Dear UUCLB Members and Friends,
Spring is here! This means we are heading into our annual stewardship drive, our centennial celebrations, and of course the Persian New Year (Nowruz), commonly known as the Spring Equinox. As these events emerge on the calendar I am reflecting on the relationship between, or paradox of, “being” from our ancestors – personal and religious - and “becoming” ancestors ourselves.
We are all in a state of “being,” or existence. Our being comes from and is connected to those who came before; those who birthed and/or cared for us; those whom we never knew yet were steadfast stewards of the church in which we now exist; those who, for a hundred years, built a history for us to celebrate. Our being, personal and communal, is also from something much larger than our individual church. We “be” because of the many cycles of the earth that have evolved, spring after spring, into a creative birthing of being after being eventually offers an unconscious permission for our existence. The incredible power of all of this, which is the power of our being, causes in me inspiration and humbleness, hope and gratitude. For as much as we might breeze over the survival of our being, it is simply a remarkable testament to the dreams of that which came before.
Yet, we do not want to forget that human is not only a state of “being” it is also a state of “becoming.” To be human is to become – over and over - from birth all the way until the end of life. We are born into existence, we transform what that existence is and we become the legacy of existence. We “become” again and again and again. We do this in our bodies, our families, in our part of one hundred years to come, and on earth from year to year as each new spring arrives. This can happen in a single comment, a year of action, and it can happen over the length of a life time. Our becoming might be conscious effort or not conscious at all. Yet our becoming is our legacy for that which is yet to come.
It is rare that we get the chance to reflect on our becoming the legacy we are co-creating. Yet, this spring we are so very fortunate to have many opportunities to reflect. Stewardship, our financial care for the congregation, is an opportunity to consider what we are becoming as a congregation.
Our centennial anniversary is another such time to think about our legacy for the next hundred years. And for me, and maybe others, Nowruz - a New Year - offers us time to cultivate our hopes of becoming.
So as we head into Spring let us honor our being with awe for our collective existence and let us remember to shape our becoming with things like generous stewardship, thoughtful centennial celebration, and of course co-creation of dreams for the year(s) to come.
Reverend Mitra Rahnema
The second event is on Friday, Nov. 16th at 7pm when we will be joined by filmmaker Brooks Nelson for a showing of his film “Switch: A community in transition.” The documentary highlights people who are journeying with someone who has made a gender transition. Brooks is a good personal friend who was with us last March for our Service of Installation and is returning to have a conversation about transgender identity and the complex responses we may feel. I hope you will join us for this free event.
Third, Autumn Gold is back! Saturday, Nov. 17th we will be having our annual church service auction. This is a wonderful time of fellowship, celebration, food, and purchasing power that will support the work of the church. All are encouraged to attend, regardless of your ability to bid, and be with one another for good company and, hopefully, a few good laughs.
Music, identity, fellowship, and money are just three events coming this month. Of course there is more and there are details in this newsletter. Throughout it all, remember it is time to be gentle, show up when you can, and know that fall simply reminds us that change is consistent.
New Church Year
After a month away it is an absolute delight to be back this August and see you all again. In these first few weeks I have been energized by your continued leadership, involvement, commitment, and excitement for what might we might do together in this coming year. As we start up this church year I am thinking about two of my favorite themes of life: integration and creativity.
Integration is a theme I consistently return to from a variety of angles. Currently I am focused on the integration of ourselves, our church life, and our world. Specifically, I hope we can integrate many of the lessons we learned from last year's conversations - who you are, to whom do you belong, and how are you connected - as we deepen our understanding of a living faith this year. I also hope we will create avenues for membership integration; connecting newer members (1-5 years) with longer term members. Practically, we are all in the process of integrating new staff and programs. I also expect that we will continue to integrate new ideas that are fed by the passion and conviction of the community.
Creativity is a bubbling focus of mine. I am looking in the world for the ways in which we plant, cultivate, feed, focus, and unleash creativity within ourselves, in our church life, and in the world. Creativity is often thought of as a solo inspiration. Yet, more often it emerges from dialogues with a variety of people. Those dialogues grow our imaginations of what might be. Like integration, creativity is also feed by the passion and conviction of the community. It can be overwhelming because it calls us to the risk and work of trying, redoing, adjusting, mis-stepping, and flowing what we do together. Yet, when we foster a creative community we are also fostering belief that there is more joy to be had.
There is no better time to center on themes of integration and creativity as we celebrate our Centennial year. Yes, one hundred years ago, this coming April, our founders adopted our church charter. That makes this year an opportunity to create and integrate the 100 years before with the 100 years ahead throughout all our church ministries; Worship and Spiritual Practices, Lifespan Religious education, Fellowship and congregational Life, Social Justice and congregational Affairs, Building and Facilities, Administration and
In August we started our new church year with a wonderful water blessing. This September we will be focused on hospitality and how we bless one another by the sharing of ourselves. These months are a wonderful opportunity to begin the creative integration. I am inspired by our beautiful church community and excited about what we have started to be together. It is a thrill to be back! Happy 100 years!
Like the solar eclipse last month I am in awe of the grand beauty, joy, excitement, thought, concern, and sharing exchanged this church year. And, I'm breathless about the fact that it is winding down. Looking ahead I want to let you know a bit about what will be happening.
June is a transitional month. We move from our regular
Toward the end of June myself and over fifty members will be attending our General Assembly of Congregations in Phoenix, Arizona. This year is a historic GA for UU's because it will deepen our engagement, learning, and reflection with our relationship with social justice. For those not going to Arizona you can still engage with GA through three church events of live streaming.
As the summer progresses, I will be on vacation in July. I will be in Portland, OR visiting family and managing my house. I will also go to Pennsylvania to officiate a wedding of a very dear friend. Our new Lifespan Religious Education Director will be settling in here and getting to know our program. Our children will be engaged with Summer Fun Days and Backpack Project. And, our worship committee has lined up fantastic group of guest preachers. Each Sunday morning will be filled with wonderful messages and activities. In July, if you have a pastoral concern please contact Eduarda Diaz-Schwarzbach. She will be in contact with me and two area ministers who are available for urgent pastoral matters.
August 12th will be the startup of our next church year! When I was called it was made clear that the church wanted to begin the church year in August, rather than September. This was in response to how many people visit our church at this time looking for a community to settle into. Therefore it is a good time for the congregation to be in full operation. I understand this is a surprise for some people therefore this will also be an evolving change that we will take step by step. The religious education program will be back in full swing. The music program will have some special offerings. We will remain with one service at 10am throughout August. We return to two services on September 9th, 2012. Yet, our community gathering is August 12th. I'm already making plans...I hope you will be there.
Of course throughout the summer many other activities continue. Keep reading the advance for more news, updates, and announcements!
Thank you all for the energy and care you have brought to this great first year. I am looking forward to the experience of another year of memory making with you.
With Love and Faith,
Vibrant Community and Gratitude
There are all sorts of ways congregations grow. We grow in maturation which is in leadership, trust, and the ability to nurture and be nurtured. We grow in organization through the re-fashioning of processes and procedures to offer a dependable framework for human relationships. We have incarnational growth which is the ability to take meanings and values from the collective congregational
Evidence of this vibrant community growth is the leadership of Cheryl Kessler, our Acting Director of Lifespan Religious Education. Two years ago Cheryl bravely took up the director work during a difficult time of transition. She stabilized the religious education program, providing a safe and reliable place for our children and youth to grow. Her leadership emerged from the congregation and during the last few years it expanded in many beautiful ways.
Now, Cheryl has decided to move to her next leadership opportunity and chosen not to apply for the permanent LRE Director position here at UUCLB. This means that at the end of the congregation's year, in mid-June, she will be leaving the community for new horizons. Have no doubt; her leadership in our tradition will continue to expand wherever she may choose to go.
Let us be grateful for the time Cheryl has given UUCLB. We can be grateful for the care and love she offers our children and youth, for her administrative organizing, and of course for her growth of our "Our Whole Lives" (OWL) programming which has invigorated many of our members. Cheryl's leadership has maintained a program of spiritual practices, faith development, and social action while the congregation was in the midst of deep transitions. Therefore, as she makes this next transition in her career let us remember to thank her.
During the next three months Cheryl's time will be focused on building possibilities for our community to welcome and bond with a new LRE Director. As you know, the search process is already underway. There will be some summer time when the position is vacant. Yet plans and leadership from our Religious Education Committee and Naomi Yoshida, our Religious Education Assistant, are in place. An engaging summer youth program will continue with
I am grateful to Cheryl for her shepherding of the RE program during this last congregational transition. I'm confident her abilities will take her to new places of growth as she continues to serve our Unitarian Universalist faith. As we all grow we will be grappling with the joys and losses that come with it. Holding one another in love during these transitions allows us to contend with the development and growth of leadership. May we continue to do so.
Installation—A Minister Joins in the Shared Journey
On March 25th at 4 o’clock in the afternoon our community will gather for a service for installation.
During the last four months a wonderful, dedicated, and thoughtful committee of members have been planning the service, reception, and many details of this unique all congregational event and hosting many guests. We will be joined by religious professionals, clergy, friends, and family who come to witness and affirm the congregation’s call of ministry. Many have volunteered to help out. I hope you will be there.
As the date approaches I am thinking about what it means to be installed as a settled minister. The word install is a bit strange and reminds me of a couple months ago when I watched the television in our lounge be “installed” on the wall. The mount that could hang this appliance was amazing. But, I suspect the installation of a minister is a little different. At least I hope so because is rarely flattering to be compared to a flat screen TV.
So my reflection on this installation takes a turn toward the congregation’s sacred authority and responsibility to call a minister. This is a significant service in the life of a congregation as you make public the power of the congregation to ask a minister to join the gathered journey. Every Unitarian Universalist congregation must figure out how to seek wisdom and meaning, struggle for justice, build beloved community, and nurture a collective soul in their own way. Each congregation does that in a unique time, place, and partnership with the minister they call. In this time and space it is a particularly spectacular privilege and honor to be called to The Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach. A congregation that wants to love, wrestle with the edges of our lives, grow, think deeply, live with an open heart, and welcome the partnership of ministry. My heart is so deeply moved and passionate by what we can be together.
I am finding affirmation of this pending installation in all sorts of places. Including, last week during a church stewardship function I open a small piece of chocolate and on the inside of the wrapper was a little message that said, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” What a perfect reminder of something I knew to be true. There is nowhere else I want to be other than here joining our journey’s together in the next chapter of ministry; as ministry is all we do together. I look forward to exploring life’s hope, grief, love, forgiveness, and energy as we figure out how we want to seek wisdom and meaning, struggle for justice, build the beloved community, and nurture our collective souls.
I hope you will attend the service of installation on March 25th at 4pm. It is worth celebrating, and should be a pretty darn good party.
In faith, Reverend Mitra
Who We Are—Getting to Know You
Outside my home office there is a huge beautiful tree that I have gotten to know in thelast six months of living and working there. Its trunk rises strong with years of experience.Its branches reach out toward the expansion of space. Its individual leaves breath in hope for more life. Groupings of leaves offer comfort, company, and color. Itssize provides shelter from the elements. And once a month, when the moon is at itsfullest, it shimmers in glory.
During this time I am also getting to know our congregation and the parallels are profound.
You too rise strong with years of experience, reach out toward the expansion of space, breath in hope, offer comfort, company, and color, provide shelter from the world’s elements, and shimmer in the glory of being together. What a humbling honor it is to witness.
This year, as we get to know each other, I want to learn more about your experience in life and in the congregation.
Therefore, I am inviting you to attend an identity group gathering. With the assistance of Diane Julian, our Membership Coordinator, we are hosting eight gatherings with the hope to have conversation about the congregation and who you are.
Feb 9th, 2012. Thursday 7-9pm Parents (with children currently in your home) Gather.
March 1st, 2012. Thursday 7-9pm Calling all men!
April 5th, 2012: Thursday 7-9pm Women gather together!
April 8th, 2012: Sunday 12:30-2pm Emerging young adults (18-35).
April 17th, 2012: Tuesday 12-2pm Courage and power to those over 70 years of age.
May 6th, 2012: Sunday 12:30 -2pm Teenagers make the world go round!
May 10th, 2012: Thursday 7-9pm Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer people expand the capacity to love!
May 23rd, 2012: Wednesday 7-9pm People of Color Unite. (“People of color” can be a confusing term. You are encouraged to self-identify as a person of color. If you have questions please ask.)
Additionally, there are opportunities for the congregation to be together as a whole. I am particularly excited about three all congregational events in the next two months. I hope you also put them in your calendar so as a whole we can shimmer!
Feb. 18th, 2012 will be our Standing on the Side of Love Prom. A congregational dance for all people (straight, gay, couples, fantastic singles,….) who have a capacity for LOVE! Get dressed up in your creative and imaginative prom duds, bring your friends, family, neighbors, and let’s shimmer in the moonlight. We will also be building the scholarship fund for those attending our UU General Assembly in June. This will bemy first prom ever and I hope you will be there!
March 11th, 2012 we will be feeling good at our congregational stewardship luncheon after the second service. With food, fellowship, conversation, and live music we will be Giving until it Feels Good! Let us all support the larger work of the church with fun, laughter, and celebration!
March 25th, 2012 at 4pm we will honor the special relationship we are developing between settled minister and congregation in a traditional Installation Service. This is a singular opportunity to formalize the congregational call of my ministry. We will be joined by many ministers from the area as well as family and friends to witness your installation of your new congregational minister. All are encouraged to attend.
I hope you are all as inspired as I am as we reach out our branches and expand into the spaces of love, celebration, and of course the work of creating memories together!
January and "the new years"
New Year’s, Norouz, Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year, Samhain are just a few of the “new years” throughout a year. Any new year reminds us to look at who we are, treasure the good, and hope for the blossoming of who we want to be. During this time we both grieve those we miss and hope for what we love. We dedicate ourselves to life and re-commit to our dreams. We send good wishes of health, happiness and care to one another. Most importantly we reflect on and search for meaning that can be carried through time. Therefore, New Year’s is my kind of holiday!
This coming New Year, January 2012, I am reflecting on life in ministry, the people I have been in religious dialogue with over the years and the hope for building lasting relationships with this uniquely wonderful community. As I reflect I am filled with gratitude and joy for every aspect of life and particularly for starting 2012 here in Long Beach. What a wonderful time of year.
Looking forward there are many activities in the congregation that are bubbling like the fizz of a sparkling beverage. The creative hands arts group, Buddhist group, the film series, a variety of books discussion groups, interest groups such as the dream group and the mindful eating, the knitting hats for the homeless group and the guest chef volunteers are just a few of the ongoing events. One group that recently emerged is the young adult group and they are growing strong. They will be meeting January 8th and 22nd at 10am. Please encourage our young adults to check it out. This group has been long time in the making is a celebration of the whole community.
Another exciting event to be hosted here at UUCLB is a district workshop entitled “Shift Happens” on January 21st. This workshop will provide an opportunity for you to explore the frameworks by which we view our lives and how our stories can be used to build a diverse community. Our board has sponsored the congregation’s participation which means anyone may attend, at no personal cost. I encourage you to read more about it in the following pages (in the Advance available at the membership table or emailed to you) and to make the time to participate! It is a great way to get to know ourselves, each other, and other Unitarian Universalists in our district.
On the administrative side we are also fizzing with activity. We have begun to put together our search team for a permanent Lifespan Religious Education Director (LRED). The team is comprised of people nominated from the Religious Education Committee, Personnel Committee, the Committee on Ministry, and Congregational Minister/ Staff Supervisor. The members are Chris Crowley, Maureen Gonzales-Burris, Pat Marr, Steve Fuller, Phyllis Daniel and myself. In this new year the team will begin to work on a timeline, job description, and eventual hiring of our LRED. If you have any questions about the process please let me know.
All these things and so much more are keeping the congregation bubbling. I love to see the creative engagement in all areas. As we enter the conventional year 2012 together I wish us all not only a happy new year, but a year filled with continued excitement and of course gentle love.
Happy New Year!
Reverend Mitra Rahnema
December, 2011—You know you are in Southern California when, in December, you hear the clicking of flip-flops from people walking down the street! Even though the weather chills we do not wonder how we are going to make it through the cold. Rather we put on a sweater, and for some, those flip-flops, and we head outside. Days come and go and we can take pleasure in a balanced seasonal shift. Having balance is precious. When we have balance we can be open in heart and mind, enjoy the little things in life, and be present to an ever-changing world. Therefore in this seasonal shift I am thinking about balance.
It can be difficult during the holiday season. December is a time of celebration, complex family relationships, and often a long task list that includes decorations, gifts, and event planning. It can feel like a rush to keep up and it can be hard to keep balance. We might forget the things we value such as love before consumerism, or recycled before new, or joy before stress. Therefore, we must remind ourselves and one another to nurture our sense of balance.
We can nurture balance by finding moments in life that are yours and letting yourself get a little silly. It can be picking something you don't need to do and not doing it or pulling the car randomly over for a thirty second silent meditation, or starting a family conversation that encourages laughter such as sharing favorite jokes. Having a sense of balance does not have to be a major retreat from society or a dramatic shift. For me this December, I will have a smirk of personal joy every time I hear the click of a flip-flop walking in the neighborhood. Whenever I do I will be reminded of the balance of the season, and of life, and I will think about opening my heart and mind to joy. I hope you do too.
With love, Reverend Mitra Rahnema
Every time we gather in community I am reminded how privileged I am to be serving the congregation in ministry. At each gathering I learn a little more about your lives, questions, belief, hope, and character and I am amazed by who you are. This community is full with fantastic people who love, try, hope, and get involved! I am deeply humbled in your presence.
In October we came together for the “start-up” workshop lead by the Rev. Dr. Ken Brown, Pacific Southwest District Executive and we discussed our hopes for the congregation in the next five years. It was one of those powerful and invigorating experiences together. The ideas that we shared were compiled into four specific hopes for the community. They were:
It was wonderful to hear these ideas first hand from this thoughtful talented engaged community. I hold them in my mind as we move forward, take stock of who we are, and become more organized in our structure.
Thank you for your presence in this congregational conversation.
As November nears I am looking for more ways to be with the community. There are two events I want to highlight, each with very different purposes yet both are opportunities be together.
The first is a forum about General Assembly 2012 this June in Phoenix, AZ. The forum will be on November 13th at 12:30, after the service, and is hosted by the Justice GA Task Force. I will speak about this GA, how it came to be known as “Justice GA” and what to expect if you decide to attend. We want to bring 75 people to GA in June as well as have people commit support here at home. This forum is a chance to learn more about it and be in conversation with other people who will be attending.
The second event is the Autumn Gold Service Auction on November 19th at 6pm. Church auctions are a wonderfully fun and practical way to support the community while building relationships. I am looking forward to being with the congregation during this year’s festivities. You can read more about the auction on this web site. I hope to see you there.
Overall, I am filled with joy when I think of all the opportunities we will have in the future to be together. I am honored by your presence and look forward to connecting throughout this first year!
With gratitude and love,
Reverend Mitra Rahnema
Dear UUCLB Members and Friends,
October is here and the congregation is bubbling with the activity of fall. It is exciting to be amongst you. Recently, in a church committee meeting, the word integrity was lifted up. It resonated in my heart.
Integrity brings to my mind an image of a woven blanket strong and dedicated to the warmth and love it can offer. A blanket of integrity created by many individual stitches. Some stitches are exactly as we want while others might be too loose, too tight, or something else than we hoped for. In life, integrity is about our thoughts, words, and deeds unifying for a higher purpose. In community, individuals, committees, and events are the stitches. In any given moment, we too can be exactly as we hoped for and in other moments we are something else. Fortunately, the stitches combine to become a blanket just as moments and effort combined creates a life. If we are intentional it creates a community filled with integrity.
We, members and friends, whether you are someone who rarely comes to church or you come every day of the week, are the integrity of this community. In our thought, words, and deeds, we are the stitches of the whole. We are an inclusive, dedicated, vibrant community where our hearts are deepened, our minds are explored, and our faith is welcomed. And together, we create integrity.
One of the stitches of our collective integrity is to build a loving and vibrant relationship with each other; congregation and settled minister. This October 7th is an opportunity to do just that. From 7-9 pm, everyone is invited to participate in what is called a "start-up" workshop facilitated by our Unitarian Universalist Pacific Southwest District Executive Rev. Dr. Ken Brown. The workshop is a chance to talk about our visions and hopes as we, the congregation and myself, settle the ministry. It is a stitch in a lasting ministry of integrity. I hope you will come.
All members and friends are welcome to weave this start-up as we build a relationship and ministry with integrity. You can find out more about it in the
Hello UUCLB Members and Friends,
It is a thrill to be in Long Beach! For the past several months I have been packing, moving, cleaning, unpacking, and organizing a home and office. As I do I have to re-build a visceral knowledge of things like who, what, where, when, why and how. I find myself wandering buildings, rooms, hallways to take it all in; integrating place and being. During this process of integration I tend to notice small things such as the fresh smell of salty sea air, the rhythms of traffic, the shape and color of passing dogs, and the kiss of a warm sun on my back. These things add texture to the world during the task of learning who, what, where, when, why, and how in this place.
During the settling time I’m anticipating getting to know you and your ways of adding texture to the community. I think about and want to know who you are, how you spend your time, what you love, and where you find meaning. I want to hear from you about what makes you come alive and what makes your heart say YES!
This fall is an opportunity to say yes! Yes we can have a strong shared ministry, yes we can have clarity, yes we can trust one another, yes we cando it all in love!
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach has so much promise. Your promise is built on a long history, deeply dedicated members, many and varied resources, beautiful grounds, and a unique and vibrant spirit! This is your foundation, from which we will build a sturdy and zesty community. I am excited to begin this ministry with you.
We begin with the basics; unpacking, cleaning, and organizing. As we do let us all open our hearts, build a visceral knowledge of each other, and integrate our hopes and visions. Let us begin with a yes!
Past thoughts from our interim ministers:
Refreshed and Revitalized
July, 2011 — In 1966, the summer I turned 16, my father and I drove out West from Ohio. We ended up putting almost 10,000 miles on the car. It was a good way to learn—really learn—how to drive. And my dad was a good teacher with memorable anecdotes and several helpful, practical tips. But ten thousand miles is still ten thousand miles; by the time we made it to Southern California we were seriously getting on each other’s nerves. Dad pretty much let me set the course when it came to what scenic places we’d take in. My selections were mostly National Parks and the like, but I wanted to at least set my toe into Mexico—which we did. We were zooming down the San Diego Freeway en route there when Dad suddenly proposed taking a detour to the beach and going for a swim. I remember trying to dissuade him by reminding him that we had swum together in Florida. No, he said, that’s not the Pacific and it’s just not the same. Soon we were parking, putting on swimwear, and diving into the surf. Nearby young people were gathered around fire circles, singing and playing music. Others were walking along a pier. Waterfowl were squawking. The sun set. We gathered our towels, changed, and continued our way south.
Within two years my dad was dead. That unscripted evening swim somewhere near here (I’m not sure which beach it actually was) remains the single dearest memory I have of us together. It has guided and sustained me many times; metaphors about help finding one’s sea legs, learning to float, and enduring high seas all apply. Through various choppy intervals and in the face of dangerous undercurrents I’ve conjure it up and been strengthened by its memory: swimming together in the surf with my dad the summer of my 16th year.
Arriving here in Long Beach four and a half decades later I am amazed at how distant that earlier memory seems—almost a different life. And yet, oddly, I have been reminded almost daily, throughout my year here, of that earlier serendipitous swim. And it has nurtured me. As have all of you. It has been a refreshing, fun experience for me; invigorating and strengthening to my body, healing to my spirit.
Best wishes on your journey thenceforth. I know you will prosper and that you will become the religious home for many people who, like me, will be refreshed and revitalized by discovering this wonderful community.
Endings and Beginnings
June, 2011 — With the arrival of June my term of service here at UUCLB is drawing to an end; by mid July I'll be on my way to my next assignment: Interim Minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco. The San Francisco church is a somewhat bigger stage than I've played on heretofore. It's not much bigger numerically than Santa Monica, but it's a historic pulpit-the first Unitarian church west of St. Louis-and watched over, in a way, by denominational lights. It's also where I was an intern back in 1975 -'76: so it means coming full circle in a variety of ways.
Meanwhile, how has our work here fared? Interim ministry requires attending to the normal responsibilities of congregational ministry, including worship and pastoral care, while additionally focusing the congregation's attention on five particular tasks:
How well have we accomplished these tasks?
With respect to the first two tasks, honoring our congregation's history (including recognizing our shared griefs and our more nuanced and conflicted feelings about certain aspects of our history), I think we have done a lot. Reverend Forsey put together a revealing timeline, the Search Committee compiled a short narrative history of the church for its packet, and this winter we had a special service honoring the manifold contributions of our Minister Emerita, Reverend Marguerite Lovett, whose photographic portrait now hangs in a place of honor in Wylder Hall. I've also done what I could to write sermons that help UUCLB's members understand our congregation's and our movement's larger context and unique challenges throughout its ninety-eight years in Long Beach.
There have been some significant changes in how the staff and lay leaders interact. As Marguerite's predecessor was widely perceived as domineering, it happened that when she first arrived she stepped back from a strong ministerial presence on committees or in the day to day administration of the church. Other staff followed suit, which had the positive result of strong lay involvement and capacity. But the downside became a lack of day to day ministerial and other staff presence at 5450 East Atherton Street. With such a lovely facility it has been my pleasure to begin reversing the trend, coming into the church for regular office hours and spending time interacting with church and other staff members on the premises. I've also worked out with the Board and with Lola and Acting LRE Cheryl Kessler workable agreements regarding the division of responsibilities-most of which we deal with collaboratively.
I have been helped in my work by virtue of my regular conversations with PSWD District Executive Ken Brown and with staff members at the Transition Department at 25 Beacon Street in Boston. And I've been amazed at the extraordinarily talented members-many of them long term members-who are well connected denominationally. I was a little worried about this before my arrival, but it's turned out to be a 100% positive attribute of life here at UUCLB, in my opinion anyway.
Last weekend I attended the Pacific Southwest District Assembly: we had a full delegation of active, thoroughly engaged delegates; I was proud of us! This church is about as well-connected to denominational networks as any I have served and it shows. Plus you have new leaders coming up ready to follow the lead of those who have shown the way. Kudos!
Concerning the final goal, we had a successful canvass with a nearly 10% raise in pledges, the Search Committee has presented and the congregation has called a highly regarded promising Minister, Reverend Mitra Rahnema, and the congregational leadership is preparing for two retreats to help plan for an exciting future.
I think you have succeeded brilliantly! And I think your future is promising indeed. I'm proud to have been your Interim Minister this year and to have been part of the wonderful energy you have here-which has been very healthy for me to be a part of, and sends me off to San Francisco renewed and revitalized.
Thank you, all, very much.
Yours in faith,
Spring—Seeking the Miraculous under the Bed, in the Dusty Corners
May, 2011 — May is spring at its most striking, dramatic, and beautiful. As a youth back in Ohio, I always had three measures by which I marked the first signs, actual beginning, and final fact of spring. The first sign was Opening Day of the baseball season when we'd all get the afternoon off from school and, transistor radios pressed to our ears, would excitedly listen to the hometown nine with our fingers crossed, dreaming of the pennant. But the true beginning, announced every May first by my mother, was the laborious annual ritual of Spring Cleaning. She would look at me mercilessly, arms akimbo, and solemnly explain that there was lots to be done, and, further, that "we'd better start with your room!"
"Aw, Mom," I'd lamely protest, ‘It's not spring yet."
"Nor will it be until this mess is gone. So if you're thinking of going off and playing ball with your friends you'd better roll up your sleeves and get to work right now." Alas, there were to be no Saturday morning cartoons, sandlot games, or YMCA tomfoolery until a year's worth of accumulated debris was gone from underneath my bed, the windowsills, and the corners of my closet. "The spirit of warm weather is hiding under that junk somewhere", Mom would go on, "and it's up to us to set her free."
Later, when the work had been sullenly completed and my grandmother's garden down the street had once again come to blossom in all its bright, haphazard glory (the final fact), Mom would smile and remind me that I'd helped bring it about.
I didn't know it then (and perhaps she didn't either) but my mom rested on ancient tradition when she set me to finding the Lost Spirit of Spring and returning Her to Her rightful throne. Throughout the ancient Greek and Near Eastern world, as elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, this recurring story (as found in the myths of Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, Baal, Osiris, and others) was everywhere annually reenacted as the central drama of the season. The basic plotline in all of these mythic narratives is universal: the blight caused by the turning away of the sun-god from the then disappearing mother-goddess, and the various attempts of the people to bring them back together so that earthly warmth and fertility might be restored. "...and it's up to us to set her free...."
In light of modern scientific knowledge these ancient myths often appear a bit infantile. But maybe they're not so childish after all. For indeed, there does seem to be a real connection between our efforts to look for warmth and creativity in the world and our subsequent ability to see it when and where it emerges; between our willingness to seek the miraculous-under the bed, in the corners of a closet, or down the street-and our openness to recognize it in the beautiful, blossoming rebirth happening (always) AT EVERY HAND. Thanks, Mom....
In vernal veritas, Stephen
Healthy Church—What is Does it Look Like?
March, 2011 — Richard Gilbert, Minister Emeritus of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY, has written extensively about Unitarian Universalist church life. Dick has designed an image of a healthy church. It looks like this:
There are four components and that each aspect connects to each other aspect; i.e., each of the four dimensions touches the other three. Actually each of these four components rests on a fifth component: infrastructure. Infrastructure includes the building, the staff, enough financial resources, and a smoothly running organizational structure. UUCLB has this fifth component covered; your physical plant, your finances, your staff and your organizational structure are all good: a firm foundation. Not all congregations can attest to that; the leaders here at UUCLB are to be commended for the sound condition of your infrastructure.
Atop this foundation, the four other components—Worship and the Celebration of Life, Religious Education, Caring Community, and Ethical Reflection & Moral Action—are all connected. Worship and Celebration is in the center of Dick Gilbert’s image because Sunday morning services are the heart of congregational life: being part of what’s happening here requires attending Sunday services as regularly as possible. It is in Wylder Hall where we celebrate the rites and ceremonies, and hold up the virtues and shared ideals that make us a cohesive community, where we welcome new people and solemnly bid farewell to those who have died.
Religious Education is more than Sunday school alone; it’s what we teach. What we teach our children, surely, but also what we teach visitors and newcomers of every age, as well as what members of longstanding are likely to learn if they come along on an outing to de Benneville Pines or to District or General Assembly: our Seven Principles, our polity, our pride in courageous UU forebears, and more.
Any church worth its name has got to make room for Ethical Reflection and Moral Action: that’s what makes a community of faith different from non-religious organizations like Rotary, the Green Party, or the ASPCA. Pausing to consider how best to proceed with our values, integrity, and dignity intact: that’s what churches, synagogues, and mosques are set up to do. Within a Unitarian Universalist context, ethical reflection and moral action is often a nuanced calculation—but it’s also a passionate one and one that has led many to a deeper faith and a renewed passion for life.
Good churches, whatever their theology and whatever their political leanings, are always Caring Communities:
Yours in Faith,
Learning to Live with Less
February, 2011 — Life in Southern California is life with a limited amount of fresh water. Despite the heavy rains a week before Christmas, meteorologists are predicting dry weather through the rest of the season. Trace rainfall reminds us of how precious a resource water is and how vulnerable we are when it dries up. Scholars generally agree that the Southwest’s once flourishing Anasazi civilization collapsed in the face of a 500 year draught, one that subsided at about the time of the European conquest. We have been living in a period of abundant water ever since, made even less apparent by the world-class water delivery systems that turned California into America’s most popular state.
Viewed from outer space, the blue of the earth’s oceans marks ours “the water planet.” Poets have long sung praises to the waters of life. We have a natural affinity to water, as if we instinctively realize that without it life cannot exist. We enjoy its taste, its look running over rocks, the sounds of crashing waves or a babbling brook. We love swimming, boating, and soaking. None of a living cell’s intricate chemistry can function without water. About 4/5 of all animal bodies—human beings included—are water. Water is essential to digestion, blood circulation, metabolism, brain and muscle activity.
Life originated in the ocean and even now water is required to sustain it. No life can exist without water. A few species can get by with very little water, but none can survive for long without it. For people, that period is about three days—much less time than we can get by without food. So it’s not surprising that human settlements, including those of prehistoric and nomadic people, have been located near a source of fresh water.
Learning to live with less, and becoming faithful stewards of what we have, is the essence of ecology. These virtues are also at the heart of religion. Let us keep in mind the limitations of life, that we may live joyously and fruitfully within them.
The New Year—how can we be more loving, wholesome, fair, honest, kind?
January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of the doorway, who derived from ancient animism. Two-faced, he became the god of beginnings; hence, January. Janus looks backward to the year past and forward to that ahead. In the hope that the coming year is a good one we and our forebears have for generations made New Year’s resolutions: how can we be more loving, wholesome, fair, honest, kind? How can we more responsibly provide for our loved ones? More integrally impact our community, our nation, our planet? How can we be healthier? More genuine? More successful?
As we make personal resolutions so, sometimes, we make collective ones. How can UUCLB become more welcoming—to gays and lesbians, to more non-Europeans, and to a broader spectrum of the community? How can we be more loving and supportive to those of us already here? Better natured and fun loving? Can we be more widely known within the greater Long Beach area as a voice of progressive religion? (Do we even want to be?) Are we a faith of activists? Or are we, rather, a faith that affirms and encourages activism for those whose religious values are so inspired, but that also encourages other forms of spiritual practice.
As the most recent national election made clear, America’s progressive tradition is threatened. Our Unitarian Universalist faith has a historic connection and commitment to our country’s democratic institutions. Most of us—most people probably—have a tendency to reduce these institutions, in our minds, to civics book diagrams. And to reduce our democratic activity, in terms of commitment, to voting and making contributions. Democracy, however, is more than that. It’s bigger than that; it’s an organic, living passion for self-determination. And a willingness to share that passion.
The exact same insights that inspired our 17th and 18th century forebears to establish free churches like ours later informed our national mission, a mission most fully enshrined (it’s always seemed to me) in the Declaration of Independence. Later still—1787—many of those same insights became the foundation of our Constitution. But if liberal ‘city on a hill’ hope for a “more perfect union” is one engine driving America, commercial quest for profit has been another. From the beginning, American history has been driven by both: idealism and commerce. Historically, Unitarian Universalists have tended to embrace the spirit of both. When forced, however, to choose one over the other (as during the years immediately preceding and including the American Revolution and the Civil War) we’ve also tended to go with our idealism.
Of Janus, it is said that his temple in the Roman Forum faced both east and west; it was open in time of war and closed in time of peace. Needless to say, it would be open today. However one feels about the current global situation and our government’s determined, all-but-unilateral hand in shaping it, we can all agree, it seems to me, on a few things. First, we can agree that the democratic process is a good thing. And that maintaining it, sometimes, requires more than only voting and contributing funds. Democracy is never something that once established is secure. Democracy is always up for grabs. It’s always up to the current generation to insist on it. And make it happen. I believe the growing importance of the upcoming (2012) national election calls each of us, however we incline politically, to consider the critical issues confronting our country, to mobilize our personal connection to Unitarian Universalism’s tradition of religio-political idealism, and to participate.
We can also agree that democracy begins at home. We need to make strides to ensure that—throughout the coming year—our congregation is a place of care and kindness to everyone, whatever their particular political views. People don’t attend church because they’re looking for right-minded defenders—at least not in our tradition. They attend because they’re looking for a community of full hearted and open-minded would-be friends. Friends with whom we like to agree, but whom we like— better yet love—whether we agree with them or not.
Finally, we can agree that passion is a good thing. Tempered by our reason, our wholesome tradition, and our care for one another. Let 2011 be a wonderful year for each of you! And for our congregation!
Happy New Year, Stephen
Christmas–Symbol of hope in dark times
The celebration of Christmas has grown far beyond Christendom. Despite our country’s separation of church and state, it is among our oldest national holidays. Yet for many people its religious dimensions have been obscured, if not forsaken altogether.
The Christmas story, as described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is about the birth of Jesus: his humble delivery in a stable, watched over by animals, shepherds, and wise men; his mother’s unfailing love; the threat to his life from a maniacal local overlord. Everyone in our country,
Nevertheless, some Unitarian Universalists, not recognizing its mythic nature, reject the Christmas story. Usually it’s because they’re troubled by one central aspect: the so-called “virgin birth.” Rejecting the idea of any such supernatural possibility, these folks end up rejecting the Christmas story altogether. Which is unfortunate, it seems to me.
Unfortunate, first of all, because it’s such a beautiful symbol of hope in dark times. Second, because it’sso widely embraced, even among non-believers, those who reject the story completely often find themselves resenting the whole Christmas season. Admittedly, the commercialization of Christmas is distasteful. But its aesthetic and family traditions can be fun and restorative.
With respect to the virgin birth, remember: this is a myth. We need not—should not—accept it literally. If one thinks of Jesus as a symbol of unqualified love and goodness, it’s possible to understand the virgin birth also as symbol—for purity of heart. To this way of thinking, the virgin birth occurs whenever a purely loving, unselfish thought or feeling ushers forth from one’s heart.
In any case, and however one chooses to celebrate and understand the holiday itself, I wish all of you here in our congregational family a wonderful Christmas season. And a bountiful, loving new year!
Yours in faith,
Unitarian & Universalism–
November, 2010 — Unitarians and Universalists have always been heretics. Not because they’re rebellious, but because they want to choose their faith. Indeed, the word “heresy” derives from the Greek word for “choice” and during the first three hundred years of the Christian church, believers freely chose among a variety of views about who or what Jesus was. One view, which later became known as unitarian, believed that while Jesus was less than God, he was sent by God on a divine mission. They were unitarian (believing in the unity or oneness of God) as opposed to trin-itarian (who believed God manifested in three “persons”). Another religious choice in those years was in universal salvation: the belief that if, indeed, Jesus was the perfect expression of the divine (which they fully believed), then without doubt his life and teachings reveal a deity whose nature is flat-out incompatible with the idea of eternal torment. Thus universalists believed that all people would be or already were saved. Christianity lost its element of choice in 325 C.E. when the Nicene Creed established the Trinity as dogma. For centuries afterward those who professed unitarian or universalist views were persecuted.
Yours in faith,
Invitation to Become a Worship Associate
October, 2010 — One of the goals I have decided upon this coming year is revitalizing the Worship Associates program. UUCLB had a strong group of Worship Associates. It was former Ministerial Intern Denis Paul (who served here in 2007-2008 and now serving with the Faithful Fool Street Ministry in San Francisco) who nudged and cajoled the Worship Committee into starting the program, and before long there were several UUCLB members involved each Sunday, helping conduct services. I have worked with worship associates elsewhere and believe they’re very helpful when it comes to the design and execution of first rate worship.
If you have questions about becoming a Worship Associate, please call our Worship Committee Chair, Kate Taylor or me at the church, extension 112.
Yours in faith,
Returning From Down Under
September, 2010—Greetings! It is my great joy—and honor—to take up a new ministry with you this year. I am a sixth generation Unitarian Universalist, one of four children who grew up in the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland. I've served UU congregations from Hawaii to Maine, including lengthy pastorates in Santa Fe and suburban Pittsburgh and four interims, most recently in Santa Monica in 2009-1010. And I'm really excited about coming to serve in Long Beach!
I have had a busy summer, visiting my recently married 30-year old daughter, Meredith, at her and her husband Dan's home in Brisbane, Australia. It was my first trip abroad in nearly a quarter century and my first visit to Meredith since her nuptials--all very exciting. And all very fulfilling, too. She is thriving as a graduate student and young householder, and she's very happy. Her husband is a great guy, so all is well.
Following my return stateside I flew up to the Pacific NW, visited friends, and picked up my 17' camper (which stayed there last winter) which I then drove s-l-o-w-l-y south along highway 101. Now I am spending a lot of energy trying to land a suitable nearby apartment or small house so that I can live in your lovely community while having the pleasure of serving you.
Yours in faith, Stephen
Hearing a Different Voice
Covenant of Right Relations
March, 2010—When I think about the best course for UUCLB to take while navigating change, which is always difficult -- even when it is change for the good of the whole church, I am reminded of the fact that we all take in information that holds meaning and stays with us in various ways. I hope that we can approach issues before the congregation from perspectives that have potential for broadening the conversations that will carry UUCLB into the future. Some members will be satisfied with discussions and presentations, while others will benefit more from experiencing what is being discussed, and others will relate to stories and metaphors or reading texts that may seem indirectly related to the issue at hand, but carry a depth of meaning that offers the reader new insights and perhaps a shift in understanding. Film, music and other art forms also belong in this category.
Nothing is Permanent
February, 2010—I know that change is constant and that acceptance of change is a much better option than pretending it doesn't exist, or fighting the inevitable. However, I draw the line when it comes to change that is destructive, unnecessary and thoughtless. For example, I rented the studio apartment I am living in here in Long Beach for two reasons. One reason is that I can walk to work. The other was a huge olive tree that completely filled the three large windows in the main room. The tree made the apartment feel like a tree house. I loved it, and the birds it attracted.
Then one morning I woke up at 7:45 to the loud sound of saws. Three men were in the tree, sawing off limbs like there was no tomorrow. I dressed and rushed outside. The men seemed pleased that I had a real problem with what they were doing, and happily continued on. When they left there was not much beyond the butchered trunk and what remained of some larger limbs still standing. No leafs. Now my view is of garage roofs, a stucco hotel and the apartments across the lawn from mine. All ugly.
I know that this is trivial in comparison to the real problems so many people on this planet are dealing with — life or death kinds of problems. I sat on my sofa for a long time trying to figure out how to respond to this small problem that felt so big to me. Was it the way the tree now repulsed my aesthetic sensibilities? Was it the behavior of the three macho men? Was it feeling that, as a renter, I have no say in much of anything that goes on in the place where I live? Perhaps a little of all these things, along with a reminder that change will not always be easy, nor what I want.
Even though I managed to think it through, this event was unsettling. Change is certainly on the minds of members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach, and surely it is unsettling to anyone who has worked to make the church what it is today. There is a history to every inch of UUCLB, from the rose garden to the "structure" to Wylder Hall, to memories of those who have died, to talking about the future, to the beautiful setting — to everything. Every change, no matter how small, matters. Fortunately, the positive possibilities far outweigh the potential for negative change. You will find a settled minister who can lead you with vision and wisdom. The pledges from your first Capital Campaign appeal are coming in so that you will be able to begin with your plans. New members continue to sign the membership book. During these two years of transition, things will feel unsettled at times, but every change being made is with the good of the whole church in mind.
My olive tree demanded a response from me that called me back to remembering what is really important. In the meantime, I went to Target and bought some great curtains.
Love to you all,
Future of the Whole Church
January, 2010—Four months gone already! We have made some good progress. The Board of Trustees has been hard at work on many fronts, all focused on plans that will be beneficial to the future of the whole church.
Laughing Out Loud
November, 2009— I put myself through seminary mostly by going to events like The Renaissance Fair and selling my ceramics, something I had been doing for over ten years. I shared a studio in Berkeley with a woman who has the same sort of quirky sense of humor as I do. We both had been cranking out stoneware pots for years, but both of us were getting very bored with always knowing how our creations were going to look when we unloaded the kiln. Celadon, Ted's Red, Oatmeal, cobalt blue . . . they were just too predictable. We made our own glazes, so we were able to try for new colors, and sometimes they looked good enough to add to our repertoire. Still, it was all uninspired as far as we were concerned, and thus boring. But it was how we made our living.
Moving to Long Beach is like a homecoming to me. There are real beaches here. The sea air fires up my thoughts like no dry, hot, inland location could. People are friendly. Getting my utilities turned on did not require half-hour waits for the next customer representative. I was connected to human operators, not robots. My apartment is very small, but it has a giant olive tree that spans the three front windows. I can walk to work, and to Trader Joe's too. The church building is lovely, the minister's office is inviting and the ceiling of the sanctuary reminds me of a ship. Nave is the Latin word for "ship." The nave is where the congregation sits, as passengers on the ship. In ecclesiastical art the ship is sailing toward heaven, but my guess is that in a Unitarian Universalist church we might have a different take on that.