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March 22, 2020 | Online Worship

Recording of our March 22 online worship service

Worship manuscript:

This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (, unless otherwise attributed.


Good morning, and welcome to virtual Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I’m joined today by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing. Our services are typically on Sunday mornings at 10:30. In a building.

Birmingham Unitarian Church is a Welcoming Congregation. This is a designation that a congregation can earn from the Unitarian Universalist Association that demonstrates a commitment to learning about and doing the work of being fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. We’re also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a similar designation for environmental justice. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.

Today is our first worship service using Zoom, and we have a few tips and requests. First, please don’t type comments during the service. That will help everyone focus. Second, we recommend that all participants use the “speaker” view. This will automatically make the worship leader’s window the largest on your screen. Next, you were automatically on mute when you signed in, and we ask that you stay that way during this service. This includes the hymns. I personally enjoy being on mute during hymns, because it means I can sing as loud as I want in whatever key I happen to be in.

Today will be our first virtual coffee hour. After the service, you will be randomly sorted into breakout groups. We hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If there are any of you joining us online for the first time, we extend a special welcome to you. Please stay after the service and get to know people in these breakout groups.

And a quick mention of our folks that don’t use the internet. Give them a call and make sure they’re OK. Also, help us reach out by adding them to our phone call list, which you can do by visiting

Thank you, again, for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.

And with that, our service will begin.


Chalice Lighting

We worship this morning from our separate homes, but we join with a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:

We light this chalice as a reminder that we are never really alone. We are brought together as a religious community to share each other’s burdens and lift each other up. We are lights unto one another and companions on the journey of life.

Hymn - Comfort Me

Opening Words

This morning’s opening words are from Wayne Arnason:

We come together today seeking a reality beyond our narrow selves that binds us in compassion, love, and understanding to other human beings, and to the interdependent web of all living things.

May our hearts and minds be opened to the power and the insight that weave together the scattered threads of our experience and help us remember the Wholeness of which we are a part. Amen.


The time has come in our service when we ask for your financial support. Our beloved community relies on the support of our members to provide worship services, religious education, our music program, and so much more. We all know that the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted personal finances and the American economy. Our church is also deeply impacted by the recent events, and we need your support now more than ever.

There is a link in the chat bar that will take you to our website, If you already have an online account, please follow that link and click on the donate now button. If you need to set up an account with us, I urge you to do so when the service is over. You can also put a check in the mail to us. We can’t do what we do without your contributions. I invite you to give generously.

Joys and Sorrows

We set aside time each week for prayer and reflection. We begin with a sharing of joys and sorrows, which can be submitted online, using the link provided in the most recent BUC Shout Out. Remember if you submit a joy or sorrow through that portal, it will be shared in this space and available to the public.

One person has shared a joy this morning. One of our BUC staff members submitted a very kind expression of support for my leadership over the past few weeks. I’m not going to read it in detail. She is grateful for my leadership, and I am grateful to her and the rest of our staff for their flexibility and dedication. I’m really just amazed at everything we’ve done.

I would like to express a personal note of gratitude for our Board of Trustees and the COVID-19 Response Task Force. I’m also grateful for our lay leaders that have taken on important roles in our virtual community life: Amy Smalley, Teresa Honnold, Andrew Schreck, Alison Rule, and Heidi Kapsokavathis. Lastly, thank you to Dr. Terrence Metz, who hosted an online discussion about Coronavirus for us yesterday.


“The Guest House,” Rumi, trans. Barks

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


As we’ve spent another week in Coronavirus Land, I’ve heard and read that many of us are feeling lonely and isolated. There are those who live alone and crave physical and intellectual contact. Conversely, there are those among us who are in close quarters with our families and need a break or at least a new voice in the conversation.

And having a completely different experience are those who are still working. This includes essential services like medical personnel who, despite being praised for their extraordinary work in extraordinary times, might still feel excluded from the discourse and culture that have popped up around the self-quarantine experience. And my heart is with wage workers who aren’t getting any recognition for going to their jobs in retail, construction, food service, and more. I think especially of people working in groceries stores to stock food they cannot stock in their own homes. Those who are compelled to leave their homes because their work demands it have voiced a sense of isolation because they feel invisible.

Beyond these experiences of not leaving our homes because it’s the right thing to do, or leaving because we have to, there are people who are acting like nothing is happening. Perhaps they are in denial about the situation or sincerely believe there is no situation. For whatever reason, they are out doing their thing, living their best life. And that minimizes the sense of isolation so many of us feel; and that makes us resentful.

Our feelings of frustration, invisibility, and resentment are compounded by those turning Coronavirus into a golden political opportunity. The federal government has said that governors are responsible for providing ventilators in their states. Members of Congress have made millions of dollars by selling stocks while refusing to pass relief packages. They are attaching anti-abortion riders onto some relief packages or refusing to vote for them because they provide the same benefits for same-sex couples as everyone else. And a lot of us feel angry about that.

It’s easy to feel alone in Coronavirus Land. It comes naturally when there is a disruption in how we interact with each other. And adding frustration, invisibility, resentment, and anger to isolation only causes us to feel even further removed from others.

In our current crisis, we might feel the impulse to ignore or suppress difficult feelings because we’re afraid to feel them in a vulnerable state.

Things are hard enough, we don’t want to perseverate on difficulties. But, here’s what I know about difficult feelings - suppressing them does not make them go away. Our truths will always find the sunlight, with or without our conscious mind.

One of the most time-honored metaphors for our emotional life is Rumi’s Guest House. In times of struggle, our emotional guest house is full of visitors. We are full to the rafters and the emotional guests come in faster than we’re used to; we don’t know where to put them all. We run short on coping skills, causing some guests to overstay their welcome, and other, more gentle guests - patience, generosity, compassion, they tend to check out early.

This situation is not business as usual for ordinary innkeepers like us. It’s like we’re the only inn in town, and on day, a biker rally, a music festival, and a 3 ring circus all show up. Our emotional guest houses are completely overwhelmed and we’re doing our best to accommodate these rowdy and unpredictable guests.

When we become so busy trying to manage the activity in our emotional guest house, the false message that we are alone is reinforced. Our hands are so full with our guests that we forget every single one of us has a guest house, and they are all full of the same difficult guests. This is the time, more than ever, that we need each other. We need to compare notes and be reminded that what’s happening inside of us, whatever it is, is normal, and happening to everyone we know.

We are not alone. We are all going through this, at the same time. Even if we’re going through it in different ways and or at different paces, the underlying experience is the same. We share unruly emotional guests, and we are brought together in our common best effort to manage their presence in our guest house.

There is so much to be gained in keeping up relationships with other innkeepers. Together, we can share best practices of how to cope with our guests. But perhaps more importantly, we can commiserate. Now is the time for each of us to reach out to each other. Social media is a good way to do this, but having actual human interaction is even better. Call somebody. Ask them how they are. Tell them how you are.

Please, don’t lose yourself to feeling frustrated, invisible, resentful, or angry. These difficult emotional guests will come to stay with you at some point. And they will tell you that you are alone and no one cares about you. They will tell you that they should stay in your guesthouse forever. And honestly, Dear Ones, those emotions have a right to be in your guest house, welcome and entertain them all, but they don’t have a right to live there forever, or in secret, or without paying the rent.

This Wednesday, in our Fireside Chat, we’ll talk a little more about when it’s time for these guests to check out and how you can help them pack. But for today, please hear me say that what is most important in this time is to remember that you are not alone. You are never alone. We are part of the same human family and we are sharing this experience. And we, as a faith community, have given ourselves into mutual care and concern. We belong to each other and the time has come for us to keep each other close. May it be so, amen, and blessed be.

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