Holiday Giving

Tis the season to spread our cheer and give to those we care about. In the past years we have put books under our tree in the gathering hall for our children and youth library. We are doing that again this year! Books are a gift that keeps giving, with it we are able to reach many children, youth, and families! The books I have on my wish list are ones that exemplify our faith values and are books I want our children and youth to read and have access to. If you are feeling generous, this would be a great way to spread holiday cheer!



In faith and love,

Ayla Halberstadt, DRE 

Orange you glad we are growing young?

Take a moment to think about the color red, think of the images that it brings up for you. Think about any emotion or memory it evokes. Now imagine that red symbolizes the love of family, the deep bonds and connection, as deep and rich as the blood coursing through our veins. Now do the same imagining with yellow, what emotion and memory does that bring up? Yellow being the light from our church, yellow being the flame that burns bright on our chalice and helps keep a firm and steady hand working towards love and justice in our world. What happens when we mix the red love of family and the yellow flame of our church? We get orange, a color that happens only when both the church and family are brought together. The psychology of color says “orange is optimistic and uplifting, rejuvenating our spirit. In fact, orange is so optimistic and uplifting that we should all find ways to use it in our everyday life, even if it is just an orange colored pen we use.”


Reggie Joiner has created the orange group, a group that imagines what incredible things happen when church and family collide . This book is written for Christian churches, but many UU religious educators are using the books for our congregations.  I have become very good at changing God and Jesus to love and spirit of life in my head while reading these books. Think Orange talks about faith happening outside of Sundays, bringing the optimism and uplifting aspects of orange and using them in our daily lives. The book talks about the church being a lamp post, not moving, an illuminating beacon for us to aim towards, for our mission should not be moving, but we as people moving closer to the churches mission in our own lives.


I grew up a Unitarian Universalist and was very involved in church life. I played in our hand bell choir, I did youth activities, I ran services as a teen, helped rewrite our church's mission statement, I went to youth leadership development conferences, among things. I know that the fullness of having my faith be in my life 7 days a week was important and meaningful.


Everybody needs to be believed in by somebody, and everyone needs to belong somewhere. True community provides both. I want to take a moment and really let those sentences sink in. Everybody needs to be believed in by somebody, and everyone needs to belong somewhere. True community provides both. Is there someone at UUFCO who believes in you? Do you feel like there is a place at UUFCO where you belong? Are we doing all we can do to be a true community? Now imagine if you have a small child, some of you might have them, but those who don’t imagine with me for a minute. Are there adults outside of your immediate family here who believe in your child? Is there a place here for your children to belong? If you answered no to either of those , how can we help make this community more true ? How can we support our youngest to our oldest members? Now take a moment to imagine you are a child or youth here. Do you have space that is your own? Do we as adult members of this community engage in conversation? Is this church where we belong? Does this church believe in you?


I was lucky and had so many who believed in me at church as a youth, church was a place that I belong, church was a place where I could lead and my voice was heard. Being in church community and leadership is something that I have learned and been a part of since I can remember. I was that feral church kid I talk about wanting to have here at UUFCO, I was the kid who didn’t have shoes on, napped wherever I could, and  knew that getting into the youth room early would guarantee me a spot on one of our couches. If you were to go to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin in Illinois you would see my handprint and name on the wall of the youth room. It showed me that my mark was made in the community and showed me that the church believed in me. This helps guide the way I work with our children and youth here. This rug shows they belong here, the re space, the tea during coffee hour, the arch, the childrens' covenant…all of these small things help show that they belong here and we believe in them.


Kara Powell, one of the authors of Growing Young and the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute writes “Old isn’t bad. We love old. We just don’t think it’s the whole story.” All congregations grow old, we all age as a community and that is a beautiful thing and bringing knowledge and wisdom into our congregations is priceless and magical. But we also want to grow young. Now, that might be inevitable at UUFCO with all the new faces and the rapid growth we are seeing right now. I know how excited we all are about seeing new faces every week, but know some may hold trepidations about losing the relational glue that brought all of us here in the first place. That is normal and that is also a reality of where we are as a church. We are growing and now is the time to start shaping that reality, because right now it is like putty in our hands, waiting to take shape. We are crafting this community week by week, person by person, and vision by vision.


Max De Pree says “The first job of a leader is to define reality.” L adership is about listening. I want the ministry of this church to be shared and to make that happen, we need to define reality together.


By working together we can create amazing things! We also have the distinct privilege to learn from our children, because they are some of the best teachers I have ever had.

 We need to tend to that flame, growing it person by person. Child to adult, bridging generational and gender gaps, embracing our own unique cultures and honoring everyones life experiences. We as a church have 40 hours a year in a child's life, families have 3000 hours. Now imagine if we could add our 40 hours to the 3000, that might be able to enrich family time, when doing check ins as a family during car rides, asking for a joy and sorrow. 10 minutes of church can be added to family time. When you sit down to have a meal, taking a moment to say a grace- adds another 5. These are things that help the family and church collide letting kids and adults feel more connected to their faith during the week. I’m going to give another number. From birth you have approximately 936 weeks until your child turns 18. 936 weeks to be a part of this incredible journey until they are considered an adult by our society. 936 weeks…that doesn’t seem like much time at all. In the book Playing For Keeps, Reggie Joiner urges you to not worry about the time, but to pour as much love as you can, and to value love over time. Love lasts longer than 936 weeks, and we as a church can help strengthen the love a child feels by being present and engaged in their life.


Sophia Fahs writes “The religious way is the deep way, the way that sees what physical eyes alone fail to see, the intangibles of the heart of every phenomenon. The religious way is the way that touches universal relationships; that goes high, wide and deep, that expands the feelings of kinship.”


This work I am talking about is deep, it is hard, but rewarding. We will all stumble but the beautiful thing is, we are there to pick one another up. This wide, high, deep, sideways, backwards, and topsy turvy religion we are in calls us to act in love, it calls us to remember that each night a child is born is a holy night, but that also means they lead a holy life and we will watch and contribute to their lives as they navigate through the good, bad, difficult, and even more difficult than they could imagine. We will be there making sure they know that they are a welcome and loved piece of our community and that their family matters here, and that in return our community matters to the family.






Think Orange’s philosophy mentions that when you elevate community, you recognize the need for multiple voices. Now I have written a prompt on the wall in the Sophia Fahs common area today that says “Elevate community and you will see…” I want you to go and write a word, a sentence, a phrase, or draw a photo of what an elevated community could look like to you. Is your elevated community that orange optimism and rejuvenation? Is it the red deep burning love? Or the light and brightness of yellow illuminating your path? Is this community full of all ages? Is it a place that believes in you? Is this community like a warm hug? Like a home for your sprit when it is wounded or is in celebration? Adam Lawerence Dyer in his meditation “My House” Writes “My House is not white. Nor is it built for men only. My house is not a symbol or a surrogate. But a home and a place to dine on the loaves of different hearts and minds broken only to be shared by many instead of being hoarded by one. My house is where I drink deeply of red wine that flows like blood not spilled but transfused through human kind. My house is the holy communion of humanity and love”


My house is the holy communion of humanity and love, may we move into this day full of humanity and love after receiving this holy communion together. May we all add a little citrus twist to our community and grow young together.


Amen and blessed be.


Finding Your Truth

On July 2, 2017 I spoke on Sunday service, I wanted to share the talk I gave on finding your truth and embracing your identity. 

"My name is Ayla Halberstadt, I am a white cisgendered heterosexual female ,west coast transplant, a Unitarian universalist, millennial, religious professional and my pronouns are she/her/hers. We all have identities we claim, we show the world what we want them to see. My identities have changed and will more than likely change as I grow older. This may be surprising to some of you but I went through a phase where I actively denied my Unitarian Universalist identity, or I thought I did as a third grader. I grew up where farm met suburb in Northern Illinois and most of my classmates went to Christian churches so I decided I wanted to be a Christian, I asked my mom for a cross, hoping I would get a small dainty cross to hang from my neck…but instead she got me a large cross with Jesus crucified, face in pain,  etched into it…it was a cross so I did get what I asked for…as she gave it to me, I said “Mom, I think I was a christian in another life, and I am now just realizing this is who I am meant to be”…I didn’t realize at the time that Christians don’t really believe in reincarnation and how my UU upbringing was showing as I refused to acknowledge it. I eventually gave up on being a reincarnated Christian, I realized after sitting in a service that I didn’t believe in what the pastor was saying and realized that the Unitarian Universalist faith I had known since I was born was my community and just like in our story for all ages, when I embraced who I was, I began to flourish in the world.



Our identities, both claimed and unclaimed shape how we interact with the world, how we see the world, and what we come to expect from the world. Our different views make society rich and it is our work as a people of faith to make sure that each person with their unique identity is respected, because like our first principle reminds us, each person has inherent worth and dignity.


Our first principle might be one of the hardest to truly live into on a daily basis, I know I am guilty of watching or reading the news and thinking some pretty awful things about people, forgetting that even though I might not agree with their views or actions, the person who holds those views is still worthy, they still have a unique identity. When I was at a candlelight vigil in Arizona, protesting the way law enforcement and police were treating people in the county jail I had one of the most intense wake up calls with this, because even though we were protesting the way the justice system was treating immigrants, we had police officers sitting on their big horses protecting us, making sure everything stayed safe. As we passed them, we thanked them. This is a privilege that I have…not because I earned it but because of my identity, to be able to thank police for keeping me safe and not think I will be seen as a perceived threat to their safety.


 Living into the first principle is much easier said than done, because no one is perfect, we can all strive to work harder at understanding our own prejudices and where they come from, what in our life has made us feel that way. In to kill a mockingbird harper lee writes “I think there’s just one kind of folks, folks.” I want to agree with that, because we are all humans, born from love and inherently worthy, but we are all different…even on the inside. That’s what makes our world work, the fact that we aren’t all one kind, we all don’t think, look, or act the same.


When I first agreed to talk today, I was originally going to dive into gender identity, about how we can as beloved community welcome all into our religious home, how those on or off the gender binary can come into our space and feel welcomed, but as I mentioned before, we aren’t perfect and we all have growing to do. I realized that I couldn’t come up and give some lifechanging talk and then suddenly we all wear our pronouns on our nametags and neutralize gender in our songs and talks. I do know that I can start conversation about how we can position ourselves as a welcoming community to be welcoming to more people. We will make mistakes on the way, but being a covenantal faith we have the opportunity to apologize and try to get back into covenant with the person we hurt.


In the Our Whole Lives sexuality education curriculum the topic of identity is addressed throughout the entire class, it starts with the first day. Having each person say their name and pronoun, because nothing is assumed and we want everyone to feel that they are being seen for who they truly are and not just what gender they present as. The first time I taught Our Whole Lives (or OWL for short) was a 4-6th grade group and we were talking about our identities and what we claim. I had a girl, bright blond hair, blue eyes, and very pale skin in the group raise her hand and say that she was an African American, I paused for a second and looked at her, asked why she claimed that as her identity “Well I was born in South Africa and moved here when I was 4, I am African and now I am an American…so I am African american.” I never would have expected that from her by looking at her, but its her claimed, unique, and true identity.


As a liberal faith we have the opportunity to better this world, to make it more welcoming for those who’s identities are on the margins, those fray identities who are just as important as the more mainstream identities. We need to act on the side of love, not just stand….because when action is taken and we get involved, change can happen. We need to stay in the struggle and use the identities we have elevate justice for all. We need to continue to act and show up to remind everyone that people should have the right to use the bathroom based on their gender idenitity, that love is love, that black lives matter, that our immigrant neighbors are welcome and appreciated, that our earth is precious and should be taken care of, that corporations are not people, and instead of saying all men are created equal, all people are created equal. We have a lot of work to do, and we can’t all do it by ourselves, but all of us together, all unique and important, we can all work in beloved community to start and stir change to make the world a place where all identities belong and are treated with inherent worth and dignity.


Amen blessed be and may it be so."


In faith and love,

Ayla Halberstadt, DRE