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Dear Ones,

Applause during worship is a topic of concern for worship leaders. I will tell you right off the bat that we are not the only ones struggling with the “applause or no applause” question. It’s especially alive in congregations where music is a prominent component in the service. The conversation usually orbits around four questions: Why applause? Is the Sunday morning service a “performance” or not, and if it isn’t, then what is it? If the Sunday morning service is “something else,” then how does applause affect the experience? Are there alternatives to applause when you find something in the Sunday morning experience moving?

The origin of applause goes back to Roman politics, when the public was encouraged to recognize their leaders by clapping. That still goes on today, along with cued applause, hired clap-starters and clap-sustainers, recorded applause tracks, and applause meant to garner an encore. Applause is satisfying to the applauders and encouraging to the applauded under most circumstances. In our Sunday worship it feels very natural to clap when the musicians conclude a piece of music or when the speaker has delivered a particularly powerful message. But applause is a complicated sign and signal. When one person begins to clap, chances are everyone will clap. If a person doesn’t clap, it means something. If the applause is weak, it means something. If it turns out that clapping arises for this and not for that, it means something. If you are asked not to applaud and you clap anyway—on purpose or reflexively—the “no-no” vibe can be quite shaming.

A worship service is not a performance. It is a carefully constructed experience, the aim of which is to provide a glimpse of the sacred dimension of life for as many people as possible. The welcome of greeters and ushers, the preachers message, the liturgists (our WAs) presence and warmth, the focus of the musicians, the words in readings and songs, the mood and rhythm of the music, the quality of congregational singing and listening—all these things and many more interweave and interact to hold us all in a common experience that requires input and attention from everyone in the room. Worship leadership is the art of managing a very powerful, and at the same time very fragile, flow of energy through a group. In your own personal relationships, you’ve probably noticed that when you are trying to convey something very important and precious, there are certain responses by listeners that can suddenly end the conversation. Applause in worship is usually a breaker and a closer of the connection to the sense of the sacred we try to invoke. Applause at the end of the service is the least disruptive timing, but even there it can tear some of us away from our internal process in a way that feels abrupt and sad.

It IS entirely appropriate to let others know that you feel stirred/moved/amazed during a service. I love it when I see people nodding, smiling, or hear little murmurs of “Oh wow” or “Yes,” or less verbal sounds like the whooshes of sighs or excited out-breaths, or weeping, or hands on hearts or raised in the air, or standing or dancing, or voices singing along. Don’t be afraid to ride the energy out loud and visibly in a way that augments the flow. Listen to your body for hints. There are many good ways to say thank you, during the service and afterwards. These are my thoughts. What has your experience been like?



Dear Ones,

I do a lot of different kinds of stuff in my role as your minister. Planning, coordinating, and leading services three a month or so is just one of them. I join you in your meetings (Board, Worship team, Pastoral team, Membership, Shawl Ministry, 2 kinds of Staff meetings, and special task groups—two at the moment, to name a few). I am Secretary of the Shalom Interfaith Project, a member of 3-Village Interfaith Clergy Association and the UU Ministers Association Metro NY Chapter and LI Cluster, co-convener of the Long Island Ministerial Leave Program, a member of the UU Trauma Response Ministry, and I’m also involved in planning adult programming for our LI UU Area Council (LIAC). Looks like I might be joining the Board of AMOS, a coalition of community leaders allied with LI Jobs with Justice. And I have just joined a collegial group that meets at Community Church in NYC monthly to think through the challenges of ministry together. Of course, there are also the numerous phone/text calls and emails that go with supporting you in keeping UUFSB afloat and functioning! It’s a lot. But I also invest a lot of time in keeping YOU afloat and functioning, though I’m never sure I am giving or doing enough! Help me out by reaching out to me when:

  • you need a sympathetic ear for problems with your job, children, marriage, relationship, or anything else; you are feeling confused, depressed, or isolated or have a joy to share.
  • you or someone you love is ill or facing surgery; perhaps you notice that someone you know in the congregation needs support.
  • someone you love is near death or has died or and you need help with end-of-life planning or a service; you’re planning to marry, struggling in a relationship or contemplating divorce; you’re pregnant but wish you weren’t or are thrilled you are; you would like to have a child dedicated; you are undergoing a major transition in your life and would like to create a ritual to recognize the threshold you are crossing.
  • you or someone you know has questions about religion or Unitarian Universalism; you want to build your theology, deepen your spiritual life or are in spiritual crisis; you’d like to join the congregation or are already a member and are wondering how you can participate more fully in congregational life; you’d like to share your talents and gifts as part of one of our groups, committees, or classes, or serve as a volunteer in some other way.
  • you want to affirm something good going on in the congregation or would like to discuss a congregational issue that is troubling you; you have ideas about sermons or programs or have a project you would like to initiate; you’re mad at me or someone else and want to air your feelings and get some clarity about what is going on…

—Or maybe you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us out of the silence. “Come, come, whoever you are. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come yet again, come.” I want to help. The Pastoral Assistants are here for you as well (Linda Kirk, Linda Volkersz, Linda Mikell, Karen Foernsler, June Cerveny, Sylvia Kirk, John Seppala, and Marie Baltz)—you will find in us all ready ears, big hearts and confidential care.

“I see you. I need you. I am you.” Richard Blanco We need one another.



Dear Ones,

Greetings from Nova Scotia in the middle of “The Absence Years.” It may seem to you, in these two years into which I have divided 6 months of sabbatical time, that I have dropped forever below the horizon when the usual vacation and study time come into play. But I am with you more than you know: weighing in on decisions by email and phone; texting support to the denizens of hospital rooms and waiting rooms; exchanging resources, questions and answers with our staff; tracking and remarking on your lives as witnessed by Facebook; gleefully receiving your greetings on my birthday; navigating the weird landscape of my dreams with you. Believe me, you are always a planet rising over that same horizon!

Linda and I have spent nearly a month of work and play steps from the water of this fresh water lake outside of Bridgewater, about 26 km from the interesting little town of Lunenburg on the Atlantic coast of this incredibly beautiful Canadian province. We took about four days to explore Cape Breton, but mostly we’ve just gotten to know this area pretty well, met some damn handsome oxen, got hooked on oatcakes and loon calls, learned what donair sauce is and how to avoid it, swam in some kind of water most days (sometimes tea-colored from tannins), and worked for part of every day on creating a calendar and storing up content for the congregational year that begins soon.

Barring an urgent need, we’ll be sleeping in our Stony Brook beds on Monday, August 4th, and I will begin showing up again in the Emma Clark library, guiding the rubber to the road of our 2019-20 ministry. Please join me for services on August 18 and 25, great opportunities to invite adult friends who are curious about UUism. AND DO NOT MISS Homecoming, September 8th, you know —special clothing, congregational photo, AIR communion, barbecue picnic! Look elsewhere in this newsletter for details and Save-the-Dates for the Belonging series (our orientation to UUism and UUFSB) and our four-service Vespers season! Meanwhile, please make the most of your August sun and fun, and if you don’t have any beautiful oxen near you, I am sorry!

Stay cool! I’ll see you soon!



Dear Ones,

I will be away on vacation (July 1 - 14) and study leave (July 15 - August 11), returning to the office on Monday, August 12 and to our pulpit on August 18 and 25. Thanks for giving me this time to read, think, study and prepare for a new congregational year together! While I’m away, the Pastoral Assistants (PAs), Office personnel, and members of the Board of Trustees will be your go-to folks in case of an emergency (shocking news, sudden loss, medical emergency). The person you contact will listen to what is going on for you and together you can decide what the next best step might be. Our very experienced Pastoral Assistants team can handle most situations and can rally others in the congregation if many hands would help. If it’s determined that a minister's counsel or presence is needed, the person you contact will get in touch with the UU minister on call for that summer week if I’m on vacation. The PAs or on-call minister will contact me for consultation or to request I return to Stony Brook during study leave if needed. But maybe there is no emergency. Maybe you just need someone to be present to what is going on for you, to help you think something through, or locate some resources or information. Even if all you need is a little company, give the PAs a call.

Here’s my summer schedule of showing up and going away and some other features of our 2019-20 congregational year:

2019 Vacation + Leave schedule

July 1 - July 14: vacation weeks 1 and 2
July 15 - July 28: study leave week 1 and 2 (Happy 63 to me on July 25th!)
Jul. 29 - Aug 11: study leave weeks 3 and 4
Aug. 12: first day back in office
Aug. 18 and 25: first Sundays in pulpit
Sept. 1: Labor Day Sunday
Sept. 8: Homecoming Service - Air Communion
Oct. 21 - Nov. 4: vacation weeks 3 and 4

Sabbatical Leg II is March 1 - May 31, 2020

Our Homecoming Service this fall is Sunday, September 8. We’ll be celebrating the element Air. Air is the element that carries our voices and our stories out to each other and the world. For our congregational picture that morning, I invite you to wear clothing of any color that delivers a message that is dear to your heart (but not naming/depicting politicians or political parties)! This is our kick-off service for the new congregational year, a lively, musical, energetic and fun service. You really don’t want to miss it! Please plan to stay for our potluck barbecue picnic after the service! .



Dear Ones,

I am so happy to be your minister! If you would indulge me, I’d just like to dance to that tune for a moment. It was just luck that brought me to you in the spring of 2010. I had been in search that year and had visited four congregations (Birmingham AL, Sharon MA, Charlotte NC, and Danbury CT) as a pre-candidate. Those interviews had rung no bells for search committees or minister-in-search. And then our District Executive at the time, Andrea Lerner (who just announced her retirement last week, BTW), mentioned that the Stony Brook congregation was looking to hire a Consulting Minister. Here’s how I knew we were a match: Pat Killian gave me a kick-ass tour of spring green woods and harbor waters, grist mill and dirt lane, and a shopping area with a Starbucks, a Trader Joe’s, a movie theatre, and a Whole Foods, less than 1/2 a mile apart. I saw my first Baltimore oriole on a tree limb on the grassy green behind the sanctuary, and he sang to me. Dixie Comeau (the whole committee—wow—but Dixie…), Chinese food, two labyrinths, quilts, windows. We were done.

And then I met all of you and saw what you can do and then I said yes and the Board said yes and then two + years later you called me and we said yes-for-sure-and-ever and I became your settled minister. And I am still finding more things to love about you and more ways to love you back.

I love your sense of worship, your willingness to throw yourself into the flow of the service, to be there, and feel it. I love your wonderful singing as a congregation (Spirit of Life in harmony!). I love your deep bench of artists and composers and multi-instrumentalists and the music you bring to the magic of worship. I love the dedication of a stalwart core of talented leaders who see opportunities and challenges and address them, growing us in so many ways. I love how people pitch in around the edges to set up and clean-up and “man” the tables and roll the fundraisers through their seasons. I love your laughter. I love your tears. I love them wherever I find them: in my office, when I look out at you during worship, when I visit you at home or in the hospital. I love to see the spirit of life wetting your faces, splitting your ribs, inspiring your words on the dais and in the Board room. I love how you play: Easter egg hunt and brunch, Homecoming costumes, couples’ mystery dinner, children’s performances, raucous rehearsals, clever new lyrics for old tunes, the Fighting Unicorns, Mystery buddies, the Auction trips and dinners, the FB records of your journeys. I love your casual dress and your dress-up moments. I love the cards you’ve sent me, the feedback you bravely give me, the stories you tell about how this Fellowship has shaped and saved you. I love how much you care about one another. You go to the funerals; you give and receive shawls made for comfort and celebration; you bring casseroles to the door, give rides, watch the kids; you read to friends who can’t see; you hug and call, check in when someone is MIA. And you fight for what is right. You don’t just sit back when love gets lost in Money and Things and Politics. You speak up, act out, make signs, march, write letters, make calls, ride to Albany, accompany immigrants to court, visit the Mosque, attend the vigil, make a home among us for those who aren’t accepted elsewhere. You love and forgive and challenge and hope and persist. You are my people and I love who you are. Thank you for calling me and keeping me and inviting me into your lives. I am surely yours. Still. All ways.



Dear Ones,

Back together we are, comrades! I seem to have made a pretty smooth re-entry into the field of your continuing competence and have just completed the rigorous gauntlet that awaited me: the Belonging series—New Member Sunday—Vespers—Passover Seder—and Easter Sunday! Whew! The feedback I hear is that Sundays were different and nourishing in my absence, pastoral care mischief was well managed, the recommendations of the Organizational Restructuring Committee were about to be revealed, and a bunch of lovely newcomers I had never met were all lined up for the adventure of Belonging! That said, please let me know if you noticed anything you or others felt unprepared to handle during my absence. We have another go at seamlessness next year when I take my second leg of sabbatical, March-May 2020.

And now let me deliver a Big Thank You to you for your financial support of various projects that were undertaken while I was away, including the clean-up and redesign of my office! Sara Lutterbie, husband John, and daughter Julia led the team that de-moused the house, repainted and carpeted, reappointed and arranged my space to make it more cozy and welcoming for pastoral conversations and small meetings. There’s a little sitting area at the back of the room now and a much smaller desk that should be sufficient for the lap-topping ministers of future years. I will also now be able to store items we use only occasionally (like Vespers supplies, Homecoming photos, the UUFSB banner and poles, Christmas candles and bobeches, our growing collection of protest signs, and the newsprint and easel) elsewhere in the building. I am so grateful to you all for your generosity and support!

I’ll be looking for a tall light-colored wood storage cabinet to help contain and organize the stuff we do use weekly or often. If you have a nice one you’d like to donate, or see one when you are out and about, let me know! Here’s a fancy example. Soon the pictures will be up on the walls, the prayer flags resuspended, the needful stored away, and a bit of color added to the sitting area floor. Come visit and admire!

I’m still looking for some partners in the adventure of observing the Ramadan fast. I’ll be preaching about the spiritual practice of fasting on the first Sunday in May. Ramadan is expected to begin that evening when the slim crescent of the new moon appears. Join me in the experience of fasting from food and water during daylight hours for a month! Let your body feel the pulse of Islam. Let your heart embrace the wisdom of another faith. Enjoy some traditional Ramadan foods. Learn a little Arabic! This is how peace is made! Linda and I will be sharing a photo-journal about our Civil Rights Trail sabbatical trip after that Sunday service as well. Come see what we saw!



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