Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wisdom Is Justified By Her Children

Yesterday, the Mid-Week Worship on our labyrinth invited participants to work in toward the center reflecting on their lives -- the lessons learned, the wisdom discovered.  Once at the heart, we were all encouraged to pick up some paper and a pen and commit to writing some wisdom we felt we should share with others.  Here's what we said:

What really matters is to love one another.
Don't settle for happiness -- go for joy.
Slow down and savor everything.
 Say "yes" as often as you can.
We are all on our own paths.
 Life is a tremendous gift.
Children are special.
We all make mistakes.
There will be pain.
Be open-minded.
We are all one.
Be accepting.
Take advice.
Don't hurry.
[Notice] moments of grace.
Don't be critical about things that are.
[Feel] impermanence and connection.
 Love, happiness, joy, peace come from within.
 Happiness is a choice between the following options: 
accept the situation, change the situation, break free of the situation.

On the altar in the center there was also a pile of scrolls, and each of us was invited to take one and encouraged not to read it until we returned home.  On each scroll were the well-known words of Desiderata.

This is the Unitarian Universalist way in a nutshell -- we embrace wisdom as we discover it, and we share wisdom as we know it.  Every conversation we have -- in our Covenant Groups, in the social hall after a Sunday service, in one of our RE classrooms, in meetings -- each and every conversation we have is an opportunity for us to learn or teach.  ("And/or" is probably more accurate.)  This blog, too.

So if there's something you'd like to see Talked about, drop me a line.  Remember, this isn't just one person's pet project, it's a new tool for communicating in and among our beloved community.  This blog is yours.  Let's use it as the vehicle it's intended to be to share the story of what TJMC is all about.


PS -- the title?  It's from the book of Luke in the Christian scriptures, and is the way Jesus is remembered as concluding one of his teachings.  Here is a link to a fascinating discussion of this somewhat odd text.  Enjoy . . .

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Serving With Grace

During 2012, The Board of Trustees created a Succession Planning Task Force (which was later renamed the Serving with Grace Task Force) and charged it to "gather information from the congregation in order to develop changes to the Bylaws and/or Policy Manual regarding term limits in volunteer, elected, and appointed positions within church governance and committees. In addition, this task force was charged to develop procedures to promote smooth, effective transitions in leadership in order to cultivate a positive culture of stewardship."

Sounds pretty bureaucratic, doesn't it?  That's one of the reasons for the name change, actually, because the group quickly realized that what they were looking into and what it sounded like they were looking into were two different things.  Essentially, they were exploring with the congregation what if means to be a leader in the church.  What it feels like.  What makes it hard.  What makes it work well.  In essence they were assessing how we, as a congregation, are doing with the care and feeding of our volunteers and how we could do a better job of it.  The "bureaucratic" piece turned out really to be the smallest part of it all.

As noted in yesterdays posting, the final report of this Task Force was received and discussed at Monday night's Board meeting.  An shorter version of the report was read at last year's Congregational Meeting, but there are lots of folks who aren't able to attend those meetings yet who are -- or who could be in the future -- involved in leadership here at TJMC.  And lots of people were involved -- through surveys and cottage conversations -- with helping the SWGTF develop it's recommendations. 

So following on the presentation of the report to the Board on Monday, it is now accessible on our web site.  It's really worth seeing what we had to say.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Your Board


Last night was the monthly meeting of your Board.  What an incredible group of people -- very different in personality and style but precisely the same in their passion for what's possible here at TJMC.  Each one of these twelve people has taken on this responsibility (on behalf of the rest of us) because they can say from their own personal experience how important TJMC has been to them, and because they know how important it can be to others.  (Both others who are already here and others who haven't even found us yet!)

So who are these wonderful people?  Amy Wissekerke is your President.  Walt Megonigal is your President-Elect.  Betty Warner is your Vice-President.  Ann Salamini is your Secretary.  The Rev. Jamie McReynolds is your Treasurer.  And filling out this team are At-Large Members:  Colleen Anderson, Marlene Jones, Don Landis, Kathy Philhour, Jim Rotherham, and Ian Sole.  Leia Durland-Jones, Trish Schechtman, and I are ex-officio members as well.  (Why are there only eleven names listed if there are twelve people on the Board?  Glad you asked.  Our immediate Past President, the sixth officer, needed to step down due to personal reasons.  Since there is no way to elect someone to be the immediate Past President, that role will remain vacant until the end of Amy's term.)

The officers meet together as an Executive Committee on the first Monday of each month (starting at 7:00 pm) in order to construct an agenda for the Board meeting and to attend to any urgent business, if there is any, that must be taken care of between meetings of the full Board.  The full Board meets on the third Monday of each month (starting at 6:30 pm).

Did you know that your Board has set time aside at the beginning of each of its monthly meetings to hear from any member (formal or informal!) who has something to say -- a question, a concern, an idea, some praise.  On the agenda this is noted as "public comment," and we also attend to any correspondence we have received.

Now I keep saying that this is "your" Board because, in truth, that's what it is.  This Board exists so that we don't have to try to get the nearly 450 members of our congregation together on a regular basis to conduct the ongoing business of the congregation.  But make no mistake -- this Board, like the others I've worked with here -- understand full well that they are at that table representing you and attend to issues with your best interests in mind.  It is your Board, just as it is your church.

So at last night's meeting we received a plethora of reports -- the President and Vice-President reported on the state of the church and the goings on here from their perspectives.  So, too, did Leia and I.  Sally Taylor gave us an update on our current figures of formal members -- 433 (including 28 youth members) -- and we received and discussed the report of the Treasurer.  We also received reports from Leadership Development, Stewardship, and Strategic Planning.

We also were updated on the status of the U-House sale, a preliminary report of the Committee on the Ministry's work to develop an evaluation process for our professional ministers, discussed the creation and implementation of a quick "pulse survey," and received and discussed the final report of the Serving With Grace task force.

Did you know that the minutes of all Board meetings are available online?

Monday, October 21, 2013

You Did This!

During yesterday's sermon the Rev. Dr. William Schulz told us about some of the specific work the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) has been doing, and some of the successes they've had.  And after each one he said, "You did that!  You and the UUSC."

It's more than a rhetorical device, you know.  That's one of the benefits of community.

You may have heard me quote a passage from the famous Unitarian minister the Rev. Edward Everett Hale.  If not me, then you've probably heard some other UU clergy person use it.  It's a favorite.  Because Edward Everett Hale was the kind of minister who was so involved in so many things that he was nicknamed, "Edward Everything Hale."  (No wonder he looks so tired in that picture we have of him at the top of the stairs to the basement!)  Yet even as involved as old Ed was, he has been quoted as saying,

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

I think this quote gets trotted out so often because we all understand it.  I am only one . . . I cannot do everything. Yet here's the cool thing about community, and the source of Bill's assertion -- when we join ourselves with others in community, we can do so much more than any of us can alone.

No one of us can do anything, but still we all can do something.  And when we work together in loving, supportive community, those somethings multiply.  So when JJ, and Glenn, and Johanna, and Sharon, and others go to Washington to protest the Keystone Pipeline, TJMC is there.  Even if you, personally, can't be.  Because we're part of a community.  When some of us volunteer to support PACEM, or the monthly food bank, or the UU-UNO, it's something that we're all doing.

Think about it -- when our feet walk we don't say that we're not walking because our hands aren't involved!  We know that each part of the body does it's thing as best it can, and the whole works together.  So, too, TJMC.  Whatever any of us do as part of the living, breathing church, we've all done it.

But this "body" is part of a bigger "body" -- and, so, when we as individuals and as a congregation support an organization like the UUSC, then it's actually true that the work "they" do is work "we're" doing.  And when we, as individuals and as a congregation, support the wider Unitarian Universalist movement, then it's actually true that whatever good works are done anywhere by UUs is work we are involved in.  This is one of the benefits of community.

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."  And if you and I each do this, we can honestly look at each other and say, "You did this, too."


Friday, October 18, 2013

A Ministry In Small Groups

Many people think of the primary activity of the church -- any church -- as what goes on on Sunday mornings.  Between the expansive children's religious education program and what happens in the sanctuary -- Sunday is certainly the time that most people interface with TJMC.  But is it the moat important thing that we do?  I'm honestly not so sure.

When I was serving our congregation in Yarmouth, Maine the District Executive of the then Northeast District, a wonderful guy named Glenn Turner, brought to a gathering of UU clergy a new thing he wanted us to try -- small group ministry.  This was back in the 90s, and Unitarian Universalism was only just begining to explore this powerful paradigm which was already a staple in many Christian traditions.

In essence, small group ministry is just what its name suggests -- a ministry in and through small groups.  Its premise is that while Sunday morning may be the biggest and most visible thing that happens in a church it is not really possible for people's deepest needs to be met in such a venue.  Looking primarily at the adult experience, it is possible to deepen already existing relationships in something like a worship service, but it is hard to create new ones.  Where one hundred or more are gathered . . . well . . . it's just different than when it's two or three.

And, so, small group ministry is predicated on the notion that it is in small groups that we can most deeply make connections, take risks, and become more fully ourselves.  Experience has shown that a group of five to ten people is an ideal size for such groups -- less than five and there is a real loss of energy; more than ten and you begin to have too many for real sharing.

But small group ministry is not simply about getting people together in small groups.  It's also an intentional ministry -- consciously created so as to facilitate spiritual growth.  So there are guidelines.  Guidelines designed to increase the likelihood that real ministry will occur.  So, for example, there is no "cross talk" -- people are allowed to speak their piece without worry that someone else is going to jump right in and correct them or try to do them one better.  The person speaking gets to speak; the people listening actually listen.  And then there are mechanisms to make sure that no one speaks too much -- sucking all the air out of the room, as it were -- and that no one speaks too little.  No one is compelled, yet everyone is invited, to share.  And the guidelines are there to ensure that there will be room for everyones sharing.

TJMC has been engaged with small group ministry -- which we, like many other UU congregations, now call Covenant Groups -- for a number of years.  Those who've experienced them will say that they have become, for them, the beating heart of their church experience.  It is in these groups that real connections are formed, and it is here where lives are transformed.  It's been said of the family that it is where "you learn how to be yourself."  This makes TJMC's Covenant Groups "family" for those who are in them.

This past Sunday after the Sunday services the Covenant Group Coordinating Council (CGCC) met with the group's facilitators for our fall training.  There are now approximatetly eleven groups meeting -- most often twice a month for two hours each time.  One of the things that really struck me is that several of the groups are truly multigenerational.  There are UVA grad students in at least three of the groups, and these groups also have members in their 70s, 80s, and 90s!  Where else does that happen in our society?

If this sounds like Covenant Groups might meet a need of your soul, please talk with me or contact the church office.  I have a dream that some day we will have 80% - 90% of our total membership involved in one of these Covenant Groups.  Then . . . look out!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Liberal Religious Educators . . .

Leia Durland-Jones, our Director of Religious Education is on her way to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the annual Fall Conference of LREDA, the Liberal Religious Educators Association.

During my time working at UUHQ I had the privilege of attending a LREDA Fall Conference, and I have to tell you -- it is a happening event!  Clergy are cool, and I enjoy the collegial camaraderie I get to experience when we gather, but RE Directors are, by and large, even cooler still. 

They're creative in a way you can only get after years of trying to figure out how to speak to the needs of a population that ranges from toddlers through teenagers.  (And in the increasingly prevalent "Lifespan Faith Development" model -- which we have here at TJMC -- the DRE is actually responsible for developing and providing programming for folks aged 0 to 100 or, as it's sometimes said, "from cradle to grave.")

And not only this, but RE Directors -- or Directors of Lifespan Faith Development -- usually have to do this on a shoestring budget and with an army of volunteers, many of whom are also parents and, so, helped and hindered by the exigencies of parenthood.  (Rare is the DRE who has not had to figure out how to do something with the fifth grade class because on Sunday morning they got calls from both of the assigned teachers explaining why they couldn't come in today.  This teaches one things . . .)

Below is a video that was sent out in advance of the conference, and I think it'll give you a flavor of the kind of thing Leia is going to be doing over the next few days.  Leia is also a member of the LREDA Integrity Team, which is described on the LREDA website this way:  "The LREDA Integrity Team positions LREDA to challenge its members to act as transformative leaders in growing inclusive congregations that model accountability, integrity and hope in the spirit of radical hospitality."  So Leia's going to be busy doing the work of this group while in St. Paul, too!

So when you next see Leia, be sure to ask her about what she learned and experienced. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Unitarian Universalist Trinity

Okay, maybe "trinity" is a little bit much, but I have to say that this triune model of leadership we're developing is unbelievably exciting.  (And effective, it seems!)  Some TJMCers may not be fully aware of how things have been evolving in the "upper echelons" of your servant leadership.  Here's a view:

In every Unitarian Universalist congregation the full power and authority lies in the congregation itself.  The congregation then delegates some of this power to its elected leaders -- the Board of Trustees.  In most congregations, however, the ordained clergy person -- aka, "the minister" -- is treated as if she or he "runs" the church.  In fact, in recent years it has become common to talk about "Minister-as-CEO."

That's never really made sense to me -- especially not for a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  I will fully acknowledge that I have some specialized knowledge, skills, and training.  No question about it.  (To paraphrase the famous juggling troop The Flying Karamazov Brothers, "I didn't go to Divinity School for nothing . . . it cost me thousands of dollars!")  I recognize that I have a particular ministry to perform in this community.  Yet I don't understand why that should translate into my "running" the church or being the final answer for any and every church question.

Recently I posted on my own blog a piece provocatively titled What if the DRE Ran The Church?  In it I mention the ideal of a shared leadership model, and I am very happy to report that that's exactly what we have here. 

When I first arrived in C'ville it was very clear that I would be working with a partner of tremendous skill and strength, Leia Durland-Jones, our Director of Religious Education.  And from the beginning it made sense for us to work together as peer/colleagues rather than the more traditional supervisor/supervisee relationship.  This worked wonderfully, and both of us, I believe, "upped our game."  When Trish Schechtman came on as our Director of Administration and Finance it only made sense to enlarge the circle.

And so, now, the three of us come together regularly to collaborate -- we share information, insights, observations, strategies, plans . . .  In fact, in our weekly scheduled (and frequent unscheduled) meetings we pretty much act as if we are what we are -- three professionals, each of whom  has her or his own distinct vantage point to look at this beloved community and who, together, are so much stronger than any of us is on our own.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Opening the Doors a Little Wider

 This past Saturday more than a dozen TJMC folk gathered in the Social Hall for a workshop that was titled  Opening Our Doors:  Removing Barriers to Hospitality.  I'd written last week about this event in an anticipatory way.  With The Talk of TJMC there's now a way to offer a fairly immediate impression of the experience of the event!

We began by saying a little something about who we are and what drew us to the workshop.  Some of us personally dealt with issues of mental illness; some of us have family members or friends who do; some were there because their role in the church made this workshop seem worthwhile.  Everyone there loves TJMC and wants to see its warm embrace grow ever larger.

What, we were asked, is the congregation already doing to reach out to, and be of service to, folks who are dealing with mental illness?  A similar, although actually distinct question, had to do with how we show our welcome.  As you can imagine, people's answers varied, although a common theme was that we could be doing more.

That led our facilitator, the wonderful Rev Alice Anderson of Mental Health America of Charlottesville Albemarle, to have us divide into groups of three to discuss how we could be more proactive.   Specifically -- what resources the church has to offer; how we can minimize the potential damage religion (yes, even UUism!) can cause for vulnerable people; and how the ministry of the church can complement professional services of therapists and doctors.

Again and again people spoke to the power of community.  More than once it was noted how important it is for people who identify as struggling with mental health and people who don't to have opportunities to mingle and get to know one another.  The successful (and popular) "4 x 4" dinners during the Welcoming Congregation process were one example of what this might look like.  And, of course, our covenant groups were lifted up as a valuable and powerful resource.  In these small groups people of dispirit backgrounds and experiences come together in covenanted fellowship -- and the deep bonding that can occur is palpable.

From talking about what resources we had to help TJMC be proactively more welcoming, we were asked to consider what we, as a group, could do to help move forward the evolution of our Mental Health Ministry.  All agreed that another workshop with Alice would be a good idea, and we noted that specific groups within the church -- ushers and greeters, for example, or pastoral visitors -- might benefit from specific, targeted training.

There's no way in a short blog post to detail everything that happened at the workshop -- and a more complete report-out is due in the near future.  I hope you get the flavor of the event here, and that it whets your appetite for the next course.


Monday, October 14, 2013

What's Going On? Committee on the Ministry

For most of the people who call TJMC "home," the most visible thing we do happens on Sunday mornings -- religious education with our children and youth, and worship in our sanctuary.  Most people are probably conscious that other things go on, yet if you're not directly involved with one or more of those "other things" the old adage out of sight, out of mind generally applies.

The workings of the Committee on the Ministry is one of those "other things" that happens out of sight.  The COM, as it's affectionately called by folks who like acronyms, consists of six people who are chosen by the Board from a slate recommended by the Lead Minister.  The current line-up is (in alphabetical order of first names):  Al Reynolds, Ann Salamini, Deborah Rose, Donna Baker, Kathy Philhour, and Pam Philips.  (This includes two current Board members and three past Board Presidents!  These are folks who know our church.)  You can, at any time, talk to any one of these fine folks to share your "joys and concerns" about how things are going at TJMC, or you can send an e-mail to and it should come to all of us.

According to the bylaws of the church, the purpose of the COM is to "interpret, support, and monitor the ministries" of the church.  This is a larger portfolio than was carried by the older Pastoral/Parish Relations Committee, otherwise known as a Ministerial Relations Committee.  Nonetheless, a good bit of the COM's work is to help the professional ministers of our church hear the feedback that might otherwise not get to them, and helping those ministers continue to improve their ministry (which, etymologically, means their service) to the congregation.  This year, in particular, the COM has been charged by the Board to develop a process for the annual evaluation of our professional ministers' performance.  (This, you may recall, is one of your Board's goals for the 2013-2014 year.)

The Committee (currently) meets on the 2nd Thursday of the month.  So we just met.  And we discussed this charge.  We began by noting that there is a difference between evaluating the ministries of the church (which asks how we all are doing our job at moving forward the congregation's mission) and a performance review of the professional ministers (which asks how each of them is doing their jobs).  These two are not the same, although they are interrelated, and they are both quite important.  Our current discussions, as per the Board's request, are focused on the later.

This performance review could take several forms. One which shows promise is to use a new publication jointly created by the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, and Education Development Center, Inc.  (A trivial aside -- I worked as a desktop publisher for EDC back when I was in seminary!  They do good work.)  The Publication is titled, Fulfilling the Call:  a model for UU Miinistry in the 21st century.  It takes the somewhat amorphous job of the ordained minister and distills it into nine general duties.  These, then, are further distilled into at least nine and as many as thirteen discreet tasks.  And then, for each of these duties and tasks, it provides a guideline for determining whether the person is demonstrating only basic competence, is approaching proficiency, demonstrates proficiency, or is performing at an expert or exceptional level.  (Copies of Fulfilling the Call are available in the COM slot in the TJMC mailroom if you'd like to check it out.)

The COM is going to use this matrix as the basis of our meetings going forward, each month focusing in on one of the areas.  This will form an on-going, formative review.  (The schedule of these discussion will be made public through multiple means so that feedback people might have regarding a particular area will be able to be included in our discussions.)  It is possible that this matrix could form the foundation of a formal evaluative tool, as well.  (There are, of course, other models that could be used to assess the performance of our professional ministers.  I'm checking in with the UUA and other congregations to see if there are any especially functional mechanisms already in use.)

In addition to the "how" of a ministerial review process, the Committee also discussed the "who."  Other staff members are reviewed by their direct supervisor, with a report going to the Personnel Committee and the Board.  But who is the director supervisor of "the minister"?  The Committee on Ministry itself?  The Board?  The entire congregation?  (Both formal and informal members?)  Should there be a small "task force" charged with collecting data from relevant "stake holders"?  And what is the balance between the congregation's right to know and the minister-as-employee's right to privacy?  These are questions that need to be wrestled with.

And all of this is to say that these questions are being wrestled with.  You may not see the COM in action, but it is -- actively interpreting, supporting, and monitoring the ministries of TJMC.  And that's a very good thing.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Coming Out; Come On In . . .

Today is the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  It's also National Coming Out Day.  It is astonishing to me -- and to some people, no doubt, unbelievable -- that "coming out" is an issue anymore.  Yet it is.  Homophobia and heterosexism are, unfortunately, still alive and well.  And that means that far too many gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender persons are not well.  They still live in fear that the wider world will find out who they are.

This kind of closeted life takes a serious toll.  Not only does it mean hiding a part of who you are and worrying that someone -- the wrong someone -- will find out.  It also means living with the awareness that there are those -- and maybe a lot of "those" -- who do not "approve" of you.  I understand that there may be those who'd say that no one should care what anyone else thinks of them, but to live your life knowing that you are potentially unsafe and unwelcome virtually anywhere you go?

How can anyone live like that without harm?

Why should anyone have to?

I have been proud (more than once) to hear someone in a newcomer orientation class saying that they reason they'd begun exploring TJMC is that they'd seen our marriage equality banner.  (I even once heard someone once say that the reason they'd moved to Charlottesville was because on a drive through the area trying to decide where to locate they'd seen the banner on our church and decided that this town couldn't be all bad!)

It is so important, and such a wonderful thing, that TJMC is a UUA "Welcoming Congregation."  That we went through the process and received the accreditation, however, does not mean that we're done with the work.  And, as tomorrow's workshop on how to be more welcoming to people with mental health issues makes clear, being welcoming to LGBTQI folks is not the end of the story, either.

But on this National Coming Out Day we should honor those who, in the face of enormous risk, have come out to the world as people who do not conform to the heterosexual norm.  (Or, to put it another way, who've said to the world that it's okay to be who they are.)

Let us honor, too, all those who have embraced the come-outers, all those who are by that very act working to make the world a place where all of us can be our truest selves.

And let us encourage those who still live in fear and self-denial.  The tide is shifting.  The harsh sun of bigotry is giving way to the cooling shade of evening.  Love always wins.  In the end, love always wins.  Let's make sure that TJMC is, and remains, a place that demonstrates this is true.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

You're Welcome

I have a friend from Germany who said that one of the things that most perplexed her about English was that we say "you're welcome" after someone says, "thank you."  "You're welcome," she'd contend, should be saved for instances when you are, you know, actually welcoming someone.  (She said that bitte schön is better translated as, "please."  That doesn't make sense to me but, you know . . .)

TJMC is officially a "Welcoming Congregation."  This means, technically speaking, that we have engaged with a UUA produced and sanctioned program to help us become more consciously and intentionally welcoming to people who identify as having traditionally marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities.  We've done the curricula, completed the check list, and gotten our certificate.  We are, officially, "a welcoming congregation."

And, I think, to a very real extent we actually are a congregation that fully welcomes and embraces folks who identify as part of what is sometimes called the  LGBTQI community -- that's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and inquiring for those who aren't up on acronyms.  So not only can "welcoming congregation" be used as a technical term -- meaning we've achieved this particular designation within our larger movement -- but also as a fairly accurate description.  At least most of the time.  At least with these communities. 

There is always work to be done, of course, and the folks who fill the pews on any given Sunday today were not all here when the Welcoming Congregation program was initiated, so it's something we should probably revisit it again.  And I welcome -- there's that word again -- people to share their stories about how TJMC has, and has not been, living up to it's title.

For the past few years there's been a group that's been considering how "welcoming" we are to folks in another community -- the community of people with a mental illness and those who love them.  Growing out of the Mental Wellness initiative of a while back, this group has been asking, essentially, how we might conduct a "welcoming congregation"-style program with regards to this population.

Part of our answer has been to contract with the Rev. Alice Anderson who is Executive Director of Mental Health America of Charlottesville Albemarle.  She has met with us a number of times, in a number of ways, and is helping us to better recognize the need and strategize some responses.

This coming Saturday, October 12th, from 9:30 am - 1:00 pm, Alice will be with us again.  Co-sponsored by our Pastoral Visitors Program, she will be presenting a workshop titled: "Opening Our Doors:  Removing Barriers to Hospitality."  This will be the third in a series of our ongoing efforts to becoming more welcoming to those in our midst with mental health issues and their loved ones.  Anyone, everyone is invited to come.  (If you can, bring along a snack to share.)  This promises to be a very worthwhile morning for anyone who wants to see the inclusivity TJMC strives for become more inclusive still.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Truly Something Not to Miss!

Imagine that we had the opportunity to meet with, and listen to, someone who's really been out there on the national and international stage, really making a difference.  Imagine that we had the opportunity to have a direct encounter with three such heavy hitters.  Would you make it a priority to be there?

On Sunday, October 20th, TJMC will be host to the President of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.  Those of you who know about the incredible work the UUSC has done, and is doing, around the country and around the world, know what a big deal this is.  But that's not all!  That same day we will host a past Executive Director of Amnesty International!  And if that weren't enough, we will have with us a past President of our own Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

How did we manage to pull off such a coup?  Well it turns out that you can have all three . . . in one person.  The Rev. Dr. William Schulz has held all of these positions and, so, brings a unique perspective and authority when he speaks.  (Bill also happens to be one of the best preachers in our movement, and a really, really, nice guy as well!)

At both our 9:15 and 11:15 services Bill will preach a sermon titled, "“In Defense of Barbarians” which he describes this way:  “Bill Schulz, president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) , will take up the cause of barbarianism and explain how you, too, may fall into that favored category or at least be allied with it.”

Then at 3:00 he will be addressing the local chapter of the United Nations Association on the topic "Human Rights, the UN, and a World in Crisis."  As I said, Bill has a rare understanding of these issues and his perspective is not to be missed!  (It should be noted that this meeting is being co-sponsored by the local chapter of the UNA and our own Peace Action - United Nations Group.) 

If it's at all possible, arrange you schedule so that you can both attend one of the two morning services and Bill's afternoon talk.  Believe me, you will be very, very glad that you did.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Yesterday, during the meeting about divestment from fossil fuel companies, Nick Laiacona read a speech that was delivered at Harvard and then reprinted in The Nation.  It was titled, Yes, Harvard, Climate Change is an 'Extraordinarily Rare Circumstance', and was written by Wen Stephenson.  It is well worth reading.

One thing that Nick said really stuck with me (and I paraphrase) -- fifty years from now people will be looking back to find evidence of what we did to respond to our growing awareness of the reality of climate change.  Think about that.  We mine our personal and collective histories to see where "our people" stood and how they acted during the Civil Rights era (which happens to have been fifty years ago).  There were those who said "move slowly."  There were those who said, "don't make waves."  There were those who said, "what's all the fuss about?"  And there were those who said, "by any means necessary."

We know how history unfolded, and is unfolding still.  Fifty years from now, what will people say we said about climate change which is quite arguably the issue of all issues for our time?  (As our environmental goddess Sharon Baiocco likes to say, if we don't deal with the problem of climate change none of the others will really matter all that much.)

I look forward to the conversations that we'll have over the coming year.  I hope we make our descendants proud.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Chance to Act

 Yesterday was the Feast of Saint Francis -- patron saint of the environment.
It's interesting timing, then, that tomorrow between services there will be an informational session about how TJMC and the UUA can work to put our faith into action and align our actions with our ecological values by divesting our endowment of stocks and funds which invest in fossil fuel companies.  This session will be led by Nick Laiacona, co-chair of our Environmental Action group.
At the UUA's General Assembly this summer we passed an Action of Immediate Witness on fossil fuel investments and climate change.  There is a national movement -- led by a team of three, including Nick -- to draft a business resolution for the 2014 General Assembly suggesting alternatives to fossil fuel investments within the UUA Common Endowment.
You may remember that at our own congregational meeting this past spring we voted to consider our own Statement of Public Witness on this issue and to think about taking the lead among Unitarian Universalist congregations by divesting our own congregation's Endowment Fund.
To be fair, not everyone thinks that this is the way to proceed.  There are those who believe that it is better to keep one's investments in the fossil fuel industry so as to be able to leverage shareholder influence.  (The UU World magazine recently ran pro and con essays that are both well worth reading.)  It is worth noting, however, that the keep-the-investments-so-that-we-can-have-influence approach does require a level of involved activism that would be difficult (at best) for most congregations to sustain.  Given the realities of congregational life and resources, this should be considered.
We Unitarian Universalists have covenanted with one another to affirm and promote the principle of "the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."  We recognize that "caring for the planet" is not some kind of feel-good add-on to the rest of our religious life.  It is an imperative, because we are inextricably bound to everything else that is.  Yet of all life on our planet only we humans have the capacity to greatly manipulate our impact; only we are capable of making conscious decisions about how we will, or will not, interact with the rest of creation.
There may be disagreement about what we need to do in the face of the rising tide of indisputable evidence that the globe's climate is changing for the worse.  Disagreement is good.  Healthy.  Where we cannot disagree, in my opinion, is that we need to do something.  Tomorrow morning, in between the 9:15 and 11:15 services, we will have an opportunity to explore one possible action.  I hope we will avail ourselves of this chance.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Another TJMC blogger worth knowing

Yesterday I wrote about Tyler Frankeberg's blog Sunday to Sunday.  Today I want to lift up another TJMC blogger -- Pete Armetta.  You may know Pete as the incredibly helpful guy who always seems to show up when something big needs doing and who then sticks around until it's done.  Or maybe he is to you the guy in the Candle line with the toothpick in his mouth.  He's also an incredibly creative -- and courageous -- writer.

Pete writes poetry, fiction, anything and everything.  And that's where the courage comes in.  If you read a bunch of my writing it won't take long to being hearing the Erik Wikstrom Voice.  You can pretty much tell if I've written something.  But Pete plays around with his voice, with his timing, with his technique.  He goes out on limbs and invites us to go with him.

I'm going to encourage you to check out Pete Armetta:  flash fiction, poetry, short stories, and essays.  I can't tell you for sure what you'll find there, but I can assure you you'll be glad you stopped by.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

What Happens Between Services?

It's worth remember that the church is not limited to the Sunday service, nor bound by the sanctuary walls.  "The church" is not the building nor the programs -- it is the living, breathing community we create and recreate with each and every encounter we have.

I was recently turned on to the blog Sunday to Sunday.  It's written by Tyler Frankenberg, a relatively new member of our congregation.  His blog is a wonderful example of how the things we do in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning can reverberate throughout the week, and how this thing we call Unitarian Universalism can be a part of every day.

In particular, this is a beautiful piece he wrote about his experiences on our labyrinth last week.

Thanks, Tyler, for sharing your journey.

Do you have a blog that chronicles your "free and responsible search for truth and meaning?"  Is there a UU blogger you're particularly fond of following?  Let's make an inspirational blog roll!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why a Blog? Why Now?

Second perhaps only to money, and in some places what kind of music should be played during services, one of the most challenging issues in institutional church life is communication.  People in the church office feel like they send out endless announcements, and people in the pews often feel like they don't know what's going on.  "Transparency" is something everyone wants, yet no matter what people do to achieve this goal it somehow never seems quite transparent enough.  At least not for everybody.

Here at TJMC we have an all-church weekly email and a weekly email that goes primarily to our religious education families.  Much of the information from these is then replicated in the printed insert that goes with the Sunday Order of Service and finds its way to our website as well.  We also send out a monthly bulletin, which is becoming more of an inspirational journal than an informational newsletter.

Yet in our increasingly disconnected lives there is an ever-increasing yearning for connection.  And, so, a question that at least ought to come up when churches think about their communications strategy is, "how can we do more than simply send information out?  How can we help people to connect?"

Many churches have their own FaceBook pages, and TJMC is no exception.  (When you're on FB just look for Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist.)  This is a great way for people to connect with each other (as opposed to unidirectionally being connected with) but not everybody wants to join the FaceBook culture.

This summer I read a book by Brian Bailey and Terry Storch titled, The Blogging Church:  sharing the story of your church through blogs.  I've been blogging for a while now, but a case can be made for the church to have its own blog.
  • Blogs are less formal than newsletters, and more dynamic than even the best maintained web site;
  • Blogs allow for readers to interact, and for the church to share its story (which is in many ways a lot more important than merely getting out information);
  • Blogs can be used to share words, pictures, video . . . and links to other people's blogs (including those of members);
  • And blogs are not FaceBook!  You don't have to fear getting sucked into time-suck of social media.  You can read -- or not read -- a blog at your own discretion.
There are other great reasons for a church to have an "official" church blog, and we'll probably explore some of them here in the days, weeks, and months ahead.  (You're also welcome to come to my office and borrow The Blogging Church whenever you'd like.)  Suffice it to say that we're going to experiment with this approach to enhancing congregational communication, and will have to see what fruit may come.

A few specifics -- for now it is likely that I will be writing the majority of the posts, although you should expect to hear from Leia, Alex, Trish, and Amy as well.  But don't forget that the best thing about the blog is that once a post has been published each and every one of you get to add your thoughts as well.  (And, yes, setting this up as an open blog may well set us up for the occasionally flaming troll, but we'll deal with that as we need to.)

So keep coming back and we'll keep trying to share the story of TJMC.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why Strategic Planning Now?


These words, offered by Board President Amy Wissekere at the September 28th Strategic Planning Kick-Off Event also seem like a wonderful way to kick-off TJMC's new blog:

We have said that this is a time of change for our church. We have grown. And in many ways, we are at a crossroads.

Crossroads are mysterious places. Symbolically liminal, neither here nor there, a crossroads is the place where different realms kiss and commingle.  The future touches the past. What has been speaks to what may be.
We are here today because over the last few years, we have already begun the process of changing our staffing, our facilities, and more. And as always, we have found that each change begins its own chain of related events – some foreseen and wished for, like the best laid domino toppling event. Some…not so much.
So it’s time. It’s time to take our big plans and ideas and integrate and enrich them. We all began  to move forward and changed Staffing, and in the middle of that realized how changing staffing changes governance. It changes organization. It changes the set of gifts of which we are stewards, and what kinds of gifts are needed. We began the first step of the plan devised by our excellent Facilities Planning Task Force, and realized that those plans changed our place in our community and our communication. We began to ask questions about those facilities. How are our facilities related to our outreach? To our worship? To our overall mission?
So we are here today to begin this year’s process of looking past the crossroads at what lies on the other side. There are many roads we could take from this juncture. At the end of our year of planning together, a picture of our end destination will come into focus, sharp and promising. Who are we and who will we be? What will Spirituality, Worship, and Faith Development at our church look like? What organization and staffing will be necessary to support it, and how will we deliberately, and with intentionality, transition to that structure? How will our Facilities support our mission, our outreach, and our worship? How will we act as stewards to nurture and support our vision? How will we let the world know?
As Reverend Erik has pointed out to us, the beautiful steeple that tops our church shows several ribbons coming together to a single point that then radiates outward. We are here today to begin the process of weaving those separate ribbons together in a unified course. And from there, we will shine out to the world.
So may it be.
Amy Wissekerke, President of the Board