As we move into December, into the darkness, we find ourselves in spaces of tension.
There’s the excitement and hubbub of all the things that happen around the holidays, combined with commercial and consumerist messages that bombard us.
There’s the tension and anxiety that come with the end of the year, work deadlines and financial demands, and, for some of us, with gathering with family and friends, the invitations or lack of invitations to holiday and year-end festivities. And this year tension is higher for many because of events in the country and world, which are amping up anxiety more.
And there’s the quietness, lovely stillness, and sluggishness that come with lengthening nights and short days.
We’re going into the darkness, and as we go many faiths invite us into attentiveness to it or into anticipation of something coming.
We can feel all this as a tug-of-war, where we feel caught in the swirl of the season. And so this call to deepen and cultivate the gifts of the spirit is all the more valuable, as it is whenever we find ourselves in places that are in-between, in tension, changing, busy, anxious.
The holidays of light and darkness at this time of year invite us into wonder and patience. They do invite us to exuberance and delight, but to make it to the great celebration we need patience, hope, faith, love, courage, and the ability to cultivate joy in our daily lives, whether that celebration is for Jesus’ birth, Hanukhah, Solstice, Watch Night, or something else. These holy days invite us to anticipation, to reaffirm the power of the spirit and the value of religious community and spiritual life, to explore what a miracle is, and to celebrate freedom, justice, and community.
As we move into December, into the darkness, and our reflections on Awe, may we hold the pull of connection and the pull of quiet stillness in delicate and creative tension. May you, may we find ways of being together that help us deepen and connect even as we allow ourselves to be nourished by the quiet darkness. May we deepen in our relationship with awe as the darkness grows. May we find in the deep stillness what our spirits need, individually and as a congregation.
How do we reclaim our narrative? What story do we want to tell about our lives?
I’m here in St. Paul, MN deeply grateful to be at BLUU’s Harper-Jordan Memorial Symposium (https://www.blacklivesuu.com/about). Well, enjoying and being humbled and awed by it… Here I’m surrounded by beloveds, all of whom are having their own amazing experiences of the pure fire that is Unitarian Universalism’s first symposium focused specifically on proclaiming a Black UU theology. And I’m immersed in deep theological discussions the likes of which I haven’t enjoyed since before I finished seminary. And we’ve only finished day one…!
I’m excited to share some of what’s happened here and my reflections on it when I return to WUUC’s pulpit on Nov. 10. But in the meantime, I’ll share with you a few of the questions that are coming to me here and that relate to WUUC’s monthly theme for November: Attention.
Some of those questions are:
How do we reclaim our narrative? What story do we want to tell about our lives, our faith, our communities? Sometimes we take questions like these to mean something like “How do we focus on the good stuff we want others to know about us/our communities/our country/our faith?” But a way of viewing this question that pushes us to do deep work and to grow in all sorts of ways asks us to reflect on how we honor the deep, difficult, complicated happy and unhappy, joyful and sad, loving and evil things that have happened to us, our faith(s), and our communities.
What does deeply grappling with these things tell us about ourselves, our institutions, our world, and who and what we want to be in it for ourselves and others? It’s when we grapple with these difficult questions and try to find answers that center and grow Love that we are more often able to become more expansive and more inclusive. This grappling helps us spiritually deepen, too.
People are meaning-making beings. When we go through difficulty, loss, grief, or other challenges or changes – and particularly when we or institutions we’re part of treat people in ways that don’t uphold our values – it can be tempting to try to move through those times and put those stories aside. We’ve done this so often as a country, in our communities, and in our individual lives. But then how do we make meaning from that? What does that mean for us and for all those hurt or harmed? And how does that help us move toward more Love, liberation, compassion, and care for ourselves and others?
These are hard questions, and they’re ones I hope to keep grappling with throughout my life. They’re ones I hope we grapple with as a country, a faith, and in our communities. This month, as we reflect on what it means to be a people of attention, may we all be present in the midst of the struggle, learn the ever-unfolding lessons it teaches us, and work to incorporate those into our own narratives and the narratives of our communities.
Years ago (so many years I don’t remember who or why)
someone asked me a question I keep with me: To whom are you responsible, to who
and what do you belong?
I carry this question with me because it reminds me to
reflect on where I am in the world and who and what I’m serving, what
communities and individuals I’m connecting myself with, and how I’m nurturing
bonds. When I’ve been lost or confused it’s helped me re-ground and re-connect
As a woman who grew up being taught to sacrifice her well-being for the convenience of others, it also reminds me that I belong to myself. Responding to that is one of my fundamental responsibilities.
And I carry this question because the way it was originally
asked – To whom do you belong? – has a very difficult, very painful historical
edge. For far too many of my loved ones, for far too many in our communities,
the question of who the world says you belong to is quite literally a part of
their recent family histories. And so this question reminds me of the history
and continuing effects of oppression in our world, how it shapes our
understandings and perceptions, and my ongoing responsibilities and commitments
to respond to that.
In the same vein, I’ve added a couple more questions for
myself over the past several years: To whom does our faith, Unitarian
Universalism, belong? To whom does this congregation belong?
Over the past several months this congregation has begun
reflecting on what these questions imply as we work on discerning what
welcoming, radical hospitality, and pre-emptive radical inclusion mean in this
context. This connects with WUUC’s history of discerning your ministry with
each other and in the wider community, including your work on racial justice,
LGTBQIA+ rights, and being a loving community.
As we enter October, our monthly theme is Belonging. Questions
and concerns have been coming to me about what belonging means, who belongs,
and how we talk with each other.
In their workshop on Preemptive Radical Inclusion, CB Beal
asked us to begin our work on inclusion and belonging with noticing. CB asked
us to notice what we think and feel, to wonder why we think and feel that, and
to ask ourselves what that tells us about what we believe. They also invited us
to create safer and braver space by making room to listen to each other
differently; noticing that we all make mistakes and cause each other harm because
of our ignorance, power, or privilege; and noticing the impact of our mistakes,
apologizing, and making amends without making that more important than
These things – noticing; creating safer and braver space;
creating room to make mistakes, room for feelings, room to acknowledge impacts
and make amends; and leaning into discomfort – are all part of creating space
for greater belonging. And so, as we move through October I invite you to
What am I thinking and feeling? Why is that?
What does it tell me about what I believe?
Who is being served by the decisions we’re
making about space, our processes, and the things that tell us how to be
What and whose needs are we addressing and
If that’s hurting some people or pushing them
out, particularly if they have less power in this situation or place, what can
I do to address that?
The way we live and how we are together says much about what
we truly believe and value. And this ministry of finding ever-greater
congruence and showing Love more fully and deeply in the world is a blessing.
As we enter this new year – our second year together
and your second year of interim ministry – I find myself thinking and wondering
a lot about expectations, identity, and change.
This summer, as I prepared to spend a week
camping with my mother, my sisters, and their children, I spent an hour talking
about my excitement and my anxieties with my therapist and even more time meditating
on this. You see, I’ve changed over the past few years.
We go through seasons of our lives where our
identities are clearer and we question them less. And we go through other
seasons where transformation reaches up and grabs us, and where we re-question
our identities and come to new understandings. The cycle is continuous and
This isn’t surprising, but it is stressful. And
it’s even more so when we change and then we go back into a setting where
people expect us to still be the same – where we each have specific roles and
ways of being. Disrupting those, even when it means being who we want to be,
who we know we are now, is hard.
And it’s particularly hard when we’re coming to
understand that our identities are multiple and are made up of not just one
story but many stories. That those stories are contradictory but still may very
well all be true. And that parts of our stories that we may not have given
enough credit to in the past are showing up in ways that deeply influence us.
Our society teaches us that we can’t hold and honor all these complexities.
For my family, for this congregation, and in
the larger world this is a season where we’re living into the challenges of
transition, expectations, and changing identity more.
And so I’ve found myself thinking about
expectation and identity. I’ve found myself turning over a quote from the book In the Interim: “Do all churches [or people] need to take advantage of
the opportunity to significantly change during a ministerial transition[times of societal or life change]?
Research and experience tell us that this is a time to discover a new identity.
That discovery will best be made when the congregation [or person] has examined its [their]
old identity and compared it to present reality.”
We all interact with change best when we’re
able to examine our old identities, compare them to our present reality, and
honor our stories, experiences, and feelings. When we can hold the fullness of
our pasts and perhaps even find new strength and resources in them. And we do
even better when we’re able to sit in the mystery of change.
As I cultivate my curiosity in the midst of
this great unknowing, Martha Beck’s change cycle from Finding Your Own North Star also comes to me. I’m sharing it below as a resource for you as we enter this new
church year together. What’s your mantra for this stage of life? I’m looking
forward to exploring with you.
This past month has been a big one in your transitions
process! Your collaborative history odyssey came down in the sanctuary, seeds
of things you value about this congregation and what it’s added to your life
began to go up in the foyer, and you selected a ministerial search team. You’re
deep within your interim transitions process (see my April article for a recap
of your interim goals and questions).
At the same time, the Ministry Council, Board, and staff
have begun discussing hospitality and welcoming at WUUC. Our discussions
started based on feedback we’ve received from visitors and things members and
staff have noticed as they’ve engaged with the interim process. Those who
attended the town hall on April 28 heard some of the musings that are beginning
to emerge from our discussions
Work that’s emerging to make WUUC a welcoming, hospitable
place for newcomers includes making street signage more visible, creating
connection teams, developing WUUC’s social media presence, and developing
programming around inclusion and radical hospitality. If you’d like to be
engaged with this work, please let Karen Hyams or me know.
As we continue working on strengthening community and
sharing our joy and strengths, some of you will recall the roller coaster of
change that I shared with several gatherings in the Fall. Many people put dots
on it to show where they were then on the roller coaster. And so I wonder,
where are you on it now? Does where you are on the roller coaster of change
depend on what part of the transition you’re focusing on? Maybe you’re on
several roller coasters? As we explore the theme of Curiosity in May, I invite
you to share your place on the roller coaster with me and with others.
We also held a workshop for existing small group
facilitators at the end of April and will be working on expanding that work
before the next church year to strengthen small groups. And WUUC’s new LGBTQIA+
Welcoming Congregation renewal team has begun its work.
Roller coasters can be uncomfortable, especially when you’re
on several that are going at different rates and have different paths. Personally,
I find that when there are changes around or within me sometimes one of my
first, ingrained reactions is to question why it’s happening or to react
against it. What I’ve learned helps me more with responding to and interacting
with change is to take the energy of that first reaction and turn it into
curiosity. How can I be genuinely curious about what’s happening? How can I be
curious about what others are perceiving and experiencing?
And so, as we explore curiosity this month, how can we all
be curious about our own and other people’s experiences? How can our curiosity
help those seeds on the foyer walls – the seeds of what you value about WUUC –
How does your past influence who you are today and who you
might become in the future? How does it affect what you love to do, who you
connect with, and how you want to engage with the wider world? How do the high
points, the low points, and the level points affect that?
Many of us grapple with these questions in our own lives. They’re
big questions that stir up our hearts and minds. And they’re key questions for
congregations during their interim ministry. In fact, that first question is
the one we’ve been working with together for the past eight months.
Now that you’ve spent two months together putting
information and photos on your history odyssey and having conversations
together in small groups, in community conversations, and in conversations with
the minister, it’s time for your history odyssey to come down. And this is an
opportunity to engage with those questions in a new way that looks at the
present and toward the future!
Eight months into your interim ministry this congregation has been working hard on your focuses for this first year of interim ministry. These include:
Understanding your heritage, particularly through storytelling about your past, and how your heritage influences what kinds of relationships members have with each other, with ministry, and with your minister.
Based on this work, beginning to understand your mission and discovering a new identity. This is work that will continue well into your second year of interim ministry, as will all of your first year work.
Building internal connections, trust, and communication.
Your work on covenant and expanding covenantal communication the past several months has been directly related to this focus.
Building connections with the UUA to support search and for General Assembly, which will be in Spokane from June 19-23. Understanding and strengthening WUUC’s other connections with the external community.
Understanding your current organizational systems and governance, your desired relationship with ministry and ministers, and then beginning to develop your desired organizational structure and governance.
In the coming months I’ll be beginning to work with this
congregation on exploring those key questions in more detail:
How does your congregation’s past influence who
you are today and who you might become in the future?
How does it affect what you love to do, who you
connect with, and how you want to engage with the wider world?
How do the high points, the low points, and the
level points affect that?
As we explore them, we’ll be working toward generating some
answers to questions the Board and I have identified as key ones for your
What kind of
relationships do the members and friends of WUUC want to have with each other?
What kind of
relationship does the congregation want to have with its minister?
What is WUUC’s
governance approach? Do policies and procedures support that?
What is the
identity of WUUC (how much focus on inward community, how much focus on
transformation, outreach, and justice work)?
How can members
of WUUC hold space for difference while maintaining communication?
Stay tuned for information and invitations to work on these
questions. In the immediate term I’ll be holding another informal group
conversation with the minister on April 7 at 11:45. Please come join us to
begin this discussion.