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February 21, 2021 | Online Worship

Recording of our February 21, 2021 online worship service

Worship manuscript:


Brianna Zamborsky

Good morning and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am Brianna Zamborsky. I am joined in worship leadership by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing, RE Coordinator Nico Van Ostrand, and a chalice lighting by Macy Kort. 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. Social justice is an essential component of our church life. We are a Green Sanctuary Congregation, a designation we’ve earned through our dedication to caring for our planet. We are also a capital “W” Welcoming Congregation. Our social justice work this year is focused on environmental action, economic inequality, civic engagement, and racial inequality.

Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on our website and our Facebook page. After the service, we invite you to stay for virtual coffee hour. If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.

We have four announcements this morning:

During today’s coffee hour, you're invited to a discussion about the Welcome Inn, a Royal Oak day center for unhoused individuals, which BUC volunteers have supported for many years. Immediately after service, there will be a brief presentation about the services the Welcome Inn provides and how you can support that work, and then at the start of coffee hour, you can stay in the main meeting room to ask questions, or continue on to join a breakout room like usual.

We will be ending coffee hour at 11:45 today so we can start today’s session of Getting to Know Unitarian Universalism at 12:00 noon. Getting to Know UU is great for newcomers, those considering membership, or anyone interested in learning more about their own beliefs as well as those of others in this faith, and this community. Sponsored by the Membership Team, this interactive, introspective, informative, and fun set of four non-sequential classes has been adapted from our in-person course to a virtual model this year. To join today’s session, you’ll use a different Zoom link than the one you’re using for this service, and that link is on our calendar.

This Tuesday, the Environmental Action team presents “The Relationship We Need to Survive: Indigenous Wisdom in Today’s World.” Join us this Tuesday, February 23 at 7:00 pm for a guided discussion about Indigenous peoples’ relationship with plants, not only as our sustainers, but as our oldest mentors, who share teachings of generosity, creativity, sustainability and joy. The Zoom link is on the calendar and in the event the BUC Community Facebook group.

From the Religion Education Council: Though it may be impossible to know who enjoyed the process more – those who baked, or those who consumed the goods – last Sunday, RE Council members transferred over 50 dozen sweet treats and more than 70 Care Cards throughout our BUC community! On behalf of the entire RE Council and RE Coordinator Nico, we would like to say THANK YOU! Thank you for baking, crafting, buying, consuming, and donating. You have made our Bake-Off fundraiser deliciously successful!

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 now our service will begin.

Opening Words

by Joan Javier-Duval

read by Brianna Zamborsky

You are beloved and you are welcome here

Whether tears have fallen from your eyes this past week or gleeful laughter has spilled out of your smiling mouth

You are beloved and you are welcome here

Whether you are feeling brave or broken-hearted; defiant or defeated; fearsome or fearful

Whether you have stories buried deep inside or stories that have been forced beyond the edges of comfort

Whether you have made promises, broken promises, or are renewing your promises,

You are beloved and you are welcome here

Whatever is on your heart, however it is with your soul in this moment

You are beloved and you are welcome here

We come to this space of holiness and humanness, of covenant and connection, of hurt and healing, to be loved, to be welcomed home.

Come, let us worship together.


Nico Van Ostrand

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 (username @BUCmi), or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.

Pastoral Prayer

Nico Van Ostrand

I invite you now to breathe deeply into a spirit of meditation or prayer, and I offer you these words from Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, current president of Starr King School for the Ministry:

“In this moment of worship we call to mind those times of failure and regret common to all of us. We remember first, in silence, those times when we have failed to do all that we meant to do, or through our actions failed to be all we were meant to be.

We now recall our moments of integrity, those times we have lived into our deepest values, and acted as the human beings we always dreamed of being.

We choose at this moment to lay down the burden of our shortcomings, and grasp the courage to begin anew. Together, we affirm our capacity for goodness and grace, for freedom and purpose and joy. We are not trapped in our past, but freed by creation to live and grow today. With gratitude, we say blessed be and amen.”


read by Brianna Zamborsky

“Say you’re sorry.” This is what we say to our kids when they grab someone’s toy, hit their sibling, or do the many other undesirable things they do before they’ve learned to respect other people’s possessions or bodies.

But that’s often where the conversation ends, with little if any discussion of what happened, why it was hurtful, how to address the pain they caused, and what they can do better next time.

These perfunctory “sorry”s—especially when said like this “sorry” (insincerely)—do nothing to address the situation or behaviour. And yet they remain the standard apology that children use into adulthood.

That’s a problem. Particularly the “into adulthood” part. Just look at recent public apologies from famous and powerful people like Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood bigshot who committed repeated acts of harassment and assault. (Some grownups still haven’t learned to respect other people’s possessions or bodies”!) These grownups say “sorry” but usually only to gain the benefits of apologizing, like being forgiven and being able to move on. They aren’t really sorry--only sorry they got caught.

We have good intentions in making our kids say “sorry” - we’re trying to teach them how to live in society, how to have empathy, how to heal friendships, we’re trying to teach them how to gain the true benefits of an apology, but it doesn’t work without true feelings behind it.

To get to those true feelings of remorse, or feeling bad about hurting the other person, you need to accept that you made a mistake. Yuck. That’s hard. For one thing, we might be afraid of getting in trouble. But the more powerful fear is what’s inside: we fear feeling ashamed.

When we feel ashamed, we often try to minimize the damage, or shift the blame, or even say the other person deserved it. This is because we can’t deal with the yucky feelings we’re feeling.

How do parents ease that tension? First, focus on the act not the person. What they did was bad; they are not bad. It doesn’t mean we love them any less or that they are any less lovable. Also remind them that they are human--and humans make mistakes. Showing them compassion will help them give it to themselves in these moments in the future. And parents, they learn from watching you. So, next time you eat someone else’s doggy bag from the refrigerator, you know what to do.


Nico Van Ostrand

This morning I want to share a story told to me by Amy Peterson Derrick, who first heard it from a UU minister from Michigan. It’s a true story about a family; a parent and a child named Sam...and a really bad day.

But this story isn’t just about Sam and their mom; it is also a story about how we live our UU faith each and every day, and about how we continue to weave the story of our faith in all that we do -- even when we fall short.


This day hadn’t started out too badly for Sam—Sam had gotten out of bed and prepared for school just like any other day. It started with a stretch, and brushing teeth and getting dressed in a favorite cozy outfit. Sam packed a lunch, ate breakfast and kissed their mom goodbye before heading out the door to school.

But once Sam got to school, things started to go wrong. First, it was one small thing, then it was another, then another and another… Until pretty soon, Sam felt sad and angry and… as sometimes happens when you are feeling overwhelmed… Sam found they were making choices that were not helping the day get any better. In fact, some of these choices got Sam into trouble. Has that ever happened to you?

By the end of the day, Sam didn’t feel any less sad or angry or overwhelmed; especially not when the teacher handed Sam a letter to take home to give to mom.

Sam took the letter and shoved it into their backpack, crumpling it up, hoping that nobody else saw what had happened. On the short walk home from school, Sam’s mind started racing:

“What am I going to tell my mom? What is mom going to say? Is she going to be angry? Disappointed?

I wish this day had never happened, thought Sam.

This day just felt…awful.

Sam arrived at the doorstep and slowly walked into the house, and plopped down at the kitchen table, where Sam was greeted by their mom. “How was your day?” Sam’s mom asked.

“fine...” said Sam softly.

“Just fine? Did anything interesting happen today?”

“No! Nothing!” shouted Sam “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

Sam’s mom put a hand on Sam’s shoulder, “what happened? Is everything okay?”

Sam didn’t say a word.

Sam’s mom took a deep breath and asked Sam for their backpack. She reached in and found the crumpled up letter. Sam looked down at the table, not wanting to see mom’s face as she read the note.

Sam felt angry.

Sam felt embarrassed.

Sam felt like crying.

“Sam,” said their mom gently “I can see that you are pretty upset right now. Do you need a few minutes before we talk about this?”

Sam nodded.

“That’s okay. I think I might need a few minutes, too. Why don’t we each take some time to relax a little before we chat? Let’s meet back here when we are both ready to bring our best selves back to the table.”

They both agreed that this was a good idea, so Sam took a deep breath and nodded their head.

“I love you,” said Sam’s Mom “I’ll be right here.”

As Sam walked up the stairs to their bedroom, they noticed the pit in their stomach had already started to go away. And, after a while, Sam felt ready to talk about it.

When Sam came back into the kitchen, mom was already sitting at the table, and had set out two teacups.

“What are those for?” asked Sam.

“Well, “ said Sam’s mom. “I find that sometimes when I have had a hard day, or had to learn a hard lesson, it helps me to have a hot cup of tea. It helps me find my calm center when things around me don’t feel so calm. I thought you might like to try a cup of tea, too.” Sam nodded their head. Sam liked the idea of sharing a cup of tea with mom.

Then, Sam had an idea, “I’ll be right back!” they said.

A moment later, Sam arrived back at the table with something in their hand.

“What is this?” asked Sam’s mom.

“It’s my chalice. It helps me remember to listen and learn, and to try to be my best self. It reminds me of love.”

Mom smiled and said, “That’s a great idea. I think I need that reminder, too. Would you like to say any special words before we light the chalice?”

Sam thought about it a little, then said the words that they remembered learning in church:

Come into the circle of love and friendship.

Come into the community of justice and goodness

Come and you shall know peace and joy.

Sam and their mom agreed that from then on, they would light a chalice and share a cup of tea any time they needed help learning a hard new lesson or needed to have a tough conversation. And so they did.

Now, I don’t know Sam or their mom in real life, but I’ve had tough conversations before and I know they are not fun. For a moment with me, think of a time you had a tough conversation of some kind. Where do you feel the tension or discomfort in your body?

It’s not a nice feeling.

Now think of a time when you, like Sam, made some choices that made your bad day worse and worse. Maybe, like Sam, you yelled at someone you love. Afterwards, when you realized you hurt someone else, what does that feel like in your body?

It’s not a nice feeling.

And maybe, like Sam’s mom, you’ve been on the receiving end of something hurtful before. What does that feel like in your body?

It’s not a nice feeling.

For those of us who grew up Catholic, for example, the word “confession” is loaded. I think it’s loaded for Unitarian Universalists as well because of that complicated history but also because we don’t like feeling uncomfortable. Many UUs come to our faith because it challenges us intellectually and offers an analysis of the world we don’t find in many other places. And perhaps because -- at least in part -- of that desire for wonderful, amazing ideas that live in the head and not the heart, the practice of confession fell out of Unitarian Universalist tradition.

In a country that relies on a punitive justice system, the word confession has negative connotations as well -- if someone confesses to a crime, they’re plucked from society and ostracized from their circles and sent to prison, detached from their community. And this, in some fashion, is assumed to rectify a harm.

In today’s story, Sam’s mom didn’t ask, “What happened?” so she could get a confession out of Sam and punish them for their crime. She asked that, hoping that Sam would confess so the two of them together could figure out a way forward. This is closer to a restorative justice model, where confession is necessary to healing.

Confession is naming the harm -- Sam might say, “I had a bad day at school; I stomped my feet and ripped my assignment and when you asked me about it, I yelled at you.”

And from that confession comes that difficult conversation, and the healing. Sam caused an “ouch” and by naming that, they opened a conversation with their mom to find out what they can do to make it right, or maybe what changes they need to make to their behavior or even the family covenant.

But without that confession -- Pretending a harm didn’t occur does not help the one harmed. It deepens schisms within a community or a family. And often it has a way of quietly eating away at the person who caused harm -- finding ways to leak out in ways that don’t always make sense yet sometimes cause unpredictable weirdness.

Let’s circle back to our little meditation earlier. Those three feelings -- of having a difficult conversation, of causing harm, and or being harmed -- they’re all different feelings. It is not fun to confess and begin that restorative process of talking it out and changing our actions. But neither is it the same as being harmed.

I don’t know that this is necessarily a case for bringing back confession, maybe it’s just some food for thought -- a way of analyzing punitive vs restorative justice in our own circles. What I do know though is that for Sam and their mom, taking a moment, lighting their chalice, and drinking a warm cup of tea set the stage for exactly what they needed -- a confession, a difficult conversation, and a new way forward in love.

May it be so.


by Rev. Rachel Lonberg

read by Brianna Zamborsky

Sources of courage and compassion, sources of reason and radiance, in these days of so much uncertainty, may we choose honesty over comfort, love over complacency, and truth over convenience. May it be so. May we make it so. May we go in peace.

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