Making Holidays Relevant Today

Barbara Ford – Prayer

Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

n these times of limitless grief
We have but two choices

Our hearts can break
They can break wide open

The broken heart can fall
Clutching and desperate
Into a deep chasm of loneliness

The heart broken open
Joins with the pain
Of a million other hearts
And knows
That it is never alone.

May we choose
The communion of broken hearts
Over isolation

And with that choosing

May we act together in love
Toward the healing
Of the Heart of the World.

February. Black History Month. I celebrate Black History every day of my life so I find it odd to devote one month in the year to celebrating Blackness.

I am keenly aware that many Unitarian Universalist congregations struggle with what to do all month. This month. With the escalation of obvious racial injustices, coupled with our Unitarian Universalist commitment to dismantling systems of white supremacy, it is important to honor and to commemorate the painful legacy of the Black experience in this country. And yet, it is important to keep the hope for a more just future alive, not only by praying, but also by doing.

Valentine’s Day is one of February’s special days. A day when Love is celebrated, commemorated, longed for, or…. Though it only lasts for 24 hours it permeates the entire month of February offering each of us another opportunity to share the love that we have within our hearts—even, or especially—when they are, or have been broken. Valentines Day, like Black History Month, should be celebrated every day of the year.

And there is Washington’s Birthday, commonly called Presidents Day that began as the celebration of President George Washington’s Birthday as a Federal Holiday in 1885. With time it came to celebrate all U.S. Presidents. Then over the years it has somehow become one of the biggest sale weekends in this country. I do wonder what is really being celebrated this Presidents Day, but that is another blog-post….

I encourage congregations to embrace the joy—and the challenge of finding meaningful ways to make holidays relevant to today. This might well be a good time to involve all ages in a shared project—finding new stories that bring our UU values to life; perhaps creating a timeline, or a service project. Consciously taking a difficult decision to live our values. There are many resources available through And, there’s still time to work on something special this February. And, remember that there are eleven other months ahead….

Rev. Hope Johnson


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Responding to Violence in Our World

A few weeks ago I took my seat on a Jet Blue flight that would take me from San Diego to JFK in about 5 short hours. I had just left the wonderful Mosaic Makers Conference where we figured out ways to center the experience of the global majority in Unitarian Universalism—and beyond—in a world that is becoming increasingly multicultural. We made some meaningful strides in spite of the difficulties that abound.

Little did I know that my world—our world—was about to change again. While on-line in flight, I received the news of the most recent terrorist attack in New York City, the vibrant city that I live in. A truck speeding down an innocuous bike path deliberately killed eight persons, and injured numerous others—in the name of religion.

My heart, like yours, broke for the innocent persons killed and injured, for their families, on Halloween no less! A fun day. A day when typically, life is celebrated by all ages.

My heart, like yours, breaks as I ask myself, “what can we in Congregational Life do?”

We can pause. We can express our gratitude for the positive efforts being made. We can each do something. And we can celebrate the fact that none of us is alone—we’re a team. From there, we can work with our congregations by supporting their efforts to balance the disparities that abound. We don’t have to do it all but, if we want to be part of the change that we’d like to see, we do have to keep challenging each other, not by being hard on ourselves, but by being real. I shared some of these reflections last Sunday before we paused in silence to acknowledge the tragedy.

After service, I took the train and headed to represent the UUA and the Central East Region at Rev. Audette Fulbright’s Service of Installation. I sat across from a lovely couple. Happy. Carefree. Then, all of a sudden, there was a shift in mood. A shift in tone. Tears. The news: 26 persons were killed and about 24 were injured in another church shooting, this time in Sutherland, a tiny rural town in Texas. I made it to All Souls. Just as the service began I formally shared the horrific news, paused for another moment of silence, before extending warm greetings. My heart like all the hearts gathered, broke. My heart, like yours, breaks.

And yet, I know how important it is for us to allow our grief-filled hearts to invite faith, hope and love to seep in–drop by precious drop. Allow our hearts to guide us in coming together, once again, as often as we must, to claim that we will not let fear dictate the kind of people we are and will be, in spite of the anger, the tears and the fears. Allow us to be the people who know how to respond—yes, once again—by uniting our actions, our hearts and our minds in love. Allow us to remember as we work with the larger world, our congregations, and each other, that we are part of a team, doing the work that we have each been called to do.

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Hope Johnson, CER Congregational Life Staff

If you need assistance with talking about these issues with your congregation, please refer to the UUA’s pages on Trauma Response:

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Pumpkins Offer Opportunity for Community and Learning

Rev. Hope Johnson at the Central Nassau, Garden City, NY Pumpkin Patch Photo by Patsy Kaplan

UUCCN, the UU Congregation of Central Nassau,Garden City NY initiated the Pumpkin Patch—outreach to our local community, the larger Long Island community, and the Navajo community in New Mexico. I’m often described as the “Pumpkin Minister” and that’s fine with me! Patsy Kaplan, VP brought this project to us thirteen years ago. It’s become our biggest fundraiser and the entire congregation “owns” the Patch!

We’ve learned about the narrative arc from pumpkins grown on Navajo land, to immigrant rights, to fair wages for all, and more. Our focus is on partnership and we now see our neighbors, near and far, through new multicultural eyes. We offer “storytelling,” face-painting, pink pumpkins to support breast cancer research, and more to our young-at-heart visitors of all ages. With time, our neighbors learn about UUCCN and Unitarian Universalism. Musicians, including UU Master Drummer Matt Meyer, perform in the Patch each year. We also offer homemade apple pies, flowers (Mums), and craft items. With a focus on sustainability, the fresh pumpkins are delivered “priced-to-size,” on consignment!!! Leftover or gently bruised pumpkins are turned into soup, bread, pies and such delights. At the end of the month, remaining pumpkins are donated to a local hunger relief organization.

We’ve learned through our regional work that we really are “Better Together!” So, this year there’s a new “Pumpkin Minister” in town—the Rev. Jude Geiger, Minister of the UU Fellowship of Huntington, NY. Here’s their story: “While challenged with organizing a fundraiser that draws from the community, not from our members, we kept running into the hard reality that our building is too off the beaten path to get drive by traffic. We wanted to have a Pumpkin Patch fundraiser, but needed a location with lots of drive by traffic. With the encouragement of Patsy Kaplan, UUCCN’s Pumpkin Patch Coordinator, we found an off-site location. We are renting the lawn of the local American Legion Hall. Although people may stop in thinking it’s a fundraiser for the Hall, they soon learn about us, and that their purchase helps us, the American Legion and the Navajo Nation in NM where the pumpkins are grown. We love the charity helping charity aspect of this, and our customers do as well. Actually, The Garden City Congregation also benefits because the company gives them money based on what we make because Patsy is mentoring us. It’s a charity win-win.” We’ve also mentored UU congregations in Stony Brook, NY; Meridian, CT and beyond…. Ah, the fields of orange beckon…. come visit, Garden City or Huntington, and En-JOY!!!

Rev. Hope Johnson
CER Congregational Life Staff and Minister, UU Congregation of Central Nassau, Garden City, NY

Family Fun at the Pumpkin Patch. Photo by Patsy Kaplan
Sales Volunteers by Fernando Rivera


Huntington, NY Church Volunteers unload the truck for their Pumpkin Patch
Huntington, NY Pumpkin Patch set up.
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What on Earth is Juneteenth?

Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

From its Galveston, Texas roots, the observance of Juneteenth as the African American Emancipation Day began in 1865 and has triggered a series of far-reaching events that continue to reverberate over the decades—through the present, to the future. The commemoration of Juneteenth has spread across the United States and beyond. It has also taken root in some of our Unitarian Universalist congregations.

The JOYS of Congregational Sharing in the Central East Region:

2003. I heard the word “Juneteenth” when First Unitarian Brooklyn commemorated Juneteenth with a service filled with music of the African American tradition. A block party, co-hosted by First Presbyterian, Brooklyn and First U. This wonderful inter-faith collaboration continues now and includes Brown Memorial. Topics include a wide range of social action issues from Selma to Stonewall to Ferguson; Racism/Anti-Racism; the Sanctuary Movement; Black Lives Matter; Immigration; Environmental Justice, and more.

Inspired by First U I decided to commemorate Juneteenth from the first year I arrived at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Central Nassau (UUCCN), Garden City as Minister. We began with a worship service that included a commemoration of Juneteenth. Then we included a Southern luncheon. We now have an annual Juneteenth celebration on the Saturday before Father’s Day replete with a Southern feast and a wonderful program. Each year more and from UU congregations, Interfaith groups, as well as local neighbors attend Juneteenth. This year’s program features Reggie Harris. Among other presenters have been original Tuskegee Airmen.

I suggested that Community Church UU, consider celebrating Juneteenth too! Former DRE Janice Marie Johnson started celebrating Juneteenth and honoring the ancestors from the African Diaspora about twelve years ago. Guest musicians, storytellers and singers offer education, entertainment and Southern-themed supper. Current DRE Esther Rosado continues this tradition each year and Senior Minister Bruce Southworth always attends.

Let’s recap the UU “folk process.”

First Unitarian Brooklyn has honored Juneteenth over a 19 year span, including now under the leadership of Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau for 14 years. Community Church of NY for 12 years. And Rev. Jude Geiger who was introduced to Juneteenth while he served at First U Brooklyn now honors Juneteenth each year at the UU Fellowship of Huntington where he serves as Minister.

But, it doesn’t end here. UUCCN started a sister project with “H2 Empower” years ago when one of UUFH’s members, Helen Boxwill visited Hosannah, a small village and realized that the children needed books. As part of UUCCN’s Juneteenth Celebrations, Helen has come and set up shop with beautiful hand-crafted items to help the village in far-away Ethiopia. The library now has four walls, a roof, books, computers and teachers! UUCCN is proud to have had a small part of that.

And so, the beat goes on. Are we better together? You bet we are!

Friends, it really does take a Village…. And there’s always room for the Village to grow not only at Juneteenth, but always!

Yours, Hope

Rev. Dr. HOPE Johnson
Unitarian Universalist Association
Congregational Life
Central East Region

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Are you ready to Show the Love this week?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK, Jr.

As I look at what is happening today, I return to lessons learned from a speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that is as appropriate now as it was some 50 years ago. Rev. Dr. King was way ahead of the curve when he warned us of the “deadly triplets” that Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center cites are alive and well today: racism, militarism, and materialism. The triplets live on while Rev. Dr. King was assassinated a year after that speech.

At this “Sankofa” moment, from the West African tradition, we must take the time to look back, so that we can be rooted in the task at hand, understand the present, and then re-shape the future. “Woe is me” is old. The “days of lamentation” better be over. Our perpetuation of ignorance coupled with good intentions is stale. It’s time to get real. We can better understand what got us to this “reality show” in which we find ourselves by doing our homework so that we will effectively shape that Beloved Community that we still long for, and dream of, despite the harsh realities of the day.

I urge you to read Dr. King’s stellar “Speech to Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam” shared at Riverside Church, NY some 50 years ago. . I urge you to review the resources cited below from the UUA Program and Strategy Outreach Office that give insight to this critical Week of Action January 14-21, 2017. I urge you to study the “Show the Love” resources listed on the UUA website.

Unitarian Universalists embody the Living Tradition. Rev. Dr. King’s legacy lives on through each of us. Let’s find our voices. It’s time to GET BUSY!!!

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson
UUA Congregational Life Consultant
Central East Region

  • The UUA has gathered events that “Show the Love” and stand up for our values on their webpage, Show the Love. Congregations and groups are invited to add their events to the map and list.
  • If you are particularly interested in activities this week, check the Show the Love updates page created by our UUA staff to help individuals find events and activities they can participate in at home or in Washington or anyplace in between.
  • And if you are looking for resources to help you and your congregation learn more, the Show the Love resources page can help with that including how to prep your greeters for the increase in visitors we are currently seeing and ways to partner with other organizations.
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The Waiting Season

Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

Waiting and Preparing is a Both/And

The Advent Season offers each of us an opportunity to recognize that it is not only a season of waiting, but also a season of preparation. It’s a Both/And. This is a time for celebrating both the light and the warmth of the season of waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

This Waiting Season I am challenged to focus less on the things that are not worthy of my detail-oriented micro-management and worry. Instead, I pay attention the things that really matter—including health, respect and appreciation.

This year, this day, in this Waiting Season, I am particularly mindful that I am here. NOW. I can’t just wait any more…. I have to “get busy.” Like many Unitarian Universalists, I love to question—everything. That popular expression “the answer is to question” usually works for me, but at this moment in time, in this critical season of our collective lives, I need some action. I need to live my values through my actions.

So, I took a breather to renew my spirits. And I hope that each of us will do likewise!

From there, I got to NOW! Now, it is time, for me to ease my way out of disappointment and a keen sense of loss. Please understand, this is not about partisan politics. Even though many of us are grieving at the state of the world, I’m asking us to stop wringing our hands. I’m asking us to stop with the “woe is me.” I’m asking each of us to make a conscious decision to do something to build just community by making this world a better place. Follow your passion. But do something. I challenge each of us, including myself to live our UU values through our actions.

Blessings at Advent, the Waiting Season.

Now, let’s get busy!!!

Rev. Hope Johnson

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The Pumpkin Patch Returns to Long Island

Pumpkin PatchAs I left the Nassau Boulevard Station of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) on the first Sunday of October, I was in a hurry to meet my dear friend Matt Meyer, Master UU Drummer who was leading the service. I stood at the traffic light at the corner of Nassau & Stewart waiting for the light to change and I witnessed a field of orange. Fairly-traded pumpkins trucked in all the way in from our partners in Framington, New Mexico. Yet, I as I drew closer to the Patch I noted that there was diversity in our pumpkins. Orange. White. Green. Bumpy. Multicolored. Different shapes and sizes—the splendid Gourd Family!

I’m proud to say that this is our 12th year! Yes, it represents our biggest fundraiser. Though it raises funds for UUCCN, the bulk of the money goes back to the Navajos who tend the soil and raise the pumpkins in New Mexico. The Patch provides community service for Garden City and environs. We offer concerts in the Patch, face painting, storytelling, apple pies, pumpkin pies, as well as meaningful opportunities for service…. It is truly a magical event! If you wish to set up a program just let us know and we’ll work something out.

fullsizerenderThe entire congregation is involved. There are jobs for everyone from the littlest ones to those who are older! UU congregations come from near and far to join in the fun. Many visitors sign up to work on the Patch and end up coming to events and services. They unload the trucks. Have programs including “Pizza and Pumpkins,” and get service points to boot! The nearby college Adelphi works with us and we in turn provide them with space for their events.

We’re especially proud to be in authentic relationship with our partners who are headquartered in Farmington, NM. They’ve visited us. We’ve visited them. We support each other. This was a particularly bad year “weather-wise” in New Mexico. Mother Nature gave them two “wake up” calls! Our partners reached out to us. We’ve responded and will continue doing so in ways that will be helpful. That is what congregations do as we live our UU values.

Matt Meyer and Hope JohnsonThe Pumpkin Patch provides an interesting entry point to being in collaboration with our neighboring and local UU congregations. We’ve celebrated Indigenous People’s Day as an alternative to Columbus Day. The Patch is an entry point to engaging in intercultural competency and cross-cultural engagement. Contact CER for the many resources it provides in this area. We’ve hosted concerts in the Patch led by UU Master Drummer Matt Meyer who this year’s Patch on Opening Sunday. Sarah Dan Jones, Musician and Songwriter will join us mid-month to lead worship and to jam in the Patch. Both are serious about culturally appropriate presentations. On the Sunday service on the last Sunday of the month all are invited to come whimsically attired in preparation for Halloween 2016. We’re open daily from 11am to 7pm. Please come by. Visit. Hang out!

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson
Minister, UUCCN, Garden City, NY
UUA Congregational Consultant, Central East Region

making pumpkin piesmaking apple pies

Pumpkin Patch with Church signPumpkin Patch



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Juneteenth Celebrations

JUNETEENTH is a time for reflecting and rejoicing. From its Galveston, TX origin in 1865, the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States, and beyond.


CER has at least four congregations that host Juneteenth celebrations: First Unitarian Brooklyn, where I first learned about Juneteenth; the Community Church of New York UU; and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau (UUCCN); and the Community UU Congregation at White Plains. Each celebrates in its own way.


Juneteenth 2016 (4)
Rev. Hope Johnson, Matt Watroba and Brenda Carpenter.

At UUCCN’s recent 13th Annual Juneteenth celebration! Southern Dinner and Commemoration Program began with the Maafa (Holocaust of African Enslavement) through the early days of slavery, to the Movement (the civil rights era) from Selma to Garden City, and beyond. Matt Watroba, Detroit’s Number 1 Folk Musician; and Brenda Carpenter, Storyteller brought the Juneteenth to life. Events like this offer opportunities for congregations to get together. Eight UU congregations attended along with representatives from the community.


How can we bring congregations together? What can we do to connect more directly with “the community.” We really are better together.


Yours, HOPE


Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson

Congregational Consultant

Central East Region


Also serving as Minister,

UUCCN, Garden City, NY

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Does Your Congregation Have A Black Lives Matter Banner?

The UUA has created a webpage with a google map that shows which congregations have a Black Lives Matter banner hanging at their building. Please check the map if your congregation displays one and see if you are on it. If not, let us know.

River Road UU Bethesda, MD

(see more congregational sign photos, many from CER congregations at the Standing on the Side of Love website)

We’ve written about the challenge many congregations face when putting up a Black Lives Matter banner before. Rev. David Pyle wrote a blog post last fall titled Taking Action in Black Lives Matter that received a number of comments. If your congregation is weighting the issues around displaying a banner, please read that post.

This week we bring you a newsletter column written by Rev. Hope Johnson, CER Congregational Life Consultant and part-time minister of the UU Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, NY. This is her story of the struggle she personally and her congregation experienced with this decision.

Rev. Hope JohnsonDear UUCCN,

Over the past few years, I’ve been ambivalent about “lifting up” Black History Month at UUCCN. On the one hand, I honor, celebrate, and live Black History every single moment of my life. On the other hand, most of you have no need or reason to do so and would not relate to this in an everyday way. So, I have allowed Spirit to be my guide on this one….

I have been actively seeking to dismantle racism on the larger platform, through my service to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the UU Ministers Association, through my ministry in the Living Legacy Project, where I lead Pilgrimages following the route of the Civil Rights Movement, and through my ministry wherever I find myself.

I’m a generalist like the old-time family doctor. There’s never been a need to center the work here at UUCCN when there are so many other pressing needs to be addressed. And so I pulled back, held back, and only sprinkled this passion of mine “every little once in a while,” as Lead Belly (and Sweet Honey in the Rock and UU Pete Seeger…) used to say.

Then, something happened: Black Lives Matter gained momentum as a movement. The UUA affirmed it at our last General Assembly. Here was Dave Coddington, UUCCN president, voicing the urgency of the movement during a conversation we shared while talking about the wayside pulpit. He was almost matter-of-fact as he suggested putting up a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign for the month of February—Black History Month. My heart stopped. Then it skipped a beat. I looked at him and wondered if I’d heard right…. “What did you say, Dave?”

“Hope, we need to put up a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign for Black History Month.”

My mouth went dry. I thought I was going to faint. This caused me to reflect deeply. And then—I can’t believe I did this—I spilled out every reason why we couldn’t do that.

“Dave, I don’t believe UUCCN is ready for this.”
“Dave, we got the OK for our congregational sign on our building after three years of waiting. Let’s not push our luck.”
“Dave, are you serious???”

I finally slowed down. I stopped babbling…and my eyes filled with tears. I told Dave that this was one of moments I would remember as long as I am able to think clearly. I was bursting with pride! I explained that in many ways, just hearing what he had to say meant that we as a congregation were at a place where we were living into the legacy that Rev. Amy Beltaine, our former Intern Minister, and John Hanc, UUCCN member and Newsday columnist, had reminded us about. I knew at that moment that a chunk of my work had been fulfilled.

And, as I thought about it further, I had to acknowledge that I was uncomfortable. I sought counsel from colleagues, family, and friends. I knew that I had to confess that I had been prematurely excited. “Dave,” I wrote by email, “It has to be BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Period. We can’t dilute the message. And we exchanged emails. And we decided to include the word because…. BLACK LIVES MATTER BECAUSE ALL LIVES MATTER.

“All right, Dave. Let’s do it!” We brought it to the Board of Trustees at our last meeting and the Trustees and other leaders were with us. We’ll see what happens when the sign goes up. But we are united in the certain knowledge that this is the right thing to do. It’s the “UU Way”!

It is with deep appreciation that I continue to journey with you as we honor Black History Month. Thank you.

Yours, Hope


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