It’s a strange time of year to be thinking about seedlings. In our backyard, an old apple tree is filled with small red fruits, the hostas’ flowers have gone for the season, and some of the trees are just beginning to yellow; we are approaching the autumnal equinox, not the vernal.
Yet, I am thinking about seeds planted at First Parish that are growing into seedlings this season. Many years ago, the Trustees of Invested Funds and other finance-minded members of the congregation offered an idea of developing a formal legacy giving program at First Parish; a seed was planted to offer a meaningful and effective way for First Parishioners to help grow our endowment. Two and a half years ago, we read Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior as a congregational common read, and our interest was piqued by the café option at the main character’s church; a seed was planted for an alternate style of worship that could afford us dozens more seats during Sunday worship. Last year, many members of First Parish and our surrounding community learned about congregations across the country reviving an old model of civil disobedience — sanctuary — to faithfully push back against harsh immigration and deportation policies; a seed was planted for further discernment and conversation about how we could contribute to that effort.
Now, this fall, our new Legacy Giving team is launching just in time to participate in our denomination’s Wake Now Our Vision challenge — the Worship Café is set to open in the Parish Hall on (we pray!) September 24th, thanks to the efforts of our Worship Café Working Group — and our social justice teams are hard at work planning opportunities for all First Parishioners to learn more about the new sanctuary movement and how we could serve as a “Level 2” supporting congregation. And, this is not to mention that we retired the Bellman this summer and we are in our second year of major changes to our children’s religious exploration curricular map, both ideas that took years to germinate into seedlings!
As we “ingather” again this month for another incredible year at our church home, I am filled with excitement for these seedlings to flourish and to nourish our spiritual community. I recognize I have some trepidation, too; for me, it’s anchored partly in discomfort with change and partly in my old personal pattern of freezing in the face of possible failure: “How will the Worship Café change how we do common rituals? What if no one wants to participate in the legacy giving challenge? Will we ever have enough information to feel comfortable supporting another congregation offering live-in sanctuary to a family in need?” There’s much one could choose to worry about!
When I feel such fears, I shore up my courage with words like these from Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Robin Tanner:
Blessed are they who fall in the mud, who jump with gusto and rip the pants, who skin the elbows, and bruise the ego,
for they shall know the sweetness of risk.
Blessed are they who make giant mistakes, whose intentions are good but impact has injured, who know the hot sense of regret and ask for mercy,
for their hearts will know the gift of forgiveness.
Blessed are they who have seen a D or an F or C or any letter less than perfect, who are painfully familiar with the red pen and the labels as ‘less than,’
for they know the wisdom in the imperfect.
Blessed are they who try again, who dust off, who wash up, who extend the wish for peace, who return to sites of failure, who are dogged in their pursuit,
for they will discover the secret to dreams.
Blessed are they who refuse to listen to the naysayers,
for their hearts will be houses for hope.
Blessed are they who see beyond the surface of another,
for they will be able to delight in the gift of compassion.
Blessed are they who stop running the race to help a fellow traveler, who pick up the fallen, who stop for injured life,
for they shall know the kindness of strangers.
Blessed are they who wildly, boldly abandon winning,
for they shall know the path of justice.
Even when we feel unsettled or afraid, I pray we find our courage together to move forward with both our most bold and our most simply-sensible ideas. May we rejoice that we are on this communal journey together, with our faith to guide us and our deep love for one another to sustain us!
“O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every [one] is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor [one]’s,
Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.”
~ “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes
Clergy from a variety of faiths stand face-to-face with armed white nationalist protesters
With a heavy heart, I write to you about the state in which I was raised, the Commonwealth of Virginia. On Friday, hundreds of white supremacists representing many racist organizations from across the country descended on Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia and Unitarian-friendly president, Thomas Jefferson. Ostensibly, Saturday’s rally was booked to again protest the removal of Confederate statues and names from public spaces in the city, but it had another goal: to normalize white nationalism and terrorize Americans of color.
There is so much to say and write (and much has been) about this second large gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Here are a few of my thoughts: as Pastor John Pavlovitz wrote, it is necessary for us to name what has and is happening in the United States: racism, domestic terrorism, religious extremism, a “terrible, putrid sickness.” Author James Baldwin wrote that no problem can be changed if it is not faced, and we must face that racism has infected the body of the United States if we mean to cure ourselves of it. I am proud of the interfaith clergy, including our new UUA president Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, who arrived in Charlottesville to put their bodies between armed white nationalists and counter-protestors (see photo); you can read her blog about the experience here . I am amazed by the huge response of anti-racists who showed up in Charlottesville to declare racism an un-American value. I also recognize most of those rallying for white supremacy were young adults — it shows we have much work to do in my own generation to stop the spread of racist ideologies. I am appreciative of police officers who worked to stop violence on the streets of Charlottesville, and sit with the reports that they did far less than what was needed to keep counter protestors safe. I find myself surprisingly proud of politicians who have the courage to speak out clearly against neo-Naziism — shouldn’t that be simple, nearly reflexive?
And, of course, my heart breaks for thirty-two-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, who was killed by another young adult who, poisoned by white nationalism, drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protestors. Many are calling Heyer a martyr to the cause of racial equity, the latest in a long line that includes our spiritual ancestors Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, who were killed at the marches in Selma. I hold her family and friends in my prayers, as well as the communities of the two police officers killed in a surveillance helicopter crash and of those who were injured by the rampant violence on Saturday. There are GoFundMe campaigns both for Heyer’s family and to support all those who were injured.
Oddly, I write to you from Virginia itself; while Charlottesville roiled, I was engaged in what I often do when I return to my home state: meeting a friend’s new baby, spending time with my parents, attending a wedding. Many of my high schools friends attended UVA or have lived in Charlottesville, and were devastated by the images popping up again and again in the news. I was comforted to attend my home church where the senior minister, Rev. David Miller, spoke about his experience as a clergy counter-protestor and the guest preacher, UU candidate for ministry John Monroe, called us all to greater love, creativity, and unwavering dedication to justice. I recognize that my relative freedom and safety to live in the United States as a progressive clergywoman — able to take a weekend to kiss a new baby, toast an old friend’s marriage, and attend worship as a congregant — was hard won by activists through the generations. The work of marching, calling our representatives, getting out the vote, serving the underserved, and demanding equal treatment, protections, and opportunity for all is not done yet.
As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” May we each and all offer our unique gifts to the cause of justice so that our church’s children’s children will not live with the fear of white supremacy and its violence.
In the early morning of June 14th, we learned that a gunman targeted Republican representatives who practicing for an annual charity baseball game at a ball field in Alexandria, Virginia. Continue reading…
Yet again this week, we are faced with terrible international tragedies. In Manchester, England, and Jakarta, Indonesia, terrorists set off bombs in populated, public places in an attempt to instill fear locally and worldwide. Continue reading…
Rev. Catie preached a sermon on April 30th, Heed Their Direction, as part of the national “UU White Supremacy Teach-In” organized by the Black Lives of UU organization. Were you interested in learning more about the current UUA hiring controversy? Continue reading…
Last night, I was with our Worship Committee and, as we do each month, we reviewed past worship services. When we came to our late March worship, Our Covenant’s Integrity, we held a long discussion about the new evacuation procedures at First Parish. Continue reading…
Some time ago, I found myself in Buffalo, New York, for a wedding. I had just twenty-four hours in Buffalo (had to get back to Boston for Sunday worship!) and a free afternoon before an opening reception. Thanks to Google Maps, I discovered I had enough time to take the public bus up to Niagara Falls. Continue reading…
Yesterday, I spent almost an entire day in pastoral and staff meetings — little time for email, and less time for social media. It wasn’t until nearly dinnertime that I learned two “breaking news” stories shaking our denomination. Continue reading…