Time is playing tricks on me. In some ways, I can
hardly believe another month has gone by, and October is already upon us. But
when I look back at September, some of what occurred early in the month seems
so long ago, because so much has happened since!
In the past month, I’ve had many meetings, phone calls, and Zoom chats. I’ve met with the board, the Ministry Council, the Worship Team, the Lay Pastoral Associates, the Finance Committee, and many other groups, teams, committees, and task forces. As I’ve been getting to know you better as a community, I’m learning some important things:
First, my initial impression is continuing to prove
true. You are a warm, caring bunch; not without disagreements and differences
in perspective, but no community agrees on everything. What’s important is that
you love and care about each other.
Second, you seem thirsty. Thirsty for engagement.
Thirsty for connection. Thirsty for spiritual depth. I imagine this thirst
started back in March, with the onset of the pandemic, and has only gotten
worse with each passing month of social isolation. And now, you are ready to
drink deeply from the well.
But before we quench our thirst, we need to decide:
How are we going to be with one another?
This is the question at the heart of every community
built on covenant. And the only way to answer it is to meet each other where we
are, and listen deeply. Deep listening is how we will know one another, and how
we will know what we need our community to be.
Once we agree about how we are going to be with one
another, once we covenant to be in relationship, and to accept and affirm each
other, then we’ve created a space where we can trust and be vulnerable. And this
is how we engage, connect, and go deeper. This is how we quench our thirst.
If I were to lift this up in the spirit of prayer, it
would sound like this:
May we continue to be the loving, caring community
that we already are.
Hello Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church! It is so good to (finally!) be here with you all!
It has been quite a transition for my family and me over the last few months. Since being called as your settled minister back in May, we have been packing our house, making moving arrangements, and saying our goodbyes to our family and community in Albuquerque. Then we hit the road, traveling almost 2,000 miles in a car filled with two adult humans, one tiny human, and two dogs. And once we arrived, we immediately began the search for our Washington home. It has been a physically- and emotionally-draining process.
How appropriate that our worship theme for the month
of September is Renewal. Amidst all
of this transitioning, I’m finding what is sustaining me is the constant
feeling of gratitude I have. Gratitude for everyone in Albuquerque who helped
us in so many ways and wished us well on our way; gratitude for all of the kind
people that supported us during our trip to make our journey as safe and
comfortable as possible; and gratitude for you, the WUUC community, and the
warm welcome we received from you. From the custom paint color in my new
office, to the welcome gifts on my desk, to the meals waiting for us in the
fridge and freezer, to the greeting cards I’ve received in the mail, I’ve been
met at every turn with kindness, warmth, and generosity. For all of these
things, I’m filled with a feeling of gratitude that makes my heart happy; and
this gratitude renews and sustains me.
I’m certainly not the only one to face energy-draining
circumstances. All of us have challenges, obstacles, and stressors that wear us
down, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet throughout my life, I have
found community (and gratitude for those in it) has been a source of renewal
for me, time and time again.
I wonder, where do you find renewal? What makes your
I invite you to take some time to consider these
questions. Perhaps meditate or pray about them.
As you reflect, I’ll leave you with one more thing I’m
grateful for: that our journey together has officially begun. We are now on our
way, as congregation and minister. May we be faithful companions as we serve,
learn, and grow together.
Each person and thing we have loved leaves its mark on us,
and we on it. We forever become part of one another, affecting each other in
ways that often continue to unfold for years. Even when we will not see each
other anymore, this remains. As does the truth that each goodbye, each loss,
stirs up memories and feelings of goodbyes and losses that have gone before.
Sadness is a natural part of goodbyes of all kinds.
And so, as the calendar turns to June, the time for me to leave WUUC has come. This is the nature of interim ministry, and this goodbye that we are sharing creates space for the hello you will share in a couple months with Minister Dan. Yet, while this leave-taking is part of the nature of interim ministry, it is made harder by Covid-19. I feel this powerfully. We don’t get to say goodbye with the hugs and pats on the arm that are so meaningful to us.
I’ve been working with WUUC’s Transitions Team and Board of Trustees on what our goodbyes can look like. The article below this gives some options that I hope you’ll engage with so we can say our goodbyes in the ways that feel right for each of you. In addition, I’m creating a reverse offering of blessing cards. From June 6-28 these will be available outside WUUC’s front doors. If you come to pick one up, please only touch the one you take, not others, to limit the chance of spreading Covid-19.
My final worship service with you will be on June 14. During that service we’ll engage in a ritual of parting. After that I’ll be on call from June 15-28 while I take vacation to pack and attend General Assembly and Ministry Days. My goodbye party, which will include Zoom and drive-by elements, will be on June 28.
On June 28, I’ll also be “unfriending” any of you who have friended me on Facebook and discontinuing my WUUC email address. As part of my ministerial agreements it’s important that I not have contact with the congregation for two years. This doesn’t mean that if you see me at General Assembly or on the street that you’ll need to ignore me, but it does mean that I’ll be out of touch unless Minister Dan and I explicitly agree otherwise. My absence will be important to allow WUUC to build a relationship with your next minister. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still love you, think about you, and hold you in my heart and prayers. I do and I will.
As I take leave, and as we move through this leave-taking process together, how we each do this and how we create space for what comes next for you is my final blessing for you as your minister. You have done deep, loving, remarkable work these past two years. And in doing so you’ve created space for new opportunities to take root and flourish for your congregation and strength to move through the challenges of this pandemic caring for each other and those in the broader community.
May you live Love ever more fully and fiercely into the
Our theme for the month of May is Thresholds. Thresholds are powerful places where we cross from one thing to another. We have thresholds in our homes, in our congregations, and in our lives. At WUUC you’re at one threshold as you begin to say goodbye to one minister and develop your readiness and your relationship with another. We’re also at a threshold with covid-19, moving out into small increases in freedom of movement but uncertain what will happen if the virus begins to spread again. And we’re at the threshold of graduations and other changes in different members’ and families’ lives.
On May 10 we’ll also celebrate another threshold. The butterflies that we’ve been caring for throughout April are ready to move out into the world. These are the same caterpillars that taught us so much about trust, courage, strength, growth, and (when they didn’t transform when we thought they would) patience. Our butterflies are ready to move into this next phase of their lives, but it still may be difficult for some of them to cross this threshold.
What thresholds have you crossed in your life? When you’ve
crossed a threshold, what are the things that have helped you, either as you’ve
been in that liminal space of the threshold itself or as you’ve prepared
yourself to cross it?
One of the things that often helps us move into and through
thresholds is to notice and attend to all the feelings they stir up. To notice
the grief that may be there along with the joy, the anxiety along with the
excitement, the fear along with the anticipation.
Another thing that helps us with thresholds is cultivating
gratitude for what went before, for what we’re leaving, as well as anticipation
for what’s coming. Cultivating gratitude is a way of honoring the changes. And
as we recognize the things we’re grateful for, we may also notice things that
we need to lay down or that we still need to take with us through the threshold
and attend to on the other side. Thresholds don’t mean leaving everything
As we prepare to cross these next thresholds in ways that
are different than almost any we’ve crossed before since we can’t gather in
person, I invite you to enter with me with wonder into the question of what
thresholds mean and what helps us navigate them. If you have thoughts about thresholds
that you’d like to share, please send them to me. And know that your
Transitions Team, Board, and I are spending time during May discerning how WUUC
and I will say our goodbyes in June.
By Reverend Diana L. Smith Dear Ones, The last few days of February and first days of March brought new plan after new plan and change after change. As soon as we thought we had a plan that would be protective we’d find we needed a new plan – sometimes a couple times a day. I know that even as this was happening at WUUC, it was happening in the rest of your lives and workplaces, too. Our minds and hearts have been swamped and struggling to keep floating and swimming for a month. I’ve been amazed, over and over again, by how people are keeping each other afloat and together across distances. This gives me hope. Many of us like to have plans and stability. They give our life frameworks and comfort. Much of what we have known and planned for has been swept away, even as much still remains. We’ve experienced grief, fear, and chaos. And in the midst of this we’ve been forced to be loving, flexible, and creative in ways we’d never have imagined. This is a gift, but it also takes a toll as our minds and hearts are numbed and tired, which makes it hard to tap into stores of creativity, flexibility, love, generosity, and dynamism. In the midst of this, I’ve been reminded, over and over again, of several questions: Where am I/we drawing from? In the midst of all this, it’s been tempting to draw from my own self, rely on myself and my planning and flexibility, my own resources. But when I do that, I start to sink. I can’t do this alone, and I certainly can’t find the creativity, flexibility, laughter, and love that I need to do this by myself. But as soon as I start reaching out and working with others, those things have a chance of beginning to appear. I’ve also found this to be a useful question as I look at my spiritual resources. Early on, I wondered if I needed to drop the worship series we were doing on Unitarian Universalism’s Sources. But over the past few weeks I’ve been ever more grateful that we were doing this series. It’s challenged me to look at our sources anew and discern how they can help us in these times I’d never envisioned – at least not in this way. Being able to delve into the different Sources, each in their turn, has been extremely valuable for me, and I hope for you. It’s helped me appreciate, again, why we as a faith movement have many Sources – not just one or two – and are invited to engage deeply with them. Why am I/we doing this?
It’s been tempting to recreate everything we were doing before, just online. But these times call for new and different things. So asking why we’re doing something, what our goal is, and how it will create more resilience in multiple ways is crucial. What do I/we need to keep the same? At the same time, in times of chaos keeping some things the same is crucial. We need a sense of stability and comfort in our lives. Humans are incredibly good at creating these things, and we feel even more lost when we can’t. What is this liminal space teaching me/us? The answers to this change each day, each week, and sometimes each hour. Sometimes they’re about patience, listening to my body, why I need to do spiritual practices each day, how to reach out for help, something new about love, or how to lean into learning new things about technology and being patient with myself and others as we learn. Where am I/we being called? The language of calling isn’t used much outside of religious settings, but it’s important language. It speaks to a heart- and spirit-centered sense, combined with the mind and intellectual sense, of being drawn to some work, some ministry, that is greater than yourself. Calling grounds us, centers us, inspires us, and connects us. It beckons us. As you know, I’m here at WUUC as your Interim Minister. I will be moving on in June and you will have a new minister, with whom you will co-create your next chapter. Only a month ago I had all sort of plans for how we’d navigate this transition together. Now those plans have disappeared and I’m beginning to imagine – with partners both within this congregation and in the wider Unitarian Universalist faith – how we will navigate this transition differently. During April much more will become clear to me and to us as we create new plans, have them messed up, learn again to be flexible and adapt, and make and live more new plans. As we do this, may we all lean into new ways of doing things, together, and listen carefully and with an open heart for what our hearts, bodies, minds and spirits need, and for where we’re being called.
Do your eyes glaze over when you hear the word “theology”?
While I can really geek out on theology and deeply love it, there are also
times I’ve started losing focus when conversations about it become too abstract
or esoteric. (And yes, your minister just said that.)
However, theology is, at its core, about how we understand
the world, Mystery, what is of worth, and how we make meaning. Sometimes
discussions of it can become dense or confusing. But spending time reflecting
on how we understand the world individually and as a congregation is really
Reflecting in these ways can help us more deeply explore how
we understand our relationship with the world and what is ultimately important.
It can also give us a foundation and tools when difficult things happen in our
lives. And it can be an opportunity to deepen our engagement with people,
ideas, belief systems, and cultures in a very meaningful way.
A lot of the time we think about what we believe
individually. Our individual beliefs reflect what religion and practices we
were raised with (if any), our culture, our life experiences, and many other
things. This reflection is very important, and it’s also important that as
congregations we reflect together on how we create meaning or theology as a
congregation. The whole of all of our beliefs, how our beliefs interact, and
how we interact and communicate about our beliefs and our meaning-making are important
parts of how we create community – and a faith, a religious community.
As you may have read or experienced, in February we began
our exploration of Unitarian Universalism’s six Sources. In February we explored our
religious backgrounds and the Source of our direct experiences of transcending mystery and
wonder. In March we’ll be exploring more sources:
Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature;
Words and deeds of prophetic people, which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
We’ll finish our series in April as we explore Jewish and
Christian teachings. I hope you’ll join us in these worship services and that
you’ll bring what you’re learning and how you’re making meaning back into
community as you listen for how others are doing this, too – whether it’s
similar to or different from how you’re making meaning.