Those of you who attended the New Member Sunday service on March 25th might have recognized a portion of the promises we made to and with the 13 (of 18) new members whose commitment we celebrated.
“As members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, we join together to challenge and to nurture one another in our efforts to speak honestly, to act with compassion, to love without prejudice, to seek clarity in our common work, to respond to the call of justice with courage, and to live out our personal beliefs and communal agreements with mutuality and integrity. We support this congregation whole-heartedly, determined to move it faithfully from this generation to the next—an ever more purposeful, responsive, healthy, and sustainable instrument of service, and a loving community which receives all that life offers courageously, with gratitude, resilience and hope.”
Yep, it’s that experimental Affirmation we read together in unison during most Sunday services last fall. If you have been wondering what happened to that experiment, here is the scoop. On the first Sunday in January a group of 15 or so people gathered after the service to talk about the idea of an affirmation in general and to offer feedback on this particular affirmation. We all agreed that this particular affirmation is too long. We clarified that is not a creed, a set of required beliefs, but an aspirational affirmation of our core purposes as a Fellowship and a description of how we want to to interact as we try to live into those purposes. Everyone seemed to agree that the message of the affirmation was a good one. A newcomer among us mentioned that this affirmation had helped her and would probably help other newcomers understand and explain to others how our seven principles actually play out in our congregational and personal lives. A number of people in the circle said they thought that saying the same words aloud together in every service was not only profoundly boring, but also deadened the meaning of the words over time. Others in the group said that this kind of repetition reminded them of the meaningless blah-blah that they had deliberately left behind in the religion of their childhood. Some, though, mentioned that words that held deep meaning for them in a previous congregational setting still resounded in their hearts and guided them today because they were repeated by their congregation most Sundays long ago. Most agreed, as we thought about all these comments, that if there were a time when words that remind us of why we are here and what we are doing together as a WE should be lifted up by all voices and heard by all ears, this is probably the time—in our Fellowship, in our nation, and in our world.
In the end, we more or less agreed upon the following conclusions. The affirmation we adopt needs to be half this length or shorter. Every word must count. The words would not differ week to week. We’d say the affirmation together at least monthly. The Affirmation could be carefully reconsidered and revised over time as we and the world around us change. We also decided that responsibility for producing the next draft Affirmation would fall to the Worship Associates. The WA tri-Chairs—Kay Aparo, Dave Tarbell and Laura Lesch—welcome your input.
The words of my colleague Linda Ramsden for you today:
Blessed are you who can question your own assumptions and listen with an open mind; you will receive new insights beyond your imagining. Blessed are you who suffer the attacks of others to stand up for what is right; you will not be alone, for your courage will inspire others to rise. Blessed are you who take delight in people; you will not be bored in meetings.
Blessed are you who agitate the placid waters of complacency; you will create waves in the inertia of privilege, and will know the thrill of riding the surf of change. Blessed are you who lead with enthusiasm and confidence, resisting the temptation to shame the apathetic or self-absorbed; you will inspire curiosity and hope in others. Blessed are you who play as well as work; you will have more fun, build more energy, and will draw the powers of the impish to your cause. Blessed are you who ask for help in your role as leaders; you will find teachers at every turn, and your work will remain interesting and alive.
Blessed are you, when wrongfully attacked, find safe outlets for your righteous rage; your mind will be clear, your decisions strategic, and your progress will not be derailed by the backlash of the fearful. Blessed are you who do not demonize your opponents; your eyes and your hearts will be open. Blessed are you who offer thanks and praise five-fold for every critique; your children will want to visit after they are grown, people will want to serve on your committees, and friends will be interested in your opinions. Blessed are you who study the rhythms of history; you will have knowledge with which to shape the future.
Blessed are you who work in coalition rather than in principled isolation; you will meet great people, learn things you didn’t realize you needed to know, and have partners for the journey when you are in the lead, or in need. Blessed are you who volunteer to be secretary and take good minutes; your words will become history, and your efforts will move steadily forward rather than running absent-mindedly over thoroughly discussed ground. Blessed are you who can change your mind; you are still alive. Blessed are you who will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good; you will see progress in your lifetime.
Blessed are you who live from a place of gratitude; for you will know the meaning of Life.
As many of you know, I am a member of a hyper-local interfaith clergy group called Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association. The Rev. Kate Calone (Open Door Exchange) leads us now and the Rev. Dr. Linda Anderson, my spouse and our affiliated UU Community Minister, serves as secretary. Other active members include the Rev. Canon Richard Visconti (Caroline Episcopal), the Rev. Mary Speers (Setauket Presbyterian), Rabbi David Katz and Cantor Marcey Wagner (Temple Isaiah), Rabbi Aaron Benson (North Shore Jewish Center), Father James Mannion (St. James Roman Catholic Church), the Rev. Chuck Van Houten (Stony Brook Community Church—Methodist), the Rev. Steven Kim (Setauket Methodist Church), the Rev. Greg Leonard (Bethel AME Church), Elaine Learnard (Conscience Bay Friends Meeting, St. James), and Ismail Zahed (Selden Mosque).
We meet on the first Monday morning of the month at one or other of our congregations to support one another as colleagues, to learn about each other’s faith traditions, to describe what’s going on in the congregations we serve, to look for opportunities to partner in ministry, to make joint public statements, and to plan interfaith events. Many of you have attended the Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service we lead every year. Most years, we also offer an educational forum, often a panel and discussion about how our faiths address universal religious concerns—topics like birth, coming of age, religious education, marriage, prayer, death, and scripture. Our group has covered a lot of common territory over the 25 or so years that it has existed.
For this year’s educational forum we are designing an “Interfaith Dialogue on Guns in America.” I hope many of you will be able to attend the forum at North Shore Jewish Center on Sunday, March 4, 3:00-5:00. We’ve asked former LI Council of Churches Executive Director, the Rev. Tom Goodhue, to facilitate an innovative conversational process. The process will look something like this, though the plan is still evolving. We’ll begin with small groups of clergy talking to each other in response to three broad questions. We’ll then invite four members of different faith groups to come out of the audience and sit with each other to discuss a common question. After several such mixed groups have had a chance to interact around their question, we’ll bring the event to a close with a Q & A directed from the audience to individuals on the whole clergy panel. We’ll also provide some sort of fact sheet, as balanced as possible, about relevant NY State laws, the wording of the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution and various interpretations, and national and state statistics about various kinds of gun use and abuse.
This year’s educational forum is a stretch for us as an interfaith clergy group. A lot can go wrong. It is clear to us, though, that people of faith can play an important role in modeling and encouraging civil discourse on issues that concern us as citizens.
Here’s a little bit of happy news in this brand New Year. The UUFSB Board entered a trial contract to rent space to Summerland Church of Light (SCOL), a 30+ member religious community chartered in 2004 by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC). They will be holding services and related activities in the double Green Room 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every Saturday, starting Jan. 6th. In addition, they will gather for a class in the Blue Room on Thursdays from 7:30-10:00 p.m. Our Board and theirs have reached satisfactory agreements for storage in the room, keys, chairs, RE entrance signage while in occupancy, and flexibility for the limited occasions when we might need to reassign spaces. They do not want a roadside sign and will not object to any public statement of our values that we may make. This arrangement will boost our income by ~$10K/year.
The SCOL Board president, Frank Kotowski, describes Spiritualist core beliefs and values in this way: “We believe in a non-anthropomorphic higher power which we call 'Infinite Spirit’ or 'Infinite Intelligence’ or ‘Source’; in self-determination and personal responsibility; in Natural Laws (of which the supreme law is Love); and that action taken against Natural Laws will result in negative consequences.” Spiritualism is a non-Christian-based faith that views figures like Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and others as Master Teachers and eschews dogmatism and proselytizing. Frank tells us that their overarching goal is “to create a community of spiritually minded individuals who support each other in an atmosphere of love, sharing, and mutual respect for all human beings, living creatures, and Mother Earth.” The 9 principles of Spiritualism include the primacy of the Golden Rule as a moral guide and affirmation of limitless opportunities for the reformation of the human soul before and after death. Spiritualism evolved as a faith of high moral standards and progressive thinking. Many Spiritualists were involved in the abolition of slavery and in the struggle for women’s rights. Spiritualists advocate today for individual rights regardless of race, gender, orientation, or abilities. The foundational belief of Spiritualism is that life continues beyond physical existence and that death is not an end. Where some UUs would say that science has nothing to say about the continuity of life across death, Spiritualists believe that communication across that threshold is proven in their practice.
Our congregations are highly compatible in regard to values and, in fact, both Unitarians and Universalists in the latter half of the 19th century were involved in the evolution of Spiritualism (http://uudb.org/articles/spiritualism.html for UU connection; www.nsac.org for more about Spiritualism). We come together in mutual support under the roof of a Fellowship that honors theological differences. The SCOL Board invites UUFSB members to join them for their first worship service on Jan. 6 at 10:30 a.m. This first special service includes: Presider’s Greeting; First Hymn; Invocation; Short "Hello"; Declaration of Principles; Healing Hymn, Prayer and Reading of Names; Guided Meditation and Hands-on Healing; Second Hymn; Spiritual Address; Announcements and Blessing; Third Hymn; Clairvoyance/Message Work; Benediction; Fourth Hymn. The service is followed by refreshments and fellowship. Please help our new tenants know they are welcome!
As I write I am pleasantly post- our first UUFSB Thanksgiving Day dinner extravaganza. Twenty-seven people, all told, spent four hours of meal-making, feasting, friend-making and game-playing over wine and grog, mulled cider and beer. We had a blast and then everyone pitched in like heroes to put the sanctuary and kitchen back in order. I thank all who came for their good natures, good food and good faith and for the spirit of celebration that settled over us and made us laugh until we cried. I hope you had fun too, wherever you went or stayed.
Ahead of us lie more opportunities to gather, feast, and enjoy the company of family and friends. Our Sunday morning services this month point us toward Christmas and other festivals of light and hope. On December 10th, Ron Kagel and Dan Weymouth, as Rat and Mole, reprise a chapter of The Wind in the Willows in a service called “Homeward Bound.” On the 17th, we will again festoon the Mitten Tree with giveaways and count out the Twelve Days of Christmas in a flurry of geese and pipers and milk maids. On Christmas Eve morning, we’ll brag a little about the Unitarian influence on the secular traditions of the season and then, that evening, bear witness again—by glowing Yule log, chalice and candle light—to the birth of Jesus.
And here’s my traditional holiday recipe gift to you: a morning feast for your good company. Enjoy!
Fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes or Waffles (Yossy Arefi)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ cups buttermilk
¾ cup pumpkin purée
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together to combine. In a medium bowl, beat the buttermilk, pumpkin purée, eggs, melted butter and vanilla together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently fold until just combined. Heat a lightly greased griddle or nonstick skillet over medium low heat. Drop the pancakes into the pan by the 1/4 cup. Cook until the batter bubbles at the edges and browns on the bottom, then carefully flip. Cook until the batter is completely cooked through and the pancakes are puffy and deep golden brown. Repeat until all of the batter is used. Yield: dozen+ 3 1/2-inch pancakes or 6 waffles.
Joy in the candlelight to you all,
Thinking to share something from my recent trip to the southern Republic of Ireland, I read Seamus Heaney’s poem “Postscript” as Chalice Lighting words for the monthly meeting of the Worship Associates last Saturday. I was struck as I read his brilliant words how much his description of the dramatic landscape of western County Clare also describes what happens when worship works the way it is supposed to. The beauty that comes toward you out of the mist is there for you only for a moment. The more you try to capture it, the more distance you put between yourself and the revelation that is seeking to enter you. That moment best takes you off guard, as the poet notes, so that your heart, blown open, takes in the experience while it is alive, still pulsing with the mystery of that particular collision of shapes and colors, textures and sensations, memories and meaning. No photograph can hold that slow tide of wonder. If you give your attention to creating a record of the moment, you miss it. But we took photos too.
Postscript (Seamus Heaney)
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
Donnchadh Gough, uilleann piper (L); Robbie O’Connell, guitar; WGBH Boston’s Brian O’Donovan clapping. The Cliffs of Moher.
Thank you for this precious time away.