a prayer

April 8, 2008

I have posted a few other prayers here before and hope to do so more regularly. Please feel free to use without attribution in a religious service. If you reproduce online, please link to this blog and include attribution.


all of all

love of all love, peace of all peace, depth of depth

so often, in the midst of all we do, as we are washing dishes… sending email… going to work… and doing all the things we do day in and day out,

we can forget that our time here on this earth is both a gift and a miracle.

do not let us forget.

because sooner than we think, a tomorrow will come and it will be our last tomorrow and we will have missed the miracle. we will have emailed, and worked, and complained, and watched tv through the miracle.

we will have let the sunrises, the fresh air, the warmth of a bed, the taste of our orange juice, the first snows, and the cricket chirping slip by as we go about doing all of our so important things.

we will have let our pain and struggles and our tasks and achievements and our accumulation of things obscure the enchantment and richness that can be life.

love of all love, peace of peace, depth of depth –

let us find the holy in all that makes up our life.

let us slow down. stop doing. and learn to simply be.

may we find the holy in our coffee, in the spider whose lovely eight legs carry her effortlessly over her web, in the kiss goodnight, in the hot meal, fuzzy blanket, and in the chill of the dark night air. may we be seekers and makers of the holy.

amen and blessed be.

Maybe I am a charasmatic UU?

October 1, 2007

So the search for a home church is on. It is so much harder than I thought it would be and brings up all sorts of issues. One of the main ones is: I want to want to go to my church. I don’t want to go to church because I should join a church. I don’t need to be ultimately fulfilled each and every Sunday. Everything does not have to be perfect, but I need to find a church that I am excited to go to. And for this to work, I need to feel something during worship. And I need to feel welcome and not awkward. This has both to do with me and my mindset, as well as the way churches are. This brings me back to my megachurch days where there was a whole team of people trying to make church welcoming and enjoyable and they did a great job. I know that this can cross the line and turn into “church lite” or all warm fuzzy feelings without grappling with the hard challenges. But, for me, it didn’t. What it meant is that I could bring my coffee to worship with me, people were friendly and nice to me, I could sing along with the songs and feel them, and I could even get so excited about a song or about something that was being said that I could put my hand up in the air and say “amen!” All the prayers were not written out – they came from people’s hearts right then and there. And the sermons were not all written out – they were not polished or perfect, but they were more spontaneous. There was a sense that we didn’t have to control everything, or think everything out, and we could give some of ourselves, even recklessly give ourselves, over to some power that was awesome and overwhelming. I am not trying to hark back to the good old days of megachurch life – there were lots of problems with it too. But I guess what I am trying to express is a desire for something more charismatic. For something to get lost in and overwhelmed by. For something more welcoming and less stifled feeling. It sucks so much feeling like an outsider each Sunday. Is there a way to make visitors not feel like outsiders? Maybe it is impossible. I don’t know.

It is important for me to stress the balance here – this is not meant to be some sort of indictment of Unitarian Universalism. I feel like too often individuals’ struggles with an aspect of UUism turns into a “Gosh, UUism can’t get anything right.” So I don’t mean to imply that there is some sort of crisis and we need to rethink everything. I suppose I am reflecting on whether or not I am longing for something that we are not. For me, and others that want get overwhelmed by God and lost in the spirit and warmly welcomed by people who really seem to want us there, is this just something we need to find somewhere else? Or can this be us? Or is it asking us to be too many things to too many different people?

p.s. Afterthought: I wonder if this has more to do with being in New England than being in Unitarian Universalist churches? Or, if it has more to do with me feeling more at home in churches that are like the one I grew up with and it is really about me and not the churches I’m visiting? Probably all of this plays into it.

Part-Time Church

July 27, 2007

Can I just say how amazingly frustrating it is that so many Unitarian Universalist churches seem to go on vacation for the summer, with either no service or very little ones or ones not regularly led by the church’s minister? We were planning on trying to find a new home church this summer but it is virtually impossible since the ministers aren’t around and aren’t leading services, there are almost no activities, and some churches are 100% closed? I understand this is tradition, ministers need a break, people go on vacation, etc. And I guess I am pretty understanding of that – but what about people that really actually need to find a church home soon? It’s just sort of not very welcoming feeling. For us, we can handle it, although it is sort of frustrating. But what about people who might just be coming to the faith? Or looking for a faith? I hope that this tradition dissipates.

Overheard at the coffee shop

June 24, 2007

A group of people were sitting next to me today talking about the webpage business they all seem to work with. I heard this said very casually (as if it was so obvious) and thought it was funny, yet not so funny.

I’ve been working with a church for the past year, so, I am dealing with some very ugly ugly nasty politics.

I did not put two uglies in there. That was what they said.

Blessing of the Animals a Success!

April 22, 2007

We held a Blessing and Celebration of the Animals today at our church. It was my idea and I organized it and ran the service and I was SO happy that it went so wonderfully and smoothly. There was some relatively strong anxiety by some people in the church about having animals in the church and all the things that could go wrong. But luckily I think the animals sensed that it was a special time, and they were amazingly well behaved. Not even a bark, for goodness sakes! We played All God’s Creatures Have a Place in the Choir during the blessing, which worked really well. We also had a time of remembrance, where people could bring up pictures of animal friends they have lost and light a candle to their memory. It was very powerful, and such a testament to the strong bonds we form with our animals.

For anyone who might be interested in holding a Blessing and Celebration of the Animals in your church, here is the liturgy we used. Tips and pictures to follow in a few days.

Blessing and Celebration of the Animals Order of Service

Prelude “Doggies’ Policemen” Sinobu Onaka

Opening Words and Welcome by Elizabeth

Chalice Lighting Jeff and Finnegan Stevens
(Note that Finnegan is a tortoise)

Hymn All the Creatures of the Earth and Sky

Liturgical Dance (Celebration of Earth Day) Annie McLaughlin

Children’s Call To R. E. Classes

Joys & Sorrows

Remembering The Animals

Offertory Music: White Goat, Black Goat” Ikuma Dan

Hymn Blue Boat Home

Moment Of Stewardship Greg Stevens

Meditation Rev. Tricia Tummino

(Ten minute warning to RE Classes)

Homily Elizabeth

(Children Return)

Blessing Of The Animals



Opening Words

In the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

“Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”

Let us worship together.


Good morning and Welcome to the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro. We would especially like to welcome all of our visitors this morning – humans and companion animals. For our human visitors, we invite you to sign the guest book in the parlor so that we know you were here with us. If you’d like to receive the newsletter, please just put a star next to your name.

After the services we gather downstairs for coffee hour and we invite everyone to join us. If you have need of an elevator, we have one in the back and someone will be there to assist you with that after the service.

Just a quick note about our special service today – we are so happy to have all of our animal companions here. Please don’t fret if your animal makes noise during the service. A few barks and meows are normal. If you feel like your friend is getting particularly restless, or needs some fresh air or to use the restroom, please don’t hesitate to take him or her outside during the service and return when he or she is feeling better. There are paper towels and cleaning supplies spread throughout the sanctuary should anyone have need of those, and a trash can and plastic bags in the church yard if you need to clean up after your friend. We also ask that our animal friends only come forward during the blessing of the animals – for other parts of the service, if you need to come forward, we would appreciate it if you could leave your friend with a neighbor in your pew.

Again! Welcome to the service.

Introduction to the Remembrance of the Animals

This is a special time in our service where we can remember animals that are no longer with us. If you brought a picture of your animal friend that you have lost, you may bring the pictures up and set them either on the altar or tables around the altar, and light a candle to his or her memory. If you do not have a picture or memento to bring up, but would still like to remember an animal friend, you may write his or her name and years of life on the cards that are in each pew and bring that up to the altar.

We will begin our remembrance.

Homily – Loving Our Animals

Good morning! Happy Earth day and Happy Blessing of the Animals Day!

I am so happy to be here this morning in the presence of this lovely congregation, and all of our visitors.

As many of you know, environmental concerns and animal concerns are important to me so I am especially pleased, in my last sermon that I will give here during my internship, to be able to talk about two of my strongest passions this morning – animals and our earth.

Now this is something I could talk on for a while – at least an hour or two – but given our limited time here this morning, and the fact that many of our visitors would be even more resistant than some of our regular attendees to an extra long sermon, I just want to bring to our attention two themes for us to reflect on this special day when we celebrate and bless our animal friends.

First, I want to remind us why we do a blessing of the animals in a church. I must say there were a lot of people unsure about bringing all of these critters here today – in a church for heavens sake. But, I think that the reason we are doing this here today is not just because it is fun to show off our furry friends or exciting for the children. We are celebrating and blessing the animals today – April 22 – Earth Day in order to affirm our seventh principle – to honor and respect the interconnected web of life of which we are all a part.

We are affirming that church is not just a place about people – about individuals, or even about human communities, but that our earth, and the beings of the earth are important to us, are holy, and actually belong right here in the sanctuary. We are honoring our animal companions not only as fun companions, or beings that bring us joy, but we are celebrating them and honoring them because they are sentient beings with whom we share our life and our earth. They are members of our family, and members of the family of the earth – in some cases, companion animals can serve as spiritual guides – as therapists – we have relationships with them, and they with us.

This morning we are celebrating those relationships, that love, that connection.

Secondly, this morning, I want to share a story about Chester the cat. I was never able to meet Chester, but he has played an important role in my life. Chester was the cat of a young man who I know in Dayton, Ohio, where I grew up. I mentored Timothy for many years and he was especially caring toward the cats that he would sneak into his apartment – which was in the housing projects of Dayton, Ohio, and didn’t allow cats. About a year after I moved here to Boston, Timothy called me to tell me Chester was very sick. I told him to keep an eye on Chester, and we would see if he needed to go to the vet. Two days later, it had gotten much worse. Chester wasn’t able to walk and he wasn’t eating. Of course, Timothy’s family couldn’t afford a vet, and I certainly couldn’t stand hearing about either Chester or Timothy suffering. So at this news, I coordinated getting Chester to the vet – my mom still lived in Ohio and she went and picked Chester up and took him to the doctor.

The whole process of finding out about about Chester being sick and getting him to the vet took about three days. On day number four I finally spoke with the vet and found out that Chester was in the late stages of Feline leukemia. He had already suffered greatly, she said. There was no time to wait for Timothy to come and say goodbye. Chester needed to be euthanized right away. So, $289 dollars later, I had managed not even to prevent Chester from suffering. He had lived a sad end of his life, in great pain.

For some reason, this got to me. For me, somehow, Chester represented so much pain in the world. I felt so helpless to help even little Chester, much less all the other suffering kitties of the world. Much less the suffering people. As so many of us talk about together here, sometimes the pain in the world can seem so overwhelming. I worried and I fretted, not able to get little Chester – and everything he represented – off of my mind. I agonized – what can I do? There is so much suffering and violence and pain and sadness in our world. How can I even begin to do something about it.

And then, it came to me, that I could do something. It was not a huge something, it would not take back Chester’s suffering. It would be only a small drop in the ocean, in fact. But it was something -it was a response that would matter.

That day I decided to stop eating products from animals – milk, eggs, and meat. For me, it was one way that I could reduce the suffering in the world – to save a few Chesters of our world from suffering.

So, in addition to blessing and celebrating the animals that we have here with us today, I would be remiss if I did not share my hope for all sentient beings – that some day, all sentient beings would live lives free of violence, and full of love. The less harm we bring to all animals, the less violence is in our world – the more love.

This morning I am making no proclamations about how we must live, rather I am inviting us to consider what it means to fully live out our seventh principle – to honor and respect the interdependent web of life of which we are a part. We can not do it all. I am not perfect. None of us are. All we can do is what we can do. But, as we go about the hard work of love and justice in our lives, let us take our animals friends into consideration when we think about what we can do.

Today, is a wonderful beautiful spring day – we are celebrating our companions that we have here today, those whom we have lost, and those billions of animal friends who live lives not a lot unlike Chester’s last days.

Let us live as fully in love – in love of the earth, in love of all animals – as we can, recognizing that the more our lives reflect peace, and gentleness, and compassion, the more we can bring that to our world.

May it be so.

Introduction to the Blessing of the Animals

Now, we will celebrate and bless our animals. The Blessing will take place while we listen to “All God’s Creatures Have a Place in the Choir” – you can find the words in the order of service if you’d like to sing along. We invite companion animals and their humans to come up and Tricia and I will ask their name and then bless them. If you brought a picture or other item to represent your animal friend, you may also bring that forward at this time and we are happy to bless that as well.

(Note the blessing went something like ” [Name of animal], may you live a long, happy, and blessed life” – and we would touch the animal companion’s head as we spoke the blessing.)

Benediction/Closing Words

May we show love in all our actions

May our lives be a testament to peace and compassion.

Let us call each other to be our best selves.

And may we daily celebrate the earth and her creatures.

Amen and Blessed be.

Come to The Blessing and Celebration of the Animals!

April 12, 2007

A Celebration and Blessing of the Animals
First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro, MA
Sunday, April 22, 2007 * 10:30am
(scroll down to bottom for directions/details)

During our Sunday worship service on April 22, The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro (FUUSM) will hold the first Celebration and Blessing of the Animals ever to be held at FUUSM. This will be the final service that Elizabeth, the student intern minister, will lead. She is happy to be doing it around a theme that is so close to her heart. As April 22 is Earth Day, it will be a special time to reflect on the interdependent web of existence of which we and all other animals are a part. Animal companions are invited to the service, and with a little planning it should be a very special worship service.

We ask only animals that will do well in a public place join us at the service. We want all of our animals and humans to feel comfortable. While we will have supplies on hand to clean up any accidents, we encourage you not to bring your animal if you think that this is likely to be a problem. You might want to consider if your friend gets along well enough with other animals to join us, and if he or she will be okay sitting through the service. If your animal companion doesn’t do well in public or is not ready for such a big event just yet, we encourage you to bring a picture of him or her, a stuffed animal that represents your friend, or you can bring a collar or blanket that your friend likes and we can bless that instead.

Anyone is also invited to bring a pictures of animals friends that have passed away. There will be a time in the service to remember those animal friends whom we have lost. We asks that dogs are on short leashes or in carriers, and that all cats and any other animal that my try to scurry away be in carriers. Unfortunately, we do not have room in our sanctuary for any horses, goats, cows, sheep, or bigger pigs, but if you would like to have any bigger animals blessed outside after the service, please let Elizabeth know and arrangements can be made. There will be a special “human only” section of the sanctuary for anyone with allergies. With some flexibility and creativity, our Celebration and Blessing of the Animals promises to be an exciting way to honor and affirm the love and joy that our animal companions bring to us.

First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro
25 South Main Street, Middleboro, MA 02346
April 22, 2007 * 10:30am (Regular time for Sunday Services)
Phone: 508-947-1935

a prayer

February 27, 2007

This prayer was originally written for WomenChurch service we hold once a month at school. It is adapted here for use in a congregation.

A Prayer

divine wonder, as we try to peacefully breathe ourselves out of one week and into the next, we come here, to this sacred space – safe space – and confess – confess that we cannot do it all – we cannot be it all – that we struggle, that we ache, that we might not feel as strong as we sometimes make it look.

and we come together to affirm that this is really okay. to affirm the divine within each of us, the struggling and stumbling together to make this world and to make our lives sites of authentic love, authentic joy, of justice and hope. we come together here in many ways, just to be. to be in a space where we can just be. present to the moment… to our bodies… present to our struggles and our joys and our hopes and longings, a place where we can simply be and that is okay. we can exhale here.

here we can be affirmed in believing a little or a lot or nothing at all. we can be faithful, faithless or somewhere in between.

here, we do not have to ask to be wrapped in the love of the divine because it is already so. if we don’t feel it, if we cannot see it, we have our brothers and sisters here to help us feel it or to tell us it is okay if we are not ready to see it.

mother god, we are not always used to feeling you or seeing you as wisdom, as feminine. maybe some of us don’t want to do that. maybe we do. maybe we can’t or perhaps we have been doing it for many years….. whatever the case, we give praise for a place where we can come and express all of this, and commune with our fellow seekers.

may we learn and continue support each other in the journey to be spirits of peace and at peace with ourselves as we stumble along making sense and making love in on this spinning planet together.

amen and blessed be.

*Depending on where you are at, or where your congregation is at on imagining the divine in feminine language, you can omit the stanza that deals with that. Feel free to use without attribution in a religious service. If you repost online, please include attribution and a link to this post.

a prayer

February 11, 2007

For each Sunday service I write a prayer/meditation for service. I think I will start sharing them here. This is for tomorrow, so if you are from FUUSM and don’t want to know the prayer ahead of time, stop reading now.

god whose name is not god,
spirit whose love exceeds our comprehension,
we ask that you are with us as week journey through this life,
through this week.

it is hard to be the person we want to be.
it is hard to be the community that we would like to be.
the work of love and justice often makes for weary souls,
and sometimes broken hearts.

While we know that it is only in learning to be at peace with ourselves that we can be peace within the world…

this is just very hard.

a life imagined and a life envisioned,
is sometimes very different than a life lived.

this morning, we ask for the serenity that we need to love our life as it is.
to find peace in the bumps and challenges and pains and aches and beauty and joy that is all mixed up together.

let us learn and work to focus on those things in our life that we can be grateful for.

let us learn to let the waves of sorrow wash over us, and have the strength and the peace to be washed anew, baptized by the waters of life that are gentle and rough and beautiful and dark all at the same time.

god whose name is not god,
spirit whose love exceeds our comprehension,

be with us as we do that hard work of love and justice.
we seek gratitude for the joys of our life.
we seek comfort for our aches.
we seek love and peace for our souls.

amen and blessed be.

*Please feel free to use in a religious service with no attribution. If you repost online, please include attribution to this blog and a link.

Darkness: Finding a Balance Between Being Real and Over-sharing

February 5, 2007

So this morning I gave a sermon titled Living With Darkness. This was the description:

Many people come to church or come to a religion when they are hurting – when they are struggling, looking for answers, or going through a difficult time. This morning’s sermon deals with those times of darkness in our lives – how do we bring this to our faith, or bring our faith to our darkness? How can we make space in church to talk about depression, addiction, or aching emptiness? And how can our personal stories of healing open up space for others to share, learn, and be at peace with the darkness that will inevitably be part of all of our lives?

I raised (although did not solve!) the issue of how we bring our darkness and our struggles to our faith. I actually mentioned this post over at Trivium that mentioned the Christian (more charasmatic-ish) tradition of testifying – of sharing with the congregation one’s struggles and problems, and offering those struggles and that darkness up to God, and, implicitly, to the community. This often involved sharing how God had helped with the problem, but not always. The Trivium blog brilliantly called this “joys and concerns amplified” which cracked me up. Amplified, I think is such an understatement. But anyway. I digress.

The point is that it is one thing to point out that many Unitarian Universalists struggle with difficult things in their life and are somewhat reserved in sharing this with each other – there is a lot of judgment, even with the most loving wonderful congregations, with issues like depression, addiction, financial struggles, or abuse. It is another thing to suggest what should be done about this sort of properness that surrounds how we share our struggles and woundedness.

Over at Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, in the context of writing about post-Christian worship, Dan Harper points out that Joys and Concerns is often a challenge and not an appropriate venue for congregations to deal with the struggles that individuals face. He writes:

At the most basic level, if you can no longer count on gaining a deep connection with God during post-Christian worship, there may be a desire to find other ways to have some kind of intimate relationship. On another level, it is likely that some people confuse private devotions, which are personal and intimate and revealing of the deepest secrets of the self, with common worship, where the needs of the common good must take precedence over, or at least balance with, the needs of the self. Similarly, it is likely that people confuse the experience of small support groups, where a semi-public confession about one’s personal problems may be made, with common worship (for example, when the “candles of joy and concern” serve merely as an inappropriate public confession of very private matters). Other things that can contribute to a cult of false intimacy include: the increased secularization of the wider culture and a concomitant ignorance of the purposes of common worship; the spread of false intimacy throughout the wider culture.

One of the questions that I have is what “inappropriate public confession of very private matters” means. Of course, there certainly are inappropriate things that one would not want to bring to joys and concerns. As I pointed out in my sermon, I am not calling for everyone to come up to joys and concerns next week and share their deepest struggle or secret.

But, what I am looking for is a way for my congregation to find ways that we can bring our more difficult, less-polished selves to church – to our church community. I think one of the reasons that evangelical Christianity has such appeal is because it does give people a way to say, “Oh, Lord, I am struggling. I am hurting and aching and I need healing.” How can we develop a Unitarian Universalist version of this where people who are in great pain can feel comfortable bringing that to our church? Not only people who already have a support system in the community, but the person down the street who has no church home and needs a place to go after her mom dies? Or the teenager whose boyfriend broke up with her after she got pregnant and had an abortion? Or the single, middle-aged man who has no church home, but is longing for something in the midst of a very difficult, empty, lonely time in his life? Do we just say, look you need to see the minister for pastoral counseling? I guess I want to find a way for our churches to be less proper and decent and “appropriate” in how we handle the darkness of people’s lives. It all seems so controlled. I don’t have an answer, and I acknowledge that, for instance, joys and concerns gone haywire with tearful confessions and such is not what we are looking for.

Yet – how can we invite people into our faith communities and really mean and really say it is okay to be broken. And wounded. With all that comes with that –

Or, is it that if you are too messed up, you might want to go down to the evangelical church in across town where you can be messed up and they will take you, but before you come to our churches, you need to have your stuff a little bit more together and be ready to be on some sort of committee….

Hard questions. Way harder answers.

What’s to come…

May 30, 2006

The next post will be of the foster kittens (finally!). I’ll link to it from Craigslist where we advertise for potential adopting families.

Otherwise, I have a few things I’ve been meaning to write about but thanks for a never-ending paper, it just hasn’t happened yet.

Here is what’s to come after the paper is done (or, should I say IF it is ever done):

In UU World Bill Sinkford writes about what he calls the central act of religious community. You can see the article here. He says that the central act of the religious community is worship. I’m not so sure.

I’m going to the reproductive rights conference sponsored by Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom in DC next week. SYRF is a subgroup of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. I’m interested to see what it will be like and to learn more.

Now onto the foster kittens. I hope soon I’ll be back to my regular blogging self.