R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the Interdependent Web of Musical Culture

As Unitarian Universalists have been growing into deeper understanding of White Supremacy Culture, being interculturally respectful and competent, and learning how to avoid the pitfalls of cultural misappropriation, we are learning to learn and share the stories and contexts behind the songs we sing as part of our worship.

This is a work in progress. The hymnal Singing the Living Tradition had a companion book Between the Lines with some information about each hymn, but both volumes were before we had any sort of intercultural lens. We don’t have any “official” resources to help us in this important work.

There is no right way or answer, but an invitation to be in the struggle and the conversation of how to faithfully include music of other cultures in UU worship. One model is engaging with each hymn and its history as a spiritual practice.  The Rev. Kimberley Debus has—with vulnerability—spent a over a year engaging with a hymn each day on her blog Far Fringe.  I have referred to this blog as I ruminate about hymn choices and how to present them in their original context. I found it to be a fruitful spiritual practice.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CER Congregational Life Staff

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The Learning Lab of Life

Innovation! Adaptation!! Experimentation!!! We live in a time of incredible change and shifting paradigms. Technology continues to zoom along at a pace that is breathtaking and society seems to be chomping at the bit for the next big thing. At the same time, some of the things we thought we could count on to stay the same have fallen away or been eroded all across our society and our planet. Human rights, glacial ice, democratic principles and civility are under attack and there are moments when I wonder if the universe is testing humanity to find out if we are really up to the task of living meaningful lives.

Then I remember, nothing in this life is settled or guaranteed. We all exist in a constant state of adaptation and experimentation with the inner and the outer world. Who am I today? Who and what matter to me today? What will I do for the first or last time today and how will I be changed by it? Imagine a congregation of 50, 100, or 500 people who are changing every minute, every second – how are we adapting to this unyielding state of flux? By their very nature, congregations are organic, evolving systems and yet even as the people within change and adapt to new ideas, new understandings of self and our companions on the journey, we expect the institution to remain static and to continue to be the same place we have always known. If we are changing, shouldn’t our congregations do the same?

Some congregations adapt quickly and confidently to new ideas – always seeking the latest “best practice.” For those not leading, it can seem dizzying and arbitrary. Some congregations move more slowly, changing only when a crisis is upon them and there is no other choice. Again, for those not in leadership, that may feel frustrating and lead to a sense of “stuckness.” So who wins the race – the tortoise or the hare? Guess what, it isn’t a race and what works in one place may be a complete failure in another.

Congregations struggle in myriad ways and I often get asked the question, “what’s the best practice for this problem I’m facing?” Certainly there are “common” practices often shared by staff or between leaders but the “best” practice for your congregation is the one that is manageable and sustainable for you at this time in your history. If someone tries to tell you there is a “right” way to do church, push back. Experiment with new ways of worshipping, new models for engaging with families, new styles of music, or new ways of gathering in community. Nothing will last forever so why not become a laboratory for exploration and adaption? Despite Yoda’s best advice, it is okay to try. The anxiety of making the budget or fixing the roof won’t disappear but maybe we will feel better about the work when we unleash our creative spirit in the pursuit of joy and spiritual growth.

All of us are living in a lab – we are part of the grand experiment called life. We can’t know what lies before us and how each of our days will unfold but if we make space for community, joy and creativity, we have all we need to make it to tomorrow

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News from the CER Staff – More Changes!

One of the joys of serving Unitarian Universalism as a member of the Central East Regional Staff has been the commitment of the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the members of our congregations to my also serving as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves. Combining these two ministries has made me better in both of my roles, and I have been grateful for the support I have received from our Regional Lead, Rev. Megan Foley, from my colleagues on the Central East Regional Staff, from the members of the Association’s Leadership Council, and from Unitarian Universalist ministers and leaders in the congregations of the Central East Region.

Some of you may have noticed a position vacancy announcement for a 1-year Interim position on the staff of the Central East Region. The reason for this opening position is that I have been designated for deployment to the Middle East as a part of Operation Spartan Shield, to serve as a Chaplain in Medical Command. It is my intention to go on unpaid leave from the Unitarian Universalist Association beginning sometime in July (depending on training requirements) and to be away from the UUA for approximately one year. Through the summer I will be focused on completing some necessary training requirements, as well as being available for my soldiers and their families. I will be traveling to the Middle East in the fall and will be there for approximately 9 months. I expect to return to serving as a member of the UUA Staff during the summer of 2019.

Though I did not volunteer for this assignment, I will admit to being willing to go. Though I have deployed several times as a soldier, I have never deployed as a Chaplain, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do that before the end of my military career. Though I cannot share much about the mission, I will say that it is in-tune with my personal faith and with my Unitarian Universalist Values. I will be with a team of Medical Command soldiers who were specifically selected for this mission, many of whom already know me as “their” Chaplain.

I want to thank the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who have been very supportive through this time and who have expressed a commitment to my having a job when I return home… a blessing that not all of my soldiers or fellow chaplains have. I also want to thank all of the friends and colleagues who have offered to be supportive to my family during the time that I am away. It is good to be a member of this faith community, and I know that I am not taking on this mission alone.

And, I want to thank all of those who are considering applying for the Interim position on the Central East Regional Staff. Knowing that the congregations I serve will be well cared for by the whole Central East Regional Team will allow me to focus on making sure I am part of our saving lives overseas, as well as making sure I come home. If you are interested in the Interim position, please look at this PDF.

And, until I go on leave in July, I am still serving as a member of the Central East Regional Staff, and the work I have already committed to doing with congregations will be accomplished before I leave. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you all before I go, and again when I return.

Chaplain (CPT) David Pyle
Brigade Chaplain
8th Medical Brigade, 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support)
Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, NY

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The Commission on Appraisal Needs Your Ideas!

The Commission on Appraisal is particularly happy to invite your participation in a brief survey to help prepare to select our next topic of study. The Commission serves similarly to a “think tank” on larger issues facing Unitarian Universalism. Our recent study was on class in the UUA.

They are attempting to cast a wide net and so are asking congregations, individual congregants, and professional staff to share your thoughts.

Below you will find the proposals that you will be asked about in the survey. There is also an opportunity for you to suggest a topic for the Commission to study. We would like a response by March 31st but we will leave the survey open until after GA.

To learn more about the Commission on Appraisal, an independently elected body of our Association, go to www.uua.org and search for the Commission on Appraisal or use this CoA.

Commission on Appraisal—Requests Your Help to Discern Our Next Topic

For each of the listed topics we ask the following.

  1. To what extent do you support this topic?
  2. How appropriate is the topic’s breadth?
  3. How likely is this topic to engage the interest of our members?
  4. How important is this topic to the future of the UUA?

Our Fifth Principle, Democracy

One possible topic concerns the fifth principle.  How do we implement and support democratic process in our congregations, the UUA and the larger world? How do we make it more relational and less adversarial, particularly regarding parliamentary procedures used in crafting policies and by-laws; and how do we encourage members to be more engaged in democratic processes in the larger world?

Support for Religious Professional of Color

A second proposed topic is how the leadership and staff of the UUA and its regions provide human resources, advocacy, and career support for ministers and other religious professionals of color. What kinds of support are needed to ensure sustainable, gratifying, and productive careers for this traditionally marginalized group within our tradition? How does the UUA and its regions ensure that religious professionals of color have resources for navigating conflict, find trustworthy mentors, and master the politics of survival within the UUA? What are the barriers to providing support, how can we eliminate them, and what systems are needed in their place?

Managing Balance Between Tradition and New

A third proposal is to explore the balance between tradition or continuity and change as we strive to remain relevant as a faith to younger people. What is the essence of Unitarian Universalism that we would want to preserve, and how would we bridge the generations in adapting to a new era characterized by social media, digital communities, and less one-on-one interaction that millennials, and other young people, are often attracted to and use as a substitute for traditional forms of community?

Our Unitarian Universalists Faith’s Existence and Longevity

A final possible topic is an umbrella topic emphasizing our very existence and longevity through the three lenses mentioned above (Our Fifth Principle; Democracy, Support for Religious Professionals of Color, and The Balance Between Sameness and Change), specifically by examining:

Advocacy for career sustainability, mentoring, and advancement by the leadership and staff of the UUA & its regions for our support of People of Color serving in various forms of ministry, to include: parish, religious education, administration, music, and community ministry; increased financial support for entrepreneurial and youth ministry; and strengthening the democratic processes and values within the UUA, its congregations, and in the world.

The image of growing a garden comes to mind where the support of ministry and youth is planting the seed, strengthening democracy is watering; and balancing continuity and change is pruning and weeding that which chokes life from host plants.

Your Idea for a Topic

To provide your thoughts to the Commission on Appraisal, please fill out this survey.

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