Thursday, June 26, 2014

This is the church of the helping hands ...

A couple of weeks ago thirteen of our youth (and six adults) traveled to West Virginia to take part in the Appalachia Service Project program.  What an experience!  The youth all worked so hard and accomplished so much.  The families became so bonded with us, it was sad to leave.  It was very heartening to spend a week with people up to so much good in the world!

I want to especially thank the adults on the trip: Mike Ludwick for leaving his family to spend the week with us, for tolerating our singing with his guitar playing, for his sense of humor, his hard work and his consistently positive attitude about everything!  Karen Moulis for her hard work, tolerance and wonderful homemade treats.  We would definitely have starved without her support.  And, we certainly would not have been so well liked!  Larry Moulis for his calm leadership of us all and his sage advice.  Duncan for his hard work, construction advice, leadership, and clear explanations of UU to the other youth. I greatly appreciate how our adults empowered the youth and helped them to grow their confidence and decision making skills. We could not have had better adult leadership.

I also want to thank Alex, Erik and Leia for coming to send us off and Alex for welcoming us home.  I greatly appreciate all the support from the whole church!

We have such remarkable youth!  We worked in difficult conditions all week and I never heard a complaint or a harsh word.  They were all unfailingly supportive of each other and kind to the other youth in the center. They all opened their hearts to our families and treated them with admiration and respect.  I think our presence was healing to our families' hearts as well as their homes.

Here are a few pictures and I look forward to seeing others.  

Thank you all for supporting such a valuable experience!

Pam McIntyre  (guest blogger)



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why We Need The UUA ...

With thousands of Unitarian Universalists gathering in Providence, RI for the annual General Assembly of the UUA (including several from TJMC*), it might be a good time to consider the perennial question, "What does the UUA do for us?"

This question seems to come up most often around budget time.  When finances seem tight (or actually are tight) it is not unusual for savings seeking eyes to look at the line item for our "dues" to the UUA and the Southeast District.  Surely that's a place we could afford to cut, right?  After all, the UUA doesn't really do all that much for us so we could get some real savings and not really be all that effected.  Right?

First, let me clear up a misconception.  The money we give to the UUA is not "dues" for belonging to the organization.  Nor is it anymore a "head tax" calculated on the number of members we have.  Think of the UUA as a meta-version of our own congregation.  In many ways this isn't just an analogy.  "UUA" stands for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  The UUA is not a denomination in the traditional sense.  It is, instead, and association of congregations just as TJMC is an association of members, except that in the case of the UUA its members are congregations.  The pledge we make to support the UUA is just like the pledge you make to support TJMC.  (And if you haven't yet pledged, you can go online and do so right now!)

And just as does TJMC, the UUA helps congregations to assess what is a "fair share" pledge.  In our case we suggest a certain percentage of your income.  The UUA used to make its suggestion based on the number of members a congregation reports, but in an experiment that began last year it is not suggesting a percentage of a congregation's budget be considered a "fair share."

It is true that when an individual member of the TJMC community is facing financial difficulties we would encourage you to take care of your essential needs first before making a pledge to the church.  And if you situation changed from last year, we would encourage you to reduce your pledge.  Yet all of us understand the ramifications of this -- when resources are tight here we freeze, or cut, our employees' compensation packages (as happened this year); we put off necessary maintenance (as has happened for several years); we make use of money we'd intended to save for tomorrow so as to pay the bills of today.  The same thing happens for the UUA.  As the Rev. Jamie McReynolds has so eloquently put it, "When we reduce our pledge to the UUA we are essentially choosing to push staff cuts up the line."

Still, you might be asking, "So what?"  And that brings us back to the question of the role of the UUA in the life of TJMC.  Let's start with something basic:  You know those seven principles you love to quote?  They're actually a section of the UUA's bylaws, not something we ourselves created.  And those hymnals we sing from?  Published by the UUA and made possible only because of the networked nature of our Association which brings together tremendously talented people from across the country in common purpose.  (Believe it or not, TJMC is not the only UU congregation around!)

The ordained clergy who have served this congregation have had their development supported by the UUA, and the search process that has resulted in our various calls is only possible because of the UUA's coordination.  The UUA creates curricula that we use -- including its current Tapestry of Faith series which includes both "The Wi$dom Path" program we are currently offering and the "Spirit in Practice" curricula I wrote a while back.

When our Unitarian Universalist family gathers as it has done in Phoenix around issues of immigration, and in Raleigh around issues of voters' rights, whenever the now famous "yellow shirts" of the Standing on the Side of Love campaigns to show our solidarity with those who are struggling, that's the UUA in action.  When we support the UUA we support all of the justice work that is being done in our name around the country and around the world.

Read just about any article in the UU World magazine and you'll get a sense of all the ways Unitarian Universalism is manifesting itself and our good news beyond the boundaries of Charlottesville, VA.  When we support the UUA we support all of that!

Both the Welcoming Congregation and Green Sanctuary designations of which we're so justly proud are initiatives of the UUA, and the signs we've recently posted about gender neutral bathrooms (in support of, and in solidarity with, transgender individuals) also come from the UUA's resources.

More than once we've called on the UUA's Office of Church Staff Finances, and the Department of Ministries and Faith Development when we've faced a challenge and didn't want to have to reinvent the wheel.  Our current efforts to create a year round stewardship committee (to go well beyond simply a pledge drive and some fundraisers in helping us learn to truly steward the time, talents, and treasures of our community) is being guided by the UUA's FORTH program.

We've gotten information and insights about communications (especially with regards to the use of social media) from the UUA, their Office of Growth Strategies is a rich resource indeed, and their Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries has enabled us to draw on the experiences of Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country.

Overwhelmed yet?  I have barely begun to scratch the surface of the ways the UUA has an impact on us here at TJMC.  If you want to find out more, just check out the website and noodle around for a bit.  If we limit our thinking to just what the UUA has done for and with us, I think that it's abundantly clear that we need to continue to support the UUA.  If we add in all of the ways the UUA could help us to more vibrantly live our Unitarian Universalism ....

The UUA's recommended "fair share" pledge for a congregation of our size is 7% of its annual budget.  We were a fair share congregation for a great many years.  Last year we reduced our pledge to a paltry 2.5%.  We kept it the same this year.  And yes, our own budget is extremely tight and I honestly don't know what else we could have cut.  It's just important that we realize that this cut was not without its consequences -- to us and to our Association.  While I was at UUHQ, before coming here, the UUA lost approximately $4 million dollars from its budget and had to close offices and departments as well as cut staff.  Some of the more difficult meetings I attended were those in which we wrestled with what services to congregations we would now have to curtail.  Our congregration's support of the UUA -- just like our congregant's support of TJMC -- really and truly matters.


* We are being ably represented at GA by: Annalee Durland-Jones, Leia Durland-Jones, Tyler Frankeburg, Naomi Holmes, Alex McGee, and the Rev. Jamie McReynolds, some of whom are pictured below ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Support the Minister's Discretionary Fund!

It is common for congregations to establish a fund to be used by the professional minister(s) at their discretion to give aid to individuals and to be a source of off-budget funds for projects.  This is generally called "the minister's discretionary fund."  Each year here at TJMC-UU the collections taken at Christmas Eve services support this fund, and folks have been very generous.

But you hardly ever hear about how this money is used.  Well ... it's been a busy year!

Because of your generosity I have been able to help members of our congregation, and the wider community, purchase food and gas with Scrip cards.  Some of our members have needed help paying their utility bills, and thanks to you all we've been able to do that.  

The discretionary fund allowed me to provide first-month's rent for a homeless man who was ready to get off the street but needed a hand in doing so.  I've also been able to help cover medical bills for several of our members.   

You have made it possible to support congregants who are taking classes to try to improve their situations, and you have helped provide temporary housing for several people who had nowhere else to go.  And when some of you have come to me with a great idea for which there was no money in the budget, I was able to say "go ahead."  And this is just some of what's been done "at my discretion" because of your generosity!  

But now, going in to this new church year, the fund is nearly dry, and I'm afraid that if we wait until Christmas to replenish we'll leave many people without support.  So ... if it is possible, given your own financial situation, would you consider making a donation to this refill this fund?  If so, make your check out to TJMC-UU and include on the memo line that this is for "the minister's discretionary fund."  Thank you for all you've made possible, and thank you for helping to keep our congregation's support available to those in need.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Something to Think About

Composite of Thomas & Isaac (Granger) Jefferson

Three years ago we established what is now being called "The Thomas Jefferson Legacies Initiative."  This initiative recognizes that being named after Jefferson, author of both the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, gives us a responsibility to work to affirm and promote those ideals.  At the same time, we recognize that being named after a man who believed that he "owned" approximately six hundred women, children and men, gives us a responsibility to work today to undo the oppression that has its roots in that time.  The Thomas Jefferson Legacies Initiative is the umbrella under which we can try to respond to both of these legacies.

One aspect of this initiative is the Thomas Jefferson Legacies Library, located in the parlor to the left of the fireplace, under the bust of Jefferson.  This is where the old Undoing Racism library now resides, a collection of books on race and racism that continues to grow.

I want to call your particular attention to the books on the top shelf to the left of Jefferson's bust.  These books look specifically at the issue of Jefferson and slavery, and are well with all of us reading and thinking about.  As long as our community bears the Jefferson name we should do what we can to be as educated as possible about the contradictions inherent in that association so that we can better respond to those legacies today.
If you borrow one of these books -- and you should! -- please let the church office know.  We plan to soon have a simple form there for you to fill out so that we can keep track of our library.  There is so much for so many of us to learn (and unlearn).  There are stories that need to be told, and heard, and retold again and again.  The Thomas Jefferson Legacies Initiative is one way of doing that.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Soul and World Changing Unitarian Universalism

On Tuesday I wrote about the Coming of Age Service that happens before the Coming of Age service most of us experience.  I've been asked if I would share the opening and closing words that are offered.
"In the transition we call coming of age, we see the child trying to hold on to the true self and actively creating, at the same time, the self who will become the adult.  Everything is in flux, and it will be for a while.  But there is something that comes from taking all that energy, chaos, and flux and shaping it into a statement, a service, a celebration that will go with them as they grow -- something that says that being whole is a collaborative act, requiring us to hold on to our true selves and also each other."
~ Judith E. Meyer
 "None of us can provide all the answers you will need as your life unfolds.  We know that the greatest joys and highest satisfactions are given to those who are faithful to their ideals, their promises, and their friends.  It does not mater if the world looks with disdain or suspicion upon the gifts you bring:  give them anyway.  In the end, you must answer to your own conscience.  trust yourself, and strive to be worthy of that trust.  Remember all that lives must die, and do not fear to love, but embrace grief when it comes to you.  You will never know everything; but in the persistent desire to learn more, wisdom will grow.  To do what you know is wrong, or to cause pain needlessly, will always damage yourself in the long run.  The more you look for the best in others, the more you will find it.  Be of good courage, willingly do your share of the world's work, and remember that you are greatly loved."
~ Kendyl Gibbons

What would your life be if those words had been said to you?  What will it be because they were?

This thing we do -- this Unitarian Universalism -- is powerful stuff.  Soul and world changing.  Our movement exists not just because we need it, but because the world needs it.  The world needs people who know that they are "greatly loved" just as they are, with all of their questions and confusions and wisdom and strength.  The world needs people who know full well that not everyone will, nor should, think and act as they do and that this is a strength and not a problem.

We do good work here at TJMC-UU, and this past Sunday's service was living proof.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Don't Stop Believing ...

For anyone who missed it, this past Sunday was our annual Coming of Age service.  The culmination of a year-long program, these ninth and tenth graders share with the congregation their statements of faith.  Lifelong UUs often get misty at these services, remembering their own Coming of Age experiences.  Newer members of our faith often get misty wishing that they had been able to experience something like this.  Everyone gets misty watching young people speak -- in their own inimitable fashions -- about what it is that they are thinking about life and their place in it.

The Coming of Age program pairs each teen with an adult mentor, and the two spend the year getting to know one another and talking about the "Big Questions" in life.  The program also has adult facilitators who provide stability and continuity for the process.  And it is quite a process that leads up to the service we all experienced this past Sunday; quite a process that makes it possible.

One of the highlights of the year is something that the rest of the congregation never gets to experience.  On the Saturday before the service there is a dinner, to which the teens can invite their families and important friends.  The facilitators and mentors also take part.  After the dinner, everyone moves into the sanctuary for a different kind of Coming of Age service.

The chalice is lit.  Opening words are spoken, and then the group's facilitators reflect back over the year.  Each youth then comes forward, drops a pebble in a bowl of water, and speaks aloud a joy from the year.  Next, their parents come forward, light a candle, and share a hope for their child, and the teen's mentors come forward and talk about the experiences they'd had.  Each teen is then ceremonially given a chalice necklace, and actual ceramic chalice (which they choose for themselves), and a certificate for completing the program.

Recognizing that these youth have crossed a threshold through this year -- they have, both in name and reality "come of age" -- any who wish are given the opportunity to formalize their membership in this community.  In keeping with our values and our principles, no one is coerced into making this decision; it is  free choice.  This year three of the teens decided to sign the membership book, joining with the hundreds whose names have been recorded since TJMC was founded.

All this time there have been two vases of flowers up by the altar.  The youth now take turns carefully selecting a flower for their mentor, which they present to her or him with whispered words of gratitude.  They then do the same for their parents (and even siblings!).

After this, closing words are offered and the ceremony is topped off with dessert.

All of this takes place the night before the Sunday service most of us experience, yet its power resonates through everything that happens the next day.  Is it any wonder, then, that these same youth would amend the well known chalice lighting that they've said each week in children's worship the way they did?

We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism.
This is the church of the open mind.
This is the church of the helping hands.
This is the church of the loving heart.
This is the church that watched us grow up.
This is the church of the familiar faces.
This is the church that we know like the backs of our hands.
This is the church that welcomes us.

This is TJMC -- the church we love.