Tuesday, April 28, 2015


The poet Marge Piercy wrote:
Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden,
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure:  make a life that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in, a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Last night about a dozen members and friends of TJMC turned out for a presentation about the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, located just north of the Oakwood Cemetery at the corner of Oak and First.  This Cemetery was established in 1873 and was the place of internment for many of the economic and social elites with the African American community.  And it has fallen into serious disrepair.

While the effort to do something to restore this cemetery to a right and respectful state is an important project, as is the lifting up more of the "hidden history" of African American life in Charlottesville, that's not the reason for this blog.

Instead I want to lift up those members of our TJMC community who can be found, over and over again, where work needs doing and connections need to be made.  I don't know if they act out this commitment to justice and community because they are Unitarian Universalists or whether they are Unitarian Universalists because of their commitment.  I'm not really sure that it matters much.

What I do know, is that when we think of the ways the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church is engaged with the wider Charlottesville community we need to remember these quiet, underground ways that our values and our principles are being put into action.  We need not always blow a trumpet, nor worry overly much if others see only brambles and thickets.  We just need to keep showing up, and within this congregation there are some excellent models for the rest of us to follow.

Pax tecum,


Thursday, April 23, 2015

2015 tjmc eco-hero awards

Sharon Baiocco, Joanie Freeman, Wik Wikstrom, and Dave Redding

This year the For Ever Green group, formerly known as the Environmental Action group at TJMC, is honoring two truly remarkable “ministers for Earth” who joined our church and Environmental Action group two years ago and who have become environmental leaders in our community. They have given their time, their talents, their passion, and a lot of their money to the “green” movement. As the Environmental Action group transitions from its mission of changing the (inside) culture of this church towards the For Ever Green group’s mission of supporting and expanding environmental awareness and justice in the wider world, we are grateful for their leadership and example.

Would Joanie Freeman and Dave Redding please come forward to be honored? When they first arrived here after traveling the world together for six years doing environmental justice work, Joanie and Dave approached our group about sponsoring an Earth Friendly Friday event to inform our community about Transition Cities, which subsequently led them to found the group Transition Charlottesville/Albemarle, an organization that assists local groups of people in moving into a low carbon lifestyle. Joanie now leads the Organizing the Transition Streets pilot in Charlottesville and the national roll out of this program. She is Virginia representative to Mid Atlantic Transition Hub.

We watched in awe as every few months Joanie and Dave launched some new local “green” movement — their non-profit Healthy Food Coalition, 350 Central Virginia, the Green Grannies of Charlottesville, and their grandest project to date, EcoVillage Charlottesville, a community hub whose mission is to create “A Vibrant, Diverse, and Resilient Community that Nurtures People and the Earth.”  On 6.5 acres off Rio Road it will be the center of a green home development and already hosts the Healthy Living Center and many public meetings and events, including a regular “y’all come” Sunday evening potluck. In fact, there is one tonight! Joanie and Dave invested their retirement savings in the success of this project, and I’m sure they would love to have you visit.

Not only have they founded an eco-village and many other organizations, but they are working in so many ways to bring their vision to  Charlottesville. In just a few short years, Joanie and Dave became directors, steering committee members, and advisory board members for many existing local initiatives. In the area of food security, Dave has led the Cville Vegetarian Festival since 2013 which yearly demonstrates to up to 6000 people the advantages of living in our community and the joy of vegetarian meals. Dave and Joanie also volunteer with Food not Bombs, the reason we don’t often see them in church Sundays. First they glean the Cville City Market on Saturdays with the Society of St. Andrews in order to assist in making a community meal at the Haven on Sunday mornings and disbursing produce to low income folks at Tonsler Park free market afterward. They serve on the board of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville which grows organic food in three gardens in low income neighborhoods in Cville training people in how to grow their own foods.

Dave and Joanie are especially active in recycling and re-skilling efforts, including Community Bikes, a group that recycles over 150 bikes per year to distribute to community members, and the Open Source Computer Recycling project that gives away 140 rebuilt desktop computers year, normally to senior citizens, in a program called "Grandma's Got Email” Dave also volunteers with Computers 4Kids refurbishing computers for low income students.

Finally, Dave and Joanie have also worked to support energy efficiency in numerous ways in our community: they are members for a Renters Energy Savings Initiative (RESI) assisting in lowering the energy demands for folks living in rental properties in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area. Dave is a volunteer with Virginia Organizing and is currently project manager for the new 6.5 KW solar system being installed at 703 Concord Ave.

Dave and Joanie, we are so proud to honor you with our Eco-Hero award. You live out our shared vision for a healthy and just world every day in so many ways, and make us proud to be your church and support your efforts. These two lead by example and practice the motto: “While I cannot do everything, I can do some thing!”

Congratulations on your wonderful work!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

announcing a new leadership team member

The Board of Trustees of TJMC is pleased to introduce Christina (“Chris”) Rivera to the Congregation, as our new Director of Administration and Finance (DAF).  Ms. Rivera begins her new position on April 20. She will work closely and collaboratively with Rev. Erik Wikstrom and Leia Durland-Jones, the Director of Faith Development (DFD.)  The DAF position is designed as a part-time (30 hours per week) job that encompasses many managerial, supervisory, administrative and financial duties that help keep TJMC running smoothly. Chris is well-positioned to be a fully participating member of the senior staff Triune, comprised of the Lead Minister, DFD and DAF.

Ms. Rivera comes to us from the UU Fellowship of Waynesboro (UUFW), in Waynesboro, Virginia.  She has served as the part-time Director of Religious Education there since 2012, managing all aspects of the growing Waynesboro RE program.  She has held a wide range of volunteer positions at UUFW, including Vice President of the Congregation, and as Chair of the RE Task Force, RE Committee and Social Action Committee. She has provided continuity and leadership during UUFW’s two-year interim period, as UUFW prepares to call a new settled minister this Spring. She is very involved in the UUA, at the local, district and national levels and was recently elected as a Trustee of the UUA Board and is a member of VACUUM (Virginia Area Cluster of UU Ministers.) She has also been on the district Chalice Lighters Committee.  Her extensive knowledge of UUA resources available to TJMC will be a valuable asset to our Church.

Her unique skill set will fit well with the demands of the DAF position at TJMC. She brings a solid grounding in, and devotion to Unitarian Universalism and believes that everything church staff does is a “ministry”, including the administrative and financial operations of church life.  Her extensive private sector experience in marketing and social media, information technology and website design, and project management will be extremely useful. Her professional experience has also provided her with a deep understanding of the administrative and operational challenges inherent in non-profits, as well as small businesses and large corporations.

As she stated in her interviews, she believes that all her previous work history has led her to believe that putting her talents to work for Unitarian Universalism is her calling.  Christina created a short video that gives a good sense of who she is.  It can be accessed at: http://youtu.be/wp_pVfYJE9E .

Please join us in extending a warm welcome to Chris Rivera, the newest member of the TJMC leadership team! 

***Congregants are invited to meet her at the staff open house on Wednesday, April 22nd, in the Church Parlor from 5-6:30PM*** 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Name

To mark our namesake Thomas Jefferson's birthday (April 13) TJMC sponsored two public events.  On Sunday, April 12, we hosted Henry Wiencek, who talked about his book Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.  There were about 25 people attending, not all of whom were TJMC members or friends.  (Some had heard seen a notice about it in The Daily Progress.)

On Wednesday, April 15th, we hosted a panel discussion, "The Legacies of Jefferson in the Age of Ferguson,"  which featured Pastor Lehman Bates of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Charlene Greene of the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights.  Approximately 30 people attended for this wide-ranging conversation.

Not surprisingly, these events have brought to the surface again a long-simmering question:  what does it mean to be a modern, liberal religious community named after a man who believed that owning other people was acceptable?  This question has most often come up in the form of, "Should we consider changing our name."

In today's Talk of TJMC, guest blogger Laura Wallace shares some of her thoughts:

This powerful document from UVA may provide some ideas: http://tinyurl.com/njunlt5 
One quote from it: "The names of UVa’s buildings, for example, might seem inconsequential and of marginal interest to a student or tourist, but to residents of Charlottesville and University personnel who know about history, these names have real significance and historical weight." [Eugenicists and slaveowners figured in many building names.]

As we know, Jefferson didn't just record odious sentiments about race. He took odious and evil actions against enslaved human beings, who lived right here not long ago. He had young slaves flogged. He had a captured runaway "flogged severely before his peers." And so forth.

We can do several things about the church name, including nothing; what matters, imo, is that we discuss and decide it democratically as a congregation.

We can decide to keep the name as is for lots of reasons:
  1. We like TJ's religious ideals and he once mentioned being "a Unitarian."
  2. There's a load of status associated, especially in this community, with his name. We benefit from that.
  3. We're not concerned about attracting folks who may conclude that a church thus named is "not for me" -- as a local African American friend once told me.
  4. We have the track record described in Rev. Wik's recent post on work done under the auspices of the Thomas Jefferson Legacies Initiative, so keeping the name is not a real issue.
  5. Names aren't that important and changing the name might be embarrassing, awkward, or difficult to explain.

Or, we might change the name for various reasons, including:
  1. A name is our "billboard identity" to local people who haven't studied our church or denomination -- and the current name may be a barrier to some, including those who've witnessed or inherited the devastation of the local African American community due to racism, the direct legacy of slavery.
  2. To change it would be bolder than a banner on our building, and could telegraph our awareness of the privilege we've enjoyed in being associated with the name of this famous president.
  3. If we changed it, that event would attract interest, which might be good if we're interested in being interesting.

What's in a name? Powerful symbolism or something neutral (iow, "Charlottesville Unitarian-Universalist Church.") [I once proposed "Jefferson-Hemings Church" from our pulpit in 1999, to audible gasps.] I'd love to see us examine its use, all the way to whatever conclusion is right for our community. People change their names on marriage, or do not, as identity statements. Parents name children. Organizations and institutions adopt names, and later change them. There's plenty of precedent, and I suggest good reason, to undergo an awakening process by at least discussing it as a full congregation. Regardless of what the conclusion might be.

I am confident the process would be creative, interesting, and profound. I am forever haunted by the intense and lingering racism I have observed in this town from childhood (1950) on--from ugly confrontations in stores to the bulldozing of Vinegar Hill (so we could have an Omni) and the fleeing of my African American classmates. A staff colleague at UVa told me when I asked where they'd gone to said, "Oh they all went to Atlanta. We know there's nothing for us here." It's all on view in the present educational achievement gap, poverty, crime, recidivism, and so forth that continue today. All of it is a direct legacy from Thomas Jefferson, here in this local, living place.

Personally, I question whether we should keep TJ's name and continue to profit from being his "namesake." Being his namesake is more a "positive benefit" in terms of dominant-culture PR, than a "detriment." But regardless of outcome, I think a process of examining that default choice might result in growth and awareness that would be worth the work and discomfort involved. I'm sure others would find it a mere if not annoying distraction, but as a person obsessed with the power of words/names, I would value such a church-wide process of dialogue.

Can't see it as anything but good for us. Hard, and no forgone conclusion, but good and illuminating. Imn-ho

Thursday, April 2, 2015

what is the worship weavers guild?

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations have a "Worship Associates" program, through which lay people have an opportunity to work with their ordained clergy to develop weekly worship.  At worst, these Worship Associates are really just "readers," who read the words that are given to them.  In this model you end up not having so much two different voices in the pulpit each week, but two different accents.

In other congregations, the "professional preacher" may invite some level of collaboration with the lay Associates.  Perhaps the two discuss the theme of the service in advance, or the lay person is asked to find a reading and give suggestions on the hymns to be used.

In 1998, while  I was serving our congregation in Yarmouth, Maine, I determined that this spectrum did not go far enough.  To be true to our Unitarian Universalist values, it seemed to me, we needed a way for laity and clergy to truly collaborate and co-create the worship experience.  After all, what makes the ordained clergy more likely to have greater wisdom than a person in the pew?  More practice, certainly.  More training.  But not more insight.

In the first year of that experiment a lay woman named Naomi King (now Rev. Naomi King) came to one of our meetings and said that, to her, the name "Worship Associate" sounded like a law firm.  She thought we needed something more evocative.  "Since we weave worship," she said, "why not be the Worship Weavers?  And since we're learning while doing as in the old guild model, why not be the Worship Weavers Guild?"  The name stuck.

Today, the vision of the Worship Weavers Guild is six lay people, serving in staggered three-year terms, working together with the Lead Minister, the Ministry Associate, the Director of Faith Development, and the Director of Music.  Over the course of those three years Guild members help to shape the way we explore each month's theme, and how each week's worship will unfold.  Members of the Guild also engage in training around worship theory and style, sermon writing and delivery, the challenges of public prayer & meditation (especially in a UU church!), and a great deal more.  Weavers are also encouraged to bring their own gifts -- music, creative writing, visual arts, etc.

Is this intriguing to you?  Do you think you might make a good candidate for the Guild?  Do you know someone else you might want to recommend?  April is when we receive applications from prospective Weavers.  Hardcopies are available in the church office, or you can go to the TJMC website and download the Job Description and Application.  Of course, every Weaver would also be glad to talk with you and answer any questions you might have.  (That includes the staff members who are Weavers, too!)

Pax tecum,

Rev. Wik