Sunday, December 8, 2013

Beyond Hogwarts


January 19, 2014, 1-4 pm.  No charge.
 
Spend a Sunday afternoon brushing up on some of your Hogwarts skills. This workshop for all ages is concurrent to an important ministerial search workshop being held for adults at First U. (We would prefer to offer something really fun rather than just childcare). It's totally free and open to kids who did not attend during the summer and kids who are not from First U.

We will split the group into two age groups (younger and older). Two classes: Spell Play (with Professor Katydid who will be visiting from Florida) and Incantations (with Professor Gibbons). Bring your wand (for dueling), though some practice wands will also be available.

The whole event will be in the classrooms downstairs, so no Quidditch... but it will be a fun afternoon. I hope you join us.

If you are coming, you can say so here, but it would also help us if you signup on the following page:
http://www.signupgenius.com/go/4090548ACAA28A13-beyond

Stand Up for Kids - Faith in Action


Sunday, December 15 will be our first Faith in Action presentation for an organization proposed by a member of our congregation, Joan Russo.  
Stand Up For Kids       www.standupforkids.org/worcester        
The mission is to end the cycle of youth homelessness throughout the United States.

We do this, every day, in cities across America. We carry out our mission through our volunteers who go to the streets in order to find, stabilize and otherwise help homeless and street kids improve their lives.        Education (February 9), homeless street kids   Across the U.S., one child runs away from home every 60 seconds. Here in Worcester, the number of homeless school age children registered for class during the 2012-2013 school year is more than 2,000. The numbers would be even more astounding if the children who were not registered for classes were counted in. Even one homeless child on our streets is too many. There are over 2 million homeless kids and young adults in the U.S.A today.
STANDUP FOR KIDS – WORCESTER offers Street Outreach where we find, stabilize and assist youth get into shelter and into programs that will help improve their lives. We also help finding housing, education assistance, vocational development, counseling, health services, transportation services and legal aid. We provide food, clothing and hygiene necessities. We assist the youths with obtaining all the documents needed. The volunteers – we do what we do because we care and we want to empower each of these kids to strive for a better future.   Yes, and yes I will invite the executive director to present the information     The Worcester Program is currently in the process of opening( November 2013) an Outreach Drop In Center so we can provide more services to more high risk and homeless youths.  
There is no other drop in center in Worcester that is focused on the needs of homeless and at risk youths.  Showers, laundry facilities and hot meals will be provided. We have volunteers who are professional counselors and teachers, who will be giving their time to work with the youth to provide needed services. Computers will be available for online GED instruction, finding affordable apartments, job searches, doing home work and keeping in touch with friends.The Outreach Drop In Center will also help provide ongoing support for youth even after they get into housing and need a place to do their laundry and get a free meals while trying to manage on food stamps and working jobs that pay minimum wage and pay rent. Our philosophy will be whatever the youths need or ask for, we plan to try to provide it.
A representative from Stand Up for Kids will be offering a presentation in the chapel from 12-1 pm on Sunday, December 15.  We will collect a 50/50 cash offering for Stand Up for Kids on December 22.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Upcoming Adult Programs


Working with my "Adult Program Team" and Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris, I am pleased to invite all adults to upcoming adult programs.  The first begins next week.

UU Pocket Guide book discussion with Jessica Gray
Mondays at 7 pm, 12/2 and 12/9

Whether you are new to Unitarian Universalism or have been connected for a long time, this is a great opportunity to open discussion to some significant aspects of the UU tradition.  The Pocket Guide is one of the most complete introductions to Unitarian Universalism available, covering ministry, worship, religious education, social justice, and history. 

If you have not read the book, you are still encouraged to join us for the discussion.

It is available for purchase on the UUA Bookstore website

Advent series with Rev. Barbara Merritt
Tuesdays at 7 pm, 12/3, 12/10 and 12/17

Faith in Action Presentations (topics TBA)
Sunday, noon
12/15, 1/12, 2/9, 3/9, 4/6, 5/18, 6/1


With Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris:
Conversations with the Minister
Sunday, 1/5 at noon
Monday, 1/27 at 7 pm

Inquirer’s Sessions
Mondays at 7 pm
2/3 and 2/10

Building Your Own Theology
Mondays at 7 pm
2/24, 3/3, 3/10

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reflection on my Affirmation as Director of Faith Development Ministries

By Jessica Gray


On Sunday, November 10, the congregation of First Unitarian and I shared in a spiritual commitment ceremony that we called an "Affirmation."  I wanted to share this with those who could not be present Sunday and also with other religious educators (as the text of very few of these ceremonies can be found online).  After the text of the ceremony is a reflection I gave about my experience here thus far.  It was a beautiful day that reinforced for me the commitment this congregation has to our program and my ministry.  Thank you.


Laura Kirshenbaum

In the spring of 2011 we asked Jessica Gray to join us as our Director of Faith Development Ministries to help us reach our vision for multigenerational Faith Development in our congregation.  Specifically,

to create vibrant educational programs appropriate for all stages of spiritual development,

to develop meaningful faith-in-action projects and adult spiritual exploration programs,

and to implement engaging multigenerational programs that nurture the spiritual development of Unitarian Universalist families.  With Jessica’s leadership, we have worked and will continue to work toward achieving this vision.



This morning, the lay leaders of the church ask the congregation to affirm our relationship with Jessica by establishing a covenant of spirit symbolizing a mutual commitment, an affirmation of shared responsibility for the Faith Development of all.



We ask the people of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, to exercise your collective power to affirm Jessica Gray as our Director of Faith Development as she affirms herself to us.



All Congregants

We promise to support the faith development of all in this community.



Laura Kirshenbaum

Jessica Gray, will you please rise? You have embraced the vision of this church.  Are you prepared to join us in the affirmation of shared responsibility for the faith development of this congregation?



Jessica Gray:

Yes, I am.



Children and Youth:

Jessica, as our Director of Faith Development, you have a unique relationship with us. Do you promise to let us come to you with questions and doubts, our joys and sadness, and our ideas to help us spiritually grow and learn what it means to live in our community and the world as Unitarian Universalists?



Jessica Gray:

Yes, I do. Now I have a question for you. Do you, the young people of our congregation, promise to bring to me your questions and doubts, your ideas and joys, your laughter and tears as we explore what it means to be Unitarian Universalists? If so, please say all together, WE DO!



Children and Youth:

WE DO!



Adult Congregants:

Jessica, as our Director of Faith Development, you have a unique relationship with us. Do you promise to let us bring you our thoughts and questions, our concerns and ideas to help us continue to explore and learn what it means to be Unitarian Universalists?



Jessica Gray:

Yes, I do. Now I have a question for you. Do you the adult people of our congregation promise to support my efforts by bringing me your ideas and concerns and continuing to wonder and explore in thought and in action what it means to Unitarian Universalists? If so, please say all together, WE DO!



Adult Congregants:

WE DO!



Laura Kirshenbaum

The spiritual growth and learning of our congregation from childhood into adulthood is one of the most precious gifts we offer ourselves as a community. Do you, the people of our congregation, agree to support Jessica as our Director of Faith Development by being an active part of the spiritual growth of our congregation? As parents bringing your children faithfully to church and sharing with them what they have learned in their classes? As congregants, continuing to shape and expand our Faith Development programs for all ages by trusting and guiding Jessica as she works with us to meet the goals set out in our vision by volunteering, mentoring and being involved, as best as you can?  If so, I invite your heartfelt response:



All Congregants:

WE WILL!



Laura Kirshenbaum:

Let us now say together a covenant of spirit and affirmation:



All Congregants:

With the expectation that you will always strive to be of service to all; with the promise that you will work for spiritual growth within yourself as well as fostering spiritual growth of our children, youth and adult congregants; and with the hope that you will always reach for truth and insight, teaching as you can, we the members and friends of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, do hereby affirm you, Jessica Gray, as our Director of Faith Development Ministries. We pledge to walk with you in a partnership that strives to strengthen the life of our church and our liberal religious movement.



 Jessica Gray

Mindful of its privileges and its responsibilities, I accept your affirmation of my ministry among our children, youth, their families and our adult congregants. I know that I have the support of your hearts and hands as together we build here what no one of us could achieve alone. I pledge to walk with you in openness of spirit, in the paths of truth as we discern them and in the bonds of caring and understanding.


 

My Reflection
Romans 12:1-2
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In fall of 2011, I began working as the Director of Faith Development Ministries at First Unitarian in Worcester.  To be honest, I felt a bit alien and out of place.  For most of my life I have lived in the south, and New England was a bit of a culture shock.  This church was also so much more conservative than I am in its liturgy and dominant theology.  How would a "Blessed Be" girl work in an "Amen" church?  When Rev. Schade called to offer me the job, I expressed hesitation.  But he said, "We don't want to change you."  That's exactly what I was hoping to find in a new congregation, but could it possibly be true?  

Some people have told me how much they enjoy my different perspective.  I have done my work the way I know how to do it.  I have chosen Spirit Play stories and other curricula, recruited and trained teachers, and helped create welcoming classroom spaces.  I have done my best to meet and get to know the families and adults of the congregation.  One of my favorite ways of working for this church has been in leading worship.  I have incorporated drama in our multigenerational worship (most recently including a "Devil" wearing full face makeup and a fog machine).  I have continued developing pop-culture based programs (including the Hogwarts summer camp and the brand-new Jedi Academy) and have preached sermons based on The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins and even Facebook.  I have also spoken about more traditional topics, including salvation, sacrifice, and social action.  (And yes, each of those is a link to the sermons I've given and the philosophy of the programs.)  I'm proud of this work.  And I have gotten such positive feedback from members of the congregation about how my sermons touched them personally or how their children are excited to come to Sunday School.  This church is changing, and I am a part of those changes.

Rev. Schade said, "We don't want to change you."  But in the past two years, I have changed.  I learned to fit some of my radical ideas into a more structured liturgy.  I grew in my understanding of how and why we come together as a church community.  And then, last year, I faced a serious health crisis.  My life had to change.  I needed to reach out for help, and help was given.  I needed to learn how to accept compassion.  I needed to learn how to accept my limitations.  I needed to see just how incredible the members of this congregation could be.

After everything that has happened, I asked to affirm my spiritual bond with this congregation.  I am not just a hired employee.  I am in ministry here.  This type of spiritual commitment between congregation and religious educator is considered a "best practice" in my profession.  It is not done immediately, but after the educator and church have gotten to know each other for a few years.  Now is the time, and I take this commitment quite seriously.  I am here for you.

In the scripture I read a few moments ago, we are encouraged to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, to be transformed by the renewal of the mind and thus discern the will of God.  Letting go of my expectations was a sacrifice.  It’s never easy to change.  But change allows for transformation and allows a greater understanding of the Spirit of Love and Mystery.  As above, so below – I align my will with a greater Will, that which is beyond my understanding.

Change is inevitable.  The only constant in life is change.  I am not finished bringing change to First Unitarian, and I know you are not finished bringing change to me.  But I am excited about what the future will bring.  I am excited about our adult faith in action and faith development programs.  I am excited about working with the new minister this congregation will choose.  I am excited about continuing to get to know the people of this church.  I look forward to how we will explore our faith development together.

 

Christmas Pageant 2013!

On Sunday, December 15th many of our children will perform in our annual Christmas Pageant.  Participation is optional, but for a number of our children this is one of the most fun and rewarding traditions of the year.  Children who participate enjoy the feeling of accomplishment through this mixed age event.  Most of all, annual traditions like this that remain relatively unchanged over many, many years hold great meaning and are both joyful and comforting for kids and adults alike. 

The pageant sign ups are now online (click here) or you can sign up on Sunday during fellowship hour (“coffee hour”) after class.
The pageant takes the place of the usual Sunday worship service on December 15th.  Children in first through fourth grade are invited to participate in the play as angels or shepherds.  These parts are offered first to fifth and sixth graders: Herod, Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the innkeeper, and the three wise people.   The narrator parts are offered first to those individuals in 7th and 8th grade.  Those who prefer to continue this year as angels or shepherds, along with the younger children, are always welcome to do so. 

The narrator parts are the sole speaking roles in the play.  We always hold an informal, low-key “try out” to help the play director become familiar with narrator styles.  As has been done in years past, we make final assignments of narrator parts at the “try out.”   Those who wish to play Herod should also plan to attend the “try out.”   Please attend the “try out” after church on Sunday, December 1st at 11:45, immediately after dismissal from class, if you have signed up as a narrator or as Herod or (NEW PART THIS YEAR) if you would like to sing the solo in "Coventry Carol."  If you can’t make it because you are out of town or ill, you can contact me to make alternative arrangements to read for Kris Johnson, the director.

Again, the pageant sign ups are now online (click here) or you can sign up on Sunday during fellowship hour (“coffee hour”) after class.

Children who sign up:

·    Will need to attend rehearsals on Saturday, December 7th, and Saturday, December 14th, from 9:00am to Noon (shepherds and angels from 10:00-noon).  Our rehearsals include time for costume fittings.   During downtime at rehearsals, the children enjoy social opportunities and a chance to do seasonal crafts. 

·    Will also need to come to church by 8:45 am on December 15th for the dress rehearsal followed by pageant performance.

Help With the Christmas Pageant!

Parents and Guardians, thank you so much for your willingness to help with the Christmas pageant.  This annual event is a community effort that requires all of us to pitch in.  Your pageant hours do count toward the total volunteer hours required from you annually.  Parent helpers can also sign up online (click here) or on Sunday.  You can sign up for one day or for multiple days:

·    Kid wranglers help shepherd (pun intended) our young children through rehearsals and the performance.  These people guide the children through the blocking/staging of the performance as this blocking is directed by Kris Johnson, direct the children to costume fittings, assist the children in finding their costumes as needed, and help the children with activities during rehearsal downtime.  We need six wranglers.

·    Holiday Craftspeople set up and assist the children with holiday crafts during rehearsal downtime.  Bring your own ideas (or supplies), or simply come ready to help and we’ll provide the activities (or supplies).   We need two craftspeople at each of our two Saturday rehearsals.

·    Costumers attend the Saturday rehearsals and help the children with costume fittings, do minor alterations as needed when an exact-fit can’t be located (this is in a minority of cases), help locate and keep the costumes organized, make new tinsel garlands or other simple costume accessories as needed.  Only very basic sewing skills are necessary.  We need two or three costumers.

·    Props Assistants come a little early to the rehearsals, particularly the morning of the first rehearsal to help us get out the props and costumes and place them appropriately. 

·    Hair Accessory Masters help the children to get hats, halos, and other accessories securely in place on the day of Pageant, Sunday, December 11th.  These folks need to arrive with the children for dress rehearsal, and should be available until show time.  If you can manage bobby pins, you can do this job!

·    A Director’s Assistant is on hand to assist the director in any way needed at the rehearsals and during the pageant.  

·    Snacks: Bring snacks to our rehearsals and on the morning of the big show.  Can you bring snack on Saturday, December 8th or Saturday, December 15th, or on Sunday, December 16th?   We need just a few snacks per rehearsal.

Note: Snacks will need to be nut free.  Please try to avoid large amounts of heavily processed and overly sweet foods.  Some good snack suggestions include sliced fruit, carrot and celery sticks with dips, pretzels, popcorn, sliced bagels and cream cheese, and cheese and crackers. 100% fruit juices are also popular drinks.

Friday, October 4, 2013

New Faith in Action Proposals Are Now Being Accepted


What is your passion?  What cause would you like our congregation to learn more about and support? 

In 2013-2014, First Unitarian sponsored 50/50 collections for nine different organizations that were proposed by members.  We plan to do the same in 2014-2015, and we would like to begin accepting proposals now.  

Each month, on the first or second Sunday, a short “Faith in Action Presentation” will be offered from 12-1 pm.  This will include a short presentation (preferably with/from someone involved in the organization) and discussion of how it fits with our UU values and mission.  On the following Sunday, 50% of the cash collected in the Sunday offering will go to the chosen organization.  


In order to have a broad spectrum of organizations, we have separated the year into “categories.”  The category dates may be shifted if necessary, and some organizations may fit into more than one category. Please return your proposal as soon as possible.  The deadline for proposals is November 1.  Either give your proposal in person to Jessica Gray, mail it, or leave it in her church mailbox.  You may also submit a proposal by following this link to the online proposal form.


When the adult programming team (Tom Crowley, Ken Mandile, Fran Nase, and Paul Ropp) receives all proposals, we will determine which fit the best for each category and submit these proposals to the Lay Leadership Program Council.  Organizations that are not chosen for 50/50 collections may still offer educational Faith in Action presentations to raise awareness on other Sundays.


The following categories are suggestions of possible types of organizations. Your proposal may not fit into any of these categories.  We really want a diverse collection of organizations.  Those who have received 50/50 collections in the past are encouraged to apply again.



Race Relations: 
Anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism is a social justice issue on which Unitarian Universalists have taken a specific stance.  How can we contribute to this cause?  


Education:  What types of educational organizations can we support?  One example is the Center for Nonviolent Solutions, which we chose to support through our youth faith in action in spring 2013.  How can we contribute to education?  

Animal Rights and other Animal-related Justice:  Animals are an integral part of the interconnected web of all existence.  Three years ago our children chose for us to support the Worcester Animal Rescue League.  But this category could also include such diverse organizations as Heifer International or even NEADS, an organization that trains service dogs. 

Disability and/or Illness: There are so many organizations that help people with disabilities (including learning disabilities) and illnesses.  It's impossible to list them all. 




Environment: What organizations can help us support positive environmental preservation and change?  This is another opportunity to connect directly with the interconnected web of life.  

GLBTQ:  As a Welcoming Congregation, what organizations support equal rights and awareness for people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning? 





This is an excellent opportunity for us to give generously and learn more about how to put our faith in action.  Please consider attending the programs and proposing one of your own.   


NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services - See more at: http://www.neads.org/about-us#sthash.avg9e3wF.dpuf
NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services - See more at: http://www.neads.org/about-us#sthash.avg9e3wF.dpuf


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Halloween at Hogwarts

Halloween is a perfect time for the Hogwarts students from our summer camp to get together again.  Walk between the worlds, see some of your professors and friends from the summer, and enjoy time together - and introduce new kids to the program. All are welcome, even if they did not attend the summer program.

Plus, we want to support UNICEF through Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.  So get ready for Hogwarts Halloween!

 
Friday, October 25
6:00-8:30 pm
Unity Hall of First Unitarian Church
90 Main St. Worcester, MA

The evening will look something like this:

6:00 pm - Opening with Hogwarts songs and games
6:15 pm - Quidditch!  (including Glow-in-the-dark Quidditch)
6:45 pm - Video from Hogwarts summer camp
7:30-8:30 pm - A variety of Hogwarts activities for all ages - Potions, Transfiguration, Divination and more!
Also, from 7:00-10:00, families and youth can join in the Open Mic Night downstairs.

Wear your Halloween costumes and join in the fun.  Even if your kids are not particularly Harry Potter fans, this evening has something for everyone.

Kids (and their parents) and youth of all ages are welcome.  Parents are asked to stay with children 3rd grade and younger. If parents of older kids are not going to stay in the building, they must provide a phone number (in case of an emergency).  We encourage families to attend together.

A $5 donation per child is recommended (but not required).  All proceeds go to UNICEF. You do not need to pre-register.  

Families are also encouraged to bring Halloween or Hogwarts-themed snacks to share.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

There's No Place Like Home


I came to Unitarian Universalism ten years ago.  I was raised Southern Baptist, but I left as a young adult.  But I missed church.  When I found the progressive, liberal Unitarian Universalist church, I felt like I was coming home.

And yet I struggled to articulate Unitarian Universalism. I was in graduate school at the time, minoring in religious studies.  One of my professors argued with me about whether or not Unitarian Universalism is a religion at all since it is non-creedal.  But I knew that there must be a way to define theology without creed.  And then I found it. 

In 2008, I went to a Religious Education retreat with Rev. Rebecca Parker, a professor of theology and president of Starr King School for the Ministry. She outlined the concept of a “theological house” to explain Unitarian Universalism.  This was the metaphor I needed. 

As I was preparing for this worship service and thinking on the concept of the theological house, another phrase kept rising to the surface of the foggy crystal ball of my thoughts: “There’s No Place Like Home.”  My family went to Boston a few weeks ago to see Wicked, my favorite musical. I have seen it on stage six times.  We know the soundtrack inside and out, and my daughter insists on performing a different song from Wicked every year at Ferry Beach.  I also love the original Wizard of Oz, both the book and the movie.  The words kept swirling in my mind.  “There’s no place like home.”  I resisted the thought.  I’m preaching to the adults today.  It’s not a multi-generational service.  Should I really talk to adults about The Wizard of Oz?  But there were the words again.  “There’s no place like home.”  And then I remembered the original movie has been around since1939.  I strongly believe that the stories of our childhood affect us in deep and meaningful ways.  How many of you saw the movie as children? See, that’s a horse of a different color. So, at the risk of mixing metaphors, I am going to click together the heels of my ruby slippers and invite you along as I take our theological “house” on a whirlwind tour through the magical land of Oz.


The Garden
We begin in Kansas.  We begin and end in the same place.

When Rebecca Parker and John Buehrens wrote the book A House For Hope in 2011, they begin their description of the theological house by talking about the garden. Before you can build a house, you must find the right location.  Location, location, location.  Where should we build our theological house? 

“The garden,” according to Parker and Beuhrens, is “eschatology.”  This is the study of the end result and final purpose of a religion.  In some doctrines of Christianity, the eschatology for individuals is heaven.  At the end of a long, difficult life, the reward is eternal life in a beautiful place with streets of gold.  The earth itself, this sinful, horrible place, will be destroyed through apocalypse and fire.

Thankfully, this is not the only eschatology available.  As the Universalist John Murray famously said, “Give them not hell, but hope.”  According to progressive eschatology, rather than after death or after the end of the world, we can have paradise now.

As we have different creeds and different perspectives, Unitarian Universalists have many, many different ideas about what might happen after death.  Some of us believe in some form of heaven. Some believe in reincarnation.  Some believe that life simply ends when the body and brain cease to function.  And most of us just don’t know what will happen.  But there is one thing we can all agree upon.  We are here, in this world, now.

In A House of Hope, Parker writes:
“Radically realized eschatology – begins with affirming that we are already standing on holy ground.  This earth – and none other – is a garden of beauty, a place of life.  Neglecting it for some other imagined better place will be a self-fulfilling prophecy – it will make the earth a wasteland.  There is no land promised to any of us other than the land already given, the world already here.” (12)

This reminds me of the very beginning of The Wizard of Oz, when in the bleak wasteland of Kansas, Dorothy longs for a utopian land “over the rainbow.”  She neglects the world around her.  When the tornado – the ultimate destroyer of attachments – rips her away from the place she wanted to leave, she finds herself in a new paradise full of adventure but also danger.  From this point on, all she seeks is to find her way home.  And ultimately, she finds her way from within.  She has the power all along.

Foundation: Inherent Worth & Dignity
And this brings us to the foundation of our theological house: the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  At the very core of our theology, the study of the nature of God, and our Anthropology, the study of the nature of man, Unitarian Universalism teaches that human life is sacred.

We have many ideas about God.  Some believe in specific forms of Deity.  Others believe god to be mere smoke and mirrors, and that the “man behind the curtain” is just a concept that humans have created.  Many of us land somewhere in between. In our children’s classes, we call this “the Spirit of Love and Mystery that some people call God.”

We have inherent worth.  Original blessedness rather than original sin. And so it does not matter that the man behind the curtain is “a very bad wizard,” for he is a “very good man.”  His greatest achievement is in helping Dorothy’s companions recognize what they already have within themselves. In our recognition of human sacredness, we can find a common understanding of God. 

Many use the simple definition of “God is love.”  And we know love through its manifestation in humanity. The impetus for every part of Dorothy’s journey is her love.  First, her love for her little dog Toto causes her to run away from home.  Then, her love for her Aunt Em causes her to run back home and to get caught in the tornado.  Her love for Aunt Em sends her to the Emerald City.  Her love for the Scarecrow causes her to throw water on the Wicked Witch.  Love is the foundation of her home. And so our love for each other and our respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people is the foundation of our theology.  As Parker says, “The divine-human encounter is the rock on which our theological house stands” (93). And that encounter is love.

The Walls: Our Covenant
But for a house to be a shelter, we must build walls.  In the metaphor of the theological house, the walls are our “Ecclesiology,” the study of how we “do” church. The walls of our church house are made of the covenant that binds us together. These are the promises we make to one another. 

In our connection to our much broader association of Unitarian Universalism, we affirm and promote the covenant of the seven principles and six sources.  If you don’t know about them, they are printed on the inside cover of the gray hymnal. In a non-creedal religious tradition where we all have such different opinions, how could we possibly agree on anything?  And yet, the Principles and Purposes as they were adopted unanimously in 1985 have lasted virtually unchanged for 28 years.  The principles are not about what we believe.  They are about what we do.

And taking this back to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s walls are represented by her three companions, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.  The four are searching for different things, but they choose to search together.  Though they are quite different, they accept one another immediately and unconditionally.  The objects of Dorothy’s companions’ search are quite similar to the things that many seekers are looking for in a UU church home.  The Scarecrow longs for a brain.  So many of us gather here for intellectual stimulation.  Some UU churches have the challenge of being too intellectual, of sermons that sound more like college lectures than encouragement toward spiritual growth.  But, like the Tin Man, we are also seeking a heart.  We long for spiritual connection, for community, for love.  And, like the Lion, we wish for the strength and courage to stand up for what we believe in, to fight for social justice, and we work together to make this world a better place.  This is what we do.  We think together, love together, and courageously step into the world together.  We are the force that holds up the walls to this theological house.


The Roof: Universal Salvation
So we have our foundation.  We have our walls.  Now we need a roof to hold our house together.  In Parker’s metaphor, the roof is our soteriology, the study of the nature of salvation.  And, as such, it is our Unitarian Universalist answer to the question of evil in this world.

This is a complicated question, one which we cannot fully explore this morning.  While the doctrine of universal salvation tells us that there is room for everyone under our roof, we still have the challenge of evil.  For while everyone is born with original blessedness rather than original sin, we are also born with the free will to make choices.  And some human choices are selfish and destructive.

Parker defines evil as “that which exploits the lives of some to benefit the lives of others.” (68)

The Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most-feared villains of all time.  Her actions are harmful and selfish. The Wicked Witch is countered by the character of Glinda, the good witch.  Her goodness and protection follow the characters through their journey, and ultimately she empowers Dorothy to follow her instincts home. 

But good and evil are not so simple.  In the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch made choices which led to her being melted by a bucket of water.  When the character was revisioned by author Gregory Maguire, who wrote the book that eventually became the musical Wicked, he blurred the lines between good and evil in this character.  Maguire has stated that his intention was to explore the nature of evil from a different perspective.  He also created Glinda as a more complicated character, and in the musical, she makes many selfish choices and has many regrets.  The theme of the entire musical is how good and evil cannot be clearly defined.  We all have good in us.  We all have wickedness.  We all have choices to make.

Salvation is found through our choices. This is not a one-time “salvation,” a simple belief in a power from outside.  This salvation is a process, a continuous choice.  Parker explains, “Salvation is fully arriving in this life, turning our faces toward its complex realities and engaging our whole being in creative, compassionate, loving interaction with what is at hand.” (75)

We choose to stay under this roof and help hold the covenant of these walls.  And this gives us shelter.

Windows & Door: Openness
Yet we do not wish to keep others out.  This shelter is open to all who wish to be part of what it is we do here.  Our windows and doors are open.  The path to our house is clear and welcoming.  All who follow the yellow brick road to our doors can come in.

Our missiology (mission or purpose) is to make space for everyone who chooses to cross this threshold.  We make space for multiple expressions of the divine. We allow for multiple cultures and people to coexist.  We want to make room for those who have made different choices in the past.  We offer ministry and support for all.

This is still not an easy thing to do.  Can we welcome blindly those who would cause us harm?  Those who would enter only to tear down our walls?  Wouldn’t that defeat the safety and shelter of our house? 

Landscaping: Social Justice
And this is where we return to our garden.  Our eschatology, our final purpose, is to work for a fair and free world. We work with outreach ministries.  We work to make this a better world, one person at a time.  We can build Heaven on Earth right here and now.  It may not happen in our lifetimes, but our theological house gives us hope.  It gives us a foundation from which to begin.

And so we have followed the yellow brick road on our search for home, our search for the Spirit of Love and Mystery that some people call God.  We have the support of our companions as we face the challenges of making choices between good and evil.  And, ultimately, we find our way home.  There’s no place like home.