Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Appreciation of Leaders

There are many people who deserve heartfelt gratitude from the congregation. Some are acknowledged for their contributions in the moment.  I'm thinking of the applause that is raised in thanks for soloists and choristers at the conclusion of the service.  I'm thinking, too, of the simple "thank you" I hear being offered to people who've helped with a number of duties on Sunday morning, or the quick "thank you" I share with people for their participation in the service. 
In addition to the small moments of gratitude, it is sometimes fitting to share thanks for the men and women who are stepping aside from positions of leadership in the congregation. One time when gratitude seems fitting is at the end of one year and the beginning of another. This past Sunday, we spent just a few minutes sharing gratitude with seven people who've held a variety of positions in the congregation.
I want to share those stories with you again...and invite you to consider taking a moment to write your own words of thanks to these folks. 
First, the person to whom we owe the greatest thanks for his service over many years. Tom Chase's dedication to the position of Collecting Treasurer has spanned twenty-two years.  Twenty-two years of shepherding the collection from the collection baskets to the bank, and more importantly, to the financial accounting systems.  Tom has had to be a detective trying to discern where people want their unattributed donation to go; and a mind reader to figure out if your check was meant to count against your pledge or some purpose. He’s also had to muster twenty-two years of collector’s reports, and attend twenty-two years of Finance Committee meetings.  He’s done it all with a singular dedication to the task, and to getting the job done right. Thank you, Tom, for supporting the congregation with your essential contribution. 
Over the past few years, Tom Moore has served as President Elect, President and Past President. During his tenure on the Board he was instrumental in organizing and fundraising for the Veranda Project. He, along with all the other Veranda Project Committee members, and all the good people who made generous donations to support the Veranda Project, have left us a lasting tribute to the efficacy of  "team work." Thank you, Tom, for years of enthusiastic leadership.
Kay Cleary served the Executive Board and the congregation as Secretary to the Board. She not only took notes, she helped to keep the Board on track when enthusiasm for a topic led them astray.  “Wait a minute,” she’d say, “what motion do you want me to capture...or, is there a motion?”  Sometimes a motion hadn’t yet been put forth, but, the Board was ever ready to take action anyway.  Even if there was a motion under discussion it was often a moving target; changing in a whirl of conversation.  Thank you, Kay, for helping, always graciously, to document the Board’s wishes.
John Sample served as Vice President for Worship, and in that capacity also as the chair of the Music Committee and the Program Committee.  In January he stepped down from the Vice President's position to devote his attention to only being the Program Chair, responsible for organizing guests in the pulpit 24 weeks in a row. Thank you, John, for moving from the frying pan to the fire. 
Kristen Coyne has been an effective voice for bringing the Covenant of Right Relations before new generations of members at UUCT.  Serving on the Committee on the Ministry for three years, she helped organize several cross-generational friends events. In this past year, while serving as chair Kristen insured that the congregational survey was conducted, and carefully evaluated. The report now rests with the Executive Board.  Thank you, Kristen, for helping the congregation to live up to it's goals for right relationships and shared ministry. 
Jennifer Carver, working with the other members of the Nominating Committee, has seen enormous turnover on the ten person Executive Board. Finding new leadership is never an easy job. Last year, they filled five positions, and this year two positions. Thank you, Jennifer, for finding dedicated candidates to fill key leadership positions in the congregation. Our future is more secure because of your efforts.
Sheri Stronach will be moving in August after completing her PhD program; and so, I wanted to offer her a bit of gratitude now. It would be hard to count the number of sleepless nights Sheri has put in as a youth advisor. She has been called upon to attend numerous weekend cons both at UUCT and in other congregations around the state. Thank you, Sheri, supporting Beacon TRYBE as they have been growing in numbers and strength.
Two simple words -- thank you. You who brought your own style and hopes to your tasks, you who made every job your own, you who can't be replaced...you who can accept our gratitude.  We know you were never looking for gratitude, but were only trying to do your best for your congregation. And, for that our gratitude grows.  Thank you. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Novel That Made a Difference

It first appeared in weekly installments, and then was gathered into two volumes for publication. The author was the daughter of one prominent preacher, and sister of another preacher who was known as one of the most capable orators of his day.  She married a noted Biblical scholar, who helped to establish public education in the United States. Her father once noted that she was so smart, he wished she'd been born a boy, and her brother Henry Ward Beecher had been born a girl.

Both Beecher children outstripped their father's expectations. It was Henry who became even more famous than his father and Harriet who authored Uncle Tom's Cabin. After appearing as a serial the story was popular enough to warrant a first printing of 5,000 copies, then 10,000 and 50,000 more. In the first year, 310,000 copies were sold. Many of them were read aloud to others in book groups, and some estimate that the book was familiar to three million people.

Tom and Little Eva by Edwin Longston Long
The influence of Uncle Tom's Cabin didn't end there. Two playwrights took the story for their own, creating extremely popular versions for the stage. George Aiken's version of Uncle Tom's Cabin was so popular that it changed theater going. The play incorporated song and dance, and so stood alone as an evening's entertainment, instead of being coupled with variety acts as other plays had been. A matinee was added so that children could attend. The play based on Stowe's work was so elevating that even clergy would deign to be seen at the theater.

Stowe set out with at least two tasks in mind: oppose the Fugitive Slave Law, and display the cruelty of slavery to unmask its moral depravity. She seems to have succeeded on both counts. Many Northerners held the common prejudice that blacks were an inferior race, and they were not moved to act against slavery while they held their prejudice intact.  Uncle Tom's Cabin portrayed whites and blacks as equals in their capacities for love and Christian virtues, including sacrifice. Many Northerners were moved to actively oppose slavery after allowing their emotions to be touched by the book's many tender scenes.

The play reached another demographic. Known as 'rough boys', they were laborers, 'shirt sleeve workers.' They attended the play in great numbers, and many were seen to shed tears. They entered the theater as toughs who may have tormented freed blacks in the past, and left as 'rough boys' who felt compassion for the hardships of people held in slavery.*

One book. One woman.  A woman who chose to defy the willingness of many to ignore slavery and its horrors that they might keep their prejudices (and some said, the nation) intact. A woman who sent her husband or brother to the podium in her stead, because public speaking was still considered an unseemly act for a 'good woman.'

One person, acting from firm moral convictions, can change a million hearts.  A mighty lesson for our time when families are shattered by immigration laws, detainees are held without rights, voting rights are being assaulted, and many are struggling for the right to have their love and lives fully recognized through marriage.  A great lesson in a state that seeks to speed up executions to clear more people off of 'death row' more quickly. An important lesson for anyone who hopes to take a position on higher moral ground, and to encourage others to follow. Talk, invite, write...you can share stories that change hearts and minds, too. 

* All the information about Uncle Tom's Cabin and Harriet Beecher Stowe was gleaned from: Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America by David S. Reynolds. Any mistakes in factual data can be attributed to my faulty memory rather than Professor Reynolds excellent work.  - Robin Gray

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What Can General Assembly Mean to You? (excerpts from a sermon)

When, during General Assembly, I posted the six proposed Actions of Immediate Witness on multiple Facebook pages I hoped to bring people into closer relationship with the processes of the assembly.  I wanted to encourage people to imagine what they would do if they were sitting with the 1,200 plus delegates and had to choose between six proposals that had the potential to affect thousands of lives...in Unitarian Universalism and beyond.  A number of UUCT folks took up the question and offered their opinions.

When the votes at General Assembly were tallied the top three Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) were:
A. Consider divestment from fossil fuels
C. Support the We the People amendment
F. Condemn the mass incarceration, killing and mistreatment of young men of color by police

During debate at a mini-assembly, an amendment was introduced to the “Support We the People amendment” which removed all language specifically referring to the Move to Amend and replacing it with more general wording to a support constitutional amendment to preserve the constitutional rights for human persons. The final version adopted was the more broadly defined one, so now that AIW is “Amend the Constitution: Corporations are not persons and money is not speech.”

If  this congregation chooses to consider each AIW seriously they will seek to engage each other in our own debate and discussion processes; and then to take action.

Divestment from fossil fuels:
  • You can ask the endowment committee to share information on how our endowment is currently invested. 
  • You can learn what guidelines are used to manage investment choices.
  • If necessary, the congregation can debate divesting fossil fuels.
  • You can ask, how might the congregation as a whole affect the choices, if they chose to do so?
Corporations are not people, and money is not speech:
  • You can join with the UU Legislative Ministry as they pursue paths to an amendment.
  • You can choose to study We the People amendment, or to consider ways in which our voices might be heard in any amendment process that goes forward.
Condemn the mass incarceration, killing and mistreatment of young men of color
  • One good way to better understand the history and present reality of mass incarceration of young men of color is to read or hear the theories espoused by Michelle Alexander - author of The New Jim Crow. Last year's discussion group gave us a head start.  And, for those who don't have time to read the entire book -- Alexander is widely broadcast on YouTube. 
  • You could set a target date by which 40 per cent of the congregation (80-90 people) would have pledged themselves to complete some study of the material. Then together, we could learn about incarceration in Florida...rates, color bias in arrest and sentencing, and so prepare ourselves for actions we devise here in Tallahassee.
If we choose to continue to respond to the concerns shared at General Assembly, it can affect the life of our congregation in a number of ways. Attached to the end of this sermon are some suggestions for places to start private study, so you can join larger conversations in the congregation.


General Assembly sends attendees back to their home congregations with sparks and flames of new ideas. I was re-invigorated for the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, which helps to inspire UU’s toward social action. Jennifer Toth, the campaign director, let me revision the campaign as the “people of love”, the people who are at almost every witness for equality and justice wearing orange t-shirts, or carrying a ‘LOVE’ banner. Coming home my energy for inter-faith and inter-group witness met its match when we were approached by the newly formed North Florida Coalition for Immigration Reform. I hope we can gather a good sized group to join the rally at the Capital on July 24th.  I’ve purchased 10 Standing on the Side of Love signs to share with you all.  Come out and share the love.

I was also inspired to think again about the prospects of the Partner Church Council which matches congregations in the U.S. with congregations in Hungary, Transylvania, the Phillipines or (now) Kenya. I immediately thought of the energy congregations felt when they talked about prospects for a UU mission trip, and I connected that energy with the request of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Kenya which is seeking a partner church.
Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council
The Kisii North UU Congregation, Kisii, Kenya is described by Lay Minister Magara, who  writes, “Our congregation is involved in a number of social economic projects to benefit the
congregational members and the entire community and mitigate poverty. We also have a ceramic water filter project meant to benefit the entire community by providing access to pure drinking water.” Here is what they are looking for in a partner: “We are seeking to be in congregational partnership to create a healthy relationship with our partner church to share sermons, visits and help us attain a professional development in our congregation and the community at large. We are expecting to have meaningful contacts and leadership training from a partner in another country.”

Is it possible that this church is the congregation they seek?


What can General Assembly mean to you? 

It’s up to you --
            - convene a discussion online or in person, book a room, show a video
            - join UUCT Sharing on Facebook, start a conversation that leads to action -

1. Invest yourself in an Action of Immediate Witness.....

Consider divesting from Fossil Fuels
                  Fossil Free 
                  Why Investors Must Do More Than Divest From Fossil Fuels, Dan Apfel

Amend the Constitution: Corporations are not persons and money is not speech
                 Move to Amend 
                 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (Docket No. 08-205)
                Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Florida

Condemn the mass incarceration, killing and mistreatment of young men of color by police
               read: The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in an age of color blindness,
                          by Michelle Alexander
               2013 George E. Kent Lecture at the University of Chicago 

2. Offer yourself in a witness campaign. Be one of the “LOVE” people. Commit to attend the rally for immigration reform on July 24, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. at the Capital.

3. Gather a group to study the Partner Church Council and congregations seeking connections with U.S. congregations. Consider if this congregation can be a Partner Church.