Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York
By Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York
Stay up-to-date with happenings (and not just events) at UUCYork. Each month, Rev. Jen will talk about the state of the congregation, what's on her (and your) minds, and things to think about each month.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of YorkAug 31, 2023
MMM for August...one more question.
Rev Jen is back and answering her favorite question that didn't get answered at the Question Box Ceremony.
August 27 - "A World Without Static"
When’s the last time you went searching for something to watch or listen to, and were only met with static? What are the things that keep us from engaging with the world around us? How are we to find a path to spiritual grounding and spiritual practice if we don’t run into static once in a while? What possible gifts of interference, lack of access, and even straight-up boredom are we missing when our brains are always occupied?
August 6, 2023 - Back to School
"Back to School!" The phrase brings us images of pencils, notebooks, and laptops. Photos at the bus stop will be taken and posted. Children are excited. Teenagers are nervous. Teachers swim in a pool of joy and stress. And we turn on the news and hear about schools: censorship, arguments at school board meetings, lawsuits, charter schools, elections, diversity, equity, inclusion, values, ethics, college loan debt and on and on. So...where do we go from here, as parents or grandparents or community members, seeking healthy adult lives for ourselves and for the next generation?
July 23, 2023: The Wonders of Our Physical and Soul Home
Miracles abound in our natural world, and guest in the pulpit Rev. Ellen Dionna draws a spectrum of wonder as the solar system looks while traveling at 448,000 mph to the deadening of wonder in our culture. Have we lost contact with our deepest selves?
July's Minister's Monthly Message
On the "Midpoint of the Year" Rev. Jen shares with us a poem and her thoughts on being more than one thing.
July 2, 2023 - Find your awe-some practice.
Awe can come in many shapes and sizes, so let's wake up and witness awe!
July 2nd: The Midpoint of the Year, this is a holy day.
July 2. The precise middle. Half of the year lies behind us, half of the year lies before us. This is a holy day. Independence Day is also a holy day. Independence Day asks of us, begs of us, to examine the state of our nation, the state of our independence and our interdependence, the state of who our nation is serving and who it is failing. Holy days, beloveds, are complicated things. They must be.
Sunday, June 12, 2023: Flower Communion
The flower communion service originated in 1923 by Dr. Norbert Čapek, founder of the modern Unitarian Church in Czechoslovakia. You will hear some of Dr. Čapek prayers from that original ceremony. "May we cherish friendship as one of god's most precious gifts. [...] May we realize that whatever we can do the efforts of all of us are needed to do god's work in this world." "Children of the earth and sky" by Alice Berry Children of the earth and sky, we are nurtured, sustained, given warmth and light from above and below. Supported by earth's strong, firm crust, we build our homes, till the fields, plant our gardens and orchards. When we turn from self and seek to be aware, we will find holy light in human faces, in blossom, birdsong, and sky. Then earth is truly our home, and we are one with all earth's creatures, Parents of earth's children yet to be.
Sunday, June 11th: Happy Pride! We Affirm and We Celebrate You.
You are whole, holy, and good; the world is better with you in it. Praise be to the creator of queer and trans wonders. Of bodies made perfect through self-love. Of love that is expansive. Of the holiness of “strange.” Of lines blurred and certainty troubled. Of the particular beauty birthed from determination to be. Of becoming. Of multifaceted. Of community in knowing the joy and the struggles. Of generations of proudly weird. Of solidarity. Of tenderness. Of together. Of ever unfolding ways of being. Of families made in endless variations. Of “will not hide.” Of surviving in forced hiddenness. Of unafraid. Of trembling but persisting. Of sacred connection in flesh, in heart, in sharing resources, in being with and for one another. “What sorrow for those who say what is evil is good and what is good is evil.” -Isaiah 5:20
May 28 Service led by Lora Powell-Haney, Guest Speaker - Three Sacred Words: ‘I Don’t Know’
"As swimmers dare to lie face to the sky and water bears them, as hawks rest upon air and air sustains them; so would I learn to attain freefall, and float into Creator Spirit's deep embrace, knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace.” ― Denise Levertov What if you are an artist, and you just haven't though of yourself as one yet. Nothing is quite as intimidating– or exhilarating–as a blank page, unmarked canvas, or the instruction to “see what happens.” As humans, we are wired to avoid uncertainty, and yet must go to the place of unknowing in order to imagine different ways of doing or being. Let us apply uncertainty to our own faith, and through spiritual practice, music, and art open ourselves to the sacred. Lora Powell-Haney served for nine years as Director of Religious Education (DRE) at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick (UUCF). She graduated from Meadville Lombard Theological School in May 2020 with a Master of Divinity; her study included a ministerial internship at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church in Lutherville, Maryland, and a chaplain residency in Hagerstown, Maryland. She currently serves as part-time interim religious education coordinator for the UU Congregation of Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, and as an itinerant preacher. Lora loves reading, drinking tea, creating stories, and standing barefoot on the earth, especially in springtime.
Minister's Monthly Message: Happy May! Happy Spring Indeed!
For those of us that work on a calendar schedule similar to a school calendar, you feel kind of done when May finally comes.
May 21, 2023: Volunteer Recognition Sunday
“The most important thing each of us can know is our unique gift and how to use it in the world. Individuality is cherished and nurtured, because, in order for the whole to flourish, each of us has to be strong in who we are and carry our gifts with conviction, so they can be shared with others. Being among the sisters provides a visible manifestation of what a community can become when its members understand and share their gifts. In reciprocity, we fill our spirits as well as our bellies.”
“Respect one another, support one another, bring your gift to the world and receive the gifts of others, and there will be enough for all.”
“It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care to act,
it starts when you do it again
and they said no,
it starts when you say 'We'
and know who you mean,
and each day you mean one more.”
So may it ever be.
May 14 - Mother's Day: A Day of Complicated Emotions
This is a holiday that brings up very large...and very complicated emotions. Today we consider and honor those that loved us into being: our biological mothers, step-mothers, mothers that adopted us, women who cared for us when our mother was absent...mothers that are absent...mothers that are gone from our lives for one reason or another...imperfect women who were imperfect mothers. Whatever your relationship with your mother or mothers...however you choose to remember her today...Whoever you are...wherever you are from. You are whole and holy.
May 7, 2023: Your sexuality is whole and holy, and you are welcome here.
Did you grow up with confusing messaging about sexuality and your body? Did you grow up being told that asking about sex was something that is shameful? As a child did you learn how to keep your bodies healthy and how it can and should bring you delight? Did you grow up associating sexuality with shame, doubt, and fear? Was giving your body to another person with enthusiastic consent part of "The Facts of Life" when they were explained to you?
Happy National Poetry Month
Rev. Jen shares a book that scares her, and it's not a Stephen King book...it's a blank book!
April 23, 2023 - Earth Day Service: On Silence and Speaking
We gather today with to renew our commitment to the vast wondrous planet that we call home and have a surprise visit from Johnny Appleseed!
April 16, 2023: Practicing Our Welcome
What was the thing that made you feel as though you belonged right where you were?
“Boldly, you must hang your light. Neon,
buzzing, bright. And do not be chagrined when
your lights blinks. It is a silent song of yes, you,
you are welcome here. Boldly, give your love
and arrive at your joy.”
When you give welcome, you receive joy.
We welcome you. We rejoice with you. We invite you into the work of this community, and of the larger work of the community of Unitarian Universalism. Together, we will be the oasis. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be pretty amazing.
April 9, 2023 Easter Sunday: The Morning that Brought Fear, Uncertainty, and Joy
What do you believe? Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in God, or a creator god? Do you believe in many gods or none? How do you decide what or whom to believe? How willing are you to change your beliefs?
We are the faith that questions. Find us and you shall seek.
April 2, 2023: “The Radiance of the Divine (Uncovering Our Stories)”
The cemetery is on a hill, the highest elevation in the surrounding county lands, a lookout through the overgrown woods and tall sturdy trees that block some, but not all, of the winds at the hilltop. It is a peaceful place, green lawn and stone markers all arrayed around a small white wooden chapel, the sort of thing you’d see worked into a cross-stitch or painted in watercolor, depicting a bucolic church scene. Although there are still some people being buried there to this day, part of this graveyard is old indeed - old, at any rate, for the United States. The small church and the earliest known occupants of the cemetery predate the existence of the country. If you were to explore this peaceful green space, you would notice that the closer you got to the woods behind the small chapel, the older the graves got. The stones are harder to read, some of them leaning at angles, beset by moss and lichen and looking even more ancient than the dates carved on them suggest, for those where the dates are even still discernible.Hold the image of what this spot looks like in your mind, please. Big sky overhead, tall trees surrounding, small white church with a red door, and gravestones from modern to colonial times.
The last time I went to visit, I noticed that the woods behind the chapel, heading past the last of the graves and further down the hill, were full of orange surveyors’ flags. “What’s that?” I wondered in the moment, but in short order I turned my attention to spending time at this place where I said goodbye to my father’s earthly existence.Soon, I learned what those flags were, along with many people - you may have heard this story, too, because it received some national coverage. The little white chapel is a historic building - first built in 1744, it is the site where John Carroll was installed, the first Catholic bishop to be declared such on North American soil. It is also the site of the Jesuit plantation called White Marsh.This plantation existed because of the labor of enslaved people, and the small orange markers in the woods represented hundreds of graves of those who worked this land, in bondage to others who did not see their humanity.There are stories on every part of this land, this land we now call home, this land that was home to so many before us and will be home to so many after us.There are the stories we know and tell again and again, and there are the ones that are buried. When we receive new information, when we dig down into the ground of our being and ask, at every age, “who are we? And how are we to be?” we must give our attention to that which is brought to the surface.In a recent update on the ongoing project at Sacred Heart - where parishioners are working with anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and the descendents of those enslaved at White Marsh - it is noted, “this is an important act of justice and work of mercy, to care for each of our brothers and sisters buried on our parish grounds, especially those who were not treated with respect and dignity during their earthly life.”Justice and mercy. Equity and inclusion. There are stories untold, there are stories erased, there are lives who were destroyed by systems that perpetuated this erasure. I am grateful that the place where I first learned about some of the many names of God is doing this work. And I implore all of us to examine the stories of our own lives, the stories of our own times. There are still stories untold, there are stories and lives erased, lives are still being destroyed by systems that have perpetuated this erasure. If we are to learn to tell better stories of how we are to be with one another, if we want to act with justice and mercy right now, in a direct counterpoint to these erasures, we must examine the truth in our hearts. Black lives matter. Trans lives matter. We must not allow the injustice of erasure to continue. “I am the one who cries out, and I listen.”May we listen.May we learn.May we answer.
March 26, 2023: Our Covenant, Our Promise (or "What the heck is Jet-Pig?")
Late in January of this year, I was on retreat with other ministers in our localchapter of the UU Ministers Association. Ministers can be pretty busy people, and it was lovely that so many of us could make time to learn and reflect together. I arrived a little late to our business meeting, since I had been teaching one of our new member classes on Zoom, and I settled into my seat next to the whiteboard. During the conversation, people kept making a joke that I clearly wasn’t getting - they kept using the word “JETPIG” and laughing.
Finally I said, “Hold on! What the heck is a ‘JETPIG’ and why are you talking about it so much?” They pointed to the whiteboard next to me, where they had written several things, but one of them was the list of Unitarian Universalist values as spelled out in the just-released report of the Article 2 Study Commission. The list spelled out:
And off to the right of this list of words was the word LOVE written in all capitals and circled.
We got very excited about this list, and about the mnemonic device to remember them - not just because the visual of a JETPIG (is that a jet shaped like a pig? A pig wearing a jetpack?) in orbit around a center labeled “LOVE” was fun to think about, but because this was a big deal. This was the culmination of years of work on behalf of the Article 2 Study Commission and thousands of Unitarian Universalists who sat for interviews and filled out response questionnaires all serving the radical end of possibly re-writing that part of our bylaws that are at the heart of our faith.
This is the fifth and final of my five-part sermon series on the work of the Article 2 Study Commission, all leading up to the initial vote on the proposed revisions - with possible amendments - this June at the annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, held close by this year in Pittsburgh.
March 19, 2023: Springtime is upon us, are you ready to face the Season?
Today we will be celebrating Ostara, celebrating the beginning of spring.
Minister's Monthly Message for March: On Adulting
What are the unlovely realities of what we should expect as an adult?
March 12, 2023: On Trust and Naming
Today’s sermon is courtesy Karen Wishart, our amazingly hard-working auction organizer who happened to win the raffle that was part of the auction, allowing her to request a sermon topic of her own choosing. Karen first wanted to talk about labels - about that way of naming and categorizing things and people in the world around us. Then, upon doing some more consideration and having new information, she came back to me with trust - how it is eroding in our world and what on earth we can do to get it back. Karen presented both of these topics to me by mentioning how divided our society has become. It’s this connecting theme that feels like the heart of the matter. How do we make decisions about one another? How often and how easily can we change them? If someone breaks our trust, it can take a long time to rebuild - and so the same must be for groups and institutions. In our reading today from adrienne maree brown, we hear: “trust the people and they become trustworthy.” And later we hear: “trust the people and you will become trustworthy.” adrienne maree brown wrote the piece on trusting the people as a part of her work on community organizing, which is called Emergent Strategy. Any community is made of people, and people are fallible. Trust must be able to reside where perfection does not and cannot. So when we fail, what do we do? Brown writes: “trust that each breach of trust can deepen trust or clarify boundaries.” If we take the time to examine the complexity of a trust breach, we can learn more about ourselves and about others. Now it feels hard to talk about complexity and deep learning in our current social environment. But let’s remember that trust builds. And that each of us is capable of being trustworthy. And that each time we do it, we feel good, and others feel good. And if we can demonstrate integrity - if we can recognize when trust has been broken and make amends, can be accountable for our actions that may have broken trust, then trust can be rebuilt. It might be easier for two people than an entire society - but it starts with us. It starts small. Trust yourself. Trust others. Build the muscle of looking past your first impressions. Build the muscle of learning that your assumptions may be wrong. Be open to a more trustworthy world and hold yourself accountable to be a part of it. When we learn to trust we all benefit. “trust the people who see and hold your heart. trust the people who listen to the whales. trust the people and you will become trustworthy. trust the people and show them your love. trust the people.” So may it be.
March 5, 2013: On Divine Timing
Joslin Kearse joins us in the pulpit this week to share with us about "Divine Timing". Joslin Kearse is a performance artist and York City native, also known as Soul Cry. She began writing and performing spoken word in 2005 and has featured in numerous venues and slams across the East Coast. She was awarded Poet of the Year for 2007 and 2008 at the Central PA Hip Hop Awards and currently has two CD’s to her credit entitled “Destiny’s Calling” and “The Love Chronicles”. Ms. Kearse also holds an Associates Degree in Business Management from Yorktowne Business Institute, a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Eastern University and a Master’s degree in Business from Eastern University in 2014.
February 26, 2023: It Matters What We Believe
We light our chalice this morning for our children.
Religious Education has always been an integral part of UUCYork. In 1953, there were 29 adults and 26 children that met in individuals' homes.
There have been many shifts and changes over the years, but now we are thriving with our dedicated RE committee and volunteer teachers.
February 19, 2023: We welcome you in, just as you are.
Although we have work to do, we strive accept everyone, even when it is challenging. It's something that our guest speaker, Rev. Cindy Terlazzo, grapples with on a regular basis. A neighbor is someone who can accept someone, just as they are, without changing a thing, and that's not an easy thing to do. If you have been accepted in this way, you know how powerful it is to be welcomed in...just as you are.
February 12, 2023: Luminescence Service
The midway point between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox: this space of the year often feels low. Although the days are getting longer, you might feel a palpable drag on your energy and resources. What is beginning to stir in the world? What is coming? Spring is coming. Our hearts race with delight to see the green coming again. Luminescence originated in California and the idea of creating a new holiday is a bold endeavor. Will it succeed? Only time and the turning of the wheel will tell us.
February 5, 2023: Sustaining the Tree of Life: Sheltering, Giving, Feeding
Carol Stowell tells this story, “Sustaining the Tree of Life” by Rev. Lynn Gardner.
This story stirred the imagination of many when Carol first shared it with us on a Sunday this past November, and in fact the story and her artwork helped to inspire our stewardship campaign which we are beginning today.
We are here to love one another, sustain one another, and build this beloved community to be with us throughout all those changes.
We are here to build this beloved community to be here for those who come after us.
We are here to hold one another in worthiness, in dignity, regardless of whether we are in a position to give, or a position to receive.
As it says at the conclusion of our story: “And the people of the village? They continued to sustain the tree of life: to care for one another and to share their gifts, with grace and gratitude. May it be so for each of us.”
Minister's Monthly Message for February 2023
Do you find February to be a bit of a challenge? It's true, we've passed the half-way point between the beginning and the end of winter...but it's still gray and cold. The shine is taken off of everything.
Here is the poem Rev. Jen refers to as she walks our labyrinth, for folks who are curious.
Have you ever walked a labyrinth? If you have, let us know your experience in the comments below. What is your center? What is that thing to which you are moving? The path to our center is never a straight line. At the center of our labyrinth, we have a beautiful mosaic of the chalice, the symbol of our living tradition.
January 29, 2023 - Love is the power that holds us together.
This is part 4 of Rev. Jen's 5 part series on Unitarian Universalism.
The other parts can be found here:The Joy of Belonging Love Is Our Greatest Purpose Raise Your Hand If You Like Admitting That You're Wrong
January 8, 2023 “Bring It To The Fire” Fire Communion Service
The invitation of Unitarian Universalism is an invitation to join the gathering by the fire. To bring all that you have, all that you are, all that you aspire to be and all that you wish you weren’t, and to share them in the eternal gathering. To witness them on the face of others and know that you are witnessed. To lift up that which is of most worth and to let go of that where your energy is wasted. We arrive from different paths to where we have always been: the fire, the circle, and the song. Defiance, truth, and knowledge. Bring it all to the fire. So may it be.
December 24, 2023: Christmas is a Story of Fear.
At the story in the heart of Christmas, the story of the birth of Jesus, is a story of fear. Mary was afraid when she found out what was happening to her. Joseph was afraid when she told him. The shepherds were afraid at the sight of the angels.
In the middle of a world, swirling with chaos, something new is born, something that turns us towards each other. We live in a world where the tendency is to move away from each other, but if we pay close attention and listen in spite of all the noise, we see that we are called to look anew at one another.
December 11 2022 - The Joy of Belonging
What does it mean to feel like you are a part of the “we”? What does it mean to feel as though you belong?
“Two people can keep each other sane, can give support, conviction, love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge.
With four you can play bridge and start an organization.
With six you can rent a whole house, eat pie for dinner with no seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper; a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.”
This is not to say belonging is uncomplicated.
“It goes on one at a time, it starts when you care to act, it starts when you do it again and they said no, it starts when you say
We and know who you mean, and each day you mean one more.”
At what point does “one more” become unwieldy? At one point does “one more” mean it’s harder to make decisions, to come to consensus, to do the hard work of discussion, deliberation, and compromise that is the hallmark of functional large groups?
British anthropologist Robin Dunbar developed a theory based on the size of primate communities in relation to the size of the primate brain. By his calculations, the upper limits for humans should be about 150 - this is now called “the Dunbar number,” and while ongoing research has shown there are many more nuances to the creation of functional social groups, it can be a useful tool to consider how we will manage, how we will survive, how we will thrive in ever-larger groups.
If we love our group - whatever it is, our friend group, our bridge club, our gardening collective, our movie discussion group on social media - we want to share it with people, right? Sure...mostly. Have you ever felt protective of a group, though?
Here’s my example: I’m part of a book club that has been in existence since January of 2001. Of course, over time some members have dropped away, while others have joined. My friend who founded the book club and myself are the only original members left. And right now, the size and membership feels...just right. Two months ago, a friend brought a friend of his from work, and I will admit - though I am not proud of this! - I will admit one of my first thoughts was, “Oh no, someone who doesn’t already know all our in-jokes and habits.” But do you know what? She’s great, and pretty quickly I became super glad we had added one more to our “we.”
But that tension is there and it is real.
When we speak in terms of faith communities, I have heard membership growth discussions that cited the “terrible 200s.” Growing from a small congregation to a larger one often gets stymied when the numbers hit the 200s. Is this because of the Dunbar number? Is it because it is hard to maintain consensus as numbers grow? Is it because too much growth can start to feel unwelcome by people who love the community “just as it is”?
All of those are true. There’s no judgment in that statement - this is a repeatable phenomenon over and over, in UU congregations and elsewhere.
So when you move beyond the congregational level, where it can grow more challenging to make decisions even as your own community grows, what must it be like to propose, consider, and enact sweeping change on a national scale?
It would look something like the work that the Article II Study Commission has undertaken in the past two years. It means lots and lots of small conversations, because when you add up enough small groups, you can get a sense of the larger whole. Article II of the Bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association is the subject - the place where our principles and sources are defined. So the ongoing work has not only needed to try to gain input from a large number of interested people, but also with the end goal of revising a very beloved part of our faith.
December 4 - The Greening of the Season
“The Greening of the Season”
Delivered 4 December 2022
Rev. Jen Raffensperger
When I was little, my family had a Yule Log tradition. We had needed to cut down a very large weeping willow tree in our backyard, and the logs we made from it would burn and burn for many hours - though not for 12 days. On Christmas Eve, we would decorate the log - merrily stapling on ribbons and bows and wrapping paper to make it festive - and on Christmas morning my father would put it on the fire and keep the fire going all day and much of the night. One main reason I remember this is all the photos in the family album, which my mother would write captions for when she had the time. One year in particular I remember there was a picture of the decorated log immediately after it was placed on the fire, and under it she wrote “I got dressed up for this?!” I thought about this story when I first read this morning’s chalice lighting: “I do not know if the earth remembers the flowers from last spring or if the evergreen remembers that it shall stay so. “Perhaps that is the reason for our births -- to be the memory for creation. “Perhaps salvation is something very different than anyone ever expected. Perhaps this will be the only question we will have to answer: ‘What can you tell me about December?’” What can you tell me about December? What can you tell me about the tall and proud evergreens, or the smaller more humble ones that many in our culture and time choose to cut down and display in our homes at this time of year? Where are our traditions? What about them comforts us, and what about them challenges us? Being the memory for creation sounds like a very big task to me. Fortunately, there are a lot of us to do it! This is why we tell the same stories year after year, no matter what our family or cultural traditions are in this season.
November 27 - The "New" Poor People's Campaign
Rev. Carla Christopher is a York resident and activist and talks to us about how to make peaceful, yet powerful, change. The New Poor People's Campaign mobilizes and organizes poor people to make change in their community: anti-racism, calling for a demilitarization of our government and police, and recognition that climate justice and ecological devastation to the oppression of poor people.
November 20 - “How We Are Fed: A Bread Communion Service”
At the Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood, it was my grandmother who always said grace before the meal. This was my mother’s mother, born and raised in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. She was a deeply faithful person her entire life, and when it was time for grace on Thanksgiving she shared that with us. A lot. For, like, a really long time. My grandmother prayed with great sincerity, without artifice, with nothing but real joy and love pouring from her heart and her lips, praising the God of her understanding for the gracious gifts of our table, giving thanks for all we had. But, like, A LOT. My grandmother’s graces were legendary. She would begin softly, get into a rhythm, picking up pace and volume, naming the gratitudes, and never hesitating to add a new one as she spoke - “Oh, Lord, one more thing!” My brother and I would often share strained facial expressions across the table.
“Grandma really knocked it out of the park this time!” we’d joke later.
Until the first year she wasn’t with us to say that grace. Until the first year we looked at each other around the table to say, “Well, who does this now?” For many years, that role fell to my father. And since his death, it now falls to me.
It’s a sacred trust, being the gratitude-counter of the family. And it is a responsibility. Around our annual Thanksgiving table we have people with varying different spiritual outlooks, coming from different life circumstances, representing many stages of life - and my family is small!
How do we speak the truth that lives within our own hearts? The truth of gratitude mixed with sorrow for those who do not share the abundance that we do. The truth of wanting to uplift a holiday of thankfulness while also holding the complicated and ugly truth of the genocide of Native American peoples that is too often glossed over with the myth of the “First Thanksgiving” story. How do we hold it all at the same time?
Every family, every community that comes together in praise and gratitude, must come to their own terms with this balance. The words of our Bread Communion blessing today suggest one way: “As this bread was once scattered across the field, and thence, through the effort of work, gathered and brought forth to this table as nourishment, so may the people of our common earth, scattered across the fields, be gathered through the marvelous effort of mercy into a world where neither nourishment, nor justice, nor love is rare.”
A world where neither nourishment nor justice nor love is rare. What an amazing shared world to consider!
And every time I read this blessing, every time I read this language about the work that brings about the food we share, the symbolic meal we took together today brings me back to the faith of my own childhood.
In Christian churches, communion with bread (and often wine or grape juice) is a more common practice. It is often the centerpiece of Christian worship, echoing back to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper - take this bread, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.
Fruit of the earth, work of human hands.
Isn’t all bread the bread of life?
How separate are the spirit and the body, after all?
This is an extremely ancient theological question. Do we long for spiritual experiences outside our bodies? Or do we celebrate our bodies as temples, the grand vessels of our spirits? Or is even that too separate, ignoring the miraculous alchemy of that which animates us, that living spirit we can neither measure nor understand, that is as reliant on our nourished bodies as are our hearts and lungs?
When my grandmother spoke to the God of her understanding, when the well of gratitude overflowed from her at the Thanksgiving table, I thought about this. I was having a spiritual experience at an abundant table, but what about the people who are going hungry right now? What about our neighbors who do not gather
November 13 - “Love Is Our Greatest Purpose”
It was in one of my seminary classes, I couldn’t tell you which one, when a friend of mine spoke up and said, “We’re not just collaborators, we are co-liberators!”
Everyone in the room, including our professor, got so excited by the idea that we derailed whatever discussion we were having to explore it. What did we mean by collaboration? What did we mean by liberation? In 1971, Fannie Lou Hamer gave a speech at the founding of the National Women’s Political Congress, and it was in that speech that she uttered the words that are most often associated with her name: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Hamer wanted to call attention to the new energy in the women’s movement coming from the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, and student movements in opposition to the war in Vietnam and other social issues. Hamer wanted to challenge and invite white feminists: how do we truly do this together? How do we use our power to seek justice against not just one kind of oppression but all kinds of oppression? If my freedom comes at the expense of yours, how free am I?
“Co-liberation” is a phrase that sums up many of my own values as a Unitarian Universalist minister, in partnership with other ministers, religious professionals, and lay leaders in our faith tradition. In a just world, where the rights of all are truly equal, where all people truly have access to a life of joy and gladness, sorrow and struggle, abundance and self-determination and autonomy - only then are we all free. When our class stopped to ask big questions about our work - training to be ministers, where are our obligations? Where are our responsibilities? To each other as colleagues? To the congregations we serve? To the faith tradition as a whole? To ourselves? How do we prioritize when the needs of everyone change day to day, moment to moment? When we asked all those questions, we were taking time to clarify our own values, and the way those values would impact the decisions that we made and the actions we took. Who are our beloveds, the ones who will boldly lead us to explore a future tomorrow that we dream of today, a future boldly centered in Love? Look to your left, look to your right, look at those other little squares on Zoom. We are your dreaming partners, we are your siblings in faith, we are your co-liberators. So may we be, and so may we build. Blessed be.
November 6 - Election Day: Make your voice heard.
Today, the Sunday before election day we show our affirming flame. We start with the book, "What Do You Do With a Chance?" and continue with a very real and very honest story from Rev. Jen's own experience.
October 30 - On Samhain, We Welcome Our New Ancestors
We know that you have power to sustain life and bring death, and we respect and celebrate that cycle. Today we welcome our ancestors, those that we have long missed and those who loss is new. There are people watching this video in every stage of grief, and today we honor that grief. It is our right and our sacred duty to mourn our death. Those that have died are not under the ground; they are with us.
October 23 - Are we allowed to talk about voting at church? YES!!!
The act of Voting is a sacred act. We must Vote for Democracy and the Right to Be Free. Voting is a family activity. In democracies around the world, we have to teach our children to support and defend it. "You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal "You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME" For the full text of "You Are Who I Love" by Aracelis Girmay go to https://poets.org/poem/you-are-who-i-love
Minister’s Monthly Message November 2022
Recently Rev. Jen had the chance to meet one of her heroes, Ross Gay, one of her favorite poets and essayists.
October 9 - All The Stories: Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples Day, Sukkoth, and More
One definition of a "collection" is a group of items having an organizational method and/or a method of display. Think about the things that you "collect" and consider whether your stuff is actually a "collection", or if your collection is actually "stuff". Either way is okay, but it's good to know which you have. Tomorrow marks the federal holiday of Columbus Day and also Indigenous Peoples Day (a non-federal but federally recognized holiday). It's complicated, because an event can have more than one narrative is possible.
At sundown a celebration of a third narrative begins, Sukkoth. And another...and another...and another...
Tomorrow will be someone's birthday.
Tomorrow will be someone's death-day.
Tomorrow will be someone's anniversary.
Tomorrow will be someone's reunion.
Tomorrow will be someone's wedding.
Tomorrow will be someone's funeral.
Tomorrow will be someone's first-day-sober.
None of us have heard all of the stories. Approach each story with curiosity and not certainty.
October 2 - We Celebrate the Web of Life
Come bird, reptile, and mammal born. We gather to honor creatures large and small.
Raise Your Hand If You Like Admitting That You're Wrong
Come explore who you are and where you are on your spiritual journey. Letting go of someone who has the answers is hard, because it's giving up on control. It's admitting that you're wrong, and it's admirable. When you admit you're wrong, you usually feel better after. Ours is a living tradition. Traditions need to be able to change to be able to survive. If the tradition doesn't stay relevant, it will be quickly forgotten.
September 18 - What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
Rev. Jen gives her thoughts on the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It begins with imagining what you want to be when you grow up. Imagination is a skill and can be improved with practice. It is a tool and a skill used by all of civilization and can be used for good and for ill. Let's rethink how we approach imagination and how we think about what we want to be.
October 16 - National Coming Out Day and the Transformative Power of Love
Rev. Kathy Helms was our guest in the pulpit this Sunday! She talks about the experience of her adult child coming out as trans and the love lessons that that experience taught her. Love is a necessary, transformative power that makes hate into a shadow with no power of their own. Love is not fixed; it is purposefully disruptive. Love calls you to show up and be present. Love will change your heart. The more you love, the more you change. Love is transformative, it changes you, and change is scary.
MMM for October: On Stephen King, and a Unique Kind of Magic.
If you didn't know, Rev. Jen is a big Stephen King fan; she has stories about all of his stories. What are the unique magical things in your life? What are the things that stay with you no matter how much you change?
MMM for September 2022: On Grief, a Weight We All Carry
It's a new congregational year. It is a time of celebration, of course, but also a time to reflect on loss. Others cannot know exactly what we are carrying, nor can we know what others are carrying. Please make space for each other with kindness.
Ingathering Sermon: Water Gathering
Water is complicated. We've learned that from the news lately. In fact, its complication is what makes it such a good symbol. It can be playful, like making rainbows on the lawn with a garden hose. Water can be terrifying, like hurricanes flattening buildings of entire communities.
MMM for August 2022: Rev. Jen is back!
We hope that the summer is treating you well, we all need time to refill our cups so that we can do a deeper kind of work.
Rev. Jen shares a book of poetry and prose and folktales called "Not a Lot of Reasons to Sing, but Enough".