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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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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CER Congregation and Members Help Refugees

Two members of the UU Congregation of Shelter Rock, Colin and Latifa, were greatly touched by the refugee crisis that began last fall. Latifa’s family members had been refugees when her family fled Afghanistan in 1979 and eventually came to the States.

In October, Latifa went to the Social Justice Committee of the congregation and asked them to get involved in the crisis. They received a crisis grant of $200,000. Half went to the UUSC to support their efforts and half to the Syrian Medical Staff.

The family then put together a team of people to travel to Greece to visit the refugees and learn their stories. They took translators and a pediatrician from their congregation. The team visited for three and a half weeks. They helped with translation and cultural understanding and they listened to the refugee’s stories. They made friends with people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Marco, Egypt, Iran, Eritrea, and many other African countries.

This video was put together upon their return using photos taken during their trip.

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Innovative Ministries and Programs Highlighted in Dawning Future Conference

Gabrielle Rockenfield GA ChaliceHaving a keynote speaker share an idea increases its influence and impact.   Having a dozen speakers has a multiplying effect. Video-recording those speakers and sharing the presentations widely can have an exponential effect. That’s what happened at the Dawning Future Conference hosted by the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock and the Central East Region and you can help the impact be exponential.

The morning was filled with short TED-talk style presentations. The afternoon featured workshops with each of the presenters so that participants could go more deeply into the topic.

Tom SchadeThe program was moderated by the Rev. Tom Schade, author of The Lively Tradition, a blog about the intersection of UU Theology and the current historical moment. He started out the morning with his talk The Gravity of the Situation: What Holds UUism Down and Prevents Us from Rising (YouTube 15:18)

Themed Ministry presentation by Washington Ethical SocietyThe Opening Worship (YouTube 33:26) and the talk Connection, Depth, Efficiency: Being a Themed Congregation (YouTube 14:08) was presented by the staff of the Washington Ethical Society: Rev. Amanda Poppei (minister), Robyn Kravitz (Coming of Age and Teen Coordinator) , Melissa Sinclair (Director of Lifelong Learning) and Bailey Whiteman (Chorus Director). They shared the story of how they moved from Theme-based worship to using themes throughout the life of the church. (They shared more of their model in their afternoon workshop: Part 1 (55:28) & Part 2 (40:11).)

Rev. Meg Riley, the minister of our largest congregation – the Church of the Larger Fellowship – shared how her ministry is reaching places that no other UU church can, in her talk Authentic Connections in a Virtual World (YouTube: 20:04)

Bill ClontzNationally-known stewardship consultant Bill Clontz used humor and wisdom in his talk Let’s Talk about UUs, Money, Power and Secrecy: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (YouTube 15:33). Bill helps to bring the FUN back to FUNdraising. (He shared more of his wisdom in Part 1 (41:38) and Part 2 (48:10) in his afternoon workshop.)

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke shared her big hairy audacious goal for offering wide, deep and affordable training for church planters as well as leaders of existing congregations in her talk Lay Seminary in Your Pocket (YouTube 12:48) where she describes the online UU Leadership Institute.

Kenny WileyThe conference then moved toward justice concerns with a two part talk Hope, Anger and Empty Chairs: A Black Lives Matter Conversation. The conversation started with the Rev. Barbara Gadon, the Lead Minister of Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, MO, whose congregation has been on the front lines of the protests over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. (YouTube 13:06). She was followed by Kenny Wiley, #BlackLivesMatter activist and UU World Editor. (YouTube 13:43).

The morning talks were capped off by the Rev. Sue Phillips sharing the power of Faithify in her talk Cool Things Crowdfunding Can Teach Us About Church (YouTube 22:10), followed by a Q&A Session (YouTube 4:31)

The Central East Staff and the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock hopes you find ways to share these presentations and use them to inspire your own creativity!

You can watch the entire playlist on YouTube below.

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