Recording of our June 13, 2021 online Flower Communion worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), unless otherwise attributed.
Rev. Mandy Beal
Good morning and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, I am this congregation’s Senior Minister. I am joined in worship leadership by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing and our Religious Education Coordinator, Nico Van Ostrand. We also have technical support from Jane O’Neil and today’s Zoom Greeter is Mary Jo Ebert.
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 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 two announcements this morning:
Join the Humanists of BUC Sunday, June 13 at 7:00 pm. Their featured speaker, Dawud Walid, will be giving a talk entitled “Islamophobia and Its Impact.” Mr. Walid is Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Zoom information is on the calendar.
I’m asking for sermon topic suggestions for next church year. Your ideas and burning questions can be submitted using the link in the Thursday email, or you can email Sara Constantakis and she will put them in for you. All submissions are due by June 30.
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.
by Nico Van Ostrand
For connections that keep BUC together: the internet connection, our shared values and faith, the strength of our care for one another--for the people who make up this community, I light the chalice.
read by Nico Van Ostrand
This morning’s opening words are from Margaret Weis.
“The church is not a place; it is a people.
The church is not only a steeple above the treeline, streets, and cars.
Rather, it is a people proclaiming to the world that
we are here for the work of healing and of justice.
The church is not walls built stone upon stone, held together by mortar
but rather person, linked with person, linked with person:
all ages and genders and abilities--
a community built on the foundation of reason, faith, and love.
The church is not just a set of doors open on Sunday morning,
but the commitment day after day, and moment after moment,
of our hearts creaking open the doors of welcome to the possibility of new experience and radical welcome.
The church is not simply a building, a steeple, a pew.
The church is the gathering together of all the people, and experiences,
and fear, and love, and hope in our resilient hearts;
gathering, however we can, to say to the world:
welcome, come in, lay down your heartache, and pick up hope and love.
For the church is us--each and every one of us--together,
a beacon of hope to this world that so sorely needs it.”
Rev. Mandy Beal
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.
Story for All Ages
read by Nico Van Ostrand
This morning’s story for all ages is “The Flower Ceremony, A Plain and Simple Beauty,” adapted from a story by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer in her book Lamp in Every Corner: Our UU Storybook.
In the city of Prague, in the land of Czechoslovakia, there was a church. The year was 1923--almost 100 years ago! This church building did not look much like a church. It had no bells, no spires, no stained glass windows. It had no organ to make beautiful music. It didn't even have a piano. It had no carvings of wood or statues of stone. It had no candles or chalices. It had no daffodils.
The church did have some things. It had four walls and a ceiling and a floor. It had a door and a few windows. It had some wooden chairs. But that was all, plain and simple.
Except... the church also had people who came to it every Sunday. It had a minister, and his name was Norbert Capek. Wait, Capek? Capek… hmm, I think I’ve heard that name around BUC before. Maybe I’ll remember by the end of the story.
Well, this Norbert Capek had been the minister at the plain and simple church for two years. Every Sunday, Minister Capek went to church, and he spoke to the people while they listened, sitting quietly and still in those hard wooden chairs. When he was done speaking, the people talked a little bit among themselves, and then they went home. And that was all--no music, no candles, no food. Not even coffee or doughnuts.
Springtime came to the city of Prague and Norbert Capek went out for a stroll. The rains had come, the birds were singing, and flowers were blooming all over the land. The world was beautiful.
Then an idea came to him, simple and clear, plain as day. The next Sunday, he asked all the people in the church to bring a flower or a budding branch, or even a twig. Each person was to bring one.
"What kind?" they asked. "What color? What size?"
"You choose," he said. "Each of you choose what you like."
And so, on the next Sunday, which was the first day of summer, the people came with flowers of all different colors and sizes and kinds. There were yellow daffodils and red roses. There were white lilies and blue asters, dark-eyed pansies and light green leaves. Pink and purple, orange and gold--there were all those colors and more. Flowers filled all the vases, and the church wasn't so plain and simple anymore.
Minister Capek spoke to the people while they listened, sitting quiet and still in those hard wooden chairs. "These flowers are like ourselves," he said. "Different colors and different shapes, and different sizes, each needing different kinds of care--but each beautiful, each important and special, in its own way."
When he was done speaking, the people talked a little bit among themselves, and then they each chose a different flower from the vases before they went home. And that was all--and it was beautiful, plain and simple as the day.
And hey, I remembered where I’ve heard the name Capek before! Our very own Capek Woods at BUC was named in honor of the Unitarian minister who celebrated the plain and simple beauty we each bring to church. Next time you find yourself there, I hope you think of this story, and of all the ways BUC’s members embody the spirit of Norbert Capek’s Flower Communion.
by Rev. Mandy Beal
And so we’ve reached the end of our liturgical year. Another year of church programming has come and gone - one spent entirely online. We faced some challenges this year and now is the appointed time to consider how we grew through those challenges. This year, we willed our church into being in unexpected and profound ways. It’s tempting to say that technology held us together this year, but it wasn’t technology - it was tenacity. We are a remarkable community and what we’ve done, how we’ve made church this year, has been remarkable.
BUC was founded by remarkable people who were dedicated enough to liberal religion to bring it home to the suburbs. They wanted to create their own church, even if they didn’t have a building. They knew that a church isn’t a building, it’s a community. And that’s where they wanted their church to be - in their community. This year, we’ve been reminded that a church isn’t a building and we’ve come to know that a community is not limited by geography. Our forebears met in living rooms, and this year, so did we.
And through this year’s challenges, we found a new and perhaps deeper appreciation for each other, both as individuals and as a church. We’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a church without taking it for granted that we’ll see each other next week. We haven’t had the convenience of a casual greetings or the luxury of leaving something unsaid. We’ve learned the urgency of those expressions of love, those affirmations of belonging to each other. We’ve gotten good at earnest expressions of care and concern and we’ve learned a new vulnerability that will serve us well for years to come.
There’s a story that’s been on my mind throughout this year. It has nothing to do with flowers, so I hope you’ll indulge me. Several decades ago, scientists from many disciplines created an experiment to observe human life in an artificial environment. It was called Biosphere II. The purpose of the experiment was for humans to live in a completely sealed environment without access to additional resources. They intended to apply the results of the experiment to plans for a future space colony.
What they found that pertains to us today is the trees in certain biomes didn’t grow tall enough. They couldn’t understand why. The trees, like everything else in the Biosphere, had what they needed. They had rich soil, plenty of sunlight and water. Those trees lived, they just didn’t thrive. After the experiment was completed and scientists began sorting through the data, they realized there was a missing factor. They hadn’t taken into full consideration the importance of wind. Trees need to be pushed around by wind in order to grow strong enough to support the weight of being tall.
This phenomenon is called stress wood. There are similar processes called tension wood and reaction wood. Trees are stronger in the places where they’ve been under stress from the wind or other external forces. The lesson here is that trees need to be challenged in order to grow properly. This wisdom is obviously applicable to human life, both individually and collectively. Our growth is accelerated through the experience of adversity. And this year gave us the opportunity for quite a growth spurt.
This year showed us who we are at our core. Who is BUC without the trappings of a beautiful building? Who are we as a congregation without the ease of casual fellowship? When we were stripped bare, down to our most basic elements, we found grace for each other’s shortcomings, compassion for each other’s heartache, and a dedication to showing up, even when it wasn’t convenient. It turns out that’s what we’re good at, that’s who we are underneath it all. That’s what I’ll remember most about this time of challenge. And that’s what we can build on in the time to come - grace, compassion, dedication.
Sure, I’ll remember all the church services and meetings that went a little weird because of the vagaries of technology. But what I’ll remember twice as much are those of you who persevered. I’ll remember those of you who showed up to programs, classes, events, and worship services using Zoom. You may have been sideways or upside down for a few meetings, but you were there. You showed the same commitment to liberal religion that our founders did when they created Birmingham Unitarian Church all those years ago.
Today, we are completing an entire church year spent online. We did that. You did that. You have kept our congregation alive and resilient in the winds of the past year. You tried new things. You asked for help when you needed it. You did what you had to do to take care of yourself, your friends, and our Beloved Community. That’s what got us this far and will continue to move us forward. It is not technology - it is us. Our love for each other and our church has outweighed our frustrations and despair. It is our commitment to each other and our faith that has given us the fortitude to keep trying and the hope to be patient.
We have spent a year and a half in this storm, being blown about by the wind and driving rain. And we’re still here, stronger than ever because of the work we’ve done to overcome the obstacles. Being an active part of this church means something a little more now, doesn’t it? It was a stressful year, but through the experience of the storm, we grew stress wood and the subsequent strength we need to support growth. This storm did not break us. It made us stronger and it made us ready for whatever comes next.
In acknowledgement of the individual contributions each of us have made toward our church’s growth this year, it’s now time for us to celebrate Flower Communion.
Nico Van Ostrand and Rev. Mandy Beal
Today we join with other UU congregations around the world in celebration of Flower Communion. This ritual is a reflection of our unity in diversity, the goodness of being individuals who make one Beloved Community.
The need to acknowledge our unity is as compelling today as it was at the first Flower Communion, almost 100 years ago. Norbert Capek was a martyr of liberal religion. His conviction that all people have inherent worth and dignity was considered a danger to the Nazi regime and he was executed in 1942. When we celebrate flower communion, we honor his memory and reaffirm our commitment to liberal religious values. We also reaffirm our commitment to each other.
Flower Communion is a celebration of our Beloved Community. Each of us is a unique part of the garden that is BUC. Today, we celebrate that uniqueness and take stock of how we’ve grown together in the past year.
As in that original celebration in Prague, we typically bring in one flower and leave with another. This year, we’ve made signs that answer the question "What's growing in BUC's spiritual garden?" or "What's growing in the BUC community?"
If you’ve made a sign, please show it to us. If you didn’t make a poster, I invite you to hold up your hands in a heart shape. We’ll use the spotlight feature to get a closer view. If you don’t want to be shown in our recording, please turn off your camera.
This is what we’ve grown at BUC this year. These are the seeds we’ve sown and lovingly tended, the work we’ve done together.