pledges. Not this year. This year marks the beginning of a new approach to pledging at UUCF. One that benefits the members of the congregation and improves congregational operations. We hope you’ll agree that this approach saves everyone time and money, is more efficient and just makes a lot of sense. Starting this year, the pledge you make will be considered an ongoing pledge. You will not be asked to renew your pledge or to sign a new pledge card every year. In fact, there will be NO pledge cards! (We’ll get to that in a minute.) Of course, you can always increase, decrease or stop your pledge any time you wish. But, unless direct action is taken, your pledge will be just that: your pledge - and it will keep on going. Also starting this year, pledges will be recorded online, through our website and through Realm, our member database. There’s NO pledge card to fill out. Instructions are included in your packet or on the website at uucf.org/agc. If you couldn’t pick up your packet at services yesterday, it will be mailed to you. When you make your pledge online, you will be asked to consider having your pledge increase automatically each year by any percent you choose. How easy is that?! With a consistent level of funding, the UUCF budgeting process will be easier and more predictable. Without the need for brochures, themes and pledge cards, staff and volunteer time will be freed. We members and pledging friends benefit by not spending so much worship time with the annual pledge drive. What a relief! More time can be spent on what we’re here to do: transform ourselves, our community and the world through acts of love and justice. Our pledges fund our mission and give us the foundation on which to grow. All our programs and activities rely on our commitment to this beloved community. This foundation needs to be strong enough to fund normal congregational operations, and also provide for long-overdue staff raises and to build a reserve for building maintenance. It’s naïve to think that this approach will eliminate all future requests for additional funds. But, we aim to target those appeals to specific causes, and only as necessary. For this to work, each of us needs to be as generous as we can. We are being trusted to provide a sustaining level of support that moves our UU mission forward. We ARE UUCF. We can ask ourselves: Am I doing all I can? Can I demonstrate my love and dedication for this faith community by making a generous, sustaining gift? We hope that you will take this trust seriously and make a generous pledge. In the end, it’s up to all of us to make this The Last Campaign.
The Aftermath of Loss
Mar. 11, 2019. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. It is a call you never want to get. It came last Monday and changed everything. We, the families, the staff, this congregation and the entire community, lost three souls - Flori, Vladimir and Nathan - in a violent and tragic act. These acts - so often seen in the news as another story in the lore of violence from the barrel of a gun - were now, as it has been for so many before, intensely personal. This was not a premeditated act, but an act in the midst of a troubled night in a family that we have known and cared for over many years in so many ways. Stephanie and Michael - Flori and Vladimir’s two children who were raised in part on the grounds of this congregation - thankfully were unharmed. Vladimir, caring for our grounds and adding his help when needed, took his life after taking two others. And of course, there was Flori. She loved and cared for us and our campus. She was UUCF’s longest-serving current employee. She had a twinkle in her eye and moved through the world with kindness and joy. She worked hard and truly helped us to be our best. So many of us have stories of Flori that will stay with us forever. She was so proud of her children and so happy to have her family be a part of this community. It is hard to understand what pain, what anger, what frustration, what loss of hope could lead to this horrible end: the deaths of these two parents and Stephanie’s boyfriend Nathan. The story is so painfully repeated in this world, but thankfully rarely so close to home. This time, we will feel this loss and we will struggle mightily with its aftermath. Members of our community have already reached out with stories of their own pain activated by this news. If you need to reach out to me, Pippin or Pastoral Care Team co-chairs Linda Clark and Paul Atelsek, please don’t hesitate to do so. The lesson for all of us, the staff, the congregation, the families involved and the community is that we are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality and we must be here for each other. The staff and I would like to thank so many of you for offering financial support for Stephanie and Michael. Your generosity has touched us and will be greatly appreciated by the family. Donations are still being accepted online or you can send a check to the UUCF office. We also want to thank all those who have reached out with emotional support, including so many from across Unitarian Universalism. We feel held in the loving embrace of the greater faith. For many of us, it will take time before we stop seeing where Flori’s hands have touched. For now, we see them everywhere. Grief will find its way and will take the time it takes and although we may never understand why this happened, we will gratefully always remember these people, their lives and their impact on ours.
Friday Night Worship: Exploring New Ways of Being in Community
Mar. 4, 2019. By Lay Minister for Worship & Arts Susan Bennett. In these increasingly anxious and troubling times, I find myself returning regularly to the need for grounding and self-nurturance. It’s important not just for me but also as a path to being of service to others. I first learned this lesson long ago when I was a mother of young children. As the spiral of life unfolds, I return again and again to this lesson. I simply am no good for others unless I take care of my own spiritual needs. And even though I know that to be true, it’s so easy to be overtaken by the great need that exists everywhere around me and suddenly find myself careening toward burnout. Perhaps it is the same for you. The recognition of this need for grounding and spiritual sustenance is always on the minds of the Worship Team as it aims to create meaningful and uplifting worship at UUCF. Team members consider the splendid diversity of our world and our UUCF community and it makes us acutely aware of the need for all of us to move beyond our comfort zones and seek ever-expanding ways of welcoming all into the circle of our community. What helps me stay spiritually grounded may not work for you and what feeds your spirit may not resonate with the person sitting next to you at a worship service. Our racial and ethnic identities are not the same, our cultural heritages differ and our gender identities no longer fit into an either/or box (if they ever did!). In response to this diverse landscape, members of the Worship Team (the ministers, the director of Religious Exploration, the director of Music & Arts and the lay worship associates) perpetually ask ourselves: How can we serve the community in a more expansive way? Our latest answer to this question is to experiment with a once-a-month Friday night worship experience. Our vision for this new offering is to provide an additional opportunity for worship where we can explore new ways of being together. We began in January with Bedtime Star-ies, where folks were invited to come in their jammies and enjoy an exploration of the stars through words, music and videos, preceded by a potluck dinner. In February, we collaborated with the Pastoral Care Team to offer the Healing Service. Our next Friday night service will be Mar. 15. More information on this service will be announced in the Thursday email. We will continue these services through the spring, take a break over the summer and restart in October. For now, you can expect each one to be different from the others. Some will have potlucks, some won’t. This will give us an opportunity to explore together what is possible when we expand our vision of worship as we seek to build community and offer welcome to all. I hope you will try out this new offering and find it helps you stay spiritually centered in these challenging times. As always, the Worship Team welcomes your thoughts, so feel free to contact me at any time!
Mindfulness Is a Means of Transformation
Feb. 25, 2019. By Director of Religious Exploration Diana Tycer. The UUCF mission statement sits on my desk, and I read it almost daily. As I am sure you all know, it says our mission is to transform ourselves, our community and the world through acts of love and justice. For some in our congregation, those words call them to bold and visible action. They protest monthly in front of the National Rifle Association headquarters, they travel to Richmond to lobby our state representatives, they network in the community to combat climate change, serve the homeless and foster interfaith collaborations. They work with others in the Unitarian Universalist Association and throughout the U.S. to support immigrant justice and racial justice in our country. All of this is important and transformative work, but it is not the only means of transformation. It has taken me a good chunk of my lifetime to realize that acts of love and justice that lead to transformation of the entire world can occur between just two people. Living fully in the moment and bringing all your gifts and talents to the matter at hand is transformative. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that compassion, tenderness and peace in the world are attainable, not after some long, hard struggle, but in this very moment, if we open our minds and hearts to them. The very first Together Time story I read in a UUCF worship service was “The Three Questions” by Jon J. Muth. I chose it because this simple children’s story had started my own journey toward mindfulness. Its message - that the most important person is the one you are with and the most important action is to provide that person what they need - was not one my younger self could have heard or accepted. Back then, I had arrived in DC with my newly minted government degree, ready to fight for women’s and gay rights and primed to change an economic system that had failed so many. I lobbied on Capitol Hill, attended rallies and marches and helped found nonprofits. I felt for sure I was making a difference. These were the actions necessary to change the world! Flash forward 20 years. Instead of heading up some activist nonprofit, I found myself living in a small Alaska town, an at-home mom with two preschoolers, one with significant disabilities. How the heck had that happened?! The smallness of my daily life frustrated me. I was certain my talents were being wasted and that my life was supposed to be happening somewhere else - and those thoughts tormented me. Then came the day when I read that children’s book. The ground shifted under me! Was it possible that this was exactly the place I was supposed to be? Could it be true that the most important work of today was interacting lovingly with my own children? For the first time I realized that my home, my children’s school, the grocery store, the gas station was the world I could transform with every interaction grounded in my UU values. By striving to be present in every moment, by upholding the dignity and worth of every person in every interaction, I could become a means of transforming the world. That old adage - be the change you want to see in the world - rang true. By embodying patience and fairness, by empowering others (no matter how young) to take leadership and make decisions, by making daily choices to help - not harm - our planet, by being mindful of every action and its impact on others, I could transform myself, my community and my world. The journey I started that day is still continuing and it will never really be completed. I think the whole point of transformation is that it is ongoing. When you live each day striving to be your best self and doing the best you can for those around you, you open yourself up to change. When you allow compassion, kindness and love to guide every interaction, you are forced to relinquish anger, fear and mistrust. And doing so - opening yourself in mindful, authentic connection with another human being and giving your time in service to them in this moment - is truly an act of love and justice.
Small Acts of Tremendous Spirit
Feb. 18, 2019. By Lay Minister for Membership & Outreach Shannon Williams. The night of “The Vagina Monologues,” the UUCF campus thrummed with energy. A full house, songs by the unstoppable Nikki Ames to get our engines going, then one voice after another telling the shared story. The show satisfied, troubled, expanded, inspired. We all could have walked out afterward fulfilled by the experience. But most of us didn’t walk out. We paused, lingering by the snack table and makeshift bar. I watched in awe as our Commons, packed with members, friends and neighbors, bloomed to life. The sight thrilled my heart. The space transformed from a room with folding tables to a swirling, buzzing, breathing body. Members of our congregation engaged in vibrant conversation with people who had just stepped into our Sanctuary for the first time. Performers with shining faces received hugs from friends and praise from audience members. Our congregational home became a living organism embodying celebration, art and welcome. While a good party livens things up, something more fundamental than a festive atmosphere is at work here. The essential, life-giving moment can take on different shapes. Last week, our campus embodied welcome in one of its other forms. The Hypothermia Prevention Program, coordinated by the unstoppable Jeff Snyder alongside FACETS and other area churches, sheltered guests from around Northern Virginia. The skies have been rough on our region lately, and the vulnerable in our community feel it most. Over 40 guests per night stayed in the Program Building. Although we hope every year will be the last we have to do this, it is good that UUCF is able to fill this need. Projects like “The Vagina Monologues” and Hypothermia Prevention are immense. They have a dizzying array of moving parts that require skilled oversight. Because of this, it’s easy for many of us to feel like a contribution of any significance is out of reach. Maybe we believe our part in it, so immeasurably tiny, doesn’t really matter. That we are interchangeable, replaceable. As motivation runs dry, we may tell ourselves that socializing feels tedious, small talk superficial and the volunteerism Sisyphean. We may convince ourselves that attending or streaming Sunday services is all of UUCF we can handle, and even that is a stretch. Of course, it is necessary to take time to rest and create comfort in these stretched lives. I hope you know that you are held and loved even when you need to draw the blankets around yourself and stay in. I also hope you’ll remember that you feed the spirit and fulfill UUCF’s mission simply by showing up. What has really struck me these past couple of weeks is that while the grand endeavors get top billing, the little gestures live at the heart of what we do. Volunteers that helped turn the post-performance Commons into a place of vibrant energy share spirit and heart with those who help shelter our homeless neighbors. When a UUCF congregant crosses the Commons to greet a new face, the spirit awakens. When a UUCFer warmly invites a hypothermia guest into the shelter store to track down a decent blazer for a job interview, the spirit grows stronger. This is all spiritual work. I am immensely grateful to my fellow congregants for every small act. For turning toward the person who looks uncertain, for helping sign in guests or making a tray of sandwiches or inviting a friend to join you for a special worship service. For using the Realm database to send a note to someone you haven’t seen in a while. For simply showing up. Each of these “small acts” helps transform UUCF into the place it is meant to be. You help us all grow and flourish. You expand our reach and clear the way for others who need this place, who need us and who need you. Please remember: To serve, you don’t need to know everything going on in our bustling congregation. In fact, you don’t need to know even a fraction of it. We have Spiritual Docents who are trained to help folks find their way. The docent program connects congregants with informal guidance around their spiritual journey, sense of belonging and service. You may come across people who are trying to articulate their questions and interests (or you may be seeking your next steps in the congregation!). Keep the Spiritual Docents in mind, and take the risk of opening toward connection even if you - like so many of us - still feel new here yourself. In the coming weeks, all kinds of activities populate the UUCF calendar. We have opportunities to invite neighbors from communities beyond our campus to connect and celebrate with us. LoveFEST on Sat., Feb. 23; the annual Auction on Sat., Mar. 2; and the ReelAbilities Film Festival on Wed., Mar. 13. (just to name a few). I encourage you to find a way to participate. This can mean volunteering, spreading the word to friends or bringing a neighbor with you. Or it can mean simply arriving, exactly as you are. In all the tiny and marvelous ways, let’s keep coming together. Let’s keep creating a faith community where welcome takes on many forms and the spirit grows bright among us.
A Time and a Place
Feb. 11, 2019. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. “I want to just cry, but they’re waiting. There’ll be a time and a place for that,” I recall a bereaved spouse in the hospital telling me she couldn’t cry - she needed to put on a strong face for the grandchildren. Grief unfolds in so many different ways, and numbness is certainly one of them. Yet I wondered, with this expansive family and all the arrangements she would need to make, when would she find her space to cry, or yell or sit with sadness? When do any of us find the time and space to grieve our losses, our hurts? Perhaps we begin to grieve a major loss - like the death of a loved one, divorce or a terminal illness - only to find that after a few weeks or months we are expected to have “finished” this process and healed our spirits. Or, regardless of anyone’s expectations, the busy pace of life quickly distracts from the pain as well as from healing. Healing means to become sound or healthy again. To heal the heart or spirit is not to erase the breaks and wounds, but to restore us to a place where we can give and receive love and joy again. Although we may feel pulled away from grief or rushed along, the broken places in the heart still deserve care and time. Even stress and dashed hopes can wear on us, leaving another wound on the heart. National and global events can dismay us and weigh on our hearts. All these burdens deserve care and healing. To create a time and space for healing, the UUCF Pastoral Care Team will host a healing service in the Sanctuary on Fri., Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. Whatever your sadness, no matter how long ago it started, how distant or how small you think it may be, it is welcome in this service of healing. All are invited to bring an optional short reading that brings peace and healing, to share in the service. Child care will be provided. If you need other support for healing, please also know that you can reach out to the UUCF ministry team or Pastoral Care Team for support. We may live in challenging times due to personal, national or global losses, but this community rises to these times with compassion and a sense of joy through our shared journey.
Our Faith Can Be a Treatment for White Supremacy
Feb. 4, 2019. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. A week ago, we held a conference at UUCF that was motivated in part by the struggle Unitarian Universalist congregations have been having with the use of the words “white supremacy” in relation to the cultural systems in which we in the U.S. swim. It has been a difficult subject in our congregations and in the country, but it reflects the inherent privilege built into the culture of this country before and since the U.S. Constitution codified it in Article 1, Section 2: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Now we face one more in an endless series of examples of how this original sin of racism still infects us: the revelation of racist photos in the Virginia governor’s medical school yearbook. This is just another instance of white maleness being able to operate with impunity throughout most of history. Whether it’s racist pictures or the sexual assault of young women by young men from elite religious schools, systems of white supremacy that preference and excuse these behaviors are now finding their way into the public consciousness with some new hope of accountability and change. There is no quick-fix medicine for this illness, no pill we can take that will wipe the infection from our lives. This is a long-term struggle against an insidious disease. I still believe one of the more useful treatments for this disease can be the practice of the Unitarian Universalist faith - a faith that calls us into right relationship with what is in us, between us and beyond us. This is no easy task. It is difficult. We will fail. We will fall prey to the perils of anger and frustration. We will not always be our best selves. That is why it is a practice, and why this nation must also practice being its best self, called into relationships of mutual support and accountability. Each time a racist incident comes to light, there will be statements that reek of hypocrisy and political gamesmanship. If we practice what we preach, we will reflect on our reactions, live our faith to the best of our ability and do what we can to hold each other accountable as we work for relationships steeped in justice, equality, respect and dignity.
Offering Others a Place of Spiritual Refuge
Jan. 28, 2019. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. I went to work out on Friday and the gym was full of furloughed workers. People were talking about the ridiculousness of the whole situation and then a discussion about the logistics of insurance broke out among the five workers waiting for class to begin. As I listened to these furloughed workers, I guess because of my calling in life, I wanted to ask them much more than how they are going to figure out the logistics of their insurance. I wanted to ask them how they were doing spiritually, what might help them through these times, if they needed any financial assistance, if they are a part of a community of spiritual support. Then, class started and we went our separate ways. Sometimes we understandably want our religious institutions to be a refuge from the ridiculousness of politics and the trials and tribulations of the everyday world - a place of peace, beauty and serenity in the ever-swirling outrageousness passing as American politics these days. And yet, how can we separate religious life from the spiritual damage being done to our country, our institutions and our people? It is a fine line to walk: Our need for comfort and solace and the call of our faith to create heaven on earth, to practice deeds not creeds and to make sure our moral voice is heard. These needs cannot be separated from the other parts of our lives. We are whole human beings. Our public lives, our private lives, our work lives, our hopes, our fears, our joys, our sorrows - we bring all of that into our Sanctuary, our small groups, our committee meetings and all the associated aspects of our congregational life. And, on any given Sunday, or any other day of the week for that matter, we all will need to tend to different parts of that wholeness depending on what is happening in our lives and in the world. We often have no idea what is happening in the lives of those sitting next to us on Sunday or any other day for that matter. We won’t know until we ask and listen. I am guessing most of us would welcome being asked on days when life is a little hard to take. And, it also is nice sometimes just to be, sitting, breathing and grateful in a community of love and support, accepting of our wholeness. These are challenging times. There is no one clear path, no one right way to proceed. How wonderful it is that we can be there for each other through all this messiness. And although the furlough is behind us (hopefully for good), maybe you know someone who could use this kind of support for any number of reasons. Please, invite them to join you some Sunday. Sometimes this kind of reaching out feels against our UU grain, but here is the thing: You never know how doing so could help someone – maybe much more than you could ever know. Maybe that invitation shouldn’t be about how we feel about inviting someone; it should be an act of grace - of offering someone in need a place of spiritual refuge. We never know what is possible until we try.
An Embodied Sense of Freedom
Jan. 21, 2019. By Young Adult Community Leader Tyler Coles. I will never forget the moment I was first asked, “What does liberation feel like?” It was a soggy, humid morning following a long night of dancing and laughing around a bonfire at the Highlander Center with other black and brown organizers from across the South. As many of us awoke late, missing breakfast, we slowly shuffled our way into the main hall with mugs of coffee and tea in hand to join others already assembled for the opening session. Like previous mornings we began with singing “I woke up this morning with my mind/Stayed on freedom,” followed by a few announcements and housekeeping items. And then it came: “What does liberation feel like?” As those around me entered into a moment of deep reflection I found myself completely stumped. I sat there, nervously fidgeting in one of the center’s rocking chairs as my eyes darted back and forth across the room in hopes of locating an answer. As I gazed over the faces of those who sat across from me, my eyes settled on a black and white image of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others as they took part in a weekend training at the very same center where I found myself. In that moment, all the things I had read about King’s envisioning of the Beloved Community came rushing to my attention. In “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King wrote, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require qualitative change in our souls as well as quantitative change in our lives.” In other words, if we want to get real about justice-making or cultivating the Beloved Community in the here and now, we must each make an external and internal change to do so. This not only requires us to identify the systemic and interpersonal things that prevent us from being free - and going about doing something different - it also invites us to dream into existence what it will be like to be free. And just not in some theoretical sense but in one that is fully embodied in a touch, taste, see, hear and smell kind of way. In the urgency of the now, this embodied sense of freedom serves as both a balm to our weary spirits and as a guide for our collective journey onward. An embodied sense of freedom, one in which we know the feeling of a welcomed embrace and the taste of sweet water, supports us along the collective journey when the going gets tough. In describing this aspect of King’s legacy and justice-making, Grace Lee Boggs wrote in “The Beloved Community of Martin Luther King,” “This is what true revolutions are about. They are about redefining our relationships with one another, to the Earth and to the world; about creating a new society in the places and spaces left vacant by the disintegration of the old; about hope, not despair; about saying yes to life and no to war; about finding the courage to love and care for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families. King's revolutionary vision is about each of us becoming the change we want to see in the world.” Ultimately, this embodied sense of freedom, in its fleshy ways, reminds us that the Beloved Community is both already at hand in what we are doing and soon to come in what we are collectively working toward. On this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I invite you to join me in this prayer: Spirit of Life, God of the In-breaking, Empower us to respond to the beckoning call of freedom in the here and now. May this freedom stir within us so we might know it in the fleshy ways of dancing around a bonfire, in the taste of sweet water, in the hearing of a beautiful song, and in feeling the welcomed embrace of a beloved. And in so doing, may we know this is the work we have been called to cultivate, because feeling free is a part of getting free. Ase, So Be It and Amen.
Acting in Solidarity with Cedar Lane UU and Rosa Gutierrez Lopez
Jan. 14, 2019. By Mary Lareau*. [caption id="attachment_39003" align="alignleft" width="300"] Rosa Gutierrez Lopez, center, with Cedar Lane UU Church ministers, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, right, and Rev. Katie Romano Griffin, left.[/caption] Many of you have seen the news accounts of the young Salvadoran mother who went into sanctuary at Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda. Rosa’s story, and that of the congregation that has become her home, are inspirational and awe-inspiring. Rosa’s story is like thousands of others who fled rampant corruption and gang and domestic violence in the Northern Triangle - El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Thirteen years ago, men in Rosa’s town harassed her daily, stalking her at home and threatening her with knives. With no protection from family or friends, she bravely set off on foot and by bus across Guatemala and Mexico. At one point the walking caused severe foot injuries, leading her to stop and work as an indentured servant in Mexico. When she finally reached the U.S. border in December 2005, she sought asylum and was given papers written in English telling her to report to immigration court a month later. She did not understand the papers and knew no one to translate for her. When she did not report to court, a deportation order was issued in absentia in January 2006. For the next 8 years, Rosa lived, worked and raised her family in Fredericksburg, VA. Her three young children range in age from 11 to 6, with the youngest, John, needing special care for Down syndrome and several chronic medical conditions. In 2014, after being harassed by local police, Rosa discovered the long-standing deportation order. Since then she religiously attended her twice-yearly Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) check-ins until immigration enforcement policies changed in 2017 and she had to check in every month. Last November ICE told Rosa she must buy a plane ticket and deport herself to El Salvador on Dec. 10, 2018. Rosa faced a decision most of us couldn’t fathom – permanently leave her children or take them with her to the dangers of El Salvador where John could not receive proper medical care. Caring community members – including two UUs! – suggested she contact people in NOVA connected to the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network (SCN) about seeking sanctuary in a faith community (UUCF and Cedar Lane UU are members of the SCN). This is where the extraordinary clergy, staff and members of Cedar Lane enter the story. More than a year ago, after Cedar Lane UU joined the SCN, the members voted to become a physical sanctuary should that need arise. They converted space on campus into an apartment, trained dozens of people who signed up to volunteer and … waited. When Rosa sought sanctuary a year later, Cedar Lane congregants had less than 48 hours’ notice to open their doors and hearts to the newest member of their faith community. At Cedar Lane, the love for and solidarity with Rosa are palpable. For the congregation, providing sanctuary is an act of faithful witness. As Senior Minister Rev. Abhi Janamanchi says, “This is the way we live into our values and convictions. We are engaging in faithful resistance to unjust laws and inhumane practices.” Rosa will remain in sanctuary at Cedar Lane as she waits for her asylum case to be re-opened. In the last month, Rosa has given countless interviews to the press, met with scores of volunteers and is desperately missing her children. While she sees them most weekends and has the company of at least one volunteer at all times, being in sanctuary is extremely isolating and lonely. It takes great courage to look out for the long-term best interests of your children while foregoing your own short-term well-being. As you can imagine, holding Rosa safe, comfortable and embraced in love requires funding and scores of volunteers. And Cedar Lane cannot do all of this alone. A fund has been established to help the congregation meet the financial demands of sanctuary, and Cedar Lane is seeking our help. I hope you will join me in making a tax-deductible donation to this fund. There are two ways to do that: Donate by credit card online on the Cedar Lane UU website. Designate “Sanctuary Support” as the fund for your contribution. Mail a check to Cedar Lane UU. Designate “Sanctuary Support” on the memo line. Mail to: Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, Attn: Olivia James, Office Manager, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814. In terms of volunteer support, Cedar Lane UU has reached out to other congregations in Montgomery County to pitch in. When they need to reach out for volunteers beyond those borders, UUCF will make our congregants aware of how they can help. *Mary Lareau is the volunteer leader of the Northern Virginia cluster of the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network and has worked closely with Rosa’s sanctuary team. Mary is also UUCF’s director of communications and has been a UUCF member for 17 years.
Spiritual Total Immersion
Jan. 7, 2019. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. It’s nice to have a little time off for reflection and this holiday season provided a little time. I often reflect about the role of UUCF in these times. What is our role? What is the best way for us to be an engaged community of faith? How can we provide spiritual and actual support for those in need? What is business as usual in these turbulent times? What shouldn’t be business as usual anymore? How do we use the resources of the congregation to meet the many competing needs, wants, preferences and desires? All of these questions are considered in different ways at UUCF, including by our leadership, both professional and lay, and it makes me think about what congregational leadership means in today’s world. Of course, leadership is an entire field of study, but for us leadership isn’t about party politics or serving some constituency, leadership has to be seen through the lens of what we are - a religious/spiritual organization. Why is leadership of our congregation a spiritual practice? In his book, “Serving with Grace,” Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom says, “Church leadership is a spiritual practice because the church is a spiritual institution. Churches are not small businesses, no matter how much they resemble them in some respects. And while it may be useful to think about them in these ways at times, it is vitally important to remember that they are also not social service agencies, schools or theaters. Our congregations are spiritual communities. Therefore, they should maximize their opportunities to see with spiritual eyes. At their best, churches can be - perhaps should be - a kind of spiritual total immersion environment. And just as total immersion language programs make no distinction between classroom time and non-classroom time, so too, congregations can avoid distinguishing between spiritual and non-spiritual things. From the pastoral prayer to the passage of a policy it's all a school of the soul.” This is an important thing to remember as we head into what is bound to be another year filled with political turbulence, a shifting religious landscape and endless opportunities for personal and organizational transformation. We are adding additional opportunities for worship. We have increased the number of covenant groups. We are providing new ways to connect through music and the arts. We will continue to engage in acts of justice, witness, service and advocacy. We will continue to provide quality Religious Exploration. As challenging as it sometimes seems, I invite us all to view this congregation, above all, as a place of spiritual sustenance with many different ways for us to stay connected to what is in us, what is between us and what is beyond us.
Opening the Way to Connection
Dec. 31, 2018. By Lay Minister for Membership & Outreach Shannon Williams. “Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone's hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.” - Vera Nazarian A random bounce through UUCF’s website encounters no fewer than a dozen versions of the word “connection.” Interconnectedness. Building connections. Grow, Connect, Serve. This word in its many forms weaves itself around all the ways we work for love and justice in our congregation. Its meanings are even more varied outside of congregational life. From electrical engineering to neural networks to ecological systems, connection suggests relationship, coherence, continuity or a sequence of ideas. It can be as concrete as a train track or as abstract as metaphysical experience. Does our congregation have a shared concept of connection? When we peel away the abstraction and the wordplay, how do we actually do connection? Do we know what it looks and feels like, fully grasping why it matters? We certainly feel its opposite. Disconnection - from each other, from work that has purpose, from a rich grounding in community life - is far too common, particularly in a region as career-driven and transient as the DMV. This isolation arises from demands outside of us as well as what we carry within. It serves a purpose. Distance can act as a kind of safety valve, keeping us from bowing under the pressure of others’ burdens. When we stay apart from others, we free ourselves from obligation as well as from potential hurt. We can shelter ourselves in the illusion that it’s possible to live without messing up and causing harm, if only we keep our heads down and our hearts walled. This safe distance comes at a cost. The limited tools that have helped us survive may be ill-equipped for changes in our lives and the world around us. We continue to suffer with our own seemingly individual struggles and miss opportunities to let others share our burden. We also forgo the closeness that comes with taking a bit of weight from our neighbors’ shoulders. The bonds many of us maintain in our lives may conceal disconnection. Our group of friends, our work and volunteer commitments, the places we return to during our routines … our circles ground us. A circle, of course, is the strongest shape. It keeps us in connection. It can also keep others out. At the Membership Committee retreat this fall, we shared our earliest experiences of belonging at UUCF. For many of us, the first moment we felt connected had little to do with learning church and everything to do with being seen or heard without judgment. Someone turned toward our unfamiliar face and extended caring attention. Someone here welcomed us exactly as we were. We came back not because the people here kept a safe distance. We came back because other congregants bridged that distance, opened toward us and invited us into a shared journey. Our world needs Unitarian Universalism’s messages of hope and love now more than ever. UUCF is filled with people who want to share those messages. How then do we draw ourselves into relationship with other humans? How do we keep taking the risk to truly welcome neighbors and friends? More importantly, how do we make sure that this congregation cultivates belonging, spiritual enrichment and a sense of home for all who walk through the doors? We can start by deciding that our shared definition of connection involves opening the circle. Here are some ways we might do that: Listen with an open heart. So many of us want to have someone to hear and hold our stories. We can begin here, with simple, delighted, tender curiosity. It helps to remember that we have yet to meet the friends we need as well as the friends we can be to others. Turn outward. During social time after services or picking up children from Religious Exploration (RE), pay attention to how you hold your body in conversation. Are you in a small group with your back to the room? Or do you turn outward, positioning yourself with an opening that invites others in? Say hello. At least one service each month, sit in a new part of the Sanctuary next to someone who you haven’t gotten to know yet. Invite someone you don’t know well to accompany you … to lunch, a group meeting or a social activity outside of UUCF. Use the Realm member database to send a note. Tune in to small moments of engagement, service or kindness. These can be during services, RE, coffee hour, groups or events. When someone does something that catches your attention, no matter how minor, take the opportunity to appreciate them. Ask for help. Life can make involvement complicated for many of us. Accessibility issues, parenting, life transitions, rides to events, technology, navigating congregational life … The Spiritual Docents, the Pastoral Care team and so many others want to support you on your spiritual journey. In building this web of relationships, asking for a hand is as important as extending one. While stepping through the doors may be the start of a journey, it’s actually that moment of joining and coherence - the moment of connection - that carries us forward. As Vera Nazarian reminds us, we begin in relationship at the moment when we reach out to meet another, inviting the heart and spirit to follow.
Don’t Rush to Unity
Dec. 17, 2018. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. I recently sat on a beach contemplating the sand. So many varied forms of life and earth - spectacular shells, sturdy bones, even mighty boulders transformed into fragments of sand. The sand is a unified form of these varied creatures and stones. It has beauty, yet each of its elements has a story, a unique and vital history that brought it there. The sand is symbolic of our shared fate. We all eventually return to the earth and the stars. If our fates are ultimately tied to unity, what's the rush? For me, the mystery, the wonder and the beauty of existence lies in what happens before the crush of unity. What does nature’s lesson have to do with our community? A couple weeks ago, I facilitated a documentary showing and discussion about the 1969 walkout and Black empowerment tragedy in Unitarian Universalism (watch the documentary free). In the middle of this tragedy sat the Black UU Caucus, which called for a space for Black UUs to have autonomy to develop their mission within Unitarian Universalism. So many of the arguments against this were about white UUs wanting to know what the Black Caucus was doing, and wanting control over it. This was also in an era of national emphasis on color-blindness – everyone being the same. But color-blindness and control are about a special kind of unity – one in which those with power choose what unity looks like. Those who don’t fit the ideal of unity are demoralized. Tragically, the movement for Black empowerment was dismantled by a lack of institutional support. Yet, despite this challenging history, here we are in 2018 with a vibrant opportunity through groups like Black Lives UU and people of color leading throughout the denomination. We are finally poised to live into our values around racial equity and diversity. Part of living into this means examining structures of white supremacy embedded in our lives and exploring our personal racial and ethnic identities. This is all about expanding differences - every one of us brings unique racial and cultural identities, histories and perspectives to our faith. As we grow into new ways of engaging around race, let us keep nature’s lesson in mind: Don’t rush to unity; there is wonder in difference. When you encounter a different history, a different cultural or racial perspective, I invite you not to rush to know all the details, not to break it all down into little bits of common human experience. Of course we share similarities - we are all human! Instead of rushing to unity, I invite you to witness difference with awe, and ask what is now possible because you are in relationship with someone who brings a different history or perspective. Perhaps they can grow, perhaps you can, perhaps we all will. Blessings on our shared journey and on our many different paths.
Advent: Finding a Stillness
Dec. 3, 2018. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. Yesterday marked the first day of Hanukkah as well as the first day of Advent this year. One, the celebration of a miracle and a way to visually say “still here, still worshipping.” The other, anticipating a miracle amid the feeling that the world is ending. I have celebrated both of these holidays at different points in my life. Recently, Advent has been important to me - even as someone who doesn’t identify with Jesus as the sole source of salvation. Advent was introduced to me in seminary, by a Catholic woman priest. Now, I make a point of having candles to light and readings on hand. Advent is a time to slow down and inventory the pieces of me that aid or distance me from the spark of the divine within. It’s an opportunity to let go of habits that do not serve me or the greater good while remembering that there is a hope beyond what I can comprehend. My current go-to authors for reflections at this time of year are Jan Richardson and Richard Rohr - contemplative Christians who have a way with words that draws me out of the hectic pace of the day and into a moment of re-connecting. I take their Advent books and read the daily reflection. Sometimes, I read the portion of the Christian bible those who follow the Christian Lectionary* are reading - connecting with traditions beyond my own and finding wisdom in words from people who lived and struggled and celebrated so many years ago. I invite you to find stillness in this season before Yule, before Christmas. A stillness that can help you stay anchored while the pace of the holidays beckons you to do more and experience more. Rest in this time of the threshold, knowing there is hope beyond what you can comprehend, that you are a part of it and you have the choice to let go of that which does not serve you. Blessing the Door First By Jan Richardson, from “Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas” let us say a blessing upon all who have entered here before us. You can see the sign of their passage by the worn place where their hand rested on the doorframe as they walked through, the smooth sill of the threshold where they crossed. Press your ear to the door for a moment before you enter and you will hear their voices murmuring words you cannot quite make out but know are full of welcome. On the other side these ones who wait — for you, if you do not know by now— understand what a blessing can do how it appears like nothing you expected how it arrives as visitor, outrageous invitation, child; how it takes the form of angel or dream; how it comes in words like How can this be? and lifted up the lowly; how it sounds like in the wilderness prepare the way. Those who wait for you know how the mark of a true blessing is that it will take you where you did not think to go. Once through this door there will be more: more doors more blessings more who watch and wait for you but here at this door of beginning the blessing cannot be said without you. So lay your palm against the frame that those before you touched place your feet where others paused in this entryway. Say the thing that you most need and the door will open wide. And by this word the door is blessed and by this word the blessing is begun from which door by door all the rest will come. *A lectionary is a book or listing of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion.
The Sound of Moral Outcry
Nov. 12, 2018. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. I write this blog in the wake of yet another mass shooting. I fear this will not be the last time I write such words. A colleague recently asked on a Facebook group, “When is it appropriate to gather in community and scream?” I'm thinking … "Now!" But how do we do this? What is the communal scream that I hope to express? It is not the angry cry for battle, nor the desperate cry for help. I cannot help but think of the sounds of labor. Before having my first child, I sat in a childbirth class and saw videos of how in the '50s (it may have been another decade), women had learned to go into childbirth smiling and never making a sound just so they could avoid being knocked out by harsh general anesthesia. You see, women's labor pains were interpreted as annoying - a call for help, a sign of weakness and a thing to be taken away from them. I am not saying women should go through labor pain to claim their power. Not at all. I am saying that there is a power in outcry that must never be silenced. In my own labor, I noticed that I could be quiet and act like it wasn't hurting. I could appear tough. But that took away a power inside me. I did not want my cry/scream/yell to be interpreted as a call for help. It was not. Nor was it anger or quite agony either. It was a call of pain that calls forth the other side of agony. A demand of the universe that there be life and beauty on the other side of this pain. A demand that my force of creation be held in this world in my arms. It was a uniting of my body, by breath, my sound, my mind, my heart with the singular act of defying the facts of the physical moment in order to create. The outcry then was simultaneously an expression of brutal fact (pain), a call to inner unity of intention and a call to everyone and anyone that announced my demands for creation. Childbirth is different from the moment we are in. And we have no way of knowing how many more shootings, hate crimes, violations of identity rights, denials of asylum and other pain we will have to bear. But labor's outcry is the closest thing I can imagine to the outcry I need right now. So, if you hear me uttering strong words that sound sad or angry, please know that it is an outcry that simultaneously expresses the brutal facts (anger, loss), that calls us to inner unity of intention and that announces to everyone and anyone the demand for a compassionate and just world. Let us not be silenced into polite pain. Let us cry out when we need to, calling on our deepest intentions with every fiber of our being and demanding a world that promotes love and justice for all.
Prayer on the Eve of an Election
Nov. 5, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. Tomorrow, as we practice our Unitarian Universalist faith by supporting the democratic process, here is a prayer to guide this vital action for the future of our republic. I urge you to vote for the inherent worth and dignity of all. As the banner in front of our congregation proclaiming our values says - "Love is Love." Voting those values may be more important now than ever before. Prayer on the Eve of an Election by Tess Baumberger Spirit of Wisdom, As we prepare to elect new citizens to lead us, in our communities, town and cities, in our counties, states, and our heart-torn nation, grant us wisdom and discernment so that we may choose those of peaceful heart, of competent mind and of servant spirit. Spirit of the Harvest, Help us to winnow the grain from the chaff and to reap the legacy of freedom our founders planted for all of us. Help us to gather together as one people united in concern for this country founded upon such promising ideals. Spirit of Healing, Grant that we may bridge the breaches that have opened between us. Help us to understand one another, to listen to the stories of who we are, and to find common ground on which we can move forward together. Amen.
The Heart of Our Promise
Making Sanctuary for Future Generations. Oct. 29, 2018. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. The lens through which we interact with one another is the essence of UUCF. It is the Heart of Our Promise. Some of you may remember this phrase from Ingathering or the banners around campus. As October draws to a close and we end our theme of Sanctuary, it seems the perfect time to revisit this nebulous thing - this program that’s not quite a program but more of a way of thinking and being that we talked about at Ingathering. Hopefully, it will be useful as we reflect on the kind of legacy and blessing we want to offer our future people. The Heart of Our Promise is rooted in the offerings of our spiritual and familial ancestors - their struggle for our ability to be in this community with all our various thexlogies* and backgrounds. It’s the sanctuary we prepare to be, that we recognize through this place and our relationships, that which is beyond and within ourselves. The Heart of Our Promise is our offering to the generations to come. The foundations on which they will live in Beloved Community, and they will live in Beloved Community, Amen? The Heart of Our Promise aims to create Beloved Community where houses of worship are free of fear and filled with love. It creates and imagines a place and time where disagreement is a healthy part of life that builds strength and deeper understanding, and is not fuel for rancor or division. There is a question that gets asked of us repeatedly here when we first visit a congregation, when we share our stories in services or during the Annual Giving Campaign: Why do we come here? When we don’t feel it is necessary for our salvation to be in this building at this time, what draws us to be in sacred space anyway? There’s something different about the way we are here from how we are in any other place. We are in deep time here. Sure, we watch the clock if we have kids in RE or have an appointment to get to, but we are in deep time when we come to services. We are in relationship with our ancestors and our distant descendants while we touch into our faith together. That is deep time, not linear or isolated. It’s timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly - interconnected and intentionally interactive with the entire arc of our existence. If you can notice that shift, be it in how you listen, how you feel in your body, how you lower the guard that can be required to move through this world of uncertainty. That shift is when you are living the Heart of Our Promise. It might be doing the dishes for a community that held you through a divorce or the death of a loved one. Or teaching children who have more freedom to imagine a world of peace and fantastic possibility. It’s not the same as hope, because we come here even when we feel hopeless and there’s no magic wand that can get us out of that hole sometimes, but it might include hope. The Heart of Our Promise calls us to take one more breath, to do the next right thing, to keep on moving forward even if we won’t see the fruits of our labor in this lifetime. This persistence in the face of the siren song of fear, isolation and hurried lives requires being present and aware of the preparation you make to be the sanctuary you are. This presence brings the ability to find a stillness or a righteous roar. It’s bigger than Sunday services. It goes through and beyond Covenant Groups or your mindfulness practice. These are tools and methods of reaching and perceiving that living, immortal Heart. The Promise that started with questions from the first ancestor. The Promise that continues into a time of liberation in a land where justice flows like water and peace like an everflowing stream. For trans folks, black folks, immigrating-across-arbitrary-borders folks. What legacy do you want to dream? What threads of this Heart, this Promise, do you want to weave into the tapestry of deep time? If you’d like to engage in the Heart of Our Promise but don’t know where to start, we have trained spiritual docents waiting to connect with you. Please email me and I will match you with a docent who can help. *Thex is the gender-neutral term for god in modern thexlogical circles.
What Are We Building? And How Are We Building It?
Oct. 22, 2018. By Tyler Coles. Like many who grew up in the rolling hills of the Appalachian Mountains, I always found autumn a welcome relief following the tedious days of summer. The cool temperatures and falling leaves form a picturesque memory in my mind as my friends and I would take part in one of our favorites activities - building forts. As we would wander through the woods just beyond our neighborhood, we would assemble crude structures with whatever materials we would come across. Sometimes the work of creation would be easy. Yet, more often, our work required copious amounts of time and energy as we gathered materials that would aid in our fort’s longevity and stability. In the dense forests of poplar, oak and elm, the options for building materials were endless. In this abundance we would be meticulous in what we would include as each piece had to connect in the most perfect of ways. Since those early years I can see the forces of both playfulness and meticulousness working themselves out as we constructed. Holding in tandem these often opposing forces I have started to ask myself, “What am I building? And how am I building it?” I have found these questions useful as they guide me to be both intentional and abundantly creative. Since joining UUCF as the young adult community leader, I have used these questions to envision and call into being what could lie ahead for us. The task of co-creating an innovative young adult (18-35+) community starts small and intentionally, much like selecting the perfect branch from which to form a childhood fort. Like those forts, this space also invites us to live out our values in relationship to ourselves, each other and the greater world in playful and joyful ways. We build this collective by forming connection, generating meaning and doing the work of right relationship. It is my hope that we, young adults, might craft a new way of doing the old work of church (i.e. community) in the here and now. Come, let us dream and build together.
What Is Y’ALL Up To?
Oct. 15, 2018. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. As part of my final year of seminary work, I am launching an intergenerational community building project this year at UUCF. I call the project Youth-Adult Liquid Leadership, or Y’ALL for short. I grew up in Mississippi and am a fan of the plural “you,” so I love getting to use it a bunch this year. But I digress. The Y’ALL project is designed to promote even more intergenerational connection and collaboration in our community. The project includes support for congregational leaders on strategies for youth-adult-elder collaboration, exploring why our generations relate as they do, and intergenerational worship. The Y’ALL worship services are thoroughly intergenerational. They begin with an intergenerational team that meets weeks ahead of time to brainstorm the worship service and what the worship theme means to them. After planning the service, the team (and others) collaborate on a worship service, led by multiple generations, that expresses the perspectives and hopes of all these generations. The first of these innovative services was on Oct. 7 on the theme of Sanctuary. People from Grade 5 through adulthood co-led the service, with five different generations participating in and planning the service. Each of us shared something deeply meaningful to us about how we find or give sanctuary. Toward the end of the service, the congregation helped us create a symbol of how we create sanctuary together. We used plastic building bricks to symbolize this, and the picture here is of what we created in the second service. One thing we learned in creating this symbol in the first and second services was about what we gain by coordinating our efforts to build the future. In the first service, everyone came up to add to the construction on their own. What we made was a powerful symbol, but it was disjointed in a few places. It was also difficult for some people who hadn’t built with LEGOs recently to piece them together. But we learned from this! In the second service, we asked for volunteers with recent LEGO experience to take on our bricks. What resulted was a powerful metaphor of handing on our symbols of sanctuary to a new generation - a generation that lovingly honored what we brought and created an interconnected symbol of sanctuary! The Y’ALL worship team is deeply grateful for the powerful learning that we did as a community. How can we take this lesson forward into our lives? How can we take our gifts and hopes and entrust them to our future builders? We could not have realized the power of these questions without you. I wonder, what will we learn together in the next Y’ALL service on Nov. 25? Please join us to find out and help create our future. As we meet to plan the next Y’ALL service, the worship planning team welcomes your thoughtful feedback on how you experienced the Oct. 7 service. The planning team is especially interested in learning how the service may have allowed you to hear from people of different generations. If you have a moment to reflect on your experience, please email or call me at 703-281-4230 (I’m in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but I’ll catch my email any day). UUCF already has many intergenerational strengths, which is why the Y’ALL project is such a good fit here. UUCF is poised to succeed in new ways in intergenerational community building. Thus, the Y’ALL project will continue exploring ways to enliven and enrich our community this year. The Y’ALL services are scheduled for Nov. 25, Feb. 17 and Apr. 14. I know some of these are holiday weekends, but I hope you can join us. This community needs you. Our future needs you!
Pronoun Ribbons: Honoring Gender Identity
Oct. 8, 2018. By Karen Wolf, Equality UUCF. One thing that drew me to UUCF, and Unitarian Universalism in general, was the promise of radical welcome for people of all genders and sexualities. UUCF became a “Welcoming Congregation” (going through the Welcoming Congregation curriculum) in 1994. Since then, we’ve fought for marriage equality, inclusive sexuality education in schools and been part of Reston’s first Pride celebration. The way the U.S. views gay, lesbian and bisexual people has changed a lot since 1994. Transgender rights, while also moving forward in the last 20 years, have lagged behind other issues During our weekly greeting at worship services, congregational leaders say, “Whoever you are, and whomever you love ...," and the congregation responds, "You are welcome here.” Equality UUCF wants to make sure that people of all gender identities feel welcome at UUCF. One way to do that is by stopping by our table in the Commons over the next few weeks, and picking up a gender pronoun ribbon for your name tag. Displaying our gender pronouns, and using the displayed pronouns instead of assuming, serves two purposes. One is pretty obvious: to find out what pronouns a person uses, and then to use those pronouns when referring to them. It avoids making assumptions about people's gender identity, and honors the terms they use for themselves. This is a form of respect. If someone tells me their name is John, I don’t say, “Oh, well, you look like a Bartholomew to me!” and call them that. We call people what they ask to be called. The other reason to display gender pronouns is a little more abstract: to make transparent the fact that everyone has personal pronouns. Everyone has a gender identity. If it’s aligned with the gender you were assigned at birth, we call that cisgender. If not, we generally call that transgender. Some people may have a more complex relationship to their gender identity, and may use pronouns like “they/them,” or one of several other pronouns like “zie/hir” or “ey/em.” Pronouns aren’t some special things we do for trans people. We all use them (our language relies on them). It normalizes the process of asking for and telling others your pronouns. After handing out the ribbons at our table in the Commons over the next few weeks, Equality UUCF will make them available at the Welcome Table. You can also get your pronouns printed directly on your name tag if you have your name tag replaced. The theme for October is "Sanctuary." I want to see UUCF as a sanctuary for transgender and gender non-conforming people. The outside world can be hostile - from North Carolina's bathroom laws to the high rates of homicide and suicide for transgender people - survival can be a struggle. I want our transgender siblings to experience UUCF as a place of refuge, where they're allowed to be themselves. And I want transgender and gender non-conforming youth to know that they're a beloved part of our community, and that it is safe here to explore their identities as they grow.
Creating a New Congregational Covenant
Oct. 1, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. Human communities have their challenges. UUCF is no exception. Even with the best of intentions, we can and have found ourselves in situations where we become unwilling to engage in respectful, sustained and ultimately productive dialogue that would bring us into what we call right relations - into the beloved community we so cherish in this congregation. These situations range from small, one-on-one misunderstandings to larger, more-public confrontations. Occasionally they have included threats of leaving the congregation when members feel their individual needs are being disrespected or not being met. Most of these situations end up with ministerial involvement, where it is our role to listen, care, counsel and help resolve differences. Knowing that this is part of the dynamics of our human interactions, UUCF is working on a process or mechanism to help guide us from wariness, hurt feelings or brokenness, back into community, fellowship and healing. The goal is to create a covenant, something we can live by, something that will help us be who we want to be with each other. This past summer, we convened the Covenant of Right Relations Team*. We invited members and pledging friends - people from all stages and walks of life in this congregation. Over the past year, the team has been researching best practices from other congregations and is creating a process to help us get to a covenant that we, as a congregation, can live by. In talking with several congregations and faith communities, we asked how they went about their covenanting process. We found out what worked and what didn’t. Where is the covenant a living, thriving and instantly recognizable ethos? And why? Where is it a document collecting dust on a shelf, and why? What would they do again? What would they do better? And how would that work for us here at UUCF? In this research we discovered that the secret to a successful covenanting process was listening - with open hearts and open minds. More important, the answer is to listen to everyone - to those of all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, genders, sexual orientations and spiritual expressions. To those who come every Sunday and those who don’t. To those who come and sit in front and those who sit quietly in the back and never say a word. To those who love and wholeheartedly embrace the full UUCF experience as well as those who struggle with it. So we came up with a process through which we would try to do that: Listening sessions: The Covenant of Right Relations Team will hold three listening sessions. The first one will be held at the Adult Retreat on Oct. 13. A second will be held on Oct. 28, and a third on Nov. 28. See our What’s happening page or the calendar for more information. Come to one, come to all, but please come. Each listening session will be moderated and recorded by members of the team so that we can gather your responses, input and feedback on what we want in a covenant to guide us for years to come. Covenant Team table in the Commons: Can’t make it to a listening session? We have you covered. In the Sanctuary Commons, for the duration of this process, we’ll have a Covenant of Right Relations Team table where you can ask questions and share feedback. Submit feedback online: Submit questions, comments, concerns or feedback to the Covenant of Right Relations Team through this Google Form. Congregational vote on the draft covenant: The team will gather information from the congregation with a goal of producing a draft to present to the congregation for a vote at the UUCF Annual Meeting on Jun. 2, 2019. After that vote, we will invite congregants to step up and help us all live the covenant when we need to be reminded of it. For now, I invite you to think about these questions: Who are we as a congregation? Who do we want to be? How do we want to be with one another? What do we want our hopes for one another and our promises to one another to be? Who should be in this conversation besides you? Who should always be in this conversation at UUCF, but is somehow always strangely missing? We look forward to engaging as many of you as possible in this covenanting process. *The Covenant of Right Relations Team is Sohini Baliga, Alexa Bilidas, Kaye Cook, Dave Howell, Sharon Johnson, Rev. David A. Miller, Ashley Rothermel and Pippin Whitaker.
Covenant Groups Help Members “Make Sense of Our Larger Community”
Sep. 24, 2018. By Kim Condas. UUCF is a big congregation. It’s not megachurch-big, but with more than 1,000 congregants and two Sunday services, it’s large enough that members new and old may find it hard to connect within such a large organization. That was my challenge when I joined in 2006. What helped me feel more integrated into the life of UUCF was joining a Covenant Group. That small group of members welcomed me and helped me make sense of our larger community. Later, a friend and I started a new Covenant Group and got to know another wonderful group of new and longtime members. I’ve laughed and cried with the friends I made in these groups, and I count them among my closest friends at UUCF. Covenant Groups are small relational groups of about 10 people who meet regularly to provide an opportunity for members to explore life issues in a spiritual setting. Group members agree to show up faithfully for monthly meetings, to remain in the group for at least a year and respect the confidentiality process guided by the facilitator. UUCF has had Covenant Groups for many years. Over those years, many members have formed close and lasting connections through these groups. And now, we are encouraging you to join one! By joining a Covenant Group, I hope you’ll find yourself connecting more deeply with individual members, with UUCF and even with Unitarian Universalism as a whole. New Covenant Groups are forming now, and existing ones are welcoming new members. Please consider saying an enthusiastic “yes” to this opportunity to make new friends and become closer to UUCF. Anyone interested in joining a Covenant Group should contact Rev. Sarah Caine.
Two Staff Searches Launching Soon
Sep. 17, 2018. [caption id="attachment_30759" align="alignleft" width="150"] Anthony Salvi[/caption] [caption id="attachment_28730" align="alignright" width="150"] Rev. David A. Miller[/caption] By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller and Board of Directors President Anthony Salvi. Early in 2019, UUCF will embark on two key staff searches: assistant minister and director of religious exploration (DRE). Interim DRE Diana Tycer and Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine both end their terms of service next summer. We are immensely grateful to Diana and Sarah for the gifts they have brought to UUCF’s community, ministry and programming. We are also thankful we will continue to benefit from their ministries for many more months. To hire their successors, UUCF will conduct simultaneous searches led by two different search teams. Each search team will be comprised of members appointed from various congregational roles as well as members selected by the Coordinating Team (CT) through an application process to ensure a broad perspective in the process. Click here for the Assistant Minister Search Team application and here for the DRE Search Team application. Applications are due Oct. 2. The makeup of the search teams and search processes are described below: Assistant Minister search team makeup: One lay member of the Coordinating Team (CT), appointed by the CT One member of the Board of Directors, appointed by the board One member of the People of Color Caucus (POCC), chosen by POCC participants One of the three lay ministers who will report to the assistant minister position, appointed by the CT Two congregation members selected by the CT based on submitted applications One staff member, appointed by the CT Rev. David Miller DRE search team makeup: Three members whose families participate in UUCF’s RE program, chosen by the CT based on submitted applications Two members whose families do not currently participate in the RE program, selected by the CT based on submitted applications One member of the Youth program appointed by the CT One member of the Board of Directors, appointed by the board One member of the RE Committee, chosen by the committee Rev. David Miller Search team process Both search teams will follow a similar process: Once a search team is constituted, the team will meet regularly. The team will review the current job description and create a revised description and announcement for posting. The team will generate a list of about 10 key criteria for the position. The position will be posted locally and nationally in places used for national UU congregational searches. These postings have been effective for us in past searches. Designated members of the search team will conduct initial screenings to organize and categorize the applicants by experience and alignment with the job description. The search team will develop interview questions. A subset of the team, including the minister(s) and initial sorters, will meet to decide which applicants meet all the criteria and should be passed on to the full committee. The team will meet more frequently over a month or so to review and discuss applicants. Each committee member will read and evaluate all the applications in relation to the position criteria established by the search team. The search team will conduct Skype interviews with the top candidates. After the Skype interviews, the pool will be narrowed to three finalists. Each finalist will meet with key staff and interview with the search team (the DRE candidates will also meet with the RE Committee). The team will choose the final candidate to recommend to the board. The board will announce the selected candidate. Please email the CT if you have any questions or would like to share any thoughts.
Back to the Future
Sep. 10, 2018. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. As a child of the 80s, the movie “Back to the Future” was … formative. For those who haven’t seen it, in the movie Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, goes back in time by accident, gets to know his parents and finds he can change his future by changing small things in the past. Super. The twist is that by changing the past so he can be rich and powerful, he almost erases himself from existence (a minor drawback of time travel). He must learn to be careful if he wants to have a future. In the end, he develops a wiser vision of his future that is informed by errors of the past. Well, rest assured, I did not spend this summer almost erasing myself! But I did move out of the “present” of this congregation while, as is tradition, I was off internship duties in the summer. While away, I wrapped my head around the fact that I will complete my internship in May and, as required by Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) guidelines, I will leave this wonderful congregation that has taught me so much. I spent time envisioning the core of my future ministry. I still do not know where I will end up. Yet I am at ease in this uncertainty because I have a sense of what I need to do for my ministry to flourish. And now, I return from summer with a question on my heart about the future. Not about my ministry, but about the future of who we are as UUs. What are we changing for our future? I spent the last week of August in Chicago with past and present leaders of our faith at Meadville Lombard Theological School. Conversations with former UUA presidents the Rev. Drs. Bill Sinkford and Bill Schulz lent a long perspective on our faith, a perspective that feels both historical and urgent. Urgent because the future of our faith, our democracy, and indeed of humans, is uncertain. The way we imagine our future has often rested on a narrative that the world is slowly progressing on history’s long arc toward justice. The narrative says that we are inching it along. But it feels like the destination of that arc is fading from vision. Looking back at the Black Empowerment Controversy of the late 1960s and 70s, struggles to place gay and lesbian ministers in the 1980s, ongoing challenges supporting youth leadership and more, we can learn a great deal from the hopes and visions of our past. How shall we envision a wiser future as Marty McFly did in “Back to the Future”? How must we change our vision so that the future of Beloved Community is not erased? As I review the programs and initiatives coming up this congregational year, I am encouraged that UUCF is offering so many ways to answer these questions. I see ways to develop one’s spiritual self and vision through a wide range of spirituality enrichment programs we will be highlighting through UUCF’s Heart of Our Promise initiative. I see opportunities to widen perspectives on history like “The Wilderness Journey” documentary viewing and discussion on Dec. 1. I see ways to share visions among people that don’t often get to talk, though intergenerational worship services beginning Oct. 7. In these uncertain times, I hope you will join in these and other opportunities to help answer the question “What are we changing about our future?” Life is uncertainty; we just aren’t always aware of its presence. Yet, uncertainty is a powerful partner in changing our future if we collaborate with it intentionally: imagining our visions together, and letting a collective vision be our guide. So I am back, with my heart set on the future in so many ways - the year ahead with you, my ministry after May, the future of our faith and our world. Let us widen our visions to journey together, let us look back to move forward with intention, let us partner with uncertainty on our journey. Let us get back to our future.
Embracing the Coming Year and Looking Beyond
Aug. 27, 2018. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. It is nearly one year since I became the assistant minister for this beloved UUCF community. So much has happened in that time and I am grateful for it. I’ve been ordained, commissioned and had at least three different hair colors since then. We have amazing programming in the upcoming congregational year - classes and workshops, new and continuing Covenant Groups, new and continuing Wellspring groups and a new initiative to engage our spirits more intentionally and richly. This is a capable and kind group of folks and I’m excited to see what will take shape as our liturgical year unfolds. This congregational year will indeed be my final one at UUCF. My contract comes to an end in June, and the death of a friend this summer drove home the internal longings to be closer to those family and friends who have been there for me since before I recognized this call. I’m not sure where Spirit will put me exactly; I will continue my chaplaincy in the U.S. Army Reserve wherever I land on the West Coast and I hope to establish an entrepreneurial ministry rooted in embodied practices. I’m so excited for UUCF and the work we will do together while I’m still your assistant minister! This truly is a special place filled with amazing people. Let’s get to work!
A Well-Placed Pumpkin
Aug. 20, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. This past week, in jest, someone posted an article on my Facebook page about how people who decorate earlier for Christmas are happier people. Yes, there were lots of fun comments and cries of exasperation because I love decorating for autumn, and as soon as the holidays approach I try to get those decorations up as fast as possible. Although all of this was good fun, there is actually something behind my decorating desires. I love the colors of the fall as they break up the everyday backdrop of my life. I love the lights, colors and sounds of the holiday season as they fill me with joy and help create that sense of community that we seem to share more during the holidays. It does bring me happiness and, although sometimes it can drive friends, family and co-workers to make a wide variety of comments, I find a well-placed pumpkin a thing of beauty. It is of course mid-August, with warm temperatures, afternoon thunderstorms and weeks before even I can pull out the decorations, but let me just say this: These days that we now live in are in desperate need of color, joy and beauty as well as the warm and wonderful aromas that come as the summer finds its way to fall. My decorations will be coming out just a little early this year, for in some deep way, it is a spiritual practice for me. The approaching time of year is filled with comfort, meaning and hope, a time when we seem to draw closer, a time when all the trite little sayings on the coffee mugs of the season really do speak to a deep need for harvest blessings and a love that transcends our human discord. I know that some find the holidays to be filled with crass commercialism and an overabundance of indulgence. I can’t really argue with that. We have a knack for making most things about money. But as the summer winds down, as the schools return to session, as the leaves start to turn, I wish for you all that connection of meaning, hope, beauty and joy that still can be found throughout the coming months. Of course you don’t have to join me in my early decorating but I hope you will join with me in not giving in to that hopelessness that can come with the challenges we face, the spitefulness of our divides and the commercialization of rituals of much deeper meaning. This blog about decorating for the holidays may also feel early to some, so let me suggest something: Find some splashes of color and put them up on your walls. Buy a new candle and fill your house with fragrance. Put on some music that connects you to deep feelings of hope. We don’t need to wait until the harvest and holiday season to change the routine. (Just so you know, this coming week I’ll take a couple of my ceramic pumpkins off the shelf and strategically place them around my office. Even with the teasing, it makes me so happy.) If you need it, do it.
Creativity and Social Change
Aug. 13, 2018. By Worship Coordinator and Director of Music & Arts Laura Weiss. Last week, Susan Bennett shared with us how creativity fills her. I was thrilled to hear how creative work has become part of her spiritual practice and she has done this through her involvement at UUCF. Her words reminded me of the experiences of many congregants but also of others who I heard at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June. This year at GA, I heard the phrase “What our movement needs is creativity” repeated many times. Whether from a minister or inspiring speaker, we heard that new creative solutions are what is needed in our world. Yay! I agree. Yet, I found myself measuring this against current myths and archetypes that still permeate our society. Mainstream society likes to distance itself from the idea of being creative by categorizing artists as separate. I often hear the same things time and again: • Aren’t musicians starving artists? • Poets are dreamers. • Visual art is a lovely hobby. • Acting is for trust fund babies (sigh). • Have you thought about a real job? Well, these aren’t true. These and other sayings do not hold weight anymore and we see this happening in many areas. In business, job descriptions are evolving to require a more versatile, problem-solving and innovative staff. New curricula in schools are calling for idea-generating and collaborative projects (though they haven’t quite figured out how this also relates to arts and music funding … but I digress ...). The internet has launched a new era of creating and marketing, and now this year Unitarian Universalism is calling for new kinds of creative advocates and forward-thinking activists. It seems obvious to everyone that there is a need for deep creativity to bring about social change. But how do we start to become creative? Well, like Susan suggested, it is something we have to do ourselves in a deliberate act. I’m talking art, ya’ll. Each of us can do the work needed by beginning to make some kind of art in the world with the intention of understanding the creative process. As we do that, we will immediately recognize a need for spirituality to deepen that process in order to innovate and we will start to see ways in which this process can be mirrored to make social change. The world needs us now. The first thing creativity teaches us is that we do not create in a vacuum. We are the product of our history and the organic ways we have arrived in our present. This understanding determines whether the impact of our art will have the desired effect on others. If we aren’t fully aware of the limits of our present, we make things that are too far outside the scope of what others can experience. How many artists do you know who were underappreciated because they leapt so far beyond the limits of cultural understanding in the time in which they lived that people couldn’t appreciate their brilliance? We must consider what our history and present are asking of us when we create. What structures are in place that we need to understand? What narrative has already existed that we need to access? Once we know the building blocks we have inherited, with deep spiritual practice, we increase our awareness for tiny movements that combine the past with a future. Let’s consider music as an example. Take one of your favorite songs. If you listen to it, you will undoubtedly hear something similar to other songs - whether it’s written in a similar key or with a rock band - we recognize it. It feels familiar enough that we can relate to it and it has an emotional impact because of that. But why do we like it so much? What makes it really great is that despite its familiarity, you are still hearing something new, something that moves you because it hasn’t happened yet. The brilliance of the art is that musicians are making new songs but they aren’t actually that different from other songs. In fact, within them there are tiny variations from what we already know and that makes the impact incredible. For those who don’t see the building blocks in the medium, it feels revolutionary. But for those who understand the existing history and narratives - therein lies a different kind of brilliance that truly is innovative. An artist creates something from an understanding of the inherited history of the medium and this vulnerable and difficult process takes spiritual practice. It is really humbling. When artists deepen awareness through some spiritual practice, tiny movements can be recognized when they present themselves. Then we truly access our creative sides. If I am too distracted, composing is practically impossible. If I am too self-absorbed, I can’t see your truth, your history, how you are hearing and what you may need in your present. Art gives us a tool to reveal ourselves on our terms in an immediate and unimposing way, yet it demands recognizing the other in the past, present and future. It urgently and simultaneously reflects our fragility and our commonality. To those who love art, please keep loving it! Art will always need an audience or it isn’t ... well … art. And, yes, art is still a fantastic way to access your full self and your potential, to understand others and grow in our relationship to community. That can be a good reason to start too! But I want to encourage you to see a deeper process within it whether you are just starting or a seasoned vet. It also offers a desperately needed tool as a gateway to creativity that Unitarian Universalism needs. If we are the change we have been waiting for, and creativity is what we need to find a new way - what medium is waiting for you?
Raising Your Hand to Creativity
Aug. 6, 2018. By Lay Minister for Worship & Arts Susan Bennett. As they sometimes do, an experience in worship at UUCF has stayed with me. The Sanctuaries DC was leading worship last month and, in his opening words, Rev. Erik Martínez Resly asked how many of us thought of ourselves as artists? He was visibly pleased by the many hands that went up, remarking that usually only a few hands were raised and then he explained that creativity was the birthright of all. Whether we label ourselves artists or not, we all possess inherent creativity. Whether we create what we think of as art with a capital A, use it to find new solutions to tricky problems at work or find unique ways to parent a challenging child, we bring our creativity to every aspect of our lives. As the service proceeded and different people shared creative reflections, sharing themselves through musical and spoken art, I reflected on how UUCF has been a nurturing place for me to explore my creativity in a safe and welcoming community. I realized that 15 years ago I would not have raised my hand when asked that artist question. Over my time at UUCF, I’ve come to view creativity as an integral part of my spiritual practice and my identity. I’ve had many opportunities here to take chances, create and collaborate with others in plays, Vespers, storytelling for the children on Sunday mornings and creating many Wheel of the Year rituals with the Women’s Ritual Council. I’ve grown as a spiritual person and as an artistic being in part because of my engagement at UUCF. I’ve found that what works to expand my creativity is to be intentional about setting aside time for creative pursuits. Just showing up at the writer’s desk or the easel is the first step. Exposing yourself to different types of art and music and new ideas helps too. Taking a class to learn a new technique can jumpstart your creativity. Being willing to be not so good at something is a good beginning as well. I’ve learned you have to write a lot of bad poetry before you write a pretty good poem and that it’s not my job to judge the work, it’s just my job to create it. So even if you wouldn’t raise your hand if asked “are you an artist?” consider how your life could be enriched and enlivened by some creative engagement. UUCF has many ways you are invited to participate in the arts. Our music program has opportunities for engagement at all skill levels. You could lead (or co-lead) a Vespers, try out the Poetry Club or the Memoirs Writing Group or submit a work of art for display in our ARTspeaks space. I hope as activities resume this fall you’ll consider trying something new, taking a risk in this safe and nurturing community. Who knows where it might lead!
Jul. 30, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. Here we are mid-summer and there are so many things going on in the world. In the past and coming week, I have counted at least five requests to participate in vigils, protests, witness events or conferences based on the challenges and issues of the day. There will be more about some of these coming out in the announcements and look for something from me about the counterprotest against white supremacy on Aug. 12 in Washington, DC. With all that and more, I have been thinking about one of the aspects of covenant, one of the dynamics of congregational life and one of the most important characteristics of a functioning democracy: Trust. Trust issues are as old as relationships and have accompanied issues of power and privilege for millennia. And yet, it feels as if there is another assault on trust right now in the world. In a #MeToo/Trump administration/systems of white supremacy world, I can’t help but think there are ways we can support trust building to help address the many challenges we now face. Based on these thoughts, here are some questions to ponder: Do we care about our collective best interest and the interest of others rather than just ourselves or our tribe? How do we move past rhetoric to actions and agreements of mutual accountability? How do we build bonds of trust with one another with such anxiety, animosity and acrimony present in the world? It’s hard not to let all of what is happening sink in and breed distrust. Can we learn ways of direct and respectful communication that help us break through projections and assumptions? Which leads to … What are we experiencing that actually speaks to valid feelings of distrust and what are we projecting onto others, perhaps rightfully so, that raises our guard? Just because we are assuming that someone isn’t trustworthy doesn’t mean they aren’t. It is important to set clear and appropriate boundaries, and also to understand that not everyone is motivated by what we think they are motivated by. In a world where truth is painted so often as a relative interpretation, how can we find common understandings of truth? Such a hard question to answer. I believe evidence supports climate change being a factual truth. However, it is clear that my truths are not everyone’s. Though we may often claim our truths as truth, can we look for the nuance that calls for engagement, discussion and openness to growth? What challenges to our comfort might we experience to build trust where trust has been a struggle? Being comfortable feels good. We actually strive to be as comfortable as possible in our daily lives. However, in a world with so little compromise and so much division, I also wonder who is willing to blink first in order for real transformation to occur? These questions challenge me, and I hope they open up some dialogue in and between you all as well. Seeing this UUCF community as an experimental modeling space in trust building may not solve all the problems in the world, but it may help them move a little further along a healthier path. May it be so.
Living Into Grace
Jul. 23, 2018. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. I’m driving back home from my first battle assembly, talking with my father, and I come to a toll booth. Now, I don’t have an E-ZPass, so toll booths mean a brief exchange with whomever is inside the booth. I warn my father that I’m going to chat with the worker for a moment, but I’m not prepared for what happens next. I’m still in my uniform, and when I hand over my debit card the worker waves it off. “I’ll take care of this for you. Thank you for your service.” No, I want to say, there are others who have done so much more. It feels like I’m still playing dress-up. This is my first time wearing this. I don’t deserve your thanks. I haven’t earned your respect, your gratitude, your grace. Instead, I say “Thank you” while I look him in the eyes and nod. I return to my phone conversation as I roll southward, feeling the weight of the uniform, my promises to the people who make up the country that has fallen short of the words I swore to protect. Trying not to cry while sharing with my father the joy of being with my soldiers over the weekend. This feeling of undeserved grace was a theme of the weekend. From the stranger who paid for my mini Blizzard at Dairy Queen, the salutes from soldiers, the “ma’am”s I knew to expect but still felt slightly rattled by. I don’t get to choose when grace is given to me, so I must be gracious in my life. None of us gets to choose when grace will befall us, many of us may feel undeserving in the face of generosity and love. But this is the blessing and the lesson of it. The calling to live into grace. UUs believe in a faith of action, of deeds. This doesn’t mean we get to neglect recognizing the subtle blessings of life. We are constantly called to pay it forward, however we are able. We are constantly called to live into that grace, deserved or not, because we come from a Universalist heritage of love and salvation, however we interpret that in our modern context. We do not get to choose how it manifests all the time, so we must choose to bless the world with what grace we can - recognizing we are all deserving.
Developing Our Human and Spiritual Selves
Jul. 16, 2018. By Lay Minister for Adult Spiritual Development Cheryl Sadowski. High summer. Time seems to slow down; the morning air is light and dewy, the late afternoons are thick and stormy. Children’s laughter bubbles across the water of community pools, and friends and neighbors come together for barbecues and concerts on the green. When I was young, I loved summer for its long, languid days. I would run among the houses of my neighborhood to visit friends or curl up for hours on the back porch with a library book. Summer was sweet because it was time-bound; it ended with the beginning of a new school year, which brought with it new challenges, people and places. I found this theme to carry on through college and well into adulthood. Even now, as a working professional in my 50s, there is a natural close to the summer dynamics of the office and an anticipatory feeling in the air when fall begins. I’ve always equated autumn with education and the opportunity to learn. Poring over my community catalog, arts bulletin and, in more recent years, our own UUCF schedule of classes, I find myself more than ready for the rigor of experiencing new things. On various occasions, I’ve made the decision to teach or lead a class or small group at UUCF - one time on activist writing and another time, facilitation of a covenant group. On both occasions I learned much more than what I was able to “teach,” which is precisely the point. When you gather with other people to talk and act on topics of mutual interest, “ah-ha” moments abound, while deeper insight and meaning creep up on you weeks later as you’re pouring a cup of coffee or taking a shower. Gradually, you synthesize the experience and come away with a vital new perspective or greater cultivated compassion. Most of all, you grow and change. The wisdom of experience has shown me that not only what but how I learn has broader applicability in the world and the times we live in. Whether you teach or co-teach a class of your own making or borrow one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s well-planned and generous curricula, whether you offer to facilitate a small group or co-lead a workshop with a friend or colleague, the experience of sharing and accepting knowledge will benefit you in ways that you won’t know from the outset. Whether teaching or participating, I hope you will consider benefiting from one or both of these paths. UUCF is building its fall class catalog now, and the Adult Programs Committee is accepting online proposals and ideas from all with an interest in developing their human and spiritual selves. Submit here today and be changed!
Pledging to Undo White Supremacy in Our Denomination
Jul. 2, 2018. By the UUCF Board of Directors. On Mar. 20, UUCF’s Racial Justice Steering Committee asked the Board of Directors and the Coordinating Team to make a pledge to support The Promise and the Practice of Our Faith Campaign for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU), which seeks to dismantle systems of white supremacy within our denomination and amend broken promises to the Black lives within the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). One part of this campaign asks congregations to pledge $10 per member, which then will be matched up to $1 million, as part of the overall funding pledge to BLUU. With a UUA-certified membership of 661, UUCF will pledge $6,610. The board is proud to materially support our Unitarian Universalist siblings of color, and to be part of the continuing work to undo white supremacy within our denomination. In some ways, this is a continuation of the events of 1969’s General Assembly and what is commonly called the “Black empowerment controversy” of Unitarian Universalism. We are committed to investigating and healing the effects of white supremacy within our congregation and our denomination. White supremacy was baked into this country at its birth, and we long to find ways to create a just and equitable society where Black lives matter. During the 2018-19 congregational year, the Coordinating Team and the Racial Justice Steering Committee have been asked to envision ways to fulfill this pledge. When future generations of UUs look back at this time in our denomination, we hope that UUCF will have served as a force for justice and healing. We encourage the congregation to be generous and openhearted to these future opportunities.
Jun. 25, 2018. By Outgoing Lay Minister for Caring & Wellness Linda Zack. I was raised Catholic and as such, I embraced many of the teachings I learned as a child and found truth in them. Yet, as I grew older, I felt more and more there was something missing. Was it really “wrong” if others didn’t believe as I did? What about people practicing other religions, or no religion at all? Were they forever damned? What about people not allowed to take communion in a Catholic Church? Why are they excluded from a vital part of the faith? I did have good spiritual experiences with the Catholic Church, and the first meditation I ever did was with a Catholic spiritual director. As I broadened my spiritual horizons and became more interested in meditation, a friend suggested we go on retreat to Yogaville (the Satchidananda Ashram) south of Charlottesville, VA. At the retreat, I visited their large interfaith shrine, which includes altars for major faiths, faiths less well-known and faiths not yet known. Swami Satchidananda says, “What is it that we should see if we really want a peaceful co-existence? We should see the one unifying factor, the Spirit. If we see the Spirit in us, we realize that we are all one. … Ultimately, we all aim for the same truth while walking on different paths. It is time to understand each other better and to live as one global family.” The reason I am a Unitarian Universalist today is because our faith is about inclusion. It encompasses atheists, agnostics, people who believe in God and people who are exploring the idea of a higher power. It encompasses people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Our children are taught about different faith traditions and values, and then allowed to think for themselves. Our Coming of Age program (what other churches might call “confirmation”) is a time when we ask young people what they believe; we don’t tell them. Our inclusion is what creates our Beloved Community. We can share the truth about our beliefs and about our lives. We come together to support each other through experiences of loss, pain, joy and exploration. Over the past 5 years, working with our Pastoral Care Committee and Caring Network, I have had the privilege of witnessing how congregants care for each other in times of stress and need. Congregants are quick to sign up to bring a meal, provide a ride, lend a listening ear and let their fellow human beings know they are not alone. We UUs tend to be an independent lot and sometimes we don’t expect help in our times of need, or perhaps even feel entitled to it. Maybe we’re not sure if we even want help. The Caring ministry at UUCF provides a safety net in times of life’s challenges and includes phone calls, cards, practical care and home visits. Ministers are supplemented by a cadre of trained Pastoral Care Associates along with a Caring Network of volunteers who coordinate and provide meals, rides and respite care. In these trying times, when compassion is hard to find at the highest levels of our society, our Beloved Community is a way to connect deeply with others and experience true compassion for one another. May we support each other, and allow ourselves to be supported, in all that life brings.
Jun. 11, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. NOTE: The following is the sermon Rev. David Miller delivered at last week’s James Madison High School baccalaureate. I have to say that I am a little worried for you. And I think it’s possible that some of you are a little worried too. We are living in crazy times. I have been alive almost 59 years and I have never seen anything like what is going on in this country. We all have been buffeted by the endless flow of tweets, pundits and news coming from just up the road in DC. I don’t feel a need to repeat it; it has been disturbing. I have seen news stories and plenty of social media commentaries, including my own, about how we are fighting for the soul of America. I worry about those who profess to follow their religious traditions and yet find no meaning in their own religious texts about loving all of our neighbors - the stranger, the marginalized and the poor - not just those who look like them. So, where does that leave us when we talk about the current state of the country and the future that you will now help to create? I am on the liberal side of politics and religion, and although I disagree with many who have a more conservative agenda, I didn’t grow up hating anyone. There were plenty of folks in my community who had much more conservative views on social and economic policy, but in my youngest years, I didn’t see them as evil and they weren’t the enemy. There have been plenty of times in the history of this country that we have found ourselves on extreme sides of specific issues. Polarity has been an unfortunate part of our American religious and political history and now we find ourselves in another time where we will have to make some choices - especially you - about what kind of community, country and world we want to live in and what you will leave for your children and your children’s children. I’m not saying that anyone should wake up tomorrow and vote the same way, or worship in the same tradition. What I am saying is that we need to have a revolution of values in this country that will break cycles of polarization and create a different future. This future could be anchored in the core messages of all the great religious traditions: The love of neighbor, kindness for strangers, healing the world together, service, humility and sacrifice. Values no different from those that lie in the best intentions of this country’s founders. There were plenty of flaws at the time of the creation of this incredible country, but there are values that live in the ideals and words written by those mostly rich white men that rise above the imperfections of their own lives to inspire us all. Because of the welcoming words of our founders, this country took in refugees from the despots of other lands. Because of those ideals, this country spread the hopes of democracy and freedom in the post-World War II world. Because of those ideals, this country has historically helped other countries in times of natural disaster, regardless of religion or political party. Because of those ideals, high school students have risen up all over this country and started a movement to ensure their safety and their future. Those words and ideals have often not been matched in practice. We have been challenged at various times in our history by fear, nationalism and policies of otherness. But one thing that has helped us live up to those original ideals is our ability eventually to call out behavior of intolerance in order to work together on supporting a more perfect union. Our ability to change has helped us weather many storms of political upheaval. My dear graduates, we may differ on significant issues of policy or religion, but I am here to call on all of you to move forward in your young lives to support all of us together. To try to live and hold the rest of us accountable to be our best selves. To break through the corruption of ego. To break down the politics of otherness and fear. To break the interpretations of religion that tear us apart rather than bind us together. Let us strive for fair, equal, respectful and just debates while understanding that we all have to find a way to live together. We wait at the same bus stops. We hold the door open for each other as we enter the local supermarket. We all have friends or family who have lost someone serving this country - the ultimate sacrifice. We try to feed each other when hunger plagues our children. So it is time for us all - and especially all of you - to rise up for the sake of goodness, for the sake of who we can be together, for the sake of our common soul. I am not asking you to agree with me on any issues, I am asking you to support the ideals that formed our nation – the ones we are struggling to live up to. If there has ever been a time for us to come together, it is now. For the sake of communities, for country and for this world, join together and help lead us forward. The saying goes that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We are. And you are more powerful than you can ever imagine. Amen, and may that be so.
“If We Agree in Love …”
May 28, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. For those of us who work in congregations, this time of the year is the home stretch before a little time off. I guess it isn’t that much different from those who work in schools or other businesses that are on a similar calendar. Including the 2 years of my internship, I am now completing my 12th year in parish ministry and each year has certain similarities and each year is incredibly unique. This year has been no different. Through the years, congregational life can’t help but be affected by life as we all live it. Whether joy or grief, celebration or anxiety, events in our lives and in the world do not stop at the door of 2709 Hunter Mill Rd. One way this year has been unique is the increased level of grief, frustration and general anxiety over the political and cultural issues of our day. It was impossible to live through this past year and not be affected by the constant barrage of news, tweets and strife. Congregational life can serve as a mirror for the world in which we live, but more often than not, it is designed to be a place of solace, comfort, grounding, reflection, inspiration and practicing, as best we can, the world for which we dream. This year has had all these things. Each new day brings an opportunity for us to engage in the spiritual deepening, grounding and practice of our Unitarian Universalist faith. One of my favorite Universalists theologians, Hosea Ballou, said, “If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury, but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good. Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.” In this day and age, it almost seems silly and simplistic to say, “If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury.” We can so easily be drawn into the debates of the world or the frustration of the times, but this place, this faith tradition, our religious ancestors help us remember that this is a religious community where we come to practice the highest good, the call to our best selves and the work of how to agree together in love. It is the reason for the Joy Committee, the music and arts program, religious exploration, pledge campaign and any or all of the programs and efforts of this congregation. It is the reason we exist. It is the calling of our mission and vision. As we make our way together in these challenging times, I have been so heartened by your response to our latest Annual Giving Campaign. Each and every gift is valued and important and your generosity has made it possible to move beyond the steps we had to take last year to meet our budget. In the spirit of transparency, here are some of the numbers from the campaign (as of today). These numbers refer to pledge units: 197 increased their pledges (overall 19% increase in this group!) 101 stayed the same 46 decreased 11 (who are still counted as members) were not able to pledge 29 pledged for the first time In calculating our budget for the coming year, the pledging units who have not yet pledged were estimated to pledge at the same level as last year. These numbers represent a 3.3% overall increase in this year’s pledge campaign. As your minister, I am moved by these increases and this demonstrated commitment to the incredible need for this congregation’s presence in the community. It is unavoidable that the ways of the world will seep into everything, but here we are and here we will remain, strong, steady and centered, supporting goodness and hope in the world.
Truth From Meaning
May 21, 2018. By Director of Music & Arts and Worship Coordinator Laura Weiss. This blog is for adult eyes only. No kids allowed! Yes. I still believe in Santa. I remember standing in the kitchen as a little girl when my baby sister and I started discussing the coming holiday. I said something about the big guy in red and she blurted out, “You know he’s not real, right?” Total devastation. Followed by complete denial. I have never had the courage to ask my mother to confirm or deny my sister’s accusation, and my mother (of this I am sure she is grateful) never offered an explanation. To this day, my mother won’t discuss where the gifts for us grown adults come from. We not only condone this, we participate. Even as we wear the “adulting” hats now, each of us grown children allows for this different kind of truth - one that requires no evidence or hard proof. We still believe in Santa. I am thankful for this in small and great ways. But mostly, I was thankful the other day when my little one, Adia, got off the bus in a huff having just fought with her best friend, Jackson. Apparently, he held the position of no Santa, while my 7-year-old fought earnestly to defend her belief in St. Nick. I found out that they had agreed to a peace treaty - one where they will not remain friends and thus maintain their separate beliefs. She didn’t seem to mind the outcome of this arrangement because he is “moving in a few weeks anyway.” Sigh. Well, my initial instincts were to hold a conversation with her about how she “should always try to part on good terms,” and how much she would miss him, but it didn’t seem to motivate a change in her heart at all. I knew we needed to change directions. I remember having faith in wizards, magic, the tooth fairy, leprechauns, unicorns and others … and they each helped me develop my faith as a child in some way. But to believe in them meant to embrace them as truth and I wanted my daughter to embrace her truth. I explained to Adia that “it can mean believing that Disneyland exists because I tell you it does or because you WANT to believe it is awesome even if you have never seen it yourself. It isn’t less true because you haven’t seen it.” Our truth requires deciding what has meaning for us and Santa is no different. At some point in our lives - either in our school classes or through playground incidents (reference sticking your tongue to the frozen flagpole) - we decide that truth relies on proof. But as we evolve into deeper spiritual beings, we know that while in some cases we could argue that truth requires proof - in spiritual realms we know that truth is shaped by meaning making. What we find meaningful and believe in becomes truth for us and what other people believe becomes their truth. But breaking relationships in order to maintain individuality does not promote learning and deepening of that truth. Great growth does not come from hanging out with like-minded people, but by meeting new thoughts and different people with a goal of like-heartedness. My deepest growth has occurred when encountering other religious faith practices from my own, but only when I am willing to be in relationship and practice humbling myself before what I have yet to learn from differing perspectives. Adia and I discussed much of this and she returned the next day to tell Jackson how much it doesn’t matter what each person believes; it matters how we treat each other (swoon). They passed notes, settled differences and decided it wasn’t worth it to fight over their beliefs. They could each believe what they wanted. Being friends was more important. #momwin If we are to be in right relationship with fellow humans and deepen our learning, we cannot define the parameters as self/“other” or seek out individuals who believe the same things we do. We must seek out those who are different, who challenge us and know them dearly. It’s knowing what they like to grill on summer evenings, whether they have a dog, cat or like houseplants. It’s knowing each soul as a community member and friend first and seeking a connection based on our like-heartedness. It is this work that expands our ever-blessed, beloved home in this universe to one of perfect and radiant love.
The Long Road to Military Chaplaincy
May 14, 2018. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. I’m no longer a civilian. Yesterday I was commissioned as a U.S. Army chaplain. Part of me thought this day would never come. I’ve spent 5 years re-submitting forms to the Army and amid that had a brief stint submitting forms to the Navy to see if they would get me in faster. I started applying for the Chaplain Candidate Program in 2013, shortly after I entered seminary. This program would have offered me training and pay without the obligations of serving after I finished school, though service would have been highly encouraged. In preparation for writing this blog, I looked back at a blog I wrote those many years ago. Reading my 2013 words, I can feel the enthusiasm and hope that I would be able to have a smooth process through the Chaplain Candidate Program and eventually into the Chaplain Corps. It wasn’t meant to be, despite my trip down to Garden Grove, CA, to visit Chaplain David Pyle during a battle assembly - even after submitting numerous signatures, scanned personal information and doctors’ notes. No, my commissioning and accessioning would only happen after I was ordained and forced to make a longer and more impactful commitment than I’d ever had to make in my young adult life. Those 5 years of feeling that I would never be acceptable to the military, that I was not “good enough” despite the fact that I was in the best physical, emotional and spiritual shape of my life - those years were important for me to fully understand what I was signing up for. From a sermon I gave on this topic 2 years ago: I reflect on this call regularly, debating with myself as a Unitarian Universalist who believes life is sacred, to make sure I’m headed where I need to go. I was called to ministry because I was looking for hope in action. I’m a minister-in-formation who would love for the very same institutions I pray will one day employ me to be unnecessary, that I will be required due to an overwhelming peace in the world to serve elsewhere. Yet, I don’t see that happening and I do see a real need within the institution. I continue to scribble my signature on the line, check boxes and email my recruiter. I have been surprised by the positive responses from colleagues and friends as I slowly but continually push for this calling to become reality. I expected more argument. More protest. Overwhelmingly, the response has been “We need you in there.” “I’m proud of you for pursuing this.” And very meaningfully, from the spiritually grounded, action heroes with a sense of humor who currently make up the UU Military Chaplain crew, the affirming: “You belong here.” … Our faith demands that we seek responsibly and accountably. Pacifism is absolutely part of this. Military chaplains are a part of this. People who believe that the military perpetuates problems should have a place in the conversation and community as should service members and the people who love them. Our faith proclaims a desire to stretch out beyond borders, to be inclusive, to not be monolithic. Our Universalist forebear John Murray was commissioned by George Washington during the Revolutionary War to chaplain the troops - even with his scandalous views of universal salvation. I find the argument of continuing a tradition simply because it is tradition weak and lacking. It’s important to me that we explore modern issues and context when continuing a tradition. It is because of our own values, not simply our history, that Unitarian Universalist chaplains belong in the military - are necessary there - because of (and not in spite of) our values. Unitarian Universalism is a faith of conscience, of personal wrestling with what is true and meaningful. We come together in community on Sundays and throughout the week to connect. Not having a creed, but gathering in the mystery of the hour. Gathering in our one, strong body of accountable searching. Gathering in our belief that every person is linked with something beyond themselves - be it human capacity or God or other. I know this call will not be an easy one. I know my faith will be tested in ways I never imagined. For now, I am grateful to be able to explore where it will lead me.
Acknowledging the Boo-Boo
May 7, 2018. By Youth Ministry Coordinator Courtney Firth. My life has changed immeasurably since welcoming my son, Jack, into the world 4 months ago. It takes twice as long to leave the house as it used to. There always seems to be one tiny sock missing after laundry day and I have become very skilled at eating with one hand while holding a wriggly, busy baby. Since Jack is not yet mobile, I haven’t had to deal with many bumps and bruises yet. In the few instances I have had to soothe a startled or hurt baby, I instinctively use the “kiss the boo-boo and make it better” mantra. I have a feeling this placebo is known to caregivers worldwide. Of course kissing the boo-boo has no real effect on making said boo-boo feel better. It doesn’t clean the wound or stop the bruise from coloring. Even if the bump doesn’t create any real pain at all, kissing the boo-boo does one very important thing: it acknowledges. By acknowledging that a child feels hurt or scared, we send the message that his/her/their feelings matter. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t ask “how did this happen?” It doesn’t lay blame or guilt. It simply creates empathy at its most basic level. As we age, the placebo effect of the boo-boo kiss wears away. But our need to be acknowledged does not. With movements like “me too” and “never again,” we are called to acknowledge. We don’t have to experience something to acknowledge that the feelings of those affected are real. We don’t have to work with youth to empathize with them about the real fear they face going to school every day. We aren’t required to judge whether something should or should not have caused such pain, nor are we required to lay blame. And as hard as it may be in the immediacy of the moment, we are also not required to ask “how did this happen?” Last fall on an overnight to Massadoah, the youth exemplified acknowledgement perfectly. On a hike down the mountain, some of the hikers encountered a swarm of yellow-jackets. At least half of the youth and chaperones were stung as they hurried down the trail. When they returned to the house, those who hadn’t been stung were ready and waiting to do whatever was needed to help. Some got ice, some looked up the best remedies for stings and some simply stood by offering space for the fear and hurt to subside. This last piece is the hardest for us to do. Our instincts tell us to offer words of comfort, hugs, hands or a story of how we might have experienced the same thing in the past and what we did to “get over it.” It is so hard to stand by and do nothing but hold space … for adults. Children and youth seem to do it automatically. Youth may not always have the words to offer comfort, but they help in a much-more powerful way by silently acknowledging the whole person, exactly as they are in that moment. We can learn so much from children and youth in moments of fear, trauma and hurt. Sadly, recently we have had too many unexpected lessons from them. May we take our cues from these incredible and brave youth, including those in our own congregation, to be reminded that our job as caregivers to each other is to kiss the boo-boo, hold space and whisper, “I’m here.”
The Reach of Our Light
Apr. 30, 2018. By Lay Minister for Membership & Outreach Shannon Williams. Like many neighbors doing their part to urge in spring, my son and I transplant seedlings. Our task is to thin the herd. We approach this work with an unspoken awareness of the terrible, lovely power we possess. We get to decide which of these fragile things have their chance to carry on in larger containers, and which will return to beginnings. My son with his still unbroken optimism rejects this as a false choice. He scrounges around the kitchen for used water bottles then saws off the tops and drill holes in the bottoms. Bringing them into the dining room where garden debris litters the table and floor, he paws through the dirt for discarded seedlings. We move as many wisps of roots as we can to their more capacious, though still temporary, homes. The sunniest place in our house – the south-facing balcony door – lets in a small draft. That means the hodgepodge of pudding and yogurt cups that comprises our starter garden lives in my son’s bedroom next to the heat register. We wedge in around it two living room lamps with fluorescent bulbs that shine for 15 hours a day. Somehow, our makeshift arrangement suffices. The phenomenon of phototropism still inspires wonder as we watch our plants reach for the light. They follow it, they drink it, they thrive. Just two lightbulbs and an occasional spritz from a water bottle. How is it possible that it takes so little to make something grow? Of course, the effort only seems little when seen in isolation. The decision to start a container garden from seed on our tiny condo balcony began as a New Year’s resolution. From there, we took a series of steps: Rescue cups from the recycling. Study planting zone calendars. Cook up a batch of homemade starter mix. Buy seeds. Clear space. Turn lights on. Turn lights off. Spritz. Each task on its own barely registers on the balance sheet. Yet here we are with basil and chrysanthemums taking over the bedroom. What if it’s possible to grow a spiritual community with small steps like these? One thread that ran through the recent Annual Giving Campaign was the importance of UUCF’s open doors. We can see our congregation living out its commitment to this openness in the ways we organize our Sundays. Friendly faces staff the Sanctuary Welcome Table, online live streams run for both services, and Religious Exploration greeters make sure that new children and families can find their way around. These are critical parts of ensuring that someone arriving on our campus feels a sense of belonging. How then do we wrap our minds and hearts around the ones who have yet to arrive? What about neighbors who are dying to turn toward any hint of light but haven’t found their way through our doors? Many of us understand that we live at a place and time in which desperate isolation coexists with overwhelming demands on our energy, attention, calendars and finances. Unitarian Universalism’s messages of hope and connection are more important now than ever. Yet our neighbors will not magically appear in our Sanctuary any more than peppers will spontaneously materialize on my balcony this June. Will we commit to starting new growth from seed? From within UU’s Sixth and Seventh Principles we can hear the call to open outward. We must be willing to emerge from the comforting confines of our campus and share the vital principles and mission of our faith. To do this, we might have to rearrange things, to move our light into places that we haven’t taken it before. Several years back, Rev. Kim Wilson offered a list of 28 ways UUs can practice outward orientation. The suggestions are as relevant now as they were then, if not more so. Here is a selection: Put a UU decal on the window of your car or home. Write an article for a local newspaper about a congregational project in which you’re involved. Practice your response to the question, “What is Unitarian Universalism?” Host a party and invite both members and non-members. Tell a non-member about an adult program. Carry Seven Principles cards and give them to people when they ask about Unitarian Universalism. Taken separately, each of these small steps seems almost inconsequential. One hand-me-down lamp moved to a new corner, or one spindly root lifted to new ground. In the aggregate, though, our small acts have power beyond imagination. We grow the beloved community. It’s fitting that the Annual Giving Campaign wraps up right at the cusp of spring. Isn’t internal fundraising so much like all that wintertime work of starting a garden? Gathering resources, one pledge at a time, allows us to have on hand the right tools for the job. The ground is thawing. Are we ready to begin?
Our Pledges As Nourishment
Apr. 23, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. When you think about UUCF, I’m hoping what comes to mind first are things like love, community, spiritual nourishment, compassion, growth, family, justice and service. I’m also hoping when we think of UUCF we have a growing understanding of what it takes to keep this place running, the incredible work of the staff, the voice of love, hope and justice that we have always valued so deeply, but especially in this last year. When considering all of this, although it can be hard, the hope is we avoid thinking of money equaling votes for or against particular aspects of congregational life. As we make our pledges to the Annual Giving Campaign, have you thought, “I love this program, or minister, or group of friends, or RE class, so I think I’ll give my money this year”? Or, have you thought of your pledge as nourishment - a way of feeding this institution to sustain it? My hope is that we are all giving for the long-term sustainability of our values, our presence and our voice in this community. Our pledges aren’t votes. Our money isn’t about our current state of comfort or discomfort. It is about the 63 years behind us and the 100 years in our future. It is about the children in our RE program growing up in an era with media images of our country's leaders bending ethics and furthering oppression. It is about the people who visit every week searching for a community of love and inclusion in an increasingly lonely world. We will never be all things to all people, but we must be here and strong for the increasing moments of need for ourselves, each other and our community. As our 2018 Annual Giving Campaign comes to a close, please support the past, present and future of this congregation - your fellow members, our children and members yet to come - by getting your pledges in as soon as possible. And please consider a 10% increase over last year if you are a continuing pledger or a generous pledge if this is your first time. We are in a time of great spiritual need, and UUCF has been, is and can be here to address that need for years to come.
On the Road to Beloved Community … Teaching RE Matters
Apr. 16, 2018. By Interim Director of Religious Exploration Diana Tycer. We are in the midst of our Annual Giving pledge campaign, and we all know that to achieve the beloved community our congregation desires, money does matter. But so does the commitment of time and talent that a thriving Religious Exploration program requires. And we do have a thriving RE program. Just last Sunday, more than 200 children and youth, and more than 60 adults, participated in one of our RE programs (this includes those adventuring in DC with the Coming of Age 7th grade classes.) In fact, we have so many students attending RE that we had to move classes to the Chapel and the Library because rooms 1 and 2 are too small. But sustaining a program like this requires a sizable commitment from the adults of this congregation. Running our full slate of classes requires a minimum of 106 teachers each year because we group them on teaching teams that function more like small-group ministries than school classrooms. Every RE class has four teachers plus a liaison who provides support and guidance. Teachers write and follow a covenant among themselves and collaborate to establish the teaching schedule to ensure all sessions are covered, and that everyone enjoys many “free” Sundays to attend worship services. Every class also has a covenant, performs a chalice ritual and provides check-in time with students to share important events from their week. While our classes have content and activities that teach important concepts, a main goal of the RE program is to build relationships - among children, teachers, parents and families. In fact, some teams remain together teaching the same class for years because of the friendships, camaraderie and respect they develop for one another and for their students. Many of those most dear to me in this congregation are people I first met on an RE teaching team. I also receive much joy watching those children I have taught in the past mature into fine young adults in our community. Additionally, teaching RE gives adults a place to deepen their own spirituality and a space to model UU values in their interactions with others. In doing so, they guide our children toward a fuller understanding of community. A few weeks ago, I got to witness a perfect example of this process when I asked for help from our 6th graders to solve a space problem: We currently have 18 1st graders participating in Our Whole Lives sexuality education, and room 1 was too small for them. I appealed to the 6th graders across the hall in the combined rooms 3-4 if they would be willing to give the little ones that room and relocate their class to the Library in the basement of the Administration Building. It has limited natural light, smells musty, has two posts obstructing the open area, and has a perimeter lined with bookshelves piled high with archived files, books and stray items. In keeping with our Unitarian Universalist 5th Principle, I did not force the 6th graders to move. Rather, I made it clear that the choice belonged to the students themselves. Their teachers took a significant portion of one class session to take the 6th graders to the Library and lead them in a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of the move, followed by a vote. Our 6th graders voted 8:3 to relinquish their classroom for the benefit of the 1st graders. While I am proud that the students decided to make a sacrifice to help out the younger children, I am even more proud of their teachers who had the patience and commitment to do the process properly. Democratic processes are lengthy, and often messy. But they are essential for fairness and to affirm that every person is important, and everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard. Every Sunday in a myriad of ways, our RE teachers model our UU values. This is how, over years, we grow caring, responsible and committed youth - the next generation of UU leaders. This is important work, this is a ministry. And I hope it is one that you will be called to join, because teaching RE matters.
Trust the Process
Apr. 9, 2018. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. I am delighted to share with you that on Mar. 24, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association welcomed me into preliminary fellowship as a UU minister (I still have to complete my internship and graduate from Meadville Lombard to finalize this). This means that I am cleared to enter search this fall and to find a congregation to serve as minister beginning in August 2019. Being granted this status also clears me for ordination, and I am exploring ordination possibilities for spring 2019 once I am approved for graduation. I will continue to serve UUCF as your intern next year half-time as I complete internship requirements for my seminary. This is an incredibly exciting stage in my formation as a minister! The journey has been a rigorous 4-year process from deciding to apply to seminary to being cleared by the fellowship committee for ministry. And all along the way, people repeated a phrase I want to reflect on with you today: “Trust the process.” Aspiring UU ministers hear this phrase continually - any time they ask a question about going through the at-times-bureaucratic process of becoming a minister. But what does “trust the process” mean? Does it mean we believe the process is magically going to make us ministers? No way. For me, “trust the process” is a slightly annoying phrase (I’ll admit it) and an invitation into a practice of mindfulness. By mindfulness, I mean noticing how you habitually react, and being able to choose a new way that leads toward your aspirations. As I moved through the process of seeking preliminary fellowship, I decided to be intentional about how I reacted to the process. Instead of going through mountains of readings, interviews, assignments, chaplaincy and more to get them out of the way and be called “a minister,” I chose to use the process to grow as a minister. For each stage, even if it felt bureaucratic, I asked what I could learn and develop from it. So, trusting the process became about trusting that I can use the process for growth and emerge transformed. I have emerged with a clear sense of my calling as a minister. We can do this for any process. Consider some task that you do not especially enjoy but is nonetheless required. Think of doing taxes. It can be frustrating, right? (If you enjoy taxes, think of something else.) What if every time you got frustrated with tax filing (or whatever frustrates you), someone said “trust the process”? What if that was not just a slightly annoying phrase, but an invitation into mindfulness? I just finished filing my taxes. As I looked through receipts to shrink the amount owed, I chose to orient myself to growth instead of frustration. I asked myself, how much am I sharing with my local community, with the nation? I know I wish more of my tax dollars went to programs of social uplift, so are there things I can do about where my tax dollars go? It changes how I emerge through tax time. I emerge with a sense of generosity. Like many of you, I am in the middle of another process worth reflecting on with intention. My home congregation in Columbia, SC, is in the midst of its annual giving campaign. I can look at this as just another ask, or I can orient myself to growth. If I orient to growing personally and growing a world that affirms my values, then I have an opportunity to give to my congregation with joy and hope. Supporting my home congregation is an exciting and rewarding way to help a community of spiritual uplift flourish. Reorienting myself to grow in generosity and creativity with my community changes the way I emerge through the annual campaign. I emerge with a sense of hope. So I invite you, as you go through annoying or frustrating processes in your life, to ask yourself how you are responding. Are you oriented toward growth, toward your values and aspirations? As you notice your typical ways of reacting and choose a new way that affirms your values, may you emerge transformed, empowered and joyful. Blessings on your way.
A Binding Thread on Your Spiritual Journey
Apr. 2, 2018. By UUCF member Stacey Casey. While sitting in the bright UUCF Sanctuary on recent Sunday mornings, I have loved hearing the personal faith stories from UUCF members. This experience has made me re-examine my own reasons for attending UUCF, and led me to start defining my own spiritual journey. Many of these member stories share a common theme: the connection between Covenant Groups and building a stronger connection to UUCF. To date, Covenant Groups have been long-term small groups that get together in a shared experience of listening, reflecting and exploring issues together. In each story I've heard, the UUCF members describe their Covenant Groups as giving them support and fellowship. I always immediately relate to that feeling, since I've also belonged to a Covenant Group since 2015. It's a group that was created especially for brand-new UUCF members to help us connect and get to know each other. Speaking for myself, I would say that goal was achieved. This group has validated my observations, helped me hear more firsthand Unitarian Universalist experiences and given me a few more friendly faces at coffee hour, when so many in the room seem to already know each other. Now, UUCF wants to broaden the Covenant Group experience for even more members. The Covenant Group leadership team, led by Rev. Sarah Caine, will be expanding Covenant Groups this fall. To make the Covenant Group experience accessible for new participants, we will be offering a 1-year program for people to gather with new groups each fall. These groups will get to know each other throughout the year, wrap up their experience in May/June and then new groups will form the following fall. This model of small group ministry has three goals: Encourage a larger number of members, including newer members who haven't been in Covenant Groups before, to participate. Keep the time commitment to 1 year, recognizing that membership in a longer-term group can be intimidating. Interconnect a wider group of people to promote relationships and belonging. What about the existing Covenant Groups? These groups, which offer so much support and fellowship to their current members, will continue as they are now. The Covenant Group leadership team recognizes that these groups are cherished by their members and provide a source of comfort and friendship. If joining an existing group is more your style, there are spaces open in some of these longer-standing groups. Please contact Rev. Sarah for more information. Meanwhile, the Covenant Group leadership team will be promoting the "new style" of groups at two special events. At the first on May 27, there will be a pizza lunch following the second worship service. We'll talk about Covenant Groups, what it takes to be a group facilitator, how a typical meeting runs and what materials we use. At this first meeting, each table will get a chance to experience the deeper discussion of a topic related to our May theme of Creativity. Our second event will be in the fall, followed by the start of the 2018-19 Covenant Group meetings in September. There will be a chance to sign up for updates on Covenant Groups during these trial sessions. If you’re interested in being trained to facilitate one of these new groups, please contact Rev. Sarah.
Mar. 26, 2018. By Leadership Development Team Chair Craig Bennett. This year we’ve heard a different congregant share their story each Sunday - a brief expression of their experience at UUCF, maybe what brought them here, what kept them here, what motivates or inspires them. These members are, as Ian Hochberg said, “all in” with their commitment to this community, and they’ve shared their stories as an expression of gratitude. Often these stories relate how a member became involved in some aspect of UUCF and ended up receiving something much greater than what they originally expected from investing their time and effort. I’ve stopped being surprised at how rewarding these opportunities to serve usually are for me, even (and especially) when it was something I only grudgingly agreed to in the first place. Usually, this is because I was lifted up and supported by other congregants who were on the journey with me. Viewing oneself as all in can result in unexpected opportunities for personal and professional growth. When we’re all in together, well, that’s magic. Rev. Erik Wikstrom writes about what he calls the spirituality of service in his book “Serving with Grace.” We often assume people come to church for a sense of belonging and to feel more connected, but it’s more than that: We come to have our lives transformed. Rev. Wikstrom asks us to imagine church not as a place led by a few overly taxed people but one where leadership is a broadly shared ministry that community members undertake for the deep joy of it. Lay leadership can be its own spiritual practice, and can stretch you in new directions. And in our predominately volunteer community, there are many ways to be a leader. Certainly, serving on the Board of Directors, Coordinating Team, Lay Ministry Council, chairing the Annual Giving Campaign or the Auction or chairing a committee are obvious ways to serve in the shared ministry of our community. Thinking back on the past 15 years of my membership at UUCF, I am truly grateful for the leadership shown by those involved in less visible ways - those who taught my children in RE, those on the Pastoral Care Team who helped when life has thrown me a curveball, those who contribute their musical talents making Sunday mornings transcendent, those who come together to create a Vespers or an earth-based, seasonal ritual that helps center me amid the chaos of daily life, and those who lead us in social justice efforts that help make the world a better place. Just getting involved isn’t enough. You need to be all in to be transformed. That means more than just being nominally involved - having some skin in the game, committing to something outside one’s comfort zone - this is when service to our congregation can become a transformative spiritual practice. These are the experiences that have made me most grateful that UUCF exists. So whether the Nominating Committee is courting you to serve in an elected leadership position for next year, you’re considering teaching in RE or you are contemplating your financial commitment to the Annual Giving Campaign, view your service and commitment as a spiritual practice. Put some skin in the game - let’s all be all in for this beloved community we create together.
Living Our Third Principle Through Worship
Mar. 19, 2018. By your UUCF worship leaders*. As we have traveled through the worship experience since last September, the Worship Team has considered the unprecedented and unique challenges facing our country, Unitarian Universalism and UUCF. We have experimented with modifications to worship with the hope of creating an experience that would be more inclusive, welcoming and spiritually nourishing to a wildly divergent group of members, friends and newcomers. This included differences in tone and music between the 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. services. We solicited and received copious amounts of feedback about all aspects of worship including music, tone, interactive elements and Religious Exploration scheduling. Some of you were incredibly pleased with the opportunity to choose the service you wanted to attend on any given Sunday, and others found the changes troubling. As we have incorporated your feedback and continued processing the important elements of worship in a changing and challenging landscape, we want to keep you informed of our progress. For now, and through the foreseeable future, the two services will not differ in tone or flow. To accommodate the abundant musical offerings of our congregation, musicians and music selections might not always be the same at both services, but the tone and energy level of the music will be consistent. As an example, the Community Chorale will usually not sing at both services on the same day. One week they will sing at only the first service and the next at the second. Other musicians will perform at the other service on those days. The intent of those planning worship is to offer meaningful worship at every service using the resources of the congregation and providing multiple opportunities for congregational participation in the music and worship programming. Our worship services, in a congregation of diverse spiritual beliefs, experiences and needs, must vary in tone, musical choices, theology and content. Our hope continues to be that on the weeks you may not feel specifically fed, that you trust that others are. Holding space for others is one way we can live our Third Principle: “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” Thank you for the deep caring and feedback you continue to share with us. The Worship Team aspires to provide worship that challenges, inspires, calls for deep reflection and provides spiritual sustenance. Please contact us with any thoughts or questions. *Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller, Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine, Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker, Worship Coordinator and Director of Music and Arts Laura Weiss, Lay Minister for Worship and Arts Susan Bennett and Worship Team Chair David Addis
Taking a Break From “Doing” to Focus on “Being”
Mar. 12, 2018. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. My first blog as Rev. Sarah Caine! It’s still sinking in that I have made it to this honorific. Thank you all for making it possible. The power to grant this title rests with the congregation, and you inspire and humble me with your votes of confidence. I hope I serve you and this calling well. Part of the training to become a UU minister is doing at least one unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE). This means 3 months usually working in a hospital (there are some programs in hospice or working with marginalized communities) as a chaplain. There is a lot of trial and error, reflecting in a group of other similarly situated people, reflecting with a trained supervisor, feeling many emotions at once and decompressing with trusted seminary friends. Two of the most valuable lessons during my five units of CPE were the ministry of absence and the idea that ministry is a job of “being” not “doing.” The United States, and much of the industrialized world, values completion of tasks and business. To be sure, there are many tasks that need to be done for our modern world to continue, but it is so easy to get caught up in doing tasks and checking items off our to-do lists that we neglect the rich and nourishing act of being. Ministry is one of the oddest jobs I have experienced. To be good at ministry, I need to take time for stillness, silence and prayer. If I am to be there as a support for the many people I serve, I need to make sure my own spiritual and emotional wells are replenished. This is counterintuitive after decades of training to always be working toward some accomplishment or goal. It means breaking the addictive habit of nonstop screen time and information input - not having a podcast on in the background of my Facebook scrolling means I have to be present with myself and the sea of emotions and physical demands of living in this human body. Pastoral care is a ministry of being present while not always doing anything. During CPE, we are trained to turn off the response to offer solutions or suggestions. Chaplains and ministers decondition the normative responses so we can be witnesses and companions for people on this beautiful and tumultuous life journey. And, we are told that it is a ministry to give people space to be present with themselves without our being in the room. We are encouraged to allow our caregiving to empower patients and congregants to practice being rather than doing by a ministry of absence. This can be frustrating and healing all at once, for ministers and congregants. Since striking out on my own as a minister and leaving the official designation of “student,” I have had to wrestle with the absence of the many seminary professors who were models of the dynamic act of balancing life in the being and the doing. I am now the person charged with modeling a harmonious life and supporting you all as you live yours. Encouraging you to take some time for internal stillness and unplugging from the information overload. To generate your own presence, as Thich Nhat Hanh says. May you take a break from “doing” in order to “be,” reconnecting your mind and body to the present moment and living deeply.
Two “Gifted and Committed” UUCF Staff Members Stay on for the Next Year
Mar. 5, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. In discussion with the leadership of the congregation, a decision was reached to extend an offer to both Diana Tycer and Rev. Sarah Caine to stay on staff for at least one more year in their roles as interim director of religious exploration (DRE) and assistant minister, respectively. Both are doing an excellent job and it was concluded that with the various transitions in the congregation, this would give us some time to breathe, appreciate their gifts and plan for what comes next. Our contract with Sarah is based on a mutual agreement to continue from year to year and she is excited about continuing with us for another year. Her dream of military reserve chaplaincy has finally also been approved and she will be moving forward with periodic training over the next year. Because of the unfolding understanding of what that will require from her, we will reassess her situation again in the middle of next year. Next year will be Diana’s final year as interim DRE, based on our revised timeline for a DRE search and her plans for her future. This extra year will give us plenty of time to implement a national search. For now and through next year, we will continue to be served by these two gifted and committed staff members. Once again, we are grateful for their professionalism, gifts and commitment to this congregation. And please don’t forget to attend Sarah’s ordination this coming Sunday, after which we will be able to call her reverend and chaplain. Please always feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
"We Provide Hope For Each Other"
Feb. 26, 2018. By Worship Coordinator and Director of Music & Arts Laura Weiss. When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine playing a concert alone on a stage. Like most classical pianists, I was urged to fall neatly in line for conservatory tracks and concert hall preparation. What bothered me wasn’t the pressure of performance, the practice regimen or hours of isolation with the piano, but the deafening roar in my heart that urged me to seek other ways of using my gifts in the world. I didn’t know what that meant, and I’m still discovering it, but my purpose becomes clearer when tragedy strikes again, as it did Feb. 14 in Parkland, FL. These are the times when my faith comes from the recognition within that I am using my gifts as best I can to help others whenever I can; and that means I don’t always have to do my best or know the ultimate goal on my vocational journey. If I can see the desire to be good and do good in myself, surely I can see that there are others with different combinations of gifts and circumstances designed just right so they nudge the world closer to the good. Clearly people are improving the world every day in all kinds of ways. How could they not? I do it when I see the opportunity and I am just a mere mortal with beautiful, broken desires and a passion to live a good life. When I turned my back on the conservatory realm, I dove headfirst into the funky and offbeat liberal arts scene where progressive improvisation rules the day. Today I see so much value in this track as recurring tragedies push us to be more creative and work harder to better overcome these terrible events. The closer we get to the goal, the harder the obstacles will get. Learning to grow, thrive and stay whole in this topsy-turvy world will take our deepest creativity and a willingness to improvise and try new things. I believe that there are people out there working for the good. I believe that change will happen and is in the process of happening. I believe if I share my hope with others, they too may grow in hope and share it with others. I believe that each of you will continue doing good, and believing in your goodness gives me energy for the hard days. We provide hope for each other and we need to talk about that. If I keep looking for positive change, I will recognize the opportunity to stand behind the movement when it arrives. Trust in yourself and each other. There is good work to do and it will find us.
Our Good Old Young Adult Group
Feb. 19, 2018. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. Since beginning my internship in September, I have been inspired by our Young Adult Fellowship group. With a little organizing on my part, this group for 18- to 35-year-olds gathers regularly and in healthy numbers. Despite busy schedules from school, parenting young children and new careers, the young adults take part in monthly social time, show up for social justice activities, organize community service projects and delve into spiritual renewal. On top of all that, they also lead and serve on committees and task forces throughout the congregation. This group format is a new phenomenon at UUCF. In the early decades of the congregation, there was little mention of young adults specifically, let alone a young adult group (according to our archives at least). Around the late 1990s or early 2000s, a social gathering for young adults emerged. There was also some effort to develop a campus ministry at George Mason University that faded. Efforts to form a young adult group with a mission beyond social connection ebbed and flowed, but in 2015 renewed interest and a coordinator on staff (our ministerial intern!) inspired the formation of our current group. Although our young adult group is new, Unitarian Universalism has a long history of dynamic young adult groups. Both the Unitarian and the Universalist denominations (our religious ancestors before the 1961 merger) had groups for youth and young adults since the mid- to late-1800s. These groups for teens to 25-year-olds merged in the mid-1950s to form Liberal Religious Youth (LRY). Since the 1961 merger, there have consistently been young adult groups organizing nationally. The groups, however, also struggled at times with funding support from the denomination and maintaining active participation. Today, young adults are supported through the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and can participate nationally in the Continental UU Young Adult Network (established in 1988) and the Young Adult Caucus at the annual UUA General Assembly. What this history means is that young adult ministries are important, enlivening and vital to our denomination and our congregations. It also means they need our collective and ongoing support. Just as the young adult gatherings ebbed and flowed here, there have been similar fluctuations nationally. Due to life stage and economic realities, many young adults have inflexible schedules, competing demands on time and limited financial resources. This phenomenon is increasing and young adults today tend to be more economically precarious than previous generations. What has kept this group going since 2015? The ministerial interns since that time have committed to supporting the organizing of the fellowship. Also, the congregation's budget committed $500 to support young adult activities. These may seem like small efforts, but it is just enough to provide the connecting foundation the young adults need to coordinate enthusiastic fellowship amid busy lives. A thriving young adult ministry is critical to creating multi-generational community. Connected and supported young adults weave their skills and perspectives into the congregation, which helps the congregation adapt and respond to changes holistically. This ability to adapt to challenges is increasingly needed in our world today. Beyond challenges, healthy multi-generational communities can grow and learn in ways that create new opportunities, from governance strategies, to hospitality to new and meaningful relationships. Can we keep our inspiring Young Adult Fellowship thriving here at UUCF? I believe we can, by ensuring staff can continue to support the group and by supporting the congregational budget that has been funding it. Young adults have many demands on their time, and they need their congregation to be ready to hold onto their momentum in the natural ebbs and flows of life. I personally pledge to continue supporting the young adult group as long as I am here. I hope you will join me.
On the Road to … Money Matters
Feb. 12, 2018. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller, Generosity Team Chair Dave Wiemer and Annual Giving Campaign Chair Meg Harrelson. At this year’s UUCF Board of Directors retreat, the board decided it was important to be as transparent as possible in discussing UUCF’s budget and resources with the congregation. The UUCF Generosity Team is also taking bold steps to be as transparent as possible in communicating how we give, the kind of financial support required and what our pledges support. In a step toward that transparency, this year’s Annual Giving Campaign theme is On The Road To … Money Matters. Let’s face it: Money is hard for congregations to talk about. But this year we feel it’s important to be as clear as possible about the importance of our financial support to UUCF’s ongoing health and operations. We’re going to talk openly about money and be transparent about the distribution of the funding base that supports the congregation. We are all in this together and it feels important to remove the mystery around the campaign and share what it takes to run this congregation, what it will take to help the congregation grow and thrive and what the impact may be without proper funding. To that end, this year, every one of our current 433 pledging units (individuals or families) will be assigned a random number from 1 to 433. That number will be known only to that individual or family. There will be a visual representation on the Sanctuary Art Wall of a road with various giving levels along the road. We will start the campaign by placing those numbers on the road according to the amount given in 2017-2018. This will give congregants a chance to see where the gifts currently fall. Then, as the 2018-2019 pledges come in, we will move each number to its appropriate category. Remember, only you will know the number you have been assigned. The hope is to give everyone an understanding of what it takes to support each other. Though this method ensures privacy for each member, if you would like to opt out of your number appearing on the wall, please contact Finaince Manager Gayathri Tillekeratne by February 26. As we embark on this campaign, we need to remember that every pledge is valued. Each pledge represents an individual’s or family’s ability to give according to their budget and their dedication to UUCF, its work and its impact. Our congregation cannot survive and flourish without the triad of giving: monetary pledges, volunteer hours and in-kind donations. Each is vital to the success of this congregation. Here are some questions to consider as we contemplate our giving levels: UUCF is seen as a leader in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), but we were unable to make our full Fair Share contribution to the UUA last year. Do we want to show our commitment to leadership in our movement by returning to being a full Fair Share congregation? Are we committed to supporting staff in reaching at least midpoint in their compensation as designated by UUA standards? (Our campaign will share how far our staff is below this midpoint on a percentage basis.) Staff has not had a raise in 3 years. In fact, last year there was a staff furlough. Is this something we hope to change? How wonderful would it be to have at least a part-time social justice coordinator to help organize our many faith-driven social justice efforts? This is an extraordinary time in our congregation and our nation. UUCF’s voice, presence, sanctuary and action are all badly needed in our community and in the world. We cannot escape the fact that Money Matters to the long-term health of the congregation. We hope this year’s Annual Giving Campaign will help contribute to an important conversation about the times in which we live, who we are, who we hope to be and the impact we hope to continue to have in the world. Our Annual Giving Campaign begins Mar. 18. Please start considering at what level your family can support our shared community in this incredible time of need. Remember: On the road to ministry to the congregation, Money Matters. On the road to Religious Exploration for our children and youth, Money Matters. On the road to justice, Money Matters. On the road to UUA Fair Share, Money Matters. On the road to equitable pay for our staff, Money Matters. On the road to congregational growth, Money Matters. On the road to ministry for young adults, Money Matters. On the road to the Beloved Community of all souls, Money Does Indeed Matter.
Driving Innovation for UUCF and Outreach to Young Adults
Feb. 5, 2018. By UUCF Innovation Fund grant co-recipient Betsy Bicknell. In a generous bequest, the late Stan Richards provided seed financing for innovative projects that expand UUCF’s outreach to those not now engaged in our congregation and/or Unitarian Universalism. Wendy Astell and I responded to this challenge, and in March 2017, the UUCF Board of Directors approved our proposal for a UUCF-sponsored off-campus community targeted to young adults (20s and 30s). The mission of this project is to help Northern Virginia young adults explore and live UU values and principles. Our vision is to provide activities and services for young adults who are looking for a spiritual home outside of a traditional church setting. The group and its leader will help Northern Virginia’s young adults grow as individuals and as a community through spiritual practices, arts, service, play, rites of passage and caring for one another and the greater community. We hope these activities will help young adults deepen their appreciation of the gifts of life and love. Since March, Wendy and l recruited Jeanette Walton, Victoria Maldonado, Rita Roth and Jennifer McLaughlin to form an advisory committee to help move the project forward. The committee contacted people serving UU community ministries and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Young Adult leaders to learn about their projects and to explore ideas on how to proceed. These contacts taught us that the first step for the project is to hire a dynamic professional leader who can reach out to Northern Virginia young adults to understand their needs. This leader will develop a network of interested young adults and will hold programs to start to build community. The programs will be held in spaces accessible by public transportation as well as by car. As community forms, a key next step will be formal training to help participants understand commitment to a covenanted community and develop leadership skills. The advisory committee has developed a job description (to be posted soon at uucf.org/jobs) for a Young Adult Community Leader with experience working with diverse groups of people and who authentically upholds Unitarian Universalist values. We want a candidate with pastoral care or social work training/experience and who has experience in community organizing or social justice work. On Jan. 17, the Coordinating Team gave us the go-ahead to begin recruiting a part-time professional who will report to Rev. David Miller. We are in the process of launching a nationwide search. Please contact me or Wendy Astell for more information.
Sexuality Education Is for Our Whole Lives
Jan. 29, 2018. By Interim Director of Religious Exploration Diana Tycer. I remember the first time I heard about the Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education program offered by UUCF. It was at the Fall Adult Retreat when I was mingling in the dining room after dinner, chatting with a longtime UUCF member. Upon learning that I had an adolescent son, she asked if I was going to enroll him in OWL. My response, no doubt like many new to UUCF, was a blank look and the question, “What’s OWL?” And as I listened to the response, I was both excited and surprised that such a course was offered to the youth here. But still, I couldn’t really comprehend how a sexuality education class fit into a church RE curriculum. But today, 10 years later, it makes perfect sense. We live in a world where the widespread lack of comprehensive sexuality education has led to the kind of headlines we are reading daily. The lid is off Pandora’s box and we must confront the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, sexual assault, homophobia, human trafficking, child pornography and sexual predation that reaches every level of society. Sexuality in our culture has been damaged by violence, exploitation, dishonesty, objectification and abuse of power. The best way to protect our children, and ourselves, is to provide accurate, age-appropriate information about sex and to help people develop a better understanding of healthy sexual behavior. The Our Whole Lives program teaches sexuality within the context of our UU faith, and fosters meaningful dialogue about sexuality among peers, partners, families and friends. The OWL curriculum was developed through a collaboration between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ and is periodically updated. It is a lifespan education program that includes workshops for Kindergarten-1st Grade, 4th-6th Grade, 7th-9th Grade, high school and adults. The curriculum is rooted in our first UU principle that every person has inherent worth and dignity. It teaches that all persons are sexual and that sexuality is a good part of the human experience. Throughout the program, participants learn to clarify their values and build interpersonal skills. The ultimate goal is to empower participants to make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health and behavior. While providing honest, age-appropriate answers to participants’ questions, the curriculum does promote the view that it is healthier for adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse. Here at UUCF, our 8th Grade OWL class runs for 26 weeks during the regular RE program year. The programs for 1st and 5th Grades are shorter sessions held in the spring. These classes are currently forming, and if you are a parent of a child at one of these grade levels and want them included, the required orientation sessions will be held on Sun., Feb. 4, 3-5 p.m. in the Program Building. Grade 6 students who did not take OWL last year are welcome to participate in this year’s 5th Grade OWL class. We are planning to offer high school OWL next year. While we have found that our high schoolers (almost all 8th Grade OWL graduates) are reluctant to do the program, the fact that many will be involved in sexual relationships by the end of high school and during college makes it imperative that we offer them the opportunity to review issues of consent, sexual exploitation and harassment, contraception and sexual health. To my knowledge, we have not held any adult OWL classes here. However, repeatedly parents of students remark that they wish they had taken OWL when they were younger. It makes sense to me to offer OWL classes for adults at UUCF. To some extent we have all been damaged by the distorted ideas about sexuality in our culture. An adult OWL class can help us improve our understanding of healthy sexual relationships, be better advocates for diversity, better affirm our own sexuality and help us to be more comfortable discussing sexuality with our children, partners and friends. I urge you to contact me if you would like to help develop adult OWL classes for the congregation. Also, let me know if you are interested in becoming a trained OWL facilitator. We need a minimum of 14 facilitators each year to teach our current course offerings. I welcome your questions, thoughts and participation in the wonderful Our Whole Lives classes here at UUCF.
Reflecting on the Past to Choose Our Future
Jan. 22, 2018. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. These past few weeks, as I delved into UUCF’s history of racial justice for a class project, I kept hearing a dramatic story retold. A member famously stood up in a worship service and asked why we had done nothing about racial justice in 20 years. This was in the 90s. Listening to more stories of our history and combing through the archives, I began to wonder, is this a pattern? Are we stuck in some historical “repeat” where we take on racial justice work one year and then put it down? You will have to read on to find out. But first, I want to thank the members who gave their time and energy to help me with this project. I also want to thank Penny Jackson, among others who contributed, for our wonderful archive. It is rare treasure among congregations! Our story began in 1955, during the civil rights era. Inspired by Rev. A. Powell Davies of All Souls Church Unitarian in DC, we began meeting at Oakton Elementary School. But in 1960, Virginia law required segregated seating in leases. We refused to comply, and purchased land on Hunter Mill Road to construct a building. We struggled with this and lost a few members. Still we chose our aspirations. The physical structure of our first building (now the Administration Building) is a symbol of our conviction and hope in racial justice. Sitting in that building each day, I feel like the pillars and beams are holding up our principles. Through the 1960s, a few individuals led our racial justice efforts. Examples include sharing a list of segregating businesses to boycott, educating the congregation about race and tutoring Black children. We also hosted an integrated Brownie troop and sponsored an integrated day care. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asked clergy to join him in Selma, AL, on Mar. 9, 1965, our Rev. Rudy Nemser responded immediately. And, at great personal sacrifice, our Director of Religious Education Jane Visco Boyajian left DC to lead the national mobilization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the march from Selma to Montgomery. Our few committed racial justice leaders continued their work through the 60s. Then, in 1971, amid stark declines in our pledges and membership, we raised almost $800 in a special collection for the UU Black Affairs Council for Black empowerment work. This was more than 1% of our operating budget - at a time of great uncertainty and financial strain. To put that 1% in perspective, it would be equivalent to $12,000 today. But our early racial justice work lacked an infrastructure to sustain the work without passionate leaders. After Rev. Rudy Nemser left in 1973, racial justice work faded to the background. Two decades passed with little-to-no mention of racial justice work. Then, in early 1992 the Rodney King riots renewed our attention to racial injustice. That is when member Furman Riley stood up in a worship service to decry our lack of action for racial justice during the prior two decades. Within a few months, Furman Riley, Ann Wood and Judy Harrison had formed a Race Relations Task Force to “dismantle structures that sustain racism and other forms of social injustice.” The task force led a workshop and worship service on race, countered mortgage-lending discrimination, tutored minority children, educated the congregation and even spawned the Mosaic Harmony choir (they still sing today, find out more here). Yet, the task force leaders were soon pulled to other pressing social justice issues and the group dissolved after 1994. As a longtime member told me, support for racial justice has indeed waxed and waned here depending on dedicated leaders. Today, however, a new theme is emerging. And I am energized by differences between our past and present. In contrast to racial justice work of the past led by one or a handful of individuals, our 2-year-old Racial Justice Steering Committee has a healthy 18-person membership. The committee has ongoing funding and obtained an Endowment Fund grant to expand its work. The committee is taking a long-term view, is working to forge new relationships in the community and is seeking partnerships for sustained action to address racial injustice. And, the committee invites more members of all ages and backgrounds to support its growing work. In addition to the steering committee, we are incorporating racial justice into our community through the ministry team, religious education and a broad base of supportive members. Instead of being in competition with other pressing social justice concerns, social justice areas are beginning to work together with the understanding that this work is related to most of the social justice work we do; it is intersectional with many other concerns. Today, I see a new structure being built around us - a congregational justice structure that includes racial justice as a fundamental foundation of our work as a congregation. Like our first building, this new structure is holding up our principles and our aspirations. With continued attention and labor for what we are building together, I believe we will keep the promise we once made to “dismantle structures that sustain racism and other forms of social injustice.” May it be so.
Season of Light
Dec. 18, 2017. By Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach Shannon Williams. UUCF rang in seven new members at the exuberant ritual following the Joy Service earlier this month. This gives us one more reason to celebrate in a season already packed with celebration. It also gives me a chance to reflect on our congregation’s many members and friends, and the variety of ways we experience our faith journeys this time of year. The days grow shorter still. All around, twinkling lights frame homes and shops, even our own glittering Sanctuary. December radiates holiday cheer, but not all of us feel warmed by the light. Some of us may instead feel the chill of absent loved ones, uncertain finances, national political turmoil and minute-by-minute news of mounting global crises. The festive glow surrounding us can make things even gloomier as it illuminates the distance between ourselves and the holiday spirit. And because our hearts already feel two sizes too small, we may just keep these troubles to ourselves. Yes, threats to our precious world press in from all sides. So much more complicated than any single issue, they loom, eclipsing what little light we find in taking positive steps. One response to despair is to put together a plan of action. UUCF is a fertile place for such an approach, as our congregation moves forward some of the most critical work in our community and world. Our work draws on the traditions and histories of justice movements, from India’s independence to abolitionism to same-sex marriage. We know that in energized movements, dynamic leaders map out plans for political and social change. They motivate many thousands of people to carry out those plans. Yet all revolutionary work also relies on a constellation of connections thrumming behind the scenes. Social action sustains itself on the involvement of faith communities. On people building relationships around the world and around the neighborhood. In the face of setbacks, violence and the everyday obligations of life, movements sustain their slow and steady progress by both drawing on and cultivating these dense webs of relationships. By sharing songs. Making art. Inviting stories and sermons and places to gather together. So many of us want to heal the world, yet we flourish neither individually nor collectively when we charge past the tender places and straight to action. Every aspiration must involve nourishing the spirit. Every movement needs people connecting with each other. UUCF is one place where we can kindle these vital connections. Some of us may not feel we have much left to give this time of year. But when we’re in a dark room, all that’s needed to fill it is one wick and one match. When we show up at UUCF, in the Sanctuary or through the online live stream or other small group ministries, we are taking action. When we offer a hug or accept one, we are doing important work. This is true when we listen with a generous ear, when we sing or pray, when we simply carry ourselves into proximity with others. Of course, we all know that holiday cheer doesn’t really live in votives, bells and dreidels. Instead, we grow it in the welcome we offer our neighbors when they come seeking a place of hope and warmth. We channel the spirit of the season - the spirit of life - when we open up space in our own small circle of light and invite others into its warmth.
How Do You Stay Hopeful?
Dec. 11, 2017. By Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. Someone recently asked me how I stay hopeful about our society when it appears “things are tanking.” I believe we have the capacity to plant love, with every breath, even - and poignantly - amid heartache. I hope the love we plant will be enough to soften a clenched heart and make it weep. And ultimately, I hope because being hopeful is not a sentiment, it is a choice. I have hope because I chose to hold on to it. Sometimes it is defiant hope. Note, however, that hope is not the same as optimism. We humans are capable of heart-shattering depravity. And world-bending love. At the same time. Like my friend, I lack hope that we will become beings of untainted love. I am fairly certain becoming such beings would require evolution and extinction of what we are now. It may happen, but that is not my hope for humanity. I have hope because love is what binds us to life, and because of that, we will always have within us a sense of the presence and direction of love. This is a hope that goes beyond my inner cynic’s worst-case scenario. I get hope from knowing that love will come back from anything, and will always guide us onward in good times and bad. My hope comes tearfully, knowing that all lost children are wrapped in someone’s love. I remember reading about how a Polish town had turned on their Jewish neighbors prior to World War II. The non-Jewish townspeople locked and boarded the Jewish inhabitants - entire families of their neighbors and friends - in a synagogue and left them to starve. I wept and grieved for the people in that synagogue, for all the children of that town. I can do this because I am human. Because I know love and compassion, across space and time. I hold on fiercely to hope in love. No matter how depraved our society may become, humans instinctively know the way to love. Someone will hold us in love one day. But this type of thinking is the “worst-case-scenario” end of my source of defiant hope. If we grab the mane of hope amid the Holocaust, she will lurch us out of the mass grave and toward something more loving. If we hold on long enough, and master the fashioning and use of tools that bind our families and societies together in love and compassion, I believe a best-case scenario will eventually unfold. And that is what we do here in this community: We hold on to hope in love, we fashion the tools that bind our families and societies to love. We nurture a sense for justice, which helps us put those tools into practice. As we come to terms with the latest iteration of our destructive human potential, may we continually give each other adequate support to embody our highest ideals. This is hard work, especially when it appears that all that affirms love and justice are "tanking." But I am not hopeful because things look good. I am hopeful because I believe in our capacity to sense love, to turn toward justice, for distant hearts to weep. So, in the face of unfathomable greed, humanitarian atrocity and death, I am fiercely, defiantly hopeful. Hope is a wild beast, heart pounding ceaselessly into the next moment despite scrapes and scars. To be hopeful is to be committed to hold on for the ride. So, let’s hold on, let’s keep building Beloved Community no matter what, because it is our choice, our promise and our covenant with one another.
Facing Individualism and Fear With Collectivism and Love
Dec. 4, 2017. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. While my first degree is in political science, I am no tax expert. And granted, there are smarter people in this world analyzing today's political situations. But here is what I am observing about the tax bill passed by the Senate early Saturday morning: This is a battle of rampant individualism versus communitarianism. The tax plan is in part a method of stripping away the economic support of collectivism and further eroding the belief that government can help lift up all of us. It will be used in the future to sanctify program cuts that have tried to address systemic inequality throughout our nation's history. And here is the connection that is almost entirely rooted in historic systems of white supremacy: Rampant individualism is code for privileging those who often benefit from an unfair system. It is top-down, corporate-driven and systemically unfair. It also masks economic inequality that keeps people voting against their own interest because of the fear of those who are different. Fear, divisiveness and anger are used as motivation versus love of neighbor, collective welfare and the need for compassion in order for a diverse society to thrive for as many as possible. This is what the current version of conservative politics is based on. I believe it is destructive for the soul of this country and our ability to build any true version of Beloved Community. That is why I speak out, preach out and act out. If we wish to see a future based in the values and religious grounding we profess, we are called to act often, boldly and stay grounded in humility, reflection and, as much as possible, love. To me this is deeply spiritual work. It calls on me to practice what I preach. It calls on all of us to know our Unitarian Universalist principles and try to live them as part of our spiritual practice. A central calling of our faith tradition has always been to help “create heaven on earth.” We must always find time to ground ourselves, reflect and recharge. For when our values and principles are in such a place of opposition to the prevailing practice, our historical call for active participation in healing the world leads to our need to rise up to meet this moment in history.
Connecting to Our Souls and Letting the River of Joy Come Forth
Nov. 27, 2017. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. Rumi says, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” Overlooking the possible debate on the meaning of the word soul, just for the purposes of this blog, let’s say the soul is the deepest place of connection in you to your absolute best and most-grounded self. Can you imagine what it would be like to be connected to your most loving, most forgiving, most open and most compassionate self? Can you envision what joy there would be in the world if we all came from a deep connection to the soul, a soul that saw us move through the world always answering the question, “What is the most loving thing I can do right now,” and actually always doing that most loving thing? That is not easy, and even more challenging in a world with so many experiencing sorrow and craving, crying and yearning for this joyful connection. As is our practice now the first Sunday in December, we will hold the Joy Service. And this is not just fun and silliness. It’s also an intentional reminder of our need and ability to face our sorrow and experience joy in community. This time of joy during worship is an opportunity to practice communal joy, connecting to a place of deep soul, a place where we live when feeling a sense of love, laughter and connection. It is a time for us to do this work of the soul, an opportunity to feel that deep sense of joy. A joy that comes from saying, “I really did something today where I intentionally resisted the forces of sorrow.” These times are calling for us to connect to our souls and let the river of joy come forth. There will be sorrow, some are feeling much sorrow in these times. Others will be going through times of sorrow as a natural part of the ebb and flow of life. But Rumi also said, “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” This Sunday, let us shake sorrow from our hearts and collectively join together in joy. Just as a footnote, you are invited to do this in costume if you wish and there might be some Stars Wars themes in the service. Remember, when you feel joy, the force will be with you, always.
A Life of Continuous, Small Improvements
November 20, 2017. by Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. While trying to fight off an illness that had me coughing, tired and without much use of my vocal cords, I found myself watching that comforting cooking show “The Great British Bake Off” (called “The Great British Baking Show” in the U.S.). Rewatching episodes that had seen me through recovery after a surgery on my foot, something new caught my attention this time around. Finalist Kimberley Wilson, during an earlier episode, mentions the Japanese word “kaizen” and explains it as “continuous small improvements,” saying that you can always be just a little bit better. This is an oversimplification of the concept, but it’s not too far off, and it was her attitude that caught my attention. Kimberley was happy about getting accolades, allowing celebration, but she knew that she wasn’t finished learning all she could as a baker. This caught my attention because it so mirrored the perspective I hope to bring to my own life, whether it’s learning a new skill, polishing something I’m confident about or how I approach spiritual practice. Some days, just showing up is a small improvement. As I ease into the task or practice, I can notice the continuous shifts toward adding deeper understanding. Allowing myself to celebrate where I am without allowing myself to get stagnant. This permits a fluidity to life and abundant awareness of the life that’s right here - gentle-yet-strong, caring attention that lifts up where I am and notices where I might go. It is so tempting to try and take big leaps or turn life around all in one go, and some things require an all-or-nothing approach. But for the most part, we humans aren’t meant to always be “on.” As with many of the burdens of society, the stress of pushing for changes that are life-affirming has fallen to those who are already pushing. What amazing shifts could we bring if we all took on the idea of continuous, small improvements? Celebrating what is, knowing we can awaken to more. Would that allow some of the larger burdens to shift? May we all breathe and feel the life that is here now. May we make continuous, small improvements, with care, so large shifts can happen. If you’re a fan of "The Great British Bake Off," may you be free of soggy bottoms.
Me Too. And Me. And Me.
by Rev. David A. Miller, Rev. Sarah Caine and Pippin Whitaker. More than 10 years ago, the Me Too campaign began with African American activist Tarana Burke. The recent wave of “Me too” posts on Facebook and Twitter were fueled by high-profile sexual harassment and assault cases starting with last year’s release of the “Access Hollywood” tape. All of these revelations reinforce how powerful men can get away with claiming the bodies of women as objects. The heartbreak, exhaustion, re-living of trauma and anger that accompanies any news of yet more violence disguised as sexuality is all too familiar. This violence is not distant from any of our lives. Although abuse and harassment can happen to any of us, the vast majority of this kind of personal invasion is targeted toward women and gender-non-conforming folks - whether through words, unwanted touching, threats or coerced sexual acts. This violence is usually committed by men known to the people experiencing these denials of personal autonomy. This leads many women, and others, to be constantly vigilant in the backs of their minds. How much freer and more joyous would we be if the background vigilance didn’t need to be there? This, too, is part of the task and the promise we undertake as creators and dreamers of Beloved Community. This is the sacred work of the UU Our Whole Lives sexuality education program, which teaches consent and bodily autonomy. There is more work yet to do. Although this problem can feel daunting, Unitarian Universalism has committed to ending sexual assault and harassment. In 1995, the Unitarian Universalist Association resolved the following: “We desire Unitarian Universalist congregations to be places safe from interpersonal violence or abuse; … we recognize that both laity and clergy need to accept active responsibility for the prevention of interpersonal violence and abuse within our congregations and for healing where such violence or abuse has occurred, or may occur, so that there is a restoration of community.” Our congregations, clergy and laity are culpable. We are not exceptions to the rule. People within our faith have experienced violence disguised as sexuality. People within our faith have fallen short of basic respect for others. And, we are charged to do better. To learn from our mistakes. UUCF should be a space where people are not required to be on guard. The ministers and the pastoral care team are always ready to listen and to intervene if someone experiences harassment or abuse or is concerned about possible abuse. You are not alone here. UUCF’s behavior policy for our community affirms that: “As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We celebrate diversity and welcome all individuals. At the same time, the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax affirm that our congregation must maintain a safe atmosphere in order for such openness to exist.” https://uucf.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Policy-Dealing-with-Incidents-061510-1.pdf Because many of us are saying “Me too” and at the same time we fully believe in the values of our faith, we have programs to prevent sexual harassment, intimidation and assault, as well as clear policies and procedures in place to respond. We aim to respond with dignity and respect for all parties, and expect the same of others. We believe that even though this is a daunting problem, we can one day transform hearts, minds and culture to truly affirm the worth and dignity of every person - including women and gender minorities. On the journey to that land, we are here with you and ready to listen.
Raising Young UUs Into Adult UUs
by Diana Tycer, Interim Director of Religious Exploration. Many people conceptualize their lives as a linear continuum, a collection of their experiences along an established timeline. I have long conceptualized my life as a three-dimensional spiral, continually returning to the same place only on another plane, having gained greater wisdom through my experiences. When I was offered this opportunity to serve UUCF as the interim Director of Religious Exploration (DRE), I was conscious that I was coming back around to the mission most dear to my heart, but with a toolbox full of new skills to offer. I grew up Catholic, but had a branch of my family who were UUs (the cool relatives) and started early on my personal spiritual path. By the time I was in graduate school at George Mason, I had explored the major Protestant faith traditions and felt most at home with Unitarian Universalism. I was an occasional visitor to UUCF during that time, although studying or sleeping were usually my priorities on Sunday mornings. I was in no rush to join a faith community and get bogged down in additional responsibilities. But a chance conversation about religion over lunch changed that. I was dining with graduate friends, one who had grown up in a UU congregation but was no longer affiliated with it, when another friend at the table asked her what UUs believe. The friend from the UU congregation had no answer. She had grown up attending Religious Exploration programs, but could not articulate the UU Seven Principles. She could not explain that a creedless church could hold a shared vision for living a life in service to humanity, and our world, while its members followed their own spiritual journeys. The irony was that this person was living her life in concert with the Seven Principles. She was a kind, compassionate and respectful person. She supported environmental causes, she had married a person of color and was raising two wonderful bi-racial children, she was working in a career in social change. However, at the time of our conversation she did not belong to any congregation and she was not raising her children as UUs. I left lunch that day grieving. How had a UU congregation shaped such a wonderful person, and then set her adrift with no understanding of her own faith formation? How had that congregation failed to embrace its own youth and help them progress on to full membership within the community? That was the day I promised myself that eventually I would be a member here, and that my mission would be to serve the children and youth in RE so that every one of our children would be able to answer that lunch table question. For the past 10 years I have been in the Program Building doing just that. There I found a cadré of caring adults and staff who shared a vision for strong faith formation. I can attest that during those years I have seen the RE program here transformed. The Tapestry of Faith curriculum fully integrates the Seven Principles into interesting classes that span the elementary grades. Our Coming of Age program for 7th grade provides a solid grounding in Unitarian Universalism while connecting the youth to adult mentors to learn about the expansive work of our congregation. We now offer Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education to 1st and 5th graders as well as high school students, and our exemplary 8th grade OWL program now draws students from outside the congregation who pay to attend. And throughout all our grades, our teachers display a commitment to full inclusion of all children, no matter their differences or learning challenges, which is the embodiment of our first and second principles. As your interim DRE, I will spend the next 8 months supporting our wonderful teachers, delightful children and fantastic programs until I can pass them safely into the hands of our new DRE. So I have come around full circle, only on an additional plane. The mission that brought me to this congregation - service to improving religious exploration, now finds me as steward of our excellent programs. I look forward to serving you in the months ahead.
So Much Gratitude
by Director of Religious Exploration Linnea Nelson. Thank you for honoring me yesterday and over that last several weeks with your well wishes, beautiful notes and hugs. As the Director of Religious Exploration, I have been blessed with getting to know you through activities that brought great meaning to my life. Watching so many of you teach RE has always been a joy, and interacting with the children and youth has been the highlight of each Sunday. Yesterday was so joyful - to feel the connection and love in the Sanctuary and then to go down to the Program Building and experience one last time the gifts our youngest members bring to this community. Since we were here 17 years before I became DRE, I will also miss you as my faith community, as fellow board members and as members of a dozen or so committees. All of these meetings and activities deepened my love for you and for this community. Working together toward common purpose has fulfilled many of my hopes and dreams. I will continue to support UUs and the good work that can be done when we pull together. I know that work will continue here and I leave grateful to have served together with so many of you. My home email and new address will be updated in the member directory. After a year or so, if we are back in the area, we'll stop in to say hello!
Let Us Go, Together!
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. I am so proud and honored to be a Unitarian Universalist. With very little exception, I believe that we so badly want to build a beloved community where humans are loved and seen for who they are and that compassion, respect and equality are primary values. It is also true that we may not always agree on the strategy or tactics to achieve this goal. As we do the long, hard work of dismantling oppression and systems of white supremacy, it can be frustrating when we see there is no one right way, no outline, no clear path. We as a faith tradition, a congregation and as individuals have and will continue to try many things. Our hope is that each will lead to some measure of progress. One area of balance is our shared desire to speak our values boldly in the world and remain open to engaging with those who may not share them. After much discussion, one path for sharing these values was chosen - hanging the Love is Love banner in front of the congregation. In our efforts to live our values and stay open and grounded in love, it is helpful to bring voices of wisdom and experience into our midst to help us chart our course. This weekend we will hear two of those wise voices as we take action to put our values out into the world. [caption id="attachment_34980" align="alignleft" width="175"] Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson[/caption] [caption id="attachment_34984" align="alignleft" width="171"] Dr. Janice Marie Johnson[/caption] The Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson and Dr. Janice Marie Johnson will lead our two services this Sunday. These UU sisters have worked tirelessly for decades within the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and our congregations to end systems of oppression and create Beloved Community. Hope is the minister for the UU Congregation of Central Nassau on Long Island. She is also a congregational life consultant to the UUA’s Central East Region. Hope is actively engaged in multi-faith ministry, cross-cultural engagement and justice-making. She describes this as a “Sankofa” moment in time when we need to understand the past to be able to deal with the present as we live into the future. Janice Marie leads Multicultural Ministries at the UUA. She guides strategic initiatives to expand congregational and individual capacity to be welcoming and inclusive. Janice says she is guided by her maxim, "Masakhane." This rich and resonant word comes from the Nguni family of languages of South Africa. Loosely translated into English it means, "Let us build together." Please join us on Sunday as Hope and Janice Marie lead the congregation through a moving program of sermons, reflections, actions and learning. 9:15 a.m. service - Harboring Each Other This service of bolstering and grounding ourselves in UU values will include a ritual of blessing the new banner that we will hang along Hunter Mill Road during the 11:15 a.m. service. 11:15 a.m. service - Let Us Go, Together! This is a service of stating our values clearly in the community. During this service the congregation will move from the Sanctuary to the frontage along Hunter Mill Road and hang our new banner. 12:30 p.m. workshop - Moving Forward in Challenging Times (in the Sanctuary). Drop-in child care available. Join us as we collectively consider how best to engage in diverse ways, small and large, to build and strengthen Beloved Community. No registration required. Let us join together and ground ourselves in love, hope and compassion for the work of justice we will do together.
by Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach Shannon Williams. “The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it's here is up to us.” - Alexandra Elle Barely a month has passed since the UUCF Board of Directors welcomed me into my new role as the Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach. Here at the beginning of the congregational year, I want to share a bit about what we might create together in the seasons ahead. The word “welcome” captures not only September’s theme, but the experience of stepping into this world of UU leadership. My family only began attending UUCF in July 2015. Many of my fellow congregants carry much more history and knowledge about the workings of this community. I have to admit, when Rev. David A. Miller suggested I consider lay ministry, I laughed out loud. Little old me? Newcomer? Someone who should rightfully still use a green mug? After our conversation, I committed to bridging the gaps. In those first weeks, I arranged my schedule to attend all the meetings and retreats. The Faith Matters blog, going back several years, gave me a glimpse into the history of our congregation. I plunged into the essays in “Turning Point” and into Erik Walker Wikstrom’s “Serving with Grace.” Alongside all of this, I started packing in preparation for my first year of teaching Religious Exploration. With a 5th grader at home and a full-time job, my schedule started splitting its seams. As did my sense of connection to the very purpose of this work. Underneath all the scrambling to learn and master everything, eagerness and anxiety churn. The latter has a way of turning the former into an eagerness “to please” and “get it right.” While I certainly come to this work with a generous helping of self-doubt, the value many UU’s place on intellectual engagement can feed these insecurities. This along with the professional prestige so prevalent in our region turns leadership into a tall order indeed. It wasn’t until the visitors’ reception on Sep. 3 that all that frantic learning-doing-improving finally gave way. Thankfully, it wasn’t in an all-out collapse. Quite the opposite. Motivated by a vague sense that a lay minister should, you know, “minister,” I strolled over to that table at the back of the Commons and simply started greeting people. One newcomer had questions about the Our Whole Lives sexuality education curiculum, so we walked together to find one of the instructors for a chat. Another visitor just moved here from overseas, so I introduced her to a recent arrival from a similar corner of the world. The reception volunteer was a UUCF member whom I’d seen but now was meeting for the first time. I watched as she moved with grace among the attendees, striking a fine balance between enthusiastic hospitality and gentle attention. After we’d cleaned up and I left the Sanctuary, I noticed the shift. What accompanied me home that afternoon was not pride or fretfulness or a schedule full of meetings. Instead, something much lighter carried me. The “I” of “my” new role had dissipated ever so slightly. In its place, the first glint of a web, the shared strands of “we.” Membership and outreach is not my work alone. Of course, it can’t be. It belongs to all of us. The people of this congregation together create the avenues through which our neighbors find their way here, and we who are already here find our way to each other. At the beginning of every UUCF class, covenant group, service, RE planning session or administrative meeting, we light the chalice. This is one small way we cultivate welcome in our congregation. Someone shares a reading or reflection that returns us to the reasons we have shown up here. The demands of our lives and the troubles of our world can fray us at the edges. Performing this small act of spirit re-ties those threads. It returns us to connection. The months ahead call on me to find ways to enrich this spiritual home through our membership and outreach activities. The drive to master everything and make a meaningful contribution still operates. There are piles of things to learn and even more to start doing. It is also true that the months ahead can bring “me” into stronger relationship with “us” - the us of this congregation as well as of the community beyond these walls. September invites us into relationship with welcome. With all of its beginnings and endings, this time of year opens us to what is new ahead as well as what lives - and sometimes hides - in us. We can accept both, and then choose what to carry forward. As this community has done for me, I hope to embody the invitation for others to bring all of who they are. Beginning this work again each time, I pledge to light a chalice in a spirit of welcome in the hopes that its light (and lightness) will accompany me. That it will lead me to you. That it will help us meet and hear and welcome others as we move through this year together.
Two ways to build up our reservoirs
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. “Church is a place where you get to practice what it means to be human.” - Rev. James Luther Adams What helps each of us stay whole and holy in these extremely challenging times? After week upon week of incivility and a seemingly endless flow of assaults on decency and kindness, how do we build up our reservoirs of hope, gratitude and compassion? Some of us crave spiritual grounding, nurturing and respite. Others may want to be moved to action - literally and metaphorically - through more lively interaction. While no one UUCF worship service can be all things to all people, we are working this year to differentiate our 9:15 and 11:15 services a bit to meet this congregation’s diverse spiritual needs. Starting this Sunday, those looking for a gentler, more contemplative experience may gravitate to our 9:15 service, where you’re more likely to find soothing music, easier transitions and space for quiet. Those choosing the 11:15 service will find livelier music - with more variation - and with greater emphasis on more animated inspiration. We understand that what we need to bolster and ground ourselves one week may be completely different the next. This reshaped approach will give us options for meeting those needs. Some of our annual services, like Ingathering, Easter and the Joy service, will be the same at both hours. But most weeks the two services will follow this new plan. We look forward to sharing this trial approach and hearing feedback as we move forward.
What will we do with the intern?
by Intern Minister Pippin Whitaker. Greetings new community! I am your new intern minister, and I will be with you half-time for the next 2 years, September through May. I am also a seminary student at Meadville Lombard Theological School, which is one of two Unitarian Universalist seminaries in the country. I live in Vienna with my spouse, Steve, and our three children, who range in age from 4 to 9. Yes, all this keeps me busy, but what a joyful busy it is! And what a joy it is to be an intern at UUCF. I have been a Unitarian Universalist by label since I was a pre-teen, but the values and principles of Unitarian Universalism were already part of me before I met a single Unitarian Universalist. I was a young person who loved to ponder the meaning of life and how we should treat one another, and I felt a call to ministry when I was still elementary school-aged. I put it aside because, growing up in Mississippi, with Protestant and Catholic friends and family, I didn't see a place for me in ministry. I actually thought about being a nun, but I also really wanted kids so that seemed to be a bit of a conflict. I was so glad when we found our first Unitarian Universalist congregation in the ’90s because it gave us the opportunity to live out and develop our faith and hopes for the world in a community of folks who would strive with us. But by that time, I assumed all Unitarian Universalist ministers were men and sans children. Still I was hooked on Unitarian Universalism from the beginning. Although, I was an infrequent visitor to congregations for several years in college! In graduate school, I rejoined a congregation and began to think deeply about my sense of calling to ministry and what that would look like for me. I first chose the practical application of our principles through social work. (As an aside: it is no coincidence that social work values and ethics are so close to Unitarian Universalist principles. Ask me about that some time!). After getting my master’s and Ph.D. in social work at Florida State University, I joined the faculty of the University of South Carolina for a few years. There I taught classes and contributed to knowledge about how community and social systems perpetuate - or can impede! - violence against people experiencing oppression. Then finally a light went off in my heart. We do need people developing more knowledge in social work, yes, but my work there was done. I was ready to move on because there is a place where my talents and frailties meet my hopes and fears for this turbulent ball of life we call earth. It is a place where we co-create our deepest longings for this world. And right now that place is here with you. Once I harnessed my call, I set off to seminary at Meadville Lombard in 2014. I have now completed almost all of my course work. I completed a unit of clinical pastoral education in a combination hospital and congregational setting. Last year, I earned a certificate in congregation-based spiritual direction. I am a candidate for ministry, which is an early part of the process to be a minister in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association. And ... all of this preparation feels like painting primer on a canvas. Now, here we go! By being you, you will teach me volumes so that I might bless future congregations with your wisdom. By being me, I hope I bring you at least some piece of the joy I am filled with in this moment. If not that, perhaps some fun-loving amusement along the way! Either way, I am sure that we will create something beautiful together over these next 2 years. Thank you in advance for being you and for inviting me to be with you!
Seeking Commitment, Love and Care From Each of Us
Aug. 21, 2017. by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. It always seems like new congregational years, beginning with Ingathering in September, bring fresh starts and new possibilities. This year that is as true as ever. As I write this, it also feels like so much more. We are a country traveling through a tumultuous period. A time when our institutions, both for good and for bad, are journeying through significant transitions. UUCF once again is also experiencing transitions with the arrival of our new Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine and Rich Sider announcing his retirement. In these times, it feels incredibly important to be aware of our own feelings, to promote self-care and strengthen UUCF to provide sustenance and grounding. Our call to grow, connect and serve is both internal and external. The need for spiritually fulfilling worship and programming, opportunities for joy, experiences of meaning and doing the work of striving toward an anti-oppressive beloved community, takes thought, commitment and intention. This community cannot serve these needs and provide the quality we seek without commitment, love and care from each one of us. That is why your participation is vital. As fun as our Ingathering picnic is, it needs volunteers to thrive. If you are willing to volunteer to support this traditional event, please sign up here. We are also looking for volunteers to support our shared worship on Sundays. Please sign up here for 9:15 and here for 11:15, if you are willing to help out. This year we will need to find a deeper place of kindness and understanding in our hearts, while also tapping into that deep well of resolve to do the work that needs to be done. Our shared time can help sustain us as we support each other while taking our steps into whatever this new congregational year will bring. It is so good to be together.
Rich Sider announces retirement
Aug. 11, 2017. Dear UUCF congregants, I’m writing to you today to let you know that I have decided to retire in January 2018. After 9 years in this position, I’m looking forward to a change of pace. As I think about leaving, I am grateful to all of you for giving me the opportunity to work in an organization with values and a mission in sync with mine. That’s a real gift. I also have greatly appreciated the trust you have placed in me and all the encouragement you have given me during my time here. The exact date of my departure in January is still somewhat flexible as I want to facilitate a smooth transition to the new person hired. And, I won’t be leaving Unitarian Universalism, so hopefully will occasionally have opportunity to cross paths with at least some of you. Thank you so much for all you have done for me. Rich Sider Director of Administration
Grounds project scheduled for last two weeks of August
One of the Reach Campaign projects we’ve been planning for some time is finally going to happen the last two weeks of August. As part of our improvement of the UUCF grounds, we will be installing a water catchment infiltration trench and retaining wall at the base of the hill below the traffic circle, which will retain the water that currently flows across the yard in front of the Program Building, causing erosion and creating a muddy mess, especially in the winter. This has been a problem for a long time. Perhaps you’ve noticed the exposed tree roots from the erosion or the mud after a rain. The wall and infiltration trench will capture the water from most storms and allow it to soak into the ground instead of running off. For really big storms, there will be an overflow pipe running from the wall to the drain that takes excess storm water off the property. This will keep running water off the grassy area in front of the Program Building. The soil in that area will improved and sod will be laid to replace the dirt and weeds that are currently there. The area in front of the retaining wall will also be regraded to make it flatter for the picnic table gathering area. This project not only resolves a long-standing problem, it is also good for the environment, significantly reducing storm water runoff from the property, so much so that the Fairfax County Conservation Assistance Program approved a $15,000 grant to help pay for the project. However, as is the case with most change, there are a couple of less-than-desirable consequences. First, the sod will not be laid until the last week of August to avoid the hottest summer weather. This means the area will be off-limits for the month of September to allow the grass to get established. We will have to manage around the disruption for our Sep. 10 Ingathering picnic and there will no doubt be other inconveniences as well. We also will be removing the two very tall old pine trees in that area as part of the project. To create the run-off infiltration trench (the size and depth of the trench is based on calculations provided by our advisors at the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District), it is unavoidable that those trees’ root systems will be damaged. And they are already past their normal lifespan and showing signs of decay. An arborist we consulted pointed out that the excessive pinecone production of one of the trees is a sign that the tree is nearing the end of its life. Given the root disruption, the arborist’s opinion is that neither pine tree is likely to survive and would become a safety hazard. The project plan includes planting new trees that are more appropriate for providing shade to that area. Lay Minister for Property Stewardship Suzy Foster is leading that effort. The poplar and beech trees between the pines and the north sidewalk to the Program Building will remain and disturbance to their root systems will be avoided. The Property Stewardship Council has reviewed and endorsed this project. Special thanks to Jim Allen for doing the major project design work and to Suzy Foster for her landscaping and conservation design expertise. The Coordinating Team Rev. David A. Miller, Rich Sider, Kathy Smerke Hochberg, Pete Krone
Bearing Witness to UUCF’s Soulful and Transformative Work
by Rev. Julie Price. What a privilege to be back with you in ministry for 3 weeks! Thank you for welcoming me so warmly on Sunday. The last time I led worship with you was the summer of 2015, culminating a year as your intern and summer minister. I have been back at UUCF since last fall, sitting in worship with you, volunteering in Religious Exploration and bearing witness to the soulful and transformative work that UUCF has been doing this past year. Many of you have asked me about my ministerial plans. I am currently in between units of training to become a Board Certified Chaplain. This summer, in addition to leading worship with you and two other UU congregations, I am busy studying and writing in preparation to meet with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association in September. I look forward to serving in health care chaplaincy as a UU community minister somewhere in the DC metro area once all of that is completed. Thank you for your support along my ministerial journey. From now through Jul. 23, I am here at UUCF to provide emergency pastoral care during Rev. David’s vacation. If you have an urgent pastoral care need, please call the UUCF office and you will be directed to a way to reach me. I will be available for pastoral care emergencies even during the furlough, so don’t hesitate to call me. Finally, I look forward to seeing any of you who are able to join us in person or online for our worship service Jul. 9. My sermon is titled The Rules of Improv for Beloved Community. Blessings on your work, your play, your roaming and your rest this summer!
Bringing Home a Transformative General Assembly
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. This past week, Unitarian Universalists from all over the world came to a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA) that seemed different. The anticipation of this GA, my 10th, was different from any I have ever experienced. What would it be like with three recently named co-presidents who were appointed to the office after the resignation of the elected president? What level of sadness would fill us based on the very recent death of Jim Key, the association’s beloved moderator - our chief lay leader and the one who presides over the governance of GA? How would the recent controversy over systems of white supremacy exhibit itself in the politics of the association? These were all unanswered questions as more than 25 of us from Fairfax made the journey to New Orleans. The week began for me with worship at the UU Ministers Association meeting on Monday. The worship was constructed to bring a wide variety of voices to the forefront to specifically name the events that had caused such challenge in our association and for personal perspectives to be shared. The perspectives shared weren’t political. They were human. They were expressions of pain and loss. They were honest, vulnerable, risky, intimate, loving and courageous. They set the tone for a week of truth-telling in the spirit of love and faith with an understanding of our imperfections, our need for forgiveness and the incredible opportunities for transformation that we now face. The week continued, led by lay leaders, staff, musicians, religious educators and clergy, coming together in deep caring for each other and this faith. The stories and discussions were difficult and beautiful. The space was sacred and holy. The music seemed to carry more meaning. The time together with friends seemed more needed and a little sweeter. And, on a personal note, after working for over a year on the campaign of my friend Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray to be the new president of the UUA, the emotions that I experienced with her victory and vision for our future were beyond what I had expected. Today I am meeting with UUCF’s Assistant Minister Search Committee to strive toward the selection of our new assistant minister. Then, I plan to take 3 weeks vacation. When I come back, I will engage with those who went to GA to share thoughts and solicit their perspectives on how the events at this gathering of our association of congregations might be infused into the life of our congregation. There was so much to process, but this I do know: The time has come for us all to engage in deeper conversation, not debate about our hopes and our fears. The time has come for us to spend more time experiencing joy together. The time has come for us to examine systems that no longer work and understand how we can continue to make a difference. The time has come to even more intentionally bring voices from the margins into the center. The time has come to reignite hope and focus on supporting ourselves, each other and our community. It was a unique, amazing and transformative week. It was a defining moment in the long and extraordinary history of Unitarian Universalism. Once again, it reinforced that we need each other and once again, it demonstrated that change is hard but possible, love is challenging but resilient and we are capable of moving through the difficult times and working together in building a new way.
I Will Carry You in My Heart Always
by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Thank you so much for the warm and wonderful send-off you offered me on Sunday. How good it was to be together and share so many hugs and good wishes. And the presents you gave me are so beautiful - the stunning glass singing bowl and the scrapbook with so many loving, thoughtful notes - I’m deeply grateful to have these treasures to remember you by. I am excited about the next chapter in my ministry, but, dear people, you are very hard to leave! Many of you have asked about staying in touch. With a heart full of love for you all, I need to let you know that I won’t be able to stay connected with you by email, phone or social media. The covenant I share with all my colleagues in ministry calls me to step way, way back for the sake of the relationship you will form with the new minister who will join you this fall. This is one of the toughest things in ministry - having to say goodbye and really mean it. But it’s for such a good reason. For the next ministry to flourish as we all hope and wish for, ministers who are leaving really need to leave. That said, if you should find yourself in Williamsburg on a Sunday, I would be delighted to see you in church. You are welcome there too. And I won’t say no to a hug and a smile, either. Though our relationship must change, I will carry you in my heart always. Dear people of UUCF, farewell and bless you.
Inspired to Lead
by Leadership Development Team Chair Craig Bennett. Three years ago, former UUCF Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig brought together a group of lay leaders at UUCF to consider how we, as a faith community, could inspire, support and nurture lay leaders in our congregation. We began by considering what makes a good leader, what tools and support a leader needs and how leading in a spiritual community differs from leading in business or government. We asked ourselves “what motivates and inspires people to take on leadership roles in a UU congregation?” We found many answers to that question, but one that kept coming up was that people step into leadership roles because they believe in the mission, love the congregation and see how their skills and passions can serve the congregation. Most of us can say yes to the first two pretty easily, but what about that last one? We decided to focus our attention on helping people see how they could contribute to the health and vitality of UUCF. Over the last few years we’ve done a number of things to that end. We realized people need to know how the congregation is organized in order to consider being leaders, so we developed a Leaders Guide. We reached out to leaders and volunteers at UUCF to ensure they were aware of opportunities for training and spiritual development offered by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the UUA’s Central East Region, like the online UU Leadership Institute. We conducted in-person interviews with current leaders to ask them how UUCF could better support, train and prepare people for leadership roles, and we’ve begun to try and make that an integral part of the culture at UUCF. Leadership in a spiritual community provides tremendous opportunities for spiritual and personal growth. Contributing in some way to the health and vitality of the congregation offers the personal reward of knowing you have been of service to your community, but it also gives you countless opportunities to practice your values in a supportive environment. In a spiritual community we can take risks, be forgiven our mistakes and lead with love. Leadership can be a spiritual practice if we remember that how we lead in a spiritual community is at least as important, if not more important, than what we accomplish. This is a very different message than most of us receive in the rest of our lives where “the bottom line” is of the utmost importance. So what about you? Have you thought of getting more involved but aren’t sure how? Would you like to help develop your leadership skills in a supportive community? Do you have ideas about how to nurture a culture of spiritual service at UUCF? The Leadership Development Team will be continuing our work in the fall and hope to hear from you!
Can You Help Make Joy Happen?
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. Well, here we are at summer. It seems like the year flew by. It was a challenging year as events pulled our attention in one direction and then another. And with every news story and every tweet, it started all over again. So, we are going to work on hiring the assistant minister, then I am going to take a little vacation and then I am so looking forward to our next congregational year together. Thinking about the things that bring and hold religious communities like ours together, one that stands out is the opportunity for us to get together just to experience fun or joy. In a bygone day, and still when we are at our best, events centered around communities like UUCF help bring people together in ways that help weave a fabric that strengthens our community as a whole. So I am asking for a group to work closely with me to help do just that. I invite anyone interested in this committee to come forward. The name Joy Committee seems fitting, because we will spend this upcoming year providing and participating in opportunities to experience the joy of being in community, of playing together and of connecting more deeply. There are all kinds of examples of this type of joy. What about a quarterly potluck where we tell stories, play games or just be together? Another example is a Fall Harvest Festival I’m proposing for next year. There are joyful ideas about this event, but we need help to make it happen. Alice and I just hosted our Auction bowling party and, I have to say, a UUCF bowling night would be a blast. We are also planning a Holiday Party for Dec. 2 here at UUCF where we will light the Hanukkah candles and celebrate the Christmas season with a potluck, carol singing and arts and crafts for children. If you are interested in spreading much needed joy, please email me at email@example.com and we will try and schedule a meeting for the last week of July to start planning for a joy-filled year.
by Intern Minister McKinley Sims. My partner has a hard time saying goodbye. I’ve often had to drag her out of parties or she would presumably never leave. She thrives on interaction and engagement, and I always say the only thing she’s afraid of is missing out on the party. She’s a great balance for me, because I don’t have a hard time saying goodbye. It’s not that I don’t get sad or that I don’t cherish the memories and experiences I’ve had here at UUCF, or at any of the other congregations I’ve served, or in the hospitals where I’ve worked, or in seminary, or in the schools I taught at, or in college, or high school, or any of that. On the contrary, I don’t look forward to leaving and moving on and having to start over at a new place. That kind of itinerant lifestyle sucks, but I’ve had plenty of experience at it by now. No, it’s not fun to say goodbye all the time, especially when I feel like I was just really getting started here. But as my mother has long advised: “Them’s the breaks, kid.” My next ministry adventure will be as mental health chaplain at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in DC, where I will serve for a year. After that ... who knows? KP and I are lucky and blessed and privileged enough to be able to make these kinds of decisions. Not everyone is in that same boat. For as long as I can, I’ll exercise that privilege to try and make the world within the 3 feet around me a better place through acts of spirit, love and justice. I hope you’ll join me in that spiritual exercise, even as we part ways and communication for at the least the Unitarian Universalist Association-mandated 12 months. After that, I’ll be back in touch! So here we are, and I have to say goodbye. I’m pretty good at this by now, so please don’t take it personally. And just so you know, it has been a joyous and affirming experience to be among you this past year. I will forever be proud to be associated with this congregation. I’m proud of the steps we have taken to grow in spiritual maturity, activism and courage through the ups and downs of one of the most tumultuous years in recent American memory. I know that it seems like not enough progress has been made within our walls for some people, and it seems like too much progress for others. That’s the nature of living in messy, loving, interconnected community. Them’s the breaks. Let us remember that the covenantal nature of our faith demands spiritual bravery. The writer Paul Tillich talks about religion giving you the courage to exist as a person of faith in the face of all sorts of existential anxieties from the political, social and economic worlds that can threaten to break you down and pull you apart. Our faith gives us the resources to allow our souls to venture out of our comfort zones and encounter the new, the unknown, the uncomfortable, and to return to us stronger and glowing more fiercely with love. That’s the promise of Unitarian Universalism, a faith I am proud to claim and act on, even when it’s messy and complicated and people disagree. In a free, liberal faith with the power to change lives and the world, them’s the breaks. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart and soul, for letting me walk alongside you in faith and love.
Demonstrating Our Long-Held Values of Equality, Compassion and Justice for All
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. “White Supremacist in Portland kills two men who tried to stop his racist rants” “LeBron James’ house spray-painted with a racial slur …” “White House invites literally anyone to refuse to cover birth control” “Noose found inside Smithsonian's African-American History Museum” “World leaders reaffirm commitment to fighting climate change” “ICE denied a request to stop an undocumented woman in Fairfax County from being deported” These are just some of the headlines from this past week. UU congregations all over the country are discussing ways to demonstrate UU values publicly in support of those who are being threatened and marginalized in today’s political and social climate and how we can continue to be as welcoming as possible to those who may have differing political views. It is a complex and challenging proposition. At UUCF, the decision has been made that one way to demonstrate our values of the worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; and especially the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, is to hang a banner for all to see on Hunter Mill Road. The following words appear on the banner: In this congregation, Love is Love Black Lives Matter Climate Change is Real No Human Being is Illegal Women’s Rights are Human Rights All Genders Are Whole, Holy and Good The Racial Justice Steering Committee and UUCF staff are working together to plan an event to hang the banner. There have been a variety of examples of how other UU congregations have hung their banners. Some have done it without any public notice; others have had events to note the moment. In noting the experiences of various congregations, when a banner is hung without any notice or nod to the folks who are being marginalized in the community, it can leave a gap in understanding or context. The idea behind the ceremony is to de-emphasize our congregation and center the discussion around the need for supporting those who are marginalized. There are continuing struggles with issues of policing and traditionally marginalized communities. A mother of two young children in Fairfax County is facing deportation under the new administration’s enforcement of immigration policies. Hate speech and attacks on women’s health organizations have increased. And, I can’t even begin to note the attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency and climate science. Of course we can just go ahead and hang the banner. But if there is a way to use this act as an opportunity to decentralize ourselves and bring to the center voices from the margins, that will be what we try to do. We also plan to invite elected officials, members of law enforcement and others from the community with the hope that we can both express our values publicly and help facilitate the building of understanding and bridges. This is no easy task at this time in our country. We will continue to do what we can to answer the call of love and be builders of conversations while strongly demonstrating our long-held values of equality, compassion and justice for all.
Update on Assistant Minister Search
by Board of Directors President Karen Wolf and Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. We wanted to give you an update on the next steps in the assistant minister search process. As we noted in an earlier communication, we have entered the search process fairly late, so we are trying to spread the word through the Unitarian Universalist Association as quickly as possible. We have received some interest in the last few days, less than a week after the announcement, and continue to spread the word. Based on the process in the UUCF Governance Manual, the Board of Directors and the senior minister consulted and have invited the following folks to participate on the search committee: A member of the Program Evaluation Committee (whose research and evaluation influenced the revised job description). A member of the board. A member of the People of Color Caucus. One of the three lay ministers who will report to the assistant minister position. The senior minister. As soon as we receive official acceptance from these members, we will communicate who they are. Once the committee is constituted, they will come together and communicate how things are progressing as soon as possible. We are looking for a minister who can fill the new position and bring gifts that support a healthy balance for the congregation, staff team and ministry. Once again, the offer for this position will be September 2017-July 2018, giving us some flexibility to retain the person based on mutual agreement, or giving us time to do a more complete search process. During this transition time, we have asked Rev. Julie Price to provide some coverage while Rev. David is on vacation. She has agreed to provide pastoral coverage from Jul. 1 through 23. Please let us know if you have any thoughts or questions.
The Pieces Come Together
by Director of Religious Exploration Linnea Nelson. It all began with looking for volunteer opportunities for our youth. Ann Wood and Kerry Fraser had deep connections with Beacon House, a nonprofit, community-based organization that provides tutoring, mentoring, cultural, athletic, recreation and nutrition programs to at-risk, low-income children, ages 5-18, who reside in and around the Edgewood Commons community in Ward 5 of Washington, DC. So we asked if we could send some youth to help Beacon House out. But they didn't want our "help." Instead, they wanted partnership. Beacon House Director of Engagement and Development Lisa Taber and Athletic and Mentoring Programs Director Rodney Cephas met with Kerry, Ann and me last summer to vision what a partnership might look like. We settled on an opportunity to have youth get together, first at Beacon House and then at UUCF over several months to talk with each other about race. With the help of a generous grant from the UUCF Endowment Fund, we were able to hire a professional counseling group, Luceo, to lead the discussions with the youth. Luceo created opportunities for the youth to share their experiences with race and how it affects their lives. The workshop, "Conversations About Race and Equity With Teens," was designed to create a safe space to spark conversation about race and equity with youth of different racial backgrounds. Twenty-five middle school students participated in the program, about half from Beacon House and half from UUCF. They talked about stereotypes and expectations around race. They explored privilege and friendship. They discussed why color blindness will not solve race relations issues. They looked at implicit bias and talked to each other about what they were learning. Yes, it was awkward, especially the first session. Imagine being 12- or 13-years old and talking about race with people you have never met before! Thank goodness for icebreakers and snacks to create a more comfortable atmosphere! The youth learned how to interact with one another, listen to one another and have fun together. And as one of the Luceo counselors, Monica Lozano Caldera, commented, “They were learning how to love one another." Tim Cottman, another counselor, reminded us that, "We are inundated with messages of people who are different from us. I appreciated being with the kids as they learned about each other, and hopefully about themselves and to meet people that they don't meet on a regular basis." On the last day, UUCF artist Shari MacFarlane joined the group and led them to create individually crafted puzzle pieces, each as unique as each of them. These pieces fit together to create a colorful mosaic. Watch for more art from this group during UUCF’s October ARTspeaks installation. We also had the opportunity for two parent sessions. One session was just UUCF parents exploring issues surrounding race that our teens experience. The second was a conversation about how each of us first encountered difference in our early lives. We were lucky to have a parent from Beacon House join us for this discussion. Our goal is to continue in partnership with Beacon House and to nurture these budding friendships. As one of our youth shared after hugging her new friend good-bye, "It was just fun talking to someone who is different from me."
Gratitude for a Beautiful Ministry and What’s Next
by Rev. David A. Miller, Senior Minister, and Karen Wolf, President, Board of Directors. First, let us start by expressing our gratitude on behalf of the entire congregation for Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig’s service to UUCF. She has seen UUCF through transitions both expected and tragic. Her steady and compassionate presence has provided an important and meaningful ministry to this community and she departs with our deep gratitude. We wish her blessings in her new ministry opportunities, and may her ministry continue to contribute to love and justice in this faith tradition and the world. With Rev. Laura’s departure, we will be shifting the second ministry position in response to the Program Evaluation Committee’s report to the congregation on the need to transform UUCF’s membership program to meet the evolving religious landscape of the 21st Century. The new position will be titled Assistant Minister for Congregational Engagement and Spiritual Enrichment. The following is the position summary: “The Assistant Minister for Congregational Engagement and Spiritual Enrichment is charged with supporting four primary functions in congregational life: membership development and engagement, leadership development, spiritual enrichment and pastoral care. This includes exploring and implementing innovative strategies and programs to engage UUCF congregants in the life of the congregation. The Assistant Minister is a member of the Coordinating Team and also actively participates in worship leadership and preaching.” As the budget documents and operating plan released later this week will explain, this position will take over the focus of work previously performed by Member Services Coordinator Carol Jensen, who is retiring at the end of June (more on our abiding gratitude for Carol in a later post). This week, the board and staff will determine how best to move quickly to fill the Assistant Minister for Congregational Engagement and Spiritual Enrichment position and meet our needs for the upcoming congregational year. We will share more information on the process as soon as the board approves it. We are working with Rev. Keith Kron from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Transitions Office to identify possible candidates. It is late in this year’s placement process, but there are many ministers in search this year. We are confident that with an active and thriving congregation like UUCF, we will be an attractive potential home for ministers in search. Once again, we are so deeply grateful for the beautiful ministry Rev. Laura has given to UUCF. Please contact her directly if you wish to express your blessings and good wishes. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments about our next steps.
Letter to the Congregation from Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig
Dear UUCF Community, With a heart full of love and appreciation for you all, I write to share some important news. After 6 wonderful years with UUCF, I have decided to accept the invitation of the Williamsburg (VA) Unitarian Universalists to become their ministerial candidate. This means that, if things go as we expect, I will become the settled minister with the Williamsburg UUs in August. And, sadly, this also means I will be leaving UUCF. This is not a decision I have made lightly. I will miss you all more than words can express. And yet, I know it is the right time for me to spread my wings and take up a new challenge. Over the last few years, you have been my teachers as we have laughed, cried, learned and served together. Gradually, inspired by the rich and deep work we’ve done together, I have felt a call growing within me to stretch into a fuller leadership role and offer my gifts to our Unitarian Universalist faith in a new way. I want you to hear how deeply I care about you all, and how much our time together will continue to inspire me as I move into this new chapter of ministry. And I know you will be fine! I look forward to following you from a distance as the partnership you have formed with Rev. David Miller leads you forward in exciting and beautiful ways. I also want to express my deepest thanks to Rev. David and every single member of our staff and leadership team for their ongoing support and collaborative spirit. I couldn’t have asked for a better team - you all are magnificent, and whoever comes after me will be lucky indeed to serve with you all. Rev. David will be in touch on Monday to share some news about what’s next for the ministry team at UUCF. Meanwhile, I’m glad that we don’t have to say goodbye right away! My last Sunday at UUCF will be Jun. 18, and I look forward to many conversations and hugs before then. I’ll be in Williamsburg for the official “candidating week” May 21-28, but otherwise I’ll be at UUCF on Sundays and clearing the decks of my schedule to make lots of time for goodbyes. Let’s make the most of this precious time together. With love and faith, Rev. Laura
Art’s Place in the Discussion of Who We Are
by Deborah Kennedy. What do you believe? At our UU congregation, it should be a common enough question. We throw big questions at our kids in Religious Exploration all the time: challenge the slogans, mess with the easy perceptions. But as adults, I think we tend to self-select our “big questions” in the same way we choose our news or tend toward a musical status quo: Let’s talk about the beliefs we know. When we opened ARTspeaks in January, I thought we had pretty substantial goals – to increase the number of artistic voices on campus, support local artists and art organizations, and use the space as outreach - a neutral space for discussion of complex themes. I think we’re doing well just 4 months in, but it’s increasingly clear that we have to expect more from the space, from our mission and from our members to succeed. If we are just pretty pictures on a wall, we have failed. Art speaks. The simple act of putting work on the wall gives it importance, underscores whatever language it uses. Further, we ask our artists to help us understand their work, their intent. We have an extraordinary opportunity to reach out, to ask for views, perspectives, experiences and beliefs other than our own. What could we hear and learn if we searched for art that spoke to our beliefs in uncomfortable ways? What might we all of a sudden not know? Here’s the heresy: We need to find voices to challenge us in multiple directions. Yes, we need to find voices to challenge us to be more inclusive, to understand privilege and marginalization, to lean into our core beliefs with intent. But ARTspeaks is also an opportunity to understand more conservative views, to stop and feel, not just think, what drove people to their political choices over the past year. Millions of people have reasons for believing differently from many of us. Why? Let’s find out. ARTspeaks isn’t a room or a program. It’s a statement: Art has a place in the discussion of who we are. It can reach into communities and to individuals we would never know otherwise - people we are desperate to know. And, it’s a dare. Art speaks. May we have the courage to listen, to hear, to shake off our complacency and take action. We’re way past pretty pictures on the wall. [caption id="attachment_33745" align="alignleft" width="175"] UUCF and Beacon House youth recently got together to create art for a future ARTSpeaks exhibition. Thanks to UUCFer and artist Shari MacFarlane for leading the art activity. The event was part of the UUCF Racial Justice Steering Committee’s Second Principle Project.[/caption]
Strengthening Our Children’s Foundation
by Laurie Cunningham, Religious Exploration Committee co-chair. I've always felt the best way to change the world is from the ground up. So often in life, we deal with people who have been constructed and shaped by others, without solid foundations. But as Religious Exploration teachers at UUCF, we have an amazing opportunity to effect change by strengthening the foundation of our children. In return, our own lives are fortified and remodeled. By teaching RE, I have a chance to offer ideas, create space for serious and fun discussions, assist in relationship-building, and play! Each age classroom has a curriculum to follow, so I've got a road map I can use as is, or tweak if I need or want to. Teaching expands my understanding of our faith, and exposes me to ideas and stories I may not have heard before. I love working with and learning from my teaching team. We are a wealth of knowledge and ideas, and being involved with the RE program highlights that for me. Teaching stretches me in a good way, allowing me space to see possibilities, helping me consider ways to include everyone and giving me a really fun Sunday morning. By far the best part of teaching RE is learning from the kids. Teaching allows me to see and hear firsthand what these amazing kids are thinking, understanding, processing and tackling. They are insightful, thoughtful, honest, interested, curious and so open! Not a Sunday goes by that I don’t learn something from one of them - whether it is a scientific fact, or that if I speak very quietly they will lean in to hear, or that sometimes a child who looks like they are off on their own is actually really engaged in their own way. They make me a better teacher, parent and friend by showing me how to be in the world. Teaching RE allows me to see what the world is bringing forward, and it brings me such joy and hope. Could you use a little joy and fun? Ready and willing to stretch a little? Come join us!
Sanctuary - What Does It Mean?
by Wini Atlas, Lay Minister for Social Justice. To most of us at UUCF, the Sanctuary is where we hold worship services and other events. We also understand sanctuary as a place of refuge for humans and wildlife. Sanctuary is an old concept going back to a Saxon king in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE who promulgated laws of the right of asylum. Sanctuary had legal standing in England until the 17th Century, during which authorities were prevented from taking even criminals from churches. The process, though still recognized in modern times, no longer has the force of law. Yet, we are familiar with political asylum, which must be granted by a sovereign authority. Protection from deportation or extradition granted by an embassy or a nation still has the force of law. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, continues to live in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, and Edward Snowden is still in Russia, protected from U.S. prosecution. Today, the concept of sanctuary still energizes many across our nation as efforts to deport those erroneously (in my humble opinion) called “illegal aliens.” Many feel that immigration is what made our melting pot of a nation what it is. The political climate in the U.S. is causing many communities of faith and cities to reconsider the use of sanctuary as a refuge. Our congregation recently sponsored a training by Sanctuary DMV representatives. Sanctuary DMV is an area-wide organization working to create a Northern Virginia chapter. The meeting was well attended by members from UUCF, several UU NOVA cluster congregations and other faith communities. We plan to be part of the local NOVA Sanctuary DMV coalition, and I am grateful to Jenna Kelly-Jones who stepped forward to chair a UUCF committee of about a dozen people. As lay minister for social justice, I’m excited and encouraged by the response to this new initiative. What can UUCF do? That’s still being decided, and we hope more people will join the effort, but the possibilities are many and much work needs to be done before we decide on a strategy. The Social Justice Council will evaluate the possibilities with the new committee to ensure our efforts align with UUCF’s strategic pillars of social justice. For more information about the SJC and the social justice pillars, click here. For more information on Sanctuary DMV, click here. If you are interested in joining the new committee, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Re-emerging Into the Sunlight of Transformation
by Intern Minister McKinley Sims. So … Easter. The most important holiday in the Christian church year, usually corresponding to the Jewish festival week of Pesach/Passover, celebrates the story of Jesus of Nazareth’s miraculous resurrection three days after a horrific public execution. The words of the Christian Scriptures illustrate how a group of women went to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea to care for the body of their dead rabbi, only to find that the tomb was empty and the body was gone. Later, Jesus’ disciples claimed to have seen a resurrected Jesus, walking and talking, even eating food! If that’s not transformation, I don’t know what is. So … what are we to make of this? Is it a myth, a story, a historical event? People don’t commonly die for three days and then come back to life as if it’s no big deal. This whole escapade strains credulity. It can’t be true, right? We humans don’t usually undergo that kind of transformation. Perhaps, however, the transformative resurrection is what Unitarian Theodore Parker spoke of when he wrote about details in religion that are transient and the broader truths that are permanent. Perhaps, resurrection is one of those truths. Here’s what I mean: When I read this story, I don’t question the logistics. I’m over it, it’s not interesting to debate the hows and the whens and the wheres. What’s more interesting is to look at the broader picture, the bigger truth, like why does the Scripture insist on a bodily resurrection of human being? Why is Easter morning accompanied by the lines: “He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’” The Jesus of Easter morning is not a ghost, not a spirit, not an alien. He hasn’t been transformed into something else entirely. He goes through every measure to assure people that he has flesh and bones, organs and skin. To the witnesses, he says, “Look, touch, feel, experience. The body you see is a body, it has hands and feet, it has scars.” In short, it’s human. What I find most interesting in Easter’s truth is that it’s a fundamental affirmation of the goodness and importance of being a human being. Its truth is how miraculous the human body is, and how resurrection can happen in a variety of ways. Just as the flowers that spring forth in this season annually reaffirm life’s beauty and wonder, so does the Easter message remind us how good it is to be alive and to have a body that breathes, ticks, loves, cries, heals and lives. In this Easter season, the insistence of the goodness of the body is a call to us to practice a little resurrection of our own, and engage in some transformative work. We don’t seek to become something totally alien, but we seek to heal, to renew, to be resurrected from long nights and scary newscasts. We seek to become more authentically human, shaking off the wintry dust and re-emerging into the sunlight of transformation that can occur when we open our souls up to the hope of a brighter future. So, with Easter’s miracle still fresh in our minds, as the blooms of the flowering trees open to greet their transformed neighbors, may we practice resurrection in small ways and embrace the feeling in the air: How good it is to be human.
Coming Together in Response to Hate and Fear
Apr. 12, 2017. Dear UUCF, By now you may have heard about the ugly events of this past Tuesday: the Jewish Community Center and the Little River United Church of Christ, both in Annandale, were defaced with incredibly disturbing hate speech. This is part of an alarming increase in vandalism toward Jewish and other communities. We have been trying to understand if there are any lessons in this. What we have come to is that people are being targeted just for who they are and believing in a more loving, equal and just world. The Jewish community has been a specific target of hate groups for a very long time. The Little River UCC Church appears to have been targeted because of their public support for the LGBTQ community and their Muslim neighbors. There are lessons in this for Unitarian Universalists and what we support in our community. Is it possible that Unitarian Universalist congregations will be the targets of hate vandalism? The answer is yes. There have been a couple of incidents lately and the congregation Rev. David served near San Diego was a target of this kind of hate speech vandalism during his time as minister. When publicly living your values, it is always possible that others may attack you. We cannot give in to that kind of fear and intimidation. There is another lesson of this latest series of incidents in our own community. This action based on hate and fear must be met in larger portions with actions of love, kindness and coming together. These religious organizations are our siblings in this community, and we must use this opportunity to learn more, listen more and support each other more in this vital work of building the beloved community. There will be an interfaith service at the Little River UCC this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. All are invited to come and show their support for the congregation. There may be another vigil or service, and if there is, we will let you know. There will also be cards of good wishes for all to sign in the Commons this Sunday. We are going through some unsettling times. It will be natural for us to feel anxiety about the changes and challenges going on around us. There are a couple of ways we can react. Our hope is that we will extend some extra grace to each other, hold each other with an abundance of care and try, as much as possible, to be in relationship from a place of kindness and love. If you need to talk to any of us, please let us know. There is so much goodness in the world. Our calling is to bring it forth as much as we possibly can. Rev. David A. Miller Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig McKinley Sims
Words of Transformation for Our Faith
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. When I was young, I remember going to the synagogue with my dad in Skokie, IL, where after services sometimes we would have lox and bagels and chocolate milk. It was a wonderful ritual. Skokie was a white Jewish enclave where my temple was located but I lived in the Evanston school district and grew up and went to high school with people from many faiths, many cultures and many racial and ethnic backgrounds. We didn’t use words like “white privilege” or “white supremacy” but we did work on concepts like race relations, diversity and equality. After the end of the baby boom and with the changing face of demographics in Skokie, at some point my congregation dwindled and moved out and at least for a while was replaced by the Assyrian National Council, something I think we never could have possibly predicted the day I got bar mitzvahed. I also don’t know how they are teaching issues of race in my old high school, but I am sure it has evolved since I attended. (Nor could I have predicted that someday I would find this lifesaving faith and become a minister and learn so much more about issues of race than I ever did in high school.) We as Unitarian Universalists are now going through a period of realignment in a variety of ways - ways that challenge our beloved understanding of congregational life and that in some ways challenge what we have come to know as the culture and practice of Unitarian Universalism. It isn’t just this one hiring event at the UUA. There has been an intentional, growing movement of people of color in our association as well as generational changes that are part of a natural life cycle of an organization like ours. This month we are talking about transformation, and sometimes transformation comes to things that we don’t want to see transform and can’t always control. In many ways that is what I am observing now. Change is hard to control, especially if the change is meant to get us to reflect on our understanding of how concepts and words are used in ways that challenge our current understanding and comfort. We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to agree, and we can push back, yet also, we are being asked the following questions: How am I reacting to the words or the concepts and why? What am I being asked to actually do in relation to the use of the words or concepts? How can I not make this about me and think about those whose pain is giving birth to the use of these concepts? What can we do to not blame those bringing forth this need for change? What should I do as an individual or what should we do as a community to deal with the issues at the core of the use of the words? I know that this has been an unbelievable and uncomfortable period in many of our lives. The change in cultural direction we have seen in the past year from the last presidential administration to the current administration is astounding. When our safe space for our spiritual nourishment also seems to be in the midst of change, it can challenge our equilibrium. I ask you to consider that we are being asked not to be just a safe space but to be a brave space as described below. An Invitation to Brave Space Together we will create brave space Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” We exist in the real world We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds. In this space We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world, We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere, We call each other to more truth and love We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow. We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know, We will not be perfect. This space will not be perfect. It will not always be what we wish it to be But It will be our brave space together, and We will work in it side by side ... - by Micky ScottBey Jones, inspired by an unknown author’s poem
It’s Just Plain Fun
by Director of Religious Exploration Linnea Nelson. My favorite part of the week is checking in with each class on Sunday morning. Every class is so different, created by the team of teachers and the personalities and interests of each group of children. I love the variety of ways our children explore ideas. Although each team has a printed curriculum, I know that they bring their own creativity to the class. I see the children deepening their friendships and understanding how to approach the world with wonder, awe, compassion and love. To give you a peek into our classrooms, I decided to ask a few teachers about how they see teaching RE. James Cardona teaches Preschool and shares, “Working with the Preschool RE class is a wonderful experience. It is so rewarding to teach lessons that expose children to UU principles in a fun and creative way. Their excitement and energy is contagious; you can't keep yourself from smiling at the beginning of class doing circle time and singing ‘Willaby Wallaby.’ My son, Russell, helps out in the class sometimes, and afterward he always talks about how much fun the kids are. It's great to see a typically reserved teenager running around and having fun doing silly things.” Leah Stanton, who teaches elementary grades, shares, “We have three generations involved in RE - my children, my husband and me, and my mother. I love this because it makes us all connected to RE - to nurturing not only our two children, but all the children. In addition to witnessing what our children are experiencing, we get to shape it and share it with them. We are also modeling for our kids how much we value RE because we all devote time and care to it. Personally, I consider teaching RE one of the most important parts of my own spiritual practice. The curriculum is rich with what I value and hold true - respect, justice, love, compassion and fun. Through creating and teaching RE lessons, I have the opportunity to examine and clarify my own beliefs, so that I can then speak clearly and passionately to my class.” H.J. Cummins, Leah’s mom, tells us, “Teaching RE is one way to share my grandchildren's connection to the congregation and to help all the children learn the values that UUs live by ... it's so nice to see them help one another and to ask ever-more-perceptive questions involving the lessons. I feel that the ties forming over these early years will long be precious to them.” Laureen Branting has stayed with the same class for years and tells us that her model was Jackie Vergin, who “taught RE for all of [Laureen’s son] Conor's classes up through 7th grade. He considered her an aunt, and I was always impressed with the gift she gave him. I wanted to give that same gift to another set of kids.” Laureen also confides, “I'd miss the kids too much to quit ... and I do so enjoy watching them grow up to be young adults.” Darryl Branting teaches Grade 8 OWL and although he says, “I teach OWL because I believe it is the most worthwhile thing I do - enabling these young kids to take control of their own sexuality and act on our UU values.” He also admits, “It’s just plain fun.” Thank you to all of the teachers having “just plain fun” teaching in our RE program!
UUCF Ministers Address Controversy at the UUA
A letter from Rev. David A. Miller, Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig and Intern Minister McKinley Sims. Today, as a result of a series of events within our Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), Peter Morales resigned as president of the UUA. We want to share with you our best understanding of what led to this decision, and to reassure you of our collective commitment to continue the work of love and justice that is at the core of our faith. Last week it was announced that a new regional lead for the Southern Region of the UUA’s Congregation Life staff was hired. The successful candidate was a white man. News spread quickly on social media that another qualified candidate, a woman of color, had been told she was not the “right fit” for the position. There was an outcry regarding the long-term effect of systems of white supremacy in the hiring practices of the UUA. Monday's UU World article, "Critics decry 'white supremacy' in UUA hiring practices: Latest senior hire of a white man highlights staff leadership that remains mostly white," gives a comprehensive view of the story.Our country, our denomination and our congregation have been dealing with issues of race and historical systems that favor whiteness, or white supremacy. We know many of the people involved with this latest situation and our hearts break on so many levels. The three of us wish that we could wave our hands to ease the pain and transform our cultural systems to reflect equality and dignity for all. Yet we know this is work that has taken centuries to do and will take significantly more intention to change. At a recent training by Chris Crass, we were inspired to do our best to separate the systems of white supremacy, which live in us in so many ways unintentionally, from the people who suffer from the disease. The disease of white supremacy is a poison that harms everything it touches and takes so much intention to address. So what do we do to hold in care the people who, with the best of intentions, may fall short? What do we do with the righteous anger that comes from so many micro and macroaggressions and lack of important systemic changes? How do we ground ourselves in our faith, love each other and still understand that sometimes love means telling the hard truths? We don’t have an answer for all of this, but we all must continue to reflect on our place in these systems and be open to understanding the pain of those who are suffering.There is no one perfect way. This work is messy and difficult. Part of the hard work is to stay in relationship and in conversation as we work together to overcome the systems of white supremacy that live in us and in our institutions. White supremacy is a poison that is designed to divide and conquer, something we can’t let happen no matter how angry we are and no matter how much work there is left to do.Below are several links with more information on this week’s events. Reflection on White Supremacy in Our UUA Letter From UUA President Peter Morales to the UUA Board of Trustees, March 30, 2017 Letter From the UUA Leadership Council This June, as was planned long before this situation unfolded, the delegates to the UUA General Assembly will elect a new president of our association. This Saturday we will all have a chance to meet the three candidates for president at a candidates' forum at Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda, MD, 10-11:30 a.m. We encourage anyone who would like to learn more about the candidates and the future of our association to join us there.As always, we remain available to talk with you, and listen to you, about this issue or any other. In gratitude for the faith we share.
A Risky Faith
Mar. 30, 2017. by Intern Minister McKinley Sims. When my brother and I were little, he got a full-size trampoline for his birthday. It was an incredible day. We promptly spent the night on the trampoline, sleeping in denim blankets under the stars. We spent every day of that first summer (and most days of the summers to follow) bouncing and rolling on that trampoline. We came up with elaborate games and stories we’d act out, spray each other with Super Soakers, and work to understand the laws of physics that allowed us both to body-slam the trampoline at the same time, causing a certain Stretch Armstrong doll to fly onto the roof of the house. Force = Mass x Acceleration was pretty obvious after a week or two. It was a risky activity, and more than once, we were yelled at for being unsafe. Of course, we felt like daredevils defying death with every jump, but the reality is that neither of us could get hurt too badly. At first, just bouncing on the trampoline was exhilarating, but the honeymoon only lasted so long. Eventually, we got more comfortable just bouncing up and down, and the risk factor went way down. The next logical step was, of course, trying to do a backflip. I remember standing still, waiting, thinking, trying to decide how best to go about it. For the first time, I felt the reality of the risk. There was something like a paralysis that struck me, and I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t used to being frozen in inaction. The first small step was a big step in this instance. I simply had to go for it. Fear would prevent me from fully committing to the jump, and that was infinitely more dangerous than jumping as high and as well as I could. To take the first step into my risk, I had to be willing to go all the way. I learned to be committed. My sister, on the other hand, was not committed to risking a backflip. For her, simply bouncing on the trampoline at all was risky. Jumping too high was way too risky. Falling off was too risky. For her, simply taking the first step to bounce at all was a bigger risk than she was ready for. We were each stepping out of our comfort zones, but at different levels of ability and into different levels of risk. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask. Not everyone is going to be able to commit to backflips, and that’s OK. Congregational life can be like that. Not everyone feels called to sing in the choir or to chair a committee. Sometimes, just going to a different service than the one you’re used to is a risk. It is good to take that step, though. That’s how we stretch and grow. May we all be willing to step into the risk with which we are comfortable, whether it’s jumping and flipping or simply getting up onto the edge of the trampoline. If we all commit to at least getting up on the same bouncy surface, take at least that amount of risk, then we can look up at the stars together.
Innovation for the Future of Unitarian Universalism
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. With huge excitement and anticipation, I have the privilege of announcing the recipient of UUCF’s Innovation Fund grant. Last Tuesday night, after a 9-month review process, the UUCF Board of Directors approved a proposal for a UUCF-sponsored, off-campus effort targeted to young adults (20s and 30s). The mission would be to help Northern Virginia young adults explore and live UU values in an intentional community. The proposal is a joint effort by Betsy Bicknell and Wendy Astell. [caption id="attachment_33119" align="alignleft" width="146"] Betsy Bicknell[/caption] [caption id="attachment_33120" align="alignleft" width="139"] Wendy Astell[/caption] In a generous bequest, the late Stan Richards provided seed financing for innovative projects that expand UUCF’s outreach to those not now engaged in our congregation and/or Unitarian Universalism. Last summer, the Innovation Fund Committee asked the congregation for big ideas … dramatic new thoughts … high-risk, high-payoff experiments … approaches that might open up new ways of thinking about outreach and growing Unitarian Universalism. Many wonderful proposals were received and from two finalists, this proposal was chosen. Focused in a deliberately non-church-like storefront space easily accessed by walkers and public transit and coordinated by a young adult UU minister, this project will support development of deep community through arts, conversation, learning and working together for social justice. It would also support people moving through life transitions by offering classes and workshops on topics of interest, support groups, spiritual counseling and rites of passage to those who may have no other religious home. Although studies are showing that many young people are not interested in traditional organized religion, they are interested in community, finding purpose, accountability, observing rites of passage and working for social justice – providing opportunities to share our UU values. The approved proposal includes more than a year of planning and outreach to evaluate interest and the best location, hiring of a part-time UU minister to serve as project manager, followed by a yearlong pilot of the concept in a leased storefront-type space providing a small office and meeting space. If the pilot does not meet the attendance, revenue and other goals established during the planning process, the project would stop at the end of the 1-year lease. If the pilot is successful, other sources of revenue may be required until it becomes self-sustaining. Stan Richards’ bequest also allows for the high possibility of failure in undertaking innovative ideas. In that event, lessons learned will be written up and shared as widely as possible for the benefit of others interested in this concept. The first steps of the project are forming a committee of five to eight volunteers to provide vision and oversight. Committee members will include several UUs, at least one with background in local retail and/or hospitality business and two or more in the target age group who are active in local community groups that serve their peers. The committee will manage the market research process and develop detailed business and ministerial hiring plans. If you are interested in serving on this committee, please contact Betsy Bicknell or Wendy Astell. In a month when we have focused on Risk, it seems particularly fitting to acknowledge the risk Wendy and Betsy took in proposing this highly innovative concept. They are committed to growing Unitarian Universalism and to filling a need in our community. We’re grateful they took the risk and grateful for the generous funding that Stan’s bequest makes possible.
The Responsibility to Play it Well
by Director of Music and Arts Laura Weiss. What if someone were to film a documentary of your voice? Your voice would be the star of the show. What if a producer were to tell your story based on the life of that voice? I wonder what we might hear; what might we see? The film might begin with your first infant cry - then perhaps a close-up of your first words with mom or dad. Perhaps it might then pan out to your first sentences or first questions about the world. Were you to show the documentary to your friends, you’d be joyous remembering certain moments as you watched - the first speech you gave in class, the first time you told your partner you loved them, the moment you asked someone to marry you, the songs you sang at a loved-one’s wedding. And then there would be other scenes - times when your voice wounded another, demanded more and healed less, perhaps gossiped or lied. Perhaps you might empathize with characters and feel the heartache your voice caused. Oh, the power of our voices. Leave that power unmanaged and it becomes a weapon - clawing for power. But speech can also be an instrument for good - a music ministry in its own right. Your voice is an instrument of grace; not just a tool for healing, but love speaking through you. You have the responsibility to play it well. We are all ministering to one another all of the time. Your voice can reflect the sonorous connection to all humankind, spirit, God or the universe. It can serve as a tool through which the deepest parts of our emotions can be experienced. So how will you use your voice? What songs will it sing?
Fighting for Racial Justice at UUCF
by Kaye Cook, Co-leader, Racial Justice Steering Committee. From a young age, I had a strong sense of fairness and equity. Luckily, I was fortunate to work in the field of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) in the federal government for most of my career. When I retired in February 2014, I was looking for a way to stay engaged in racial and social justice issues. As luck would have it, my husband and I attended a service at UUCF the same month I retired. I knew immediately I had found a place where my core values and interests were shared by others and would give me the chance to stay involved in the work of fighting for social justice. In January 2016, UUCF celebrated the "30 Days of Love Campaign." The Racial Justice Steering Committee (RJSC) was an outgrowth of that campaign. I immediately volunteered to be on the committee. The committee meets monthly, and members are seeking ways to help UUCF become a more inclusive congregation and to build and acquire competencies to work toward that goal. We'd love to have you join us if you're interested in helping achieve these goals. In case you aren't aware of what the RJSC works on, the following are some of the committee's activities over the last year. They have ranged from offering films, such as "Slavery by Another Name" and "13th," and sponsoring a book club featuring books focused on discrimination and racial injustice to sponsoring the collections of hygiene and snack kits during the UUCF Weekend of Service, which we delivered to Opportunities, Alternatives & Resources, Inc. (OAR). We've sponsored a variety of training to deal with issues of racism and the effects that racism has on all of our lives. On Apr. 15, we are hosting the UU Capital Cluster/Central East Region Leadership Conference, "Building Authentic Diversity: Intercultural Communication as a Tool for Congregational Change." We've initiated a couple of youth-oriented programs including a joint initiative with Beacon House and UUCF to develop interactions that promote friendship and understanding among young people of diverse backgrounds in our communities. A new initiative was undertaken in February to form an ongoing group to work on how we might incorporate more antiracism work into our work with children. The Second Principle Project banners you see around the parking lot promote the UUCF Second Principle Project, which was launched in October 2016. The project is designed to help UUCF live our commitment to the Unitarian Universalist Second Principle by affirming and promoting justice, equity and compassion in human relations between all people. We are developing a curriculum for use by UUCF covenant groups and other small groups at UUCF to help them discuss racial justice issues. Another subgroup is exploring how we can facilitate ways for the congregation to be in relationship with other organizations and faith communities. The goal is to deepen our understanding of people from different cultures. We are still exploring a way to provide public witness of our commitment and support of marginalized and vulnerable groups. On Wed., Apr. 5, here at UUCF, the RJSC - along with the Social Justice Council and the Global Affairs Discussion Group - is co-sponsoring a NoVA interfaith orientation on the Sanctuary Movement. The RJSC members are identified by their UUCF name tags. I encourage you to talk with any of us to learn more about our activities. We are always open to suggestions and ideas of ways we can be of more service to the congregation in our work to end racial discrimination and injustice.
by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Today my niece turns 13. She is so excited to be a teenager at last! She’s been a tween for a long time, and she is no stranger to middle school drama. But for a couple of years now, Grace and I have been practicing how to handle the drama as we bond over a funny-serious card game called “Awkward Moment.” The game, designed for middle schoolers, is simple. There are two sets of cards: the “Moments” deck and the “Reactions” deck. Each player gets a bunch of “Reactions” cards to play. We turn over the “Moments” cards one at a time, and each of us has to play one of our Reactions cards in response. Some of the Moments are pretty goofy, like: “Your dog actually eats your homework. What do you do?” And the Reactions cards can be pretty silly too: “Yell, ‘Bummer!’” or “Bust a move.” But the game gets into serious ethical issues too, like in this scenario: “One of the boys in your class says girls are bad at math.” Or this: “Someone is picking on one of the kids at school. What do you do?” In those moments, it’s pretty awesome to be able to slap down a Reaction card like this: “Say, ‘That’s ridiculous!’” Or this: “Tell them to knock it off!” Sure, it’s just a game. But it’s also good practice for life. And in this month of exploring Risk, I wonder how we adults could benefit from practicing to take risks too. Are there moments in your life when you wish you’d spoken up? Done something differently? What would it be like to practice what you’ll do next time? I can think of so many moments in my own life where someone said something callous or careless and I’ve had to choose on the spot how to respond. Sometimes I’ve managed to find one of those awesome responses. Other times, I’ve been tongue-tied and had to resolve to act more bravely and clearly next time. At work, at school, in our families, out and about – the chances to practice keep on coming. What risks will you take to speak your truth? P.S. Stay safe in the snow, everyone! If you're planning to come to campus for a meeting or event tomorrow, please check uucf.org for the latest updates on possible closures.
Staying Grounded in the Storm
by Lay Minister for Worship and Arts Susan Bennett. In turbulent times like the ones we find ourselves in the midst of now, it can seem almost impossible to stay balanced and centered. Perhaps like me, you find yourself feeling alternately sad, frightened, angry and confused about where to best put your energies. So many emails, so many tweets, so many requests for your time, attention and resources. I find that I’m asking myself every day: “How can I best serve the values I hold dear and also maintain some level of equilibrium?” I return again and again to spiritual practice. It keeps me grounded and gives me hope. Spiritual practice can sometimes be a complicated concept for UUs. Before we can practice it, we need to define it and for many of us that takes some time. For many years I thought I needed to decide what I believed before I could undertake spiritual practice. I also thought I couldn’t be any good at spiritual practice because I didn’t have the patience to sit and meditate. My mind was too busy and besides, I had important things to do! But now I’ve come to realize that spiritual practice can be almost anything that you engage in with the intention of connecting to that which is greater than yourself alone. I engage in daily spiritual practice, though it’s not always the same practice. I’ve come to accept that different practices ebb and flow through my life and I have faith that if I follow my inner wisdom, I will engage in the practice that is most appropriate for the time. For me, the key is the word “practice.” Like learning any skill or art, you have to show up and do the work. So now I don’t worry so much about whether I’m doing it right, I just show up and engage. And often, when I’m done, I see the way forward more clearly, I have a greater sense of where I need to put my energy and I just feel calmer, which helps me be more effective in my life. So if you’re feeling a bit battered by the storm, I encourage you to consider your relationship to spiritual practice. Attending Sunday services regularly is a great spiritual practice and there are many other opportunities at UUCF to engage in and learn about spiritual practice. A great place to start is the book “Everyday Spiritual Practice” edited by UU minister Scott Alexander. And if you have questions or need help in connecting to the spiritual resources at UUCF, contact me. You can find me most Sunday mornings at services at UUCF!
Reimagining the Possible
by Pete Krone, Annual Giving Campaign Co-chair. Reimagining the possible. When seismic shifts occur in our lives, our community and our country, we are called on to look to our values and what matters most and then to re-imagine what can and must be done. Reimagine the hopes of a visitor walking through our doors – realizing that at one time we have all been a visitor. This year’s Annual Giving Campaign’s theme is just that – Reimagining the Possible - looking at what matters most and providing financial support for what must be done to ensure that UUCF is a vibrant, engaged and financially sound congregation. The annual campaign is the largest fundraising effort at UUCF, the proceeds of which account for 78.9% of our total operating funds. Our goal this year is $1,050,000, which is a 9.4% increase over last year's pledges and includes funding for: Regular annual contributions to capital and operating reserves. Staffing adjustments to strengthen member development and engagement and to provide more ministry support. A modest pay increase for our staff who received no increase last year. Training an intern minister as part of UUCF’s commitment to being a teaching congregation. Continued UUCF tradition of strong support for our denomination. Reimagine the possible if we exceed our goal. We have reimagined how the campaign will work this year. In past years, each individual or family has received a pledge packet, filled out the pledge card and returned it. This year we are going to have a Giving Communion, similar to flower and water communions. This is to be a celebration of generosity in community and here is how it will happen: On Sun., Mar. 12, pledge packets will be available for pick up after the 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. services. Packets not picked up will be mailed. The pledge packet will include financial and pledge information and a pledge card. Pledges may be made electronically. There will be a Q&A session held on Wed., Mar. 15, 7-8 p.m., in the Library, where the Annual Giving Committee will address your questions about UUCF finances or the Annual Giving Campaign. You will be asked to return your pledge card on Sun., Mar. 19, during the Giving Communion ceremony at each service. Electronic pledges may be submitted as well. The Giving Communion celebrates generosity and acknowledges that no one person is responsible for the financial support of UUCF - that we all make this support happen as a loving community and, accordingly, we all bear the responsibility. Reimagine what you will be called to do and with whom you will be called. I would like to acknowledge the contributions of Annual Giving Campaign Co-Chair Meg Harrelson as well as the rest of the committee – Barb Kenny and John Kun - and the dedicated staff who supported the committee - Rev. David A. Miller, Rich Sider and Mary Lareau. Many thanks for their efforts! Let’s reimagine the possible. See you on Mar. 12 and 19.
Loving Our Home
by Director of Religious Exploration Linnea Nelson. Last summer as I looked through our RE cupboards of toys for young children, I wondered if we might be able to create a model of our beautiful Sanctuary for our 4- and 5-year-olds. Their curriculum introduces them to our community members, ministers, grounds and buildings that make up our UU home. Having a child-sized Sanctuary seemed like a stretch, but maybe I could find someone to make a simple model. I mentioned the idea to Ron Giusti,* who I knew crafted beautiful birdhouses, and he said he’d think about it. Two months later, he presented the class with an amazing 3-foot by 3-foot replica of our Sanctuary! His model included miniature hardwood floors, carefully crafted rafters and our ramp, and he even created the round windows in our Sanctuary by taping photographs of what we actually see out each window to create a realistic view. When he first showed me a photograph of his project, I thought he was showing me our actual Sanctuary, but he encouraged me to look closer and see that this was indeed a photograph of the model. Take a look at these photos and see if you can tell the difference! This is love - for our community, our children and our beautiful spaces. Ron’s gift to our children reminded me of how wonderful our space is. I feel such gratitude for the well-stocked classrooms and RE supply room, the comfy sofas and outdoor furniture that allow for informal small-group gatherings, our beautiful Sanctuary furniture and our art spaces, naturally lighted Commons and space for our Nursery. As we look around, hopefully we realize how this campus is a collective sacred space for all of us to use. If, like me, you also appreciate our space, may I call on each of us to take a moment at the end of each of our meetings or evening classes to return pens, chalices and other supplies to the RE cabinets, return any items such as lamps, remotes or chairs to their homes, turn off lights and remove or discard paper, food or other items? So many people use our spaces and with the addition of electronics, the remotes go missing and cords get tangled. Let’s show our love for our magnificent meeting spaces and commit to creating a welcoming space for each other and our guests. Ron shared his love for our community in a magnificent way and he's reminded me to commit to taking good care of all our UUCF spaces. Thank you, Ron! *Ron Giusti and his wife, Marsha, have been UUCF members for 13 years. They raised their son, David, in our community, and Ron taught kindergarten in our RE program for many years.
Being Seen, Being Loved
by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. The myth of Cupid and Psyche has been much on my mind as we approach Valentine’s Day this year. Do you know it? The story goes like this: Psyche, daughter of a king, is so beautiful and kind that Cupid, the god of love himself, has fallen in love with her from afar. Because of the jealous intervention of other gods, Cupid is only able to court her with a very strange condition. He can only approach her in the full darkness of night, or a curse will strike and bring disaster. Cupid and Psyche meet and fall in love, all by night, and for a time all is well. Psyche, however, becomes consumed with curiosity. Why does her lover refuse to let her see him? What could he be hiding? Is he some sort of horrible monster? One night, after he is asleep, she strikes a match and looks on him, beholding the most beautiful young man she has ever seen. Yet in that very moment, the curse is fulfilled and Cupid is torn away from his beloved Psyche. And we? How often have we ourselves reached out for love and yet feared to let ourselves be fully seen? In this month of reflecting on our theme of Identity, it’s poignant to think of all the ways we hide ourselves from one another, even from those we love. For fear of conflict, maybe, worried that our differences will spark an argument we’re not prepared to handle. For fear of rejection, sometimes, worried that if we allow ourselves truly to be seen, warts and all, we could not possibly be loved. Sometimes we may suppress our true being so deeply, even we ourselves have lost sight of it. Yet, for love to deepen, we have to take the risk of letting ourselves be seen for real. It can be so hard, but let us take courage from the testimony of our religious ancestors that our true self, our true being is always loved and worthy of love. That’s the message of our Universalist forebears who felt and knew so deeply that all are loved, no one excluded - everyone worthy and precious, no exceptions. If we can truly let this message into our hearts, it will transform us. Psyche is devastated but refuses to despair. She travels to the home of the gods and begs for their mercy. They set her a series of ordeals, near-impossible tasks that she barely manages to accomplish. Finally, after a long and weary time of difficult work, the gods take pity on Psyche and she is reunited with her beloved Cupid. And so, in the beautiful words of Edith Hamilton, “Love and the Soul (for that is what Psyche means) had sought and, after sore trials, found each other; and that union could never be broken.” Our soul longs for love. We long to know and be known, to hold and be held. My prayer is that each of us will find an answer to that longing – in the love of friends and family, and in the beauty of the earth and in the mystery that our ancestors called Love itself. Peace and blessings to all.
Fulfilling Our Promise
by Rev. David A. Miller. Friday night I said the blessing at UUCF's Hypothermia Shelter dinner. Afterward, as I walked out in the freezing cold wind, I couldn't help but feel deep sadness. We have a promise that holds this country together. It is a promise to those who have nowhere to sleep and a promise to those who have no home due to conflict, poverty and war. It is the promise that this country was built on. We have often failed in fulfilling that promise. Sometimes we come closer to fulfilling the promise than at other times. Now it seems we are moving further away from that promise. I watched a portion of John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech this week and saw the movie "Hidden Figures." The speech and the movie remind me that we are at our best when called to do great things, when called upon by our leaders to be our best selves and rise together. Our moral center is inclusion and the security and freedom of all who suffer from our divisions. I feel like we should know this by now, but this promise is under threat as we speak. So once again, we must band together to protect it. And once again we must link our arms in an ever-increasing line of invitation. Once again, until it is no longer needed.
What Is Each of Our Roles in This Extraordinary Time?
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. As we all try to navigate the road ahead, we will continue to have different opinions and feelings about the best course of action. As we process our feelings and thoughts, as I have said before, it is totally understandable that we will need different things at different times and be faced with decisions about our level of involvement. Involvement can challenge our comfort and lead us each to existential questions of deep meaning. For me in this past week, those questions are about risk and sacrifice. What am I willing to lay down for my fellow humans? What level of discomfort can I bear for the health and safety of others? How can I best use my position and privilege to actively support the work that is quickly becoming not only vital but literally life- and democracy-saving? These are questions I ask myself. These are questions I cannot avoid. While it’s important to ask these questions, we cannot let them overwhelm us and we can't all do everything. Find what you can do, do what you can do and maximize every tool you have to the best of your ability. And please don't forget, we will all need each other during this time, so please help me when I need it - which I will and do - and I will do the utmost to do the same for you. As I said yesterday, there is no one perfect way, and we are all doing the best we can to deal with an extraordinary time in our history. Please be kind to each other and open yourselves up to support others in need and to be supported when need arises in you. We are here to be here for each other in these times. May that truly be so.
Striving for Excellence and Breaking Down Barriers
by Intern Minister McKinley Sims. I’ve been doing some genealogical research this month. It wasn’t my first choice of how to spend my free time, but my mother, the inimitable Frankie B., put me onto it because she’s been having scary dreams about the future of our country. She claims that her great-grandmother, my great-great-grandmother, is encouraging her to “stay away from that place” and “return home.” We wondered if this is some kind of prophecy. We didn’t know exactly what her name was, but we were pretty sure about relationship: She came across the Atlantic from Pontypool, Wales, in 1870, before settling in the Texas Panhandle. Her fourth son got a homestead ranch in Hansford County and eventually grew to be a major cattle rancher in the area. His daughter, my mom’s grandmother, grew up to be the first woman postmaster in the panhandle, a single mom running a cattle ranch and a Pony Express route rest stop. Her granddaughter, my mother, grew up in the panhandle to become a highly educated speech pathologist who pioneered research into and the applications of the burgeoning cochlear implant technology for children with hearing deficiencies. Her work is still cited in scientific papers on the latest advances in the field. Her daughter, my sister, grew up in the panhandle to be an Ivy League-educated systems engineer with a security clearance, a job she couldn’t talk about, and the ability to leave that field to go to law school and become a high-powered intellectual property attorney in the most diverse city in America. This is all fantastic, and I’m so very proud of the women in my family. I’m proud to carry on their legacy. Should I have a daughter of my own (their granddaughter and niece), I will make sure she knows she comes from a long line of women prophets who made their mark in the world by striving for excellence and breaking barriers that were put in place because of the belief that women shouldn’t exercise their public voice. Our religious tradition was one of the first to ordain a woman to preach the truth. We are part of the progress that ran through the veins of my grandmothers, my mother and my sister. That tradition is part of our religious home. There may be times, in the future, when the suggestion arises that women’s voices don’t carry as much weight as other voices do. Our Universalist heritage and our American experiment speak otherwise. I’m proud to walk in their shadow into the sunlight of tomorrow, regardless of any criticism. I’m with her and her and her and her and you. Now and always. And if the critics demand that you “stay away from that place” and “return home,” know that the place where the critics stand is your home. Let’s walk there together.
Extremists for Love
by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Friends, yesterday would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, 88th birthday. He was taken from us too soon – nearly 50 years ago now. It breaks my heart to think of what might have been, the leadership he might have offered us even today, had things been different. But still, his message echoes. Each year on this day, I observe MLK Day by re-reading his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It echoes in my mind and heart, this powerful call to white people of faith to throw off their passivity and complacency and join in the struggle for racial justice. As with so many great texts, each time I read it, it speaks in new ways to my spirit. Here is the passage that leapt out at me this year: [T]hough I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”... And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." ... So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? Will we? In this moment, when violent extremism is on the rise in our world – when it is all too easy to find extremists for hate and injustice – who will we be? Will we be extremists for love? Will we love our enemies? Will we bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who “despitefully use us and persecute us,” without exception? Can we be extremists for love and for justice, at the very same time? A dear relative of mine with different political views has encouraged and challenged me to pray for the incoming administration. Or, in other words, to be an extremist for love. Could we do that, at the very same time that we are extremists for the extension of justice? Even as we march and witness and protest, could we pray for those who, in moments of bitterness, we may be sorely tempted to label our enemies? Could we recall our common humanity? Could we hold fast to our first UU principle, so simple and so endlessly challenging, to honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, without exception? Not to agree or submit to that which goes against our values, not to be silent in the face of oppression – for that would do violence to ourselves, and to our neighbors, and to the truth that has been given to us to see - but to love without exception. To be clear and loving. To infuse our words of witness and our acts of protest with compassion at all times, in all ways. To pray for those we call our enemies, even as we witness and act for justice. Will we be extremists for love?
Practice Makes “Better”
by Director of Music & Arts Laura Weiss. I am 7 years old and I can hear my mother in the kitchen. She is chopping vegetables for, no doubt, one of her delicious soups and I can smell the aroma waft into the living room. The smell is the only thing that brings me into the present. Otherwise, I am swept away into the delicious and grueling world of dedicated practice. I am inside of the music at the piano. Then the inevitable happens as it does most days: I hit a wrong note. “Woah! That’s wrong!” she says, continuing her chopping. I felt enormous pressure to perform well when I was little. I would work until my arms ached, my heart rate quickened and my eyes blurred. Yet, despite my mother’s firm belief that her feedback would one day be credited as the primary source of my success, my drive was self-induced. As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be the best at things. Without any encouragement, I thrived on creating systems and strategies to attain success. This applied to anything I tried: math, dance, diving, music. Try two measures of music, Laura. Mistake. Try one measure. Same mistake. Slow down. New mistake. Good grief. Sit. Reflect. Analyze the rhythms and count out loud. Play it again. Mistake. It isn’t the rhythm! I know the rhythm. Feel the finger pattern like a shape. Visualize the shape and trust your fingers. OK, better! Now try two measures. Mistake. Yup, you went too far. Play one measure slowly with the finger pattern. Feel it. Yes. Repeat three times. Now put it back inside of the phrase. And so on. Every day. For years. Even today. This morning, I talked to a friend who made an ambitious list of New Year’s resolutions, and I thought about my own: Be aware. Be mindful of your body and what it wants. Rest when you need to. Then I heard my mother’s voice in my head: “Practice makes perfect!” Maybe this voice was on to something. Why has it been so easy to apply this method to concrete things like schoolwork and sports and music lessons but not in areas like New Year’s resolutions, diets, life goals, relationships? Isn’t talking myself out of eating a slice of cake just another pattern like a difficult measure of music? Isn’t making a statement about how I will be similar to playing a piece and expecting to just get it without the work? What if I only focus on the perfect part of my mom’s cliché when it comes to things that elude me? Instead of deciding to wake up on Jan. 2 and be fully aware, seek justice, speak kindly and join revolutions, what if I just practiced it? What might that look like? Practice in music means breaking down your patterns to their smallest and playing those passages over and over until you not only understand them, you can express them and make them a fluid sonorous symphony comprised of your voice and the brilliant composition itself. What if we did that with life? What if we looked at our patterns and broke them down into smaller fragments? What if we trusted that we would reach our goals with practice just like when we learn a new skill? We know that the lengthier process is worth it then, don’t we? What if we made our goals so specific that we could analyze them from different perspectives, sit with them, find the challenges within them and make the finite movements that we are actually capable of grasping? Wouldn’t practice inevitably help? Feel the pattern take shape, then repeat. Repeat. Repeat. One measure, then two. Thanks mom. I guess you get the credit this time.
From Loss to Hope
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. As we turn the page on the year and look forward to the year to come, I again can’t help but think about what it was like for my parents when the icons of their lives started passing on - Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and so many others - these icons whose artistic gifts I gratefully had the privilege of experiencing in my younger years and continue to enjoy and appreciate. Now, the older I get, I understand that when the people who have helped us benchmark our lives die, we grieve on a variety of levels. These deaths are at times both tragic and they also speak to their place in the context of our lives. I know most of the words to the songs from “Singing in the Rain.” I remember vividly the experience of seeing “Star Wars” for the first time and I also think about how and when these things entered my life and what it means now that these people are gone. This has been a year of extraordinary loss, along with the difficult and uncertain political situation we face. It feels like a great deal to incorporate into our lives and it all can't help but contribute to our disequilibrium. There are no magic words that change any of this overnight, and 2017 could easily be as difficult or more difficult than 2016. I guess the point is that we who are here need to love and support each other, need to be there for each other and need to help each other cope through loss, grief, trouble or change, whatever the cause. There will certainly be dark days - there always are - but there will also be days filled with love and beauty, joy and magic. We ended the year with so much public loss, and yet, I continue to see things that give me hope, fill my spirit and motivate me to do my best to love the hell out of this world. I say this with such hope that you and yours will have a Happy New Year, knowing there will be times when we will need each other. Let us live our lives this year with (as the sign in front of the congregation now says) “Courageous Love, Relentless Compassion and Radical Kindness.” May that be so.
The Warmth of Community
Dec. 26, 2016. by Lay Minister for Caring & Wellness Linda Zack. “It is in community that we come to see God in the other. It is in community that we see our own emptiness filled up. It is community that calls me beyond the pinched horizons of my own life, my own country, my own race, and gives me the gifts I do not have within me.” - Joan D. Chittister When I first visited UUCF in January 2010, I was with my husband and son, and my sister, and we were looking for a faith community that made sense to us. We loved the inspiring words, the beautiful music and the openness that gave us space both to believe and to question our beliefs. What has kept us at UUCF is community. One of my earliest experiences with community at UUCF was a Women’s Spirit Circle I joined in fall 2010. My beloved sister, who was quite ill when we began attending UUCF, had just died in August. Although her death was expected, my emotions were raw and I was processing so much. Through the safe space of the Circle and the themes we explored, I began to heal. I think I cried at some point in every meeting that first year. The wonderful women in the circle accepted me for who I was, with no attempts to change me or the process I was going through. They allowed me to be in the safe space of community, both to hold me and to give me space to move forward. We enter into so many types of community every day. At UUCF, sometimes community is just two of us, working together or holding each other when the need arises. Sometimes it is a covenant group or other small group - or a committee meeting - where we check in with each other, explore issues and work toward a goal. Or community can be all of us coming together in worship to make sense of our ever-changing world, to realize that we are not alone in our hopes and fears, and to inspire each other to take action to make our world a more just and compassionate place. Many of us have deep faith or strong principles, but our growth is limited when we practice these things alone. Our faith and our principles need to be explored, debated, lived, created and encouraged, and we do this best when we are together. This holiday season, I hope we are able to take a moment to connect to those around us. For some, the holidays are full of joy, family and comforting rituals. For some, like my neighbor who lost his wife in the past year, the holidays may bring pain and memories of loss. When we think about what we want to leave behind in this world, it almost always focuses on our connection with people and our desire to do something bigger than ourselves. For this, we need community.
What Can Our UU Congregation Take Away From the Christian Season of Advent?
by Intern Minister McKinley Sims. Advent reminds me of a high school basketball tournament back home. I can still feel the excitement in the air. I can smell the expectation. I can taste the adrenaline-fueled energy of the inside of the basketball stadium as the electric heat amplified by each and every member of the 30,000+ people jammed into a single building. I’m sitting next to my brother, and we are as close to heaven as you can get. Two boys with nothing on our to-do lists except to watch basketball, talk to girls and eat fried food. We are surrounded by others, each one just as joyous and giddy as we are. There are two sets of fans in the stadium for this tournament. There are the players’ families, friends and neighbors (sometimes entire towns leave their homes and travel to watch the boys play). Then there are the rest of us who sit in our seats and cheer when something neat happens ... until a game is tied with less than a minute remaining. One side takes a shot, misses or turns it over, and the ball changes hands. Now the team with the ball can win the game and the championship. It all comes down to this. Someone is going to make a play. Someone is going to make it happen. In that moment, as if by invisible command, the crowd collectively rises to its feet, accompanied by a jumbo-jet-like roar of expectant energy. We are one in that moment. Nerves stretch taught, vocal chords thrum incessantly, hands smash together in a never-ending symphony of pregnant emotion. Amid all this action, though, we are waiting. Waiting expectantly. Waiting for someone to make a play. Waiting for something to happen - the advent of what we came to see. So what can our UU congregation take away from the Christian season of Advent? It’s more than just a reason to open up secret boxes of candy for 25 straight days, right? What does a season of waiting and expectation amid the busyness mean for us? Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I think that we can all understand the feeling of wading through the electricity in the air as holidays approach. For some it brings stress, for others joy. For many, though, it’s a season focused on the turn of the year and the view to come in 2017. We are waiting for something to happen, full of expectant energy bottled up from a long year of disappointment and falling short of our goals and hopes. The payoff of Advent in the Christian tradition is the birth of Jesus, symbol of light and hope to downtrodden peoples. UUs can celebrate his birth as a prime example of life lived by the Seven Principles, or simply rejoice in the seasonal songs and carols of peace and goodwill toward humankind. We can focus on the turning of the solstice from darkening nights to strengthening of days, or the eight nights of Hanukkah reminding us of the importance of keeping a light burning amid times of trouble. We can burn Yule logs for our dearest wishes or read poetry on Yalda Night, the Persian festival of triumph of light over the darkness. All our traditions reflect this desire for a promise to be fulfilled and a new beginning for humanity. My spiritual desire is for the light to stay in our lives and for us to celebrate when it returns. I cheer the Nativity story, sing “Auld Lang Syne” at New Year’s and hope fervently for a 2017 of grace and peace. So the question is what are you waiting for and what will you do when it arrives? Whether it’s Christmas Day, the longer days, the new year, a new job or a fresh start, we’re all waiting expectantly, for this is what we bought a ticket to see. My hope for you is that when whatever you’re waiting for finally arrives, you’ll respond as the angels do in the Scriptures: joyous singing, shouts of love to all around and proclamations of the return of the light to our darkened world. Happy Advent and Merry Everything!
A World in Your Hand
by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” -Henry Miller I held the tiny clementine in my hand. Bright orange skin, with that marvelous scent of citrus zest teasing my nose. Seven of us were in the circle last Monday night, on a quiet evening in the Program Building, gathered for this month’s Soul Matters Open Circle to explore December’s theme of Presence. We began with a simple exercise inspired by the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh – eating one of the clementines as mindfully as we could, seeking to be fully present to the experience. We read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words: What does it mean to eat a tangerine in awareness? When you are eating the tangerine, you are aware that you are eating the tangerine. You fully experience its lovely fragrance and sweet taste. … [E]ating a tangerine in mindfulness means that while eating the tangerine, you are truly in touch with it. Your mind is not chasing after thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, but is dwelling fully in the present moment. … The opposite is to live in forgetfulness. If we live in forgetfulness, we do not know that we are alive. from “Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha,” by Thich Nhat Hanh And then we ate the clementines, all together, in silence. Trying to be present. I’m not usually a particularly mindful eater. At breakfast, I almost always read the newspaper. I often eat lunch at my desk, typing as I chew, or at our staff lunch table, chatting with my wonderful colleagues (but not being very attentive to my food). John and I enjoy watching a little TV while we eat our dinner. But now, eating this tiny little clementine – it was so vivid, so very present. I peeled a section away from its neighbors and noticed a puckery sound I’d never paid much mind to before. Beautiful. I heard my neighbors in the circle chewing and knew they could hear me too – a sweet and funny and humbling moment of connection. And the taste, when I really paid attention – how wonderful! How amazing that this little fruit should offer us such a vibrancy of experience – smell, touch, taste, sound, everything – a little world in itself. What a miracle that such a thing as a clementine should exist on the same planet as we ourselves. In that moment of presence, it really did seem like a miracle. And then I noticed I had zoned out and eaten a section without really paying attention – distracted by wondering how everyone else was feeling, or thinking about what I would be doing the next day, or whatever – not present, not aware. So I tried to bring my attention back to the clementine again, and again, and again. And truly it seemed to me that if I could experience everything with that level of presence and mindfulness, the world would be aflame with beauty - with magnificence, glory, wonder - with a peace that passes understanding. A peace that is far deeper and stronger than the headlines of the moment and the daily suffering of our lives. Perhaps that is how the world truly is, even now. Of course the headlines matter. Of course our suffering matters. Thich Nhat Hanh first shared his teachings on mindful presence in the context of great pain and suffering in his home country, Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, he worked tirelessly for peace. And he taught over and over again that, through the practice of mindfulness, peace is always available to each of us, at every moment, no matter what is happening in our world. When we are truly awake to what is present right here, right now, we can be at peace, no matter what. And the peace within us can radiate out to bless and inspire others, no matter what. May this be so, even now – right now.
A Season of Loving-Kindness
by Director of Religious Exploration Linnea Nelson. I was holding the hands of a 6-year-old in Chapel recently as we faced each other and recited a simple loving-kindness prayer: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be peaceful.” We then continued “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.” This was so reassuring and renewed my determination about the importance of taking care of each other as we tackle the problems in this world. If you are familiar with loving-kindness, then you’ll recognize what we did next. We thought of someone we disagreed with or someone with whom we don’t get along. We held hands, closed our eyes and held that person in our minds and hearts as we chanted softly, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be peaceful.” And finally, “May everyone be happy. May everyone be healthy. May everyone be peaceful.” The energy in the room changed a bit as we held this sacred space for our friends - and our adversaries - in loving-kindness. This moment touched me, seeing the children holding hands and looking into their friends’ faces. It reminded me how important it is to have friends at UUCF, people who can look into our eyes and say they care about us. Here, it may be easier to find people who value many of the things that we find important and meaningful in life. Being together fortifies us for the work we do out in the world and helps us to be compassionate while doing the work of justice. I am blessed to spend my time here at UUCF with our beautiful families. I so appreciate being able to see and feel the love that grows week by week in the classes, with the teachers and the families. My hope for this holiday season is that we all take time to get to know one another a little better. It has been a joy to get to know so many of you. Whether you are at a worship service, a concert, coffee hour or picking up your children in RE, let’s take the time to introduce ourselves to each other, to find common ground and to make a connection. Our gift this holiday season can be loving-kindness - and the gift of new friendships - that will sustain and hold us in the years to come.
Go Gently, My Friends
by Rev. David A. Miller. As we enter the uncharted waters of this post-election world – with so many uncertainties that can lead to stress and anxiety - I feel it’s important for us to be gentle with each other. Frustration with the status of the world may lead to frustration in our personal or communal lives that may not look like a reaction, but could have its roots in deeper fear and anxiety. It is also an especially important time for us to be loving and welcoming at UUCF. We are a people of many preferences and opinions. There is no way for everyone to have things exactly as they wish they could be. There will be people attending UUCF in the coming weeks and months with vastly different perspectives and feelings about all kinds of issues and the invitation must be how we live into the love that resides at the core of this faith tradition. One thought that has always been a part of the 5th Principle for me is how do we stay in community and covenant when we don’t get our way? This is a question facing us right now in so many areas of life. As we face these questions, fears and struggles, one of the benefits of being part of this community is the opportunity for grounding during difficult times. Let me invite us to consider how that might look in this holiday season. There will be much music and meaning to be found at UUCF this holiday season. Aside from the beautiful music in each service, there will be a special music service on Dec. 11. On Dec. 18, Peter Mayer will be here with a special holiday concert to share across all of our generations. We continue to have educational opportunities, meetings of our small groups and plenty of service opportunities including the 4th Annual Action of Witness for Gun Safety in front of the NRA on Dec. 14, 10-11 a.m. As we navigate the emotional waters of family, shopping, events, our religious past, present and future, and the state of our nation, let us reflect on what we hope for in the world. If things are not currently feeling like they are moving in the direction we hope, they certainly will not if we do not model them with our thoughts and actions. How we model our actions and how we work to create the world for which we dream has deep ramifications for the future. So, for this holiday season, I offer a prayer that I wrote 11 years ago and have shared every year - with a few little tweaks this year: Let us wish for true peace for the world, a peace built on mutual need to create a sustainable earth for generations to come. Let us wish for open hearts toward those in pain, for we are all one, and in this interconnected world, what happens to one truly does happen to all. Let us wish for the blossoming of compassion, for all faiths have a compassionate core and all lives crave the kindness of others. Let us wish for our lives, our homes, our congregations and our communities to be places where neighbor loves neighbor and we engage each other with open minds and open spirits. Let us wish for love that “stands” firm in opposition to fear and othering and calls us all to our best selves. Finally, I wish for you, your families, friends and loved ones, the gentleness of spirit that lies at the heart of the songs and rituals of the holidays. May that spread out beyond to touch us all. This year, as every year before, I believe it takes more than wishing, now, let us begin.
A Movement for the Soul of a Nation
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. I am struggling as much as anyone to put into perspective the ramifications of the election and its aftermath. Last night, I took a moment to watch an old episode of “Band of Brothers,” the one where they discover the concentration camp. It is a heart-wrenching episode, and it made me think about some of the speculation around the ramifications of this election. I’m hearing everything from “give them a chance” to “this is the end of the world as we know it.” I know we will continue to process this. I also know that the world has seen and survived ideologies of fear and hate before. At times it is hard for us to remember the pain the world has seen, and sometimes in the darkness it is hard to see the way into the light. In the last few days, I am seeing discussions on the left side of the political spectrum that feel like judgments about the right and wrong ways to respond to extreme right-wing ideologies. As we are finding our collective way, I feel like there will be many ways - mostly imperfect and yet necessary. To me, this isn’t about just politics, it is a movement for the soul of a nation, an evolution of an idea that has never been realized, yet continues to call us forward. How we respond to this will help define us for perhaps generations to come. There will be calls for all sorts of dissent. There will be calls to protest. There will be anger, frustration and resentment. But people must also see a vision of the possible to know what they are called to do. We can’t just protest, we must be a voice, we must model, we must not demand some sort of ideological purity, we must help build, we must not only critique, but also offer an alternative vision of a collective future. As I watch TV, each new Cabinet appointment makes my despair and anger rise. This is where my faith must come into play. We must never be passive in building a better future. Our efforts are vital, and each of us will have to decide which route we will take and where our energies will go in order to build the world for which we dream. I am still working on that, and last night, as I watched this warning from the past, I felt certain that I will need to stay vigilant about how I use my energies to deal with the struggle that we face and how I will not give in to the forces of bitterness that could overtake me if I let them. Finding hope in such a hard time is difficult, but there is so much work to do. That work must be fueled by hope. Fueling anything with despair never lasts. So, look for that hope, find it, let it inspire you. It is there. We need each other and we have such enormous energy, love and creativity. That gives me hope and bolsters me for the struggle to come.
Investing in UUCF’s future
by Dave Wiemer, Generosity Team member. Like many of you, I am still struggling to process the results of Tuesday’s presidential election. In discussing the outcome with our children, my wife, Heather, and I assured them that they were safe and loved. We assured them that we would fight injustice and find ways to serve the most vulnerable members of our community. We promised them that as a family we would stand on the side of love. A few days removed from that conversation, I continue to find reassurance knowing that I belong to a faith community that shares my values. UUCF is a place where my family and I know that we will find love and compassion in a world that sometimes seems incapable of either. UUCF is our spiritual home where our children will grow, connect and serve. I am more confident than ever in our decision to invest in the future of this wonderful place. A few weeks before the election, my family made a three-year pledge to the Within Reach campaign. Though we were not part of the congregation during the original Reach campaign, we reap the benefits of the congregation’s generosity. When we first started attending services in early 2013 the parking lot was a gravel pit, not the beautiful, eco-friendly spot it is today. We witnessed its transformation firsthand, and want to make sure other important infrastructure investments that are within reach can go forward. The Within Reach campaign’s goal of retiring debt is far from the most glamorous of projects; yet, it is essential to the congregation’s financial health. This will allow us to lower our operating expenses by nearly $55,000 per year - enabling us to use that money to finance some social justice projects that will be essential in the coming 4 years. Our pledge is an investment in the future of UUCF. We are proud to help ensure the financial stability of the congregation because our family gets so much more in return. Now, more than ever, our support of the loving message and work of this congregation is vitally important. I hope that you will join us by making a pledge to the Within Reach campaign today.
Spiritual Practices for Tough Times (and Election Day)
by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Tomorrow will mark the end of this most unusual and divisive election season. One way or another, we, the people, will make our voices heard at the voting booth. (And I hope all who are able will vote, if you haven’t already!) The choices we have collectively made will be known. We will move on, one way or another. There will be opportunities for healing and reconciliation: I hope to see many of you at the interfaith Post-Election Call to Healing on Wednesday night. But, for now, we are sitting in the space of not-knowing, not-yet-clear. If you’re like me, the uncertainty and intensity of this campaign season may trigger a lot of anxiety and fear - for the future of our country, for the values we care about and maybe even for our personal safety. In such a time, how can we lean on our faith practices to stay clear and grounded? If you have a spiritual practice, like meditation or prayer, dancing or writing, jogging or talking with friends who care, may I suggest that today and tomorrow are really good days to practice? Whatever helps you breathe more deeply, whatever helps you meet the world with calm awareness. Whatever helps you love more. Do that. And if you are looking for a practice to try, let me tell you about one that has helped me in moments of great anxiety and difficulty. Once, I was going through a very painful time. I felt overwhelmed by worry, anxiety and distress about the situation I was in. Then, one day, as I sat in meditation, an image came to me. I remembered a Baroque painting I had seen once (or maybe I only imagined it?), of a person lying in bed, gravely ill, while another figure bent over them in deep concern and distress. The room was dark, lit only by a single candle. The image of this painting came to me, and at first I saw only this scene. But then, in my imagination, it was as if the camera zoomed out to reveal beautiful winged angels hovering all around. It doesn’t matter if you believe in angels or not – in that imagined moment they were there to embody energies of tremendous care and love that had been surrounding the figures in the painting all the time, though I had not been able to see them before. A bigger picture was emerging – much more than I had known was there. And then the camera zoomed out still further, to reveal a beautiful golden light surrounding the entire scene, a wordless, indescribable energy of goodness, beauty and hope. That beautiful light encompassed and held the scene of sorrow and suffering in a way that brought me great comfort. Many times since then, I have recalled that image of being surrounded by love and hope even when life seems darkest. The practice I offer you is simply this: When you are in the grip of anxiety, distress and pain, can you practice “zooming out” to reconnect with all that supports you and gives you hope? When you feel like you are the one sitting in that dark and shadowed corner, can you remember and bring to mind the love and care, hope and beauty that have graced your life? People who love you, the beautiful autumn trees, a warm sweater, a kind word, an unexpected lift of the heart … all these gifts and so many more. Can you remember that countless sources of comfort are present all around you, even now? Lift your eyes from the focus of your anxiety and let yourself receive the light of these good gifts. May you be strengthened and renewed, today and tomorrow and always, no matter what.
Ode to the Kaleidoscope
Oct. 31, 2016. by Cheryl Sadowski, Lay Minister for Adult Spiritual Development. Do you remember the joy of kaleidoscopes? - the long tubes pointing to a tapestry of light and color that organizes and reorganizes itself into a new picture with each twist of your hand? When you twist a kaleidoscope all the way around, you occasionally return to the very image at which you began, though really it isn’t quite the same. After all, prisms reflect and channel light, and light changes from one moment to the next. My own spiritual experience feels much like a kaleidoscope, having wound my way from a ritualized, cultural Catholic upbringing through threads of Buddhism, Taoism and naturalism, and ultimately through the welcoming doors of Unitarian Universalism. It’s under the sturdy, generous umbrella of this liberal faith tradition where I am most inspired by the collective deep and abiding interest in the world. Each person’s search for truth and meaning is, by its nature, individual and wholly authentic. But what of responsibility in this search? I take that as respect for individuality amid accountability to the faith community and betterment of all - a necessary and productive tension if we are to at all effective in our work. It’s interesting how little need there is for orthodoxy or spiritual certainty in our dealings with one another, or out in the world; I’m not convinced these things matter, or that they help. In the human realm where planes need to fly, bridges must stand and diseases be cured, I regularly place my faith in the certainty of pilots, engineers and doctors. But in matters of the human heart and how I want to be in relationship to the world, it is uncertainty that often leads to more exciting and tectonic places, where real change and growth occur. In her Ware Lecture at the 2014 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, Sister Simone Campbell of the “Nuns on the Bus” movement described uncertainty as a critical part of her spirituality: “I describe my spirituality as walking willing. Walking willing to wherever we are led.” Walking willing isn’t easy, it requires innate curiosity, wonder and trust: Curiosity for the world beyond your own experience; wonder at the visible, the invisible and for the vastness of human compassion and cruelty; and trust that you will in some way be favorably changed by your journey. Walking willing is a mantra for seekers. From the ancient time of Arius through Servetus and Socitus of the early Renaissance to the split from Puritan Congregationalism to visionary and subversive thinkers like Lucy Stone, William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson - Unitarian Universalists have always been seekers - walking willing to challenge systems, decry bigotry and injustice, amplify the voices of the poor and oppressed, and give voice to the natural world, which cries out loudly, though not in the language of man. We seek because we want to make this world, not another, a better place for all through acts of love and justice. Our Fairfax congregation offers so much rich fodder for your spiritual journey - adult education classes of every variety, small-group communities, retreats and opportunities to work alongside one another, sermons that inspire and activate. I hope you are taking advantage of a few or many of these opportunities to find your path. As Buddhists are apt to remind us, the picture in the kaleidoscope is always changing. No sooner do we redress some inequalities, injustices or environmental tragedies than do new ones arise. Yet we are always seeking, growing, wondrous at the promising new tapestries we are able to envision and create, as individuals and with one another. What a wonderful way to be in the world.
by Intern Minister McKinley Sims. I didn’t know I was racist. That was the big revelation. The piano falling on my head. Notice, I didn’t say that I didn’t know I was a racist. It’s not a noun, where I was a guy yelling slurs and making crude jokes and refusing to serve black and brown people. Plenty of people in my family have done that, I’m sure, along with people I grew up with, but I was different. I was an enlightened, liberal, voter for Kinky Friedman and Barack Obama! No way was I a racist! I have black friends, and I want to be a minister, and I never use the n-word, and I treat all people equally. I don’t see color. No, I was a good, liberal, non-racist white person. People made too big a deal about race, anyway. We just need to move on together! Can’t we get past the past and work to make things better? And then, someone showed me how racism has evolved from the 1950s to today. Racism didn’t go away. It adapted. A better definition is Howard Winant’s: “the routinized outcome of practices that create or reproduce hierarchical, social structures based on essentialized racial categories.” I read that again and again, and I had to relabel my definition of racism. This is systemic racism, where most everyone polled would say that they are definitely not a racist and that they don’t see color, but where black, brown and native peoples are disproportionately represented in the prison system, the lowest economic brackets and the access points to quality education. And then I had a black classmate tell me, “You can say that you don’t see color, because you can afford not to. I can never take off my blackness, and this country will always see me as black, no matter how rich or successful I become.” Crash. Piano. Racist. My emotions spike just typing that word, because I am not a racist. That doesn’t mean that systemic racism is not a deadly real power in the world, and that I am not an unwitting participant. I benefit from being a white, straight, Christian male in so many invisible and obvious ways. I read all these things and I resisted. I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. I didn’t want to learn about racism. I wanted to feed the hungry and give to the poor. I wanted hope and joy and light and for the world to get better on its own. I wanted the resurrection, but I didn’t want to go through the crucifixion. But I had to. I had to encounter and embrace my discomfort. I was part of a racist system, simply by being born into it. I was racist, even when I didn’t know it. That sucks. That’s not fair. But neither is oppression of any kind. I had to take a hard look at myself and recognize my role in being silent to the oppression of my neighbors, just because I didn’t want to see color. Our criminal justice system sees color. Our drug laws see color. Our implicit biases (that every single one of us has, regardless of skin tone) see color. In refusing to see color, I was a participant in racism. In refusing to engage the discomfort, I was perpetuating the very attitude that allows systemic racism to thrive. That’s the insidiousness of it. I am guilty by association, but I’m not to blame for its construction. I am racist. How could I not be? I was born and raised in the culture, breathed it in with every moment, unrealizing. But I realize now. I can’t unsee now that I see. I embrace the discomfort, because it’s helping me to be more human. It’s helping me to live out the Second Principle: justice, equity and compassion in my human relations. It wasn’t easy. I had to struggle, wrestle, be vulnerable and be open to uncomfortable truths. I’m so glad I did.
Helping Bend the Arc of the Universe Toward Justice
by Lay Minister for Social Justice Wini Atlas. Unitarian Universalists have worked to bend the arc of the universe toward justice throughout our history. In 1850, transcendentalist Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, a noted abolitionist, wrote: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice." When Parker wrote those words, the Unitarians and the Universalists were immersed in the abolition of slavery. One strategy our faith uses in social justice work is the Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI). The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) website states: "The Congregational Study/Action Issue is an invitation for congregations and districts to take a topic of concern and engage it, reflect on it, learn about it, respond to it, comment on it, take action - each in their own way. A CSAI is NOT a statement - it is a question." UUs believe that we are stronger together. By combining our efforts, we can accomplish more. As Unitarian Universalists, we set priorities for our social justice efforts, namely those issues that exemplify our commitment to our Second Principle: justice, equity and compassion in human relations. One way we do this is through the CSAI process. As UUCF’s lay minister for social justice and a member of the UUCF Denominational Connections Committee, I'd like to tell you more about the three most recent CSAIs. The CSAI process takes 4 years. After the first 3 years of study, delegates to the UUA General Assembly (GA) can vote to approve the CSAI as a Statement of Conscience (SoC). At this year’s UUA GA, attendees voted on the 2015 SoC on reproductive justice. We are in the final year of discernment on the escalating inequality CSAI. Last year, a UUCF task force presented a series of monthly meetings exploring factors that contribute to escalating inequalilty. Now we are ready for the next step in the process. A draft SoC and a ballot to place this CSAI on the 2017 GA agenda will be included in the congregational poll that every UUA congregation fills out yearly. The poll will come out on Nov. 15 and comments are due by Feb. 1, 2017. The draft SoC will be posted on the UUCF website and your comments will be collected and transmitted to the UUA Committee on Social Witness that manages the CSAI process. We hope you will comment on the draft SoC, including your vote for or against it. Your votes will be included in UUCF's response to the poll. A quorum of 25% of congregations must be reached for the SoC to be placed on the 2017 GA ballot. Key dates and steps in the escalating inequality Statement of Conscience process can be found here. At the 2016 General Assembly, five new CSAI topics were presented for consideration by the attendees, which is how the process starts. Congregations are asked to submit proposals for new CSAIs and the Committee on Social Witness chooses as many as 10 for comment before choosing no more than five to present to GA delegates. The CSAI topic chosen this year was corruption of our democracy. Please comment on the draft SoC and think seriously about attending the 2017 GA in New Orleans. Please also consider being a UUCF delegate. Delegates vote on UUA business including whether to accept a Statement of Conscience or to create a new Congressional Study/Action Issue. The Denominational Connections Committee selects delegates with Coordinating Team approval before each GA. For information on being a delegate, click here and look for Upcoming Events.
Trauma and Healing
by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Last week our country learned, in graphic detail, that one of our national presidential candidates has boasted of his habits of sexually forcing himself on women. In the wake of the news, our ministry team had a heartfelt conversation sharing our reactions to the tape. We shared our anger and revulsion not just toward this particular revelation, but toward the broader culture of sexual violence that surrounds us all and shapes our lives. Emerging from that conversation, I feel called to say something I hope is obvious, but still needs saying: Your ministers care about each one of you and the impact that violence has had on your life. We want you and your loved ones, and all people, to feel safe in the world, to move freely and without fear. And yet, we know that is not the reality for many of us. As a woman, I know what it is to move through life having been taught in a million different ways that I am not safe because of my gender. That it is reasonable and rational for me to fear and expect physical and emotional attacks because of my gender. That I need to watch my back at all times. That hyper vigilance is an important tool of self-protection. Now, that doesn’t mean I can’t relax or be happy or feel empowered. Of course I can, and do. But I think many women would agree that the fear and expectation of violence has become part of the fabric of our lives - often receding into the background, but ready to be triggered at a moment’s notice. Trauma theorist and theologian Serene Jones, in her book “Trauma & Grace,” argues that long-term exposure to a pervasive low-intensity threat of violence has just as much potential to trigger a traumatic response in human beings as a high-intensity single event. I think our military veterans and law enforcement officials could testify to this, too. And the LGBTQ folks and people of color within and beyond our congregation. I know many of you, too, have had to live with similar levels of fear and hyper vigilance caused by the constant, chronic threat of violence. Here at UUCF, your ministers want to help. We want to listen. We want this community to be a safe place for you and your loved ones. We want our neighborhoods and our country to be safer for everyone. We want to be agents of healing. We believe you want to be part of this, too. In the spirit of healing and hope, let us move forward together.
Giving Ourselves Over to the Power of Music and Art
by Laura Weiss. We have all experienced some type of music and art that moved us; that external and cathartic experience that can change us for a lifetime. It transforms us, calms us, reminds us, captivates our soul. Our body chemistry actually changes. Our emotions well up. We feel the ecstasy of loss of control, of handing ourselves over. To the music and the poetry. To the experience. And, we give it the profound permission to change us. What an almost childlike thing to do; a courageous and completely natural thing to give ourselves over to the power of music and art. But, we’re grown-ups right? Why do we let this happen? I don’t know. It is so easy to get lost in a song, yet, we resist giving in when we are deep in the throes of a debate. We’ve all been there. “But, I’m right!” I say to my husband. Or we say to ourselves, “They have no idea what they are talking about.” I think our resistance to backing down comes from our lack of acceptance and openness to who we truly are. Music is the tool that allows John Legend to leave us in a pile of tears or with ridiculously giddy grins plastered on our faces. I mean, this is some kind of crazy power, right? So what would the world look like if we took the same approach to depth of self? Music transforms by not being stationary. It is moving. It doesn’t need to be right or perfect or solid. It is changing, amorphous and elegant. Music holds the expanse of all human experience as best we can express it within its beautiful palm, and it is still always shifting. And we find ourselves in it again and again like the challenges of life that confront us; yet it is never the same song twice. And we are OK with that! We do not expect how we hear the “Sounds of Silence” today will ever be exactly the same again. Now is the moment and we do not take that for granted. Music demands that we find beauty in the loss of control - the enjoyment at the edges of our comfort. Each of us is hearing the music differently and if we acknowledge this shared humanity, we will find ourselves eternally at the edges of our neighbor’s front yard. If I am frustrated with someone, I remember that we are still listening to the same song. We are just hearing it differently. Maybe more importantly, we are afraid of the song changing us so we point blame instead. We avoid our “selves.” It is time to start feeling. We need to heal ourselves first, no matter what the song asks of us, and experience the fall-on-our-knees, cry-like-a-baby feelings that define us. Only then can we start to see that the other we are blaming is just as wounded as we are and that their pain drives actions of anger and fear that frustrate us. And only when we see our own broken and holy hearts can we empathize in a debate and be the first one to step back. To hold a hand. To see that our power rests just as much in quiet love and respect. So for this moment today, I relish that my sweet brokenness is just as perfect as everyone else’s. So I put on some Joni Mitchell’s “Sire of Sorrow,” open a box of chocolates and just … feel. Because I know if we all did this, good change wouldn’t take so long.
Making UUCF’s “Paris Pledge”
by Dave Anderson. Like many of us, I was impressed (and depressed!) by the climate change information in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” when it came out 10 years ago. The film hit me on an intellectual level, but not emotionally in the gut. However, after reading some of Catholic theologian Thomas Berry’s deeply spiritual writing about the sacredness of the earth and all life forms, I felt moved to do something, to try to make a difference in my personal life and, if possible, in the larger sphere. Last year, I started attending the meetings of the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions-UUCF group (recently renamed the UUCF Climate Action Group) and much of the discussion centered on action versus talk. It’s easy to sit around and talk about the challenges of climate change, but it’s much harder to identify and sustain meaningful action, and make a difference, even just a small one. Last fall, we were greatly encouraged by the agreement reached at the Climate Conference in Paris. We also thought that if 195 countries can get together and negotiate a set of goals on global warming, then maybe we could find some meaningful action to take within our UUCF community. At that time, we learned about a new initiative called “Paris Pledge” that was focusing action within religious communities. We immediately became excited about the prospect of adopting this pledge at UUCF. UUCF’s Paris Pledge is quite simple in concept. It basically says that UUCF supports the goals of the Paris Accord and will act to achieve these goals within our community. The goals involve reducing the carbon dioxide sent into the atmosphere from UUCF’s use of electricity and natural gas. Notwithstanding the “climate deniers,” there is broad scientific agreement about the direct correlation between CO2 emissions and global climate change. UUCF’s specific Paris Pledge goals are: Reduce our CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030, and Achieve a state of “net zero” CO2 emissions for UUCF by 2050. Over the last 9 months, the Climate Action Group has worked with numerous groups within UUCF to build initial support and launch the projects that will enable us to reduce our CO2 emissions dramatically over time. Some of these projects require up-front investments, but many will pay for themselves relatively quickly in terms of lower operating costs. We’re grateful for the support of the Social Justice Council, the Property Stewardship Council, the UUCF staff and the Coordinating Team. Earlier this year, we engaged a professional energy consultant to complete an updated energy audit. At this point, we are well along in planning a broad-based LED lighting project that we believe will reduce our related electrical costs by over 50%. Now that we’ve laid the foundation for progress on Paris Pledge, we will work to build awareness and participation throughout the UUCF community during the next few months. Starting yesterday, we will have a Paris Pledge table in the Commons on Sundays and will have materials providing details about our projects and status. Soon we will launch a page on uucf.org where anyone can see our progress toward meeting these worthy goals. We have some additional programs related to Paris Pledge that we will roll out later this fall. We’re hopeful that our progress at UUCF will also encourage all of us to think about ways we can be more mindful about our energy use in the other areas of our lives.
Courage in action creates hope
I watched the Ken Burns documentary "Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War" on PBS Tuesday night. From the earliest age, growing up Jewish near Skokie, IL, a place with the highest population of Holocaust survivors anywhere besides Israel, I was aware of anti-immigrant prejudice and political fascism and recognized that some lives were valued more than others. I have come to believe that history doesn't repeat itself; we must continuously fight the forces in us and around us that threaten to overtake the world with the worst, instead of the best, of humanity. We are in another one of those times. The irony of watching this documentary is that now my connection is on the other side. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, how can I be inspired by the courage of the Sharps who helped some of "my people" a generation ago to stand up and do the right thing in the face of today's many challenges in the world? It is a hard time right now. There are forces rising. We have seen different manifestations of them before. Courage in action doesn't crave hope, it creates hope. Stay strong, love can win.
Our Future Is Within Reach
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller and UUCF Generosity Team Co-Chair Deborah Boehm-Davis Four years ago this congregation looked boldly ahead. Our Board of Directors and other leaders envisioned a UUCF for the future. A UUCF that welcomed people with a beautiful, safe and accessible campus. A UUCF with technology and an infrastructure that could present our transformational messages to each other and to the broader community. A UUCF that is financially stable. A UUCF that is environmentally responsible. A UUCF able to bring its social justice mission to fruition. Our leaders laid out a campaign to move UUCF forward into that vision. That campaign was called Reach. Unlike most capital campaigns centered around building facilities, Reach was focused on strengthening our foundations – strengthening our financial position by retiring some of our debt; building a new, welcoming, safe and eco-friendly parking lot; installing new audio-visual technologies for the Sanctuary and connectivity to other buildings; replacing the furniture and carpets in the Program Building; connecting to public sewer and retiring our aging septic fields; and setting aside 10% of the funds collected for social justice projects. [gallery size="large" ids="31526,31525,31522"] The campaign goal was $3.2 million. The congregation generously pledged $2.6 million over 5 years. With the funds that have come in so far, we’ve been able to build our beautiful parking lot, refurnish the Program Building and upgrade our technology. [caption id="attachment_31521" align="alignleft" width="280"] Connecting to public sewer and freeing up the property above our aging septic fields is still a goal.[/caption] However, some goals still remain, including paying off half our mortgage to reduce debt, connecting to public sewer, reducing our campus’ carbon footprint and allocating funds to a large social justice project. The most pressing goal in the short-term is retiring some of our debt. In fact, by this December, we hope to raise $100,000 to add to the $550,000 we have in the bank to make part of a balloon payment on our mortgage this December. Reducing this mortgage debt will lower our operating expenses by nearly $55,000 per year, increasing our financial stability and freeing up funds in the future for other congregational priorities. We believe this goal is within reach. We are so close, in fact, that we are announcing the Within Reach mini-campaign for this fall. Here’s how the campaign will work: We are asking those of you who gave to the original Reach Campaign to consider accelerating your pledges by giving what you can by Dec. 15, 2016. For those who were here in 2012, and for whatever reason didn’t feel called or weren’t able to contribute to the campaign, we ask you to consider making a pledge now. And for all of you who weren’t here in 2012, we’re asking you to add your support to the foundational future of this congregation. In the coming weeks you will learn much more about this campaign and how close we actually are to some of these important goals. The Within Reach team - led by Terry Goplerud, and including David Addis, Nancy Rooney, Rich Sider and the two of us - is in place, and you will be receiving more information about the remaining projects, goals and requests. The vision of this congregation has always been firmly fixed on the horizon and this Within Reach campaign is no different. With the many accomplishments already under our belts, this congregation is Within Reach of helping to create a stable and exciting future. Please consider your generosity to this campaign and thank you so much for everything you have done and do to support UUCF being a place that helps transform ourselves, our community and the world through acts of love and justice.
Excitement for a New Year Together
by Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. As we return to UUCF for the new congregational year, it has been a hot summer with so much going on in the world. I am looking forward to a wonderful year here at UUCF. I am so excited about having a year under our belts together and being the minister of a congregation with such an incredible history and filled with such amazing possibilities. Through July and August, much goes on behind the scenes to prepare for the start of the congregational year. There have been planning retreats with ministers, staff and lay leaders. Groups like the Social Justice Council, the Worship Committee and the Coordinating Team are all working on plans to deepen our connections and further fulfill UUCF’s mission. I am thrilled to welcome UUCF's new Intern Minister McKinley Sims and Director of Music & Arts Laura Weiss. There has also been a good deal of activity on the campus including floor waxing, carpet cleaning and further grounds beautifying. The list of events being planned for the year is growing, with events and activities through the holiday already looking full and exciting. One new social event of note is the Holiday Potluck and Party where we will join to hang the greens, share delicious food and sing together. Please save the evening of Dec. 3 for that one and check the announcements and the calendar for the many other opportunities where we can come together as a community to connect more deeply with each other. For me, this summer also provided educational and deeply transformational experiences through trips to the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly and a couple of Moral Monday-related trainings with the Rev. Dr. William Barber II. With the tumult in the world, it has been both helpful to me personally and hopefully important to our ministry together to have participated in these experiences. We start fresh again with so much need for our mission of transforming the world through acts of love and justice. With this year will come many challenges and it will also bring joy, connection, sustenance, deep meaning and love. For those of you who were gone, welcome back. For those who were here, I am so glad we will all be together again. Once again, I am so excited about our coming year and I look forward to taking this next step in our collective journey.
Why a UU at a UU Congregation?
by Intern Minister McKinley Sims. Grace and peace, friends! My name is McKinley Sims, the intern minister at UUCF for the next year. I’m a recent graduate from seminary up in New Jersey, but I live in DC with my partner, Kristen (whom I have always called KP and can’t quite get my mind around calling her anything else). It’s been my honor and privilege to get to know the staff at UUCF for the past few weeks, and I preached for the first time yesterday! I think it’s customary to provide a bio to the congregation from a new minister, so now is my time, and this blog is my platform. Some background: I grew up outside Lubbock, TX, in a typical West Texas Christian household. I attended both Baptist and Methodist churches as a kid. My extended family is super Catholic, and I attended an Episcopal school in Lubbock for junior high. I worshiped at both Anglican and non-denominational churches as an undergrad at the College of William & Mary. I then worked and lived in an old Catholic convent in New Haven, CT. I graduated from a historically Presbyterian seminary, my mom is a practicing Episcopalian, my sister is Methodist, my brother is Baptist and I’m … somewhat undecided. Perhaps undecided is not quite the right word, as I’m very decided on what I want my faith to be and look like. Perhaps a better term would be uncommitted, because in the past I haven’t had the theological language to describe my beliefs. I haven’t known what to call myself. I’ve run a summer camp for kids in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, I’ve taught low-income families how to read and navigate social services paperwork, I’ve mentored young men as part of their incarceration and rehabilitation and I’ve worked as a chaplain at hospice centers and children’s hospitals. I decided a long time ago to commit myself to work for the betterment of others, and that decision has always been an expression of my faith. Committing to a denominational team, however, was a bigger challenge. Until I found Unitarian Universalism. I found my way to a UU congregation in Philadelphia, and I felt like I walked into a theological home. There was stained-glass artwork showing Jesus welcoming people in and bearing the Golden Rule of Mark 12:31 and Matthew 7:12. There were murals with Unitarian virtues and morals, and there was a poster of Dr. King and Ghandi. I felt right in the navel of the world. It was truly beautiful. Since then, I’ve worked toward calling all people everywhere into relationship with one another and to enjoy the incredible blessing of love and friendship and playing catch in the yard and sharing a meal and jamming on guitars. I look for the depth of being in our world and the ultimate “engine of joy in the universe” (thanks, Rob Bell). I believe that when we feel pulled toward progress and love like an unexplainable gravitational directive, we find our center and our community. I followed that pull to Virginia, to Connecticut, to New Jersey, to Philadelphia, to DC, and here to UUCF. I didn’t always understand where I was headed, and to be sure, I still don’t understand the full mystery of my faith, but I believe in the path. I believe in love and hope and hard work. I believe in the dignity of all people. I believe in acceptance and the inclusion of many paths. I believe in peace and connection. I don’t always understand how to get there, but I believe in those words. What I like about Unitarian Universalism is that I’m allowed not to fully understand a lot of things I fully and ardently believe in: the power of compassion and grace, the gift of music, the interconnected web of all existence. It’s OK to still be figuring it out. We’re all just figuring it out, in one way or another. I don’t understand how I got from Texas to DC, or met a great girl, or got through grueling educational programs. I don’t understand how I got to a place where I can call myself a Unitarian Universalist. But I believe in those words, and I’m proud to finally have them.
A Radical Revolution of Values
by Rev. David A. Miller. It is late on Sunday night and about 24 UUCF folks have just returned from the Moral Revival at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Rev. Dr. William Barber II is the central figure in this effort and he is leading an organization called Repairers of the Breach. This is the description from the website: “Repairers of the Breach, Inc. is a nonpartisan and ecumenical organization that seeks to build a progressive agenda rooted in a moral framework to counter the ultra-conservative constructs that try to dominate the public square. Repairers will help frame public policies [that] are not constrained or confined by the narrow tenets of neo-conservatism. Repairers will bring together clergy and lay people from different faith traditions, with people without a spiritual practice but who share the moral principles at the heart of the great moral teachings. Repairers will expand a ‘school of prophets’ who can broadly spread the vision of a nation that is just and loving.” I have now seen Rev. Barber speak five times. And tonight, like every time I have heard him, he speaks directly to my heart about the lack of love in our public life and how we must be called to hope. I was recently reviewing some Facebook posts since 2010 and realized I have been writing about our challenging political environment and our need for love and hope for a long time. And this is what I’ve come to realize: Whether through a central figure like Rev. Barber, through our congregations or from anywhere else, we must find the inspiration to speak and act to repair what Rev. Barber calls “a heart problem” in this country. That is what we are trying to do with the Finding Common Ground gun violence event, with the Racial Justice Steering Committee, with our social justice efforts, with our Religious Exploration, with our worship, with all the programs of this congregation … We are trying to repair the heart problem, the sense of separation, the current suffering that comes from the loss of the moral connection between public policies and people. It was hot in the church tonight, but Rev. Barber reminded us that it is much hotter for those not making a living wage. I don’t believe he did that to raise guilt or shame, he did it to lift up to our consciousness that the time has come for a moral revolution of values, of what is important, of what seems to be forgotten or maybe never really was there. Rev. Barber was inspired to call for this revolution by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Near the end of his life, in his speech Beyond Vietnam, Dr. King famously said, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin ... the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.” It is always a good night to be together with those wanting to bring more love into the world. Tonight was especially good because it is another step in helping us believe it still might really be possible.
We Can Welcome the Stranger
by Rod Paolini, Chair of UUCF’s Muslim Liaison Group. I’ve noticed lately that refugees are no longer on the front page of newspapers. There are no longer videos of columns of refugees trudging through a countryside nor confrontations with armed guards preventing their entry to a European country. So where are they? As best I can tell, they are “settled in place.” The least fortunate languish in refugee camps. Where’s the hope? According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2014 there were an estimated 14.4 million refugees (up 19% from the previous year). According to 2015 statistics, it is estimated that there are more than 4.2 million Syrian refugees. The top origin countries for refugees in 2013 were Afghanistan (2.6 million), Syria (2.5 million), Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (650,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (499,600) and Myanmar (480,000). The United States is doing its part: We accept 50,000-70,000 refugees per year. But these numbers are much fewer than were accepted in other crises. In 1979, we provided sanctuary to 111,000 Vietnamese refugees and in 1980 almost doubled that number to 207,000. Around the same time, the United States took in more than 120,000 Cuban refugees during the Mariel boatlift, including more than 80,000 in one month alone. The voices of today are not so welcoming. In announcing that his state would not accept any Syrian refugees, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, "I demand the U.S. act similarly," he said. "Security comes first." Are refugees a risk to our safety, especially ones from countries where terrorism has taken root? I suppose so, though I think the risk quite small. Refugees are people fleeing terrorism. They are primarily families and not individuals. They do not choose where to resettle. They are vetted over an 18-24 month period. Compassion and love should not be limited to only safe situations. Sometimes compassion and love require moral courage: doing the right thing even when it is not completely safe and not totally acceptable. As UUCF prepares to co-sponsor a refugee family next month, it is important for us to keep in mind: We cannot help millions of refugees, but we can help one family; and in doing so, we can demonstrate our love, compassion and courage. We can affirm our UU principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We can welcome the stranger to a community that is America. Editor’s Note: Many volunteers are needed to help UUCF prepare to welcome a refugee family next month. For more information, go to uucf.org/refugee.
Building Relationships, Deepening Connections
by Rev. David A. Miller. As we are preparing to join together from whatever summer brought us, there are a few things that I have been thinking about and processing with colleagues and friends. It is inescapable to note the increase in worry, not only because of this summer’s tragic events, but also the current political campaign season and the endless stream of commentary in the news and social media. In observing the cultural phenomenon that is social media, it does seem to connect us in a myriad of ways never before seen in modern life. My concern is that although it does seem to help superficially increase our connection, the demands of modern life also leave our time and availability to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways lacking. With that said, I would like to suggest that we introduce an overarching theme this year, a year of Building Relationships/Deepening Connections. I am going to challenge us all - staff, worship leaders, small group ministry, adult and children’s education, social justice, music folks and all of the programs of this congregation - to think about how to help provide opportunities to deepen our connections to each other, the community and the planet. This is meant to put us, as often as possible, in the same physical location together, to share experiences together, to supporting each other in challenging our comfort to grow as we reach out in love to those isolated and hurting. Many people say the reason they attend this congregation is “community,” which in so many ways is an umbrella term for the desire to be seen and accepted, to love and be loved and to deepen our connections. There will be more about this as time progresses, but I would like to take note of two specific upcoming events designed to help with broader and deeper connections: The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values This coming Sunday, many of us from UUCF will join people of faith from all over the DC area for “The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values.” Led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Rev. Traci Blackmon and Sister Simone Campbell, this national tour aims to redefine morality in American politics and challenge leaders of faith and moral courage to be more vocally opposed to harmful policies that disproportionately affect the poor, people who are ill, children, immigrants, communities of color and religious minorities. If you wish to join me, please contact me at email@example.com. Sun., Aug. 28, 2016, 5-7:30 p.m., Pennsylvania Ave Baptist Church, 3000 Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast Washington, DC, 2002. Finding Common Ground: A Reverse Town Hall to End Gun Violence This event is about finding a deeper connection between gun owners and non-gun owners in hopes of building relationships in order to find common ground. As a reminder, it is Sat., Sep. 17, 6-8:30 p.m., here at UUCF. You can register at uucf.org/finding-common-ground. This year I hope we are ready and willing to find the deeper path - the one that takes some risks and may feel a bit vulnerable - for we are at a time where finding points of human connection is important to building a more loving world. I look forward to this year’s shared journey.
“We Are More Alike, My Friends, Than Unalike”
by Linnea Nelson, Director of Religious Exploration. I love August! It's hot and sunny and the Olympics have added a true bonus to the month. I was also lucky enough to spend the first week of August at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY, which for me became a place of spiritual renewal through the arts and spoken word. The week’s theme at Chautauqua was cities, but the underlying message was the importance of equity in thinking about oneness and wholeness. During the televised opening of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, a phone ad (of all things) mimicked my summer spiritual learning. I heard Maya Angelou's unmistakable velvety voice reading her poem "Human Family" as photos of people from all walks of life flashed across the screen. Angelou repeatedly noted the surface differences among people, even between twins, while ending with the words, "We are more alike, my friends, than unalike." This theme of seeking oneness played out in numerous ways at Chautauqua. One of the interfaith lecturers, Dr. Diana Butler Bass, shared her message of oneness by tying our very being to the cosmos. She pointed out that every one of us - our very essence - came from the same stardust, and that each of us now lives in the same changing climate. She tied the new term cosmopolitanism to its root, cosmos, and suggested that thinking about our world in this way helps us live in harmony. In contrast, globalization suggests a sense of "taking over" rather than seeking oneness. She shared her view that by using globalization rather than cosmopolitanism, people are seeking to create empires rather than to coexist. Bass called us to live in a new kind of global, holy citizenship that brings out each of our unique "gifts of compassion, wonder, hospitality and gratitude." She reminded us that we don't make these gifts, rather we add to the cosmos when we use them. Angelou's words that "we are more alike, my friends, than unalike" also suggest that our unique gifts add to the cosmos and help us seek a more peaceful coexistence. Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, who spoke at this year’s Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly and the Democratic National Convention, also gave an interfaith lecture at Chautauqua. He reminded attendees that the coded language in today's political rhetoric strives to separate us and view our differences as greater than our similarities. He provides a historical review of this idea in his book “The Third Reconstruction,” the newly selected 2016-17 UUA Common Read. I will be reading this book, co-authored by Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, carefully and looking forward to discussing it with you. Barber also noted that history has shown that, "People vote against their own self-interest when they are told blacks are going to get something for free." This rhetoric mirrors the signs our nation is showing that too many people are afraid of our differences. We have trouble sharing space with people who do not share our opinions. Too often we are not seeing how our uniqueness can add layers of love and compassion to the cosmos. Instead, we are seeing how one group takes from another in order to get ahead. This is the power differential at work in so many places in the world today. Another Chautauquan and renowned peace proponent, Rev. John Philip Newell, gave a sermon on oneness, sharing the importance of being present with one another so that we can pay attention to sacredness, while remaining aware of the world’s deep brokenness. He asked, "Shall we be partners in this sacred dance, this wholeness of holiness?" I love the metaphor of dance, joining together joyfully to embrace our life in the cosmos. Many thanks to the poets, speakers and ministers who provided rich metaphors and profound images that help keep me engaged in loving and showing compassion to my neighbor while working toward a cosmos of undying peace. That's the world I want to live in with each of you.
Reflections on My First Year as Lay Minister for Social Justice
by Wini Atlas. Social justice is one of my passions. It is a joy of my UUCF membership that many in the congregation share this passion. This community is so much more together than merely the sum of its parts. As I reflect on my first year as lay minister for social justice, I'm more aware of this than ever before. I started my tenure with joy, anticipation and a bit of trepidation. I was lucky to have the support and encouragement of Martha Ades, the outgoing lay minister for social justice. Rev. David A. Miller, at that time starting his ministry with us, made it clear that social justice was also important to him. I am grateful for his counsel over the past year. One of my goals for my tenure as lay minister was to start a conversation at UUCF about racial justice. UCCF has a long and strong history of racial justice work, and I was glad to find we were on the same wavelength when Rev. David told me about Standing on the Side of Love’s “Thirty Days of Love,” a racial justice education and advocacy program. Last fall, a group formed to plan the monthlong program and UUCF had an amazing and inspiring month of activities and services about racial justice beginning on Martin Luther King, Jr’s, birthday weekend and ending on Valentine's Day. I'm grateful that the planning group has grown into the Racial Justice Steering Committee – under the able leadership of Kaye Cook, Mary Frances Kordick and Milo Valenzuela – so that we can continue these conversations. I am lucky to have such dedicated members on the Social Justice Council (SJC). Judith Keith, Bob McCarthy, Sandy Myles, Rita Roth and Autumn Yates, along with youth member Sidney Roth, have generously contributed their unique perspectives to our work. We learned a lot about each other in the continual effort to fulfill the recommendations of the Program Evaluation Committee's (PEC) 2014 report on social justice by evaluating our charter, covenant and job descriptions to ensure they reflected the strategic thinking that the PEC felt would make the social justice program more vital. We reviewed the social justice mission, vision and goals and the new strategic goals of the congregation when they became available. Rev. David brought the Unitarian Universalist Association workbook “Inspired Faith, Effective Action” to our attention and it contained a good blueprint for our social justice groups to evaluate their work and help them understand the new strategic thrust of the SJC. This effort will continue with the UUCF Social Justice Summit on Oct. 1. Change isn't always easy but I've seen many examples of good will and beloved conversations as the work continues. All sorts of social justice work is happening at UUCF and I am amazed at the dedication of those involved. I've learned over the last year how important it is to give service but also to try to change policy so that someday the service may not be needed. I've also learned that help has many nuances. Our attitude toward service is changing. It is not enough to tell those we help what they need. It is better to try to discover with them how we can work together to meet their needs; to learn how we can be allies to those we help. This can be a hard lesson to learn; yet I realize, more than ever, that striving toward that goal is important spiritual work. As a new congregational year begins, those of us involved in social justice at UUCF look forward to many of our programs gearing up. Watch the UUCF announcements for information on many social justice efforts, many of them intergenerational, happening in 2016-17.
Church Time Takes Time
by Linnea Nelson, Director of Religious Exploration. If you know me at all, you have probably noticed that I’m a “doer.” I like to get things done and I get more than a little joy from ticking off to-do items. Once in a while, someone asks me if I have another job during the week, and I chuckle and tell them that this one keeps me busy “doing” all week long! So, what is “church time”? It’s my name for getting things done inclusively in a way that values relationships, takes into account the varied ideas of stakeholders and leaves time for the amazing effects of collaboration. Sure, we could do some things in RE more quickly, but often that means skipping over the incredible conversations that lead to even better ideas and ways of doing things. I’ve seen it happen over and over again as a conversation with a parent or teacher leads to more discussion that helps us make good decisions for our families and teachers. Church time is coming together time. I could be spiritual all on my own and I could read books or create amazing pieces of art (well, at least I practice the first two!), but church time requires that I spend the time in relationship with others - to learn from them, to be willing to grow, to be willing to change my course or get passionate about an idea that grew from a spark and was fanned by the flame of a teaching team … or even a committee discussion. I believe that one of the most important things our teachers do at UUCF is meeting in liaison-led teaching teams, generally in August. Each team builds a special relationship that deepens throughout the year. They work together to create a teaching team covenant and they begin to think about how to handle various issues that are likely to arise in their class. What do they want to be called? Mr.? Ms.? Just first names? How will they handle communication with parents? With one another? And how will they support the unique children or youth in the class while helping each class create an identity and a stronger link to Unitarian Universalism? I think this team meeting, first instituted by Hanh Michael when she was on the RE Committee, is one of the reasons our UUCF RE program is so strong. It’s the collaboration among the teachers. I also think these teaching teams give our children a sense of community and friendship. Children and youth see positive relationships modeled by their teachers every week. They see shared decision-making and adults having fun. They see the passion and the risk-taking (does every game work just as it is planned?) that lead to children feeling safe and cared for. In this world of so much hate, our weekly dose of love can be a strong and important component of each child’s experience. So church time takes time. Thank you to all of the teachers for meeting intentionally over the summer to build community and to create a loving, engaging, friendly and UU-grounded home for our children and youth. And to our families, I hope that you will collaborate with your children’s teachers, the RE Committee and me to create a place where your children can learn some of the most important things in life. Yes, church time takes time, but it is time well spent.
Transformation That Comes Through Acts of Love and Justice
by Rev. David A. Miller. There are members and friends of this congregation from all living generations. There are people in this congregation who suffered from the violence of war, the violence of racism, the violence of political upheaval, the violence of terrorism and many other forms of violence. They are all heartbreaking. It seems we are going through a period of time where violence is finding new ways to harm hearts, minds and bodies. And perhaps the biggest threat is its potential to give rise to the fear, reaction and othering that tear at the fabric of human relationships. In this congregation we have members, friends and family who are police officers. In this congregation we have members, friends and family who identify as people of color. In this congregation we have members, friends and families who have differing views on the politics of the day. It is not the job of this congregation to be all things to all people, but to love equally and support the furthering of human compassion, engagement, kindness, civility and love. Our mission, direct from the “About Us” section of our website is, “to transform ourselves, our community and the world through acts of love and justice.” Not everyone will agree on what acts of love and justice look like, so it is a time to increase our communication, to become more engaged, to open our ears, eyes and hearts ever wider. In a time when it seems we don’t have space to grieve one terrible event before another confronts humanity’s balance, we enter a period of increased need for each other, for love to be lived more boldly in this world and for our UUCF community to be there as a place of safety and spiritual grounding. I am back in the office tomorrow. Rev. Laura will be back soon and our new intern will be starting in mid-August. Along with the Pastoral Care Team, Worship Team and other leaders of the congregation, we will be there to provide meaningful worship, deep listening and opportunities for us all to be held in the embrace of this community of love. We are all human; it won’t always be easy, but I continue to believe it is important for us to model here the world for which we hope and pray. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all those suffering through these terrible events. The hope for our actions is the transformation that comes through acts of love and justice - with a lot of emphasis on love. Much love, David
Stepping Out of the Feed
by Rev. David A. Miller I just returned to Virginia from Chicago, where my family gathered to celebrate my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary and collectively struggled with whether we have finally reached the time for my father to stay on the memory care floor. It has been a long, slow decline. He can absolutely still converse and is very social, but the confusion of daily life is increasing. It is inevitable, but it is a challenging call to make, especially with the thoughts and feelings of spouse, children and in-laws in the mix. I made this trip in a particularly difficult week for the world. After a wonderful and challenging year, I tried to take 3 weeks off to recharge and recoup my energy and resiliency for our next year together. After many years of ministry, however, I have come to understand that what sometimes starts as an unplugged vacation doesn’t always turn out that way. I have been checking email and not responding if at all possible, and of course there is Facebook. I find myself unable to separate myself from Facebook, and yet I struggle because I want to detach as much as possible to recharge for what I already know will be a challenging upcoming year. With the world as it is, we have unfortunately gotten to a place where it seems that it doesn’t stop. There is always a need for support, protest, pastoral response and continuing the work of being a good accomplice/ally. As I sat at the lakefront talking with a friend, the warm breeze coming off the lake, people jogging, the row of large Evanston homes with pristine lawns looking like a scene from the 1950s, it was hard to imagine the pain coming through my Facebook feed, one update after another, one news story after another. It felt surreal surrounded by the familiar trappings, and yet I was conscious of what feels like a world gone mad, ricocheting back and forth through the digital realm. And here I was on vacation. Much like my presence in the physical Evanston world, I was trying to make the familiar rules apply, trying not to work, trying not to do the thing that I am most called to do during what seems like a pretty needy time. I thought, what about the balance, what about the self-care and what about the pain of the world, my congregation, my siblings of color and yes, what about my family? Next Tuesday I return to work after what feels like a very short break. There is much to plan and much to do. After General Assembly and the events of this summer, I am feeling called ever deeper to whatever forces placed me in this congregation, living less than a mile away from the headquarters of the NRA. There will be much to do in this second year of ministry at UUCF, but my spirit is deeply moved to be more visible and vocal about the disease of gun violence. We all have choices to make. We all need to feed our souls. We all need Sabbaths to reflect and gain perspective. Not all of us have the privilege to take the time to do this. We all have various responsibilities tugging at our time and energy, and as I watched the suffering of the nation, juxtaposed against the struggles of my family, I know that balance can be a rare privilege. I guess the reason to write this is to express, both to myself and others, that some things can be all consuming and there are times when we need to be consumed, but we also need to step out of the “feed” every once in a while for reflection and perspective, if only to feed our spirits for the desperate work that continues. I am grateful for those who were able to stay plugged-in during this latest, but unfortunately not last, crisis. Like others, I must take my time where I can and then I will jump back in. There is something that I am so deeply hoping for, through all the totally understandable anger, hurt and pain (and I own that I can say this from my white, cisgendered, position of privilege and responsibility, a place safe from the oppression visited on too many generations of my siblings in communities suffering from the systemic oppressions of our time): I am still hoping that love is indeed the answer, not foolish love, not passive love, not irresponsible love, not blind love, and definitely not one-sided love, but love that acknowledges the pain that we cause others, that calls us to human connection, that understands the anger, that leaves space for pain without demands for premature healing, a love that open hearts and eventually finds the face of the divine and the beauty of creation in the other. It seems we are all still working on the tactics. So much more work to be done. Thanks for listening and much love, David
Plans for Tomorrow ... and Beyond
by Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Jul. 9, 2016. Dear UUCF family, What a difficult, sad week we have been witness to in the world. I know you join me in mourning the senseless deaths of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile, gunned down this week by police officers. And then the news on Thursday night of five officers in Dallas, killed by a sniper during a peaceful Black Lives Matter event. So much sorrow. So much fear and vulnerability. So much trauma. We seek to hold it all in compassion, even as we continue to work for justice. Community is never more important than at times like these. If you need a place to gather with others, come to UUCF. Tomorrow (Sunday) morning, I will be leading a drop-in Circle of Listening and Song, 9-9:30 a.m., in the Chapel. We will sit in silence together, listening for the inner voice within us. We will speak, as we are moved, of what needs to be said right now. We will sing hymns, if that feels right in the moment. All are welcome. If you need childcare, please bring your children to the Music Room, where Sarah and Brian Jebian will be leading positive, upbeat songs for kids, 9-9:30 a.m. No RSVP required. Then, we'll transition to the hope and grace of our annual child-friendly animal blessing service at 10 a.m., where we will celebrate the gifts of friendship across all barriers. Tomorrow (Sunday) night, especially if you identify as white, you are invited to return to UUCF for an emergency meeting of SURJ NoVA (Showing up for Racial Justice - the local chapter of a national network organizing white people for racial justice) on responding to police violence, 7-9 p.m. at UUCF. Childcare will be provided; no RSVP required. In addition, please save the date for the 6th Summit for UUs and Humanists in our area who are working for liberation from racism: Sun., Jul. 24 at Paint Branch UU Church in Adelphi, MD, 2-6:30 p.m. Watch for more information in our weekly emails. I also want you to know that UUCF is one of many UU congregations that have responded to a call from Black Lives of UU this week to offer free meeting space to Black community organizers as needed. There is so much more to do. The work will go on. For now, I urge you to do what you can today and take good care of yourselves. Re-ground yourselves in your spiritual practice and everything that feeds your spirit. Seek out what helps you feel whole. When you've caught your breath, take one more action to educate yourself about what's going on, especially if you identify as white. Following Black Lives of UU on social media is a great place to start. Dear ones, let us move forward together in compassion and strength. Blessings to you and to all the brave leaders who call us to stretch our hearts. summon our courageand join in the struggle together. With love, Rev. Laura P.S. After this week, I'll be taking some time away from UUCF to prepare for next year's sermons and other big projects, then spending a couple of weeks on vacation. Rev. David will be back on Jul. 19 and you'll see me back on Aug. 21. Take good care and be well.
The Spirituality and Curiosity of Meeting People
by John Kun, Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach. I was recently driving my spiffy, red Ford Focus from Edinboro, PA, along bucolic Interstate 79, heading back to Virginia after a long weekend with my wife, Paula, when she selected a Marc Maron podcast for our listening pleasure. These revelatory interviews with iconic personalities, conducted from Maron's garage (!), are well-known. They typically run 75-90 minutes and offer a diversion while making a long, 6-hour road trip seem much shorter. This time, Paula chose a Maron interview with Brian Grazer, with whom I was unfamiliar. Grazer, author of “A Curious Mind,” is one of the most successful film producers in Hollywood. I found him energetic, spirited and alive ... and his conversation with Maron, about meeting and engaging people, intriguing. As soon as I arrived home, I bought his book. Grazer is a proponent of using curiosity to connect with people. He uses a technique called “curiosity conversations” to meet, engage with and learn from complete strangers. In asking to meet and sit down with unfamiliar people, he is being innovative and disruptive in the process of meeting people, while learning and sharing information with them. We UUs are, by and large, fairly curious. Many of us would not have become UUs if we weren’t somewhat curious about religion and spirituality. But maybe we should take curiosity a step further in our membership and outreach by incorporating curiosity conversations for newcomers, potential newcomers and possibly even new members. Think of the reaction we would receive from “strangers” we’ve invited to discuss important issues in their faith and in their lives, so that we can learn from them. What would they think of UUism and UUCF following a 30-minute session? I believe it would be favorable. And, my gosh, what would they say to others? If anything, I hope this “personal promotion” would help dispel notions I have encountered that UUs “don't believe in anything” or that our faith is “not a religion” or that what we offer is “religion lite.” We are committed to our values and principles, a point we need to communicate more effectively during the membership and outreach process. My 4-year tenure as your Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach will end in a few days. I have thoroughly enjoyed aiding those in search of a new spiritual home. I hope I have had a positive impact. Whatever I have given to UUCF during this time, I have personally reaped so much more. My personal faith in Unitarian Universalism has never been stronger. I am a better person. I have learned much … including the importance of consistently and creatively reaching out to people in the community whether through online communications, or at a large area festival, or even at a visitors reception or an anniversary dinner at UUCF. These activities are significant because they nurture fellowship, an ingredient vital to membership and member retention. Also important to this process are our committee members, staff and ministers, with whom I have served, who are dedicated, informative and welcoming to those in search of a liberal faith. We have all served well during “the best of times and the worst of times,” a possibly apt way to describe the last 4 years. So my “take-away” is that curiosity and radical, disruptive engagement can be a tool used in membership and outreach. Sometimes people need to be shocked to truly take notice of who we are, what we believe in and what we do at UUCF. Yes, over 4 years, I have tried to make our community a better place … with the realization that it’s our faith that is at stake.
Leaving UUCF Better Than We Found It
by John Cunningham, Coordinating Team Lay Member. Hi everyone. I'm finishing up 4 years of service on the UUCF Coordinating Team (CT), and I'd like to tell you a bit about that. One ethic of camping is “leave it better than you found it.” Of course you should haul your own trash out when you leave, but if people who were there before you left trash behind, haul that out too. If the fire ring needs to be rebuilt, do that. If tree branches have fallen down into the tent area, toss them back into the brush. I like to think of service on the CT in a similar vein. It has given me and others before me an opportunity to leave UUCF better than we found it. The CT is the operational arm of the congregation: the Board of Directors sets policy and the CT executes it. The CT is responsible for the day-to-day management of UUCF, strategic planning, assessment of programs and initial preparation of the congregation's annual operating budget. In addition, the CT has been charged with disbursement of Reach Campaign capital funds in a manner consistent with the priorities established by the board at the start of the Reach Campaign in January 2013. Our two ministers, David and Laura, are permanent members of the CT, and so is Rich Sider, UUCF’s Director of Administration. They are joined by two lay members of the congregation, who serve 2-year terms with an option to renew for another 2 years. I was privileged to serve with Kristin Moyer and then Kathy Smerke Hochberg. Because the CT is the keeper of UUCF’s purse, congregants who support a cause that would cost money to achieve must approach the CT for funding. That is one of the most difficult and challenging parts of life on the CT. I've served in various leadership positions since I went onto the board in 1999. One fact has been a constant: UUCF never has enough money to do all the things that its members want it to do. But after all, most people don't have enough money to do all the things they want to do, and the same is true of our social institutions. There are always going to be limits. The CT must be a good steward of UUCF’s resources, and it must say “no” or “not yet” when it has to. But there is also joy when money is available and it is possible to do great things. During my time on the CT, the parking lot has been transformed, the Sanctuary has a new pulpit and new chalice, the Program Building has new furniture, rooms have been brightened with new paint and new technology now supports our Sunday services and brings our UU message of tolerance and understanding out into the world. My own special responsibility on the CT has been to serve as the first chair of the Program Evaluation Committee (PEC). This is a subcommittee of the CT, which is charged with reviewing a particular UUCF program each year and, to the extent improvements need to be made, submitting appropriate recommendations. If the PEC report is approved by the CT, it goes to the board. Over 4 years, the PEC has examined fellowship, social justice, financial stewardship and, most recently, property stewardship. The PEC reports (you can access them at uucf.org/ct) were well received and have led to some major changes in how UUCF pursues its social justice ministry and how it conducts its fundraising. In doing this work, I was able to link arms with Jan Cooper, Hal Fuller, Meghan Crowley, Nancy Smith and Torie Gorges. Together, I'd like to think, we left UUCF “better than we found it.”
We Pause for Grief. We Connect for Courage.
by Rev. David A. Miller. I am sick of vigils. I have had enough of watching President Obama address the nation after the latest mass shooting, which he has done 15 times during his 7+ years as president. I find the familiar pattern of some politicians offering their thoughts and prayers while not standing up to the gun lobby and not supporting the spread of love, justice and equality in the world exasperating. To quote a colleague Rev. Margaret Weis, “If you are going to say things like, ‘Pray for Orlando,’ but you attend a church where the GLBTQIA community is not 100% welcomed, think about that for a minute. This didn't just happen in a nightclub. This happened in a gay nightclub - a place of refuge and safety and community.” How can we offer support and love for the living so there will be far less need to offer thoughts and prayers for the dead? And what do we do when we experience the collective grief that comes with each act of mass violence? What do we do with the gnawing anger that comes from our seeming inability to change? How do we balance our need to find some sort of meaning in such senseless and meaningless acts with the hope we try to hold for the world? One of the core purposes of a religious community is the search for meaning. Being a part of a community like UUCF means that sometimes we find that meaning on our own through our own practices, and often we do that together. Another core purpose is to come together when we are bewildered, when we can’t understand how human beings can inflict such pain on each other, when we struggle with understanding how some don’t see the inherent worth and dignity at the center of every precious human life. Today, I sit firmly in the middle of this grief. I am also ashamed at how callous I have grown to the news that there was another mass shooting and how it sunk in much deeper when I heard the astounding number of dead and the location. I am ashamed that there have been so many shootings with so little change since those beautiful and precious children died in Newtown. This community is a vessel for this shame, as it is a vessel for the anger, for the intense pain, for the grief, and it is also a vessel for strength, for resolve, for siblinghood, for healing and for the increasingly important return to hope. We join together in the hope that we will love and be loved, see and be seen. We take tenuous steps forward hoping that there will be support when the next assault threatens to break our spirit. We reach out to link our arms with those who are suffering, hoping that no matter how much some try to break us apart, we are truly one. We pause for grief. We connect for courage. We remember the hopes and dreams of those who died, never forgetting the precious gift that each human life is. We gather strength for what continues to need our hope and love, for this is the challenge of our lives, and love must win.
by Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world. - Lao-Tzu Two years ago I traveled to the Kanuga retreat center in North Carolina for my first spiritual direction training intensive at the Haden Institute. There, I met my small group for the first time – a peer group of trainees who would go through the training together. At our first meeting, I wasn’t sure I’d fit in very well. Almost everyone but me was Christian; almost everyone was from the South. And here I was, a non-Christian Unitarian Universalist who had never felt like such a Northerner in all my life! I wasn’t sure they would accept me. I wasn’t sure I would understand them and their lives. But by the end of that first intensive, we had wholeheartedly claimed each other as friends. What made it possible was listening and speaking our truth, each in turn. One at a time, we shared our stories with the group – the journeys of our lives so far, what was happening in our spiritual lives, what we were hoping and yearning for as the program began. And as each person spoke, the rest of us listened. Just listened. No need to do anything else. No need to give advice or even affirmation. Just listen deeply. We held that space for each other over several days of sharing. When the last person had finished speaking, we looked around the circle and realized that we were soul friends now, because we had listened to each other’s stories and made a space in our hearts for each other’s truth. To hear others speak, for me, was often to be brought to tears as I glimpsed the common humanity, deep struggles and profound joy in the life of another human being. And to be heard – truly heard and accepted without judgment – this was a powerful gift to my spirit. I found my voice emerging in new ways, truths I didn’t know I possessed beginning to rise to the surface. I found I could begin to forgive myself for past mistakes I was still dragging around. I felt free, and loved. Over the past two years, those bonds of friendship deepened as we continued to “hear each other into speech,” as theologian Nelle Morton puts it. Though we’ve graduated now, and the days of formal gathering and learning together have ended, I will cherish each one of my group mates as spiritual friends for life. This is what listening to one another can do – just listening. It may not sound like much; it isn’t flashy; but it is powerful and it transforms lives. In this cultural and political moment of name-calling, suspicion, hostility and prejudice, many in our society are desperate for another way of being with one another. What if we could bring this kind of listening not just to our friends, but to those with whom we have profound disagreements? What if we listened not to prove someone else wrong, but to connect with the humanity we share? And what if our listening stance could actually make it easier for others to hear our truth too? In this moment, each of us is seeking to restore to our society the “compassion and civility” that Rev. David so beautifully called us to and modeled for us yesterday. Listening deeply is one of our best tools in this work. And when it becomes not just a tool but a way of being, it can transform the world. May it be so.
The Evolving Definition of Partnership
by Director of Religious Exploration Linnea Nelson. In summer RE, we will be exploring what it means to be a partner, with guidance from the UU Partner Church Council, whose board chair is UUCF’s Dick Van Duizend. We will be learning what it means to partner in today’s global world. No longer are we called to send donations and call it done. No longer is our role to fix. Our role with our partner churches is to come together, to appreciate our shared UU heritage and to learn about each other. This is partnership. One of the panelists in the UU-United Nations Office’s 2016 spring seminar shared that the best solutions to any problem come from the people who are most affected. No longer are we the partners who send our answers and money to “fix” others. Instead we see ourselves as one people, all trying to create a better world. We go into partnership expecting to learn: Perhaps we will learn how to do something in a more meaningful manner, find a new way to communicate or appreciate nuances in how we approach worship, RE or family life as UUs. This is the heart of partnership. We also know that we will bring our own customs and rituals into the learning. This is part of building intercultural competence, which is key to building strong partnerships. How wonderful for our children to begin learning these skills now! So get ready for an updated and expanded summer RE program: UUs Around the World! We will embrace not only our partner churches but also UUs who live in the Philippines and throughout the world. We will be acting in partnership as we incorporate stories, games and baking. We will measure our learning and good deeds through giant footsteps that will be on display for all to see. Through rising Grade 5 we will “visit” our partner churches in Romania and India as well as other communities of UUs and Unitarians around the world. We will explore the customs and beliefs of these communities and learn about the global history of Unitarian Universalism through games, arts, crafts and stories. Middle School (rising Grade 6 through rising Grade 8) will be fun and games. This will be the summer to get to know one another before the start of Grade 7 Coming of Age and Grade 8 OWL. They will have a choice of a variety games that will include old favorites and games from around the world. High School will welcome the rising 9th graders on Jun. 5 and again on Jun. 12. They have an overnight planned on Jun. 11, followed by our solstice service for all ages before taking a break until August. In August they will begin planning the beach trip to Cape Henlopen, DE, Aug. 18-21, and reconnecting with one another. Summer teachers and class helpers can sign up for just a week or two based on your busy travel schedules. We guarantee that you will learn something new! Please sign up today so that we can make sure we have a robust program all summer long! Our summer RE program is under the direction of summer staff Lisa Riddle, life-long UUCF member and recent visitor to our partner church in Szentgerice! You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. RE Committee Chair Suzanne Leonard has created much of the core curriculum and is coordinating the summer preschool program. Committee member Laurie Cunningham is supporting rising Grades 1-3 and Maria Cox-Leow is coordinating and leading the cooking for our bake sales that will support our UUCF Refugee Resettlement program. We will be learning more about this program in the fall with opportunities for the RE program to support a refugee family moving to our area. If you would like to get a copy of the book we read on RE Sunday about two refugee families, the link is here.
Funding the Innovation that grows Unitarian Universalism
by Michael Liggett, Janet Cushing and Rev. David Miller, Innovation Fund Committee. “My favorite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.” - Mario Testino It is with great pleasure that we announce the opening of the UUCF Stan Richards Innovation Fund. This fund, established through a bequest from long-term UUCF member Stan Richards, grants funding for highly innovative seed projects that expand UUCF’s outreach to persons not now engaged. The goal is that those touched will become engaged with UU values, principles and connections, ultimately contributing to sustaining the initiative longer term for the growth of Unitarian Universalism. Any member of the congregation or staff may propose projects. Projects will be funded until we reach our budget limit of $250,000. Projects must include a clear business plan, objective measures of progress, funding schedule, review points, etc. It is understood that innovative projects will have a high failure rate from which UUCF will learn and move forward. Please go to UUCF.org/innovation-fund for details about the requirements and application process. The first step is to submit a project abstract of 500 words or fewer by Jun. 10. Please embrace your curiosity and let’s explore what doors we might open together.
The Fierce Urgency of Revolutionary Love
by Rev. David A. Miller. It's hard to know what to write after being at a conference for 3 days that feels like it is dealing with the most urgent topics in a world so badly needing revolutionary love … but this is the way it feels this weekend in New York City. I write this at the closing of The Middle Project’s 2016 conference Revolutionary Love: Tools, Tactics and Truth-telling to Dismantle Racism. It was hard to listen to the stellar leaders, activists and strugglers in the work of human equality and dignity and not think that this is the central calling of our time - the struggle to dismantle our system of white supremacy that lives in us all, that pervades our institutions and that appears in our political process so obviously right now. It is a necessary challenge to our comfort, it is a call to move forward - however we can, whenever we can, wherever we can. What this conference has stressed, however, is the need to do this with revolutionary love, perhaps as defined by activist Valarie Kaur: What do we mean by love? A well-spring of care; an awakening to inherent dignity and beauty; a quieting of the ego; a way of moving through the world in relationship, asking: What is your story? What is at stake? What is my part in your flourishing? When is this kind of love “revolutionary?” When we work together to change culture and policy in love - love for others, our opponents and ourselves - we create the conditions for lasting political, social and moral transformation. I will return to you this week with this in my heart. I think about our pledge campaign in these terms: How can we fully fund this work of revolutionary love? I think about the upcoming installation as a call for the fierce urgency of revolutionary love. I think of our work on our strategic plan, vision and mission as our particular approach to birthing more revolutionary love in this world. This past weekend was both heartbreaking and hope-making. The path forward is uncertain and messy. Our shared understanding or agreement will not always be in sync. We are all moving forward from where we are. My hope is that we will all move forward. My inspiration can be found in these quotes from the conference: "The table is incomplete until all have arrived," and "How we make the change is as important as the change we make." This raises the question for me personally, for our congregation, for Unitarian Universalism and for us all: How revolutionary is our love and what risks are we willing to take to truly change the world? With love and hope.
We Can't Stop Now
by Barb Brehm for Equality UUCF. It was a great day last Jun. 26 when the US Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a fundamental right to which same-sex couples should have the same access as opposite-sex couples. This ruling made access to marriage a nationwide right for gay and straight people alike. But we can't stop now! If you've been following the news lately, you’ve seen that many states are considering and even passing legislation limiting equal access to services and support for LGBTQ marriages. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the "Religious Liberty Accommodations Act" that allows individuals and organizations to deny services to LGBTQ people. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed another bill that eliminates existing municipal, non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals and prevents enactment of such local protections in the future. It also requires transgender individuals to use public bathrooms that "match" their birth gender. Yes, this is really happening in our country right now. In our own state, there have been multiple attempts to enact similar bills, including HB 663, which would require the use of public restrooms that match anatomical gender. Fortunately, some Virginia legislators thought again and this bill failed to make it out of committee. However, SB 41, a "religious liberty bill," was passed by the Virginia House and Senate. Thankfully, Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed it. Our UU values cry out for us to continue our work to enact legislative protections for LGBTQ individuals so that the patchwork of court rulings and executive orders is not swept away by discriminatory legislation passed under the cloak of religious liberty. For many of us, our faith has served as a source of guidance and inspiration for our behavior. We are fortunate to be part of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) that has a long history of support for LGBTQ issues. From the first openly gay minister in 1979 (and the first transgender minister in 1988) to passing a resolution at UUA General Assembly in 2007 affirming the inclusion of transgender individuals in our first principle of "the inherent worth and dignity of every human being," the UUA has worked to bend the arc toward justice for LGBTQ people. We can't stop now. With the state-level legislative challenges we face, we must continue our efforts to pass laws protecting employment, housing and services for all people. We need to support those corporations that have taken a stand against discrimination and started to pull their workforces from states that do not support inclusion. And we need to be there for each other when faced with varying levels of inclusion in our own congregations and organizations. Discrimination against LGBTQ people still exists today. Please join Equality UUCF on Mon., Apr. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Program Building for its regular meeting. All are welcome. Then on Fri., Jun. 3, at 7:30 p.m. plan to attend a special Vespers celebrating the advances already made toward equality and renew our commitment to continuing to work until that day when true equality exists for ALL people. We can't stop now!
The Work of Membership … Part of March Madness?
by John Kun, Lay Minister for Membership & Outreach During this time of year, it's difficult to extricate myself from the TV screens. The wonderful NCAA basketball tournament takes hold of me. Everyone, college basketball teams and their alumni, have a chance to become the big winner. It's fairly similar to the historic lottery that took place this past January when several winners shared a $1.5 jackpot … every ticket buyer had a chance to win! These types of events always bring a smile to my face. In the Powerball situation when a winner was determined to be from Chino Hills, CA, people gathered at a local retail store to celebrate the good fortune of two others – both, in a sense, anonymous: The actual ticket buyer who made a small investment and took a chance on winning a massive amount of money - something way beyond one's imagination - and the store owner who sold the ticket. Here they were, the Californians of Chino Hills, coming together, celebrating the joy and happiness of someone else! Yes, the joy of community! And it got me to thinking … wouldn't it be wonderful if here at UUCF we could celebrate new visitors in a similar fashion. Think about it … there are similarities and most of us here at UUCF have experienced this: The visitor is making an investment of time … taking a chance on UUCF and on us, the members. Many times visitors know no one in the congregation and little about Unitarian Universalism. And they can't even imagine what or how UUCF and UUism will affect their lives if “winning” a membership occurs! And I think we can all agree, that new spiritual path will transform one's life. It's a Powerball membership at UUCF! Now I'm not advocating that we turn our parking lot into “Chino Hills II!” But I am suggesting that we take a fresh look at how we welcome and retain congregants at UUCF. And it's not because we are failing or doing something wrong. On the contrary, over the past 10 years, since I have been part of UUCF, membership has gone up. Over the past 6 or 7 years, the number of new visitors and new members has been fairly steady. For example, we gain about 50 members per year. And, that is against the tide of mainline religions where membership rolls have been on the decline. While these numbers are good, who's to say we couldn't welcome 100 or more new members each year versus 50? Assuming we're not injecting new resources and especially significant financial resources into the mix, what are we to do? And, financial resources will not do it alone. Well, some aspects of this issue have been in discussion with the Membership Committee, under the leadership of Mary Jo Smrekar, with staff support from Member Services Coordinator Carol Jensen. They and the committee members do most of the heavy lifting for membership. As the Lay Minister and a committee member, I can tell you that we have great, caring people performing all the welcoming duties for our visitors. But they can't do it alone. The committee needs your help. You, the members of UUCF, need to be more involved, because welcoming visitors - the future of UUCF - is not a 16-person responsibility, but the responsibility of all 700+ members. We need you to communicate the joy and spirituality here at UUCF to your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Let them know of our great ministers, our Religious Exploration program, our music and more! If inviting someone to a Sunday worship service might be too bold, try a Vespers service. If your neighbor is a music lover, try a concert. Encourage your friends to explore. They might find the joy, happiness and spirituality they weren't even aware they were seeking! And yes, we seek visitors and new members who are as diverse as the area population - whether they are young or mature singles, families with children, people with faith backgrounds or none at all, persons of color and even people of different political persuasions! Here at UUCF we also need to consider “filling the gaps” with activities we may not currently have but might aid and support the interests of new visitors. If this is going to be their spiritual home, they need to feel at home. So, we need your ideas, your help in improving our welcoming spirituality. The good souls who enter our sacred space are seeking a new home, trying to quench their spiritual hunger. A green mug and a blue information packet are helpful, but that won't do it alone. Maybe a hug and a Chino Hills cheer might do the trick! Your ideas are welcome! Please contact me, Mary Jo Smrekar or Carol Jensen.
Now, More Than Ever, We Are Called
Mar. 14, 2016. by Peter Krone, chair, 2016 UUCF Annual Giving Campaign. I have been at UUCF for just over 30 years and have worked on many giving campaigns - pledge drives, canvasses, annual giving and capital fundraising efforts and I have been asked WHY - why take on the task of chairing this year’s campaign? I think the answer came to me in our deliberations about this year’s theme - “Now, more than ever, we are called”: We are called to be a presence in this community - to keep our doors open so that we may welcome the stranger, the visitor - remembering that at some time, we all have been visitors here. We are called to extend our greeting - “you are welcome here” - beyond our Sanctuary walls to those participating via live streaming, listening to podcasts, browsing our website and wherever the values of our faith may be welcome or needed. We are called to ensure the religious education of our children and youth, the continuing education of adults, the education of members of our larger community, education for UUs in India and Romania and to raise the next generation to do good. We are called to support our ministers and staff, upon whom we depend so much, with a fair and just income. We are called to social justice for working toward climate solutions, fighting for racial justice, preventing gun violence, working to end homelessness and hunger, supporting our immigrant neighbors and fighting for reproductive justice, just to mention a few. And, now more than ever, we are called to be an alternative, through what we say and what we do, to the fear, anger and hate that is becoming an everyday experience in our society. Now, more than ever, we are really called. This year’s campaign is UUCF’s largest and most significant fundraising effort, providing almost 80% of the funds needed to run our congregation. Our goal this year is more than $1 million - $1.072 million to be exact - and this goal is consistent with prior-year goals and is necessary to support our congregation for 2016-17. Last year, the actual giving amount was $100,000 short of the goal. We ended up at $970,000. It was a year of transition for us and because of a generous bequest from Stan Richards and some budget cuts, we were able to meet our financial obligations and avoid a staff furlough. This year, we need to make up that difference and the math is simple - $100,000 from a projected 500 pledging households is a $200 increase for each annual pledge. (That works out to an increase of about $17 per month.) Now I understand that this may not be possible for everyone, so meeting our goal is going to require each of us to give some serious thought about our giving levels. I encourage everyone to participate - 100% participation - and to consider the giving guidelines of 2% of gross income or at least a $200 increase in your pledge amount. Any and all pledges will be gratefully accepted. I believe it’s important to communicate expectations about UUCF’s financial goals and then work hard to achieve those goals. Talking about the congregation’s financial needs is not always an easy conversation, but it is a necessary one. I strongly encourage you, even if you are uncomfortable with financial matters, to study and understand UUCF’s finances - where our money comes from and how it is used - as you consider your pledge amount. Please ask if you have questions. I want to thank everyone who picked up their Annual Giving pledge packets yesterday. For those who were unable to do so, your packet will be mailed to you. Packets include a wonderful message from Rev. David Miller, a pledge card with pledging instructions, recommended giving levels and financial information about UUCF. Pledges may be mailed, entered online or delivered in person on Sunday mornings. Also, your pledge is confidential - no one on the Annual Giving Committee will know what you pledge. I also want to reiterate my thanks and appreciation for the Annual Giving Campaign committee, staff and volunteers who have worked on this campaign. The Annual Giving Committee - Terry Goplerud, David Saunders, Barbara Kenny and Darryl Branting and I - has been actively working on this campaign and we are supported by our staff, Rev. David, Director of Administration Rich Sider and Communications Director Mary Lareau. Now, more than ever … let’s make this happen.
Supporting the Youth With Love and Compassion
by Courtney Firth. It’s March. That means I have been working at UUCF for almost 6 months. Many of you have seen me; many more of you I have yet to meet. Either way, I’m sure you have felt the impact of the youth I am privileged to serve as youth ministry coordinator. My job here is fairly simple: Make sure the youth in grades 7-12 have a great time learning about being UUs as well as their sexuality, finding their spiritual paths and living healthy, open and loving relationships with each other and with the UUCF community. Wow! That really doesn’t sound simple, does it? Except it is, because if you spend an hour with any of these youth, you learn how they do all these things naturally and generally need only guidance and unconditional support for their endeavors. As an example, I’d like to bring you into one of our 11:15 a.m. high school classes last fall. The youth, being keenly aware of the current political climate, have their own opinions about who should, or should not, be the next president. Since the youth on the Youth Adult Committee choose and lead most class topics, they chose that day to talk about politics; but not politics for politics’ sake. They chose, rather, how to have meaningful and compassionate discussions about politics, with full knowledge that their opinions differed from each other's. In other words, they wanted to make sure that everyone in the class felt able to express their opinions in a loving and safe space. And they did. The discussion, as always involving the “talking donkey,” (the youth version of a talking stick), was meaningful and honest. There were some hurt feelings and opportunities for growth, but just as I have learned how resilient youth can be, I also saw how kindhearted and generous they can be when it comes to their peers’ feelings. This day they worked through the hurt feelings, “ouches” and “oopses” in a way that I think every presidential candidate should envy. I have worked with youth and children for many years. At my home congregation, Bull Run Unitarian Universalists, I am amazed by the youth every day, including my own teenage stepdaughter. Whether you work directly with youth, are part of a family with youth or reminisce about your own days as a youth, you are affected by their presence. The impacts they have on the community are only as big as the community allows. You already have youth worship leaders, youth chaplains, youth who take care of your children and youth who have the creativity and tenacity to come up with designs for presidential candidate cookies at a recent cookie decorating party. (There were globs and globs of yellow frosting!) So it seems my job isn’t so much helping them find their way, but rather supporting them with love and compassion in following the paths they have already found. In so doing, I believe the impacts we could have as a whole community would have the capacity to effect real transformation.
Vote Your Values, Love Your Neighbors
by Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Feb. 29, 2016. You’re voting tomorrow, right? If you’re an eligible voter, I hope you’ll make it to the polls tomorrow for Virginia’s presidential primary. I don’t have to tell you there’s a lot at stake this year. I hope we all get out and vote according to our values. For some, it’s been a tough choice to figure out where to cast our votes this time around. And for some, personal relationships have been tested, even strained. One of my dearest friends has been very active in supporting a different candidate from the one I prefer. And it’s been a little challenging. We both feel passionate about our hopes for the future of our country, and though our visions are pretty close together, our opinions on the best way to get there are not. We’ve had to lean on our love for one another, nurtured over many years, to get through this time of tension, suspense, hope and anxiety. Luckily, the love we feel for one another is real, and strong enough to carry us through our differences of opinion. I do wonder, though, about how our neighborhoods and communities are going to fare as the election cycle moves forward. It can be such a nasty time. I remember back in 2008 when an extremely divisive anti-gay measure was on the ballot in California, where I was living. My UU congregation was on the front lines of the battle - and it did feel like a battle! - organizing rallies and protests, writing letters to the newspaper, distributing yard signs. Oh, the yard signs! Many of my congregants had their yard signs stolen or vandalized repeatedly. Others, including some of our LGBT members, reported how deeply disconcerting it was for them to watch their neighbors, with whom they had gotten along peacefully for years, put up their own yard signs against marriage equality. It was a rough time for our local community. Relationships were strained, a sense of community solidarity severely damaged. I don’t want our communities here to go through that kind of fractious, fracturing election season. And yet, I worry that that’s where we may be headed this year, with so much at stake and the choices between parties so stark. So I’ve been asking myself, what does our Unitarian Universalist faith have to offer at this critical time? First, the clarion call to live by our values. To vote, and if you are moved, to campaign for the candidate you think will best help our country live into a future of more justice, more love and more compassion for all. First and foremost, vote your values. But don’t forget what our faith teaches us about respect for every person. And about love that reaches across the divides of opinion and belief. This is what will hold our communities together, now and in every season. I come back again and again to these words of Hosea Ballou, the greatest Universalist theologian of the 19th Century: “If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury, but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good.” If we agree in love - that is, if we as neighbors and friends agree that love is a priority for us and our communities; if we agree that we will love each other, come what may; if we stay faithful to the commitment we have made to practice love - then our disagreements cannot hurt the communities we have built together. In this election season especially, I challenge you to be agents of love in your neighborhoods. Vote your values, but love your neighbors, no matter who they are voting for. Vote your values and love your neighbors - this is how we build the world we seek.
“Thirty Days of Love: A Call to Action for Faith, Race and Justice”
by Rev. David A. Miller and Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. “All - everything that I understand - I understand only because I love.” - Leo Tolstoy Things may start to get a little messy at UUCF in the coming month. Messy as only talk of race and prejudice and privilege can be. But that mess will be lifted up with love. Love for our neighbors and for each other as we walk together toward listening, talking, challenging, understanding and changing to be better. From Jan. 16-Feb. 14, UUCF will embark on “Thirty Days of Love: A Call to Action for Faith, Race and Justice.” This is part of Standing on the Side of Love’s annual Thirty Days of Love campaign - this year focusing on racial justice. We have three main goals in bringing this campaign to UUCF: Raise awareness of privilege and the social and political systems that have led to it and continue to reinforce it. Raise our willingness to walk toward trouble, reach out in love and stand together on the edge. Raise our willingness to live in messiness. During this month, through worship and a variety of congregational activities, we will explore: The history of racial justice work at UUCF. Microaggressions - commonplace slights or insults that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, communicate aggression, superiority or hostility. Intersectionality - how oppressive institutions are interrelated and continuously shaped by one another. Today’s racial justice movements, focusing on Black Lives Matter. What it means to walk toward trouble, reach out in love and stand together on the edge. Our children will engage in racial justice themes in Chapel through stories, music and reflections. Our youth will engage in discussions and poetry related to the weekly themes. We understand that each person in this congregation comes to this discussion with different levels of awareness and understanding. Some are people of color who have been keenly aware all their lives that others see them first as the color of their skin. Others identify as white, with all the privilege that brings. Some have fought for and are committed to racial justice. Others, with good intentions and love in their hearts, may now be called to deepen their understanding of their privilege and how it might inform their words and actions toward people of color, including other UUCF congregants. Depending on the background and perspective, depending on the level of past suffering and vulnerability, this exploration may be painful for some. For some this may be too much. We understand that not everyone will be able to engage. For most of us, though, it can only do us good to engage and go deep on this subject. The key throughout this month and beyond is to encourage open conversation, active listening and lack of defensiveness, and to come into these conversations from a place of love. We may say the wrong things. We may make assumptions based on our own experiences. We may even offend others. But we must have these conversations to open ourselves up to change as individuals and as a congregation. This can only help us make a difference in the wider world. If you’d like to get involved in helping plan events and activities around this exploration of racial justice, please contact Rev. David. We intend for this Thirty Days of Love to be a starting point. We launch the exploration and dialog here and help grow a culture of willingness to walk toward trouble and live - lovingly - in the messiness. “… Let us have the courage to go out into the world and change it, To bring the world into ourselves, and be changed.” - Angela Herrera
Farewell to Rich Sider
What's Next? from Paul Atelsek, President, UUCF Board of Directors, and Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. [caption id="attachment_34307" align="alignleft" width="175"] Paul Atelsek[/caption] [caption id="attachment_28730" align="alignleft" width="175"] Rev. David A. Miller[/caption] Earlier today, UUCF’s Director of Administration Rich Sider announced his retirement. Rich has been an incredibly important member of the staff team and has devoted endless time and energy to sustaining UUCF and helping it thrive. For 9 years, Rich has supported events, fundraising and the general administration of the congregation in ways that have allowed us to continue the important work of our mission to each other and our community. Plans for our congregational expression of gratitude will be announced in the near future. The intention is to have a replacement hired by January. Rich will be working to create a smooth handoff to our next director. We wish him a full and enjoyable retirement as we express our gratitude for his devotion. He will be deeply missed. Based on Rich’s announcement, The UUCF Board of Directors met on Tue., Aug. 8, and approved the formation of a search team to fill the director of administration position. The makeup of the team will include: Two congregation members selected by the Board based on applications to serve on the team. Click here for a link to the application. A member of the board who sits on the Financial Oversight Committee, which works closely with the director or administration. A member of the Property Stewardship Committee, which works closely with the director. A member of the Coordinating Team, on which the director serves. A UUCF staff member. A member of the UUCF People of Color Caucus, because the congregation’s strategic plan aims to fill open positions, whenever possible, with qualified candidates of color. Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller, the position’s supervisor. The deadline for search team applications from the congregation is Sun., Sep. 3. Each of the above groups will select its representative to serve on the search team. Search process As soon as it is constituted, the search team will meet regularly with a goal of filling the position before the end of December. The plan is for the new director to start after the first of the year and have a training period with Rich. The first task will be to review the current job description and create a revised description and announcement for posting. The search team will then generate a list of key criteria for the position. The position will be posted locally and nationally in places used for national UU congregation searches. These postings have been effective for us in past searches. The search team will screen and categorize the applicants by experience and alignment with the job description. The team will develop interview questions. A subset of the team – selected by the team - will meet to decide which applicants meet all the criteria and should be passed on to the full team. Each team member will read all the selected applications in relation to the position criteria established by the search team. The team will evaluate applicants on those criteria; with each individual search team member assigning scores that will be compiled for a group (team) score. The search team will conduct live video interviews with the top candidates. After those interviews, the team will meet and narrow the pool to three finalists. Each finalist will meet with staff and lay leaders relevant to the search process and do a final round of interviews with the search team. The team will choose the final candidate to recommend to the board. Again, we are deeply grateful to Rich for his incredible service to UUCF. We will let you know later in the fall how we will be honoring him before his departure.
Taking Time to Breathe, Reflect and Find Joy This Summer
Jun. 10, 2019. By Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller. Our congregational life has a rhythm much like schools: we gear up in August for launch in September and we wind down in June for what always feels like a much needed rest. This year has been particularly challenging, and the rest and break to breathe and regroup seems particularly necessary. For years, it has felt like religious life in America in general and Unitarian Universalism specifically is going through a transition. I have talked about it as a period of realignment from what might be called the 20th Century way of doing “church” to a new 21st Century model. This realignment is still emerging and as with most substantial shifts, there will be a time that calls for flexibility, discovery and learning as well as some challenges to our comfort. These challenges were evident in a Central East Region training the UUCF Board of Directors attended last Saturday where discussions centered around the topics discussed at our Annual Meeting - the changing needs for revenue generation, the shifting landscape of generational changes in membership and the need to focus our programs and spiritual life on the mission and vision for the present and future. In the coming congregational year, we’ll have many opportunities for transparent and realistic conversations about these challenges. For now, I hope we can all take time to breathe, reflect, find some joy and rest this summer. I look forward to being part of these important conversations in our shared future and I leave this congregational year with feelings of deep love for all of you, the staff, this institution and our shared faith.
Neither the beginning nor the end
by Rev. David A. Miller. Thirty days isn’t a long time in the course of human history. Although a wonderful place, UUCF probably isn’t going to be able to change centuries of racial justice issues built into the culture and the systems of this country and the world. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Remember, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens …” I wish there were a clear road map for how to take what we have experienced and learned together during these past 30 days and move forward as a congregation to continue the work of racial justice. Unfortunately, there is not. Just like everything else in life, we have to weigh our ability, our time, our resources, our shared vision and desire, then make choices about what we want to do and what we can do. Clearly, we must do something. As we have traveled this month through the history of UUCF, as we look at the state of politics in this election cycle, as we understand the need for voices of progressive faith to be heard in the public arena and as we stand witness to the systems of oppression that have changed and evolved (but not gone away), our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to get involved in supporting change, dismantling systems of oppression and doing whatever we can to help heal the deep wounds and divides we face. On Feb. 27, we will come together to discern our next steps. It was always part of the plan for this “Thirty Days of Love” campaign to call us together to work on what comes next. So if at all possible, please try to attend “Justice Works: Engaging All Ages in UUCF’s Racial Justice Work,” 9 a.m.-noon, in the Sanctuary Commons. This is neither the beginning nor the end of this work. It started long before many of us were a part of the UUCF community and it will continue after many of us are gone. The hope is that we can make as much of a difference as possible while we are here.
Reflections on Possibilities
by Rev. David A. Miller. One year ago tomorrow, UUCF voted to call me as your senior minister. I remember that day well, waiting in the office and then having Nigel Astell come to inform us of the vote. It was a glorious day, and it has been an amazing year. The beginning of any ministry is pregnant with possibilities. In fact, it is all possibilities, because we haven’t spent time together in day-to-day life. Once we start to work with each other, just like in any relationship, there are moments of joy and sorrow, frustration and compromise, vulnerability and exploration and everything else that comes with life. We travel a path that won’t always be easy but is still filled with so much possibility. I have to say, now that we have spent almost a year together, I am even more excited about the possibilities than I was on that wonderful day. This week is my installation as your senior minister. It is an important moment in congregational life. It is a symbol of the covenant that we will share together to do the work of love and justice in the world. Yesterday, I talked about how to do that in right relationship. I posed 18 questions for us to reflect on. I received some requests to post them on the website, so I will include them at the end of this blog. These reflections can be a guiding light for us as we move forward together in this covenantal partnership. They can also help us as we turn our gaze, actions and activities out into the community to create circles of love, compassion, kindness and justice. I am so very thrilled to be your senior minister. I am so grateful for this partnership and am looking forward to many years deepening our connection. Thank you for the kindness you have shown Alice and me this first year. Thank you for being so welcoming. Thank you for your good work in the congregation and the world. Thank you for caring so deeply about the flourishing of life. Much love, Rev. David Rev. David’s Reflections on Right Relationship Am I assuming the good intentions of the other? Am I communicating directly with the person with whom I am having an issue? Am I resolving issues or am I spreading them through gossip, anger and/or frustration? Am I reflecting on what personal wounds, issues and tendencies of mine are contributing to the issue? Am I willing to be an active participant and to work in good faith to clear up issues? Am I projecting on to someone else through my own framework what they are thinking or doing versus engaging them and asking them to share their thoughts and story? Am I actually trying to live the principles and values of Unitarian Universalism by acting with compassion, respect and a high value of our interdependence? Am I actively listening to what others are saying and not formulating a response or the next comment or question while they are talking? Can I let go of my need to control the situation? Can I graciously leave space for others by letting someone else speak first or by not speaking my mind if the point has been raised or made already? Can I help lift up the life of another or the group in my words and actions? Can I have disagreements with an individual or group, do so in love and respect and continue to stay in community? Can I take into account the importance of the task in relation to the importance of the relationship? Can I reflect on how my attitude and actions contribute to the tone of our community? Am I willing not to have to be right? Am I being the change I wish to see in the world and really acting the way I would like others to act? Am I willing to be changed? And finally, can I remember to ask the question, “What is the most loving thing I can do or say right now?”
Putting Our Second Principle to Work
Jan. 1, 2018. by Kaye Cook, Chair, Racial Justice Steering Committee. One thing that initially attracted me to UUCF was the congregation’s commitment to social justice work. Upon learning that Unitarian Universalism has seven principles for guiding and governing congregations and that the Second Principle is to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations, I knew I had found my church home. When it was announced in February 2016 that the Racial Justice Steering Committee (RJSC) was being formed, I was eager to join the new group because it seemed like an opportunity to be involved in an effort close to my heart. In early 2016, there was no way to imagine the major shifts about to occur in our country and our faith community - in particular, issues that would require a more focused and renewed emphasis on race and, in particular, the impact of white supremacy on the lives of people of color and on all people. The RJSC launched its Second Principle Project in October 2016, with banners placed around the UUCF campus to highlight our commitment to this principle. Through this project, the RJSC is dedicated to helping the congregation understand the root causes and effects of racism and to developing partnerships with other institutions working to dismantle racism, particularly institutions led by people of color. One of the initiatives undertaken was hosting a performance by the Female Re-enactors of Distinction (FREED) last October. The group re-enacted real-life stories of African American women of the mid-19th Century not found in traditional textbooks. Through these re-enactments, the women of FREED help fill in many important missing pieces of our nation’s history. This event was part of the RJSC’s education commitment. Another ongoing education effort is the Racial Justice Book Group that has evolved into the “Let’s Talk About Race” initiative. The blessing of our “Love is Love” banner along Hunter Mill Road in September and the workshop that followed on “Moving Forward in Challenging Times” are examples of our advocacy and witness activities. We are planning to offer several forums in 2018 around “Difficult Conversations on Race.” These conversations will allow UUCF members and the broader community to examine how race has shaped their lives through talking about race with others in a safe space. Listening to other’s stories helps bring matters of race into our public discourse and makes it easier to work together to confront social injustice and to change systems of oppression and injustice. I feel so fortunate to be part of a congregation that seeks to find deeper kindness, love and understanding even as we deal with the uncertainties and frustrations of the current political climate. As we are faced almost daily with more examples of hate and discord and more threats to our civil liberties, I feel especially blessed to join with others who strive for love, justice and equality. It is reassuring and comforting to be affiliated with people who share my values and who are willing to get actively involved and resist. Please stop by the RJSC table in the Commons to learn more about the committee’s work and how to get involved. Maybe together we can change the world.
From Your Associate Minister
by Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Dear UUCF family, I want to say thank you. Thank you for all the care and compassion you have shown me since my mom’s death earlier this month. I have been so touched by the many cards and notes you’ve sent, the way you have reached out to me in meetings and at coffee hour on Sundays, the many-faceted kindness that is woven deep into the DNA of this congregation. Many of you have asked how I’m doing. Of course I’m sad and I will always miss my mom. But I’m doing OK. I do feel sustained by so many blessings even in this tough time. And the emotions of grief go up and down. I know many of you will recognize this from seasons of grief in your own lives. I have also been reflecting on how this time of grief may be affecting my ministry with you all. It seems to me that there are both challenges and gifts. On the challenge side, we know that the symptoms of grief include finding it hard to focus and feeling more tired than usual. I’m trying to follow the advice I would give anyone else in this situation – get lots of sleep, be kind to yourself, write things down so that your brain doesn’t have to keep track of everything by itself. It’s a bit humbling to realize that I may not be at 100% peak productivity right now. But I am finding it’s also a good reminder that I am human, and part of being human is being subject to the ebbs and flows of vigor and weakness, depletion and regeneration. There are gifts along with the challenges, too. One of the things I loved about my mom is that she was profoundly helpful to many people, generous with advice and support, without being intrusive or forcing it on anyone. Since her death, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to embody that quality more deeply in my own life and ministry. Recently I caught a glimpse of my mom’s spirit in the words of another mentor of mine, Father Greg Boyle, SJ, the founder of Homeboy Industries. Listen to what he says: “You have to opt for delight. My ministry has become more simple over the years. More about just receiving people. My days of wanting to rescue, save, liberate, free - I’m not tempted by any of that anymore. If you can just receive who people are, then you can stay anchored in joy and peace … In my early years … I felt I could kind of turn on the light switch for people. But I discovered that I can’t, and no amount of me wanting that guy to have a life will ever be the same as him wanting to have one. [When] I realized that was the case, I have never been remotely close to burnout. It was life-changing ... It was liberating. I had a light grasp on results. I had a light grasp on whatever the heck success means … It was a really healthy insight. It underscored that people are the agents and architects of their own lives; and it’s a privilege to assist them in any way.” (Quoted in “Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction,” March 2016) Looking back, I think this attitude of delight, respect and willingness to help when asked is exactly what sustained my mom in her decades-long career in social work. It’s my honor to pick up the torch as best I can. In the days to come, I’ll be asking myself, how can I opt for delight, receive people and assist as I can? Thank you for allowing me to share this stage of my journey and to serve with you. It is a great privilege. I love you all.
“Digging out and moving forward”
by Rev. David A. Miller. It is an unusual thing to have time off knowing that almost everyone else also has time off and there really isn’t that much to be done about it. That was the way it felt sitting at home for the past couple of days. The world doesn’t stop, but it does seem that the part of the world I live in was relegated to social media, due to the 4-5 foot snowdrifts in my driveway. On most days however, the demands of the world are hard to ignore, especially at UUCF, a congregation that prides itself on active participation in the world. Here are some of the things that come through the office on any given day: Support Syrian refugee families Put up a Black Lives Matter banner Actively support Planned Parenthood and reproductive justice Feed the hungry Support affordable housing Work more on gun violence prevention Work more on racial justice Work more on behalf of the environment Work more on our own privilege Protest Islamophobia more visibly Support the trans members of our community more actively Keep up the needed work on LGBTQ issues Coordinate more closely with our area UU congregations and the Unitarian Universalist Association Protest against political hate speech Send more letters to the editor Attend to the spiritual needs of a world that is increasingly faced with despair Figure out how to appeal to the spiritual and non-religious Grow membership Meet the pastoral needs of the congregation Create meaningful and creative worship Build a young adult program Support good self-care for the staff Wisely use our resources to meet the strategic goals, mission and vision of the congregation Do more interfaith work Then, of course, there are all those little things we all try to stay ahead of: Spend more time with family Spend more time planning and thinking and less time reacting Read more Keep our desks clean Get the next degree (the doctor of ministry I always wanted) Plan better for retirement Eat better Exercise more I am sure everyone could make their own list, for we live in a world that always seems to demand more, that models busyness as success and can leave us tired and physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. None of us can do it all, and it doesn’t take a snowstorm to teach us that. We must work together, share resources, care for each other, renew, recharge, brainstorm, focus and repeat. Very few challenges are solvable in our lifetime. That is why we do what we can to contribute to the betterment of the world while we are here. In part, that is the mission of this or any congregation - and each of us as individuals - to move us further down the road to those solutions. To quote Rev. Olympia Brown (1835-1926), the first woman Unitarian or Universalist ordained minister: “Dear Friends, stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important to you as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before you the loftiest ideals, which has comforted you in sorrow, strengthened you for noble duty and made the world beautiful for you. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that you are worthy to be entrusted with this great message and that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. Go on finding ever new applications of these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation.” Yes there is much to do, and it will be there after we dig out from the snow and the next day and the next. We will be here too, working together on the path to beloved community.
Calling Attention to the Gulf Between Promise and Fulfillment
Jan. 15, 2018. By Assistant Minister Rev. Sarah Caine. When I took a class called Educating to Counter Oppressions at Starr King [School for the Ministry], I heard about an upcoming campaign made up of poor folks with a mission to teach and advocate for a more humane existence. The whole week of our intensive class, we focused on issues faced by Americans living in poverty - homelessness, discrimination when attempting to get a job, inability to save money because every penny is needed in the present moment, difficulty feeding the children who may have been born before the incident that created poverty or born into poverty. I had started to come to terms with my own poverty roots, and had to acknowledge that I did not have the creativity and understanding of the systems in place to navigate my own time living on student loans and meager stipends. I’m acutely aware that I am one big medical incident away from homelessness, but I am blessed with a network of caring friends and family who would catch me before it got too bad. This year, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, a vision started by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is being brought to fruition by Rev. Dr. William Barber. Rev. David A. Miller and I were fortunate to be on Capitol Hill for Rev. Dr. Barber’s campaign launch late last year. The Poor People’s Campaign is not only necessary due to current politics, it has been necessary since before Rev. Dr. King preached these words on the matter in 1967. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution; that is a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution of weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare. Then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place and there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new, former things are passed away.” Now whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges and new opportunities. … We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses … We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists. We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic non-violent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible. On this Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend, we are called to remember the grand visions of a man whose heart was connected to something greater than himself. We are called to honor intention with action. What an honor. What a calling.
Announcement from DRE Linnea Nelson
My Dear UUCF Family, Today I need to share the news that I will soon be saying goodbye to you. Later this fall, my husband, Ted, and I are moving to Florida. My last day as Director of Religious Exploration will be Oct. 1. A career opportunity arose for Ted at a time when both our boys are launched, and this became the right opportunity for our family.Our family has found a beloved home here at UUCF over the past 22 years. My role as DRE for the past 5 years has been a transformative and spiritually deepening experience. Words alone cannot express how much I appreciate the privilege of being a longtime member and serving with so many of you in so many ways. The friendships I have made here will sustain me for a lifetime! I leave knowing these things: Our children are inspiring! I find great hope in our families' creative and loving ways. They care deeply for the planet, our animal friends and one another. They want to do their part for those who are suffering. They show acceptance and love to their peers and teachers and they want to make this world a better place. Our congregation supports RE. More than 90 RE teachers, many of whom do not have children in RE, provide "lovingkindness" for our children and youth. Congregants have been generous in supporting programming and providing grants for special projects and ongoing needs. Our RE staff is cohesive, loving and strong. Education Assistant Melissa Campos-Poehnert has become known to our RE teachers as someone who will answer their call, support their needs and help them welcome new families into our classes. Youth Ministry Coordinator Courtney Firth has embraced her role by developing relationships, supporting youth leadership and becoming an awesome trip planner (Boston, here we come!). Our child care staff is loving and dependable. Our new Child Care Coordinator Tasha Jackson is working closely with Melissa to provide a seamless transition. Our RE Committee is organized, smart and caring. They are answering the call to create a transition that allows our programming to continue and flourish. Co-leaders Tom Crowley and Laurie Cunningham, along with Maria Cox-Leow, Christyn Levy, Chris French, Paula Prettyman, Tessa Grubb, Dillon Ginley and Diana Tycer-Bice, are versed in the curriculum, already provide teacher support and are intimately familiar with the overall organization of our program. RE plans ahead. Every spring we put every RE event or activity through Jun. 30 of the following year on the calendar. Check out the UUCF calendar and you will see many activities already planned throughout the year. I will be here through September to support a smooth start-up for RE and offer transitional support for our RE community. I have faith in you and in our UUCF community. I believe that our children will continue to be amazing, our congregation will give ongoing support to RE and our ministers will provide leadership in the RE program. You are being held in good and thoughtful hands.UUCF is a sacred space for me, as I hope it is for you. Your presence here has made our family's time in this community meaningful and transformative. To show our gratitude for this wonderful congregation, Ted and I will be contributing to the new plantings in front of the Program Building and donating furniture to the youth room. I will remain connected in a small role that I have agreed to take on an interim basis: UU Wellspring program director. I will be administering the Wellspring program throughout the country. Since UUCF has a robust program, I will be available for consultation to the leaders of UUCF's Wellspring program. Our son Joel now lives outside Seattle and works as a videographer and our son Nick is in college in Switzerland. Both promise to make the trek to Orlando to visit! I hope that I will also see many of you there too! I know that we will be back from time to time, and we look forward to returning to UUCF for worship services. Love and blessings, Linnea Nelson NOTE: Please see follow-up information from Board of Directors President Paul Atelsek and Senior Minister Rev. David A. Miller.
The politics of Barbie
by Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. Barbie has blue hair and hips! This week, The Washington Post reported that Mattel, maker of the Barbie doll, is introducing a whole spectrum of Barbie diversity: four different body types, including a fuller-figured Barbie whose shape is a lot more like the average American woman than the Barbie dolls I grew up with; seven different skin tones; 22 eye colors; and (of course) 24 different hairstyles; including the aforementioned blue hair. It’s about time. No doubt it’s good for business. But it’s also the right thing to do. When I was a girl, I adored Barbies. I loved the clothes and the hair, as so many other kids did. Even more, I loved the invitation they offered to play grown-up. My friends and I spun all sorts of stories for our Barbies - adventure, fun, working, playing. The old pool table in our basement became a glamorous Barbie disco, with soundtrack provided by our fabulous K-Tel anthology records, predecessors of today’s playlists. The bookshelf made a great Barbie dream house, once you took all the books out. And the back yard provided scope for our complicated secret-agent Barbie plots. Those Barbies were so much fun. Yet I wonder if that fun came at a cost. Today, we’re all aware of the danger of kids’ internalizing the very narrow image of beauty that Barbie represents - blonde, blue-eyed, impossibly skinny. In fact, literally impossibly skinny. In 2013, rehabs.com created a graphic showing that if a real woman had proportions like Barbie, she would have room in her torso for only half a liver and a few inches of intestine (!); her neck would be too frail to support her head; and her feet and ankles would be so tiny compared to her body, she wouldn’t even be able to walk upright. So how do I reconcile my childhood delight in Barbie with my grown-up knowledge of the psychic damage she can also do? My head tells me that, yes, we need to critique the Barbie doll. Barbies have encouraged generations of girls to develop abnormal body images. And they have promoted an all-white ideal of beauty, such that kids of color cannot see their own beauty reflected in the dolls given to them to play-act their imaginations of adulthood. (I will say, Mattel did introduce Barbie’s African-American friend, Christie, in the mid-1960s, and “Black” Barbie in 1980. When I was growing up, our local department store carried “International Barbies.” I loved our “Chinese Barbie” and “Mexican Barbie.” But I think these dolls were pretty hard to come by. And certainly there were no dolls like “Chinese-American Barbie” or “Mexican-American Barbie” reflecting the diversity of the United States itself.) Just yesterday we heard Derwin Overton’s challenge to us to think more intersectionally about the challenges created by overlapping oppressions of race, gender and so many other categories of identity. Clearly, children’s dolls are by no means the only field on which we play out our stories of which ethnicities, genders and body types are privileged. But they do matter. They communicate. They influence precious young spirits. So should we toss Barbie aside? Some families have decided that’s the right choice for them. Certainly other doll makers have been much quicker to offer a range of multicultural dolls. (Here’s one good directory.) And for myself? As your minister, I owe you not only my best critical thinking about our world but also the truth about the state of my heart. Mary Oliver’s iconic words echo within me today: “Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” And I confess, in spite of all the knowledge my critical, thinking self can now bring to bear, the 8-year-old in me still loves Barbies and the invitation they offered me to imagine and dream about the grown-up I might become. I’m not ready to pitch the Barbie out with the bathwater. So, for me, I am happy to see Mattel moving to create a spectrum of beautiful dolls of many different ethnicities and more realistic sizes. My mind says yes to that, and my heart does too. P.S. Just for fun, check out this post on clerical vestments for Barbie. Love it!
A faith that transforms in many different cultures
by Dick Van Duizend, UUCF Partner Church Circle. Imagine you are many time zones from home and way out of your comfort zone. You are in a poor farming village; most people only speak a language you do not know. You walk into an 800-year-old whitewashed stone church on a hill with a tall silver steeple or into a simple painted cement church with a flaming chalice on the roof peak. And you are immediately embraced and made welcome. You stay for the service sitting on a dark wooden pew or bench and although the words and liturgy are unfamiliar, you realize as you listen to the translation that the principles, values and issues presented are very much like those you hear when you’re sitting in UUCF’s blue chairs. Twenty-six years ago UUCF voted to become a partner with the Unitarian Church in the village of Szentgerice in the Transylvania region of Romania. Twelve years ago, the congregation again voted to enter a second partnership with the Unitarian Church of Puriang in the Khasi Hills of northeast India. Since then, nearly 160 UUCF adults and youth have visited one or both of our partners and our partner ministers plus a few other members of our partner congregations have visited us. My wife, Sharon, and I were on the 1992 trip to Transylvania with the UUCF Chorale. It was the first trip by a UU choir to a country just starting to emerge from more than 50 years of fascist and communist rule. We all were handed flowers when we arrived, and the bus was festooned with flowers when we departed a week later. When we sang in carefully learned Hungarian (Transylvanian Unitarians are ethnic Hungarian), the audience cried and quickly closed the windows so that the remnants of Ceausescu’s secret police would not hear. We returned seven years later for the dedication of the medical clinic built by the residents of Szentgerice with financial and material support from UUCF and the Dutch partner of the Reformed Church in the village – a project identified, planned and carried out by the people of the village. That clinic has been self-sustaining for 15 years. In subsequent visits, we were able to meet students who received UUCF Partner Church Circle scholarships and have gone on to successful academic and professional careers, marveled how the community has transformed and delighted in the shift in focus of our partner relationship from the provision of desperately needed material support to one of friendship, exchanges of ideas and opinions and ongoing discussion. Along with Emery Lazar and his late wife, Rita, we visited Puriang in 2005 to discuss the possibility of partnership and were challenged by the direct questions they asked about UUCF’s staying power and intentions (the frequent flyer miles generated by my constant work travel enabling this and other trips). We returned with Betsy Bicknell and others in 2008 for a participatory planning workshop, led by Khasi facilitators and supported by UUCF, in which over 200 residents of the village identified and prioritized a list of needs, identified potential resources and government programs and developed a detailed action plan. The plan energized the village council and facilitated creation of cooperative development boards that included members of the village’s religious communities. Most of the needs listed have been met, without financial support from UUCF, including a water system, a road from the village to the fields, a taxi service to take people to medical appointments and a market. We have also seen how the tuition-free school supported by the Puriang Unitarian Church and assisted through UUCF Partner Church Circle sponsorships has grown from an elementary school to pre-K through 12th grade, so that local students can receive their secondary school education without the expense and difficulty of going to the state capital or another city. That school is now rated the seventh best in the state and its headmaster, Ditol Mylliemngap, received a UNESCO Global Educator award in 2015. Through all of this, I have realized that Unitarian Universalism is not just a faith for well-off, well-educated Americans, but has meaning, strength and power for people in radically different cultures, with few material possessions and limited education and economic opportunity. The joy and pride of Khasi Unitarians in their indigenously created faith is infectious, and the reverence of Transylvanian Unitarians for their 450-year struggle to preserve a faith based on reason and choice is sobering. I have learned as well that true partnership on a mutual and equal basis is not easy. In working with our partners, we are forced to confront our economic and social privileges (our partners are members of marginalized minorities), address our own prejudices and those of our partners, improve our communication skills, practice humility and how to listen rather than be know-it-all Americans, and develop the ability to work together respectfully and appropriately. These are skills and practices that can serve us here as well as in distant lands. Come by the Partner Church Circle table in the Commons during this fall’s scholarship drive to learn more about our partners.
The Colors of Inequality: Costs and Consequences!
by Linnea Nelson, Director of Religious Exploration. [caption id="attachment_30423" align="alignright" width="370"] One of the four panels of experts that addressed the youth on topics including dark money; the incarceration of young, black girls; climate change and the effects of all three on global equality.[/caption] The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) intergenerational spring seminar is held annually in New York City, and each year focuses on a key global issue. The last time UUCF attended as a youth group we learned about LGBTQ issues around the world. Last month’s seminar, attended by seven high school youth and three chaperones, including me, featured four distinguished panels of four experts each (yes, 16 learned and passionate experts!) focusing on the costs of inequality. The panels drew from Ph.D. researchers and professors, social activists, UU-UNO staff, a Peace Corps volunteer and social justice poets and dramatists. Every speaker or panelist shared a passion for making this world a better place for everyone. Some of the key topics included: How climate change adversely affects the poor. Educational inequity around the world, including in the U.S. The importance of involving survivors or victims of economic injustice in finding solutions. How increases in violence are often related to issues of economic inequality. How underlying poverty magnifies the effects of disasters like Hurricane Katrina. How drug policies and privatization of our prison system have increased the numbers of young, black children and youth who are not only incarcerated, but held in solitary confinement. How dark money affects the poor. Gender economic disparities. How equity is different from equality. [caption id="attachment_30427" align="alignright" width="410"] Ready for our U.N. session ... and to get out of the wintry mix![/caption] In their own words, here’s how some of our youth responded to this intense experience: “Going on the UU-UNO trip allowed me to learn about the different types of inequality in our world, especially in the American prison system. Income inequality affects everyone, not just those who are poor.” SKR “Thanks to a series of amazing panelists I was able to learn so much about topics I had never really considered as major problems for our nation. The panelists were inspiring and encouraged me to find more information about major issues for the United States, and eventually take action in the future.” HF “I learned about the problems that humanity faces and how to combat them. More importantly, I was inspired by the speakers to take measures against the plagues and troubles of mankind.” TJP [caption id="attachment_30428" align="alignright" width="400"] Future ambassadors or U.N. reps?[/caption] And from our chaperones: “It filled me with hope to see our young adults so interested in such serious issues and enthusiastically engaging in discussions about how to address them. The workshop empowered them to take immediate action by developing a statement to submit to the U.N.” AP “I learned that we must pursue social activism, advocacy and acts of love and justice from a position of humility. We must not presume to know what a community may need. We should work with marginalized communities to empower them to effect the change they wish to see (and need) in their communities. Despite a plethora of experts detailing all manner of devastating global inequities, I came home from the seminar with hope because of the vibrant, creative and passionate youth I was able to spend time with this weekend.” CF
No Sleep During This Revolution
by Linnea Nelson, Director of Religious Exploration. Last week’s 55th General Assembly (GA) of Unitarian Universalists in Columbus, OH, included people from around the world – 4,000 UUs gathered to hear the message that we must all love fiercely if we are to combat the hatred in this world. For the 30 of us from UUCF who attended GA, we were called to awaken and transform ourselves and our congregations to combat the rampant racism and white privilege plaguing our world ... and our congregations. To me, the message was clear that personal and congregational transformation must be at the heart of this work. Krista Tippett, the host of NPR’s “Interfaith Voices,” gave the Saturday night Ware Lecture exactly 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at GA. Back then, Dr. King called on our denomination to wake up to the revolution by: taking a world perspective, reaffirming the essential immorality of racial segregation and refuting the idea of superior and inferior races. This year, Tippett told us to remember, especially in these challenging times, that words matter, we must listen deeply to one another and we must love our way through the trials and traumas we face every day. [caption id="attachment_30711" align="alignright" width="300"] Black Lives Matter demonstrators at the UUA General Assembly.[/caption] The revolution continues and we are called upon to marry Tippett's message with the problems Dr. King identified. Tippett and many of our UU leaders at GA seemed to be telling us that we need to look at ourselves first. We need to check our own levels of bias, uncover insidious acts of microaggression and recognize and eradicate our own use of privilege and power. None of us can afford to sleep through the revolution. As we all look within ourselves and at our own UUCF congregation, I hope we can use words to propel us forward, listen deeply to one another and love fiercely. To be a part of this necessary change in our currently white privileged order, we will need to continue to do the work begun this past winter during UUCF’s 30 Days of Love: Racial Justice campaign. Since that campaign, the UUCF Racial Justice Steering Committee has been working to organize in a way that will offer our congregation a strong foundation from which to move forward with opportunities for personal and congregational transformation. The goal is for all of us to be able to make the most permanent and lasting changes. Both at UUCF and in the world. So let's continue to march, organize and do good works to change this world, while reserving considerable energy to transform ourselves and our congregation to live up to Dr. King's call to action. We have a lot of work to do in this ongoing revolution. Let us move together in love.
How Is Unitarian Universalist Worship Created?
Jun. 3, 2019. By Lay Minister for Worship and Arts Susan Bennett. It’s been my pleasure and privilege to serve as UUCF’s lay minister for worship and arts for the last 6 years. I’ve learned and gained as much, if not more, from the experience as I have hoped to give to this congregation of souls I love so dearly. I’ve worked alongside five ministers, four intern ministers, four music directors, two directors of religious exploration, two worship committee chairs and countless lay worship associates. What an amazing and diverse group of UUs! As we collaborated to share inspiring, spiritually vital, joyful, creative, meaningful and hopefully transformative worship with this congregation, I’ve pondered the question “How is worship created?” The obvious answer is that religious professionals and laypeople study theology, come up with ideas, themes, things they want to lift up to the congregation. They make an outline, find readings, design rituals, write sermons, choose music, write prayers and then they present it to you, the people of the congregation. But there’s more: an intangible aspect that you, the congregants, bring to worship. When we enter a UU sanctuary for a worship service, we can’t just be there as consumers, judges and observers. If we do that, the worship inevitably falls flat. Because we who sit in the service must bring our whole selves - strengths and vulnerabilities, joys and sorrows, our own spiritual journeys - to the worship service. And we must be willing to participate. It is the magic of all of us coming together with our diverse identities, approaches to spirituality and fully participating in the service with the worship leaders and creators that results in worship that can contain inspiration, comfort, challenge, feeling held in community and sometimes even transformation. I’ve seen it happen time and again at UUCF, and it is what has continued to motivate me over 6 years to contribute to the worship life of this congregation. And now it’s time for me to move on to other pursuits. I’m thrilled that Shannon Williams has agreed to be the next lay minister for worship and arts. Shannon will bring new energy, new vision, new creativity and her bright and positive spirit to this ministry. As much as I’ve loved being your lay minister, I am now looking forward to being just a worship participant! It’s been work that has challenged me, nurtured me, helped me take risks and brought me great personal satisfaction. I am grateful to all of you for the opportunity and the support you’ve provided me. See you in worship.
Let's Not Be Quiet Anymore
by Linnea Nelson. Almost 50 people from UUCF and the greater community gathered on Saturday afternoon to learn how to talk to kids about race, and everybody was eager to learn. Moderator Cayce Utley, local director of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), acknowledged that many of us may have come hoping for a guidebook to keep us from making mistakes or saying the wrong thing. In return, we shared our uncertainty about whether we should talk with our young children about race at all. The panelists began by sharing their own stories of microaggressions. One shared about curious grocery store customers asking her as a child where her family “got” her and “how much did she cost?” Another shared that her own family was unable to own that her skin was darker than the rest of the family’s. The panelists grew up as people of color who were not able to talk about race with their families. They shared how alone and misrepresented they felt as children. All three panelists shared that nowadays they talk about race often and with children of all ages. It was clear that families of color must talk about race today to guide their children through challenges every day. The panelists shared that in families of color, race must be addressed within the family. There is no opting out of these discussions. Schools and other well-meaning institutions avoid talking about race. Textbooks and media often characterize non-dominant cultures as either random heroes or people who have undergone trauma and made it in the mainstream United States. The other common depictions are of cultures in other countries. None of these depictions shows regular families experiencing typical daily life, which is what their own children are experiencing. Families of color must help their children process the confusing and often demeaning messages they take in at school, in their communities and in the media. Some of us have been taught that we have the option to be colorblind, to see everyone as the same. I’ve sometimes thought that we can misread our first principle, “inherent worth and dignity of every person,” to justify colorblindness. Without knowing this was on my mind, our panelists explained how demeaning and confusing it is when the dominant culture chooses colorblindness. One panelist explained how many of us don’t recognize that not everyone is treated equally or that we all have important and meaningful differences to contribute. Non-white people are shut out of their own cultures when all are seen as “the same.” This colorblindness appears inclusive on the surface, but requires people of color to assimilate in a way that diminishes the rich heritage that each person brings to a community. Our first principle calls us to honor those differences without making all of us “the same.” Families of color discuss race whether or not they are ready, willing or able to feel they have the “right answers.” Families of white privilege and culture need to understand the challenges, complexities and intersectionality of racism. The time is now for us to “not be quiet anymore.” As we begin to recognize that not all of us have the same resources, societal expectations, opportunities and history, we need to start the conversation that includes privilege, microaggressions, intersectionality and our own history as we open ourselves to conversations with our children. “Thirty Days of Love: A Call to Action for Faith, Race and Justice” has been a gift to the UUCF community, allowing each of us to learn and start a conversation about racism. We are now far more ready to take on the work of racial justice. I’m excited about the work we have done and the work that is to come. We will make mistakes. The panel encouraged all of us to reach out to our children, to encourage them to come to us to discuss what they observe, feel, experience and dream about regarding race. Our open hearts will allow them to bring questions to us without either a “What did you say??? We don’t say that in our house,” or a “I don’t think you’re ready yet to talk about that.” We need to respond with, “Tell me more,” “Let’s talk about this” and “I can see why this is confusing (hurtful, scary, uncomfortable).” But when would being UUs ever stop with just talking? Cayce Utley shared the importance of activism as a way to “talk to our children about race.” As we stand up against gun violence with our monthly protests, make signs against actions in our prison system through SURJ, ask our schools to represent diverse figures as everyday people (not just the occasional hero or traumatized person) or make food for the Hypothermia Prevention program, we are standing up in love for justice. Talking about race can begin with a conversation, and as we get a little noisy, we will be showing love to our children as we do the work of racial justice. Thank you to UUCF Board of Directors member Karen Wolf and Cayce Utley of Showing Up for Racial Justice for bringing this program to UUCF. Thanks also to panelists Holly Jackson and Nicole Callahan. We will be discussing followup sessions as a part of our Feb. 27 “Racial Justice: What’s Next?” 9 a.m.-noon, Sanctuary Commons, with Rev. David Miller and Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig, Karen Lee Scrivo, ministerial intern for the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland, and me, as we decide how UUCF can stay involved in the work of racial justice.
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