Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Pastoral Response to the News Regarding David Morris

Dear friends, 

Yesterday congregational leadership sent out a letter regarding the Ministerial Fellowship Committee’s action in response to a charge of child abuse against the Rev. David Morris.

I know that many of you would like specifics as to the who, what, when, where, and how of these charges, including information about any criminal proceedings that might be underway. Whenever there is such a breach of trust in community folks want details, and when there is a lack of detail people understandably fill in the blank spaces – stories and assumptions will get made. We hope folks will refrain from speculation. We do not have more details to be released. As of right now we’ve been told that criminal proceedings have not been initiated. We want to respect the right of the victim(s) in this case to tell as much or as little of their story publicly, as they see fit.

Why, then, did we pass on this information? Part of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee’s action has been to share this with every congregation in our Association. Considering how small our Association is, as well as the fact that several congregants having maintained connections with David, there is no question that word of this would come out in one way or another. It is more transparent and respectful for us to share the information we’ve received about a former minister than for it to leak out from another source. 

I know that some of you hold very fond memories of David and his family. He was, for some of you, the first UU minister you’d ever known, and he may remain for you the epitome of what that means. Such news may be particularly shocking and disturbing for those who have known, trusted, and loved David. 

It was not that long ago that our community had to deal with the revelation of sexual misconduct by another minister who was beloved by many — the Rev. Tony Perrino, who retired to Charlottesville and who, with his wife, was an active member of the congregation and a pastoral presence. While different this news about David may well bring up unresolved feelings from that earlier time.

I also know that there are members of our congregation are survivors of abuse, and some, specifically abuse by clergy. It can be common for news of abuse to trigger those memories, and in some cases to re-stimulate that pain. Some of you have chosen to be open about your experiences; others have not. Whether or not you knew David and his family, this news may be particularly distressing to you.

We have been through a lot this year — from the KKK and “Unite the Right” to our current turmoil and struggle over leadership and vision. The congregation also carries the wounds of previous times of painful divisions that were never fully resolved and healed. Please, let us try to look past the different reactions we may be having so that we might see what we have in common — a love for this congregation and for each other. 

Rev. Alex, Leia, and I are available if you would like to talk with someone. Remember, too, that you can reach out to one another, not so as to argue over a perspective as to hear one another’s pain. As Unitarians let us show one another (and the world) that we can come together as one community, and as Universalists let us be guided by love.

Peace to you, 

Rev. Wik

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

President’s Report to the Congregation May, 11, 2018

Dear TJMC Congregation and Board of Trustees,
This month I’m doing a combined report to the Board and congregation, as I believe it is equally relevant for both audiences.
I want to first thank everyone who helped make the past three weekends so successful. We had a great auction, fun 75th anniversary party, and a productive facilitated session with UU consultant Paula Cole Jones. Many congregational volunteers, staff, the board, and everyone who participated pulled off three successful weekends. I can’t help but take pleasure from the way our congregation comes together to organize even one event; in this case, my joy was threefold.
The auction, as always, was a great evening out at TJMC. Cindy Shepard, Janine Jakim, Carol Gardner, Kay Frazier, the UUGuys men’s group, and others really outdid themselves. The highlight for me was an intense bidding war for an old, hand-carved wooden alligator. In the end, Kim and I took him home for $22, and he has become part of the family. We have since found out that his name is Manny, he’s about the same age as I am, he hails from Mexico, and has lived most of his life in our Religious Assistant Caroline Heins’ grandmother’s house.
The next weekend saw a wonderful service that people talked about for several weeks afterwards, followed by an all-church potluck. It was a gift that the weather was so beautiful, and we enjoyed ourselves in the social hall, the yard outside, the playground, and just about everywhere else on our grounds. I got a TJMC 75th Anniversary temporary tattoo that I wore proudly all week!
I have received a lot of positive feedback about the work we did with Paula Cole Jones on the first weekend in May. It was planned as an opportunity to process the racist event that took place at our church this past winter, and it was a great experience for many of us. We had more than 100 church members attend over the course of two days. As I indicated at the beginning of each session, we’re planning to have Paula back to facilitate additional conversations around topics recommended by another UU consultant who visited us last summer and did a report on the current state of our congregation. (You can see or download it here.)
In the coming weeks, the Board of Trustees will be presenting its budget to the congregation, and holding several conversations to discuss it. You should plan to attend one of these sessions. As someone who works professionally in the field of budgeting and financial analysis, I can attest to the fact that a budget tells the story of an organization. In a budget’s numbers, you will see the beliefs, values, fears, and aspirations of the people who put it together.
For anyone who can’t make these sessions, or wants more focused time to discuss the budget, president-elect Colleen Anderson and I are offering to visit with your church committee, covenant group, or social circle. We are both committed to hearing your input, and enjoy the opportunity to meet with folks to talk about church life.
Please keep in touch with me, the church staff, the Committee on Ministry, and other Board members. Sometimes Board service--which involves spending a great deal of time with other connected church leaders and long-time members--can give the false sense that everyone is aware of everything that’s going on in our community. By reaching out with your questions, we’ll get a better sense of what the congregation wants to hear about. As of today, our congregation stands at about 425 members--nearly as large as we’ve ever been. In a community this large, staying connected is everyone’s job!


Friday, May 11, 2018

Worship in May

Here is a brief description of the themes being explored during the month of May in our services in the sanctuary.  (Remember that each week there is also Children's Chapel taking place at the same time, and our Wednesday Worship contemplative services at 11:45.)

May 13 – The Earth is Our Mother
On this Mothers Day we’ll look at Mother Earth as “the first mother.”  How can that understanding of life as essentially maternal speak to us today?  How do our own experiences with, or as, mothers intersect with the archetype.  Rev. Wik will be preaching.

May 20 -- Cultural (Mis)appropriation
In life, borrowing and sharing are pretty basic.  But can we (predominantly white) UUs really “borrow” from other cultures when we’re in a position of power?  When does borrowing feels like a form of theft?  In his Music Sunday sermon, director of music Scott DeVeaux will explore this, with the choir singing apposite examples.  The children’s choir will also sing!

May 27 – The Roots of Memorial Day
History is a complicated thing.  It has been said that "history is written by the victor," and that "who you are accountable to determines the history that you tell."  It's not surprising, then, that even something as seemingly clear cut as Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor service members who have died in the line of duty, should have multiple "histories."  By looking at this one story, Rev. Wik will also encourage us to consider how things are generally more complex than they might seem.  [NOTE:  we change this Sunday to having only ONE service each week, at 10:00.  We will continue with having only ONE 10:00 service through the summer.]

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Worship in April 2018

The metaphor/image for the month of April is “Blooming Flowers.”  This is the beginning of our spring season when we consider questions of purpose.


April 1:  A Rite of Spring
No fooling -- On this morning when our Christian brothers and sisters celebrate Easter, we will have our annual “Rite of Spring” service of words, sounds, and images, to help us consider all of the “spring-inspired” truths our human kin have found and that we, and our world, so desperately need to hear.  [The TJMC Choir will be singing.]
April 8:  Divine and Nature
Is all of nature sacred?  Is there a God that is expressed in nature?  Are we to find inspiration and comfort in nature?  How do we make sense of natural events that cause human suffering?  These questions and more will be explored by Rev. Alex McGee, with Wendy Repass as worship weaver.

April 15:  How Do You Want to Bloom Here?
What does it mean to call ourselves a “member” of this congregation?  What can we expect from one another (and what can the community expect from you)?  How can your engaged participation nurture your best self and help you to truly bloom?  Rev. Wik and Jeanine Braithwaite will facilitate this exploration of these questions.  [The TJMC Choir will be singing, and the Social Action Collection will be in support of BRAAF – Blue Ridge Abortion Assistance Fund.]

April 22:  Flower Communion
Created in 1923 by the Rev. Norbert Capek for the congregation he served in Czechoslovakia, the “flower communion” was brought to the United States by Capek’s wife, Maja.  It has since become a regular celebration in many Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country.  Please bring a flower with you – one picked from your garden or along your path is great!  We will then take these separate flowers and create one boquet, as we create together one community.  At the end of the service we will each be invited to take a flower home with us, just as we each carry a part of this community with us wherever we go.  Rev. Wik and Lorie Craddock will weave this worship.  [The Children’s Choir will be singing.]

April 29:  Where Did We Come From, And Where Might We Be Going?
Postponed from a month ago, this morning we will celebrate the founding of our congregation 75 years ago with a four-line classified ad in The Daily Progress.  Over those years this faith community has been tested, and triumphed many times over.  There is so much to celebrate in the story of how we got to be who we are, and within this story are pointers toward where we might go in the future.  Rev. Wik and Wendy Repass will facilitate this time of remembrance and hope.  [The TJMC Choir will be singing.]


There is also be Children's Chapel in the church parlor each Sunday at the same time as there is Worship in the sanctuary.  The two are very different in form and "feel," yet both are moving and can be powerful.  If you've never been to one or the other, you should try it out one week and see what you've been missing.

The UU Christian Fellowship meets holds its services on the 2nd Sunday (at 10:00am) and the 4th Thursday (at 7:00pm) each month.  (The UUCF is a welcoming place to explore Christianity and the life and teachings of Jesus in a liberal, open-minded, and non-dogmatic context.)

The Clear Spring Buddhist Sangha meets for zazen meditation and conversation each Wednesday evening at 7:00pm.  (All are welcome, regardless of prior experience.)

Each Wednesday at 11:30 there is contemplative worship for a time of renewal mid-week.  Participants can walk the labyrinth, stack stones under the oak tree outside the social hall, linger in the Memorial Garden, or sit in the sanctuary for a time of reflection, meditation, lighting Candles of Hope and Remembrance, writing in the Sands of Forgiveness and Atonement, journaling, or simply being silent and at peace.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How Should We Respond?

Following the public Congregational Listening Circle on Monday, March 19, 2018, Rob Criaghurst offered these thoughts.

The purpose of The Talk of TJMC is to provide a place for congregants to have a place to share their thoughts about things we, as a congregation, should be talking about.  It provides a forum that is longer than a Facebook post, and more public than an email.  If you have something to say, and think that this is the right place to say it, please send your piece to

⚞   ⌘   ⚟

It strikes me that the nature of our conversation around the letter to Christina is distorted because of one simple thing.  The letter was not signed.  It was anonymous.  The result has been a maelstrom of conjectures about the writer mixed in with a healthy dose of UU angst and guilt.  I see a lot of flailing in the dark (including me).  Sadly, the path I see some people—including leaders in the church—follow doesn’t line up with my UU values.

But maybe there is a better, clearer path.  To find it, however, instead of asking, “How should I (or the church) respond to this letter?” I ask a different question, because sometimes answering a different question sheds light on how to answer the first question. 

The second question is, “What if the letter had been signed?”  What if we all knew who wrote the letter?  Then I think our path would have been very different.  It would have been a question of “How do we embrace this person, while at the same time repulsed by his/her action?”  The conversation would be full of conflict and angst, still.  But the requirements of our journey would be much clearer.  We would need to engage with that person.  We would engage with each other on how we engage with that person.  We would introspect, UU-style, on how we engage with each other, etc. ad nauseum.  (We can’t help it.  We’re UU’s.)   But the goal of our engagements would be love.  Not excommunication.   Not condemnation. 

I believe the conversation would be VERY different if we were engaging with a real, identified person.  So, shouldn’t the answer to the first question be the same even when we don’t have a name?  After all, the person who wrote the letter does exist.  He or she may still be attending church.  (And if not, that doesn’t change anything.)   Shouldn’t we treat that unidentified person with the same covenant of love that we would an identified person?  It would still be difficult and unpleasant for all, yes.  And it would have an additional existential weirdness because we’d be talking to an empty space, of sorts.  But, at least, it would be a direction that would make sense to me as a UU.

Rob Craighurst

PS -- This addresses only our response to the letter writer.  Our support for Christina is another matter outside the scope of this letter.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Evolving Thinking

Kate Fraleigh, who until recently was Chair of the Racial Justice Committee, shares some of her evolving thinking about what's been happening here since Christian Rivera found an anonymous racist note in her mailbox on Monday, February 26, as well as about our work in ending white supremacy.  [Here is a link to the immediate response of congregational leadership (which includes a photograph of the note.]

The purpose of The Talk of TJMC is to provide a place for congregants to have a place to share their thoughts about things we, as a congregation, should be talking about.  It provides a forum that is longer than a Facebook post, and more public than an email.  If you have something to say, and think that this is the right place to say it, please send your piece to

⚞   ⌘   ⚟

I’ve been a UU since I was 6.  I’ve been with this church off and on for more than 20 years.  My Mother ran the church program supplying food to the Salvation Army Day School.  There is a hymnal in one of the back rows dedicated to my father Arnold Fraleigh. I love to see his name in the sanctuary of our faith. My Mother and I witnessed Leia’s marriage.  My roots are here.  I believe our faith and our church are sturdy.  I can work through the chaos and come out better for it.  I believe we all can.  I have trust in our leadership, our congregation, and in our commitment and ability to work this out.  It’s a process.  And it’s painful.  I’m writing because I think seeing my process might help someone else.

I’ve divided this into two parts.  You’ll see numbers in the first part.   Those numbers will be used in the second part. 

I’ve been gradually processing what’s been going on at church.  I find it useful to process with friends so thank you to all the people I’ve talked or emailed with and I hope we’ll continue the dialogue.  The process is still going in my head so this isn’t the final version of my opinions and understanding.  These days I try to question my initial reactions to everything.(1)

The note to Christina was a racist note.  Racism is prejudice plus power.  The writer accentuated the power by being anonymous, placing the note physically close to where Chris works, and including her children.  It was an act of purposeful intimidation.  I didn’t get to this point of view so firmly right away.  I worried that the person was mentally ill, angry, felt there was no other way to make a point, have an opinion heard.(2)  I’m very firm now.  The note was an attempt at intimidation.

The things that have happened and the words spoken and written blur together.  I wasn’t expecting the response to the perpetrator to be so strong.  It challenged my faith.  I wrestled with how the first principle applies, how much it matters that the note was anonymous, who was it?, that it was a person many of us probably know well!  My response was to write in face book that I would like to have a conversation with the person who wrote the note.  I had and have no idea what the person would say so I had and still have no idea about how I would or will respond.  I don’t want to have a concrete plan of what I might say because I want listen fully first.  The door is still open. 

Then I heard that the perpetrator would not be welcome in our church.  I was on board with not accepting the behavior but not accepting the person?  Then I thought about equity and equality and here’s what I came to.  The perpetrator I believe is white.  The perpetrator has huge amounts of evidence and reinforcement of dignity and worth everywhere in society.  For a life time.  So, I don’t and my church doesn’t have to reinforce that to a high degree.  The victim, a person of color does not routinely have validation.  Therefore the victim needs and deserves a huge response from me reinforcing her dignity and worth. She needs to be believed and supported to help her resist the intimidation and heal the wound.  I have done enough to show unconditional positive regard to the perpetrator.  I need not do anything more.  And I don’t think my church needs to either.

I think no one is perfect and it doesn’t work for me to connect the racism in the note with the performance innuendo.  That only gives an excuse to the perpetrator, only blames the victim, only lets the rest of us off the hook for addressing the racism. It also lets me off the hook from listening to our staff suggestions and opinions(3).   I deal with this by separating the issues. I don’t like authority, I don’t like to be told what to do.  I have trigger words that make me uncomfortable, cause me not to listen, to ignore perfectly valid opinions and options because I’m stuck and get sidetracked(4).  So I have to prepare myself in advance by changing the words in my head.  Or if I’m surprised and unprepared I have to go back and see what my lack of listening missed.

So the two strands:
The racism and what we can do about it.  I asked Christina what I and the Racial Justice Committee could do.  I imagine other people did too. So Christina provided guidance.  The word complicit had an impact on me. I thought- Oh my god You want me to do more?(5)  After I rearranged my head I realized it doesn’t mean that what I’ve been doing already and what we’ve been doing together already has been wrong or not valuable. It means I’m not done yet, and I agree.  I’m looking at it differently.  Maybe we have to evaluate what we’ve done and how we are doing it and accept advise and direction.  The universe is full of white supremacy so it’s not surprising that racist behavior would appear in our church.  Addressing racism and white supremacy is a life long hard process and worth doing. 

The second strand is the strand of congregational organization, decision making, staff performance, communication, commitment to sticking together to work this out.  I feel confident that the avenues that exist will have results.  It will take time.  The avenues now are the personnel committee, the committee on the ministry, the individual person involved, the pulse survey, the Board.  The Board is responsible and we elected them.  Sometimes(maybe often) I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and that the church is too.  Maybe we haven’t addressed these problems well before but this incident of racism has shaken us up and the direction out will be found.  I have the courage to move forward. 

Part two:  About white supremacy and the outline and article Christina shared.  I’ve been using that article for some time in looking at myself and at other people and at organizations.  I am no academic.  I find the article useful so I use it. 
1.      I figure all my first responses to anything are learned and patterned behavior built over many years in the air of white supremacy.  So I try to remove that aspect from my response.  It takes work.
2.      This has to do with not liking or doing well in open conflict.  It’s also detouring from the primary topic.
3.      Detouring
4.      My right to comfort
5.      Defensiveness
6.      Fear of Open conflict
I am not done processing.  The listening circles may help. We can together make our faith and church stronger than ever if we work together to fix it.

Kate Fraleigh

Friday, March 16, 2018

Congregational Listening Circles

In the two weeks since the hateful racist note was anonymously left in the office mailbox of Christina Rivera, our Director of Administration and Finance, there have been a variety of responses: some of us have felt clarity; others, confusion.  Many of us feel conflicted.  Some have felt supported, while others have felt silenced.  The integrity of our community, and our commitment to living our covenant, has been questioned by many of us, even by those who disagree within h one another about just how and why they think that.  For us both individually and as a community, this is disturbingly new territory, and we understandably are finding it disorienting.

Congregational leaders have offered a strong and consistent response, condemning the particular violent act, while challenging us all to consider how our congregational culture reflects the dominant culture of white supremacy, in spite of our best intentions. One thing which hasn’t happened yet, though, is an opportunity for us to come together and share our feelings and thoughts about all that’s been going on.

Our first responsibility has to be addressing the needs of the people of color who call this their spiritual home.  The attack on Christina was not an attack on her alone.  It raised questions about the safety of this community for people of color more widely (as well as for those of us who live in multi-racial families).

This Sunday, following the second service, there will be an opportunity for people of color to meet and reflect on their experiences of recent events, and as people of color in an overwhelmingly white congregation (and denomination). This gathering will be facilitated by Steven Ballesteros, who has served as a member of the Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) Steering Committee and as chair of the General Assembly Right Relationship Team. He also has experience facilitating identity caucusing and anti-racism, anti-oppression, multicultural workshops for multiple congregations and UU communities in the Pacific Western Region.  Even if you don’t personally feel the need for such a gathering, I would encourage you to attend.

While congregational leaders are working to find a skilled facilitator who can help the entire community process what has happened and engage the work we must do if we are going to become the beloved community we desire to be, there is an immediate need for a safe space in which we can come together and share our feelings and thoughts. Everyone is invited to participate in a Congregational Listening Circle on Monday, March 19, from 7:00-9:00pm.  I will be facilitating this evening, and it will be a time for any of us to say whatever we feel needs to be said, without any debate or judgement.  Perhaps even more importantly, the evening will also give everyone who participates an opportunity to listen deeply to what others are, and have been, feeling and thinking.

The turmoil we are experiencing right now effects the whole congregation, and we must all engage in the work of looking honestly at who we’ve been, and who we are, and what we are called to be by our commitment to dismantling the culture of white supremacy – in ourselves, in our congregation, and in our society. This isn’t work we are starting now; it’s been a part of who we are since our founding 75 years ago. Yet the recent heinous act of blatant racism gives new impetus to our efforts, and we must all find our place in the work Christina always reminds us is for our mutual liberation.

If you have questions, or would like more information, please contact Rev. Wik at