Monday, January 22, 2018

On Being Useful

These are the Opening and Parting Words Lorie Craddock wrote for the service on Sunday, January 21, 2018 -- "When There Are No Leaves Nor Fruit."

I’m coming to the end of my current stage of parenting.  My children are 16, 18 and 20 and they are either in college or longing to go.  My years of playdates and carpools, concerts and recitals, winter breaks and summer camps will be over.  Bed time stories, science projects, permission slips, field trips and foster kittens.   Check, check and double check.
For twenty years, I have invested most of my time and talent and, what feels like nearly all of my treasure,  in parenting.
I look back on this time and I’m happy.  I feel reasonably satisfied that I did the best i could.  I have tried to be loving and generous with my children.  And I hope they will feel  the same now that they are launching into the world.
I send them off with a piece of advice that only a mother could give:  Go make yourself useful.  
I probably can’t set the bar higher than that.
Go make yourself useful.
Serve others.  Show compassion.  Give generously.   
As Unitarian Universalists, we are tasked with the same mandate.   Called to “Go make ourselves useful.”  The bumper sticker on my car says so.   “Unitarian Universalists---Our Service is Our Prayer.”  
Social Justice, racial justice, environmental action.   Each cause a chance to serve others and show our compassion.  
And yet we must give generously, too. Generosity is the investment we willingly make in our future.  We don’t do it because we have to.   We do it because we want to.  Because we believe we will make a difference.  Not right away maybe.  Sometimes not for many months.  Or years.
Just ask the Church Governance Task Force.  Or the Building and Grounds Task Force.  Or the Green Sanctuary Committee .  Folks who were more than generous with their time and talents.   yet had to wait ……..and wait……..and wait……….for their hard work to pay off.  
And parents.  We don’t read just one bedtime story hoping to foster a love of reading in our offspring.  I read hundreds of books dozens of times.  Everything from Goodnight Moon to Goodnight Gorilla.   I memorized those books.  I can recite them in my sleep.  All with my eyes on an uncertain prize that was years off.   

Generosity is what makes us rummage around in the bottom of a purse or pocket, looking for that last bit of spare change.   Generosity keeps us up  late and wakes us up early to support causes like PACEM and IMPACT.  It finds time in the schedule for one more patient or  client or student or friend.  Our family, our church, our community. Generosity is the fertilizer we scatter around the bare trees that we might see fruit in the fall.  

For the closing words, I’m going to read you a book.  
As it was published in 1947, I’m hoping most of us are familiar with it in some way.  
It’s quite short and the plot is not hard to follow.  There’s a baby bunny and the bunny’s mommy.  They wind down for bedtime by saying Goodnight to all the objects in the room.  
Spoiler Alert…….At the end of the book, the baby bunny is asleep.  
When I used this book was a bedtime story, my children were not always asleep after just one reading.  Eventually the words in the book became more prayer than poem and I said said an entire rosary every night trying to achieve the same results as the Mommy-bunny.   I know this book inside-out, upside-down and backwards.  
Now I am not reading you this book because I think it’s naptime.  Although there are those who say the sound of my voice will put them to sleep.
I am reading this book as a reminder of just how generous we all can be.  I invite you to look back into your memory.  To a time when you read a bedtime story for the 1000th time.   The times you rearranged your schedule, stayed up late or got up early.  When you looked for spare change not just in your purse or pocket but in the cupholder, under the seat and in the glove box.   
When we go that extra mile, when we willingly lovingly give our time, our talents and our treasures, our generosity makes all the difference.  
We are investing in the future.  
We are making ourselves useful.

 © Lorie Craddock

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Words of Wikstrom for December

On Sunday, November 3rd, 2017, I spoke with the some of the children of our congregation.  Of course, the adults were welcomed to listen in, too.

I told them a story -- about getting lost on a hike and what it was that "grounded" me during that ordeal.

I also told them a "secret."  The secret was that I wasn't wearing shoes.  Even more, I wasn't going to be wearing shoes in the sanctuary from then on whenever I am facilitating worship.

This is something I used to do.  It began while I was serving our congregation in Yarmouth, Maine, and it had become such a "thing" with me that it came up during my candidating with the second congregation I served, First Parish in Brewster, Massachusetts.  (When I arrived I discovered that some folks had left in my office a rather large collection of extremely ... colorful ... socks!)

At that time I explained this odd behavior to the children by asking what Moses, Mr. Rogers, and I had in common.  Although there were some creative answers, no one was able to see the connection.

Moses, I said, is remembered in the Jewish Scriptures as having an experience in which he encountered God -- the sacred, the holy, the mysterious -- in the form of a "burning bush," a bush that burned yet which was never burned up.  The story continues that after turning aside to see this unusual sight, he heard a voice that told him to take off his shoes because he was "on holy ground."

It's too long a story to have gone into fully, but what I could tell those kids was that when I was on a silent retreat some years before I'd had a similar kind of revelation about the holiness of where I stood.  I took off my shoes right then, and remained barefoot throughout the rest of the week.

Mr. Rogers comes into the picture because in addition to being a beloved childrens' TV host, he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister.  (Not everyone knows that.)  In an interview I'd heard once he said that it was his belief that the space between the television set and the children watching his show was holy ground, and that he tried to always be mindful of that in everything he did.

I told the children that Sunday morning that I had come back from that retreat with a renewed consciousness that the sanctuary in which we worshiped together was its own kind of "holy ground," and to remind myself of that I took off my shoes.  This symbolic act helped me to be mindful of that fact, and to hold that truth (truth to me, at least) uppermost in my consciousness.

I have not taken off my shoes here.  I'm not entire sure why that is -- I joked that Sunday by saying that perhaps I'd been intimidated by everybody here! -- but I'd recently realized that I was missing this and that I really needed to bring the practice back.

To our children I told this briefly, commented on how this shoeless-ness "grounded me," and asked them what grounded them, what they held on to when times were tough.  This led us into the lovely hymn "When I am Frightened" (by the incomperable Shelley Jackson Denham) and, ultimately, to my sermon, "Oh Star."

Why am I writing all of this?  Firstly, not everyone comes to participate in worship and/or our religious education programming each week, so I know that there are some folks who didn't hear any of this and who might be a little confused when they next see me and I'm in my stocking feet.

More importantly, though, throughout the month of December our worship is using the metaphor of fire to explore the issues we've been considering all Fall, issues of identity -- who am I?  Who are we?  To whom, to what, do we belong?  And on that First Sunday of December I was lifting up both the image of Moses' burning bush, and Robert Frost's lofty star, to encourage our consideration of what it is that grounds us, what it is we can hold on to when there seems that everything is falling apart, what we can look to for hope when it feels as though hopelessness threatens to overwhelm us (or seems to have already done so).

So ... in this "holiday season," which leaves so many of us feeling hectic and harried, which can be so hard and sorrowful for so many whose grief and pain is not only not erased, but often exacerbated by Christmas Muzak, which can highlight the sickness of idol conspicuous consumption ...

in this wider season when the realities of our patriarchal misogynist white supremacist culture are become every-more starkly apparent to ever more of us (folks who identify as white and for whom this has largely been invisible) ...

in these days when so much seems to be falling apart ...

What do you hold on to?  What keeps alight in your heart when all around you seems so cold?  What lights your way, points you in the right direction, sustains beyond all expectation?

These are my thoughts this December.

Pax tecum,


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Healing 4 Charlottesville

There is an event this Saturday called “Healing4Charlottesville.” It's being organized by several area clergy, and is intended to be a time for prayerful, humble recognition of the need for healing in our community.  Organizers say, “This is not a march against anything or anyone. It is us taking responsibility before God for our city.”  And they add, “No signs are permitted.

The Senior Staff have been asked, individually and collectively, for our feelings about this effort.  While we acknowledge that it may certainly be meaningful for some participants, we do not see it as something in which we, as a congregation, need to participate.  This is not because of its clearly theistic – and specifically Christian – orientation.  Rather, we question how the time and energy spent organizing and coordinating something like this will have any real impact on the real need in our community for truth telling (and hearing) about what is actually hurt and broken, what truly needs healing, and how all of us – truly all of us together – can do that work of healing in honest and accountable ways.  We think that the potential for this to be a “feel good” opportunity that obscures the real hard, discomforting, and painful work that is needed is great.

As Unitarian Universalists, no one (or three) voices speak for us all, and anyone who feels moved to participate should do so.  Yet to be in covenant with one another and our commitment to the mutual liberation of all, we should do so with conscious awareness of the potential pitfalls, and intentional about what work needs to be done. 

If you have questions, or want to discuss any of this further, please feel free to contact RevWik, Leia, or Christina.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mindful Stewardship

by Adam Slate, President of the Board

Within the TJMC community, we honor the unique gifts that we each bring to the congregation. Some of us are gifted musicians, others are skilled at committee work. Some have ample financial means to support the work of the church, and others a surplus of time to devote to program activities. We attend meetings, volunteer from home, sing in the choir, cook for church events, and help weave worship. We find our unique place within the congregation, and use that as the starting point for transforming ourselves, the Unitarian Universalist faith, and the world.

And yet, as church members, we are asked to be present in our church community in all sorts of ways, beyond the ones that are most obvious for us. We are expected to be present at church on Sundays as often as we can, as this is the day when we gather most fully as one community. We have a responsibility to give our time and money as generously as we can. And we are asked to engage in congregational work that allows TJMC to thrive and be a strong presence and voice in the community.

At first blush, these seem incongruous. On the one hand we acknowledge that we occupy a unique place in our church family, and on the other, we are asked to be part of the full spectrum of church life. But this is how our church family, and indeed all families, work. This is what it means to be good stewards of TJMC’s future. This is what it means to be generous.

Those of us who are not versed in the language of stewardship might be tempted to horse-trade our church responsibilities, perhaps not feeling the need to make a financial contribution because we are active volunteers, or electing not to participate in church activities because we are able to make a particularly large pledge. However good stewardship sets the expectation that we be as generous as we can in both these areas, not one or the other. It is NOT required that we devote a certain amount of time or money to the church, but it IS expected that each of us makes decisions about our volunteer commitment and our church pledge independent of the other, and generously based on what the church means to us.

So make time at least once a year to evaluate what you are giving to the church in terms of your time and your financial support. Reviewing the latter is even more important now that we have enacted automatic renewal of our annual pledges, so the church knows as soon as possible if you are adjusting your pledge amount. This work is part of our role as good stewards of the congregation, so I’ll say it again; At least once a year, evaluate the amount of time and money that you are giving to support the church and make changes as necessary to accurately reflect what is generous for you this year. It's essential to our health as a community.

Please feel welcome to get in touch with me as you make this decision. Email me or call me (; 434-760-1346) if you have questions about your financial pledge level or how to make/adjust your annual pledge. Or if you want to volunteer but aren’t sure what kinds of opportunities fit your schedule or interests. Even if you have found it straightforward to establish the levels at which you are giving, I’d love for you to drop me a line to let me know what motivates you, and to share your stories about how our community touches the lives of its members, and lives beyond our walls.

The point is that Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist only thrives if all of us see ourselves as stewards of the church’s well-being and engage, engage, engage in church life. I’m all in, and I hope you join me in this commitment.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Statement from the Leadership of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist:

If Nikuyah Walker were a white man, rather than a woman of color, the article that appeared in The Daily Progress on Saturday, November 4, 2017 would have been quite different. We would have read about his passionate engagement with city officials. There might have been an acknowledgment that he could be a hothead at times, but his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is-in-no-uncertain-terms approach would be seen by many as refreshing.
But Nikuyah Walker is not a white man. She’s a brown-skinned woman, and she’s both angry about racial injustices and willing to express that anger directly and bluntly. Since the days when slave owners feared that their “property” would rise up to reclaim their right to be recognized as human, the image of the angry black man (or woman) has been seared into the American consciousness. From Nat Turner to Malcolm X, whites have always preferred it when people of color fought for justice politely.

Most of the time, white supremacy does not announce itself with Klan robes and torches. It perniciously acts in ways that most of us who identify as white are not even aware of, yet which support and sustain the systems and structures that elevate to a higher level people and institutions that conform to white cultural norms. Whatever the conscious intent of the Progress, the language used to describe Ms. Walker is just as effective as anything Jason Kessler might say to emphasize the place that people of color are afforded in our society.  That it ran as the major headline, just a few days before the election, amounts to editorializing against her candidacy.

We are not writing to take a position one way or the other regarding Nikuyah Walker’s candidacy, but we are committed—as Unitarian Universalists—to naming and fighting white supremacy wherever it shows itself, especially where it might otherwise seem invisible.

~ The Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, the Board of Trustees, and Racial Justice Committee of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist on behalf of the congregation

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Three Fifths Compromise

This piece was written by Peter Walpole for worship on Sunday, October 22nd, 2017.  This was the day we took part in the second UU White Supremacy Teach-In.

In order to preserve the unity of the infant nation
the Constitutional Convention agreed upon “the three fifths compromise.”
Three fifths.

The number of Congressional representatives allotted each state
would be determined by population. White men (and only they could vote)
each counted as one person; White women and children
were counted as fully human; Native Americans did not count at all;
and slaves were counted as three fifths of a person.
This compromise gave Southern states a disproportionate weight in Congress.
The slaves had no political voice whatsoever; slaveholders, however,
profited by the work of the slaves’ minds and bodies, and the weight of their very being,
in raw cold numbers, to expand the South’s political power.
Congress selected the President, back then. Did you know
Of the first twelve American Presidents, only John Adams, and his son John Quincy,
did not own slaves? The power of the three fifths compromise was not that subtle
and it’s influence on law and policy was extensive.

The three fifths compromise and the Electoral College were the price the South demanded
for maintaining the unity of the nation.  The Electoral College:
what harm could that do, down the road? Three fifths, three fifths.

Three fifths. Would you like three fifths of a cookie?— that might help my diet, actually.
Better than no cookie at all! Three fifths. Three fifths of your dinner, then—
Ah! Actually, I was kind of hungry -- or three fifths of making love —
Oh baby that’s — whoops, we’re done. (Sorry, friends, if that hits
close to home for anyone.) I want to hit close to home.

Three fifths. Three fifths. Are we not there yet?
Three fifths of your income -- tell me about it! Taxes!
No, no, three fifths of your take home pay, in fact.
Not far off racial pay inequalities, but let’s not go there, no,
Let’s get right down to it: three fifths of your life. Good news!
Your medical history and DNA tests suggest you will live to 90!
So, at three fifths, we’ll make that 54, shall we?
Wait . . . three fifths, three fifths -- how many in your family, dear?
Five? Splendid -- makes the math come out neatly.
We’ll send a truck round for two of you in the morning. Say good bye.
Wait! I never agreed to this! Who agreed to this?
Oh, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin,
lots of others; some winced, some fulminated, but
In order to seal the deal — agreed. Three fifths.
It was the price they had to pay, however steep, for unity:
that it should be encoded into the DNA of the American nation
That a great sea of human souls would be valued as three fifths human.
Kick the can down the road, to Harper’s Ferry,
to Antietam, to Selma, to Charlottesville.

Three fifths of Heather Heyer did not die.
She died entire, five fifths, the full measure of devotion.
And in dying lost her voice to say what she died for.
The obligation falls to the living to consider among us:
did she die for unity? I prefer to think, my solitary, angry voice,
that she died for integrity, risking all, her life and memory,

her loves and joys, standing up against a non-negotiable wrong.

© 2017 Peter Walpole

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In Recognition of 25 years of ministry

On Sunday, September 10th I began our formal recognition and celebration of the 25th anniversary of our Director of Faith Development, Leia Durland-Jones, beginning her ministry to and with this congregation.  Here are the words I said:

The people we’ve just honored are among the many ministers of this congregation.  When people ask me what I do I often say that I’m one of the ministers who serves here.  “How many ministers are there?” they’ll ask.  I tell them, “About 450.”  I love what the Quaker author and theologian Parker Palmer has said about his tradition’s lack of any ordained clergy.  “We didn’t abolish the clergy,” he has said, “we abolished the laity.”

The professional ministers, the ordained ministers, who have served this congregation have come and gone over the years.  In my field it’s said that long ministry is about 8 years.  Well … this congregation has had one minister who has served it for a quarter of a century.  Let that sink in for a minute:  a quarter of a century of committed, continuous, consensus, creative, challenging, and consistent ministry.

25 years ago this month – this week, I believe – this minister came to serve this congregation, and we have been blessed ever since by her gifts, her skills, her tenacity, her courage, her compassion, her imagination, her mischievousness, her ability to see and bring out the best in people, and perhaps most of all, her spirit and her heart

I would ask that we now recognize, honor and celebrate the ministry, and the person, of our Director of Faith Development – Leia Durland-Jones.

Leia – We will be celebrating your ministry to and with this community in a variety of ways for the rest of this month, and next month as well.  I get to kick things off this week, because I understand that Balloon Sunday was one of the first, if not the first, Sunday you spent here.  I have for you two small tokens of our appreciation, gifts to you for the gifts you have given to us

I don’t really have them to give you, though.  One is still on its way, but it’s a wall plaque of the Goddess Hecate.  Among other things, Hecate is the guardian of crossroads, the places in the world, and in our lives, from which any path is possible

The other gift I have … almost.  It is this book – blank now, yet soon to be filled with the thoughts, memories, appreciations, blessings, and love of this congregation.  It will be in the Social Hall following this service, and every service for the rest of this month and into October, and it will be in the Office on the days in between Sundays.  I encourage you to sit down with it and to take your time.  Write as much as you want; say all that you have to say.  (And if you want, you can write something at home, print it out, and we’ll tape it into the book.

Leia, I have had the great good fortune of knowing and working with some very fine ordained ministers over the years.  I know of none who are more fully and truly a minister as you are (and many who don’t come anywhere close).  To be your friend is a pleasure; to be your colleague is an honor and a privilege.