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January 3, 2021 | Online Worship

Recording of our January 3, 2021 online worship service

Worship manuscript:

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


Good morning, Happy New Year, 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 Bill Fox. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Drieka DeGraff.

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 “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 with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.

We have 2 announcements this morning:

This Tuesday is our monthly Vespers Service on Facebook live. The service will include candle lighting in remembrance of your beloved dead and any concerns in your heart. Names and information for candle lighting can be submitted through our website under Worship Links. To participate in the service, visit the Birmingham Unitarian Church Facebook page at 7:00 pm on Tuesday.

Second, join us this Saturday for our first monthly mid-winter mixer and game night, brought to you by the Membership Committee. Let’s start the New Year with a fun-filled evening of icebreakers and Bingo! We’ll laugh and connect... then viciously compete for prizes. Hope to see you Saturday, January 9th at 7:00 pm. The Zoom info is on our calendar.

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.

Chalice Lighting

This chalice is lit as an affirmation of our capacity for joy. In tumultuous, uncertain times, this flame burns brightly. This is a beacon calling us to cultivate joy in all seasons of our lives.

Opening Words

“Come, let us worship together” by Lindsay Bates

Read by Bill Fox

Come, let us worship together.

Let us open our minds to the challenge of reason,

open our hearts to the healing of love,

open our lives to the calling of conscience,

open our souls to the comfort of joy.

Astonished by the miracle of life,

grateful for the gift of fellowship,

confident in the power of living faith,

we are here gathered:

Come, let us worship 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.


“Joy in Ordinary Time,” from Waking up the Karma Fairy by Meg Barnhouse

Read by Bill Fox

My mama was a second-grade teacher at the Gladwyne Elementary School in the rich suburbs of Philadelphia. She loved the children, but she was shy with the parents, who were financiers, pro ball players and attorneys, and members of the Junior League, cricket clubs, and fox-hunting clubs. For Christmas she would get amazing presents. One year she got a bottle of Joy perfume, then $150 an ounce. I don’t know that she ever wore it. She was keeping it for a special occasion. She kept it so long that it finally evaporated.

With other things she was more openhanded. We had grandfather’s china and silver, which she often used. “That’s what they are meant for, to be used,” she said. “There is no sense in saving them. You’d never see them at all that way.”

Joy perfume didn’t fit who she seemed to me to be. A daughter never does see all of the sides of her mother. It makes me smile now to think that Mama harbored a hope that an occasion would come in which she might walk into a room smelling rich and sophisticated, cherished and valued, in which it would be just the thing for her to wear. She let my sister and me smell it whenever we wanted to. The bottle sat like an honored but intimidating guest on her dresser. Whenever we smelled it, we marveled at how much it had cost.

I don’t remember it ever occurring to me to wear it.

I want to let this lesson sink deep into me. Celebrate the body, the trooper of a body that carries you through life, that pleasures you and lets you dance. Celebrate your body now, before you have lost the weight, before you feel justified by the harsh eyes of your expectations.

Celebrate being alive, drawing breath, celebrate that you are achingly sad today and that it will pass. It is good to be able to feel feelings. Celebrate that there was a love so big and good that it hurt to lose it. That there was a time so sweet that you ache, remembering it. Honor the flowering of the tomato plants, the opening of the day lilies, the lemon smell of magnolias. Honor the ache of your heart and the tears falling. Life is mostly ordinary time. Ordinary time shot through with light and pain and love. Lavish joy on ordinary time. Hope is a wonderful thing. It is good to imagine a time when things will be better, but not if it makes you put off splashing yourself with Joy.


by Rev. Mandy Beal

A new year often comes with expectations of changing our lives, typically expressed as New Year’s resolutions. People want to have a fresh start, a clean slate, another chance to make their life what they want it to be and the new year seems like the right opportunity. Creating positive change in our lives is important and has a lot of value. But changing our lives doesn’t happen overnight; even if that night is December 31. Change happens through a series of small choices. And, my Beloveds, it is time for a change in all of our lives. All of us. Today, I’m making a church-wide request for a change in thought and behavior. I officially request that all of us make a resolution to consciously cultivate joy this year.

We always need joy, but the need for joy is particularly urgent in this moment; we are having a joy emergency. We need real, substantial, unmovable joy. Not to be confused with happiness, which is fleeting and influenced by our circumstances. The joy we need is a life change, a series of small choices, purposefully undertaken. And, because we’re a church (and because it’s accurate), we’ll call the process of cultivating joy a spiritual practice.

The term “spiritual practice” is a classic example of a church phrase that gets thrown around without clear definition. A spiritual practice is anything we undertake in an effort to care for our soul. So, what do we mean when we say soul, especially in a church where some of us are comfortable with the idea of a non-earthly plane of existence and others are not, we’ll obviously have different understandings of the word “soul;” but we can have a shared understanding, even if from different perspectives. The word “soul” comes from the Greek word, psyche, which we use in English to refer to the nexus of intellect, thought, and emotions. In our pluralist congregation, we can comfortably interpret the word “soul” to mean this ineffable part of us where thoughts and feelings meet. A spiritual practice is an activity that nurtures this connection, therefore improving our experience of life.

And the term “practice” implies something undertaken with intention and regularity, in good times and in bad, with the goal of long-term payoff. I think most of us are familiar with the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” That was originally a joke about giving directions to tourists, but it’s also true and now people say that phrase in all earnestness. And then it turned into a dad joke and people started saying: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall - taxi.” In the Carnegie Hall of human experience, there are no taxis. We have to put in the work. A spiritual practice, then, is an activity intentionally and regularly undertaken in an effort to tend the soul. It’s an ongoing choice to invest time and energy with the goal of eventual benefit. Joy is one of those benefits. We can choose to build joy in our lives by engaging in spiritual practices. And that pursuit is, in and of itself, a spiritual practice.

I don’t mean to sound glib when I say we can choose to have more joy in our lives. Depression is real and it’s not something that we can just decide to move past. Many among us experience clinical depression, which is chemical and beyond our control, even if we are able to get some relief through medication. Additionally, those who don’t have an official diagnosis struggle with seasonal affective disorder and this time of year is a real challenge. And, of course, there are more than a few current issues that can pull us into despair. The last thing I want you to hear today is something like “we control what we feel so just feel joy.” That’s not what I’m saying. What I mean to say is, through practice, we can cultivate a joy that moves along with us through all of life’s seasons. We will still experience emotional difficulty, but with joy as a companion through those experiences. Joy is an affirmation of the fullness of life in the face of emotional deficit. Joy, as a spiritual practice, gives us the strength and perspective to acknowledge the pain of the world without becoming convinced that’s all there is.

This kind of joy doesn’t come lightly and it can’t be outsourced. Your reservoir of joy can only be filled by you. And that takes commitment and real work (practice, practice, practice). New Year’s resolutions feel powerful because we say them in declarative tones. Nobody says: “This year, if it’s convenient and I feel like it, I’m going to [fill in the blank].” And those resolutions aren’t in some far off future: “well, someday I’d like to…” No! They happen in the present. We say: “This year, I’m going to [fill in the blank].” A commitment to cultivating joy by spiritual practice and as a spiritual practice has to be made with the same tenacity. “I’m going to cultivate my joy by [fill in the blank].”

How we cultivate joy will be different for each of us. It should be something that feels natural, but is challenging enough to keep your attention. Examples might include cooking, snowshoeing, arts and crafts, homebrewing. Perhaps your most natural source of joy is entertaining a large group of friends or going to an exercise class. Those things are currently unavailable, and the grief of that loss is real, but that’s not all there is. There’s a wide world of joy to explore. And you might be surprised by what else can make your heart sing. Because we can’t wait. This is a joy emergency and we can’t put it off for another day. Just like that bottle of expensive perfume from our reading, we can’t wait for the perfect time that never comes.

So I’m asking that we all undertake joy as a spiritual practice - right now, in this moment. Let’s make a commitment to cultivating joy in the coming week. To do this, we’re debuting a new technology in our worship life. We’re going to build a word cloud using Mentimeter to show our responses to the question: “How will you cultivate joy this week?”

Using a web browser, such as Safari or Chrome, navigate to and use code: 23 04 61 4; that code is at the top of this slide. You can use a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, anything that has a web browser. If you don’t have a second device and don’t feel comfortable navigating to a web browser while leaving Zoom open, you can type your response into the chat box at the bottom of your screen. Sara will type add those responses to the word cloud as she’s able.

Go to and enter the code on your screen to share how you will cultivate joy this week. Please use one word, if possible. You can submit multiple answers. And we’ll have some music while we work on our word cloud.

Community song w/word cloud - Reprise of “Shiny, Happy People”

Summary/conclusion of word cloud


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