I was “away” all of last week, first for two days with a gathering of 500 Unitarian Universalist ministers (Ministry Days), then for five days with a gathering of 5,000 Unitarian Universalists (General Assembly). Many of you joined the closing worship of General Assembly on Sunday, which took the place of our regular Sunday worship. Of course, nothing is “regular” these days. These gatherings that would have involved people physically together in a convention center became huge Zoom meetings instead.
On Sunday when the conferences ended, I found myself doubly sad. There was the normal tired feeling after an intense week of being with so many people…and there was the added sadness of realizing that I really wasn’t with the people. How much more satisfying it is to be together, sitting down for coffee with a friend or colleague; worshipping together; singing together. This pandemic continues to bring challenges that are hard to bear.
And…General Assembly was hugely inspiring and challenging. Some of the topics that I engaged with during the week included: a panel discussion about reparations for descendants of people who were enslaved; an environmental call to action; an overview of UU the Vote; and a panel of white anti-racist allies. I also attended sessions on creating family-inclusive worship services and on facilitating restorative justice circles. So much of what we did and talked about put Black, Indigenous, People of Color at the center: in worship, in workshops, in leadership, and in the resolutions we passed. We heard from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose reservation lands are currently being threatened by the U.S. government. The resolution passed by the delegates at General Assembly calls on us to:
Finally, today marks the end of the 10-month contract I had initially signed with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Michigan, and the beginning of the 12-month contract extension I have signed. The first 10 months working here have been tremendous, and I look forward to serving UUFCM for the coming year, growing together in love and community and working for greater justice.
Spirit of life and love, present in all the moments of our lives, may we see you now. May we feel your presence. The divine, the holy, is always here—we just need to open ourselves to awareness of the holy, of the compassion within, of the mystery beyond.
Great Mystery and Great Compassion, may we be in harmony with love wherever it moves through this life. May we be in harmony with the love moving in our families and among our friends; may we be in harmony with the love flowing among the members of this Fellowship; may we recognize that love takes the form of resistance to oppression in a society rife with injustice.
May love guide us and hold us.
Amen. Aho. Blessed Be.
I’ve been taking an online class for the past few weeks about how to create better videos and how to use video messages to improve ministry. The guiding question is: what does it look like to be present in the internet/social media space with the core UUFCM message of love and justice, of transforming ourselves and our world? You can expect to see more UUFCM videos on Facebook, on our website, and elsewhere, in the coming weeks and months.
One video example that the instructor shared was an 8-minute video about Unitarian Universalism. Watching it got me excited all over again about our faith. The video consists mostly of little snippets of interviews with UU’s. They talk about misconceptions about our faith, about what drew them here and what holds them here. The interviews are in a large convention space and I’m thinking it must be a General Assembly.
General Assembly, or GA, is the yearly national gathering of Unitarian Universalists. It was supposed to be in Providence, Rhode Island this year, but of course it’s online instead. (Next year it is scheduled for Milwaukee, Wisconsin.) GA is exciting because there are thousands of UU’s from large and small congregations together. There is a lot of social justice work, a lot of connecting, and important business such as debating and approving changes to the bylaws. If you don’t think that’s important, remember that the seven principles are part of the bylaws and were created, revised, and approved at GA business meetings.
As a minister, I will attend the GA business meetings and cast a vote. A congregation of our size also gets to send two voting delegates: Brigitte Bechtold and Laura McBride. Ten other members of the congregation are attending GA this year, but not voting.
This will keep me busy all of next week, so I will not be available for most regular Fellowship business. Attached to the 4-day General Assembly is a 2-day UU ministers’ conference. I had a preview meeting of that conference already, and there were 500 UU ministers on the Zoom call. So I will be very engaged in Unitarian Universalism next week, but not directly with this Fellowship. I will, however, be available for any emergencies.
The beauty and power of General Assembly is the same thing that I find in the video I mentioned and in the experience of creating videos for the internet. This religion is far bigger than our 60 members here in Mount Pleasant. We have a national reach and a centuries-old history. Most importantly, we have a life-saving message of love, inclusion and social justice that we need to share.
May the gathering of General Assembly be blessed by joy, love, and dedication to the ideals of justice and compassion. May the delegates and attendees bring their full selves to the task of knowing one another, of opening our minds and hearts to other people’s experience, and the grand task of forming a living thriving body out of thousands of individual voices.
May those of us who go to GA know that we represent the fullness of this Fellowship.
May the world be blessed by the energy of Unitarian Universalism: love for all, justice for all, respect for all, spirituality in many forms.
May it be so.
It was just one week ago that the Tittabawassee River flooded with the breaching of the Edenville dam and the flooding of Midland. I heard from loved ones out of state—as I’m sure many of us did—saying, “I heard there was flooding in central Michigan! Is that near you? Are you OK?” Where I live, in Mount Pleasant on the Chippewa River, we had high water and some flooding but nothing catastrophic.
As I’ve said before, I have a sacred relationship with the Chippewa River. All of my favorite places to walk and jog are along the river. Last Wednesday after the heavy rains, I went to see how high the river had gotten and marveled at how strong and fast it was running in the places I’m familiar with. Two days ago, I went walking in Meridian Park. It was a hot day and I jumped into the river, sneakers and all. I was in a bad mood that day, and as I swam, I imagined the river taking away my grumpy feelings.
The river represents wildness: when I connect with the river (seeing it or swimming in it), I connect with the primordial, wild, natural part of myself. The part without thinking or judgement, the part beyond time: flowing and present in the Now.
The river represents life and renewal: it cleanses and washes away; it brings fresh new water that is seemingly never-ending.
The river represents destruction: it breaches the dam, it washes away the bridge, it invades homes and businesses, it can sweep away people and things.
This paradox makes me think of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva. One represents the Preserver and one the Destroyer. They are two aspects of the divine, just as they are two aspects of the river. The god of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah also contains both aspects: he creates and he destroys. As the river is a divine or sacred thing, it too has both aspects.
These are metaphysical abstractions, but the damage in Midland, our neighbors to the East, is real. The seemingly endless power of the river to cleanse and renew has been abused by humans for a long time, as those downstream of the Dow Chemical plant in Midland know. One of the main concerns of this flood was how it would affect the chemical plants and the toxic cleanup sites already existing because of Dow’s previous pollution of the river. And pollution is part of the Chippewa as well as the Tittabawassee: when I told a local canoeist today where I swam in the Chippewa River, she said that’s OK but don’t swim downstream of where the south branch comes in, because it is too polluted.
Divine sprit that is present in all things, hear this prayer.
May we be connected to the primordial power of nature. May we know that we are in kinship with the earth, the sky, and the river. May we be awakened and renewed by that connection.
Spirit of life and love, may we respect and honor the awesome power of nature. Though we try to tame the rivers with dams, we can’t stop the rain and we can’t hold back the floodwaters. Nature creates and destroys.
May our neighbors in Midland and Sanford and Edenville be safe. May they be able to reclaim what they can, and accept and grieve what is lost in this flood.
May all of humanity recommit to living in harmony with nature, respecting the rivers and not polluting them. May it be so.
Drew's office hours are suspended until further notice. However, he is reachable at any time via email, phone, or text.
Day off: Friday.
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