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Church of the Larger Fellowship Worship Service, General Assembly 2009
General Assembly 2009 Event 2005
Presenters: Rev. Dr. Jane Rzepka, Rev. Dr. William Schulz. Sponsored by the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF).
Nearly 250 people gathered for the Church of the Larger Fellowship worship service, which opened with inspiring music. Sarah Dan Jones, Board Member of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (UUMN), led the congregation in two African American spirituals, "Guide My Feet" and "Come and Go With Me." Than a special ensemble, featuring the first graduates of Credentialed Music Leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), sang "We Are One," by Carolyn McDade.
The Rev. Dr. Jane Rzepka, senior minister for CLF, welcomed the congregants to our once-a-year "dose of church," and all present joined to sing "Gather the Spirit," by UU composer Jim Scott.
Rzepka welcomed those gathered in body, and those listening and watching from afar, in spirit, and shared an anecdote about growing up as a UU in another Mormon community, in Ohio. When her peers from the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) found out she was a UU, their reaction was envy—that her faith had such a short name!
Elka Carmen Ladd, facilitator of the Church of the Younger Fellowship (CYF), told about three recent CYF developments: a website update, to include social networking tools; the completion of the 1st year of a visioning process with the steering committee; and the arrival of CYF's new minister, Amber Beland, whom she welcomed in the hall.
Centering the congregation for the service, Jones lit a musical chalice for love, hope and peace, and led the group in "Meditation on Breathing." Rzepka read from Wendell Berry's 1988 essay, "Economy and Pleasure," on being greatly joyous at any mundane moment.
The Rev. Lynn Ungar, CLF Minister for Lifespan Learning, led a mediation based on an excerpt from american poet Adrienne Rich, and the ensemble sang "My Heart is Moved," by Carolyn McDade, with lyrics by Adrienne Rich. They were accompanied by Sarah Dan Jones on flute and Connie Jahrmarkt on violin.
Rzepka's homily pondered Rich's words, "to reconstitute the world." What are we UUs trying to accomplish when we gather? Promoting dignity is not enough. We must also know and share beauty, the pleasure of living life.
She asked if UUs are unique in this pursuit. She noted our presence in Salt Lake City, where the Mormon Church of Latter Day Saints is eager to claim same values. Rzepka grew up in the same Ohio town where Joseph Smith, the founder of LDS, grew up. LDS champions dignity, so aren't we just the same? No, she replied. What makes us unique is that UUs are also working for justice, and we don't have to confess our sins before we can celebrate beauty.
The congregation joined in singing "For All That is Our Life," a hymn with lyrics by British Unitarian minister Bruce Findlow.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Schulz introduced the anthem by providing some background on the legacy of labor in America. He spoke about the first strike led by female workers, which was met with a harsh response. The women had famously chanted, "We want bread, but we want roses too." James Oppenheim turned that line into his well-known poem, to ask for justice along with the beauty of life.
The ensemble gave a poignant rendition of this piece, paced and emphasized a steady beat from Sarah Dan Jones' hand drum. Schulz, a past UUA president and former head of Amnesty International, then shared a homily about finding beauty, based on a story from his work in international justice.
At a refuge camp in Darfur, where body and spirit quickly become downtrodden, he saw a bedraggled woman who wore a beautiful glass pendant. She explained through an interpreter, "It is me." "Though I am brute flesh," Schulz interpreted her statement to mean, "I retain a tiny hint of my humanity." Refugee camps are frightening places, he reminded us, because they don't affirm needs of the spirit. Just like the sweatshop workers who called for "bread and roses," we all want to know we have both dignity and beauty. Humans need more than base necessities, and it reminds those who would harm us that we have value.
But everyone has access to beauty- that's the connection between beauty and justice. The rich walk over the Pont Neuf; the poor sleep under it. From his seaside home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, overlooking the ocean, Schulz resolves to do all he can to see that all people have access to transforming grace.
The ensemble reprised the "Bread and Roses" anthem, and the Rev. Rzepka offered, as a benediction, "May the light of our values be in us and shining through us in all of our days."
The service closeed with a rousing rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," led by the Rev. Maddie Sifantus of the UU Church of Wakefield, MA. Sifantus is director emerita of the Golden Tones Elder Chorus, as well as acting director of MUSE, Inc., an organization for music service elders.
Reported by Toby Haber; edited by Bill Lewis.