Picture the earth floating in space. Framed in black, in the expanse of infinite darkness that is our universe, our blue planet spins. Remember when you first saw the images that came back of our earth from space? From that vantage point, we see our vast planet, looking tiny. We understand now that we are all connected. We are bound together, floating together on our blue boat home.
A cart clatters along a dusty road. A bell tolls, signaling that worship is soon to begin. Cows with bells around their necks walk calmly along and are soon joined by people: grandparents, children, parents with babies, all making their way to the Unitarian church in the village, where their ancestors have been worshipping for more than 400 years.
In Transylvania (which is in Romania, in Eastern Europe), hundreds of villages are Unitarian. Your own partner church is in Homoródújfalu. [Home-awe-ru-doey-fah-lu] – and you have been in relationship with this village since the 1930's!
All over Transylvania, parishioners make their way to church each Sunday with hands gnarled from years of hard physical labor. They have suffered under totalitarianism and have seen people tortured and have experienced betrayal. They are tired, but the sharing of communion sustains them. They are literally nourished by the ancient tradition they carry forward. They find meaning in the preservation of their faith, knowing that they must pass it on to the next generation as the previous generations did, for them.
A barn, filled with dairy cows. Sitting on a hillside surrounded by woods, the red barn with its two silos is no longer the home of calm, contented cows. Now, it is a thriving Unitarian Universalist community. Fifty years ago, a group of liberal-minded folks decided that they wanted to pull together a church, a place to raise their children together.
At first, they gathered around a speaker as the service was broadcast over the phone, beamed all the way to them from the existing UU church, 20 miles away. (Height of technology!) I am so glad that they did. That dairy barn that became a church is my home church, the UU Church of the North Hills in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That is the congregation in which I was raised, religiously educated, and eventually ordained.
That place went from being a barn holding dairy cows to a barn holding a light filled sanctuary, cutting-edge green classrooms for religious education, and a memorial garden! But it is a mistake to think that the founders of that church made something out of nothing. The truth of the matter is that our faith has been nourished, sustained, and strengthened by people we have never seen, will never meet and can only imagine.
Unitarian Universalist minister Peter Raible paraphrased a passage from Deuteronomy 6 (10-12). He wrote: "We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves at fires we did not light. We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant. We drink from wells we did not dig. We profit from persons we did not know. We are ever bound in community."
In Northeastern India, we have a huge number of Unitarian churches. In this very humble setting, they have found a way to support the church financially that is quite inspiring. Before cooking each meal, a handful of rice is put aside.
At the end of each month, a representative from the Unitarian Women's group visits each Unitarian home, and collects the gathered rice, which is then sold. (75% of the money from the rice collected goes to support the local church, and 25% to support the national Unitarian body, the equivalent of the Unitarian Universalist Association.)
If each household had been asked for money, they would have struggled. Yet we all have something to give. Carley Lyngdoh, the (former) General Secretary of the Unitarian Union NE India says: "Even the poorest families feel proud that they [can] offer something out of their daily food to the works of God."
The villagers in North Eastern India surely don't have much disposable income. They have far, far less than we do, of that I am sure. And yet, even in the most humble of circumstances, they take a scoop of rice out first, before feeding their own family, to support the faith movement that has enriched their lives.
(An aside: I am reminded of a statistic that I find horrifying! Did you know that statistically speaking, Unitarian Universalists are the second-highest earning religious group? That is statistically, now. And do you know where we fall compared to other religious folks in terms of our giving to support our own faith? Want to guess? DEAD LAST. We can do better. We must do better.)
This congregation is a thriving, vibrant community, looked to as a beacon within our own region and beyond.
At UUCB, your children are present in meaningful ways in leading worship. They feel seen and honored, and know this is their religious home. You pioneered the notion of the teacher support team (lay and clergy leadership) who visit Sunday RE classes and offer weekly reflection circles with teachers immediately following. Teachers feel supported and cared for.
You are offering support to families of all kinds. You began Families TUUgether, a monthly program on a Saturday evening when one of the ministers lead a discussion with parents; there's programming for children, part of the evening is a parents' night out.
You created a support group for parents with children who have special needs, as well as a parenting circle and small group ministry circles. There are justice/service projects for all ages.
The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program offers meals, shelter and counseling to individuals and to families in need. GRIP is made up of 40+ congregations, and UUCB raised the most money of all! 50 adults and children walked in the GRIP Harmony Walk
Your annual "Bring Your Weight in Food" Drive raised through food donations and financial gifts over 10,000 pounds of food for the Richmond Emergency Food Pantry.
You participate in a Read Aloud program in the schools.
People take a lot of pride in the congregation's stellar music program, the beautiful choir. You nurture people through the arts, helping us to be embodied beings who dance, and sing, and move, and pray.
Creativity is at the heart of this congregation, with community art-making encouraging people of all ages to express their beliefs, their longings, through art. There are musical experiences beyond the Sunday services, and plays, and lectures.
You care for one another. Chaplains are here during each service to provide a loving presence. You share food with one another and cards and you honor your babies and elders.
Your relationship with your partner church has shaped countless lives not only in Transylvania but right here, as well. Did you know that you support 21 Transylvanian students @ close to $400/year each? There is no line item in the budget for this, it's all made possible by your generous giving when asked.
You have fun together. You work together. You run the Freestone Retreat Center, offer a Personal Theology Weekly Educational Program, have an active Humanist Group, and are a host for a myriad of district and national Unitarian Universalist gatherings.
You nurture Unitarian Universalist ministries. Due to your proximity to the seminaries in Berkeley, you enjoy the constant involvement of seminarians and new ministers. (In fact, I was a member of this congregation when I was in seminary and come back as often as I can.) You are served by a dedicated staff. You are known for excellence.
Your co-ministers Barbara and Bill are widely known as among the best in our movement. They are respected across our denominations as shapers of our tradition, mentors, writers, and embodied grace-filled leaders. Your family minister, Amy, and your intern minister, Marcus, are fabulous beyond words. You have so much to be proud of. So much to be grateful for.
And we are grateful to you. I am here as a representative of our Unitarian Universalist Association this morning to say THANK YOU. Thank you for making this congregation strong and healthy. Thank you for your very, very hard work – it is not easy, the road is long, and yet our collective future depends on it! Thank you for your support of our district through your participation and your leadership. And thank you for the support of our Unitarian Universalist Association.
Stay with me here– I want to take just a moment to remind you of what our national association is. Our UUA is the entity that connects us to our larger faith, mobilizing us to Stand on the Side of Love for justice on a big scale. It is our UUA that provides Religious Education curricula (including Our Whole Lives, the sexuality education program), district and regional services of all kinds, and the settlement process for congregations looking for a minister.
Our UUA also supports the credentialing process for ministers, assuring that the professionals that serve our communities are excellent. We offer the annual General Assembly, a profound experience for those who attend. The UUA reminds us that we are not alone, we are part of a larger faith tradition, a movement through time. Thank you for being stewards of our larger faith. Your congregation is an honor society, which means you have given your fair share to our association for decades. I hope you will strengthen your resolve and continue to do so. It really does make a difference! I want you to know that we are cheering you, supporting you, praying for and with you, and learning from you. I want you to know that you are not alone as you move along this sometimes rocky road. Because it is not easy.
The people who wanted to create a Unitarian Universalist presence in my hometown did not always agree as they made their way forward. You know that things were difficult! There were bumps in the road. There were controversies. People left the church. There were close votes and arguments, and it could've easily gone another way. But they persevered. The church has gone from fledgling, to small and struggling, to vibrant and transformative. This year, they celebrate 50 years since the church's founding.
The first President of the newly-formed Unitarian Universalist Association, Dana McLean Greeley, understood the impulse that motivated my home church's founders. At the time of the consolidation of Unitarians and Universalists in the early 1960's, he wrote:
"Liberal religion is not an institution; it is a movement in history, a set of values, and a way of life. ..We believe in change and growth...
If we have faith in the future, we must be convinced that our great heritage is insignificant in comparison with the role of liberal religion for tomorrow.
Without vision we would perish, and that role would be realized by others in our stead. But with vision, and a commensurate commitment, our own efforts may prove worthy of the promise of yesterday."
You see, I believe that our faith is desperately needed in the world and that it is worth working for, sacrificing for, devoting our lives to. I suspect that you think so, too. At this time of year when your congregation is asking for your annual financial support, I get to remind you of what it is that you already know, but sometimes forget: our faith is desperately needed in the world. It has changed my life and likely yours. It is worth sacrificing for.
I cried in an airport recently. I was sitting in the waiting area, preparing for my connecting flight to start boarding. The airport television channel was broadcasting, blaring, really, above my head and it held us all captive. We had no choice but to hear what was being said.
The television told the horrific story of the young woman who had just secretly given birth to twins in the bathroom of the home she shared with her parents. The babies were born full term.
Her parents hadn't known that she was pregnant, and she was so terrified to tell her father about the fact of her babies that when they were born she felt she had no choice other than to end their lives. Oh my god. There is no response but to weep.
I was sickened that this private tragedy was broadcast throughout the airport terminal, and I am sorry to bring it into this sacred space this morning. It is a horrifying story. Hearing it, right there in the airport terminal, I wept for the babies. I wept for the young woman. And I wept for her family, because they now have to live in the hell they have made here on earth.
There is another reason why I wept. Such a tragedy is preventable, and so unnecessary. Do you understand that our tradition, a CHURCH, which provides an open conversation about sexuality and healthy choices is life-saving? LIFE SAVING.
If that young girl and her family had the rapport established to be open, honest and supportive of one another, and to respectfully discuss the reality of the choices she was facing, there just might have been a different outcome. The fact that this church is a place where sexuality can be discussed is unique, life-saving...necessary for the healing of our world.
We know that too many LGBT youth feel alone. So many of them – too many of them – run away from home, live in fear or in the closet, or tragically, take their lives. The fact that this church is a place for each of us to become our best selves, fully human and loving in all of our holy diversity, is revolutionary, life-saving...and necessary for the healing of our world.
There is also another kind of life-saving that happens in our congregations. When you find your true spiritual home, your life begins to move on a different trajectory and miracles unfold. When you find your calling and begin to live into your own ministry, your life blossoms.
When you grow spiritually, you evolve in health-giving ways. You begin to know your life's purpose and begin to exude gratitude and give back in any and all ways you can. This is also life-saving. It is life-giving, life-affirming, life-saving.
Right now, Unitarian Universalism is on the cusp of something extraordinary. We are really recognizing that we have something important to offer the world. We are taking ourselves seriously as a people of faith. I can tell you, more and more of us are tithing 10% of our income, to feel what it is like to give at a level that really demonstrates our love for our church and what it might yet become.
I count being raised in my home church as the greatest blessing of my life. I was encouraged to become my best self. I was seen, heard, respected. I was introduced to role models with whom I am in touch still today. I was educated about the great religions of the world and grounded in the open-minded, open-hearted intellectual and spiritual heritage of our forebears. The seven principles became my touchstone, my way of understanding right and wrong, and shaped my ability to choose how to live.
That barn set the course of my life, just as UUCB is shaping a generation of leaders.
I truly believe that the barn, the village, the globe, the future...these are all related. These are all affected by the choices we make now. Your charge, your mission (if you should choose to accept it, and I PRAY that you will) is to live into the promise of yesterday. Again, the words of Dana McLean Greeley.
Liberal religion is not an institution; it is a movement in history, a set of values, and a way of life...We believe in change and growth...If we have faith in the future, we must be convinced that our great heritage is insignificant in comparison with the role of liberal religion for tomorrow. Without vision we would perish, and that role would be realized by others in our stead. But with vision, and a commensurate commitment, our own efforts may prove worthy of the promise of yesterday.
My friends: your faith matters. For the sake of people you will never meet, whose lives will be shaped by what you do here now: live into the promise of yesterday. Respond with gratitude for the blessings you have inherited. Give of yourselves with abundant generosity. Trust that even when your own needs are not being met, something larger is at work.
Step up with gratitude. Step forward with joy. Amen!
Worship at UUCB
Sundays in December
September—May Worship at 9:00 and 11:00 a.m.
Summer Worship at 10:00 a.m. May 18 - August 31
December’s Theme: “Stories”
Sunday, December 7: The Last Straw - an Intergenerational Worship service that features the epic journey of Hoshmakatu the Camel who is called to carry the gifts of the Magi. Hoshmakatu is an old camel who was never particularly thoughtful or generous of spirit. Come to learn the interesting reasons why he goes and the life-changing things he learns on the way. QUESTION: We all get 'set in our ways' from time to time. What has the power to get us to live lives larger than we previously thought?
Sunday, December 14: Holiday Wars - Every year just before Christmas religious conservatives announce there is a 'War on Christmas!' Christmas, they claim, is being dishonored and shortchanged because it isn't allowed to reign supreme over other religious holidays. But there is something we all lose in this holiday hoopla. This is an open letter to conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly. QUESTION: Is there tension between Christmas and other cultural winter holidays and, if so, what is at the heart of that tension?
Sunday, December21: The Straight Skinny on the Fat Man in Red - Who is Santa Claus? St. Nick? The jolliest of all Christmas ambassadors? What have we been told about him and what's really true. What's important for us to know as we try to separate fact from fiction? QUESTION: Does a story have to be 'factual' in order to be 'true'?
Wednesday, December 24 – 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Family Service - In this family friendly traditional Christmas Pageant, we will ALL get a chance to participate and celebrate the great journey to Christmas. Everyone is welcome to come participate (dress in costume) to bring to life the story of a holy family travelling with shepherds, donkeys, wise men, stars, angels, cats, penguins, and even aardvarks.
Wednesday, December 24 – 10:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service - In this beautiful and moving service we will enjoy lessons and carols where we will learn to see ourselves in each of the characters travelling to Bethlehem. Come, follow a star and travel to this place of good cheer where love and hope is born.
Sunday, December 28: To the Other Side - Liberals are pretty much alike everywhere, in Transylvania and in the US: stand on the side of love, represent the countercultural opposition to oppression in society, sing songs like Come, Come, Whoever You Are. And we are pretty serious about it. In the closeness of the New Year, we see even clearer now: the most important things in life meet us unprepared, and we still have to respond to them, immediately. It’s not the preparation, but our presence that makes the difference, the courage to get into the storm, to the other side.
Rev. Dr. Szabolcs (Szabi) Czire is a core faculty member at the Protestant Theological Institute in Kolozsvar (Cluj-Napoca), Romania. He teaches Biblical studies, hermeneutics, meditation-relaxation, and religious sociology. He is currently a research scholar at Starr King School for the Ministry
After his seminary graduation in 1996, he was minister for three years in a small congregation in South Transylvania. He spent 1999-2000 study year at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. In 2005 as a “Emily Sharp Scholar,” he visited Oxford and Manchester in the UK. He completed his PhD dissertation in 2007 on historical Jesus research. He also has a BA in sociology.
Sundays in November
November’s Theme: “Calling”
Daylight Savings Time ends at 2:00 a.m. Sunday, November 2. Set your clocks back 1 hour on Saturday!
November 2 - Lost in Translation - Have you ever been 'called' to something important but missed the 'call' because you didn't understand what was being asked? What was at stake? Being able to hear, understand and interpret what the world is asking of us is of critical importance if we are to figure out how to become integral and necessary to the future. QUESTION: How is careful listening and 'understanding' (rather than 'agreement') important in personal and spiritual growth rather than just 'getting our way.'
November 9 - Power vs. Force - All that happens in life is made possible by energy flow and distribution. This includes everything we do as human beings. But do we ever stop to notice the kind of energy we're bringing to each situation? Is it compelling energy or coercive energy? This is a service where we get to stop and take stock of the energy we're experiencing and the energy we're offering. QUESTION: What is the difference between 'Power' and 'Force' in terms of the energy we use to make changes and shape our life?
November 16 - The Rope - Family Systems talks about how people work together to do two things: maintain stability and establish connection. But sometimes, when an individual in the system - or the system itself - is called to something greater than stability, it can be hard. This service is about answering the call too important to ignore. QUESTION: In what ways have we gotten 'stuck' in our lives and how do we get 'unstuck' so that both we - and others - are able to grow?
November 23 - Music Sunday - You Are The Music! With Bryan Baker, Luminescence Choir and more!
November 30 - I Said ‘Yes’ to Life - Sometimes, life’s challenges feel so overwhelming that we may want to say “no” to the world; to close ourselves off, or shut our surroundings out. When our energy feels completely drained, where do we find the strength to answer our life’s deepest call?
A graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry, Abbey Tennis now serves as the school’s Interim Advancement Director. Before entering the ministry, she was a lay leader for fifteen years, serving as a youth on the UUA board of trustees, working in the UUA’s Youth Office, and as a member of the continental UU Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Abbey had the honor of keynoting at the 2008 UU Allies for Racial Equity (ARE) conference, and she recently interned at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C. Her previous career included climate change policy work and professional facilitation.
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