Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Recording of June 14, 2020 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), unless otherwise attributed.
Good morning, and welcome to 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, and Worship Associate Judy Amir. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis. Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook.
BUC is a spiritual home for all people of good will. Today is delayed Daffodil Sunday, a celebration of BUC’s Welcoming Congregation status, a term that means we are committed to being intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. Our Welcoming Congregation Status was renewed this program year. We typically wear green and yellow for this celebration, but I’ve chosen to wear black today in solidarity with the black lives that have been lost to police brutality and the ongoing resistance efforts.
BUC is also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a similar program for environmental justice work in a congregation. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.
Just a quick reminder that you are currently on mute. We ask that you stay muted to prevent distractions during the service. We usually have a virtual coffee hour after worship services, but not today. Instead, today is our Annual Meeting. You’ll leave this Zoom meeting, get a snack and a cup of coffee, then click on a separate link to join the annual meeting. That link can be found on the BUC website. Please join the meeting at 11:45.
We have a few announcements this week:
First, as many of you are aware, the Blue Door Classroom needs a new roof, and the Red Door needs significant roof repair. You can help by joining our “Raise the Roof” fundraiser! The good news is we have a good start through the PPP funds and a gift for matching contributions. We have also scheduled a “Raise the Roof Zoomathon” party for Friday, June 26th at 7:00 pm, with plenty of special guests and live music. Mark your calendars for this very special event!
Second, the Humanists of BUC are meeting tonight at 7:00 PM. The featured speaker is Professor Mike Whitty, who will be giving a talk entitled: "Defending Democracy from Theocracy." Zoom access information is on the BUC website.
And finally, we will celebrate flower communion next week. This is obviously going to be a little different online, but please bring a flower anyway.
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.
Today, we worship in our separate homes, but we are joined with a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
We light this chalice as an affirmation that love is love and all genders are whole and holy.
“Widening Our Welcome” by Jonathan Chapman
Recently, I ordered 4-foot-tall rainbow bunnies for my church. Just after I hit “order,” I wondered if we really needed them.
Later that day, one of my parishioners sent me a picture taken in front of a local church: on the lawn was an enormous banner with a picture of the Holy Family, and the message:
“God’s Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman”
Often people ask me why my church constantly hangs banners welcoming folks — particularly the LGBTQ community. They wonder why we’re always lugging out our rainbows. This is why. Because, you see, every church says “Everyone is welcome” — but many of them make that a conditional welcome. You’re welcome, but not your relationship… or who you love. Or how you look. Or how you think, or how you believe.
Most churches don’t put up banners like the one I saw, but many aren’t far off from sharing the same sentiment. Listen, people can think what they want and believe what they want. I don’t have to agree with everyone, and they don’t have to agree with me. But as long as there are congregations willing to limit God’s welcome, ours will work hard to widen that welcome. And as long as there are churchgoers who question the depth of God’s love, we will keep hoisting our banners and hauling our doors that proclaim its breadth.
The truth is that we will fall short (and we do). But we keep trying. Because, you see, there are people in the world who wonder if God could really love them — if God could love them despite who they love.
And in case that’s you: Yes. There’s no “despite” about it. God could love you; God does love you. And so does this church.
Joys and Sorrows
Joy - Shiehern and Tony Kubien happily celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary this last weekend.
Joy - Nancy and Richard Schmitt - On Saturday, June 13th, Richard and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary! We were married at 20 and in college. Some people thought we were too young, but we grew up together and we’re still going strong!
Joy - our own Abby Schreck won the 8th Congressional District Art Competition, which means her art will hang in the halls of the US Capitol for a year. She will be flown to DR for a ceremony, where she will receive a private tour and meet Rep. Elissa Slotkin.
Sorrow from Jesse Beal - June 12 marked the 4th anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in that act of anti-gay violence. This year on June 12, the Trump administration overturned a piece of legislation that protected transgender people from medical discrimination. This essentially allows medical providers to refuse care to transgender people during a pandemic. On the same day, two black transgender women were reported murdered.
Worship Associate Reflection
by Judy Amir
In 1993, I was invited to a meeting of people who wanted to discuss BUC becoming a Welcoming Congregation. At the time, I had no understanding of what that meant. And neither did most of the other 25 people who crowded the room that evening. The majority of those, however, questioned the need for this, as “we don’t know any gay people in this church.” Or – “of course we welcome everybody, so why do we need to do this?” We spent over a year talking, sometimes crying. We listened to people from the gay community and began to understand. And we educated the congregation through discussion groups and worship services. Finally, we earned the designation of being a Welcoming Congregation.
But that was many years ago, and the world has changed. The language has changed, the congregation has changed, our conversations about LGBTQ persons have evolved. And, yes we now know that members, leaders, and friends of our congregation are part of the LGBTQ community.
The Welcoming Congregation Renewal committee provided us with so many opportunities to learn more, experience more, to love more. Yes, some of us struggle with the language but we are trying. We are not done but we are on the right path.
Today is Daffodil Sunday, an annual celebration of BUC’s history as a Welcoming Congregation. In 1994, our church made a bold statement that it was fully inclusive of gays and lesbians. The Welcoming Congregation committee worked over the course of two years to bring the congregation onboard through education and coalition building. It all culminated in a successful congregational vote.
In order to draw attention to this declaration, our building was wrapped in yellow caution tape, designating it a hate-free zone. As was hoped, this striking visual caught the attention of local media, giving BUC a public platform to make its Welcoming status widely known. It also caught the attention of a couple living in the condos behind our property. The two men were so taken by BUC’s gesture of inclusion that they secretly planted daffodil bulbs in Capek Woods. In the spring, the daffodils bloomed and our church was so overwhelmed at this expression of gratitude that the daffodil became the unofficial symbol of our congregation.
Over the past year, a committee of lay leaders successfully worked to renew BUC’s Welcoming Congregation status. Over the decades that the UUA has offered the Welcoming Congregation certification, it has been noted that many congregations achieve Welcoming Congregation status and don’t continue learning about and actively working on LGBTQ inclusivity. The Welcome renewal program has been created for congregations to stay engaged in this work. Like the original process, the steps for Welcome Renewal include educational events, community outreach, and acknowledging days of special importance to the LGBTQ community.
The story of Daffodil Sunday has been told now 26 years, recounted annually for our young people and adults. This is a story most BUCers know by heart. And yet, some questions and concerns about BUC’s Welcoming Status have been raised during my tenure as your Senior Minister. I’ve decided to dedicate today’s sermon to responding to these concerns.
Question 1 - We already did Welcoming Congregation, why do we need to do it again?
Issues facing the LGBTQ community are always evolving, as is language, and our understanding of our own identities. For example, the word Queer is widely used among people of my generation and younger. That word can make older UUs feel uncomfortable because it was previously (and sometimes still is) used as a slur. Over the years, the word Queer has been reclaimed and is often preferred because it provides space for acknowledging gender non-conformity. It also has political implications. Trying to stay current with the language of the LGBTQ community is one important way that congregations demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity.
In 1994, BUC did a tremendous amount of work to understand how LGBTQ identities have been marginalized in society and especially in religious spaces. Also in 1994, I celebrated my 15th birthday. The world has changed a lot since 1994. None of us have the same life now that we did a quarter century ago. This is also true of the LGBTQ community. A Welcome Renewal year exploring how things have changed over the past 26 years is a healthy practice. In fact, we might consider doing it more often.
Question 2 - Why can’t we just say all people of good will are welcome?
I get this one a lot. I’ll start by asking: What do we mean when we say welcome? Do we mean allowed to exist or do we mean warmly embraced and brought into the center of things? A passive tolerance is not a welcome.
In church, a true welcome is fully acknowledging someone and celebrating all of who they are. That is no passive statement of “everyone is welcome,” but a dedication to actively trying to understand their challenges in the world and in religious settings. It’s letting an historically marginalized group know that they are seen and valued, even if they are vastly outnumbered in the congregation.
Many LGBTQ UUs left Christian churches because we were not fully welcome there, myself included. I was tolerated in those spaces. I was allowed to be there. But they weren’t excited I was there. They didn’t encourage my participation or my leadership in anything. I, and others like me, left that stifling space of “allowed but not welcome” hoping to find a warm and enthusiastic welcome in these sheltering walls. That means I’d like for you to understand a bit about my identity, the struggles I may have faced, and the words I use to describe myself. These are the goals of the Welcoming Congregation program.
And it has to be said, the term Welcoming Congregation is confusing. It should be called something that includes the phrase LGBTQ. I think the fact that the UUA was afraid to give the program such a name says a lot about how many congregations actually supported these efforts at the beginning. That’s a testament to BUC’s position at the time as well as an indictment on a mealy-mouth stance from the UUA.
Question 3 - Why isn’t there a UUA anti-racism program?
This is an excellent question. It’s my understanding that after a lot of consideration, the people who work in the realms of UU anti-racism and multiculturalism chose not to use the certificate model. As previously stated, many congregations achieved Welcoming Congregation status and became complacent. In order to prevent that attitude in anti-racism work, congregations are encouraged to engage with racial justice work in an ongoing manner using materials created by and centering people of color. Also, there’s a movement underway to adopt an 8th principle that is explicitly anti-racist. I am fully in support of that movement.
Statement 1 - I’m a straight, white, cisgender person in my 60s. My identities aren’t mentioned in the welcoming words and that makes me feel left out.
When I became your Senior Minister, I realized that there was some confusion about the term “Welcoming Congregation,” especially in the welcoming statement given at the beginning of worship services. The welcoming statement that I inherited said something about being a welcoming congregation and everyone was welcome here. As I worked with our Worship Associates and other leaders, it became clear that BUC, like so many other congregations, had lost the meaning of a capital W, capital C, Welcoming Congregation. I felt that we needed to clear this up by explicitly stating the meaning of Welcoming Congregation in the welcome statement. People worked so hard to earn that certification, I wanted their good work to be acknowledged.
Later, Green Sanctuary Ministries asked to be included in the welcome. They have also worked hard to earn a certification, so it was added. People of color in the congregation asked to be included, so a line acknowledging our commitment to racial justice was added. Our entire Worship Associate team has contributed to updating our welcoming statement, with a lot of the legwork done by Teresa Honnold and Ed Sharples.
A welcoming statement is a brief on the congregation. It’s a way of telling new people who we are and what we value. It’s also a reminder of those things for our long-timers. It is not meant to be a census of the congregation. If you can look around the room, or now, scroll through our zoom screens, on a Sunday morning, and see a lot of people who share your identities, you know that you are welcome here. There is plenty of evidence that you are valued and understood by the other people who have gathered to make sacred space.
Also, I ask you to recall that becoming a Welcoming Congregation requires a congregational vote. Ask yourself if you’ve ever been in a community where a group of people, who share an identity that vastly outnumbered your own, went through a learning process about your identity, and then took a vote on whether or not they wanted to explicitly include you in that community. If that’s never been you, perhaps there doesn’t need to be a statement specifically naming your value at the beginning of a worship service. Your value is already made clear by having a majority stake in the identity and culture of the congregation.
I think what truly underlies the concern about straight white baby boomers feeling left out is anxiety about a changing congregation. I have a lot of empathy for that and I want to assure you that I’m not trying to leave you behind. I don’t think anyone in this congregation is trying to leave you behind or edge you out. And, we have to start making room for people who are not straight, white, baby boomers to participate in our church at all levels, including leadership. Folks, church is not a pie. As other identities get a larger piece of participation, it doesn’t mean that you get a smaller piece. Our religious tradition, our church, and the human heart are limitless. There is room for us all.
Statement 2 - You have changed the church's fairly diverse social action agenda to one focused militantly on LGBTQ matters, which minimizes the far larger and more pressing problems of the metro Detroit area.
This is slightly paraphrased, for anonymity, from a letter that I recently received. I want to dismiss this as one angry person, but I’ve heard other, softer versions of this concern. I have to admit, this one hurts. It hurts because it’s not true and because of the underlying assumption. This statement indicates a belief I have a singular justice concern at the expense of all others, or that I have the desire to make things about myself, or perhaps both.
I don’t set the agenda of our Social and Environmental Justice committee. In fact, I think I’ve attended two SEJ meetings in my time with BUC, both last year. I think it should be noted that I’ve taken a leadership role in social justice work twice while at BUC. First I was invited to lead a discussion about a chapter from a book on environmental justice. The second was starting an anti-racism workshop series this year, which was cancelled due to quarantine.
All of our Welcome Renewal work was done by lay leaders, with the exception of a prayer on World AIDS Day. I think I went to 2 or 3 of their meetings. I am ashamed to admit this, but when they approached me about taking on Welcome Renewal this year, I actually asked them not to. I was afraid that I’d get comments like this. And then I did. So here we are.
I know that I’m a symbol of change in our congregation and change is hard for people. But it’s also hard on me to be blamed for things I haven’t done, especially when the implication is one part of my identity has played a disproportionate role in my ministry and the life of this church.
I know that none of you have asked these questions or made these statements because you want to hurt me. You’ve said these things because our congregation means a lot to you, and you are passionate. I want you to know that it means a lot to me, too. I hope that honest responses to your questions and concerns can bring us to a mutual understanding of that commitment. I respect you enough to tell you the truth. I believe you have as much resilience as I do and the ability to handle tough conversations. I believe that we’re all in this together, working for the good of our church and our future together.
It’s the understatement of the year to say there’s a lot going on the world right now. Civil unrest. Unhinged political rhetoric. A pandemic. I don’t mean to add another thing to our complex emotional landscapes, but if there’s ever a day to clear these things up, it’s Daffodil Sunday. Daffodil Sunday is a celebration of taking risks in the name of greater understanding and love. BUC has always been proud of that history while continuing to look to the future.
We are a community that values education and justice. That drove our Welcoming Congregation efforts in 1994 and it drives us still today. If we are to remain relevant in the future, we must draw from our past. BUC was on the cutting edge of religious inclusion of LGBTQ people in 1994. Why should we be anything less today? We strive to be more loving, more inclusive, more gracious today than we did yesterday. We do that year over year to honor those who came before and to make a place for those who will come after. Our religious tradition, our church and the human heart are limitless. Let’s open them wide, ready for the challenges and the joy that will follow.