Updated: Apr 24
Recording of our April 19, 2020 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (email@example.com), 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. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.
We’re also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a UUA designation for environmental justice work in a congregation. Today was meant to be BUC’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. This is a special event for many UUs and we had a really exciting multigenerational service planned for today. I made the decision to shift the focus of today’s service to our needs while we’re in quarantine, but Earth Day remains important to me and to this congregation. We acknowledge Earth Day today and everyday through our actions and by supporting legislation that promotes environmental concerns.
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 a few announcements this week.
First, the Board of Trustees hosted a town hall this past Friday that had several pastoral tones. In the interest of discretion, we will not be posting the recording of the meeting publicly on our Facebook page, but it is available to view in another format. If you would like to watch the recording, please email Sara Constantakis and she will provide a link. She'll also share the link in this week's email update.
Secondly, as an extra precaution against Zoombombing during our service, we’ve disabled the chat bar and your ability to unmute yourself during the service. You will be unmuted before our virtual coffee hour.
Another worship-related announcement - over the next several weeks, we will join in worship with Community Unitarian Universalists Brighton and People’s Church Kalamazoo. On April 26th, your BUC worship team will lead the service; the May 10th and May 24, services will be led by other worship teams. BUC folks will continue using the same Zoom link.
And finally, a quick mention of social isolation. Please remember to call each other and people who live alone. We need your help to submit names of people that want to participate in social phone calls. If you want to call someone or you know someone that wants a call, please visit our website to submit that information. I ask you to think especially of people who don’t use technology.
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 to honor the deep worth and dignity of each person. Let this flame be a beacon of love calling each of us into deeper relationship with each other and the core of our being.
Opening Words “A Place of Belonging and Caring” by Kimberlee Anne Tomczak Carlson
It is not by chance that you arrived here today. You have been looking for something larger than yourself. Inside of you there is a yearning, a calling, a hope for more, A desire for a place of belonging and caring.
Through your struggles, someone nurtured you into being, Instilling a belief in a shared purpose, a common yet precious resource That belongs to all of us when we share.
And so, you began seeking a beloved community:
A people that does not put fences around love. A community that holds its arms open to possibilities of love. A heart-home to nourish your soul and share your gifts.
Welcome home; welcome to worship.
We have reached the time 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. We all know the financial strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our economy. BUC is under that strain, as well. 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 Joy - Stephanie and David Greer celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary with an at-home meal on their wedding gift dishes while listening to piano music of Rachmaninoff played by Cynthia Raim, a former BUC church pianist.
Joy - From Dave Luckins letting us know that Ginger Luckins is celebrating the completion of another orbit around the sun
A personal joy - Wednesday marks the second anniversary of my ordination into the Unitarian Universalist ministry. I am grateful for the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Newton for conferring this honor upon me, and to Birmingham Unitarian Church for calling me as your Senior Minister only four months later. I’m also grateful to Jesse Beal for their unwavering support all along the way.
From Dick Cantley - Barb Eschner and I ask for prayers and positive energy as we begin our journey for a paired kidney transplant. Wednesday is Barb’s initial evaluation—by video—with the University of Michigan Transplant Center. If all goes well, U-M will find matches for us both so I can donate my type-A kidney and Barb receives someone’s type-O. Thank you!
And finally, from Annis Pratt - My daughter Lorien, in Denver, has Covid. I am devastated.
Julian of Norwich was a Christian mystic living in 14th century Norwich, England. She had 16 mystical visions that centered around the theme of God’s love. Our reading today is an excerpt of her First Revelation. The reading is accompanied by an icon made by contemporary Franciscan Friar Robert Lenz.
I saw that [God] is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good, as I understand.
And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.
Homily In these days of life grown smaller, I’ve been thinking a lot about people who live in cloisters. There is an easy connection between our quieter, slower lives and the cloistered life. In the days leading up to Gov. Whitmer’s “stay home, stay safe” order, I reached for my copy of Julian of Norwich’s writings, as did many others.
Dame Julian is a fascinating character in the history of spirituality. We know basically nothing of her life. There are a few documents that confirm her historioticy, but even those are scant. The bulk of what we know is she lived in 14th century Norwich, she had 16 visions of Divine Love which she committed to writing, and she was an anchoress.
Anchorites lived in extreme solitude and rigorous spiritual practice. They were called Anchorites because they were “anchored” to a church; meaning they were literally walled into the side of a church. An Anchorite lived in two-three rooms and had a few servants that brought them food and other necessities. To our modern sensitivities, it sounds awful, even abusive, but this lifestyle was taken on by choice, usually by someone with a certain level of financial means. Anchorites were deeply respected and considered holy.
In such a quiet and focused setting, an Anchorite devoted their life to prayer. This is still the case for many people living in cloisters today. Years ago, I took a class on Benedictine spirituality. At the start of class, I was pretty sure I hated Benedictine spirituality. They spend over six hours per day in prayer, including chanting all of the Psalms. All 150 Psalms, every single day.
To me, choosing life dedicated to prayer in a cloister was unfathomable. The most important aspect of theology, for me, is that it is connected to reality and does something in the world. The idea of living separately, either in a modern cloister or a 14th century anchor, and doing nothing but prayer all day was really upsetting. If you believe something so strongly, I thought, why not do something with it?
The capstone of the Benedictine spirituality class was spending three days and two nights at a Priory. By this point, I was utterly done with Benedictine spirituality. I went to the Priory with my hackles up, ready to have a horrible time.
I did not have a horrible time. I found the nuns to be lovely, warm, and welcoming. Spending time at the priory completely changed my understanding of cloistered life. I had assumed life in a cloister was an intentional separation from the world. I was quite wrong.
Toward the end of our visit, one of the nuns met with our class. This was in the spring of 2016 and there was a lot of anxiety and turmoil as the political rhetoric in our country was heating up. Someone asked her: “Do you know what’s going on out there? Don’t you feel frustrated that you’re here and can’t do anything about it?”
She smiled warmly and said, “Yes, I know what’s going on. And I’m glad that I’m here where I can do something about it. If I was out there, I couldn’t change a thing. But I’m here, where I can pray.” I was caught off guard by that response. I felt the truth of her answer and also a bit chagrined.
This story has been on my mind this week, as many of you have told me that you’re frustrated. When there is a crisis, you’re accustomed to getting out there and doing something. You want to deliver protective gear to essential workers, serve food to the homeless, or deliver groceries to our elders. And the opportunities for that kind of hands on work exist, but they are limited and risky.
Of course there are real and serious needs in the world, but there are always real and serious needs in the world. I wonder why the frustration of not being able to do something about it is reaching a boiling point this week?
It is so much easier to stay busy than it is to be still. And I think a lot of us have been playing with the idea of being still, but the reality of our new, deep, unchosen stillness is really sinking in.
Perhaps the question underlying the frustration is - why do we always feel like we need to be doing something?
In American culture, we define ourselves by what we do. “I’m a lawyer,” “I’m a teacher,” etc. That’s part of the spiritual crisis of late-stage capitalism. You are not your job. You are not your service work. You are not your projects. These activities do not define you. They might be expressions of who you are, but they do not constitute you. Your value is not derived from your productivity. Your value comes from your place in the human family; the family of life.
As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Our task is to locate and nurture the part of ourselves that deeply and truly knows that worth and dignity. I suggest to you, the tradition of the cloistered, that prayer is one such avenue for diving into that deep well of being.
I realize that some Unitarian Universalists are dubious about prayer. It reminds us of traditions that we have left or that would no longer have us. But I think that reluctance is due to some misconceptions about prayer. For example, it is widely believed that prayer is an attempt to persuade God to change human events. Or prayer is a wishlist of what we want God to give us. And there are people who pray that way. But I sincerely doubt that Julian of Norwich spent her years walled up in solitude praying that God would send her what she wanted for lunch.
Beyond those surface-level prayers is a prayer life based in deep listening and grounding. Prayer can be used to understand one’s place in the world or to make peace with the state of the world. Prayer is about deepening our spiritual experience and it is a tool available to all theological perspectives, even atheism. This is why I sometimes introduce the prayer section of our services by saying that it is a time when we get in touch with our heart.
One of the most effective ways to pray is through asking questions. In our current context, one might ask: “What can I do to ease the world’s pain?” “How can I make peace with the limitations I’m under?” or “How do I know my own value?” Choose one question, then meditate on that question, listening in your heart for an answer. After you’ve asked the question and listened for the answers, consider reflecting on how you feel about those answers. Do the answers to your prayerful question make you feel happy, sad, angry? I recommend keeping a journal of your prayer experience. This is my challenge to you in the coming week: set aside 15 minutes a day for this prayer practice. You might be surprised by what you learn about yourself.
This simple form of prayer is a way that you can deepen your relationship with your core being that knows your inherent worth and dignity. Your worth is not tied to your productivity. It is your birthright. During this Great Pause, let’s take a step back and reflect on what it is to be worthy of love, to be held in Love, without needing to do anything at all.