Recording of our June 20, 2021 online worship service
Good morning, and Welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am Bill Fox, your Worship Leader this morning. I will be assisted by Tom Raffel, today’s Worship Associate. We are joined by our accompanist Forrest Howell and cantor Kaye Rittinger, with technical support from Sara Constantankis 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 one announcement this morning:
Rev. Mandy is asking for sermon topic suggestions for the 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.
In this morning’s service we will reflect on the meaning of community. As we worship, we can hope that our new Federal holiday, Juneteenth, will help lift our country into a greater sense of community that includes everyone.
And now we will begin our service with music.
“Let the Chalice Connect Us” by Catherine Callahan
Read by Tom Raffel
As the chalice is lit, let us come together into the sacred space we have created.
Let the cares of the day fall away, and know that here is a place for quiet reflection;
for a pause in our lives;
for breathing into our true selves.
Let what is said and felt here add richness to the dimensions of our lives and spiritual practices.
We are strong together, in community.
We share the experience of being human.
Let the warmth of the chalice, lit during our time together,
connect us, and carry us, into the world.
Read by Tom Raffel
Our opening words for this morning, titled “Apart but Together,” come from the Reverend Doctor Cynthia Landrum, minister of the UU Church of East Liberty in Clarklake, Michigan
Spirit of life and love,
We gather together in different ways this morning,
From computer screens, from telephones, from car radios,
We gather, reaching out across the wires, waving from a safe distance,
To come together in religious community.
From living room to front porch to car seat,
We gather as we are able,
Ready to be of service to each other, to the world.
Ready to build the community of hope and of love.
As we face this bright morning,
we are apart, but we are together.
Offering our love, our commitment,
Our hope, and our prayers,
In service to one another and this world.
It is a new way, but an old way, that we come together in worship today.
And now we will have the offering:
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 (user name @BUCMI), or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.
by Wayne B. Arnason
Read by Bill Fox
Spirit of Life,
We pause to give thanks for many gifts of life that are ours, gifts we find expressed and enhanced in the community of this church.
We are grateful for our family and friends and all they mean to us.
We are grateful for opportunities to learn and grow, and for teachers of all kinds, those who come into our classrooms, and those we find within the pages of a book.
We are grateful for the insights and beauty we find all around us in the natural world.
We are grateful for ministry, and for all the forms that it takes in our community of faith - in teaching and preaching; in care for children and care for our seniors and care for our building; in leadership tasks both large and small.
We pause now in silent witness to the gifts we share and the gratitude we feel.
Read by Tom Raffel
Today’s reading was posted in May by fellow Unitarian Universalist Christine Slocum, as her community in upstate New York, began to contemplate reopening for in-person worship services. Its title is “Exhaling in Community.”
Remember when we used to breathe all over each other? Pre-pandemic, we stood behind each other in the grocery line, chit-chatted before meetings, or sat next to each other in church. There was a clear line of sight to each other’s noses, and the sounds of our voices were unobstructed by fabric. My unrestricted exhales didn’t put me out of right relationship with those around me.
The virus changed how we understood the consequences of breathing. I used to breathe without thinking. If I was breathing mindfully, it was in the context of meditation or yoga. Breath was life force, or a tool of centering oneself. Now we know: the way we take up space includes where our breath goes.
But breath is also a vector of illness. With over a half a million people deceased, and many in my community, I could not ignore the potential power I had to spread illness. I didn’t like how something so fundamental to my being could cause harm. I also couldn’t deny it.
Masking up became so normal, I felt naked in public without it. I learned to cross the street whenever I saw anyone on the sidewalk. I chose to forego unneeded interpersonal interaction. It’s been a lonely year. My own understanding of personal space aligned with the collective revision to six feet. Even after receiving the vaccine and the requisite time elapsing to immunity, my instincts to avoid other people are still very sharp. I could still harm.
I miss the innocence about how we existed in each other’s presence. I miss the ease and lack of caution. What I understood to be true—the safety I perceived—was because I did not have the complete perspective.
Committing to right relationship means being willing to revise our practices when we learn that previously accepted habits might be harmful. It’s true of the language we use and the ways we practice power. Now we know: the way we steward our breath matters. I will leave the pandemic with a better understanding of how to protect people around me from illness. May I recognize this awareness as a gift, and use it to express care for the people around me.
by Bill Fox
“That’s my tribe!” That’s what my mom’s cousin said many years ago about being Jewish, “that’s my tribe!” I took it as a declaration of community. Her parents were Greek & Jewish, but she had been raised by her Jewish mother. The Greek side of her family had not played a large role in her life and, as an adult, she made a choice. She would be part of her mom’s community. That is one way to join a community. Declare that you are a part of it.
We are bombarded with messages on belonging to communities. Some we truly belong to, some, maybe not.
There are corporate communities: companies that want our business tell us we could be part of their community. Companies that have our business tell us we are part of their community. Corporations have Directors of Community Relations.
There are on-line-only communities on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter…
There are community programs, community colleges, community gardens and community centers. There was a television series, “Community,” that took place at a community college.
I am told I am part of a world-wide community of MSU alumni, yet I connect with no one whom I went to MSU. I merely get weekly e-mails from the school’s communication machine and from the Alumni office.
Sometimes we are a part of a community because it was thrust upon us. Think about the community you were raised in. As a child, you do not have much choice of where you live or the events you attend.
As adults, we belong to the community where our children attend school, our work communities or sports communities. We become soccer moms or baseball dads and we most likely enjoy being part of it while it lasts. Sometimes, even more than thrust upon, we are forced to be a member of a community such as an NA or AA community.
Being part of a community is being a part of something greater than just you. It’s about sharing, growing and opening up to who you are and what you believe in. We include this in our Unitarian-Universalist principles: Accept one another and encourage spiritual growth in our congregations.
share a sense of place, either geographically, or in a virtual space through communication platforms, just as we are doing now.
are formed by groups of people with similar interests, goals, experiences and knowledge.
are social units with common norms, religion, values, customs or identity.
share a common understanding, language, traditions and rules.
And help individuals solve problems, stay motivated, overcome obstacles, and grow spiritually and intellectually. At least when these communities are working toward positive outcomes.
You can see in our BUC covenant that we are a community that works toward positive outcomes. The covenant says:
As part of this beloved BUC community, I promise to:
…strive to be my best self in all my interactions
…assume the best intentions of everyone's actions
…be mindful of our shared humanity in my communications
... pause, reflect and be part of the solution when things go awry
Thus do we covenant with one another
Common location, similar foods, clothing and language, however, do not guarantee community. Nor do shared interests. Unfortunately, communities do not always work toward positive outcomes.
There are numerous examples of people turning on their neighbors, recently and in the distant past: Bosnia in the mid-1990s, Rwanda, also in the mid-1990s, Tulsa in 1921, Northern Ireland for decades in the 20th century. The United States. Too many Americans look at other Americans and think: they are not Americans, and say so. Why do neighbors become so violent toward one another? Communities that share a common location, food, clothing, language, interests, goals, and experiences do not overcome racism, religious divisions, or quests for material gain.
Communities, and the conflict between communities, have been around since biblical times.
Romans 16:17 says: I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught, avoid them.
Watch out for those who cause divisions.
Our membership in communities can be permanent or transitory or concurrent. We can belong to more than one community at a time.
But which communities are we a part of? And how do we know we are a part of them? I have wondered about which communities I belonged to.
A television ad the Prince Spaghetti company ran from 1969 to 1982 featured a young boy running home through the North End of Boston because he knows, as does everyone in the Italian North End of Boston, that Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day. So, the commercial says.
Growing up I thought that that was a community! Everyone eats the same dinner because this is a community that knows it is Prince Spaghetti Day. They share a ritual of eating Prince spaghetti every Wednesday. That’s community!
My own neighborhood looked nothing like the North End of Boston. And we did not all eat spaghetti on Wednesdays. But in my neighborhood, not yet having adapted to Vatican II, everyone ate fish on Friday. My public junior high school cafeteria served fish every Friday. And the line was long. Kids who did not buy lunch the rest of the week bought fish on Friday.
I bought the school lunch every day, so on Friday, just like everybody else, I ate fish. Local churches advertised it. Fish fry on Friday.
We had Fish on Friday just as the North End had Prince Spaghetti on Wednesday.
Like my mother’s cousin, I have thought “which tribe was mine.” I grew up in a west side Detroit neighborhood that I often felt a part of, but just as often, I felt apart from.
Was I part of that Detroit community? My family was both different and similar. Sometimes the differences outweighed the similarities. In a community where few adults had graduated college, both my parents had. In a place where most families were Catholic, my parents had been raised Presbyterian and Jewish. And more difficult than that, organized religion, to my parents, was best avoided. I’d say I was “half-Jewish,” if pressed. It was safer, in my neighborhood, than saying I was being raised an atheist.
But in some ways, we were quite similar. I was not the only child to have immigrant grandparents from Eastern Europe.
Even this community was split and I lived on the line. The north side of my street was the Herman Gardens, a sprawling, low-rise housing project. Over time, the demographics on the north side of the street diverged from those on the south.
Further complicating my connection to this community I lived in, were my ties to my Jewish grandmother’s neighborhood, because my family traveled to the Jewish community, despite never living close to it, for many things. We went there:
To buy Shoes. Mazer’s Shoes.
For pediatricians. Pollack, Bernstein and Blum.
For the optometrist and ophthalmologist
For the dentist
For corned beef sandwiches, first at Darby’s and later at The Stage.
For the Jewish Community Center for a variety of things
For Bagels, which you could only get in Jewish neighborhoods in those days
And last, but not least, for relatives, especially my grandmother.
So, I was familiar with the Jewish community. But did I belong to it? Maybe not.
I am not sure visiting once a week, or even more, was enough.
I certainly belonged to the community in which I grew up, no matter how much I fit in there, or didn’t. It helped form me. As much as we come together because we share values, rituals and customs, we also learn those things from our communities. But I do not discount the importance of the community I went to for doctors, bagels, shoes and to see my grandmother. It also formed me.
My connections to my childhood neighborhood became tenuous, however, as soon as my parents moved, and over time have become even more frayed. I have kept a few connections. I occasionally still go to the bakery that my mom went to when I was a kid. Once in a while I exchange e-mails and Christmas cards with a classmate. That’s about it.
As an adult, I have, as I believe most adults do, made conscious choices as to which communities I belong, such as this one.
There are many things that bring us together, such as shared beliefs, values, interests, goals, food, language, customs, neighborhood, and Zoom.
We belong to this church and we belong elsewhere. We belong because we have to and we belong because we want. We belong because we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And maybe we belong because an e-mail tells us we do.
Communities are best when they work together, so let’s work together and: Watch out for those who cause divisions.
Read by Tom Raffel
We close today’s service with “Benediction for a People in Pandemic” by Reverend Anya Sammler-Michael
When faced with a challenge such as this,
We can turn toward one another,
Or we can turn against.
We can ignore the cries of our neighbors,
Or we can let them cry into the arms of our witness,
We can respond with indifference to systemic injustice,
Or we can commit to its undoing.
Good souls, tales will be told of how we responded,
When this particular hell, was visited upon our earth.
Let us know, and let it be said by generations to come,
that when the pain of our separation was revealed,
We moved closer to the promised land, of our beloved community.