In Praise of Diversity

Kevin M. Carson
A Sermon Given at the First Universalist Parish in Chester, Vermont, April 23, 2017

Our Unitarian Universalist faith is a celebration of diverse beliefs, and this is one of our great strengths in an increasingly diverse world. 

If you log into Facebook, or open your email, or even turn on the television these days, it is clear that America is a land divided.  And though the focus has been on politics in the last few months, it is not just a matter of Democrats versus Republicans, or whether we are “pro-Trump” or “anti-Trump.”  We are divided by opinions on race and gender equality, and whether or not our religion really does require us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger.  We are divided by an economic system that has created huge inequality between the “haves” and the “have nots,” and we disagree on who or what is to blame, and what we should do to fix this problem – even if it needs fixing at all.  We look around and try to discern who is friend and who is foe.  We align ourselves with camps of like-minded folks on issues like immigration and climate change, and too often we are unwilling to even listen to differing points of view.  For some people, even objective facts seem to be open to dispute these days, if the so-called “facts” disagree with their preconceptions about the way things “really are.”  There are many boxes into which each of us can be neatly categorized and sorted, and we can choose to live isolated lives among our own kind, all the while suspicious of “the other” who is not like us.  Our national motto, E Pluribus, Unum, “out of many, one,” seems impossibly naïve, a relic from a more optimistic time.  Indeed, we are plagued with divisiveness, perhaps the most we have seen in our country since the Civil War.  

There is a difference between divisiveness and diversity, but far too often, because of our distrust of “the other” in whatever form he or she may take, we allow our differences to create barriers where none should exist.  In our worst moments, our biases can erupt in open hostility and even violence.  This is very troubling, because it is a simple fact that America is becoming an increasingly diverse country in many ways.  The percentage of our population who are non-white continues to increase every year, across almost every ethnic minority, and sometime within the next few decades, America will soon become a minority-majority nation.  According to the most recent census statistics, 50.2 percent of children under the age of 5 are now minorities.  As this new generation ages, it is inevitable that the shift to a minority-majority nation will become the new normal.  This ethnic diversification will bring with it new challenges for communities that experience different cultures and languages, in many cases, for the first time.  

Religious affiliation is also shifting, with the fastest growing identity group being the so-called “nones” – that is, those who are either not religious at all, or those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.”  While America is still predominantly Protestant, there are sharp declines in membership in almost every Protestant denomination, and even small denominations like ours are either in decline, or see little or no growth, despite a growing overall population.  As Robert P. Jones says in his book, The End of White Christian America, “for most of the twentieth century, in White Christian America the terms ‘Christian’ and ‘Protestant’ were virtually synonymous.”  This is no longer the case.  Roman Catholics are experiencing shrinking numbers as well, and it is evidenced by the frequent local news reports of parish closings in mostly Catholic communities across New England.  Meanwhile, the number of people who belong to minority religious groups continues to increase with the increase in our diverse population. Religion in America today is not what it used to be fifty years ago, and the march toward a more secular and religiously pluralistic society is likely to continue for many years to come. There will always be those of us drawn to traditional religions and spiritual searching, but we are entering unexplored territory in the American religious landscape.  

We Unitarian Universalists embraced religious pluralism a long time ago, so if we play our cards right, I suggest we could experience a remarkable period of growth in the next few decades.  Many of the issues that mainstream Christian denominations are struggling with today are issues our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors debated and settled over a century ago.  In the early 1800s, ministers and other educated people began to learn about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other world religions and many of them appreciated the diverse wisdom these spiritual traditions expressed.  New England Transcendentalists were drawn to Eastern philosophy that emphasized the unity of all things.  Around the same time, advances in science, and especially Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, bolstered a nascent Humanism that has become the dominant theological identity in our movement.  By the late 1800s, we were already having debates about whether Unitarianism or Universalism was still a “Christian” faith.  And although the Universalists tended to see themselves more Christian perhaps, the very theological foundation of the faith left the path to religious pluralism wide open.  Universalism was founded on the idea of universal salvation, that all souls – even all of Creation – would be “saved” or reconciled with God in the end. There was no eternal hellfire that awaited even the most despicable among us.  Jesus was still considered the agent of salvation by most Universalists, but, unlike most of their Christian neighbors, Universalists did not require that one “believed” in Jesus Christ as the Savior in order to be saved.  When you take such an inclusive position about salvation, what does this mean for those with very different religious beliefs and practices?  The tent of our faith suddenly became much larger.  We would need a few more seats at the welcome table. 

Our spiritual ancestors were quick to recognize what Thomas Berry described as the “futility of exclusivism” among religious traditions.  We have continued to expand our inclusive faith, and we have opened our doors and hearts to anyone who wants to join us on the journey, as long as they are willing to abide by our values and principles.  These days, many Unitarian Universalists identify as Buddhist or Pagan, in addition the Christians, Jews, and Humanists we have long included in our ranks.  We are devout believers in God, and we are also atheists and agnostics, and everywhere in between.  We are mystics and Religious Naturalists, and we seekers who have trouble even articulating what we believe.  Sometimes you hear someone say, “You can believe anything you want and be a UU,” but that is only partially true.  You can believe almost anything you want as long as it does not demean or diminish the dignity and rights of others.  It would be hard to be a bigot or a fundamentalist of any faith and feel welcome in one of our congregations for very long.  We celebrate diversity in mutuality.  Our faith communities are joined in a covenantal relationship of love and respect.

After traveling around America in the 1830’s, the French diplomat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville famously described America as a “Great Experiment.”  Our young republic was something new in the global politics of the day, a nation where the government represented the consent and will of the people.  It was a democracy where, ideally at least, diverse voices and beliefs could be heard and debated to find common ground, and to promote the common good.  We were not perfect of course, and de Tocqueville rightly criticized the practice of slavery in America as contrary to our professed love of liberty and equality, and then as now, it was largely white male voices that enjoyed a privileged position in the political dialogue. But despite our imperfections, it was a glorious, if messy, experiment based on the idea that a diverse people could create a better world in voluntary community.

I believe our Unitarian Universalist faith is a similar “Great Experiment” in religious diversity.  In the decades since the 1961 merger of our parent denominations into the Unitarian Universalist Association, we have established a framework of Seven Principles, through a grassroots democratic process, to guide our diverse spiritual journey.  Our Principles are not dogma or doctrine like you see in most religious traditions; rather, they are a statement of shared values for how we join together in worship, and in the exploration of the sacred and the meaning of life. Personally, I would like to see the language of our Principles changed to reflect a more spiritual tone, but they are reasonably good as they are.  If you have ever experienced the process of wordsmithing a document by committee, you can appreciate the fact that we ever agreed on the language at all!  

Some of you may not know the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism by heart, or it may have been a while, so let me read them to you.

We affirm and promote:

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

It is true that we sometimes fail to live up to the principles we claim to embrace, but we try very hard.  Though I have mixed feelings about the recent controversy about white privilege in our denomination, and the resulting resignations of several denominational leaders, I think it reflects how seriously we take our Principles.  Sometimes, I fear we can be too critical of ourselves as a faith.  If anyone would like to talk more about what has transpired in the last few weeks, please feel free to talk to me about it after our worship service during the coffee hour.

I only wish more Americans would find their way to one of our congregations.  There are so many people who are hurting in the world and thirst for the kind of open and inclusive spirituality that we offer.  Our religious diversity is inherently welcoming.  Because we have embraced a universal understanding of the human story, we have often found ourselves in the vanguard of social justice movements from abolition, to women’s suffrage, to marriage equality.  Both the Unitarians and the Universalists were among the first denominations to ordain female clergy, and we are leading the way by far on the ordination of LGBT clergy today.  We have added many diverse voices to our faith story.  As any ecologist will tell you about ecosystems, there is strength and richness in diversity that is greater than the sum of its parts, and I think the same is true of religious movements.  We are simply better together when we share our unique insights and perspectives.  

Over the last few years, I have preached at fourteen UU congregations around New England, and I am always interested to see the art and symbolic altar objects in each congregation.  Most of our churches have very little art or religious symbols other than a familiar chalice, but some have a wonderful collection of religious symbols representing the diversity of the world’s faith traditions.  At St. Paul’s UU Church in Palmer, for example, the altar includes a cross, a menorah, a Buddha, a dancing depiction of the Hindu god Shiva, and a wild turkey feather.  I particularly like the turkey feather because it reminds me not only of our connection to the natural world, but also the spiritual wisdom of Native Americans.  The wild turkey is such a majestic bird, and it is a fitting symbol of the spirit of the American wilderness.  And especially in the last few months since the election, you often see a rainbow flag displayed prominently inside or outside of our churches. We proudly acknowledge both our religious and cultural diversity, and I think it is very important in today’s unfortunate political climate.

The message these religious symbols convey to me is that we have a deep Christian heritage, but we find inspiration from many other sources.  We value diversity in others, and take seriously the admonitions of Jesus, who said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39), and that, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2).  We recognize the holy that dwells in the hearts of the whole human family, and that no single religion has a lock on the truth.  As it says in the Qur’an, “People, We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that you would recognize each other.” (Surah al-Hujurat 49:13)

Thomas Berry said of the world’s faith traditions that, “None can be fully itself without the others.”  I think this also applies to the people who make up our diverse faith communities.  None of us is fully our self without the others who join us in the search for truth and meaning.  We complete each other.  Pluralism is not always easy, and sometimes, we may lock horns about the truth and meaning we have embraced along the way.  But as I said earlier, there is a difference between diversity and divisiveness. Let us try our best to keep that in mind.

There is a wonderful saying that is usually attributed to the famous Transylvanian Unitarian Frances David, who lived in the 16th century, but the true origins are uncertain.  It goes, “We need not all think alike to love alike.”  It is a message that encapsulates our faith like no other I know.  It is a message that America could surely use these days.  As Americans awake to the virtues and challenges that come with greater diversity, perhaps the time has come for our Unitarian Universalist faith to finally become that “city upon a hill” of which our Puritan ancestors dreamt, and show the world what beloved diverse communities look like.

Opening Words

“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things—

  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                  Praise him.

Reading from “The Cathedral of the World” by Forrest Church

“Welcome to the cathedral of the world.

Above all else, contemplate the windows. In the cathedral of the world there are windows without number, some long forgotten, covered with many patinas of dust, others revered by millions, the most sacred of shrines. Each in its own way is beautiful. Some are abstract, others representational; some dark and meditative, others bright and dazzling. Each tells a story about the creation of the world, the meaning of history, the purpose of life, the nature of humankind, the mystery of death. The windows of the cathedral are where the light shines in.

As with all extended metaphors, this one is imperfect. The light of God ("God" is not God's name, but our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each) not only shines down upon us, but also out from within us. Together with the windows, the darkness and the light, we are part of the cathedral, not apart from it. Together we comprise an interdependent web of being; if the cathedral is built out of star stuff, so are we. But we are that part (that known part) that contemplates the meaning of the whole. Because the cathedral is so vast, our time so short, and our vision so dim, we are able to contemplate only a tiny part of the cathedral, explore a few apses, reflect upon the play of darkness and light through a few of its windows. Yet, since the whole—holographically or organically—is contained in each of the parts, as we ponder and act upon the insight from our ruminations, we may discover meanings that give coherence and meaning both to it and to us.

This is Universalism.”

Reading from “Religions of India” by Thomas Berry

“In every phase of life, in the intellectual, artistic, and spiritual aspects of life, the total human past is now the past of each people and each individual person. We do not live only in the West or even primarily in the West; we live in the world, the total world of humans. The achievements of India and China are now available to us and form part of our own heritage, as do the cultures of Japan and Persia and Africa. This is the period of the worldwide expansion of the mind in all areas of life. The global spiritual past is the only adequate context for present understanding of humans even though this effort at universal awareness is thwarted by exclusivist attitudes that still exist in the world. Even now, however, the futility of such exclusivism is widely recognized. All live currents of thought seek to encompass the full dimensions of humankind. 

Within this larger world of humankind, the multiple spiritual and humanist traditions implicate each other, complete each other, and evoke from each other higher developments of which each is capable. These traditions implicate each other, for each has a universal mission to humankind. Each is panhuman in its significance. None can be fully itself without the others. Each has a distinctive contribution to make to human development that can only be made by itself. Each must therefore be kept distinctive even as it reaches a universal diffusion among humans. For any tradition to withhold itself from the other societies of humankind or for any to exclude the other traditions is to vitiate and stultify its own tradition and development, to condemn itself to sterile isolation from the only forces that can give it life and creativity. All human traditions are dimensions of each other.”

Thomas Berry, Religions of India, 193–94

Religious Exploration Prepares for June Service and Medicine Wheel Progress

The RE kids will be very busy working this month on the Medicine Wheel and also putting together their service for June 4.  The theme for the service will be "Peace" and we will have music and readings and a skit.

This Sunday, the children will be going on a field trip to Jamie's dad's greenhouse where they will be planting seeds for the wheel.  They have chosen what they would like to have in the wheel for plants and the design of the wheel.

Now it is time for us to ask for your help!  In order to keep costs down and involve the greater church community, we have put together a list of items and other help that we need for the wheel.  Please review the list below and let Lisa know what you can help with, either by talking to her or emailing her at lisaarlenecrocker@gmail.com.

For plants we are looking for the following:

Yarrow
Lemon Balm
Echinacea
Marshmallow
Bee balm (monarda)
Mint
Sunflower seed packet
Chives

For other items we will need or require help with....

*Transporting/truck rocks to build wheel with (from Rosie's or elsewhere)
*Top Soil/garden soil
*mulch
*compost
*tools to use like shovels and rakes
*and people willing to dig and move rocks!
*a couple stumps and a board for making a bench OR someone willing to make a simple wood bench
*people willing to help water once a schedule is made for the summer time

April 17th Newsletter

Upcoming Services

April 23 , 2017 - by Kevin Carson: “In Praise of Diversity"
Our Unitarian Universalist faith is a celebration of diverse beliefs, and this is one of our great strengths in an increasingly diverse world.

April 30, 2017 – by Kevin Carson: “The Practice of Forgiveness”
How forgiving others and forgiving ourselves can transform our emotional and spiritual life.

Principles in Action: April

The April Principles in Action collection will go to the Vermont Eco Studies (VEC) Loon Conservation Project.

Art at FUP

Every Tuesday from 3-5:30pm the community room of our church is the meeting spot for a welcoming group of art enthusiasts. All are welcome! Learn about this group >

Community Events

Big Woods Voices
Will Danforth would like you all to know that his a cappella group, Big Woods Voices, will be performing at Main Street Arts in Saxtons River on Friday, April 28, at 7:30. 

“Bird Is A Verb” with The Bird Diva and The Nature Museum
Do you smile at the first sounds of the winged harbingers of spring like the Red-winged Blackbird or the American Woodcock? Does the evening song of the Hermit Thrush stop you in your tracks?

Join us for a spring tune-up just in time for bird migration season when The Nature Museum teams up with naturalist Bridget Butler, aka the “Bird Diva,” who is heard on VPR’s biannual Bird Show. Butler will present “Bird is a Verb” on Thursday, April 27, at 7 p.m. at NewsBank Conference Center at 352 Main Street in Chester, VT. Doors will open at 6:30 PM. Light refreshments will be served. Tickets are available in advance online and at the door. 

Art at the FUP

by Nena Nanfeldt

Does your inner artist need a regular, supportive environment where you can “do” art? Every Tuesday from 3-5:30, the community room at the First Universalist Parish in Chester’s Stone Village is alternately buzzing or serene as artists pursue their creative art projects.

All are welcome; first timers, beginners and experienced artists. We represent a variety of artistic mediums including water color, oil, pastels, quilting and any other means by which you like to express your creativity.

Please call or email Nena Nanfeldt, 802-875-4309, nnanfeldt@gmail.com or Marilyn Mason, 802-875-4945, breeze@vermontel.net for information and to get on our email list. We will be sure you have table space and a chair. You need to bring your art supplies and a cover for your table space. Stop by for a visit on a Tuesday afternoon to meet the artists and check out our space, or bring your supplies and stay for art.

Whether you are an experienced artist or new to art, please join us. Our friendly, supportive environment will help your creativity flourish.

April 9th Newsletter

April 9th Service

Rev. David Robbins, D. Min.
“The Challenges Our Theologies Face. “


Today is Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar, and the day before Passover in the Jewish calendar. From these two holy days, and from our Unitarian Universalist theologies, streams the message to ground our faith in who and what we love. David Robins is retired from parish ministry in Peterborough, NH, Bloomington, Illinois, and Franklin, NH. He and his wife, Jean (a 4th grade public school teacher), live in Harrisville, NH.

Upcoming Services

April 16, 2017 - Nancy J. Crumbine

April 23, 2017 - Kevin Carson
“In Praise of Diversity’. Our Unitarian Universalist faith is a celebration of diverse beliefs, and this is one of our great strengths in an increasingly diverse world.

April 30, 2017 - Kevin Carson
“The Practice of Forgiveness”. How forgiving others and forgiving ourselves can transform our emotional and spiritual life.

Memorial Service April 8, 2017

Our hearts go out to Randy Wiggin on the recent death of his son, Tanner. A memorial service will be held at the church on Saturday, April 8th at 11AM. The congregation will host a reception following the service and congregants are requested to drop off finger food items (cheese/crackers, vegetables & dip, cookies/bars) between 10am and 11am on April 8th. Please let Nancy Davis know if you can help.

Tanner Gasco-Wiggin, born in Randolph, VT on July 3, 1990, grew up in the Springfield area and graduated from Springfield High School in 2008. He attended the Maine College of Art in Portland, ME, and he became an accomplished artist and printmaker. Tanner cared deeply about social and political causes and was a fierce advocate for freedom of expression. He was an avid reader, and enjoyed snowboarding, hiking, music of all kinds, and reading and writing poetry. He is survived by his father, Randall Wiggin and partner Marybeth Maloney of Chester, his mother Valerie Gasco and his step-father Jeff Lavin of Lehigh Acres, Florida; his paternal grandmother, Ruth Wiggin, of Rutland; his brother, Ian Gasco-Wiggin and sister, Siera Lavin, both of Boston, Mass; and many loving aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in New England and Florida. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Tanner’s memory to: the Vermont Arts Council, Outright Vermont, or the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center.

Notes from the Board

To members & Friends of the First Universalist Parish of Chester:

So much has happened in the last month–-wonderful events, sad news, and enhancements to our building.

• The month began with the film, “He Named Me Malawa.” Olivia Bernier introduced the movie, telling us how the movie affected her and what inspired her to share the story of a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot during her fight for education for girls. She eventually received the Nobel Peace Prize.

• At mid-month we shared a soup supper, when we wrote postcards to our Congressional delegation and president, expressing our concerns about health care, equality, and protection of the environment. Young members wrote earnestly while their parents and other church members tried to fit their indignation and values on postcards.

• A dedication of the asylum seekers’ apartment at Singing River Farm was spiritually uplifting, with hymns and readings by Rev. Nancy Crumbine and the priest from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. The pastors visited and blessed each room. A few days later the church presented a check for $800 from our Principles in Action fund to Steve Crofter and Laurel Green, who own Singing River Farm. They established the Community Asylum Seekers Project to welcome asylum seekers.

• On March 24 our religious education students put on an ice cream social. Lisa Crocker served ice cream, and then we proceeded down the table for hot fudge, Oreos, whipped cream, cherries and other toppings. Watching the students raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation was delightful.

• Also on March 24 Sam Lloyd, a long-time member of the church, passed away. In church two days later people recalled Sam reciting humorous poems or telling tales of his time in the Vermont Legislature. As you travel our billboard-free roads or return beverage cans for deposits, you can thank Sam, who was chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee when he persuaded his colleagues to protect Vermont’s environment.

• Another sad note is that former member Mary Lou Farr is being treated for terminal brain cancer. You may send cards to her at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

• Several members gathered two weeks ago to de-clutter the social hall, sorting historic papers and a jumble of office equipment, and discarding outdated materials. Please join us on Friday, March 31, at 9:30 a.m., if you’d like to help finish this task.

• If you drive by the church at night you may notice the stained glass windows glowing. Automatic timers now turn on a couple of low wattage lights in the sanctuary. We hope this will catch the attention of passing motorists, and be a welcoming sight to us when we attend evening programs.

• Lynn Way is recovering from a knee replacement surgery on April 4 and is at home in Wichita, KS. Her address is 3450 N. Ridgewood, Apt. 714, Wichita, KS 67220.

The events of our church life will always be wonderful or sad, mundane or uplifting. I hope we continue to weather them together in grace. Stephanie

April Principles in Action

The April Principles in Action collection will go to the Vermont Eco Studies (VEC) Loon Conservation Project. VEC partners with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and a corps of dedicated volunteers to provide monitoring, management, public education and research on common loons in Vermont. There are now 300-500 adult loons in Vermont and they will begin returning from their ocean wintering grounds off the New England Coast in April. Nests are built in May-June and both parents help incubate one to two eggs for 27-28 days. Chicks grow and learn to feed themselves and practice flying so they are ready to migrate to winter grounds by November. Loons can be found on many lakes in Vermont, including nearby Lowell Lake.

Religious Exploration (RE)

The RE kids started their Medicine Wheel project this month with guest naturalist and herbalist, Jamie Malouf. We had a full house that day! The kids got an introduction to native medicine wheels, saw pictures and learned about the different meanings they may convey. We discovered the endless possibilities for constructing, laying out and populating a medicine wheel, from flowers, medicinal and edible herbs and plants, rocks and wood. We discussed the possibility (probability) of installing a fire ring in the center, growing plants and herbs that lend themselves to further RE projects such as making herb pillows, salves and teas. After much discussion and viewing of sample medicine wheels, we began the process of imagining our own, with each child starting to draw their ideas for a medicine wheel. All in all, it was a great start to what will doubtless be an engaging, inspiring, creative venture that will offer nice opportunities for community-building and inter-generational engagement within our parish.

The children also are enjoying the opportunities to give back to the greater community by making food for the Greater Falls Warming shelter, one main dish and then a dessert, and by deciding to hold an Ice Cream Social fundraiser for this past month's Principles in Action cause, the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The children watched a short film portraying a little girl with serious health issues, what her life was like with these challenges and how her life was so brightened by having her wish come true. The difficulty this little girl faced was not lost on the children, and they were visibly affected by this story of struggle and hope. They were eager to contribute their efforts, ideas and energy to this cause. Almost all our kids showed up for this event and everyone participated fully and with joy. During the month of April, there will be RE every week except April 16. Thanks for the opportunity to work with these amazing kids. Lisa Crocker

Church CommunityThe congregation extends deep sympathy to Barbara Lloyd and her family on the recent death of long-time First Universalist Parish member, Sam Lloyd. Sam was well known not only for his acting and dedication to the Weston Playhouse but for his great generosity and his wonderful sense of humor. You can learn more about Sam’s life by reading this article on Vermont Digger. You are bound to learn something new about this remarkable man. It was very special to witness people spontaneously sharing “Sam Stories” during our worship service on March 26th and to witness the outpouring of love than Sam engendered. Kudos to all our congregants who participated in the Wizard Of Oz production at GMUHS. Tuck Wunderle starred as the fabulous lion, Brielle Heyburn did some great dancing as a CAES Munchkin, and Olivia Bernier,

Ang Wunderle and Scott Wunderle made the pit band music rock. Saturday shows are at 2PM and 7PM at the high school and this is a show everyone will enjoy.

Art at the Stone Church

Main Street Arts in Saxton's River has three exciting ART opportunities on their spring calendar.

Playing Like Picasso - April 8
Life Drawing - Thursdays, April 13 - May 18
Watercolor; Mood and Water with Robert O'Brien, June 10

Community Events

“Vermont Wildlife: The Working Landscape Edition.”
Presented by The Nature Museum and the Windham Foundation

The Nature Museum and The Windham Foundation announce a celebratory event in honor of Earth Day. This special occasion will take place on Saturday, April 15, at 10:00 a.m. at the Phelps Barn, The Grafton Inn, in Grafton, Vermont. Musician and singer Will Danforth will get the show started with songs of nature before introducing the main event. Then enjoy a multi-media presentation with renowned wildlife expert Mike Clough complete with live wild animal guests from the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum.

For more details> 


The Art of Bookmaking -- A note from Amber Paris local artist & teacherHave you ever wondered how hard it would be to make your own book? Have you tried other simple binding methods and found yourself ready to step it up a level? Do you love learning new creative skills? Come join me at The Community Art Garden and learn how to make homemade books using the Western Codex binding method. The next class is April 23rd! For more details > 

 

Freeze-Dried Religion

by Kevin M. Carson
A Sermon Given at First Universalist Parish in Chester, Vermont, March 26, 2017

The intensely personal mystical experience of religion

In our Unitarian Universalist Association, the long process of ministerial formation leads to what we call “fellowship.”  After completing a Master of Divinity degree and an internship at a congregation and some other requirements, you eventually have an interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, where they ask you lots of questions to see if you are ready to be a minister.  Each candidate submits about an eighty-page packet of materials to the committee before the interview, and among the required materials are a number of short essays on specific topics.  One of the short essays I had to write was a response to the question: “What is the theological context of your call to Unitarian Universalist ministry?”  In other words, how would you describe your personal theology, and why do you feel called to ministry?  With the diversity of beliefs within our liberal religious movement, I imagine the committee receives a wide range of responses to this question.  Some UU ministerial candidates identify strongly with a single spiritual tradition – Christian, Buddhist, or Pagan for example – but most of us are more like the majority of the folks in our pews on Sunday morning.  For most of us, our initial answer to that question would probably be: “It’s complicated.”  As seekers on a lifelong spiritual journey of discovery, it is hard to label or categorize the many influences we have encountered on the way.  You probably wouldn’t be sitting here in a Unitarian Universalist church if you didn’t have ongoing questions, and very few easy answers, as to what life is all about. 

But of course, a ministerial candidate can’t get away with simply saying, “It’s complicated.”  After all, if you have completed all the work to prepare for ministry, you really should have a better understanding of your own theology before you are unleashed on the world.  In my “theological context” essay, I described how I really have three theological contexts that I draw on depending on the situation or question. One is Religious Naturalism, which reflects my understanding of the science behind the cosmos, and how we human beings evolved from this Earth and remain part of her.  Another is Christian Humanism, which is how I describe the source of my ethical and moral foundation – firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the idea of building the kingdom of God on Earth. My third context is Mysticism, and I will speak much more on this in a moment.  I will probably explore this idea of multiple “religious identities” some Sunday in the future, but the reason I am telling you about this today is that, in my essay, I went on to say that, if I had to choose only one answer to this question it would have to be mysticism.

So, what do I mean by mysticism?  It is an intriguing word that seems to imply something magical or even occult.  Perhaps you think I fancy myself to be some sort of wizard.  The truth is far more mundane I’m afraid, but there is an undeniable sense of something sacred and spiritual in my use of the word.  The Oxford Dictionary offers two definitions for mysticism:

Belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.

Belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.

I don’t believe either of these definitions is sufficient, or really describes my use of the word in broad enough terms, but I can appreciate the conundrum the authors faced in trying to pin down a definition.  Any talk of mysticism eventually bumps into the limits of language and begins to sound vaguely mysterious – you may end up wandering in that “dreamy confusion of thought” the Oxford folks warned us about.  You reach a point when, for example, the ancient author of the Taoist sacred text, the Tao Te Ching, says something like, “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao.”  Mysticism is ultimately about intuitive understanding, when words fail to convey what can only be experienced.  I think the two important characteristics of mysticism these definitions are trying to capture are: a sense of “union [or unity] with the absolute,” and the relationship between “self-delusion” and “self-surrender.”  So, having admitted that words are insufficient for revealing the heart of mysticism, and can even be a barrier to a deeper understanding, let me risk continuing on with my sermon.

I choose to embrace the label mysticism as my primary “theological context” because it reflects my experience of a sacred creative unity that pervades everything around us, and I am comfortable naming that sacred unity “God.”  More often, I prefer to call this reality the “Sacred Mystery,” since it acknowledges how little we can say about the sacred with any certainty.  Every part and particle, and every moment of the cosmos, reveals the reality of the “interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” that we lift up in our Seventh Principle, and it is good and holy.  Since I imagine everything that is, or was, or is yet to be, as held within this sacred unity, it makes more sense for me to talk about other aspects of my theological identity – which are more focused on the secular world – as secondary.  To call myself a mystic also reflects my understanding of that first spiritual source we draw upon in our Unitarian Universalist tradition: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” I am convinced that we can and do have direct experiences of that transcending mystery, if only in glimpses, perhaps during prayer or from the awe and wonder we encounter in nature, or at other times when we are most aware of our full humanity.   

When I come to Chester to preach, I usually travel on Saturday and spend the night, but sometimes I drive up early on Sunday morning.  One Sunday morning last March, just over a year ago, as I was driving up, I was listening to the program On Being on WGBH, and the guest was Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.  The program was a rebroadcast of a 2014 interview by the host Krista Tippett, and the topic of the program was “Kabbalah and the Inner Life of God.”  Rabbi Kushner is a Reform rabbi, and a long-time student of the Jewish mystic tradition of Kabbalah, in the lineage of his late teacher Rabi Gershom Scholem.  Scholem is credited with revitalizing interest in Kabbalah in the twentieth century.  There are many varieties of Kabbalah that range from a practical focus on ethics to the very esoteric.  Some forms are centered on contemplation, for example, while others search for coded messages contained in the text of the Torah.  There are some forms that have a doctrine of reincarnation, and others that focus on the feminine aspect of the divine.  It is hard to generalize about the practices or beliefs of the Kabbalah tradition, but at its heart, Kabbalah is a search for understanding the relationship between the created world and the mysterious, infinite divine.  In Kabbalah, all being is rooted in the Ein Sof, the Holy Oneness of Creation.

About half-way through the interview, Kushner was attempting to articulate the nature of mysticism, and here is how he described it:

“It’s a handful of smoke. Yeah, it’s real hard to talk about. But it’s the most important thing to talk about. My suspicion is, and I don’t know who … said that ‘whatever it is that makes religion religion, mysticism has more of it.’ It seems to be freeze-dried, it seems to be intensified, focused. It’s the name of the game. It’s the very center of what we are talking about. Because, to be sure, mysticism is intensely personal, and that’s what it always winds up doing for people.”

I love Kushner’s analogy of mysticism as an intensified, “freeze-dried” experience of religion.  If you have ever eaten a freeze-dried strawberry, and tasted the explosion of flavor, you can appreciate what he was trying to say.  In terms of religious experience, it is the difference between a Sunday morning worship service – even a great one – and a moment of real epiphany, a moment when you feel an overwhelming sense of unity with the world, or the undeniable presence of something holy.  It is in such moments that the delusion of a duality between our notion of being an individual “self” that is something apart from the sacred unity is shattered.  This is the surrender of “self” to “no-self” that so many spiritual traditions have discovered in their more mystic forms.  It is the emptiness sought in Buddhist contemplative practices, and the experience of divine union and the Christ Consciousness for Jewish and Christian mystics.  For the Religious Naturalist, it is the recognition of our “ecological self” – the recognition that our own “being” extends beyond our physical bodies in an inseparable relationship with the Earth’s living systems, and even the inorganic processes that sustain life.

I believe that small mystical moments abound in our lives.  They need not be profound experiences that forever alter your path in life, but they might be.  Small mystical moments may present themselves in the most ordinary situations.  We just need to learn how to recognize them.  In his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James identified four characteristics of a mystical experience.  First of all, it is transient and unpredictable.  You cannot summon a mystical moment by force of will; they come and go as they please.  The second characteristic is that you are the passive recipient of such moments.  A mystical moment takes you by surprise.  As Rabi Kushner says, “You don’t have the experience, it has you.” The third characteristic James identified is that there is an intellectual component to the experience.  It has what he called “a noetic quality” that leaves one with a flash of insight, revelation, or illumination.  But sharing this insight is problematic, because the fourth characteristic returns us to the familiar conundrum: a mystical experience is ineffable – words fail to fully describe the experience.  Try as we might, it is impossible to fit a mystical experience into a purely rational container, and this is why we need a religion that allows us to explore the meaning and the sheer mystery of the sacred moments we encounter.  Rationalism is not enough.

We Unitarian Universalists are such a diverse lot that I am wary of generalizing about the spirituality of Unitarian Universalism, but I believe it is fair to say that our tradition has a long history of holding reason in tension with the experience of “that transcending mystery and wonder.”  We are guarded and suspicious of feelings that are unprovable, preferring reasonableness in our search for truth and meaning. But, even as we use reason as a tool to probe the mysteries of existence, our exploration often ends in feelings of piety and awe – feelings of wonder that hint at profound spiritual truths.  Reason is important, but we have kept the door open to trusting our intuition, cultivating what the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher called a “sense and taste for the infinite.” Our faith today is a celebration of Transcendentalism and religious individualism, even as we hold on to the great spiritual traditions of the past and explore their wisdom for guidance for living in our own times.  We embrace science and reason and spirituality as complementary aspects of what it means to be fully human, and this is our great strength.  I agree with Rev. Tom Owen-Towle who characterized Unitarian Universalists as“bona fide mystics” because “the substance of our faith points to an ineffable yet undeniable connection with sacrality, both mysterious and sustaining, … [that] our lives are embraced by a mystery that is gracious and trustworthy, and our human fulfillment lies in surrendering to it.”  It is the same sentiment Emerson expressed in the excerpt from The Oversoul which we read together this morning.  Our experience of religion is holistic.  It is intensely personal but at the same time intensely unifying.  

Many people are understandably anxious these days about politics, and the damage that we human beings seem so willing to inflict on our earthly home, but I believe humanity is slowly awakening to a confluence of science and spirituality that can and will change everything.  More and more people are learning the story of how our universe came to be what it is, and there is an undeniable “freeze-dried,” mystical quality to this new understanding as Kushner described.  I hear echoes of Emerson when contemporary scientists wax poetically about nature and the universe, when for example, cosmologist Brian Swimme says, “The deep truth about matter … is that, over the course of four billion years, molten rocks transformed themselves into monarch butterflies, blue herons, and the exalted music of Mozart.”  Friends, if that doesn’t inspire awe and wonder, I can’t imagine what would!  

With our embrace of reason and the importance of the individual experience of religion, I believe our faith is aligned very well with this global awakening.  But in our individualism, we must avoid the pitfall of becoming what Rev. James Luther Adams called a “purely spiritual religion.”  In an essay Adams wrote in 1946, he cautioned that,

 “A purely spiritual religion is a purely spurious religion; it is one that exempts its believer from surrender to the sustaining, transforming reality which demands the community of justice and love.  This sham spirituality, far more than materialism, is the great enemy of religion.”

It may be tempting these days to retreat from the world and simply navel-gaze while the world around us burns with injustice, but to ignore the practical demands of religion would be a great moral failure.  Once we recognize the hidden unity in the world, and our illusion of isolation is shattered, once we see the suffering of others as if it is our own, we are compelled to act to alleviate it.  Or, you could look at from the other direction.  In one on his books, Rabbi Kushner wrote, “A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” Perhaps it is all of this brokenness and discord that we share as human beings that opens our eyes and instills this “gnawing suspicion” of a hidden unity, and moves us to heal the world.

In this year that has already been fraught with discord, brokenness, contradictions, and plenty of anxiety, it is my wish that all of you allow yourselves the grace of quiet time – time to listen to the still small voice within, time to nurture your inner mystic, time to acknowledge the “gnawing suspicion” of a hidden unity that brings a “peace which passeth all understanding.”

References

Krista Tippet interview with Rabi Lawrence Kushner from 2014, “Kabbalah and the Inner Life of God,” rebroadcast on the WGBH program “On Being,” March 10, 2016, transcript available online.

Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Journey of the Universe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).

James Luther Adams, A Faith for Free Men (1946).

Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799).

Hymns

#42 “Morning, So Fair to See”

#123 "Spirit of Life"

#92 “Mysterious Presence, Source of All”

#298 “Wake, Now, My Senses”

Opening Words from the poem “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world

Of eye, and ear, -- both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

Responsive Reading

#531 “The Oversoul”

Readings

“A Common Destiny” by David H. Eaton

All living substance, all substance of Energy,

 and Being, 

and Purpose, 

are united and share the same destiny.

 

All people, 

those we love and those we know not of 

are united and share the same destiny.

 

Birth-to-Death

this unity we share with

    the Sun,

    Earth

    our Brothers and Sisters,

Strangers

Flowers of the field,

Snowflakes

Volcanoes and Moon Beams.

 

Birth—Life – Death

Unknown – Known – Unknown

Our Destiny: from Unknown to Unknown.

 

I pray that we will know the Awe

    and not fall into the pit of intellectual arrogance

    in attempting to explain it away.

The Mystery can be our substance.

May we have the faith to accept this wonderful Mystery

    and build upon its everlasting Truth.

“hymn to the sacred body of the universe” by Drew Dellinger

Let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs

Let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs

For one instant
to dwell in the presence of the galaxies
for one instant
to live in the truth of the heart
the poet says this entire traveling cosmos is
“the secret One slowly growing a body”

Two eagles are mating—
clasping each other’s claws
and turning cartwheels in the sky
grasses are blooming
grandfathers dying
consciousness blinking on and off
all of this is happening at once
all of this, vibrating into existence
out of nothingness

Every particle
foaming into existence
transcribing the ineffable

Arising and passing away
arising and passing away
23 trillion times per second—
when Buddha saw that,
he smiled

16 million tons of rain are falling every second
on the planet
an ocean
perpetually falling
and every drop
is your body
every motion, every feather, every thought
is your body
time
is your body,
and the infinite
curled inside like
invisible rainbows folded into light

Every word of every tongue is love
telling a story to her own ears

Let our lives be incense
burning
like a hymn to the sacred
body of the universe
my religion is rain
my religion is stone
my religion reveals itself to me in
sweaty epiphanies

Every leaf, every river,
every animal,
your body
every creature trapped in the gears
of corporate nightmares
every species made extinct
was once
your body

10 million people are dreaming
that they’re flying
junipers and violets are blossoming
stars exploding and being born
god
is having
déjà vu
I am one
elaborate
crush
we cry petals
as the void
is singing

You are the dark
that holds the stars
in intimate
distance

That spun the whirling,
whirling,
world
into existence

Let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs.

Religious Exploration Learns About Medicine Wheels with Jamie Maloof

The RE kids started their Medicine Wheel project this month with guest naturalist and herbalist, Jamie Maloof.  We had a full house that day!  The kids got an introduction to native medicine wheels, saw pictures and learned about the different meanings they may convey.  We discovered the endless possibilities for constructing, laying out and populating a medicine wheel, from flowers, medicinal and edible herbs and plants, rocks and wood.  We discussed the possibility (probability) of installing a fire ring in the center, growing plants and herbs that lend themselves to further RE projects such as making herb pillows, salves and teas.  After much discussion and viewing of sample medicine wheels, we began the process of imagining our own, with each child starting to draw their ideas for a medicine wheel.  All in all, it was a great start to what will doubtless be an engaging, inspiring, creative venture that will offer nice opportunities for community-building and inter-generational engagement within our parish.

The children also are enjoying the opportunities to give back to the greater community by making food for the Greater Falls Warming shelter, one main dish and then a dessert, and by deciding to hold an Ice Cream Social fundraiser for this past month's Principles in Action cause, the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  The children watched a short film portraying a little girl with serious health issues, what her life was like with these challenges and how her life was so brightened by having her wish come true.  The difficulty this little girl faced was not lost on the children, and they were visibly affected by this story of struggle and hope.  They were eager to contribute their efforts, ideas and energy to this cause.  Almost all our kids showed up for this event and everyone participated fully and with joy.  

During the month of April, there will be RE every week except April 16.  Thanks for the opportunity to work with these amazing kids.

March 18th - Newsletter

Church Events

Sunday Services begin at 9:30; childcare provided. 

Services

March 19, 2017
Led by Calvin Dame
"To Bless the World"

March 26, 2017
Led by Kevin Carson
"Freeze Dried Religion"

Principles in Action March

Our March PIA collection will go to the High Fives Organization that supports the dreams of mountain action sports athletes by raising injury prevention awareness. It also provides resources and inspiration to those who suffer from life changing injuries. Mike Swartz has been involved in this program and was featured in the 2014 award winning "Helmets are Cool" video, partially filmed in Chester.

Community Events
 

Ice Cream Social - March 24th

Our ice cream social to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation is going to be held on March 24 from 6:30 - 7:30. Children should arrive at 6:00 to set up. 

Prom Wear Sale at the Chester Andover Family Center

The Chester Andover Family Center is hosting a Community Service Event for area teens to find their perfect Prom Outfit. On Thursday, April 6, 2017, the CAFC will open its doors from 3-7PM for Prom Shopping. We have a large selection of Prom Wear for girls and guys, including over 100 dresses, suits and tuxedos. All are either new or in “like new” condition. You can also shop for accessories such as shoes, shirts, ties, handbags and jewelry to complete your “look”.

All teen shoppers can enter a FREE raffle to win prom flowers or manicure gift certificates donated by local businesses; Chester Flowers, Halladay’s, Salon 2000, Seventh Heaven Salon, Woodbury Florist and E-Clipz Salon. At a suggested donation of $20, prom goers can put together a dress or tux outfit with all the accessories. Please join us on April 6, from 3-7, for a fun and affordable shopping spree. We will have the music going and dressing rooms set up. The Chester Andover Family Center is located at 908 VT 103 in Chester. Follow us on Facebook or call the Center at 802-875-3236. Contact Information: Nena Nanfeldt, 802 875-4309, nnanfeldt@gmail.com

Two Rivers Indivisible Trump-Care Protest March – March 12, 2017

The protest was followed by a talk by Walter Wallace about Trump-Care at the Two Rivers meeting at the Church.

March Newsletter

Church Events

Sunday Services begin at 9:30; childcare provided. Religious education for youth will be provided each Sunday during service except for March 19th's service.

This Month's Services

Sunday, March 5, 2017 Service
Led by Reverend Nick Boke
"Cultures Clash"
This sermon will be made up of vignettes from my several recent weeks working with Syrian, Lebanese and Ivorian teachers, encouraging them to revise their understandings of the nature of teaching and learning.

February 12, 2017
Led by Nancy J. Crumbine
"I Circle Around God"  
I’ve been circling for thousands of years…” Seeking help from Rilke, and a few other poets, in remembering the wisdom of serenity and the promise of rebirth, even in the darkest times. With a few inspiring stories thrown in….Keep the faith!

February 19, 2017
Led by Calvin Dame
"To Bless the World"

February 26, 2017
Led by Kevin Carson
"Freeze Dried Religion"

From the Board

There will be a board meeting Sunday, March 12, 2017. All are welcome to attend the Board Meeting, they will be held after the social hour in the Parish social hall downstairs. Principles in Action March - Our March PIA collection will go to the High Fives Organization that supports the dreams of mountain action sports athletes by raising injury prevention awareness. It also provides resources and inspiration to those who suffer from life changing injuries. Mike Swartz has been involved in this program and was featured in the 2014 award winning "Helmets are Cool" video, partially filmed in Chester.

Religious Education Program (RE) March

This upcoming month promises to be very inspiring, educational, rewarding and fun. On March 5 we will be making food for the North Springfield Warming Shelter. We are on the books for a main dish and we are planning a vegetable pot pie. Hopefully there will be enough biscuits left over for us! The most exciting news is that we will be beginning a series of sessions with Jamie Malouf, who is going to work with the children to create a medicine wheel on the property of the church, creating a permanent, sacred space of the children's own design. We anticipate this to take at least two to three sessions just in learning about medicine wheels, exploring possible designs, deciding on a design and what shall go in the medicine wheel (rocks, flowers, herbs, etc.), starting seeds, etc.

The first two sessions will take place on March 12 and March 26, so don't miss it!! (As previously planned, there will be no RE on March 19.) Finally, our ice cream social to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation is going to be held on March 24 from 6:30 - 7:30. Children should arrive at 6:00 to set up. I am going to be in charge of procuring the ice cream, and the children are each being assigned a topping to bring. Look for a separate email about that next week. I am very excited about this new project with Jamie and I hope your children will be too! In joy and gratitude, Lisa


Art

Tuesday from 2:00 to 5:00 Hello All, Doors at the UU will open for ART on Tuesday at @2PM this week. Come early if your schedule permits. Nena

Medicine Wheel Unit with Jamie Maloof and Other RE Happenings

by Lisa Crocker, Religious Education Leader

This upcoming month promises to be very inspiring, educational, rewarding and fun.  On March 5 we will be making food for the North Springfield Warming Shelter.  We are on the books for a main dish and we are planning a vegetable pot pie. Hopefully there will be enough biscuits left over for us!

The most exciting news is that we will be beginning a series of sessions with Jamie Malouf, who is going to work with the children to create a medicine wheel on the property of the church, creating a permanent, sacred space of the children's own design. We anticipate this to take at least two to three sessions just in learning about medicine wheels, exploring possible designs, deciding on a design and what shall go in the medicine wheel (rocks, flowers, herbs, etc.), starting seeds, etc.  The first two sessions will take place on March 12 and March 19, so don't miss it!! (As previously planned, there will be no RE on March 26.)

Finally, our ice cream social to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation is going to be held on March 24 from 6:30 - 7:30.  Children should arrive at 6:00 to set up.  I am going to be in charge of procuring the ice cream, and the children are each being assigned a topping to bring.  Look for a separate email about that next week.  

I am very excited about this new project with Jamie and I hope your children will be too!

Church Family Night, March 3rd - Come out!

There will be a church family night on Friday, March 3 with postcard writing, soup and games. Start time at 5:30 p.m. Please contact Meg Minehan (mminehan@vermontel.net or 802-875-2487) if you are willing to bring soup or bread to share.

 If you have any favorite games bring them along; we will have Rummy Kube, Clue, The Game of Life and a few others on hand but the more the merrier.

From Barbara Windham

This notice was omitted from the last First Parish Newsletter so I am sending out a special notice of the planned “family night”. I received the notice below from my brother-in-law who lives in Olympia, WA about postcard writing. This explains who we are writing, when we are sending it etc. So bring along a few postcards and we can write out a few to send to our president on March 15.

"On March 15th, each of us will mail Donald Trump a postcard that publicly expresses our opposition to him. And we, in vast numbers, from all corners of the world, will overwhelm the man with his unpopularity and failure.  We will show the media and the politicians what standing with him — and against us — means.  And most importantly, we will bury the White House post office in pink slips, all informing Donnie that he’s fired. Each of us — every protester from every march, each congress calling citizen, every boycotter, volunteer, donor, and petition signer — if each of us writes even a single postcard and we put them all in the mail on the same day, March 15th, well: you do the math. 

No alternative fact or Russian translation will explain away our record-breaking, officially-verifiable, warehouse-filling flood of fury.  Hank Aaron currently holds the record for fan mail, having received 900,000 pieces in a year.  We’re hoping to set a new record: over a million pieces in a day, with not a single nice thing to say.

So sharpen your wit, unsheathe your writing implements, and see if your sincerest ill-wishes can pierce Donald’s famously thin skin.

Prepare for March 15th, 2017, a day hereafter to be known as #TheIdesOfTrump

Write one postcard.  Write a dozen!  Take a picture and post it on social media tagged with #TheIdesOfTrump.  Spread the word! Everyone on Earth should let Donald know how he’s doing.  They can’t build a wall high enough to stop the mail.

On March 15th, mail your messages to:
President (for now) Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

It might just be enough to make him crack.  Not my original post but someone else's great idea!"

If you can't come to the family night you can still fill out a postcard and post it on March 15. And give some to your friends and neighbors to fill out and send also.

Thanks and hope to see you all on Friday March 3. I am making some pumpkin rising bread (A King Arthur Recipe) which I tried last month and hope everyone will enjoy it.

 

 

Painting the Safe Haven at Singing River Farm

The painting of the safe-haven offers the members and friends of the First Universalist Parish a way to show our support for this most worthwhile endeavor to provide a home in the United States for families seeking asylum. Many people have been hard at work since late summer putting up studs and walls and installing heating and plumbing. Now we at First Parish have been given the opportunity to make our contribution to the community effort to build a home for displaced families.

Learn more about the safe haven project at Singing River Farm.

Steve Crofter thinks we will be ready in a couple of weeks to gather with paint, brushes, rollers and enthusiasm to contribute the finishing work of this very special home.

Needed are: primer, paint, (light colors), drop clothes, rollers, brushes, sticks for stirring….any and all the equipment that you have on hand for a painting project. We hope to receive gallons of latex paint, or near-gallons, that you will not be using. The colors need to be light; the paint may need to be mixed so we have enough of one color to complete a room.

Please call Gretchen McCabe if you have painting supplies or paint or if you would like to sign up for the actual painting. The apartment size will accommodate six (6) painters at one time. If you have a group of one, two or more who want to paint on the same day we can schedule you in for the day you are available.

Box lunches will be served to painters. Please let me know if you would like to help assemble the lunches.

If you are interested in helping, please contact us and we will put you in touch with Gretchen. 

Will Danforth and Big Woods Voices

Will Danforth would like to spread the word that Big Woods Voices, his a cappella group, will be performing at the Old Parish Church in Weston, VT, as part of their Hearts and Voices series, on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 4:00 pm. Admission is a $10 suggested donation to benefit the community fuel assistance-plus initiative, “Just Neighbors”.

Also that same weekend, if you feel drawn to First Friday in Brattleboro, they'll be performing in the parlor of the Centre Congregational Church, 193 Main Street, at 8p.m. on March 3rd. This is a benefit for the Brattleboro Women's Chorus, and for admission donations of $10-25 are requested.

Waffle Breakfast to Celebrate the End of Our Pledge Drive

After this past Sunday's service, we all gathered downstairs for a delicious waffle brunch. Thanks to everyone who was at the helm of the Belgian waffle makers. The whipped cream went fast! It was a wonderful way to end our successful pledge drive. 

Thank you to the pledge committee and everyone else who played a part in setting up the breakfast and prepping the waffles, including Steven Davis, Dick Andrews, Melody Reed, Stephanie Rowe, Nancy Davis and Scott Wunderle.

Happenings in Religious Exploration: February-March

By Lisa Crocker, Editor of RE at Chester Universalist

The RE program is embarking on a series of programs that teach the children about the UU Principles.  Last week, we began with Principle 1, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, explained to the children as we believe that each and every person is important.  The principle was illustrated with stories and games and lots of discussion about what makes us valuable, material things vs. human qualities.  The children had a great grasp of this principle! 

We also have incorporated a time at the end of each program for Worship.  During this time, we set up a special worship center, light a chalice, sing a prayer for peace, perhaps have a reading or a song, and close by holding hands in our circle and reciting the principle we just learned.  This is a wonderful time of peace and unity among us.

I would like to create more intergenerational opportunities within the program.  One way I can do this is by having a weekly RE volunteer from the congregation who comes down with the children and simply participates with the children, offering a helping hand when needed.  This would be an easy, stress-free way to experience the RE program while getting to engage with our amazing children. 

If you would like to choose a week to volunteer, just email me at lisaarlenecrocker@gmail.com and I will put you in the slot.  Right now, we have no volunteers, so the schedule is open for you to choose a Sunday that works for you or has a topic you are interested in exploring with the children. 

RE SCHEDULE FOR NEXT 7 WEEKS:

Sunday, 2/5
Principle 2:  Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
 - We believe that all people should be treated fairly and kindly.

Sunday, 2/12
Make A Wish Fundraiser

Sunday, 2/19
No RE

Sunday, 2/26
Fundraiser Prep

Sunday, 3/5
Warming Shelter Main Course

Sunday, 3/12
Principle 3:  Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
- We believe that we should accept one another and keep on learning together.

Sunday, 3/19
No RE

 

Pro-Refugee Rally Planned in Ludlow

Say "Yes" to Immigration and Refugees and "No" to Trump’s Ban

When: Saturday, February 4th, 3:30 p.m.-5 p.m.
Where: On sidewalk in front of Ludlow's public library (opposite the town green) on Rte. 103 at the south end of town
Signs: Please make and bring signs in favor of welcoming immigrants and refugees to Vermont and the US, against the Trump ban, against Secure Communities (will allow/encourage local law enforcement across the US to work as border agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE), in favor of the VT immigrant community, farm workers, refugees…. This rally can also be an opportunity to express your indignation over the many pressing issues we face: the environment, cabinet appointments, shutting down the free press and other causes important to YOU. Feel free to pass this on to others.

News From the Board - January

by Stephanie Rowe

January has been a busy and energizing month.

*First Scott Wunderle gave a presentation on the steeple repairs with fascinating anecdotes and visuals.
 *Laurie Danforth volunteered to send cards to people offering best wishes, comfort, or condolences. Please let Laurie know of anyone you think may need support. *Scott has proposed electrical work on the church. By an email motion and vote by the board, motion sensors will be repaired, thermostats replaced with timers, and our stained glass windows lit from 4pm to midnight to highlight our presence in the community.
*The pledge committee initiated this year’s pledge drive and will be serving a celebratory brunch on Sunday, February 5. If you have not yet made your pledge, please bring it on Sunday or send it to First Universalist Parish of Chester, PO Box 90, 211 North Street, Chester, VT 05156. Thank you.
*Olivia Bernier, on January 29, introduced after the service, a showing of the film, “He Named Me Malawa.” The moving, true story of the teenage Pakistani girl who defied the Taliban to work for education for girls in her country was inspiring. Thank you, Olivia.

A Reminder… Coffee hour has been more successful since a signup sheet has been organized. We need help in four ways to keep it successful:

  1. Sign up to help set up the social hall in the 20 or 30 minutes before service.
  2. Sign up to make coffee. Directions are now posted and it’s not as daunting as it seemed before. Any week you can bring refreshments (baked goods, fruit, cheese, etc.) or help clean up. Two notes