Rev. Amy’s Writing
Weaving the Web – Rev. Amy Zucker-Morgenstern
- Weaving the Web: Faith, trust, and oleanders February 9, 2019
I’ve been pondering the relationship between trust and faith. Remember last year when the oleanders along the UUCPA entrance driveway were cut way back? Nothing remained but bare stubs. Our gardeners, paid (James Nelson) and volunteer (Nancy Neff, Glenda Jones), assured us that this was the way to make them healthier. Now they have grown up beautifully. They are just a bit taller than the fence, so they are close to obscuring its chain links, while still letting us see that we have neighbors: our friends at Stevenson House.
Is that faith? We trusted that James, Nancy and Glenda knew what they were doing. They helped meet any doubters halfway by putting up signs assuring us that the bushes were not being removed, and that they’d grow back better than ever. They also told us that they were following an arborist’s advice. So we could rely on a few things that we probably trust: the expertise and honesty of our own folks, a specialist’s advice, and the resilience of shrubs. All we had to do was wait.
Now another hedge has been cut down almost to the ground: the one that borders the walk in front of Rooms A-D. James tells me the bushes were getting leggy and the inner branches were eaten away by snails. I wonder, is a sign needed this time? Or has our faith been strengthened by our experience with the oleanders?
All I need in order to know that these bushes will soon be back is trust in his savvy, which I have. But trust is the kind of thing that grows over time–in this case, mine is strong from years of seeing how well James tends all manner of plants. Is faith like that too: something that grows stronger through experience?
What do you think?
- Weaving the Web — Rev Amy Zucker Morgenstern January 27, 2019
Our service on December 16 originated with the question, Since people with a typical Unitarian Universalist profile – those who respond to polls about religious affiliation with “spiritual but not religious” or “none of the above” – are increasing in number, why doesn’t our church grow? There are many answers to why churches do or don’t grow, some of which are beyond our control. But one thing that is in our control is how we welcome those who come to UUCPA to check us out, and how we help inquirers and newcomers to become active participants in the life of the congregation. It’s exciting to see some changes underway:
When the hiring of a one-year, 15-hour-a-week Membership Engagement Coordinator, BJ Wishinsky, was announced in the service, you applauded. Until that moment I honestly was not sure how people felt about actively expanding our numbers. This felt like a great big vote of YES.
Christmas Eve attendance was the highest in at least 15 years – and everyone was happy about the last-minute need for more chairs.
The Board has more energy for membership growth than I’ve ever seen. Their spring retreat will be focused on numerical growth, as was their fall retreat, and three Board members are closely involved with the Membership & Growth Committee, including the incoming president.
Attendance at the last two sessions of Discovering UUCPA was higher than it’s been in years – we’ve outgrown my office! (Future sessions will be held in Room 10.)
At least 14 people will be affirmed as new members at the January 22 Board meeting.
So, all good signs! Are they a blip or a trend? We know the world needs our voice to be ever-stronger, and that the more of us there are, the more we can transform the world, as well as ourselves and each other. More people mean new challenges, but if we as members and leaders take a can-do attitude toward meeting them, we’ll do fine.
By the way, if you haven’t met BJ yet, her focus on Sundays is of course on newcomers and others who seek her out at the Welcome Table to learn more about getting involved at UUCPA, but even if you’re an old hand, come say a quick hello. And, important to know: BJ’s contract is for one year, funded by our capital budget (i.e., an investment). To extend it, we’ll have to fund the position from our operating budget, so if you’re as excited about our expansion of member welcome and engagement, please remember that when considering your stewardship pledge for the fiscal year that begins May 1. —Blessings, Amy
- How we got our benediction January 15, 2019
I wrote about our then-new benediction on my blog about a month after we adopted it. This past Sunday, I alluded to the line about beauty, and promised to fill you in on the background. Here it is.
We began ending our services with a benediction in the fall of 2012. To be precise, we already had a benediction–different words each week–but it was followed by the postlude. We like to applaud the musicians, so when the postlude was the very last thing, the service ended with applause. This didn’t always feel appropriate to the theme or mood of the service, and it tended to create the feeling that we had been at a performance.
I had visited other congregations where the very last words are a blessing, and I’d loved the way it felt. It seemed right to have the postlude (followed by its applause) and then an element that would help us to leave with a sense of participation, mutual care, and a turning outwards. Dan Harper suggested having the same words each week. And although it filled me with trepidation to ask everyone to hold hands, something we didn’t normally do, I knew I wanted for us to make a physical connection. So what words of blessing?
I have a great affection for this passage from the preface to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and will probably give a sermon on it sometime (I could fill a book with thoughts just on the most perplexing line, “Argue not concerning God”), but it didn’t really feel right. It sounds like a command more than an invitation, albeit a command to do some terrific things.
Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Dan and I both had stories relating to the benediction said in the Concord, Massachusetts, church, where he grew up and I have visited. Actually, it was the same story: of going to the home of someone who belonged to the congregation (they were not the same someones, but two separate families) and finding that they’d put the words of the benediction on their doors, where they would see them each time they left the house. They had become a blessing that they bestowed on themselves daily.
I knew them and liked them and wondered where they’d come from, so I poked around a little. First, here’s the Concord version:
Go out into the world in peace
Hold on to what is good
Return to no person evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Honor all beings.
The Rev. Dr. Brent Smith has this on his website–I’m not sure whether it was, and/or is still, a regular feature at All Souls in Tulsa, where he previously served:
Be of good courage.
Search all things, and hold fast to that which is good.
Render unto no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted.
Love all men. Love all women. Love all children.
Love all souls, serving the Most High;
And rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
I’m guessing that both have their origins in the Presbyterian Worship Book, because I found another site listing this, used by the Rev. Herb Swanson when he was interim pastor at St. John United Church, Columbia, Maryland, and described as “adapted from the Presbyterian Worship Book and the Bible”:
Go out into the world in peace; have courage; hold on to what is good; return no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak; help the suffering. Honor every person that you meet. and Love and Serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I liked the Concord version, and pondered if anything essential to my theology was missing. Well, yes: love, which was implicit but not spelled out. All those moral imperatives–they were about expressing love through everything we did, as much as we could. That led to one new line. And what else? Well, if love is the work and raison d’etre of our lives, what sustains them–at least mine–is beauty: noticing it, cherishing it, creating it, allowing it into my heart. So I wrote two more lines, and this was the result:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.
At first, holding hands was a challenge, because we needed to hold the paper at the same time, and also because, as I said, we weren’t too used to it. Some people get edgy about that kind of contact, or are sick (or trying not to get sick), which is why I occasionally remind everyone that they can fold their hands in front of them instead. But it wasn’t long before most people didn’t need to see the words, and began reaching for the nearest hands, and stretching to include those who were farther away. Now every week, as we briefly connect and smile to one another as we say the words, we enact what Whitman said. Our very flesh becomes a great poem.
- Weaving the Web November 4, 2018
As we all go to the polls this Tuesday, we know how high the stakes are. (If you’ve only realized that recently and aren’t registered, you can register right up to and including Election Day — please do!) UUCPA is also a democracy and we vote at least once a year at our annual meeting in April, and sometimes at special congregational meetings, but people tend not to think of the vote as quite so important.
While our congregational votes don’t determine U.S. immigration policy or who will run the houses of Congress, they are quite important as well. For example, the vote about our name last month meant a lot to many of us — some of whom realized they couldn’t vote because they weren’t members.
It can be a little confusing. To be a member of the UUCPA community, all you have to do is show up. And there are many ways to make your voice heard. But to make it heard via voting – to be a voting member — you have to do a few other things:
- Be at least 15 years-old or successfully complete the Coming of Age program
- Meet with one of the ministers
- Make a formal declaration of membership using the form available on the website, in the office Monday through Friday, or at the Information Table on Sunday.
- Make a financial contribution each year.
In order to vote, you must have belonged to the church for at least 30 days, so if you’re thinking about membership, don’t wait ‘til next April!
Whether we’re formally called a church, a congregation, a community, or something else, what we are is you: everyone who, in the words of our relational covenant, “makes our community all that we want it to be.” I hope you’ll do that in every way you can.
- Weaving the Web — Rev Amy Zucker Morgenstern October 6, 2018
Further reflections inspired by the most recent Town Hall meeting I was able to attend (“Shall We Change Our Name?” on September 2). Last month I wrote about the challenges of being a Christian at UUCPA. Something else I realized as I listened to the open-hearted sharing is that something I take for granted, something I’ve known since before I could put it into words, is not obvious to everyone who did not grow up immersed in Judaism: Christian terms are particularly hard for many Jews to adopt as their own. Let me see if I can explain why.
Anti-Semitism is subtle, and largely a non-issue for U.S. American Jews of my generation, but its scars are not so easily forgotten. Survivors of the Holocaust populated my synagogue and their stories were told firsthand – an education for which I am grateful. Members of my own family fled Eastern Europe in part because of its hostility to Jews, and most Jewish U.S. Americans have such a story in their backgrounds. Growing up Jewish, one learns about pogroms, conversions under torture, and other persecutions that Christians never even hear of. And most of the time, this anti-Semitism has come wrapped in Christian clothes, committed for the sake of “the church.”
It’s not that I grew up with a particular suspicion of Christianity. My parents taught me by example that the only measure of the worth of someone’s religion is what kind of person it makes them, and Christians abounded among their moral exemplars. My mother joyously sang Bach’s Passions in the New Haven Chorale, and I accompanied her and other Jewish members of the chorale in Christmas Day carol-singing at the hospital, smiling at each other at lines like “Christ the Savior is born”– we didn’t need to believe it, to sing it, for those who did. I helped my best friend decorate her Christmas tree and learned to make pysanky Easter eggs from a Ukrainian friend. We knew that people who truly followed Jesus’ teaching would never turn on us, both because Jesus himself was Jewish, and because he taught love and acceptance. But none of that erased the knowledge that a long enmity existed between our faiths.
That enmity can weigh on people who consider joining a religious community like ours, even though we are explicitly welcoming of Jewish practices and don’t require Christian ones. Awareness of the lives cut short in the name of “the church” can make it hard even for the most passionate new Jewish-UU to say the words, “I’m a member of a church.” I am religiously multilingual and don’t mind going to “church” (where I’m a “minister” who’s hailed as “Reverend”), but I get it. I hope that our congregational conversation has helped people who grew up without this awareness to begin to get it as well. If so, whatever we call ourselves, we’ll have advanced in our understand- ing and acceptance of each other. —Blessings, Amy