Recording of our April 12, 2020 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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 with technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis. Until we’re able to be together in our building again, our worship services will be hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then posted on Facebook.
Birmingham Unitarian Church is a Welcoming Congregation. This is a designation that a Unitarian Universalist congregation can earn 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.
As we continue using Zoom for worship services, we have a couple of reminders about good virtual church etiquette. Please don’t type comments during the service. Please stay on mute during the service, including the hymns. These two courtesies are a service to your fellow participants and will contribute to the overall worship experience.
There will be a virtual coffee hour after the service. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If you are worshiping us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you. We hope that you’ll stay after the service and get to know people in these breakout groups. And we request that our regular attendees be particularly welcoming to new folks.
We have one announcement this week.
Our Board of Trustees is hosting a Town Hall on Friday, April 17 using Zoom. They want to give everyone an update on what they’ve been doing and they also want to hear from you. What’s happening while cooped up in your house? How’s homeschooling? Are the kids having fun, doing more online, driving you crazy, or what? Are you able to work from home? Have you been laid off? Are you on the frontline working as a doctor, firefighter, nurse, police officer, supermarket cashier? Are you alone and feeling a bit isolated? They want to hear your story. We are all in this together and understanding what is going on in our individual lives helps build connections and ensure no one feels left out.
There will be another Town Hall in late May or early June to discuss church finances in detail. Think of this gathering as more pastoral in nature, a time when we minister to each other. The board is looking forward to hearing from you. In the meantime: stay home, stay safe!
Again this Town Hall meeting will be this Friday, April 17 at 7pm. The attire is Black Tie, but PJs are OK.
And finally, 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 bucmi.org.
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.
We light this chalice as a symbol of hope and love. Let the light within us shine forth to hold back the darkness, bringing comfort and peace to a troubled world.
Opening Words “The Old, Old Story” by Ian W. Riddell
We gather today in the presence of the old old story of death defeated by emptiness, of hope and newness triumphant over fear and separation.
We come, hearts heavy with pain and anxiety, spirits flattened by exhaustion and apathy, vision darkened by strife and violence.
We come seeking connection and love in this place of community. May the old, old Easter story of hope and rebirth lighten our hearts and make us glad in the presence of each other's love.
May our spirits be joyful as we worship together today.
The time has come in our service when we ask for your financial support. There is no source of funding for BUC other than the ones that we create. In the past, we’ve been very proud of our income from rentals and our rummage sale. These two sources of revenue are currently unavailable to us.
Due to this loss of income, the hours and compensation of our staff members have been reduced. I am truly heartbroken that it has come to this, but these drastic steps are necessary for the long term financial stability of our Beloved Community. Your church leadership is doing everything we can to support the stability of our congregation, and now I ask you to join us in that effort.
Your contributions can be sent using Venmo or through our website. Our Venmo username is @BUCMI. Or, if you navigate to our website, there is a “donate now” button. If you need to set up accounts through either of these giving platforms, I urge you to do so when the service is over. You can also put a check in the mail to us. I ask you to consider how much you’ve relied on BUC in the past several weeks and do what you can to support our good work. Please give generously.
Joys and Sorrows
From Keith Ensroth: My brother-in-law, Brian Wotta, was taken to emergency on Tuesday since his oxygen levels have gotten too low from COVID-19. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
From Carrie Armstrong Reid: I lost my mother unexpectedly on February 27th. After being estranged for ten years from the woman who used to be my best friend. After her coming back into my life because she called in need. I spent weeks sleeping on the guest bed in the hospital, driving for hours to help, moving her bedroom into my dining room in anticipation of caring for her. We talked and resolved some things. She made it home for only four days. I brushed her hair and sang to her as she died. We had so many days to enjoy together. Taken too soon- I feel that we were both cheated. I am simultaneously heavily grieving and grateful for having the chance to see her off in peace. My heart feels like it’s being crushed.
Excerpt from the 1962 young adult novel "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L’Engle
Charles Wallace, the brilliant and precocious preschooler, and his teenage sister Meg are looking for their father who was abducted and imprisoned on another planet after experimenting with space/time travel. They are accompanied by Meg’s classmate Calvin. They’ve been around the universe discovering quantum physics and the nature of good and evil, accompanied by three celestial beings, Mrs Whosit, Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Which. In this scene, they are observing the earth from space.
“It’s the Thing!” Charles Wllance cried. “It’s the Dark Thing we saw from the mountain peak on Uriel when we were riding on Mrs. Whatsit’s back!” “Did it just come?” Meg asked in agony, unable to take her eyes from the sickness of the shadow which darkened the beauty of the earth. “Did it just come while we’ve been gone?”
Mrs. Whatsit’s voice seemed very tired. “Tell her,” she said to Mrs. Whatsit.
Mrs. Whatsit sighed. “No, Meg. It hasn’t just come. It has been there for a great many years. That is why your planet is such a troubled one.”
“But why -” Calvin started to ask, his voice croaking hoarsely.
Mrs. Whatsit raised her hand to silence him. “We showed you the Dark Thing on Uriel first - oh, for many reasons. First because the atmosphere on the mountain peaks there is so clear and thin you could see it for what it is. And we thought it would be easier for you to understand it if you saw it - well, someplace else first, not your own earth.”
“I hate it!” Charles Wallace cried passionately. “I hate the Dark Thing!”
Mrs. Whatsit nodded, “Yes, Charles dear. We all do. That’s another reason we wanted to prepare you on Uriel. We thought it would be too frightening for you to see it first all about your own, beloved world.”
“But what is it?” Calvin demanded. “We know that it’s evil, but what is it?”
“You have said it!” Mrs. Which’s voice rang out. “It is Evil. It is the Powers of Darkness!”
“But what’s going to happen?” Meg’s voice trembled. “Oh, please, Mrs. Which, tell us what’s going to happen!”
“We will continue to fight!”
Something in Mrs. Which’s voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs. Which with pride and confidence.
“And we’re not alone, you know, children” came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. “All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle. I know it’s hard for you to understand about size, how there’s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won’t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it’s a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it’s done so well.”
“Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.
“Oh you must know them, dear,” Mrs Whatsit said.
Mrs Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”
“Of course!” Mrs Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”
“Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”
“And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallance called out, “and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!”
Now Calvin’s voice rang with confidence, “And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Bethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!”
And the text continues with Meg adding Euclid and Copernicus.
This Easter finds us in a difficult, and frankly, un-Easterlike situation. Easter is already a touchy holiday for Unitarian Universalists. We like the idea of celebrating spring and the triumph of life, but we are hesitant to embrace the idea of someone emerging from a tomb, even as a metaphor. But now here we are, many of us wanting to emerge victoriously from a dark tomb of sorrow, isolation, and despair. At its core, the Christian holiday of Easter is a celebration of the victory of Life over life-denying forces. Yet all around us this year looms the specter of Death. We all know that we are destined to die. That is an inescapable fact and truly the right and natural order of life. But there are moments in all of our lives when we triumph over the proxies of Death, those ever-present life denying forces. Being declared cancer-free. Getting sober. The birth of a long-awaited baby. Finding love after loss. All of us can relate to the rebirth of the heart after a period of pain and hopelessness. And so we celebrate new life throughout the span of our lives. A resurrection from the dark night of the soul; troubles come and then gone. We celebrate this shared experience in the spring because our lives are inextricably bound to the natural world. All around us, the earth wakes from her slumber. Birds are singing again. Trees are blooming again. The sun is gradually returning. This is the season when we most viscerally feel the triumph of life over life-denying forces, of light over darkness, good over evil. In the Spring, we can believe it is possible. And then there’s this year. This year’s Easter finds us not triumphant. We are not celebrating with our loved ones, at least not in the same way. We are not watching all of the kids hunt eggs together. Spring may be upon us, but it is a lonely, fearful spring. This year feels like Good Friday more than Easter and we feel the Dark Thing, as Madeleine L’Engle called it, closer at hand than it has been in a long time. As I look out at the current landscape, I see the Dark Thing, the life-denying forces of evil, pushing its way more and more into our world. COVID-19 has run rampant in Michigan and we are inundated with stories of loss. We are angry and frustrated, and what’s worse is there is no single culprit for us to direct those feelings towards. So we absorb those feelings and we take them out on others and shout them at our televisions. When we do that, we embody the Dark Thing. Those life-denying forces are no longer at the fringes of our lives, they are clear and present in our bodies and in our souls. But, Beloved, we are not called to that. We are called to be Bringers of the Light; to join the litany of those who have fought the Dark Thing. We are a people of faith and our faith calls us to hope in times of despair, to healing in times of pain, and to love in times of hate. We are more than our feelings. We are more than our circumstances. We are, today, and always, an Easter people; a people who outrageously, illogically believe in hope and triumph. That phrase, and this holiday, is not the dominion of one particular religious tradition; we claim it, too. We are and have always been an Easter people. Our Living Tradition is just that – Living. We are not content with hollow theologies that tell us everything is fine and in the hands of a supernatural power. No, we believe in naming the realities around us, feeling them deeply, and then choosing to believe that we have the power to make things better. We have chosen a theology that calls us to work for a better world. We are not content to accept someone else’s doctrines or creeds in the place of personal experience. We trust ourselves to know the life-giving, life-affirming, life-sustaining forces in and around us and we take personal responsibility for how we answer their call. Many of us have responded by doing the work of building a more equitable world. We direct that work to social or environmental justice causes. Or we direct that work into building a Beloved Community at BUC through service and fellowship with others. Both of these avenues for answering our call to bring light to this world are currently unavailable to us, at least in the tangible ways that we’ve come to rely on. And all this against the backdrop of a deadly disease that we have no ability to control or predict. This Easter finds us feeling powerless, not victorious, over the life-denying forces we so desperately want to conquer. So how do we outrageously, illogically believe in hope and triumph in this time? I think we are required to shift our focus inward. Just as we do not expect a supernatural force to intervene in the troubles of the world, perhaps we ourselves can take a break from our desire to intervene. The question for this Eastertide is not what can we do to bring more light to the world, but how can we BE more light in this world. Is not a question of doing, but of being. This year, we are called to be active participants in the Easter story. This is not the time when we can passively acknowledge the goodness of Life while idly watching kids hunt eggs. This is the year that we have to work for it. This is not the year without an Easter, this is the year that we learn what Easter is truly about. We can’t let this day slip past us like the days that have come before and will come after. Today is a special day, a holy day, and our Living Tradition calls us to claim this day as a living, ever-growing, ever-changing celebration; not a thing of bygone theology or currently inaccessible traditions. This may very well be the most important Easter of our lifetimes; the year that we truly and starkly came to understand what it means to be a Light Bringer and fight back the Dark Thing. And we say yes to that call. Deep down, past our momentary pain and despair, we know that life will always triumph. As our world reminds us every year at this time, life finds a way. Birds sing before the sun rises because they have faith that it will rise. It will come again. Every single morning without fail. And so we rise again and we proclaim that life goes on. Always, always, life finds a way. Life triumphs over life-denying forces. A light shineth in the dark and the dark comprehended it not. Let us be the bringers of that Light that has shone from the beginning of time and will continue on throughout the ages.