The power of presence

brene-brown-courage-show-up.jpgWhat can I do? When things feel off track in our lives or in our world, most of us ask ourselves this question.  We want to help, to act – do something! Yet so often, there isn’t anything really obvious to do, which makes us feel helpless, confused, and even more distraught.

One thing that is often overlooked is also one of the most powerful ways to have a big impact – which is to simply show up.  Show up for your friends with a phone call, email, or text asking simply, “how are you?” Show up for your children or grandchildren with your full attention sans phone or other distraction.  Show up for your friends or for others in the church with coffee, or a meal.  Show up on Sunday with a friendly smile and a “welcome!” Show up for your neighbors by cleaning off their walk as well as yours.  Show up for your own life, fully present.

The power of our presence is also instructive when it comes to our response in our greater community.  For example, the immigration-advocacy group, Fuerza Latina has launched 9 different committees to begin work in various ways to tend to the safety, protection and care of immigrants in our community.  At the meeting of the Sanctuary City group on Monday, I was struck by the power of two dozen of us in the room together, all self-selected citizens just wanting to “do something,” and struggling to figure out once again, what to do.

There were CSU leaders, dairy farmers, teachers, social workers, and scientists – and everything in between.  Together we stumbled through the questions and task before us, the question of organizing ourselves and coordinating, and attempting to articulate what it was we hoped to accomplish.  I’m not sure what will come of it, yet the showing up together remains important.  We need to be together, learn together, question and struggle together.

Throughout the meeting it struck me how many other meetings just like this are happening not just in our city, but across the country.  Democracy and human relationships are clumsy and slow and yet also beautiful and kind and so well-intentioned. Sometimes the lessons of showing up aren’t just about what you get done, but about cultivating the patience and the perspective to remain steadfast through all the messiness of the real work.

Fuerza Latina is just now getting clear about how best to leverage the great desire to “do something” that exists in our community.  I’ll let you know as these and other more action-based opportunities become more clear.

Until then, showing up for one another and for our immediate circle remains vital, and foundational.  We have a long road ahead, and our presence for one another and in our own lives is what will make all the difference as to whether or not we can keep showing up for our neighbors – and whether we can, as I said on Sunday, keep doing so with joy, laughter, love – and dancing!

Thank you for your partnership, and for your continued presence.

 

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What’s our mission? Let’s talk.

By Karen Harder, Mission Statement Task Force

Congregations exist to serve their owners.  But who is the owner of a church?  More specifically, who is the owner of Foothills Unitarian Church?

Dan Hotchkiss, in  “Governance and Ministry,” — the book many of us read together earlier this year in an effort to understand current thinking about effective and responsible church leadership — maintains the church is owned by its mission.

So quick — without looking it up on our church website — can you recite our mission?

Thom Belote, in “The Growing Church,” states that if we can’t recite our mission from memory, we really don’t have one.

Even if you could recite Foothills’ mission statement, how well do you think it does the job?  What should a good mission statement do anyway?

Hotchkiss says a church’s mission is the congregation’s unique answer to the question, “Whose lives do we intend to change and in what way?”  Hotchkiss maintains a congregation needs to know “the mission it belongs to, the real owner for whose benefit the leaders hold and deploy resources. “

According to “Holy Conversations,” by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann, the unique mission of a congregation is formed by its specific context, location, giftedness, and place in time.   We at Foothills have learned much over the past interim year about our specific context, location, giftedness and place in time.  We have the extensive work of our dedicated Ministerial Search Committee that informed our Congregational Profile.  We have the results of our Congregational Survey.  We have the provocative proposals from our Appreciative Inquiry process.   And we have had much dialogue about who we are and what we want to be.

What better time to revisit the topic of mission?  In doing so, we will reflect on what we have learned this year while building on and reinforcing work done before the announcement of the Rev. Marc Salkin’s retirement as senior minister.  Additionally, we will supplement it with your impressions and reflections here and now

Each Sunday between January 10 and January 31, the Board of Trustee’s Mission Task Force will meet with interested congregants in the sanctuary between the services for dialogue to help us refine our understanding of our mission.  We invite you to one or all four of these interactive sessions around the question of:  “What is uniquely ours to do?”   We will take your feedback and incorporate it into the Board’s review and reworking of our mission statement.   Our goal at the end of this work will be a mission statement that is memorable, meaningful and moving to guide us in our work ahead.

Please plan to join the conversation!

Shining our light

 

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As we were preparing for the vigil on Sunday evening, the Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Senior Minister at Plymouth UCC quipped, “I wish the news would stop giving us so many things to preach about.”

It was the 8th Night of Hanukkah, the third Sunday of Advent, a week before the Winter Solstice – all of these seasons of darkness longing for light.  We all agreed, there has been too much heartbreak, fear, violence and division – all requiring the response of the best of our religious traditions.   When the call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. started to circulate early last week – from a popular presidential candidate, no less – we knew we needed to step up and speak out as people of faith – do something, bear witness to another truth, another story of America, of humanity, of life.

As we gathered on Sunday, we remembered that the next day would be the anniversary of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The children lost there are never far from my thoughts, and maybe even more, the children who survived, and the families left behind.  What story do they have of the world? How do they make sense of humanity, of life? How do they reclaim joy or goodness in a world where such a thing can happen? 

I can get lost in these questions and become overwhelmed by the grief, but then, something like the Vigil on Sunday night happens, and I remember hope.  I remember, like the song we ended the final Sunday of Candidating Week singing encourages – tenderness, kindness, friends – and that it’s only love that never ends.  I remember those words from Mr. Rogers to “look for the helpers,” and I remember the words attributed to Universalist John Murray, “You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of women and men.  Give them not hell, but hope and courage; preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The paper reported over 200 were gathered, but I would guess more like 300-400 – and I would guess about 80 of those were from our congregation.  It was a cold night, and our plans weren’t totally clear, even to those of us doing the organizing (my summary of the first few moments of the event: the Muslims were inviting everyone inside, the Christians said we were gathering outside, the UUs were saying both ways were good, and the Jews just launched into “This Little Light of Mine.” Welcome to the real work of interfaith dialogue!), the parking was non-existent, and there weren’t enough candles for our candlelight vigil.

And yet still, the people gathered.  The people gathered to remind us all of another story of life, the story of human goodness and compassion and connection – a story of love over fear.  In turn the Islamic Center opened their space with warmth and hospitality to all who wanted to pray, offered hot drinks and treats, and took up an offering for the victims of the Shooting at San Bernardino.

Our own Christopher Watkins Lamb and Amber Lamb led the crowd in singing the Meditation on Breathing – the song UU Sarah Dan Jones wrote in response to 9/11.  Rabbis Shoshana Leis, Ben Newman and Hillel Katzir, Rev. Chorpenning, and Howell and I each offered prayers, and we closed the service by singing the song from Emma’s Revolution, “Peace Salaam Shalom.”  Later, I learned that the kids and youth were watching it all from the second floor, inside the Islamic Center – can you imagine their view as they looked out on all their neighbors coming to witness their love in the face of bigotry?  It was powerful, and holy.

Times like these ask us to get really clear about what story we are going to live out of, what story we will bear witness to, and what claims we are willing to stand out in the cold for – and then to actually step out and live out of this story and these claims – this faith.

I am so honored, and proud, and grateful, to serve with and among you, this congregation, and to live out our Unitarian Universalist bold claims of liberty and justice for all in this community – to shine our lights in the darkness together.  (When we talk about our “mission” as a congregation, this is exactly the sort of thing that we mean to be talking about – why do we exist, what does our community need from us, what does our faith ask of us?)  Sometimes I know it feels like it could never be enough, but as we each do our part, keep showing up – we make sure that the darkness will not overcome this light, this resilient story of love.

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