Recording of our June 21, 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 Teresa Honnold, with 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. The lay leaders of this congregation have worked hard over many years to earn special designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association. In 1994, we became a Welcoming Congregation, a term that means we are committed to being intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. We’re also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a similar program for environmental justice work in a congregation. Our commitment to both of these programs was renewed in this year. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.
After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If you are worshiping us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you. We hope that you’ll stay after the service and get to know us.
We have three announcements this week:
First, a worship announcement. Next week, we will stream the closing worship service of our General Assembly. This is a profound and joyful affirmation of our connection to our larger faith community.
Second, a workshop on Advanced Directives will take place tomorrow evening, Monday the 22nd, at 7:00 p.m. In this session, you’ll learn what advanced directives are and why they are important for everyone, not just older adults. We will also discuss how to approach this conversation with loved ones. Advanced Care experts Faith Hopp and Kristy Stuart are co-leading this important learning opportunity, which will be hosted by Pastoral Care program Chair, Jennifer Norber. Please join us tomorrow evening.
And finally, as you’ve heard, BUC’s campus needs some major roof repairs that are not in our operating budget. The Blue Door roof must be completely replaced, and several other roof areas need repair and maintenance. We’re trying something fun: a one-hour “Raise the Roof Zoom-a-thon” scheduled for this Friday, June 26th, at 7:00 p.m. Hosted by Marcia Mahood and Andrew Schreck, the Zoom-a-thon will feature bits of entertainment and music by Jim Bizer, Eric Sargent, No Treble, and more. We’ll also hear from kids about why they love BUC. Don't miss this event -- it's a Zoom party for all, to help BUC “Raise the Roof.” That’s this Friday at 7:00 p.m.
Zoom access information for both of these events is on our website.
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.
In the early 1940s, political dissidents, intellectuals, artists, and others were fleeing the Nazi regime. The newly formed Unitarian Service Committee supported many of these refugees by supplying them with new “official” documents. The USC commissioned a logo to stamp on these documents so they were more convincing. The Chalice became synonymous with Unitarians, and later Unitarian Universalists. The elements of life are rarely in balance, but sometimes we tip the scales in favor of justice.
We join now with UUs around the world as we light our chalice.
We come together this morning as celebrants, as seekers and companions. We enter into this, the longest day, joyfully, allowing ourselves the beauty of this time together in which we may rest our cares and sorrows, and allow our hearts and spirits to be uplifted.
I invite you to take a deep breath, drink in the beauty and community that surrounds you in this place, and as you release it, become centered here, in the now.
“The Longing for Home” by Starhawk
We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been—a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.
We are stewards of this community and of our beautiful campus. Even when we’re not worshiping onsite, we are still responsible for expenses like utilities, lawn maintenance, and monthly leasing fees for the copier and postage meter. And we pay for Zoom, too. This is a house of memory and hope, of love and of justice. Let there be an offering to support this Beloved Community.
Your contributions can be sent using Venmo, username @BUCMI, or through our website. Giving through either platform is easy and free. You can also put a check in the mail to us. I ask you to consider how much you’ve relied on BUC in the past three months and do what you can to support our good work. Please give generously.
Joys and Sorrows
The 155th celebration of Juneteenth was this past Friday. This is a day of joyful celebration of the end of American chattel slavery and a reminder that we still have so much further to go in the full liberation of Black people in this country.
Joy from Ann Throop: Remembering the special men in our lives. Happy Father's Day to the Fathers! Happy Grandfather's Day to the Grandfathers! Happy Great Grandfather's Day to the Great Grandfathers! We love you all!
Joy - Next Sunday, June 28th marks the 51st Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Gay men and transwomen that frequented the Stonewall Inn had experienced ongoing harassment and brutality at the hands of police. When the club was raided that night, they fought back, and Marcia P. Johnson, a black transwoman, is credited with throwing the first brick. This marked the beginning of the gay rights movement.
Sorrow - Matt Chope’s mother, Debbie Rose, died on June 12 after a battle with cancer. We hold Matt and Kim in our hearts as they navigate the days and weeks to come.
“In Summertime” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
When summer time has come, and all
The world is in the magic thrall
Of perfumed airs that lull each sense
To fits of drowsy indolence;
When skies are deepest blue above,
And flow'rs aflush,—then most I love
To start, while early dews are damp,
And wend my way in woodland tramp
Where forests rustle, tree on tree,
And sing their silent songs to me;
Where pathways meet and pathways part,—
To walk with Nature heart by heart,
Till wearied out at last I lie
Where some sweet stream steals singing by
A mossy bank; where violets vie
In color with the summer sky,—
Or take my rod and line and hook,
And wander to some darkling brook,
Where all day long the willows dream,
And idly droop to kiss the stream,
And there to loll from morn till night—
Unheeding nibble, run, or bite—
Just for the joy of being there
And drinking in the summer air,
The summer sounds, and summer sights,
That set a restless mind to rights
When grief and pain and raging doubt
Of men and creeds have worn it out;
The birds' song and the water's drone,
The humming bee's low monotone,
The murmur of the passing breeze,
And all the sounds akin to these,
That make a man in summer time
Feel only fit for rest and rhyme.
Joy springs all radiant in my breast;
Though pauper poor, than king more blest,
The tide beats in my soul so strong
That happiness breaks forth in song,
And rings aloud the welkin blue
With all the songs I ever knew.
O time of rapture! time of song!
How swiftly glide thy days along
Adown the current of the years,
Above the rocks of grief and tears!
'Tis wealth enough of joy for me
In summer time to simply be.
Rev. Mandy Beal
Over the past months, we’ve come face-to-face with some of the worst failings of our society. Racism, income inequality, hyper individualism, political corruption, homophobia, and transphobia. We are living in outrageous times. If our faith is to remain relevant in the world, we can’t be separated from the struggles of the day. But, our bodies and our minds are not designed to be in a constant state of outrage.
These things weigh on our hearts. Today, we name them so that we may consciously put them aside, if just for a while. Sometimes, we have to turn our attention elsewhere in an act of self-preservation. Today is a special day honoring the peak of sunlight in our hemisphere. And so we shift our focus there for a moment, as best we can.
Long ago, before there were humans, before there was life, there was the sun. At its own beginning, the sun spun out matter and some of that matter formed masses. The sun’s gravity wove the masses together with other cosmic forces and they became planets. One of them would become ours. A series of things happened. Earth’s atmosphere began to develop and hold in moisture. Because of the planet’s just-right proximity to the sun, a just-right amount of water stayed in liquid form. More things happened. At the just-right time, asteroids and comets crashed into the earth’s surface and introduced new molecules. Somehow, through this process of random collisions and unfathomably precise timing, life began.
There is another version of this story that many of us in the Western world know. The ancient Hebrew poets tell us the earth was void. It was imagined as water and the Spirit blowing over the water. Then light was created, followed by darkness. Next, the water of the earth was separated from the water above the earth; that means the atmosphere was formed. Then the land was separated from the sea, and vegetation grew on the land. Then came the sun and then the moon. Light is listed before the sun because light appears before sunrise and remains after the sunset. These verses are parallels, told in binaries. The first part of the binaries are, in order: light, atmosphere, land, sun. The Hebrew creation mythology goes in a slightly different order from the astrophysics version, but is remarkably close.
Astrophysics and theological poetry are two different languages for understanding the mystery of life’s origin. Astrophysics has determined the series of events that made life possible, but has no explanation for why it happened. Judeo-Christian creation mythology puts this mystery in the hands of a Creator. There are many cosmologies that attempt to answer the timeless question - why are we here. We don’t really know. But all of the ways of approaching this question come to the same conclusions - the origin of life is a mystery; but the sustainer of life is the sun.
Our physical relationship to the sun creates the seasons of the world. Seasons come and go based on the orbit of the earth and the tilt of its axis. When our corner of the world tips closest to the sun, crops grow and we are surrounded by the fullness of life. Although summer is a time of agrarian labor, it is also a time of recreation. Whether we work or play, in summer, we surround ourselves with the splendor of the world, brought forth by the warmth of the sun. We call our closest proximity to the sun the Summer Solstice; the longest day of the year; today. As our sense of time drags out in quarantine, I want to assure you that the actual number of hours in this day remains 24. But the time we have in the life-sustaining light of the sun is greater today than it has been for a year and will be again until the next.
Returning to the two languages of cosmology most influential in our culture, astrophysics and the ancient Hebrew poets agree that before light there was chaos. Astrophysics tells us the universe was aswirl with matter and antimatter, energy and radiation, gravity and things we still don’t know about. Things we don’t understand. Genesis describes the time before our knowing as “darkness covered the face of the deep.” There’s a whole lot of background to that phrase, but I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you - that phrase means chaos reigned - until there was light. Before the beginning of everything, it wasn’t nothing, it was chaos. And life cannot exist in chaos.
Life needs order. It needs light and darkness, land and water, sun and moon. Our physical world was created by the interaction of molecules, heavy elements, gravity, matter, antimatter, and so on. And as the children of this process, we are the same. We are made of stardust and we are made of the earth. As the universe was created, so we are created in all of our aspects. Our interior landscape is also a complex combination of emotions, sensations, and experiences; pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, justice and outrage.
It is inaccurate to say life needs the balance of such forces, cosmic or emotional. Life needs the regular, observable interplay of those forces. We know what happens when cosmic forces combine just so, and we know what happens when our earth aligns with the sun just so, and we know what happens when our emotions align with the state of the world just so.
Sometimes there is a balance of things, but we celebrate balance on the Equinox. Today is not the Equinox. The Summer Solstice in an imbalance that favors light. We are brought close to the sun that gives us light and light defeats chaos. On this day of extravagant sunlight, our earth tilts toward the sun, and so do we. We hold up our fears and our careworn hearts to the light. We offer up our outrage to the sustainer of life. As we are bathed in that light, our hope, joy, and love bloom forth.
Today we join with other UU congregations around the world in celebration of Flower Communion. This ritual is a beautiful symbol of unity and holds an important place in BUC’s history.
On June 4, 1923, Unitarian minister Norbert Capek introduced Flower Communion to his congregation in Prague. He wanted his congregation to have a religious symbol of unity, but felt that the traditional Christian communion of bread and wine was not appropriate for members of his church who had rejected Catholicism. So he looked to nature for a new symbol, and Flower Communion was born. In 1940, Flower Communion was introduced to the United States by Norbert Capek’s wife, Maja Capek, who was also a Unitarian Minister.
The practice grew and is now celebrated in many UU congregations on the last Sunday before summer recess. It is a reminder that each of us is beautiful and unique, just as each flower is beautiful and unique. This is a celebration of the vibrancy of human life, and the beauty of diversity.
Norbert Capek was a martyr of liberal religion. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp and executed 1942. His religious conviction that all people have inherent worth and dignity was considered a danger to the Reich, and so they silenced him. When we celebrate flower communion, we honor the memory of Dr. Norbert Capek and we reaffirm our belief that each of us has worth and dignity.
Our congregation, of course, shares a special connection to this piece of UU history. Members of the Capek family later emigrated to the United States, and some of them became members of this congregation. And, of course, it is in Dr. Capek’s memory that our woods have been named.
In a flower communion, we typically bring in one flower and leave with another. The flower we bring in is a symbol the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that we bring to this Beloved Community. The flower that we leave with symbolizes how we are shaped by each other’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
This year’s flower communion is different, for obvious reasons. Today, we’ve made signs declaring what we love about our church. At this time, I invite you to change your view to “gallery,” if you haven’t already. Let’s all hold up our signs. If you don’t have a sign, think of something you love about BUC and hold your hands up in a heart.
This is what is blooming at BUC. These are the seeds we’ve sown and lovingly tended over the years. We’ve done that work together. Sometimes better than others, sometimes following a tradition or working without a playbook, in good weather and bad, but never alone. Our is a community garden. We come in with something, and we leave with something else. May it be so today and always.