“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."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Building a New Way

There is something stirring at First Universalist Church these days. We are beginning to build a new way! We’re getting focused and clearer about where Love is calling us. 

Simply put, we’re on fire with the Universalist spirit of Love and Hope that is alive here. 

We're on fire about our “House that Love Built” project. Thanks to a fabulous leadership team and their thoughtful work, our entire faith community – people of all ages - can be involved in the “House that Love Built” project, as we raise $60,000 to be the lead-sponsor on Habitat for Humanity house, and build it from the foundation up. More than that, this project invites us to re-evaluate our relationship to the often crazy making, over consuming, frenetic holiday season. This year, we’re inviting everyone to cut their holiday spending in half, and to give the half not spent to this project. As a pastor once said, “Christmas isn’t your birthday! It’s about celebrating the birth of hope and possibility.” This project invites us to create a new understanding of the holidays.

We're on fire about our racial justice commitment. We've had hundreds of people show up to the workshops on September 29th, Oct 20th, and Nov. 17th. And we’ve added a workshop for Dec 15th, at 1 p.m. 

In January, we’ll launch a number of Circles committed with Racial Justice learning as the core content. This is deeply spiritual work, as we begin to see clearly how race, racism, and whiteness work in our lives, church, and wider world, and then begin to work for racially just policies and practices within the church and beyond its walls. This is about waking up to the ways that racism damages, destroys, and harms all of us. (If you missed the sermon from September 29th, catch it here: http://tinyurl.com/o7dr3sz)

We're on fire about our Community Circles (Circles with a particular content)? Nearly 250 friends and members of the church are participating in some kind of Circle, as we engage in the spiritual practice of deep listening and open hearted reflection. 

We are building a new way: a way that is focused and grounded as we give, receive, and grow more fully into Love’s people.

I’ll see you in church,


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The House that Love Built

I'm so thrilled that the Rev. Jen Crow and our House that Love Built Team is helping all of us at First Universalist Church rethink our relationship to Christmas, the Winter Holidays, and how we tame the holiday machine. We're already getting creative in our family. How about you?

Will you join us in this project, or do your own version of the "House that Love Built" with your faith community?

Please share in the comments how you're planning to engage the holidays in new ways!

Here's the article from Habitat.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

We are Called

In the meditation manual, Voices from the Margins, Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Natalie Fenimore writes:

We are all called.
Called by the wind, the rushing water, the fireflies, the summer sun.
Called by the sidewalk, the playground, the laughing children, the streetlights. Called by our appetites and gifts – our needs and challenges.
Called by the bottle, the needle, the powder, the pill, the game, the bet, the need, the want, the pain, the cure, the love, the hope, the dream.
Called by the Spirit of Love and Hope, and visions of God’s purpose for our lives. We are all called.
What do we choose? How do we answer?

At First Universalist, we believe that we are called by the “Universalist Spirit of Love and Hope, to give, receive, and grow ever more fully into Love’s people.”  

We believe that we are called to walk with one another as spiritual companions. And hundreds of you are just beginning this journey in one of our many Community Circles, groups of 8-10 people that meet every other week to welcome, affirm, and protect the light in one another, and to listen deeply to where Love is calling us next in our lives. I know that sometimes it feels safer to sit in a row than a Circle. I know that being in a Circle can be soul stretching, heart opening, and even challenging, as Circle members share the “really real” of what’s going on in their lives with others.

As you heard during worship on September 29th, we are called into our Racial Justice work; it’s a spiritual imperative and spiritual practice for us. By the end of this year, one hundred people will have gone through the racial justice trainings, and twenty people will be equipped to lead ongoing trainings. We are answering “yes” to this soul work, because as the Rev. Rebecca Parker has said, “Racial injustice is not only a tragedy that happened yesterday…racial injustice is currently mutating and re-creating itself. Its dehumanizing effects are harming lives.”  

Finally, I am grateful that the Board of Trustees has approved my request for a two month sabbatical for March and April, 2014, because I am feeling called to deepen my understanding of large church ministry. I wish that everyone could have regular sabbatical time for spiritual, personal, and professional growth. During the sabbatical, I intend to grow as your Senior Minister, to visit other large Unitarian Universalist churches and learn best practices around management, growth, and staffing, to work with a large church ministry coach, and to deepen my own spiritual life. Ultimately, I want to help this congregation thrive in our shared ministry. Whether we’re 1000 or 2000 members, I want First Universalist to offer an experience of warmth, welcome, and transformation, that helps all of us move toward more fully becoming Love’s people in the world.

How are you responding to the call from the Spirit of Love and Hope? How are you answering “yes?” Drop a line here, or catch me at church – I’d love to know.

In faith,

Friday, August 30, 2013

Growing More Fully into Love's People

I am still glowing from the “The Big Wedding Party” we had in August. Thank you to all of the staff and church members who helped make this big day happen, as we celebrated marriage equality. It was a blessing to be witness to such love and joy! 
As we begin to move into the church year, I have been thinking about our mission to “give, receive, and grow into Love’s people,” and I keep coming back to this prayer from Unitarian Universalist Minister Kate Braestrup, from her book, Beginner’sGrace: Bringing Prayer into Your Life: 
May love and strength be in my hands
May love and courage be in my heart
May love and wisdom be in my mind
May love be with me and work through me today
And all my days.

I love this prayer because it points to the essence of the church’s ministry; here, in the Universalist spirit of love and hope, we strive to grow more fully into Love’s people and to embody and become vehicles for that love.

In fact, “Growing into Love’s people” is the drive behind our racial justice commitment, which continues to deepen this year, with conversations, trainings, and sermons about faith, race, racism, and racial justice. As a person of faith, I am clear that love and the horrendous impacts of racism are fundamentally in opposition. The deepest tap roots of our faith call us to work for racial justice.

“Growing into Love’s people” is the drive behind our Community Circles. Community Circles are sacred spaces designed for participants to engage in the spiritual practice of deep listening and connecting with others. I believe that smaller groups are one of the best places to “give, receive, and grow into Love’s people.”

“Growing into Love’s people” is the drive behind our Sunday morning worship, our Faith in Action work, and our Religious Education Programming (we want our children and youth to know they are loved and to grow up to be agents of a justice seeking love). 

Here, in all that we do, we invite a Holy Love to lay claim on our lives. Here, we practice giving, receiving, and growing ever more deeply into Love’s people. 

Welcome to the new church year! May love be with you and work through you today and all of your days.

I’ll see you in church, 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Race, racism, and faith

We have begun our racial justice journey as a church. 

This journey has begun with learning, listening, and engaging with one another this past year. We’re watched and discussed, “Race the Power of an Illusion,” “Mirrors of Privilege,” and “Cracking the Code: Making Whiteness Visible.” We’ve held a number of small group listening sessions, and we’ve preached on the spiritual imperative of racial justice work, as well. It is a reclamation project of sorts, a way to reclaim our full humanity, and the humanity of others, and a way to commit to be partners in dismantling the devastating impact of racism. 

I’ve just finished reading Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Sons, which is about the “Great Migration,” the untold story of the millions of African Americans who left the Jim Crow South for opportunities and better lives in the North and West. 

As human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson says in a TED Talk: “I tell my students about slavery. I tell them about terrorism, that era that began at the end of reconstruction that went on to World War II. For African Americans in this country, that was an era defined by terror. In many communities, people had to worry about being lynched, about being bombed. It was the threat of terror that shaped their lives. And these older people come up to me now and say, “Mr. Stevenson, you give talks, you make speeches, you tell people to stop saying we’re dealing with terrorism for the first time in our nation’s history after 9/11.” They tell me to say, “No, tell them we grew up with that.” And that era of terrorism, of course, was followed by segregation and decades of racial subordination and apartheid.”

Stevenson goes on, "And yet, we have in this country a dynamic where we don't really like to talk about our problems. We don't like to talk about our history." 

As William Faulkner has said, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” And so part of our racial justice journey as a faith community is to understand the past, and how it impacts and is alive in the present, in different ways and forms.

Beginning this fall, we'll move into this spiritual work in earnest, working closely with Dr. Heather Hackman, a local educator and racial justice trainer, who will help us develop the internal capacity to train and educate ourselves as people of faith working for racial equity.  

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Race: The Power of an Illusion

In the past 5 months, through sermons, conversations, and more, First Universalist Church has begun the journey of becoming a congregation committed to racial justice principles and practices. There is energy and excitement about this work, the fact that we're doing it in a faith community, and that we understand it as a spiritual imperative.

One of the daily practices I engage in that helps me keep my own racial identity front and center in my life, is something I learned from Heather Hackman. I take a minute to breathe and to sit with the question, "Where is my race in my body?" So far, some of my answers have been, "In my skin," "In my hair," "In my mind, i.e., in my expectations about how I expect to be treated/how I expect people to respond to me/how I expect my family will be treated," and "In my voice/the way people listen to me." Obviously, some of this is wrapped up in being a male, being a minister, and being in a position of power, but a lot of it is about race, too. If you have a minute, try this exercise. Where is your race in your body?

Part of my spiritual practice now, as a racialized white person (meaning I'm taught not to think about my race), is to pay particular attention to my race.

This journey began last October, when I preached this sermon, called "The Power of an Illusion." Even though I'm far from an expect on race and racial justice, I felt called to begin this work, imperfect and blind though I may be. Since that sermon, we've had 4 conversations with members of the congregation about race and racial justice work, and the spiritual imperatives behind it. We've watched the movie, "Race: the Power of an Illusion" and have had conversations following the film. And a few weeks ago, Ruth MacKenzie, our Director of Worship Arts, preached this sermon, "Re-examine Everything," challenging us all to re-examine everything we think we know about race, and our own histories.  We're beginning to engage with a consultant who will do a training with our staff, Board members, and other key leaders in the congregation.

There's so much more to say about my own journey and our journey as a faith community...but that will have to be another post.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Growing into Love's People...

About a year and a half ago, First Universalist Church spent a year creating a new mission statement. We ended up with this: "In the Universalist spirit of love and hope, we give, receive, and grow."

In a sermon series, I spent about 5 weeks, exploring what the "Universalist Spirit" was, and how we were called to give, receive and grow as a faith community. You can listen to these sermons here, here, and here.
We kept playing with this language, and slowly, we began to believe that as a church we were called to "give" out of a sense of gratitude for all we've been given, to learn to "receive" the gifts and blessings of this life with an open heart, and to "grow" into Love's people.  

It's the "Love's People" language that really stuck. Since August, this is how we're been articulating it: 

In the Universalist spirit of Love and hope, we give, receive, and grow...As we truly live into this great exchange of giving, receiving, and growing, we come to understanding that:

We are all Love's people, held by a Love that will not let us go.
As Love’s people, we do holy work:
We welcome, affirm, and protect the light in each human heart.
We act beyond our walls for justice and equality.
           We listen with our whole being to where Love is calling us next.

The ministry of First Universalist Church is wrapped up in this statement. Our Small Groups are about building connections and "listening to where Love is calling us next." Our racial justice work (which we've just begun) is about dismantling systems of oppression so that we can truly "welcome, affirm, and protect the light in each human heart," as we work for justice. Our Universalist roots are held in this statement, as we take seriously the notion that we are called to be "Love's People" in the world...