Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hymns and Songs for Small Groups

We held our second technical rehearsal of our video cafe this morning, for a small group that included a visiting ministerial colleague. Besides thinking that we have a viable service, (thanks, Kate!) she remarked that we had a better sense of picking good hymns for small group worship than most people, even ministerial colleagues, seem to.

Since I've just finished compiling a set of hymns for use in our Video Cafe and Branch locations, where we anticipate no piano, only possible guitar, and modest talent for group singing leadership, I offer it here for those organizing worship for retreats, small congregations, etc. My criteria are: the music has a limited range, a lot of repetition, short phrases, not too many words, simple melody.

From the Gray Book:

Come, Come, Whoever you Are
Circle Round for Freedom
May the Circle be Unbroken
Gathered Here
Spirit of Life (harder than the others but so many of us know it!)
Come Sing a Song With Me
One More Step
Peace is Flowing Like a River
Kum ba yah
Alleluia (11 minute accompaniment CD here:)

From the Turquoise Book: Simple Accompaniments to many of these hymns are available on the UUA website.

Where Do We Come From? 1003
Woyaya 1020
Return Again 1011 (lovely CD of this Here)

There is a Balm in Gilead 1045
Turn the World Around 1074

Only If you have a guitar:

Take up the Song (Etzler and Chambers, in Signature Songbook #3)
When Our Heart is in a Holy Place (Turquoise # 1008)
1031 Filled with Loving Kindness

Many of these songs would be enhanced by a simple shaker or drum accompaniment.

A group that learns this many songs is doing very well!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Choosing Abortion Battles

It's always discouraging when a woman's right to not share her body with an unwanted intruder is whittled away and when rich men play politics with the sacred matter of motherhood. But surely we've all gotten used to this, and we had another round of it last week when the Senate passed a bill making it a crime for anyone to take a pregnant girl across state lines so she could obtain an abortion without notifying her parents.

Nobody thinks this happens very often, so this bill has more symbolic effect than real. But the hand-wringing of the Pro-Choice side makes me almost sadder than the glee of the pro-lifers.

As I understand the law, every state that has parental notification laws has exceptions for rape and incest and a judicial bypass option. So when, god forbid, a child of 13 comes to me to ask for help getting her an out-of-state abortion because she's pregnant by her father and afraid to tell him, I don't want to just get her an abortion, I want to get her in front of a judge and get the abortion (which is required to be granted) and I want that judge to also set the wheels of justice in motion to get the kid out of that unsafe home. Simply taking her across state lines to get an abortion would be another kind of child abuse.

As for the more likely scenario, the sexually active 16 year old who's scared to talk to her parents, she's also old enough to get herself across state lines without physical assistance from me, and scared though she might be, she is, after all going to face their wrath if she stays pregnant, too.

I'm also skeptical of the pro-choice assumption that if teens have to go to their parents they'll be pressured against their best interests or abused. My somewhat limited experience as a Planned Parenthood clergy counselor and a minister is that moms are often more in favor of an abortion than daughters. Young women often have woefully romantic notions about motherhood, but their mothers have good reason to be more realistic. They know the sacrifice and sacredness of motherhood, and they know that their daughters are unprepared for both. As for abuse...Young people have recourse if they are being abused by their parents and the same adults who are available to help them get abortions are available to help them if parents fly out of control over their daughter's pregnancy.

Let this one go.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ministerial "Right of First Refusal"

The original question on the UU Leaders chat was: "Does a minister's Freedom of the Pulpit extend to the right of first refusal over non-member weddings" If you're just joining this blog, scroll down three posts and read them over to catch up.

So. Freedom of the Pulpit has nothing to do with this.
Control of Sacred Space has to do with this question only if there's the possibility that the activity or leader would reflect badly on the church or be seen as sacrilegious.
Minister's covenants of relationship with each other govern some of this but lay folks don't need to worry about them.

The essence of this issue, however is economic. Ministers get paid for doing weddings. Ministers who like the extra income, and the many who need the extra income want all the opportunities to do these weddings they can have. Organists often feel the same way. Because both ministers and organists are often poorly paid, they are often indulged in this little bit of protective behavior. So, lay folks, if your minister is demanding a right of first refusal for non-member weddings, the first thing to wonder is if you are paying this person well enough that they don't have to work weekends and evenings doing weddings. Then you can start negotiating.

Ministerial Ceremony protocol

UU Ministers have a covenant with each other, as do ministers of many other denominations, to honor the relationships that others have with them and with their churches. So if someone calls me to say that they belong to the such and such church and can I do their wedding (actually, this most often happens with memorial services, in my experience), I tell them I'll think about it and I call the minister of that church. The reason for the request is often some past hurt or strain between the deceased or the deceased's family and the minister. Often the minister is relieved not to have to do that memorial service. However a memorial service is not really a private affair, and most ministers consider a memorial service of a member a ministry, not only to the grieving family, but to their grieving church. This creates a situation in whcih the best solution, in my experience, is for the two ministers to work together on the memoiral service, with the "host" minister welcoming the congregation and doing the "grief work" part of the service, and the "guest" minister doing eulogy and other personal parts of the service.

All of these arrangements are a part of ministerial protocol and covenants with fellow ministers.

The new issue on the ministerial block is the increasing number of free lance "ministers" around, who usually have little training, have had no vetting or substantive certification, and are accountable to no one. They mostly don't know anything about these protocols. My limited experiences with two such persons, both friends of deceased church members with whom I agreed to share a service, were quite negative, so I don't agree to that without careful planning any more.

Ministers and Sacred Space

The UU Leaders Chat has been covering the concept of "Freedom of the Pulpit" (see below) and its relationship to the sanctuary. My thoughts:

In this denomination often, and in other denominations, usually or always, ministers are given control of the congregation's sanctuary; its sacred space. This is not related to Freedom of the Pulpit, which is in essence a freedom from censorship. In our denomination, it us usually given by virtue of an unspoken set of assumptions which makes a minister the #1 keeper of the sacred for the congregation. A congregation which lets out its sanctuary to all comers to do whatever they like in as if it was commercial space is playing footsie with its sacred space, possibly because it doesn't want any. Which is their right, but a matter on which they should agree with their religious professional if they have one.

Most congregations do want some sacred space, and when issues come up (Shall we rent our sanctuary to a film company making a horror film? would be one, and "There is a couple who wants to rent our sanctuary for their wedding and they say that they are going to have their beloved dog be there in place of the officiant and say their vows to it, is this ok?") The minister is usually consulted and often has (and should have, in my opinion) considerable informal or formal authority in these decisions.

Freedom of the Pulpit

The UU Leaders email chat has been dealing with the relationship and meaning of "Freedom of the Pulpit" and how that extends to things like rental weddings. So I started thinking about the many issues this raises.

Freedom of the pulpit, in this minister's belief, is the freedom from advance censorship. It is extended to a minister because the minister and congregation have covenanted together; the minister to speak the truth in love and to mind the best interests of the church and the traditions of our free faith, and the congregation has agreed to hear that truth, love, and responsibility with an open mind. (Freedom of the Pulpit might not be extended to those who are not in covenant with the congregation. We don't extend it here in Albuquerque and regularly ask to review pulpit editorials and talks by guests and members in advance. We've actually never had to go back and ask people to make changes in content, but often ask them to shorten, tighten up, or otherwise do a better job with their writing. We came to this policy after some difficult experiences.)

A minister who, let's just speculate, got obsessed with polyamory and began to preach about it out of proportion to its importance to the members, who used the pulpit to scold those who disagreed, caused damage to the church's reputation in the community, and who did not speak responsibly about the pros and cons of openly accepting and welcoming this particular life style choice would probably be judged out of bounds of the covenant and could be asked to make changes in their preaching subject, manner, and priorities. If the covenant stayed broken for long, the congregation would probably dismiss the minister by it's democratic procedures.

It's not really true therefore, to say that "freedom of the pulpit means that the minister can say anything s/he wants to."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Critter Updates

Here's a picture of our new family member. Those of your who followed Sabbatical Blogging will know that our beloved pet iguana died in May. A few weeks back, I traveled to Las Cruces to adopt a stray. We've named him Ninja because of his extraordinary atheletic abilities. He climbs everything; blinds, screens, wall hangings; anything to get to the "top". Although he's about three feet long, he's still pretty light and can get away with this behavior, but we're hoping he settles down before he puts on his next pound. A couple of days back he managed to topple a lamp, and it must have landed on him, because he played dead for a while, scaring us into realizing how fond we've gotten of him already. Presently, however, he revived and has been slowly going about his iggy business, acting sore but ok. Phew!

The one-legged Robin, (who is not only one legged but whose red breast has ...faded? aged? to gray and black speckles) we've decided, has a mate who is almost always in sight but not with her (?) disabled friend. It's taken us a while to put the two of them together, but we're sure now. I'm glad for (him?). It's no doubt hard to be a disabled Robin, and all of us need our friends.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Our One Legged Robin

A few days ago a new bird appeared in our yard; a one-legged robin. He flopped around, sat on the back step, looked exhausted, and flew with a wobble. Oh, boy, did we in the house feel sorry for sorry that we went to the compost pile, dug some worms, and took them to the back step for him (or her...hard to know with robins.)

The Robin appeared at least once a day, and someone in the family would take note and alert the others. We speculated on the source of his tragedy, how he would manage his bird-life, and the general novelty of having a one-legged bird in our yard.

This afternoon, the one legged Robin appeared in the yard again, but he'd learned a new trick. He was standing upright and steady balancing between is one leg and his tail. And when he saw me creeping up to make sure my eyes didn't deceive me, he flew away with nary a wobble.

So it suddenly seems that this fellow's tragedy was not so long ago, and that he's adapting, learning, and getting along. And it seems suddenly possible that we've had one-legged birds in our yard before, but never noticed.

Today's sermon was shared between myself and a respected member of the congregation who has gone through several bouts of deep depression. He attended last Winter's "How to Write A Sermon" class clear about what he wanted his sermon to say and worked hard to craft a 10 minute sermon out of his experience. I added a few of my own thoughts. It was one of those mornings when all the pieces come together, as if by magic. Furthermore, both services were packed full, making ours surely the only church in the city at capacity on the third Sunday of July.

Some people came because some come every Sunday. Some came because they hadn't seen me in a while, and some came because they were being welcomed as new members. Some came because they knew Ron and wanted to support his "coming out" story. Some came because they, too, suffer from mental illnesses, and a bunch of members who had always seemed to me to get on perfectly well told me about their diagnoses and how wonderful it was to have this subject aired at church.

The thing is that there are one-legged robins around us all the time, doing pretty well most of the time, so well that you wouldn't notice if you didn't know, that there was extra effort being expended, a hurt healing, or major adjustment going on. One of the poignencies of ministry is that ministers often do know. We scan the congregation or greet worshippers at the door as one great prayer of thanksgiving and wonder for all that is our lives.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Growth Strategies

There's been a recent Blogger discussion about Growth Strategies for the UUA, and the fact that it would be good to get all of our eggs out of the large church rapid start model which, even if it was working well (it's been disappointing so far) is only one basket for all of our eggs.

We here in Albuquerque, which will never be a place for a rapid start congregation, since it's a city of less than a million people and already serves an unusually large number of UU's per capita (have you seen this?) have an idea which we think might be revolutionary, planting new churches as small community branches worshiping as lay led small groups and centering that worship around a video recording from our early service. We've worked out a lot of technical details, are poised to start our own on-campus video cafe worship service, and we would be ready to start forming small groups in towns 30-200 miles from us where we (yep!) have a few members already. The only problem is that it's going to take a staff person a year to get those small groups going, and we don't have the money for that staff person. We think that if we had about $45,000 for a staff person and start up costs, we could bring between 200 and 500 people into the UU fold in 6-9 locations around New Mexico within a few years. We could do this slowly, one group at a time, using volunteer effort, and since there is no obvious way to get more than a $20,000 grant for a project in this denomination (talk about how we think small!) that's what we will probably do. Unfortunate for several reasons, one of which is that bringing on three or four branches at one time will force us into the work of transformation from what we are now, into a "to the core" multi site church. That transformation is what other churches need to watch, so they can learn from our mistakes, and the sooner the better.

I like the foundation idea. It would be a place to go with big ideas. What we have now in the Funding Panel and Chalice Lighters and such are good places to go with small ideas. Of which we have plenty. But it's big ideas that we really need now.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Faithing Lessons

Turtle Mountain comments that s'he does not think it appropriate for a non-creedal faith community to guide a person's faith development, only to encourage it.

This makes the assumption that our faith is like a flower bud, which will unfold in the fullness of time, if just given the encouragement of a little water.

I say that the development of faith is much more like the ability to swim. I suppose that it is possible to learn to swim (or at least to stay alive in the water) on one's own, but the parent who says to the child, "Just jump in. I don't want to guide you, just encourage you," is unthinkable.

Now it is true that everyone has their own style of swimming, their own comfort level in the water, their own favorite strokes. What makes Unitarian Universalism nearly unique amongst western religions is that we enjoy a pool filled with folks who are swimming in their own sweet way and not insisting that everyone do the back stroke and only the back stroke.

But we still have to teach each other some of the basics of swimming, or we're just not doing our job.

We teach lots of strokes, we help people who have previously been afraid to learn to float. We support those who are learning and sometimes rescue those who are sinking.

One of the most important strokes we teach is "pay attention to your own experience, and make sure your world view and faith honor that experience."

We do best at honoring our own experiences if we have been given words to express them, if we feel safe in speaking of them, and if others are talking about their deep experiences, too. Those things don't happen as often as they should, even in clergy-led congregations and often don't happen at all in lay lead congregations. But faithng lessons is the job of a faith community, even a non-creedal one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On Not Believing in What we Experience

Someone told me lately that she was not a believer, nor was her (deceased) mother, although, she said, her mother might have believed in an afterlife and had told her some "creepy stories about about having "seen" her brother and father at the moment of their deaths."

In the whole context, it didn't seem appropriate to respond to that, but I was sad, and I keep being sad. I imagine that mom herself might have said, had she had the "churchy" words and spiritual support, that she believed in an afterlife, in part because she had been blessed with vivid experiences her father's and brother's non-physical presence after their deaths. But that's just a guess; maybe she herself thought her experiences were creepy, rather than numinous.

She might have said such words if she had belonged to a community which had allowed her to tell that story and had helped her to frame and understand and value her experience and base her beliefs on it. If, in short, she had belonged to a church, a covenant circle, a Sunday school class. If she had had such a community she might have come to realize that such experiences are not uncommon and are the very stuff on which belief is based.

She didn't avail herself of such support, in part over fury that a misguided pastor in her past had refused to allow an unbaptized baby to be burred in a church yard.

In this particular nutshell of a casual sentence, I'm slain by the weight of ministry, that our actions strike such deep notes in others, for good and for ill, the the communities we help to create and the vocabularies we help people hone,own, and share, really do change lives.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Being too "Christian"

Periodically, I hear that some people in my church think that (a)I, or (b) the church service or (c) the UUA have become "too Christian." Try as I might to be a good minister, open to input from all, what this accusation elicits in me is exasperation.

Let me just remark that I'm not a Christian, and, while the denomination as a whole has more openly recognized that it has Christians in it since 1980 or, that's not a real change, only an attitude adjustment. But there's no doubt about it, the worship in our churches has changed.

I've asked people what, exactly bothers them, when they say, "This is too Christian," and what they seem to mostly mean by that is either that we take Christian Holidays too seriously (Christmas Pageant on Christmas Eve.) or that the church has become too devotional. They don't use that term, I hasten to say, but when given the opportunity to talk about what they don't like, they cite practices which are devotional rather than intellectual, which use a language of reverence rather than the language of academia, and which are liturgical (the work of the people) or ritualistic rather than pulpit or sermon-centered.

We celebrate a couple of Christian holidays, the Jewish High Holy Days, and at least one Pagan/Earth Centered day each year. We celebrate a couple of national holidays (Thanksgiving and Memorial Day), and three or four "Change the World" days, MLK's birthday. Earth Day, Gay Pride, and the UUSC's Justice Sunday. We publicize these special days in advance so that those who don't care for those themes or the traditions they come from can take a Sunday off. It's ok with us if people take days off. It's not so ok with me when people say we ought not to celebrate Christian themes on Christmas Eve or remember the sacrifices of war on Memorial Day. If you can't stand to hear the word resurrection, no matter how it is defined, just say, "I'm going on a walk this morning," when Easter rolls around. But please don't complain about the church being too "Christian" because we celebrate Easter once a year, among many other celebrations.

The devotional aspect of the service is a little harder to avoid, but neither does it last a long time. I know that some UU's don't pray, and that 20 years ago, the fact that some (most?) UU's didn't pray meant that there was never a public prayer offered in worship. That's certainly a change, and change is difficult, but we never pray "Christian" prayers, we never pray "in Jesus' name", so our practice of praying is simply not, "Christian." It could be called (broadly) theistic or simply devotional, but to call it Christian would be seen by Christians as ignorant, and by this minister as "reactive." The addition of prayers and other ritual and devotional practices to our worship has been, in my opinion and the opinion of the majority in the church, a good thing. Nobody has to believe it, nobody has to participate, and it's ok that a minority doesn't like it. Different strokes (and different parts of the service) for different folks. But please, don't call it "Christian".

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth Feelings

I'm having a nostalgia attack for the Fourth of July's past...6 or 7 years past....when our son, born at the end of the Cold War and patriotic to his child's core, spent the mornings decorating his scooter with red white and blue ribbons for the neighborhood parade, the afternoon playing and singing patriotic songs (a fascination that went back to his preschool years,) and the evening hosting "his" fireworks party.

He taught his parents, flag-shy since their own Viet Nam-era coming of age, to enjoy being patriots. Oh, always patriots with a memory, but still, for a time patriots, cautiously optimistic for a nation which had (at least mostly) taken the broad straight road in the world towards peace, justice, and neighborliness. We hung our flag out with the rest of our neighbors for a decade there. It was delicious.

This year it appears that only one neighbor has a flag out. Most of our neighbors have become quite elderly. And I suppose that even many conservatives OD'ed on flags after we endured the red,white, and gray tattered items people insisted on flying from their cars for months after 9/11. And at least some I suppose, have, like us, become non-patriots on account of unjust war, torture, military atrocities, and the blindest-take-all approach our elected leaders and their cronies are taking to the ecological crisis which is looming for our world.

It's more than nostalgia attacking me this morning, actually. It's a deep sadness for a national road not taken, a fear for the future for a near military aged child, for a near bankrupt nation, and for a near crisis blue-green world. Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to thee.