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May 3, 2020 | Online Worship

Recording of our May 3, 2020 online worship service

Worship manuscript:

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


Good morning, and welcome to virtual 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 Ed Sharples, with technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis. Until we’re able to be together in our building again, our worship services will be hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then posted on Facebook. Birmingham Unitarian Church is a Welcoming Congregation. This is a designation that a Unitarian Universalist church can earn by demonstrating a commitment to learning about and doing the work of being fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. We’re also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a UUA designation 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. 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. And we request that our regular attendees be particularly welcoming to new folks. We have a several announcements this week:

First, the Climate Change Resolution Task Force invites you to a discussion of the film "Chasing Coral" tonight at 7:00 p.m. This documentary film explores how coral health impacts our seafood stocks, and solutions to prevent further warming of our ocean. You still have time to watch the film before the meeting at 7:00 p.m. tonight. Next, if you're looking for a little fun, join us this Wednesday and next at 12:30 p.m. for Chatting with Church Friends, a lunchtime chat hosted by Andrea Zellner. There's informal conversations, jokes, and creative challenges to help us reconnect and find joy. Another announcement from the Climate Change Resolution Task Force. Join them this Thursday, May 7 at 1:00 p.m. for their first presentation on the resolution that will be on the ballot at our annual meeting. The presentation includes a 20-minute video and Q&A. If you can't make it this Thursday, there will be two other opportunities to see it. The Board will be hosting another town hall this Friday, May 8 at 7:00 p.m. to continue our discussion of the three open questions we're asking this year as part of a visioning process. The format will be like the last town hall, with small breakout groups for discussion, followed by a conversation in the larger group. The Zoom access information for all of these events can be found on our website under Calendar of Events We also have a worship update that next week, May 10, is our next Michigan UU Virtual Megachurch service, led by the Reverend Julie Brock and Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton. We will use our Zoom link for that service, so you will log in as you normally do. And, finally, a note about Pastoral Care and Support. A message went out this past week about the opportunities for connection and support from our Pastoral Care Associates and our Helping Hands program. I urge you to engage with these opportunities and to reach out to each other in this time of crisis and social isolation. Please keep those who don’t use technology in mind these days. Maybe give them a call or send them a note. 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. Chalice Lighting

As we worship in our separate homes this morning, we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice with these words from Albert Schweitzer: At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. Opening Words by Robert Weston, slightly edited [May this time together renew] our faith in life and our living in it; May the disciplines of humility and courage Be strengthened from this time. May those disciplines bring a rediscovery of self And a lifting of the heart With a sense of newness from that discovery-- New courage, fresh vigor, and a deeper thoughtfulness For the living of life from this day. Offering

We have reached the time in our service when we ask for your financial support. There is no source of funding for BUC other than the ones that we create. We all know the financial strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our economy. BUC is under that strain, as well. Your church leadership is doing everything we can to support the stability of our congregation, and now I ask you to join us in that effort. 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 two months and do what you can to support our good work. Please give generously. Joys and Sorrows Donna Larkin Mohr - I’m feeling grateful for my lovely daughter, my wonderful neighbor, and my dear friend, Dan Kosuth, for grocery deliveries. Today Dan arrived with key essentials: fresh fruit, fresh veg, and ice cream. Carol Jackson and Alex Tselis - Our joy is that our younger son, Ben Tselis-Jackson, is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness Management from MSU's College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, with a minor in Food Science - Beverage Technology. His career goal is to be a vintner. Worship Associate Reflection

by Ed Sharples

Courage and Hope are intimately related. If someone’s courage in a time of crisis is built on a moral foundation, courage becomes the ground from which hope springs.

And out of horror courage can arise. I think of the horror of 9/11 and all that happened that day. I was in my home study, putting final touches on a lecture for a class that morning on Matthew Arnold’s social and Biblical criticism. But from downstairs Diane called up to me, “Ed, a plane just hit one of the World Trade Center towers.” And I shouted back, “Oh no, not another private plane flown by a pilot who did not know what he was doing or that he did not know it was illegal to fly low across southern Manhattan.” But not much longer after that, another plane flew into the second tower, and then it was clear that we were not witnessing an accident, but a planned attack.

Last fall, my elder son and I toured the site of New York’s 9/11 memorial, including the cavernous museum below ground. The example of courage of one man is acknowledged in the memorial book. It is about a young man, Welles Remy Crowther, a trader “whose office was located on the South Tower’s 104th floor.” Without any time to think about acting responsibly, “he helped guide a number of survivors to a stairwell. Some remember him wearing a red protect against smoke. Wells himself did not survive.” His mother wrote her own tribute. “My husband ...and I [she said], could not be more proud of our son. For us, he lives on in the people he helped, and in the memory of what he chose to do that Tuesday morning in September.

“Wells believed that we are all connected as one human family, that we are here to look out for, and to care for one another. [Her tribute ends:] This is life’s most precious meaning.”

For Wells, there was no planning, no forethought of how he would behave if a plane crashed into his building. But he had a moral compass that provided guidance in seconds.

And now we know of a contemporary situation that also touches the lives of many. We are here, in the middle of a novel virus that can hide in a body without creating the usual symptoms, or it can make individuals ill, at times terribly ill, creating a disease that can become a virulent killer. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. And still, courage appears. Courage is in the doctors who honor their vocations and their patients even when no satisfactory treatment has been developed and they have no way to immunize themselves against the disease. Courage is in the nurses who, until recently, have not had adequate personal protection masks or garb. Courage is in the technicians, in the lab personnel, in the janitors who clean and clean again when patients are released and, all too often, when bodies have been removed. Courage manifests itself as it did in Welles Crowther, and it can also be shown in smaller, but always meaningful ways. We honor those who do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, that it is the helpful, needful thing to do. Courage, moral courage large or small, gives us hope. Homily

Today, we’re taking a look at how acts of courage inspire hope. I’m so happy to have the involvement of a Worship Associate again, and doubly pleased that Ed Sharples accepted my invitation to the role. Ed’s reflection on the 9/11 World Trade Center attack was spot on. One of the most effective ways to find hope and comfort in a difficult time is to reach back to another difficult time, seeking examples of how that challenge was surmounted. I also remember that day and what I learned about myself and the world around me. I was 22 years old on September 11, 2001. I was in my last year of college and working in an internship in Houston, Texas. Shortly after I arrived that Wednesday morning, we received word of the attacks. At first, like Ed, we thought it was pilot error. The idea of a terrorist attack on American soil was incomprehensible. We wanted to hold out hope that there was another explanation. We all gathered around a small TV and watched as the news unfolded. Slowly, we came to understand that it wasn’t pilot error, but intentional. I was sent home early so that the senior staff could decide how they should respond. As the reality of the attacks sank in, I became more scared and worried. My parents were on vacation in Europe. They were visiting my aunt and uncle who were working abroad as civilian contractors for the military. So basically, my parents were on or near an American military installation in another country. I tried desperately to reach them, but no calls could go through the overwhelmed phone system. This exponentially heightened my fear and anxiety. I felt acutely vulnerable and scared, beyond anything I had experienced before. At that time, I was also working as a church’s Youth Director. That night, people gathered for a prayer service. Because I was so upset, I don’t remember much of what happened, but I do remember the feeling of being with other people who were going through what I was going through. Seeing my anger, sadness, pain, and confusion reflected in other people lightened my feelings of hopelessness and despair. In the days to come, stories echoing that sentiment were everywhere. We heard of first responders and regular people alike working to recover bodies and tend the wounded. New York City and our country were united, for a moment, in care and concern for one another. In the days following the attacks, I felt like we were focused on a true concern for our fellow American. Once we knew who was responsible for the attacks, however, that was replaced by an ugly xenophobic and Islamaphobic vitriol. But for a time, we saw a glimpse of who we could be, the us who were willing to give our lives in order to take care of each other. And those people were the heroes of 9/11. We all knew about the people who ran toward the danger. They were an inspiration to us all. The experience of 9/11 changed everyone who was old enough to understand what was happening. Many of us experienced some level of disillusionment with the American government and heartache at the fall of American exceptionalism. But there was also a sense of hope buoyed by the experience of shared emotion and selflessness, at least for me. My generation, Gen X, is known for being hopelessly cynical. We are stereotyped as being sarcastic, bitter, and jaded. And stereotypes come from somewhere; there’s a grain of truth in that assessment. In my teens, I developed a very critical attitude about “the man” and how our nation founded on exploitation. I was that 90s kid with a bunch of political opinions and a guitar. My worldview has, of course, grown and become more nuanced since then. My worldview might still be a bit cynical, but my pre-disposal to assume everything is terrible was tempered by my early adult experience of watching our nation come together in the wake of tragedy. As a 22 year old living in Texas, I felt like I couldn’t do anything about the situation. I felt helpless and small. But there were others that could do something, and they did. As more stories of the heroism of first responders and everyday people made the national news, I was heartened that even in the wake of something so unfathomably horrible, there was a spark of hope for humanity. Their acts of courage gave me hope. It gave me hope that we would make it through that time. It gave me hope for the restoration of the American values of sacrifice, decency, and optimism. It gave me hope that there were still kind and good people left in the world and we could rally for the greater good. Because I was so young at the time, 9/11 was my first experience of feeling a shared humanity with people beyond my relational networks. Prior to this, I had a theoretical sense of shared humanity. I believed in it, it fueled my political outrage, but this was the first time that I’d actually experienced it on a large scale. And as I look around me now, in this time of crisis, I see that potential again. That cynical part of me is alive and well. I can still find plenty of reasons to be frustrated with our government and big corporations. I could let that eat me up. But, I learned through the experience of 9/11 that I don’t have to focus on all of the tragedy and failure, at least not exclusively. There is another story here. And it’s OK to look for that story and focus my attention there. I can choose to look for the acts of courage that give me hope for humanity. When tragedy befalls us, our shared humanity can be affirmed if we find our pain and sorrow reflected in others. And that shared spark of life compels us to do what we can, even if all we can do to help out is just stay at home. Our actions for the greater good, however small they might seem, are an act of courage. And courage brings hope. We know that there is still hope for humanity and so much goodness in the world. We know because we’ve seen it before. We can see it again now.

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