Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

June 10, 2018: “Intentional Service”

Monthly Theme: Multigenerationalism

Call to Worship: Rev Denis

I’d like to share with you the words of poet and social activist Thomas Merton, who also happened to be a Trappist monk. He wrote:

We are living in the greatest revolution in history –
A huge spontaneous upheaval of the entire human race:
Not a revolution planned and carried out
By any particular party, race, or nation,
But a deep, elemental boiling over
Of all the inner contradictions that have ever been,
A revelation of the chaotic forces inside every body.
This is not something we have chosen,
Nor is this something we are free to avoid. (1)

And so we gather, under this Beacon, as we do each Sunday, to face our inner contradictions together on this journey deeper into the revolution of our time.

This is the time when we chose to pry ourselves away from the screens in our lives, the media that add to the chaos. 
This is the time we choose to engage with one another in real time, in real relationship, in real connectedness, whether we are celebrating our personal successes, or struggling to find wholeness.

This morning, we celebrate leadership, we honor those who have served this congregation in the last year, and install newly elected leaders. During the installation ceremony, we will be joined by all of the children who are down the hall in the religious education program, so that they can be part of this important processes of democratic leadership and stewardship of the faith that they are inheriting.

Immediately after the installation, all of us will be part of the bridging from childhood into adulthood of two young men who are graduating from high school: Andrzej Luckwitz and Peter Guizlo.

We are a multigenerational community here, and we need each other to do the work we are responsible for: tending to the upheaval of the entire human race, the deep, elemental boiling over that is affecting the whole planet.

Homily: Rev Denis

Erik Walker Wikstrom for a few years was the Worship and Music Resources director for our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. He teaches about the humanist role of prayer for UUs, and offered a little book called Servign with Grace. He writes:

Common Wisdom holds that people come to church for a sense of belonging, and that getting involved with a committee or task force is a great way to meet people and feel more connected. You do meet people while serving on a committee, and, yes, working together in common purpose can create these bonds.

But perhaps this is not really why people come to church. Though this is often why they say they come, I think there is an even deeper reason – to have their lives transformed.

If so, then no amount of encouragement will get them to sign up for one more thing in their already busy lives. Just getting involved is not enough. It doesn’t speak to their deepest need – a transformed life.

Imagine if the practical and administrative work of the church – meetings, panning, teaching, etc. – was understood not as a necessary evil but as an integral part of the mission of the church to spiritually nurture us.

What if lay leadership were not a means to an end, but an end itself? Could you experience the meeting room as a zendo and the deliberations of a task force as a form of group prayer?

Imagine church not as a place led by a few overly taxed people but one where leadership is a broadly shared ministry that members of the community undertake for the deep joy of it.” (2)

I agree. People do come to have their lives transformed. These days, if all you want to do is meet people, there are easier (and let’s face it, much less demanding) ways of meeting people. Apps on our phones can now connect us in ways that used to take a whole community. They’re free, and ask nothing of anyone. Woohoo!

And I hear stories from all of you all the time about how you are connected here because of the ways in which this congregation challenges you to grow … even when you don’t want to.

Of all the stories you share with me, privately and in your reflections from this pulpit, those are the ones with the most juice to them. Those are the stories people want to hear.

The subtitle of Serving with Grace, is Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice. Wikstrom asserts that serving is a spiritual practice. In the book he doesn’t give instruction in how to make service a spiritual practice.

After all, UU is not as prescribed as Islam, where devotees are told exactly how to make ablutions before worship. We leave lots of space for the individual.

But Wikstrom makes these three observations that will help us each make leadership into a spiritual practice.

First, Church leadership is hard. Ask Tiffany after last week’s annual meeting. You will be stretched in ways you didn’t know you needed to be stretched, by everything from the demands of the clock to the discipline of Roberts Rules of Order.

You’ll be expected to navigate a complicated system that isn’t really understood structurally, can’t easily be taught, and is constantly in subtle flux. And just as you begin to understand it just a bit….your time is up! But you don’t really know it well enough to explain it fully to your successor.

You may even have a sleepless night or two during your service.

Second, Church, like it or not, is a spiritual institution. By spiritual, I mean transcendent, beyond the merely physical. Church is designed to get you beyond yourself and your needs, connected to something that makes you better. It’s a place where we must be connected to everyone and everything else, and that is the very essence of spirituality. If church weren’t spiritual, we could do it all by ourselves, in the comfort of our own homes.

That’s a tough one for a lot of UU folks, I know. We tend to be religious but not spiritual. By that I mean we have a tendency to bind ourselves to one another, and our experiences are pretty much solely in the physical world, understood through the lens of science and reason.

Which brings me to Walker’s third observation. Using a spiritual lens to understand the work of church enriches our lives. Transcendence makes us better. More whole. Here in this congregation, we enrich our lives through our mission to love, revere, discover and connect. 
That means we seek to find ourselves in others, to see where we are the same, where we complement one another, no matter how confusing or upsetting the behavior of the “other” may be.

The reasoned, scientific method of interaction is to pull out the latest version of the DSM, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and pathologize others. “Of course he would act that way. He’s a narcissist.”

The spiritual, transcendent method of interaction is to ask sincerely “what could be going on here? When have I acted in such a way? How is my behavior adding to the problem?

So how do we do all of that with grace? I think it’s simply remembering what grace is, and acting accordingly.

Grace is showing up, when it’s easy and joyful
Grace is showing up, when it’s difficult and sad
Grace is asking “how can I help?”
Grace is asking “what did you mean by that?” instead of making assumptions.
Grace is doing what’s asked of you, simply because it was asked of you.
Grace is putting aside your ego for the greater good.
Grace is knowing you’re right, but not needing to prove it.
Grace is offering a gift with a charitable heart
Grace is accepting a gift just as it’s offered, even if you don’t particularly want it
Grace is making the effort to find the good, then giving sincere compliments
Grace is accepting compliments without deflection
Grace is saying “I was wrong,” and apologizing
Grace is asking for forgiveness
Grace is forgiving
Grace is knowing you don’t have all the answers, and seeking to learn
Grace is giving others the space to learn, while holding them accountable
Grace is making room for change, even when you’d prefer things remain the same
Grace is stepping up when others can’t 
Grace is stepping back when you’ve done too much 
Grace is speaking up
Grace is holding your tongue
Grace is living with paradoxes

Grace is what allows us to build things we couldn’t build on our own, because

Grace is the tool that disarms conflict.

May each of us be graceful in our leadership, and forgiving of one another when we stumble.

Reflection of Newly-Elected Board Chair Bob Ross

How I came to East Shore is probably similar to how some of you may have discovered East Shore. In my case it was the funeral of my adopted father, Dr. Harry Wise. I grew up in a rather chaotic environment, and in many ways, becoming a member of the Wise household was something that grounded me and made me feel safe and accepted.

This karmic coincidence between my finding stability and belonging as a member of the Wise family, and then the passing of Harry bringing me to East Shore where I now find that same sense of belonging, safety, and connection has not escaped me.

During Dr. Wise’s memorial service here at East Shore, I felt something that went beyond the senses of the body, and the thoughts of the mind. I remember the energy contained in these walls that was quite honestly surprising and even a bit scary.

The next Sunday, I was back. I didn’t even think about it, but I remember things like the smiling face of Patrick McGovern who made sure I slapped on one of those visitor name tags, Sharon Waite who made sure that I felt welcomed, and of course the signature UU Coffee Hour after the service.

I will not go into my story of growing up Presbyterian, but for the first time in my life, I wanted to go to “church.” And I did continue to come as a visitor.

I steadily had the chance to meet more of you. I learned about East Sore’s focus on social justice causes. I learned how engaged and active members of this community have countless opportunities to volunteer at events, such as the Blue Sky Festival, and beach clean ups. And most importantly, I learned about what I consider to be one of our foundational programs, the religious education program here that would allow my then 8 year old daughter the opportunity to engage in faith development activities and classes. These faith development experiences provided her early and developmentally appropriate experiences to find out that not thinking alike, but learning together is something that people of all ages, backgrounds, faiths, beliefs, and cultures can do. Marlene is learning that if she wants to worship a rock that is okay.

I think that the final hook for me was when I learned that each UU congregation, as long as it maintains fidelity to our guiding principles, has the freedom to design, organize, and implement how each community will operate. We don’t have a headquarters, like the Vatican, that tells each congregation what to say, what to do, and how to do it! We as a community have the authority and permission to build it how we want it to work. I have also come to realize the harsh fact that with that level of autonomy and freedom to build a better spiritual mousetrap, there comes with immense responsibility. There is something really comfortable about some centralized entity telling us how we should do things, so I have also come to learn that how we do this thing called East Shore is up to you, and you, and you, and you, and you. As a collection of “not to think alikers” means it is up to us to do the sometimes hard work of figuring out how to journey together.

So in 2013, Jen & I decided to join East Shore.

During the past 5 years, I have taken my responsibilities of becoming a member very seriously. This community has provided the opportunity to contribute to the work of the giants whom shoulders many of us stand on in moving the social justice ball forward. East Shore has given me, Jen, Marlene, and all of us multiple ways to be active and make a real difference. This place is not like the blow in, blow out Presbyterian Church of my youth. We all own it.

Last year, when Rev. Denis and the nominating committee asked me if I would consider serving East Shore as the Board Chair, I was honestly a bit terrified. I was quite comfortable being an active member, and I really was not sure if I really had the skills to take on such a huge responsibility. At the end of the day, I decided that based on my love of East Shore, and my tremendous respect for Rev. Denis, I would say yes. As a relatively new guy, I realized that amongst our members are people who have invested great time, energy, and passion to bring us to where we are today. We are a congregation of several generations that have worked hard to navigate the sometime stormy waters of not thinking alike. Yet, we continue to walk together.

Last week’s annual meeting was for me an eye opening experience. It is an experience that I am grateful to have had, because it will better help me in serving my East Shore community.

What I saw was that when this congregation is given an opportunity to have a voice in who we are and what we do, positive things happen.

Case in point: The work of the COM under Tiffany’s leadership and seeking the voices of many was able to tackle the revision of our Mission and Vision Statements and then last week receive congregational approval. This happened because this community as a whole took ownership and worked together to craft the revisions that were approved.

That was a great example of not thinking alike, but journeying together.

The robust discussion of the by-law changes on the other hand, illustrated for me that in that case, we did not think alike, but we also did not journey together. Quite honestly, I believe that the reason for our not being able to get approval for the changes in the by-laws was not a congregational issue, but rather a system or organizational issue that I hope to have some hand in changing. This is not a criticism of the board of trustees or the by-law committee. Every member of these and all the other committees give of themselves and operate under the best intentions for East Shore. What I believe is that members of this congregation did not have the opportunity to have their voices heard as the changes in the by-laws were developed.

Going forward, I know this is something that we will get right.

However, even though it is the responsibility of your elected board of trustees to ensure that all of us have an opportunity to express our beliefs in things, such as the by-laws before making a recommendation for adoption by this congregation, the other side of that coin is that this raises the level of responsibility of each and every member to become engaged not only in the adoption of the by-laws, but in every other endeavor that we as a spiritual community holds as sacred and important. Non-Participation is choice that needs to be honored. However, if your choice is to be non-participatory, accept the responsibility and consequences when important decisions are made by the members of this congregation.

As the Board Chair, my intention is to:

Honor the tradition and contributions of those giants past and still among us.

Find ways to grow the membership and diversity of our East Shore family.

Seek, encourage, validate, and support the voices of those among us who need to find their voices in “not thinking alike”

Providing opportunities for members to express their feedback and thoughts on important church matters, such as the by-laws. AND

Help establish an ESUU organizational structure that works effectively for connecting the dots of our many committees/priorities. A great example of that is the relationship between the Finance Committee and the Board, which I know is also one of Rev. Denis’s goals as written in his contract.

Installation of Elected Leaders Kaaren Biggin

Nominating Committee Chair: Within the Unitarian Universalist Association, the responsibility of leadership lies with the members. Some leadership positions are held by those willing and able to do the work, at their own will. Other positions, require election by the membership at large. It is a meaningful and joyous occasion when a congregation joins together, as we do this morning, to recognize those who answer the call to serve. We come together this morning to install those newly elected and those continuing to serve on the the Board of Trustees, the Committee on Ministry and the Nominating Committee of East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church. Will the members of the congregation please rise?

East Shore Members: We, the members of East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church hereby install you, the fellow members we have elected to leadership. We would have you bring to your positions your wisdom, your love of reason, and your commitment to love, revere, discover and connect as a congregation. We pledge ourselves to journey with you, and to support and encourage you in your work, in unity, even when we don’t agree. We ask that as you do your work on our behalf, you put the needs of the congregation before your own, as you speak in love the truth as you see it.

Elected Leaders: It is with joy and appreciation that I now accept the responsibilities of the leadership to which you have elected me. I will keep alive the meanings of this service so that my work will be enriched by the spirit of the trust you have placed in me. It is with understanding and faith that I pledge myself to journey with you, and as I do my work on your behalf, to put the needs of the congregation before my own, and to speak the truth as I see it.

All: We celebrate your presence now as our elected leaders. Thank you for your service.

Nominating Committee Chair: May it be so.

Prayer of Installation Rev Denis

Based on “Prayer for the Installation of a Minister,” by Kathleen Rolenz

Spirit of Life, known to us in beginnings and endings,
In possibilities and promises
We give thanks for all that has led to this moment,
And all that is yet to come.

We give thanks for those who mentored us-
The women and men in our lives who were our teachers,
Who said the turning words of encouragement
When we needed them the most-

We give thanks for this [congregation] that has seen and embraced so much change,
And for all those who have sustained this community of faith for many years past and
For generations to come.

We give thanks for [these leaders] and all that [they have] given and will give
to the living tradition we share.

May the words we have spoken and the dreams we have shared and the faith we have renewed this [morning] give [these newly-elected leaders] wisdom, comfort, and courage for all the days ahead.
For the way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high.

But deep down there is another truth,
….We are never alone.

Bless us in that knowledge, O Spirit of Life, and let the congregation say


(1) Lifting Our Voices. #43.

(2) Erik Walker Wikstrom. Serving with Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice. 2010. Skinner House Books. Boston MA.p ix-x.