Recording of our December 13, 2020 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), unless otherwise attributed.
Good morning, Happy Hanukkah, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I am joined in worship leadership by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing, as well as Worship Associate Judy Amir. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Jane O’Neil.
BUC is a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Even in our virtual format, we are a thriving community with a place for everyone. All people of goodwill are welcome here. Social justice is an essential component of our church life. We are a “capital W” Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary Congregation. Our social justice work this year is focused on civic engagement, racial inequality, economic inequality, and environmental justice.
Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook. After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour. If you are worshiping us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you. We also have some special guest visitors today - our 8th grade Coming of Age class is here to observe the service and start thinking about their own service, which will be in June.
We have 3.5 announcements this morning:
First, join us this afternoon for the last installment of our Fall Getting to Know UU class series. Today’s session begins at 2:00 pm, which is later than usual. Today’s topic is "Path to Membership." BUC Board President Donna Larkin Mohr will speak about the board and its responsibilities, members of our stewardship committee will explain a bit about church finances, and I will be there to talk about what it means to be a member. Zoom information is on the Meeting Calendar.
Second, later this evening, join the Humanists of BUC for a presentation by BUC member Dr. Neb Duric, who is an astrophysicist and professor of oncology at Wayne State University. Dr. Duric will be speaking on “The Galactic Gene: How our genetic structure reflects the interconnected web of existence.” Zoom info is on the Meeting Calendar.
And third, we usually have a Christmas Day potluck, hosted by Carol Winslow. That’s still happening this year as a Zoom gathering on Christmas Day, 3-5pm. This is a time to socialize with fellow BUCers and spread some holiday cheer. Details are TBD and Carol welcomes your suggestion, please contact her for more information and to RSVP.
Half-announcement - A quick note about our Christmas Eve worship service - we will have one All Ages service this year, on Zoom, at 6:00 pm. This year’s service is BYO candle.
Thank you 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 worship in our separate homes this morning, but we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
As we wait for a future of peace and goodwill toward all, we light this chalice as a symbol of hope. As we work to make that future possible, we light this chalice as a reminder of the responsibility, and power, we have to create that future.
by Andrew Pakula
Come into this circle of community. Come into this sacred space.
Be not tentative. Bring your whole self!
Bring the joy that makes your heart sing.
Bring your kindness and your compassion.
Bring also your sorrow, your pain.
Bring your brokenness and your disappointments.
Spirit of love and mystery; help us to recognize the spark of the divine that resides within each of us.
May we know the joy of wholeness.
May we know the joy of being together.
The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service, and joy. The weekly offering serves as an ongoing reminder of this mission. Sharing in this weekly practice of generosity also strengthens the bonds between congregants and our high purpose. So let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website, Venmo, or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.
by Judy Amir
This has been a very long year – this year 2020. I have been stressed for months about the pandemic, the political landscape and mostly, the isolation. And I haven’ t always been a nice person – I’ve been getting irritated over the most ridiculous things – the person in front of me at the drive thru bank takes forever to do their business –so I honk at them. the cashier at the grocery store spends too much time chatting it up with the person in front of me- so I give them evil looks. Yes, I’m an impatient person but usually I can deal with it without letting it get to me. I envy my creative friends – the ones who write beautiful poetry and those who create wonderful art. They seem to be content with staying home. My joy is creating opportunities to gather with friends, cooking for them, laughing and playing. Thus my dilemma.
And I hear myself saying so often “when this pandemic is over I can get on with my life.”
Something has happened in the last couple of weeks. I have been the recipient of the gifts of kindness. Twice in the drive thru at McDonalds where I get my daily caffeine of a large diet coke where the person in front of me has paid for my order (I didn’t know them – I didn’t get a chance to thank them other than a wave) and I was surprised each time. Just this past week the person behind me in line at Trader Joes paid for my groceries. This has never happened to me before. But it made me start thinking of other acts of kindness that I have received just since this pandemic began. My neighbors and the employees in my apartment complex have shown me so many little acts of kindness – like hauling 7 bags of mulch from my car to my little garden at top of 10 long steps- I didn’t ask them they just noticed me wrestling with them and grabbed and carried. This fall I arrived home from the airport late enough that it was dark and another neighbor just walking by hauled my heavy suitcase up to my apartment.
Reflecting on the things that have made me happy, grateful, even though small, have made me look at this in a more positive way. How can I get through this? Taking one step at a time.
So I’m choosing to live in the here and now. To enjoy the holidays – to put up my Christmas tree and decorations just like I do every other year. To find ways to share what and when I can. To bake some cookies for my little 5 year old neighbor whose mom is trying to work from home and also working with him in his kindergarten work.
And maybe not watch the news so much!
by Rev. Mandy Beal
As we continue our worship theme of waiting, today we’ll take a dive into Unitarian Universalist theology, focusing on the Universalist side of the family. As a quick recap, Unitarian Universalism is the descendant of two Christian denominations, Unitarianism and Universalism. The two joined in 1961, and our tradition has deepened and widened since that time.
Historical Universalists believed in salvation through Jesus’ resurrection that extended to all living beings, past, present, and future. Everyone was already saved - this is called universal salvation, and so they were called Universalists. They understood sin as a societal shortcoming rather than an individual transgression. Essentially, they believed people sinned because they didn’t have proper moral training or because they were desperate. Therefore, Universalists believed it was their responsibility to create a society where everyone had everything they needed. This would be, quite literally, Heaven on Earth.
To this end, Universalists were at the forefront of most social reform movements in the United States. This includes abolition, prison reform, the establishment of public schools, health and sanitation reform, women’s suffrage, and with all good intentions, but not great results, prohibition. They believed each of these social programs contributed to building that ideal society where sin would fade away.
Over the years, Unitarian Universalism has changed but these ideas remain central to our theology. We believe that none of us are free from the things that burden us unless all of us are free; that’s called collective salvation and it's a close relative of universal salvation. We believe everyone deserves a fair chance at life. We believe it is our responsibility to build a world that gives people that fair chance. This is the world we dream about and we believe we don’t get there unless we all get there.
The world we dream about looms large in Unitarian Universalist theology. Many religious traditions have an idea of some point of completion for humanity and most of them imagine that to be a good thing and something that happens in the far off future. For us, that idea lives in both the future and the present. On one hand, we know our world is far from perfect. And on the other, we know our world is - ours - it is the way it is because of us. If we take responsibility for the world being as it is, then we also acknowledge that we have the power to create a different world. We create the world through the actions that we do or do not take today. We wait for the time when the world is fair and peaceful, but we work for it while we wait.
Like the Universalists that came before us, the world UUs dream about is that world where all people have an equal chance at life. We believe that education, health, and safety are all necessary precursors to that life. That is what drives our social justice work. People joke that UUs do social justice work because we don’t have a theology. It’s more accurate to say we do social justice work because of our theology. Social justice work is one of the ways we live our faith, this is one of the ways that we know ourselves as Unitarian Universalists.
BUC is no exception. Justice is one of the pillars of our Unitarian Universalist congregation. We have a proud and longstanding history of working to create the world we dream about. Never in BUC’s 72 year history has this church been devoid of social action. Even before the merger, when BUC was only Unitarian without the Universalist, justice was a core component of congregational life. Our social justice efforts this year are focused on four areas - economic inequality, racial inequality, environmental justice, and civic engagement. This is how we take the abstract concepts of Unitarian Universalism and make them tangible, right here and now, as a means of building the world we dream about for tomorrow. We turn theology into action, and that is what makes us a church and not a service organization.
As Unitarian Universalism grew and moved beyond a Christian identity, our dedication to social justice work remained steadfast. In fact, it probably deepened. In the mid-20th century, Humanism became the dominant voice in Unitarian Universalism. Humanism is founded on the belief that there is no influence on humanity other than humanity. Humanists believe we have made this world in our own image and are therefore responsible for that image. And if we don’t like what we see, it’s up to us to do something about it. Not only that, but Humanists believe working for justice is a moral imperative because it supports human wholeness and well-being.
Now we’ve entered yet another phase of Unitarian Universalism that is more of a melting pot of theologies. Many of our personal theologies are a unique mix that pull from various sources. And still, our commitment to social justice has not waned. However we come to Unitarian Universalism, we are convicted that our theological task is to work today in order to build the world we dream about.
As modern UUs, we rest our hope in the power of humans to create good in this world. We have faith in our own agency to determine the course of human events. We are not content to consign that power to anything outside of human existence. Even those among us who do believe in something else, whether we call that God or not, we still understand this responsibility to be our own. The world to come will happen through the works of humanity or not at all. The world to come is not an afterlife, but a different life. A life that embraces and includes all. A heaven on earth.
It’s possible, probable, that the world will never be the one we dream about. But we live our lives as if we can do it. We live as if we have done it. It is a now and then proposition. Our anti-racism work, our efforts to bridge class divides, our work for LGBTQ inclusion, our efforts to tread lightly on this planet, each of these are how we live tomorrow today. We do exactly none of that perfectly and yet it still has value. Our efforts contribute to a greater good that adds up over time. After all, it was us who first said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Well, it was Theodore Parker who said that and he was a Unitarian, but it still counts; it’s still about waiting for something to be complete that is actively happening now. And that something is good.
We pass down that ancient hope of a future that is free of strife and sorrow by living it today. We wait with anticipation for that world we dream about while we work to build it. It is the dream that gives us the drive to keep going. We are still building that glorious golden city that was written long ago. We know the construction of that city will not be completed in our lifetimes, but we also know we won’t get any closer if we don’t build what we can today.
And so we wait and we work. We live tomorrow today.