We just started a new monthly evening service of meditation and reflection. It has been a lovely collaborative effort between Pat Killian, and Linda Anderson, our affiliated Community Minister, and myself. Together, we designed a format for the service, created a three-service pilot series, and publicized it, and now two of them have happened. The third one is coming up on Friday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m.
The service design is loosely based on the worship tradition of the Taizé Community, a monastic order founded in 1940 in Taizé, Burgundy, France, composed of more than one hundred Catholic and Protestant brothers who originate from about thirty countries across the world. Taizé worship is ecumenical, welcoming, multilingual and insanely popular in Europe. I experienced Taizé-style worship at one New Year’s Day service in Chicago after seminary and have never forgotten how far and deep it took me.
“Vespers” (evening prayer, “at the lighting of the lamps) is the seventh of eight traditional times of prayer that divide the Christian monastic day. Our vespers service is for anyone of any faith, within or outside our congregation. It is for people who don’t want to give up their leisurely consumption of coffee and the New York Times on Sunday mornings. It is for young people whose days begin at noon. It is for all who abhor a sermon. It is for people who are winding up a week of 9 to 5 and welcome a place to just “be” and not “do.” It is for people who feel crowded in their lives and need to regain a sense of spaciousness in place and time. It is for people who like to sing and people who like to listen to people singing and to instrumental music. It is for people who prefer an intuitive communal flow with few or no instructions.
The order of service for winter and early spring consists of chants and short songs from a variety of religious traditions and languages sung with multiple repeats; intervals of instrumental music; three short readings; a ten-minute meditation in relative darkness; a candle lighting and light gathering; a benediction and then tea and cookies. We sit in chairs in a layered circle with aisles. The room is lit with white mini-lights. No sermon, no instructions, no order of service, no imposed meaning-making, simply space to connect with yourself and, perhaps, with a deeper or wider self of which you are a unique and integral part. The service lasts an hour or less with time to meet or make friends afterwards. The sign that greets you at the door coming offers a brief orientation: “Please take a candle and a music sheet. Choose a seat. Enter the stillness. Be here. Don’t worry.” Together we create a sanctuary for listening to your life.
I hope you will be able to join us on one or another third Friday, maybe even make a habit of it. Soon we will be promoting the service in the wider community as a safe and welcoming interfaith space for rest, contemplation and inspiration. This service is a ministry we are offering to the world beyond our doors. It’s not just for us. It is a sanctuary of slow, quiet and rest for a harried world. Our collaboration yields gifts for the world.
Yours with great affection,
“Mission-Vision work” is the process a community uses to envision its place in the future, to gain clarity about the work and the path ahead, and to collect the energy needed to sustain them on the journey. The goal of our 2016 Mission Vision Process is for the lovers of this Fellowship and faith to discover together what really matters to them as a community and to find ways to invest the time, talent and treasure we have in those things.
You may have heard that the 2016-17 Pledge Campaign (ABD), which kicks off at the March 13th Sunday service, will include elements of our 2016 “mission vision” discernment, a process we’re calling “Discovering Our Path into the Near Future.” That 3/13 Sunday service, the Stone Soup Dinner Party that same evening, and the Dinners For 12 on the following Sunday will all contain exercises and discussions designed to help us discover who we are now as a congregation, the current context in which we are situated, and what that identity and context tells us about how we are called to serve one another and our neighbors. The Pledge Campaign concludes on the evening of April 23 with what is sure to be a wonderful Contradance and Dessert Celebration. The mission vision process continues to completion with two additional gatherings in May.
The last time the congregation took a formal look at questions of purpose and the future was back in 2007, the year after the retirement of long-term minister Kate Leyman. One product of that process was our current mission statement: “The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook is a religious community that seeks diversity, individual spiritual growth, and social and economic justice.” Another product was six bulleted visionary goals for the year 2017, all of which, by my lights, the congregation has achieved or made impressive strides toward achieving: to be known in the larger community, to take compassionate action, to grow in membership and human diversity, to increase membership engagement in Fellowship activities, to practice earth stewardship, and to achieve financial security.
Meanwhile, the world within and outside the walls of the Fellowship has changed in many ways. We face new pressures, struggle with new issues, find injustice in new places, confront new global vulnerabilities. The time has come to fix our vision as a congregation on what really matters to us NOW. In the process we are looking to meet the following ends. We want to deepen connections between people who love this Fellowship and are committed to its thriving. We want to ask one another the most daring, provocative, and “box-opening” questions we can come up with in order to get at who we are, what we’re for, what moves us and what the world needs from us. We want to awaken our hearts and minds to possibilities no one among us could have conjured up alone. We want to leave every person with an indelible memory of “truth and meaning” that emerged during our time together. And we want to find some kind of words or symbols, some song or poem, some image or story that will later bring everyone back to those memories and to the inspiration and excitement they felt in that moment.
Please bring the gift of U to every Pledge Drive and Mission Vision event this spring!
Yes, you have a foodie for a minister. It could be worse. I promise you.
Every year at the head of our late fall and early winter holidays, I offer you a Fellowship-tested recipe for your files and festive tables. On many Belonging and all-day workshop Saturday mornings, these muffins (in their “mini” form, though they're are just as good as regular size muffins) appear on the morning treats table next to the coffee and tea. They are easy to make and always received with wonder—not too sweet, wonderfully lemony with a “streusel” topping that is really only a simple sprinkling of sugar before baking. An easy fix on lazy post-holiday frenzy mornings.
Sour Cream Lemon Streusel Muffins
Makes 24 mini-muffins, 12 regular-size muffins or 6 giant-size muffins.
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. grated lemon peel
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 c. walnuts, chopped
- 1/2 c. sour cream
- 1/2 c. milk
- 1/2 c. butter, melted
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp. sugar (for muffin tops)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease or paper-line 12 (2 1/2 inch) muffin cups. In large bowl, combine flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, lemon peel, salt and walnuts.
- In small bowl, combine sour cream, milk, butter and egg until blended. Stir into flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon into muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over tops.
- Bake 15 to 20 minutes for regular-size muffins, 20 to 25 minutes for giant-size muffins or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan. Cool on wire rack.
I wish you all the best this holiday season: warmth, love, beauty, deliciousness, reunion, company, discovery, memories and hope. May the year 2016 bring you blessings beyond your wildest imagination. May you notice them. May you savor them. The muffins too.
Love, and see you in the candlelight,
Linda and I are returning day from two weeks in Salt Lake City and Moab, Utah. For the first five days we were two of more than eight thousand attendees at the 5th Parliament of the World’s Religions, the first held in the US for twenty-two years. The very first Parliament, which took place in 1893 in Chicago, played a major role in introducing a dominantly Christian America to eastern, Midwestern and indigenous religious traditions. During days at the Parliament we were surrounded by people representing eighty countries and fifty faith traditions, many dressed in traditional regalia.
Twice-daily plenaries were organized according to themes such as “Women,” “Hate and Violence,” “Global Climate Change,” and “Indigenous Peoples.” I can’t even begin to tell you how moving many of the speeches were, speeches begging us all, in many tongues and scriptures and prayers and passionate analyses of current events to unite around our shared values and work together towards peace and justice for all the peoples of the world and for our planet. We attended workshops led by Jain, Muslim, Jewish, Yoruba, Pagan, Sikh, and indigenous men and women; witnessed rituals and prayers led by Tibetan monks, Sufi dervishes and indigenous grandmothers; listened to an international children’s choir and a gorgeous cantata about the southwestern natural world called “Earth Songs”; shared lunch with several thousand people at a Sikh “langar,” a free meal open to the entire Parliament every day—salad, fruit, dal/beans, raita, naan, a paneer/curry, dessert, coffee and tea. Delicious and served with welcome and warmth.
At a workshop on “Trees, Forests and the Sacred” I heard about a grove called “Pando,” a clonal colony of a single male quaking aspen determined to be a single living organism, the heaviest in the world and at 80, 000 years old, among the oldest beings on earth. We went to visit our aspen grove relative just outside of Richfield, UT, a massive root system with genetically identical “stems.” A wondrous sight.
Yours with love,
Perhaps it is a little mysterious to you what all a minister might be good for other than a sermon or a newsletter column or, in my specific case, a loaf of homemade bread. Here are some good reasons to reach out to me:
- You need a sympathetic ear for problems or decisions you are facing regarding your job, children, marriage, relationship, or anything else; you are feeling confused, depressed, isolated or hopeless or have a joy to share.
- You have a friend or loved one who is ill or in trouble or you yourself are dealing with an illness, disability or facing surgery; 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 feel the need to ritually 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’re considering membership in the congregation or have already joined and are wondering how you can participate more fully in congregational life; you would 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 work it out; you’d just like to come sit with me and see what may open to us.
The point is: I am here to help, part of a larger circle of helpers. No one need feel alone or resourceless. So, cut out the “How to Get Help” memo below. Post it on your fridge, fold it into your wallet or purse, put the names and numbers into your mobile phone. And while you are at it, create a mobile phone entry for “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) and the phone number of your #1 go-to person. ICE is the entry that medical professionals will be looking for in your phone if you are ever in an accident or an ER and cannot speak for yourself. Put my number in there too under “My Minister.” If you or someone you love is ever seriously injured or hospitalized, call me and I will come immediately. I can help you navigate the chaos. Yes, ministers do that. A lot. And whenever you go to the hospital, consider letting me know. I’d be more than happy to come visit you there, send a card, chat on the phone, IM back and forth, help with a problem.
Finally, I urge all of you, no matter what your age and especially if you have children, to download and fill out our In Case of Emergency (ICE) / End of Life Planning form. Make copies for your family, doctor, lawyer and one for me. I keep them in a secure file in my office. The primary purpose of the document is to spur you to think about some tough issues and to plan ahead, and in doing so reduce the number of difficult decisions your loved ones will have to make if you were to be badly injured, very ill or dying. Meanwhile, my dear ones, live well, love much, and don’t hesitate to call,