Thoughts from Rev. Scott Rudolph
I would like to share a very simple spiritual practice of mine it with you and invite you to join me. Each day I receive an email in my inbox called A Common Meditation. It is produced by the Rev. Galen Guengerich, minister at The Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City. The email contains a very simple and brief quote for reflection. Here is the quote from this morning as I write this:
Our moment-to-moment experience is improvisational, even though it exists within a structure or plan. That is - life brings us opportunities, questions, and problems to solve, and we respond in real time, trying to make sense out of each challenge or offer. How we live our lives within the structure of our day is an eternal improvisation... You are always the one steering the canoe, however. Sometimes on the white-water-rapids course it is both relaxing and exhilarating to be swept along by the swells, oars at rest, watching the scenery and marveling at the ease of it all. And sometimes we must paddle against the current in order to take a fork in the river.
- Patricia Ryan Madsen
It is that simple. And this quote is longer than usual. I must admit that I was surprised when this particular effort of mine stuck. Over the years, I have tried other reflective email dispatches only in time to send the seemingly inevitable “unsubscribe” email. But this one is working. I credit the brevity of Common Meditation passage and the quality of selection for its sustainability.
Rev. Guengerich states the purpose as “a daily spiritual practice to help spark our moral imagination and set our moral compass as individuals (Emerson called it ‘provocative reading’). It can also help establish a common spiritual conversation that will further unite us as a community of faith.” He then offers instruction for four steps – reading, reflection, intention, and contemplation. I don’t always follow the steps. Most days it is enough just to take a deep breath, read the quote, and think for a moment about how it moves in me or how I relate to it in my life. Then on to the next email… But I share this because I have found it a grounding touchstone in my spiritual and contemplative life. I made a rule that I can never delete one without reading it and giving it at least a moment of thought. This has served me well. I hope that it may serve you as well.
After an amazing summer of fellowship activity and wonderful Sunday services, we find ourselves in September. At our multi-generational Ingathering Service on September 8, we will celebrate Water Communion (bring some water if you would like or we will have some to share). AND for the first time, we will be going back to two services on Sunday morning. It has been good to be all together this summer. And now we return to 9 and 11 a.m. as we make room for new folks to join the fold.
Things were still moving and shaking these past few months. Gone are the days where church “closes” in the summer. Though some committees and teams take a month off during the summer, our congregation is certainly “year-round” given all the goodness and joy that happen during the summer months!
And still… September is always special as we come back together for Ingathering and begin a new program year. In doing so, we continue painting on an old canvas that has existed and been passed down for 61 years.
Our canvas is weather-worn with deep hues of color and structural lines. The first layer on our canvas is history buried under time, but life still shines through: the brushstrokes made by people that many of us will never know but that we hold in our hearts. They are the ones that first wrapped the empty blank canvas around a wooden frame. Then they stepped back and said, “What shall we create?” We are all living somewhere inside that first vision by those brave and imaginative souls. They passed the paints to our elders as our recent history service shared with us.
Since that time, we have been painting on that very same canvas. Layers upon layers. Year after year. The canvas of our congregation is thick with the beauty of love and the messiness of life. It looks different every day. Every Sunday morning. Every committee and team meeting. Every moment that one person reached out to another in need. Every justice event. Every potluck. Every child shaped by our religious education. Every moment of understanding. Every song sung together. Every phone call offering care. Every congregational dream realized. Every relationship forged. Every encounter with the sacred or the holy. Every single thought or action inspired by the congregation. Every experience of those who helped create our glorious building. Every single person who ever crossed our threshold and shared in a moment here. All the hard moments. All the wonderful moments. Everything that has happened in this place, in the name of this fellowship, or because of our people. That is what our canvas contains. It is wonderful, calming, chaotic, and full of color.
We are a product of our past and are living into our future. There is only one ongoing canvas that is the history and life our shared story. Each of us arrives with this canvas in front of us, ready with paintbrush , or finger paints, or glue and paper, or yarn, or metal, or wood, or time, or effort, or money, or care, or a fist full of glitter. Reach out and touch this canvas that you are a part of. This is a canvas that affects us all is real. Then the question becomes in this new church year…
What is it that unique addition that only YOU can add to our canvas? The painting needs your colors. Time for more layers!
Painting with Love,
We went camping recently up to Belknap Hot Springs. This is not the kind of camping where you hike in over many miles for a few nights with everything on your back and enjoy long silences while staring at the trail moving below your feet as miles stretch slowly between you and civilization. No... Those are great hiking trips. But it has been a while since my wife and I have done that. Two young kids seem to lessen one's expectations for a successful camping experience. Or at least change them.
We only pitched our tent for two nights. The lodge gave us big wheelbarrows so that we could get all our stuff from our vehicle to the campsite. We lugged everything we might need (and many things we didn't need) in several trips carrying things like boxes and bags, camp chairs, hammocks, bikes, a cook stove, games, coolers, and a family sized tent. It is amazing how much stuff you can take camping when you know the car will be close by. All the "stuff aside," in the end we had all the necessities to make it feel like we were lost for a moment in the natural world - a good hike, some splashing in water, a fire crackling at the end of the night, and some stargazing.
On our trip, I was struck by how I can still feel so removed from nature in my day-to-day life. This seems a strange thing to say while living in Central Oregon. Nature is so available and yet, we can find ourselves in our automobiles and in our garages more often than walking along a path, going for a hike, or standing near the majesty of a tree. Car culture can mean we get there faster, but we miss the slow walk that might have gotten us there. So often, we witness nature once removed through the windows of our lives.
Yet, there are trees all around me here. There is grass to sink my bare feet into. There are birds singing. All this is available to me. But I have to remember to slow down and experience it. I have to remember to breathe it all in. So I do try to do this - as a spiritual practice. I try (not always succeeding) to remember to bring my attention to the wonders of nature around me right here in my own yard, on the fellowship grounds, or on a walk. Then I feel connected to something larger than myself. I remember. And I feel blessed to be a part of it.
Church is like this. There is a lot going on here and activities are happening all the time. Reading the weekly All-Congregation Email (ACE), it can feel as dense as the natural world at times. Worship, committee and team meetings, social gatherings, adult spiritual development classes, fundraising, Sunday School, social action projects and rallies, board meetings, buildings and grounds projects, visioning, caring, laughing, crying, healing, singing, and on and on. There is so much going on in this place, sometimes I find that I need to slow down and just look around - remember to breathe it all in.
And on a Sunday morning, it could be possible to walk through the wonders around you much in the same way we can walk by nature without being amazed. I find it helpful on Sunday to try to calm my mind and look at all the people who have gathered and smile knowing these people choose to make this our community. Or I listen to the lively buzz at coffee hour, or think about all that it takes to keep our fellowship going, or imagine all the hours of effort and generous financial support of the members and friends that it takes to create our vibrant community, or think about the so, so, so many ways this place has positive impact on people's lives and that we all create that impact together. When I do this, I get the same experience I do in nature. I feel connected to something larger than myself. I feel blessed to be a part of it.
I invite you to slow down and soak in both these experiences. Take off your shoes and go walk in the grass thinking about the soil and the earth. Stare up at the white clouds rolling by. Go hug a tree. Then come to the fellowship. Appreciate why you are there. Look at our beautiful space. Touch the outside walls. Walk in the front doors and look around with awe and wonder. Know that our shared faith is life giving, life saving, and life sustaining. We are all indeed connected to something larger than ourselves. We are all blessed to be a part of it.
At the beginning of the new year, our Board of Trustees asked the question: What do we want to be as a religious community in five years? They held meetings, listened to conversations, and sent out a survey to hear from the congregation. From that, we gathered the very real desires of what we want our community to be. It is exciting.
The board listened and has summarized the high volume of responses into three key focus areas that are intended to serve as guide posts for our congregation's journey over the coming years. These focus areas will help our leaders to allocate church resources on investments and activities that are consistent with the longer-term vision as defined by the congregation. This vision will also guide me as I prioritize my limited hours for the many possible places to devote my time and energy. This will feel different for me and for the congregation. Though if we want to get where we want to go, things need to shift to make it happen.
We will still continue to do the things that don't show up directly in the Vision statement. The reason for limiting the number of focus areas is to be realistic about how we want to shape out future. The intention was not to be "all things to all people," but to focus on the vision as defined by the majority of the congregation.
The goal was to distill the congregation's dreams into words that are more focused than a slogan and more manageable than a list. We want words that will resonate and inspire, but neither limit our possibilities nor drone on into irrelevance. Here they are! We hope they provide the inspiration for all of us to drive us toward what we heard so very clearly from the congregation.
UUFCO Shared Vision:
• Our lives are nourished through relevant worship, musical experiences, and opportunities for lifelong spiritual growth.
• Our diverse, all ages community welcomes new people in, connects through authentic and meaningful relationships, and is dedicated to mutual service.
• Our social justice and environmental values are active within our fellowship and recognizable in the wider community through our work with local organizations and interfaith partnerships.
This is a vision I am excited to be a part of! Now, we all must ask ourselves what we might do to make this ring true. This is our work to do together. See you in five years!
Our day begins in a pretty hectic way. In the swirl of activity that is our morning routine, there is getting kids up and dressed, cooking breakfast, showers, organizing for the work and school days, packing lunches, and getting out the door on time to make the school bus. Amid all this, we try, try to create space each morning for what we call our “Moment of Calm.” It does not happen every day. It might not happen every other day. It usually only lasts a few minutes. But what we aim for is a moment that all of us are sitting around the table at the same time, coffee in hand (for us, not the kids), and we can just stop preparing for the day and be present to the day. This nourishes our spirits. It makes us feel calm, connected, and good.
There are moments possible like this every day. They are available, but they do not necessarily “just happen” to us. We have to make them happen. We must be intentional, and sometimes it takes dedication. There are so many ways to nourish the spirit. There are spiritual disciplines like mediation or yoga, there is physical exercise, there is reading and study, there is a deep conversation, there is doing justice work, there is music and poetry, and there are so many more different ways that we can enliven, enrich, and deepen our experience of life.
At a Sunday service in February, we introduced the idea of people in the fellowship pausing for 2 minutes at 2 o’clock every day to breathe, center, and ground themselves. I have heard from a good deal of people who set their alarm on their phone and are trying their best to claim this moment. I am trying as well – albeit imperfectly. Strange how hard it is to do something so simple as take 2 minutes a day to stop and breathe! I like knowing that there are other people from our congregation at 2 o’clock doing this together. Sometimes the two minutes feel long. Sometimes they fly by and I wish it were longer. I am going to keep trying. I find that it offers me a touchpoint in my day and creates an ongoing relationship between me and stillness. I invite you to join me. I invite you to join all of US! 2 p.m. (or whenever it works for you.)
I know that I am nourished by being in this community in countless ways. I hear stories all the time of the different ways members are nourished by others though caring, through learning, through sharing, through worshiping together, through work and play. May we continue to nourish one another and keep our hearts open.
I am always amazed at kids and playgrounds. I recall when our children were younger going to an indoor play area at the mall. It was quite large and featured a bunch of big slides. Being a cold day and a Saturday on top of it, there was probably about forty kids running around. Tessa and Simon, our children, knew exactly what to do there. There are only two steps: 1. Take off your shoes 2. Go have a blast running around.
I sat there and watched this always-in-motion, joyous, smiling, playing, imagining pack of children running around having fun. The number of kids having fun created an infectious energy that all the kids tapped into. What I witnessed was a child-aged version of Beloved Community. Kids of different race, age, gender, and ability all playing in harmony. I didn't see any tears all day. I didn't see anyone hitting anyone. I did see disagreements. I did see hugs, kids helping kids up stairs, kids piled atop one another like puppies, chasing each other, and inventing ways to play. I witnessed several collisions, and usually each kid would make a quick check to see if they were hurt, look at the other child to see how they were, then both continue on their way. (It is a well-known parenting fact that kids weigh being hurt against how much fun they are having. If the pain is less than the fun, then it gets ignored.) Every kid was simply concerned with their play and joy. And when required, they concerned themselves with those around them.
How do they do it? When did it get more complicated? At what point do we become more jaded, greedy, insecure, and hateful? Kids really do have a magical quality of innocence and beauty. They are quite free -- in their thinking, in their words, in their play, and in their world view.
Our Soul Matters and worship theme for February is Trust. Living in a way that does not diminish the freedom of others is a practice in trust. Trust can be broken, but that does not mean it was not worth offering. Children give us a model of trust. As grownups, we know to exercise caution in where we place our trust. Though, sometimes, we perhaps overcompensate and create a guarded environment around us. Those kids on that playground were each being their full, authentic, joyous self. Free in mind, body, and spirit. And they were doing this in shared space, in a community of diversity, and in harmony. There were small spats to be sure. But they engaged the world with an excitement and openness that I admire.
So, I am left to ponder and invite you to do the same - what keeps us adults from doing this? How might we do better?
Cold. Yesterday I woke up and the sun was shining giving that Oregon early morning false impression of warmth. After getting the paper from outside, I decided that my first morning run to jump-start my lapsed exercising could wait until later in the day. (It didn't happen then either.) Now, I understand that a January newsletter article should be full of forward-looking sentiments about newness and fresh starts and all that... but I am cold right now. It is what's on my mind and in my bones. My son is not having the same experience as me. He wants to wear t-shirts under his heavy winter coat in the snow. He cares not for gloves and hats until he needs them because things are blue or they hurt. Never preventative. He is only interested in "need-based warmth."
And so, I find myself having an experience that I recall from my childhood, only the roles are, of course, reversed. I remember that I, too, did not like bothering with all this over-protective, paranoid, puffiness that my parents wanted to bedeck me with in the winter: "I don't like to wear hats. The glove lining is uncomfortable. Scarves are scratchy on my neck." But now as a parent, I am administering a Basic Universal Principle that I assume every parent knows and every child resists: if I am cold, my child is cold.
Unfortunately, I extrapolate this Basic Universal Principle and apply it to all sorts of other unhealthy situations. Often times, what I think is correct, feel is normal, and believe is true, others must, too. We live in a divided world. Am I alone in finding it hard to accept that other people don't always think like me, and when people don't, am I the only one who at least considers the possibility that the other people are wrong or foolish?
Why would I walk a mile in someone else's shoes? Mine already fit! They should be the ones trying on my shoes so that they could see how shoes are supposed to fit. Mmmm... but my shoes might not fit their feet.
Each of us begins by experiencing and understanding the world through our own skin and mind. Unitarian Universalism affirms individual experience as the starting point of religious and spiritual understanding. We don't uncritically accept other people's interpretation of what is good or true. We each have a unique perspective because each of us is unique. We build a clearer, better understanding and faith through sharing and checking out our experience and understanding with others.
Remembering that just because I'm cold doesn't mean you are cold as well is especially important when we enter into conversation with people from diverse and multi-cultural communities. My way of walking in the world is not the only reasonable way to be human. Our ability to create and sustain healthy, vibrant, peaceful communities (including church!) depends upon individuals seeing beyond our own noses. We must learn to appreciate and honor the many ways of being human, and the subtle complexities and beauties of culture and identity. The way forward must embrace multicultural realities, opportunities of diversity, and the gifts of many paths. And we must be willing to call out the difference between living through your experience and causing others harm.
Dr. Martin Luther King affirmed that the Civil Rights Movement in America was and is about more than freedom and justice for black Americans. He said, "The Universe is so structured that things go awry if people are not diligent in their cultivation of the other-regarding dimension." The goal is creating an inclusive, peaceful, and just community where neighbor loves neighbor, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. He called it the Beloved Community, the World House, in which we are inextricably woven together in a common destiny, a common humanity.
I want people to be warm. But perhaps the best approach is not to force them to wear the hat I picked out, or to expect them to put their arms through the coat that I think they need. And I do think that it is okay to challenge people directly who go walking around throwing buckets of ice water on people in the middle of winter doing them harm. (Don't worry. No one is actually doing this that I know of. Just continuing the metaphor...)
What will work then? Love is a fabulous quilt. Compassion, a tremendous cloak. Even when we don't agree with others, understanding and respect are perhaps the best sweater and gloves for cold hearts and icy hands. Whether we are the ones warm or we are shivering, we all need a place around the fire.
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"When I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love." We sing this song Meditation on Breathing together in church, and I am always comforted by it. I need comfort. In the last months, I feel like I have not always been breathing in "peace." I feel like I have been breathing in a good deal of anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger. We live under a government linked with misogyny, racism, xenophobia, ableism, income inequality, and homophobia. As religious people grounded in love, our voice will be needed in these coming years. Ours is a message of inclusion for all people.In December, our Soul Matters and worship theme is Mystery. To me, this feels like a needed exhale. I need to be reminded of some magic. Some miracle. I need to remember that life is a mysterious gift and full of incredible wonder that leaves me in awe. This month, we will ground ourselves in this holy mystery. Let’s face it, no one really knows what’s going on here.
SO many things fill me with a sense of wonder and mystery. I only need to stop and look around to be filled with gratitude and astonishment. Look at anything closely enough and the mystery and wonder start to unwind. So many things. Anything. Everything is a part of this grand mystery!
Life, the stars above, the sun, the blue sky filled with clouds, children’s laughter, fingers, toes, pandas, river currents, ocean life (that is a big one!), gravity, life cycles, eyes, smart phones, empathy, water, recycling, choirs, hope, running, tomatoes, baking bread, evolution, colors on a duck, generosity, a flower rising from a sidewalk crack, skin to skin contact, feathers, veins, numbers, humility, glitter, warmth, showers, teeth, medical science, snowflakes, puppies, poetry, roots, seeds, wind, stories, self-expression, muffins, soccer, toilets, balloons, horses, lighting and thunder, rope swings, bouncy balls, wheat, engines, musical instruments, beans, kites, tears, beaches, breath, dirt, pencils, a chalice, friends, bees, hoola-hoops, math, bicycles, art, penguins, vinyl records, clouds, dreams, smoothies, heart pumping, snails, magnets, jokes, mountains, creativity, eagles, weeping willows, robots, hollow logs, dancing, lamps, movie-making, optometry, caterpillars, bark on a tree…
I could go on… What do you see or feel that creates a sense of wonder that points toward the grand mystery of it all?
I talk a decent amount about Love on Sunday mornings. It is because I believe in it. I believe that it is generative, that it is cohesive, and true. One Sunday a person said, "Well, Love, to me, seems to get right at the heart of it. Everything we do or try to be is based in Love." I would have to agree. This is our Universalist heritage peeking out.
I have also heard from a person that because the word is so big, they find it troubling. Fair enough. For me, Love is more than the energy flowing between two individuals. Love is about our whole approach to our lives and existence. It is about how and to what extent we are willing to open ourselves to the world's joy, beauty, pain and tragedy. Love is about compassion for others and allowing ourselves to be woven into the fabric of life.
There is a powerful scene in the 1982 movie Gandhi with Ben Kingsley that taught me about Love. The Hindus and Muslims are rioting, killing one another in the city and Gandhi has gone on a hunger strike to quell the violence. He is weak. Suddenly a wild-eyed man, a Hindu, races into Gandhi's chamber and, weeping, falls at the Mahatma's bedside.
"Save me. Save my soul!" he pleads.
"Why? What has happened? What have you done?" Gandhi asks.
"I have killed a child," cries the man. "My son was killed in the rioting. I was mad. I found a Muslim child and I killed him."
And then you see in Gandhi's face such an expression of sadness and pain and love. You see that he so loves this man and the two murdered children and all the people, that their pain is his own; their sorrow, their madness and fear all are part of Gandhi. For Gandhi this was not just another child's anonymous death. It was not just another act of mad violence. For Gandhi it was a particular child and a specific man, and through them, all men and women, all children who suffer and who cause suffering.
"I know how to save your soul," Gandhi says after a silence. "You must find an orphaned Muslim child and take him as your own. You must raise him as a Muslim." This is not Hollywood. This is a true story--a real love story about the kind of love that heals and unites and transforms our lives and our world.
This is Love as God, a God worthy of devotion. This is compassion for one another, love of neighbor as self, the fundamental cohesive energy within the Universe. It flows between individuals. It flows among friends and families. It flows amongst neighbors and communities. It flows across cultures and continents and time.
Be sure, good people. I love our fellowship. I love what we create together. And I love you.
We had our highest ever attendance at a Sunday service last week (September 23 — other than Easter Sundays) with 307 adults and children. This is a sign of the times for our congregation. And even though we had more people with us, because we began our new format of two services, both worship services and Community Hour felt more connected and intimate. I am grateful to the Growing Together Task Force, the Worship Team, and the staff for the grace and dedication they brought to the transition. Also, we are thankful to everyone who offered input into the process. It has been and will continue to be a work in progress. I once heard someone refer to this style as "building the airplane while in flight". Makes sense to me.
After four years of service, Ayla Halberstadt, our Director of Religious Exploration, is resigning. We hope that you will be able to join us for our service on October 14 when we will celebrate her time with us. We are grateful to Ayla for the many ways she has given to our community.
On Sunday mornings, we will be experimenting and tweaking things here and there. We know that moving the service from an hour and fifteen minutes to one hour necessitates some changes. One place the Worship Team decided to alter was regarding inviting our visitors to stand and introduce themselves. This is not a new conversation for the Worship Team. There were several considerations. Primary is that we have heard from visitors and from our research that many do not experience that practice as welcoming. Maybe the extroverts among us enjoy it or out-of-town guests. But most people find it intimidating and anxiety-producing. Often, visitors want to slip in and out without being noticed while they check us out. Someone at church two weeks ago said that it was the first time they had come back in four years. They did not return after their first visit because of the visitor welcome.
It is important to distinguish between intent and impact. We all operate with good intentions and intend to be welcoming, but sometimes our intent does not have the desired impact. One article we came across challenged some of our assumptions. It expressed that the number one concern visitors have isn't "will I fit in," or theology, it's "Please don't let me be embarrassed."
I witness a lot of discomfort during this section of our worship. I see reluctant visitors shrinking down while mic runners are looking for them. I see nervous people standing up to introduce themselves, and I wonder if they felt coerced. I wonder how much our tradition is really for the visitors and how much it is about that "we" like to hear the "new people and guests" introduce themselves.
The other consideration is how we can truly be welcoming. Having visitors introduce themselves is a very passive way for us to be friendly and welcoming to new folks or people. It begs the questions: "Whose responsibility is it to introduce themselves? Should a newcomer have to stand and "out" themselves in public? Or should they expect that our welcoming congregation will personally reach out to them after service?" If you introduce yourself to the people you don't know or to people with paper name tags, you just might enhance your own morning as well! This is an invitation to make a practice out of being the welcoming and kind congregation we are.
We are also going to be have a table set up at the southwest corner of the Gathering Hall so that newer folks might have a place to congregate, ask questions, and make themselves available for introductions should they choose to do so.
Again, thank you to everyone who helped us in the transition -- that is likely all of us, because showing up on Sunday mornings is an important part of our success. Just as the flame is continuous from the chalice in our first service, to the candle, and back to the second service chalice, we are all connected and one community.
In the coming months, I look forward to hearing from people how all our recent changes in our Sunday morning are working. We are committed to continuing the tradition of being open to paths that lead toward the fulfillment of our mission and doing it together. So glad to be walking and sometimes forging these paths with you.
They say that "90 percent of life is showing up." They say that "history is made by those who show up." I would humbly add that community is also made by those who show up.
When people first met the Buddha they were confused as to what sort of being he was. "Are you a God?" they asked. "Are you a yogi? A human?" He answered, "I am awake." He showed up. He was open to his experience, to the experiences of the people around him. He was open to the possibilities for peace and love and justice and the end of suffering around and within him. He wasn't hidden. He wasn't locked in a dark room in his home. He wasn't locked into the insular chambers of his mind. He was awake. He was present. He showed up. Sure, he would sit by himself from time to time. But that was just in preparation for engagement in the world.
The Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed -- each encountered Divine Truth in solitude on their own in the mountains, deserts, and forests of the world. But each also devoted himself to communities of faith which gave form, power, and life to the truth and love they carried inside. I believe it would be near impossible for someone to be whole -- spiritually and emotionally whole -- without entering some sort community. Like it or not, we are part of an interdependent web of creation. It only makes sense to rejoice in it, experience our connectedness, and share our lives.
In my experience, investing in a community of deeply shared values, whatever form that may take, is one of the most important investments a person can make. We need one another. We need time and space to reflect on our lives so that we can more fully live. Participating in the life of the church keeps us connected not only to our values and commitments, but also to our neighbors and to the sacred, loving mystery that makes life real and meaningful.
At our multigenerational ingathering Service on September 16, we will celebrate Water Communion. AND for the first time, we will be gathering at two Sunday morning worship services at 9 and 11 a.m. I am so grateful to the Growing Together Task Force for their work in facilitating this process and to the congregation for all your input.
As we have been experiencing growth in our congregation, we hope you will continue to show up and commit yourself to sharing your precious life with others in the congregation. I hope that you will challenge yourself to grow in love and understanding and not be satisfied with simple, easy responses to life's immense possibilities.
As the church year begins and as teams, committees, and activities get started, I encourage you to find a place. Find something in the church that you feel you would enjoy, something you would be good at, or something you have always been curious to try. We always encourage to approach the congregation with both the ability to give and receive. So what are your plans for the church year?
I look forward to seeing you at church on Sundays as our congregation explores this new form of being together.
The rapper the Fresh Prince (a.k.a. Will Smith) kicks off his song Summertime with these words: “Here it is - the groove, slightly transformed. Just a bit of a break from the norm...” Summertime is like that. The shift to different rhythms of our days and nights. My schedule shifts as well. At the end of July and through the first half of August, I will have had some vacation and have taken some study leave to begin planning, dreaming, and considering some nuts and bolts. It is an important time for me as I recharge and have space to think about our congregational life with a different lens in a different headspace.
In that spirit, I like to use my summer newsletter space in a different rhythm as well. Here are a few poems and other inspirations that I happened upon during the year but never found the right place for in a sermon or article. There is no tie that binds these poems or words other than that they each in their own way pressed upon me when I came across them – either for the first time or after many visits. I hope they create some movement somewhere inside of you.
Thoughts Scott Begot
Rev. Scott Rudolph
From The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
"As long as this exists," I thought, "and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy." The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.
by Stephen and Ondrea Levine
There is a grace approaching
that we shun as much as death.
It is the completion of our birth.
It does not come in time, but in timelessness
when the mind sinks into the heart
and we remember who we are.
It is an insistent grace that draws us
to the edge and beckons us to surrender
safe territory and enter our enormity.
We know we must pass beyond knowing
and fear the shedding.
But we are pulled upward
through forgotten ghosts
and unexpected angels
realizing it doesn’t make sense
to make sense anymore
This morning the universe danced before you
as you sang — it loves that song!
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors tolive the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with thelicense of a higher order of beings.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
“Questionnaire” by Wendell Berry
How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.
For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.
What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.
In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.
State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security;
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
"If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.
But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
— E. B. White
Our Water Communion and Flower Communion worship services bookend our fellowship program year. While our activities do not stop throughout the summer, they do take on a different rhythm. Things move a little slower and people are often in and out due to travel. I have been delighted to understand that worship attendance does not drop too. (We do have good air conditioning, after all.)
Flower Communion is on June 10, and I can hardly believe it. Our first year together is winding down. Though... actually, I can believe it when I stop to think of all that we have experienced this year – the Sunday mornings week after week, the congregational events, the growth in relationships, the tears and laughter, the different ways the world around has changed since last September. It has been a thick year. For all of us, difficult in some ways; beautiful in some other ways.
In my annual report, I reflected on what has happened in the congregation. I would like to take a little space here to share some reflections on what has happened between us relationally. I try to make these articles on the shorter side, but this will be a long one. (Get comfy.)
I began my annual report with a tone of gratitude, and I can only do the same here. On the heels of what is likely the most stressful section of our lives with buying and selling houses, saying farewell to a congregation, and moving across the country for a new life and ministry, my family and I arrived in Bend, Oregon. We did not know a soul except for the good people we had met in the congregation. Though everything here was unknown, we knew in our bones that this was the right place for our new home. I felt my call to ministry and to life deeply in line with each other. When we got here, we were greeted with such warmth and welcome. This did not dissipate over time, but rather changed forms as we transitioned into living within this community of kindness. My family and I will be forever grateful to the people of UUFCO and how the first pages of this new chapter in our lives began.
I have said often that the Ministerial Search Team did an incredible job. Not because they chose me (though that was nice), but because they accomplished their task of understanding the congregation so well and presenting it so fully and honestly. There have been very few surprises this first year, and that is something that new ministers cannot often say. The congregation I first met through the team and through the search materials has been the congregation I have gotten to know in more depth through all the wonderful particulars this year. During my own search process, I was committed to honesty, authenticity, and integrity. All I could do was present myself and my vision of the ministry I believed in and wanted to be a part of. I feel so blessed and fortunate that what the congregation was looking for and what I am offering matched up. I pinch myself daily.
Leslie Koc began one of our Leadership Development meetings with a reading from a book titled Leadership Presence that used the 15th chapter of the Tao Te Ching. In speaking of the Old Sages, it says:
They were careful
as someone crossing a frozen stream in winter.
Alert as if surrounded on all sides by the enemy.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Whole as an uncarved block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Turbid as muddied water.
Who can be still
until their mud settles
and the water is cleared by itself?
Can you remain tranquil until right action occurs by itself?
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
For only those who are not full are able to be used
which brings the feeling of completeness.
In large part, this describes the ministry and presence I aspire to create here. It is a style that likely feels different than other ministerial leadership. It aims at a slower pace in a frantic world. It focuses on presence and being in the moment with people. It asks of us to be open, curious, alert, careful, kind, solid, and fluid. Sometimes, holding space for a question allows an answer to come over a period instead of immediately forcing one out. Even among the all the transition this year, I feel this way of being together has been welcomed (even if it means that emails are not answered quickly unless they are an emergency or scheduling). What the Tao Te Ching describes above is also what the search committee understood that the congregation hoped for in the culture we shape together. My hope is to offer this community spiritual leadership and not simply the function of ministerial tasks.
As luck would have it, I happen to personally know all the ministers that preceded me at UUFCO. I met them at collegial gatherings, justice events, or in a seminary class. I have learned some things from each one of them, and each in their own way, they have helped form my own ministerial understandings. I no doubt share some similarities with the ministers who have come before me, and I am also different in many ways. There may be gifts from these previous ministers you appreciated and miss. It is hard to say good bye to people we love, no matter if it was a decade ago or last year. Or perhaps there were more difficult experiences that still rattle around inside you. For good or ill, the ghosts of ministers past are always lurking around a church. Given all this, you have offered me a space to be myself and bring my own gifts into this community. I have encountered curiosity of spirit, open minds, and open hearts as the Tao describes. You “gave the new guy a chance.”
One significant way this year has been different is that for the first time in Rebecca’s and my shared life, we do not have a “next move” planned. And this congregation has never had a longer-term minister. We are exploring together the ways that this affects how we build our foundation. A lot of this year was finding a mutual trust with each other. This has been between“minister and congregation,” but I would also say, we have been building a greater trust between congregants as well. This work will be ongoing. Trust is the foundation of any ministry as well as a basic fabric that binds our meaningful relationships among all fellowship participants. It is what helps establish a space into which we can open and grow.
I feel a part of this community and that is a special thing to me. I do not want to minister from afar, but rather from within. This was perhaps most clear to me by the way I felt when I returned to the fellowship after being away for my father’s memorial service. Coming back to Bend felt like coming home. Coming back into our congregation felt like returning to my spiritual home.
Part of my hope is to always be in formation as a minster though new learnings and by leaning into my growing edges. The fellowship is, of course, an imperfect congregation, and I am an imperfect person and minister. I understand that as we hold our shared imperfections with humility and patience, it is not perfection that we seek from one another, but a commitment to our relationships, our mission, and to our fellowship. As Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams said, “Church is a place we get to practice being human.”
I have already been changed for the better by being here with you. I look forward to the unknown ways I will grow as a person and as a minister in the coming years by being in relationship with all of you. It is my hope that each of us arrives into our congregational life opento the mutual ways that we can inspire one another toward love. “Possibility” is a word that continually comes to mind when I think about the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon. I said in my first sermon that I don’t know where we are going, but we are going there together. Here’s to the journey!
Baseball season is here. We are Cubs fans in our house. Last year, we traveled to Washington D.C. to see an old friend – Alex, a Cardinals fan. We pulled in late for the weekend visit around midnight after many hours on the road. We carried the kids into the house asleep and put them straight into beds that had been prepared for them. It had been a long drive and everyone was ready to call it a day.
My seven-year-old son, Simon, woke up early in the morning before everyone else in the house. He was playing in the living room when Alex came downstairs and started making coffee. Simon and Alex had met once before during a weekend I had the joy of marrying Alex and his wife, but I do not think Simon really remembered him. I overheard Alex giving a valiant effort to get to know Simon, but Simon was feeling shy and uncertain since Mom and Dad were not in the room yet. The conversation could find a foothold. Alex is a huge baseball fan and had a baseball news show on the television as a part of his morning routine. He saw Simon watching it andasked, “Do you like baseball?” A home run of a question...
Simon excitedly told Alex all about the baseball team he played on, about the game the day before, and about how last season he was on the Blue Jays and how now he was on the Cubs. Then Simon brought out his baseball hats to show off. Alex was listening with great interest and asking lots of questions, enjoying hearing this new fan’s perspective on the game. To Simon’s amazement, Alex had a large baseball hat collection of his own hanging on a wall. Alex began explaining some of the game's finer points and Simon listened intently. By the time I came out and joined the conversation, a bond based on baseball had formed.
As Unitarian Universalists, we talk a lot about our diversity and differences. “We need not think alike to love alike,” we say. We come together believing many different things theologically and from many paths in life. We appreciate that we have a religious freedom that allows each to respond to the holy in the way it speaks to them. There is a great deal to learn and be curious about in our diversity.
AND, we also have a lot in common. Like Simon and Alex, these places might not be apparent at first. They may take conversation and courage to find. Once we locate them, the ways our lives, beliefs, and values overlap can offer us the opportunity to connect with each other. Commonalities create a bridge to relate with people. Finding similarities enables us to form relationships with nearly anyone. Overlap might not be obvious. It might be elusive. You might think it is impossible to find something in common with some people. But even someone you believe is your opposite in every way is, at the very least, a fellow human being on our planet hoping for a positive experience of this odd thing called life. We all are here together (wherever “here” is). That is our great similarity. At the very least, if we recognize this commonality we might find some new teammates.
There are a lot of new people at the Fellowship. Coffee hour is pretty crowded. It can be easy to become overwhelmed. So we are being intentional about trying to find new ways to facilitate connections and will continue to do so. The One-to-One conversations hosted by the Healthy Congregations Team were a giant success, with over 60 people participating. We plan to do it again. Neighborhood groups are also being started. And there are always ongoing activities and offerings to take part in. Teams and committees are another way to get involved. Justice events are unfolding. If you'd like help finding a place to plug in, our congregational life facilitator, Chela Sloper, is just a phone call away.
Looking to make some connections at UUFCO? Guess what? So is everyone else. There is someone at the Fellowship you have never spoken to who shares some overlap of life with you. I know it. We just have to find it. Alex and Simon were able to find an unlikely connection and create a bond over a love of baseball. But don’t expect everything to match up. And that’s okay, too. It was clear at the end of the trip that Alex will remain a diehard Cardinals fan, while Simon remains adamant that the Cubs are the best baseball team in the world. There is connection to be found in our similarities and our differences. Let’s find some together. Play ball!
In A Search for Meaning, Susan G. LaMar writes about the importance of Unitarian Universalist ordination and installation. Ordination is the process by which a congregation formally bestows a person with the office of minister. Installation is the process of a minister formally entering intorelationship with a congregation. I am switching the word ordination in the following passage with installation, as I feel the sentiments apply to both:
What is important is that through installation, something changes, both within the installed and within the community. A new and different relationship is acknowledged,recognized, and committed to... It is a privileged moment of life for both the installedand the congregation – something special is occurring at the initiative of the gatheredcommunity. It follows a tradition, is connected to the congregation’s understanding of “church,” both immediately and historically. Can it be seen, tasted, smelled, touched,or heard? No, except to the extent that actions evoking those senses are part of the liturgy. But the change itself is invisible, ineffable, silent. The elements of the rite are outward signs of an inward or spiritual grace – a sacrament. These are not words often uttered in Unitarian Universalist churches, but they capture what happens in an installation.
A sacrament is a rite in which the holy and sacred are present and uniquely active. We did create a sacramental act on March 10 when I was installed as the minister of UUFCO. There was great significance and spiritual depth to the service. As Unitarian Universalists, there was sacredness in the act of installation. We believe that the most profound, effective, and God-filled way to be religious is be together freely in the spirit of love, to walk side by side, and to use our reason, collective wisdom, and principles guide us. In our tradition, no outside body appoints a minister. That is the right and responsibility of each congregation. Calling a minister is one of the richest and most foundational ways that we exercise our form of church.
People have asked me what my favorite moment during the service was. It is hard to say. There was no one moment. There were many that took my breath away, that touched my heart, and that kindled the fire inside. But among all the moments, one that stands out among the rest is looking out at the people gathered as the words for the Act of Installation were being read and hearing the congregation say, “We do hereby install you, the Reverend Scott Rudolph, as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon.”
You did that. A group of people seeking justice, using compassion, hoping to heal and grow, wanting to strike chords of joy in life believed in and affirmed my ministry. You have installed me as your minister. I am deeply honored, humbled, and charged. It is my hope that we all grow together, as individuals and as a community – that we will be blessings to one another and to the world around us. I am deeply grateful to this congregation. Thank you. Now... what’s next?
The authors of Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity write, “Congregational polity is itself a shared understanding, agreement, and commitment — in a word, a covenant — among various congregations; it presupposes their being in community and it furthers and sustains the actuality of that community... it is an expression of our spiritual vision.”
Here in Central Oregon, there are not too many other Unitarian Universalist churches around. (Okay... there aren’t any other ones around.) So here is your wonky structural lesson of Unitarian Universalist organization for the month. We are a part of the Pacific Northwest District (PNWD – www.pnwduua.org). The PNWD is a voluntary grouping of 58 UU member congregations in Alaska, Western Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The PNWD is a part of the Pacific Western Region PWR — www.uua.org/pacific-western.org, one of five regional bodies of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA – www.uua.org). The UUA is the national body of over 1,000 UU member congregations. Congregations vote for the leaders of the UUA, who oversee the central staff and resources. The UUA supports congregations in their work by training ministers, publishing books and the UU World magazine, providing religious education.
We hope to make good on the promise that lies in our polity when we come together with other UUs. Again, from Interdependence, “The benefits of congregational polity for a single church cannot be fully enjoyed in isolation, for true congregational polity can thrive only as part of the community of autonomous congregations.”
AND SO... the Pacific Western Region is having is Annual Assembly, and we hope to get as many UUFCO members there as possible. There is so much to experience and learn that people could bring back into the life of this congregation. Scholarships are available to all members for half or full registration fees depending on need. WE HOPE YOU ATTEND! We will be organizing carpool and possible room shares at UUFCO as well. Contact Chela Sloper, our Congregational Life Facilitator, with questions or to request a scholarship at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the assembly:
Stories of Hope, Courage, Resistance, and Resilience
April 27-29, 2018 — Lloyd Center DoubleTree in Portland, OR.
The opportunity to worship, workshop, live, love, and laugh with about 700 other Unitarian Universalists from across the region! If you have never had this experience, it is amazing.
Great workshops during the day on many topics, including leadership development, worship, youth programs, multiculturalism, and congregational stories of hope.
The keynote speaker on Saturday, April 28, will be U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, the newly elected president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, will speak to us to share her emerging vision for the future of the UUA and our wider movement.
The whole family can enjoy. Infants through age 4 will have skilled childcare available on-site on Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning, kids aged 5-14 can join in the fun at UU Kids Day Camp, and high school youth have a track of their own.
Gathering with other UUs is a great way to be inspired and experience what we feel like as a wider faith. Folks who attend will bring back excitement and new ideas. Imagine how having our good folks there might help make UUFCO a more vibrant place. Whether it is on Sunday morning here in Bend or for a weekend in Portland, Oregon, it is good when we come together!
We hope you will consider attending.
“One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
~ Maya Angelou
To be generous takes courage. And certainly courage is involved in stewardship season here at the Fellowship. At this time of year, we look at the financial realities of our dreams for the future. It is exciting to consider what this community means to us and envision what the new year might bring. All that we are is the product of what we have been. And so we meditate on what will be required of us to bring our vision to fruition — both with our combined efforts and our combined financial pledges to support our Fellowship.
This work takes courage. Anytime we ask honest questions, it takes courage to hear — and respond to — honest answers. Then there is the courage it takes to even have conversations about money. Such conversations can bring up anxieties or patterns, hidden and seen, around our past experiences with giving — feelings of scarcity, feelings associated with being a steward of a church. Perhaps we carry the baggage of previous church life in which financial matters were handled poorly. And finally, there is the courage it takes to give bravely — to trust in a church and what it stands for, to trust that your hard-earned money will become something of beauty.
Giving takes courage. Should you need to bolster your courage, I invite you to look around our community. Look at the young children who are learning to be discerning and loving young people in our Religious Exploration program. Witness the many faith development groups and programs that offer our members and friends a place to explore, share, and grow in our understanding of faith and possibility. Be with our gathered community on Sunday morning as we create an embodied spirit of love. Know that our Fellowship champions the causes of people in need, people who are fighting systems of oppression. Hear the laughter and songs in the air. See the full range of generations gathered around common values like a fire that warms us, directs us, and illuminates our way. Know that our Fellowship staff is dedicated and working hard for this community.
This is all very real. This is a sacred place where the holy is present to play and heal. We have great reason to have faith in, and be faithful to, this church because of the ideals we hold and because of our people. May this faith enable us to find courage as we support our Unitarian Universalist church .
If you are proud of this church, become its advocate.
If you are concerned for its future, share its message.
If its values resonate deep within you, give it a measure of your devotion.
This church cannot survive without your faith, your confidence, your enthusiasm, your generosity.
Its destiny, the larger hope, rests in your hands.
~ Michael A. Schuler
Hello! You there, in the future! It’s me, Scott, from the past! It will be 2018 when you read this! As I am writing, it is only December 20. It is not even Christmas yet here in the past. Oh, the things we all will have experienced by the time you read this! Your holiday season will be done, and you will have brought in the new year. I hope you had a lovely time! Or maybe it was terrible. And that is okay, too... Sometimes it happens like that.
Our theme for January is intention — a likely theme for the new year as we all reflect upon what we have been doing and what we may want to be doing differently. It is one of the most profound ideas for those who seek a path of spiritual living and growth. The idea of living intentionally is supported by understanding where we are in our lives and how we are showing up in any given moment (remembering that these moments are the actual minutes and moments of our lives). In beginning this new year, let us take a moment to be intentional about how we move forward into 2018. Here is a simple (yet not so simple) fill-in-the-blank quiz. Please take it when you get a moment in the hopes it may help you live with intention.
I would like to let go of ________________________________.
To let go of________________________________, I will need to ________________________________.
And that may not be easy. To make that happen, I will need to ________________________________.
Letting go of this scares me a little because ________________________________.
But I want to let it go, and I believe it would be worth it because ________________________________.
The first step in doing this is ________________________________.
So, I will begin doing this first step on this date at this time ________________________________ .
Something that would bring release and rejuvenation to my life would be ________________________________.
I currently do not do this because ________________________________.
It would be possible to bring this into my life if I ________________________________.
To do that, I will need to________________________________ .
And that will require that I ________________________________.
I want to do this, and I believe it would be worth it because ________________________________.
The first step in doing this is ________________________________ .
So, I will begin doing this first step on this date at this time ________________________________.
Something I would like to intentionally bring into my life or something I would like to be intentional about doing is ________________________________.
To do this, I will need to ________________________________.
And that may not be easy. To make that happen, I will need to ________________________________.
Doing this scares me a little because ________________________________.
But I want to and I believe it would be worth it because ________________________________ .
The first step in doing this is________________________________ .
So, I will begin doing this first step on this date at this time ________________________________.
New years are full of promise. I wish to you all the courage and grace to move forward into those dreams.
With Love, Rev. Scott
December is here. A month of holidays! Hanukah, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and Festivus, all leading into the New Year. Of these, Christmas is the one that is the most culturally omnipresent this time of year. People celebrate Christmas in many different ways, ranging from completely secular to deeply spiritual. In the Christian tradition, Christmas observes the birth of Jesus. Now, there are far more ways of thinking about who Jesus was than there are holidays in December. Pondering all the different ways that people consider Jesus reminds me of an experience I had long ago. This different vision of Jesus may offer some insight into how to stay calm in this hectic holiday season.
I was at church camp as an eighth-grader at Montreat in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. Church camp was a special and holy place for me growing up. It was a hard place as well, as I struggled with the Christian theology, self-expression, and self-acceptance. One night the youth minister led us on a guided meditation. He asked us to close our eyes and get comfortable.
In a very slow and deliberate way, we were asked to picture ourselves somewhere, anywhere. What do you see when you look around you? What are you doing? After a time, we were invited to imagine that Jesus arrives in this world in which we have found ourselves. What does he look like? What does he say? What does he do? What does it feel like?
I wanted my encounter with Jesus to be lofty and deep, so I tried to have Jesus say important things. I tried to craft some story or experience that would resonate for years to come. I tried to force it, and it didn’t work. I wanted the experience to be something specific, so there was no room for it to “just be.”
I do remember what Roger imagined, though. Roger was an older kid I looked up to in the youth group. He was kind, inclusive, honest, quiet, and quick to laugh his great chuckling laugh. He also played some mean bongo drums. I was always impressed by his ability to simply be himself — to be Roger. When it was Roger’s turn to share, he said he imagined himself lying in a big field on his back with his hands behind his head. The sun was shining brightly. The grass was tall. There was a soft breeze. Then Jesus walked up and lay down next to him with his hands behind his head and his legs outstretched. Jesus didn’t say anything. They just hung out together quietly enjoying the surroundings. He said it was really peaceful. And that Jesus was just really full of “good vibes.” To this day, that remains one of the most profound images of Jesus I’ve ever encountered — stables, mangers, and crosses included.
Looking back, I have no idea what I imagined that evening, and that is because I was too busy trying to force it.
Perhaps this holiday season I will try less to create the perfect holiday experience and try more to just let it be what it is. This will be our family’s first Christmas here, so the pressure is on! But it rarely works for me when I try to force something good. It almost always works better when I stop trying to control things and allow a little more space for life to unfold as it will. There are plenty of seasonal and self-imposed expectations this time of year. My hope for all of us is that we can find that sweet balance of engaging the best of what this season offers and going with the flow enough that we enjoy it all as well. No matter how you are celebrating this holiday season, may it be a wonderful time of hope, wonder, and love.
Last year, my family went to New York City for a few days. We saw the Statue of Liberty, ate breakfast in a New York diner and lunch in Chinatown, enjoyed a picnic in Central Park, walked through Times Square, had a daily intake of New York pizza, and, of course, rode the subway — which, if you ask our kids, was the highlight of the trip.
For me, a highlight of our trip was worshiping with the Unitarian Church of All Souls one Sunday morning. It is one of our most historically significant congregations, both for its people and its actions. For me, visiting that church was a pilgrimage of sorts. Founded in 1819, All Souls was the first Unitarian congregation organized in New York.
At that time, William Ellery Channing, now known as the father of American Unitarianism, was the minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston. In 1819, Channing delivered a sermon in Baltimore titled, “Unitarian Christianity.” With this address, he codified a way of being Christian that rejected the trinitarian structure of God and instead proclaimed the unity of God. He also declared the absolute necessity of using reason to interpret biblical scripture. Channing arrived in New York with his message boiling over. His sister, Lucy Channing Russell, gathered people into her home in Manhattan to listen to the ideas of her brother. And a church was born. It is because these people before us lived and spread their values that we gather together today as a religious community in the way we do. Our congregations look and feel very different today.
All Souls Unitarian Church is in the middle of Manhattan, a few blocks east of Central Park. The church is old and formal. The organ fills the cavernous space, and statues and plaques adorn the halls with lofty names from our history. In that New York church, my 5-year-old daughter reached out to the back of the pew in front of us and pulled out the hymnal. She said with amazement, “They have the same one here that we do at our church!” The chalice was lit. We sang familiar hymns. We gathered around shared values. It was the children’s first experience of a UU congregation that wasn’t their home church.
This summer, when the kids came to UUFCO for the first time, my daughter again noticed that we have the very same hymnals we used in Pittsburgh! Each Unitarian Universalist congregation is a unique expression of its history, its current actions, and its dreams for the future. And every congregation is also connected to our larger tradition.
Getting to know this congregation over the past three months has been an absolute joy. It is so exciting to be here as we continue to create the life of this fellowship together.
Ever wonder when or why you might reach out to your minister? You are probably not alone. Many years ago a Unitarian Universalist minister named Peter Lee Scott wrote a column called "When to Call the Minister." The column has been passed along and adapted many times over for many years. The following list should be read with the lens that as a minister, I am not a “fixer,” but I am a source of care and perspective. Here’s my take on it:
When you don’t know me but would like to or you would like to know me better.
When you’re planning to be married.
When you are going through marital difficulties, separation, or divorce.
When you are having difficulties in health.
When you have given birth to a child or adopted. Or wish to have a dedication ceremony.
When something in your life is going wonderfully and you would like to share that with someone.
When you have problems or concerns you’d like to discuss — problems with your job, children, partner, health, wellbeing, or anything else where a listening ear might be help. I do not do ongoing counseling or therapy but can usually provide referrals when it is needed.
When someone close to you has died, is suicidal, or is critically ill.
When you’d like to plan or make advance plans for a funeral or memorial service.
When you are pregnant and glad you are or you’re pregnant but wish you weren’t.
When you want to know more about Unitarian Universalism or have a friend who is curious.
When you’re considering joining the church, but you still have some questions.
When you have decided you would like to join the church.
When you’d like to get involved in church but are not sure how.
When you would like to offer your time, talent, or treasure to our fellowship.
When you’re upset with me or have concerns and would like to talk about it. Or if you’re appreciative and would like to share.
When you need help, but you’re not sure who to call.
When you have questions you don’t know what to do with.
When you’d like to talk about religion, theology, or spirituality.
This list is, of course, incomplete. There are many other reasons that you might be in touch. But you get the idea. The point is – be in touch. I like to remind people to share good news as well as trials. Joy loves company just as much as misery. In time, I plan to establish a Pastoral Care Team here to expand how we care for one another. And there are always the good people next to you in church, friends established or new, to whom you can reach out.
We are a caring community. We are a place where we hold, nurture, and lift one another up. To do so, we must be willing to offer help and ask for it as well. Talk to you soon.
With Love, Scott
Occasionally in life there are times when we find ourselves overwhelmed at being the recipients of great kindness and generosity. Words do little to capture those feelings of deep gratitude swirling inside. At times such as these, I find that there is little to do but offer a heartfelt and sincere “thank you.” (But I am a minister, so I will continue on with more words when a few might have sufficed.)
The congregation of UUFCO has invited Rebecca, Simon, Tessa Jane, and me into this community with an abundance of warmth, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness. We have been greeted with friendly smiles and open hearts. People have been generous with hugs and handshakes. We received a welcome basket with a museum membership to learn, stuffed otters to snuggle, books on Bend to read, eclipse glasses to view celestial events, and water bottles to hydrate. In short, we have been made to feel welcome, and there is no greater feeling when arriving in a new place and a new home. So “thank you.” A feeling of intense gratitude swirls inside of me. Kindness transforms the recipient (as well as the giver). Please know that we have been forever changed by the kindness we have been shown upon arriving at UUFCO.
Part of my beginning here (the largest and most important part) is getting to know you. There is no substitute for sitting down for a conversation. During September, I will be hosting some informal gatherings here at the fellowship called Histories and Hopes. I’ll meet with groups of eight people or so to answer any questions, to talk about the life of the church, to hear your stories, and to understand your hopes for the future of this congregation. There will be sign up sheets on the kiosk offering different times and dates. Or you can email the office (mailto:email@example.com) and sign up that way. If a substantial group self-forms around a particular time and date not listed, let me know and we will try to make it work.
HISTORIES & HOPES—Location, dates, and times
Bend - UUFCO: Wednesday, September 6 at 2 p.m.
Bend - Jackson’s Corner (Eastside): Thursday, September 7 at 10 a.m.
Bend – UUFCO: Wednesday, September 13 at 6 p.m.
Bend - Deschutes Brewery: Tuesday, September 19 at 7 p.m.
Sisters – TBD with group
Redmond – TBD with group
Here we go!
—With Gratitude and Excitement, Scott