O Holy Darkness

Creative Darkness, closest friend, you whisper in the night;
you calm our fears as unknown paths surprise us with new sight.
We marvel at your bounty, your gifts so full and free,
unfolding as you waken us to new reality.

Excerpted lyrics to O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb, by Jann Aldredge-Clanton. Find out more on WorshipWeb.

Rev. Megan Foley
Rev. Megan Foley

From Rev. Megan Foley, Regional Lead

I get supremely edgy this time of year.

You can blame the upbringing in sunny and warm California and Asia if you like, or the subsequent long gray winters in New England or Ireland…but I do not like a lot of dark or cold. I work from home on many days, a home surrounded by hills, tall trees and apartment buildings, and I swear, these days I have to turn the lights on at 3 pm. Three o’clock in the afternoon. I may as well get out a paper bag to breathe into.

Our faith tradition, like many others, has a lot to say about the dark, so literally upon us this time of year, and it also has a lot to say about metaphorical dark times. There’s something scary about darkness for us diurnal humans, so reliant on sunshine and warmth for food and comfort, so reliant on our ability to see – when we can – to keep ourselves oriented and safe. Or, at least, it’s scary for me.

Poems like the ones above reorient me this time of year. Darkness is where Creation happens, and Lord knows we need some Creation in our world right now. Our known paths are heavily trod these days and don’t seem to be heading in the right direction at all.

What if we gave ourselves over, if only for a few minutes each day, for a few weeks of the year, to the idea that if we closed our eyes and unclenched our hands and jaws, a previously unseen and unknown path might open up for the people of this world? Instead of fighting the darkness, what if we considered it our closest friend, as the poem suggests? What can be done in the dim light of a wintery three o’clock afternoon that could never be done in the bright sunshine of another time of year? What can be known if we set our knowing aside and let the dark do its timeless work, just for a few months?

Bounty? Gifts, full and free? Even in winter? Forget the ads: this is what we really need for Christmas, now and always.

It’s the work of the faithful to orient ourselves so that we can receive gifts like these. It’s the work of the faithful to take the cues of the season and let a greater Creation, a greater Wholeness, restake its claim on our world.

What works of faith will you be offering this winter? What new reality will be waking in you, in your community, in all of us, come Spring?

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A New Day Rises for Your Congregation’s Racial Justice Efforts on January 26th in Fairfax, Virginia

New Day Rising Conference MemeThis past summer, I was pondering. Many of my congregational interactions went something like this: “We want to play a role in furthering racial justice work in our congregation, and figure out ways we might be contributing to white supremacy culture. We just can’t decide what to do!”

I knew we had multiple resources and success stories at our UU fingertips. But I’ve always said that lots of resources aren’t helpful if you don’t know which one to pick. How could the Central East region help congregations decide what their next step should be in furthering their racial justice work and commitments?

At the same time, the UU Congregation of Fairfax extended a generous offer to host a racial justice oriented learning opportunity. And now – long story short – an event has been born: The New Day Rising Conference, to help your congregation assess and respond to the struggle against white supremacy culture. This conference has everything you need to assess your congregation’s needs and decide on next steps, easily accessible in one place.

We’ll have worship from The Sanctuaries DC – an intentionally multicultural artistic community using art to create social change. We’ll have morning workshops run by UUA staff – Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson, Paula Cole Jones, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, Shannon Harper, Rev. Ian Evison and myself. We’ll have dedicated time for identity-based caucusing, a chance to gather in identity-based groups for conversation, reflection and relationship building. In the afternoon, we’ll hear from multiple UU congregations about their stories of struggle and success in a series of 7 minute TED-style type talks about what worked for them and their people (and what didn’t!), with opportunities to connect and ask questions. Through it all, we’ll host a resource fair and bookstore – a room full of resources and materials to browse, and the opportunity to order helpful books right from the Conference.

Gather folks from your congregation and come on down to the New Day Rising Conference in Fairfax, Virginia on January 26th. You’ll come away inspired, resourced, and ready to take your next congregational steps down the road towards liberation and freedom, fulfilling the promise that Unitarian Universalism makes to our people and the world. We can’t wait to see you and learn together!

Click here for The New Day Rising Conference registration page. Sliding scale fee from $20-$40 includes lunch. Partial financial waivers down to $10 are available – see registration page. Child care is available. Hotel rooms at reduced rates are available by contacting Amy Kent at [email protected].

Rev. Megan Foley
Regional Lead, Central East Region

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Social Justice Learning at Home and Away

There are many opportunities for all of us to learn more about various social justice issues in our homes, congregations or at trainings and events around the region. Here is a sampler of what is available. If you know of others, please recommend them in the comments!

Learning and Participating at Home
For those who want to learn more or participate in something from home:

Participate in this year’s Common Read. The 2018-19 Common Read is Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Environment, edited by Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Jennifer Nordstrom (Skinner House Books, 2018). At a time when racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice are seen as issues competing for time, attention, and resources, Justice on Earth explores the ways in which the three are intertwined. People and communities on the margins are invariably those most affected by climate disaster and environmental toxins. The book asks us to recognize that our faith calls us to long-haul work for justice for our human kin, for the Earth and for all life. It invites us to look at our current challenges through a variety of different perspectives, offers tools to equip us for sustained engagement, and proposes multiple pathways for follow-up action. Justice on Earth is available at inSpirit: UU Book and Gift Shop. The UUA has created a discussion guide that offers Unitarian Universalist congregations, groups, and individuals a single 90-minute session and a more in-depth, three-session series. Optional slides (PowerPoint) allow groups to project the discussion and reflection questions rather than write and display them on newsprint or a chalkboard. If your congregation does the common read as a group, please share your congregation’s participation in this year’s Common Read map.

Looking for a personal or congregational outreach program? The Church of the Larger Fellowship will be sending almost 900 holiday cards to CLF members experiencing incarceration. Could you help?  Invite your social action committee or youth to write messages of hope. If you’re interested, it’s important to read a detailed list of Do’s and Don’ts at this link. CLF staff and volunteers will address all envelopes, bringing a bit of cheer to our incarcerated UU members, many of whom are lonely and without support. Questions? Reach out to Beth Murray at [email protected].

If you want a longer investment, Church of the Larger Fellowship has a Prison Ministry program. You can become a penpal, join with others as part of a community working to support prisoners or become an Ambassador. Learn more about this program at https://worthynow.org/

Trainings and Events around the Region or Beyond
For those who want an interactive experience these events may fill your desire to have learning with others:

Join the Pittsburgh Cluster for their Annual Assembly with a focus on social justice non November 10, 2018. Keynote speaker is Rev. Kathleen McTigue of the UU College of Social Justice speaking on The Faithful Resistance: Prophetic Witness in Dangerous Times. This event will include panel discussions and interactive sessions with local social justice leaders from PIIN, ACLU and other organizations to help us join the Faithful Resistance.

UU Justice Ohio General Assembly on November 17, 2018 is focused on A New Way: Building a Moral Democracy. Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign speaking on A Prophetic Voice for the Poor: Building a Movement to End Poverty. The day will include workshops on Health Care, Sanctuary, Poverty, Congregational Justice Ministries, The Promise and the Practice program, and Prison Ministry.

Note that other Legislative advocacy groups offer trainings and events throughout the year, however this is the only one we currently know about.

Youth in particular are invited to join us in Mt. Kisco, NY for UU College of Social Justice’s Activate Training. Activate Your Community: Love Resists! will offer youth, youth advisors, and chaperones an opportunity to deepen their understanding of opportunities for youth engagement in social justice activism, guided by Unitarian Universalist values and practices. Over the course of a long weekend gathering, participants will build community, explore their identities, and discern how they can show up in the world, beginning in their own communities, as agents of spiritually-grounded social change. The training takes place December 7-9, 2018

Your Central East Regional Staff are hosting a training on January 26, 2019 at UU Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, VA, on Struggling with White Supremacy Culture: Identifying Your Congregation’s Next Steps. Registration and details on this event will be available soon.

Want something more immersive for your congregation or yourself? Now is the time for congregations to schedule immersion learning journeys with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice for Spring and Summer 2019. Learn more about the journeys available to youth, young adults and adults of all ages or contact [email protected] to ask about setting dates for your congregation.

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Ohio Issue 1 – Electoral Justice Issue

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President

Ohio Issue 1, if passed, will dismantle much of the mass incarceration system in Ohio by reducing felony drug possession convictions to misdemeanors retroactively.  This aligns with our UU commitments to resist white supremacy, embody solidarity with those harmed by the prison system and prioritize resources for people healing from substance use.  Learn more about the issue from our partner, Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

Want to help? You can even if you aren’t in Ohio or unable to attend the get out the vote efforts.

Help with phone banks and get out the votes: Sign up here

Those in Ohio or nearby have an opportunity to be the boots on the ground November 3rd and 4th.

Unitarian Universalists, including UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, and UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) will join faith and grassroots partners to canvass and give people rides to the polls for early voting on Saturday & Sunday on Nov. 3rd & 4th in Cleveland, Ward 9.

Khnemu Foundation Lighthouse Center, known as The Lighthouse (956 E 105th St, Cleveland, OH 44108), and a part of the Organizing Ohio Collaborative will serve as the organizing hub. Training will be provided at the Center and volunteers will be asked to sign up for shifts. The polls are open between 8 am & 4 pm on Saturday and from 1-5 pm on Sunday.

During the weekend, we will have opportunities to come together for fellowship, networking, and worship. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray will be preaching at the Sunday worship on November 4th at West Shore UU Church  in Rocky River Ohio before heading out with fellow UUs to bring ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Ward 9.

Sign up here if you would like to participate in the Nov. 3-4 weekend and we will send your more detailed information.

If you are interested in learning more about what is happening in Ohio, check out the UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) website for other events and trainings happening in Ohio. If you are not in Ohio but want to volunteer to help with other election trainings and events around the country, check the UUA webpage on Election Reform.

 

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UU Amherst Dedicates Free Food Pantry

Two years ago, UU Church of Amherst, NY member Maria Ceraulo read a story online about a “Little Free Food Pantry” and thought, “Huh, we should do this,” and began floating the idea to her congregation. The congregation applied for and received a very generous grant from the Network of Religious Communities of Greater Buffalo. They also found a partner to help operate the pantry, Congregation Havurah, who shares space with the UU congregation.

On Sunday, September 30, the pantry was opened. Members of all ages came early to stock the panty and ready it for the blessing after the service. The congregations primary contact, the Rev. Renee Ruchotzke co-led the service with the congregation’s settled minister, the Rev. Michelle Buhite.  After the service the congregation gathered underneath the portico where the new pantry is accessible to all. Maria and other leaders instrumental in the project participated in the grand opening, and Rev. Michelle gave the blessing. The grand opening and dedication was covered by local media, including on the local news channel. https://www.wgrz.com/article/news/local/new-food-pantry-opens-in-williamsville/71-599502862

Food Pantry Dedication by Rev. Michelle Buhite.

Today we begin a new thing.
Today we lift up a new way to embody our mission
to foster more compassion and justice in the world,
by committing ourselves to feed the hungry in our community.

May those who have, share from their abundance.
May those who need, find nourishment for body and soul.
And may we recognize that we are all givers and receivers –
all in need of the grace of human kindness
and a word of hope and encouragement.

May it be so.

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We Need Churches

Paula Cole Jones

The communities where we live and work and go to school are constantly changing.  The nation and the wider world is constantly changing.  There is so much that we do not control.  We face everyday challenges as we go through the various phases of our own lives and the lives of family and friends.  And in these challenges there are many opportunities for us to stretch and grow.

I grew up in the UU church, All Souls in Washington, DC.  It helped to shape me.  In my younger years I was skeptical about organized religion.  It was my belief that we don’t need to go to church to be good people, and there was no guarantee that people would be better because of church.

Somewhere along the way, my attitude changed.  My appreciation for what the church had given to me deepened and I wanted to give back.  The more I got involved, the relevancy of the church in people’s lives and in the wider society became more apparent.  I started to see churches as critical centers of community life that  tend to important individual, family and community needs.  The church is where we mark certain cultural and life transitions: child dedications, graduations, marriage, anniversaries, and celebrations, caring and memorials when life comes to an end.  It is where we bring our joys and sorrows and know that we are not alone.

In addition to my own lived experience, I had an interesting window that helped to shift my understanding.  Most Sundays I attended services with my mother.  We processed sermons together and attended meetings.  She was usually the first person I called to bat around some new ideas or to make sense of confusing feelings.  At the same time, my daughter was being raised as UU.  I was seeing church through three generations at one time.

When my mother retired from teaching, the church community became more central to her life.   There she could find people she loved, inspiring messages from the pulpit, music to soothe the soul.  She could count on our church for continued intellectual engagement, and being active in a caring community contributed to a healthy emotional life.

At one point, I became evangelical in my belief that everyone needs to belong to a church.  I wanted to shout from the rooftop, everyone needs to belong to a church, no matter what church it is!  There are things that are essential to our lives and churches are perfectly suited to be centers that contribute to quality of life for each of us.

Recently, someone shared that they joined a UU church, after the last election.  They found us on the internet and knew they had found their people on the first visit.  There are many others who are in need of sanctuary, community or safe harbor in a troubled world.  The program year is well underway and the next election is approaching  Let’s keep building healthy ministries and be ready to welcome newcomers.

Paula Cole Jones
Interim CER Congregational Life Staff

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A Traditional Ethics for a Sustainable Future

Photo: Blue Sky Permaculture Farm, Montague, MI
Photo copyright Renee Ruchotzke/UUA

We are living in a time of great change, where the forces of greed, selfishness, and fear have been unleashed and the future is unclear. We religious liberals can play an important role in influencing the conversation in a way that can shape the future with the counterforces of generosity, mutuality, and love. Unitarian Universalists have many partners in shaping our future, and we can learn a lot from one another to amplify our shared values and voices.

During my recent sabbatical (thanks to the generosity of our UUA and your Annual Program Fund gifts) I spent time doing a deep dive into Permaculture, which Mike Feingold described as “revolution disguised as gardening.” As part of that study I completed a two-week Permaculture Design Course with Peter Bane, Rhonda Baird and Keith Johnson at Blue Sky Farm. I’ll share more in future blogs but for now I want to talk about ethics.

We currently live in an a society based on ethics that condone exploitation of people and extraction from nature. Most aboriginal cultures and other traditional societies have ethics that are based on values that are in alignment with our notion of Beloved Community. Permaculture has adapted them into three (plus one) central ethical principles:

1. Earth Care

This principle aligns with the UU seventh principle: Reverence for the interdependent web of all existence. In practice this means:

  • Being good stewards of the earth, from micro-organisms in the soil to the biodiversity of species, each one having intrinsic value.
  • Increasing biodiversity is an imperative
  • Humans, as part of the community of beings, should limit our impacts by doing no further harm, conserving and restoring what is left, and consuming without waste.

2. People Care

This principle aligns with the UU first principle: Respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people. In practice this means:

  • Our institutions should be human-centered, encouraging material and non-material well-being for all.
  • Power should be decentralized and localized (such as in our congregational polity).
  • Individuals in communities should be encouraged to take personal responsibility, initiative and practice self-reliance.

3. Fair Share

This is the principle that is the key to the future, and is where the revolution shows up.

  • We need to live in the spirit of mutuality, generosity and trust in one another and in nature’s abundance.
  • We need to articulate and address the limits to growth, consumption and population.
  • This will require a commitment to living simply and scaling back to sustainable economic principles based on the notion of the common good.

Transition-Aware (the plus one)

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

In the past, many permaculture practitioners did so outside of the mainstream culture. But this way of being in the world offers hope and a workable model for how humans can address climate change. But even if we have a workable solution, we can’t implement it until we know how to foster a paradigm shift among fellow humans.

One critique I have of Permaculture is that—although it’s based on principles that align with traditional societies—almost all of the leaders, authors and teachers have been white men born before 1955.  There is a recognition among the rising leaders (as well as many of the elders themselves) that this grounding in “The Patrix” (White Male Supremacy culture) is something they need to address.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
CER Congregational Life Staff

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Making Holidays Relevant Today

Barbara Ford – Prayer

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

Spirit
I
n these times of limitless grief
We have but two choices

Our hearts can break
Or
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
Finally
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 uua.org. 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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Happy New Year!

Our staff are still on holiday break (most will return to our offices tomorrow) so we bring you a reading from Worship Web as we start a new year.

Please note that the Annual Congregational Life Staff meeting takes place next week. The staff will be with their colleagues Jan 8-11 and will return to our home offices over the following weekend.

In between, liminal, that space where we wait.
Between moments; events, results, action, no action.
To stand on the threshold, waiting for something to end,
And something new to arrive, a pause in the rumble of time.
Awareness claims us, alert, a shadow of something different.

In between invitation and acceptance.
In between symptom and diagnosis.
In between send and receipt of inquiry and question.
In between love given and love received.

Liminality, a letting go, entering into confusion,
ambiguity and disorientation.
A ritual begun, pause … look back at what once was,
Look forward into what becomes.
Identity sheds a layer, reaches into something uncomfortable to wear.

In between lighting of the match and the kindling of oil.
In between choosing of text and the reading of words.
In between voices and notes carried through the air into ears to hear.
In between creation thrusts ever forward.

Social hierarchies may disassemble and structures may fall.
Communities may revolt or tempt trust.
Tradition may falter or creativity crashes forward.
Leaders may step down or take charge.
The people may choose or refuse.

In between, storm predicted, the horizon beacons.
In between, theology of process reminds us to step back.
In between, where minutia and galaxies intermingle with microbes and mysteries.
In between, liminal, that space where we wait: Look, listen, feel, breathe.

 

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Living Into Spaces of Not-Knowing

Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer

Is there uncertainty in your or your congregation? Maybe you’re in search for a new minister or wondering if you’re doing the “right” justice work or don’t know what to do with your building. Perfect. Perfect timing. This is the season of Advent. The time of waiting and emptying and not knowing.

The spiritual lesson of Advent is that the holy to be born in our lives and hearts we must make room. When we are too full of our own certainty and knowledge, there isn’t room for the surprise of the holy.

So, I invite you, in whatever ways you face confusion and uncertainty, to embrace this not-knowing as a time of spiritual growth. This is a good time in the history of the world to strengthen our spiritual muscles for living with uncertainty. Instead of trying to know, try a season of living into the not-knowing.

Times of not knowing invite us to be playful. When everything is possible and little is known for sure, play is one of the only things that makes sense. And, yes, you can and should play in your congregation. Play might look like goofy suggestions for the conundrums facing you. It might look like setting aside the pressure to solve a conflict and finding ways to connect with each other that are enjoyable. Play lets us drop our need to be right or perfect, makes room for things we might call mistakes, and lets us learn far better than anger and blame do.

Advent invites us to live into these spaces of not-knowing. Instead of rushing to find answers, we might look around and see what we think we know, might not be true. Because if we can live into these spaces of not-knowing with awareness, openness, and hope we make space for the unexpected.

Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer, CER Congregational Life Staff

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