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Sunday Morning Worship, General Assembly 2014

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General Assembly 2014 Event 504

Program Description

Join us for the largest annual gathering of Unitarian Universalists (UUs) joining in worship.

Calling upon his experiences in interfaith organizing, the Rev. Mark Stringer, minister of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, IA, considers what gets in the way of UUs being “a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere” and inspires us to more often be the religion that reaches out in love.

Rev. Stringer is a graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago and holds a Master of Arts degree from Bowling Green University. Along with his ministry to the First Unitarian congregation, he takes an active leadership role in local and regional organizations devoted to building community and promoting social justice.

During his six years as a board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, including two years as chair, he promoted the positive, healing role of religion in public life, defended the separation of church and state, and spoke on behalf of marriage as a civil right. In 2012, the Interfaith Alliance honored him with a "Faith and Freedom" award.

With special music by the GA Choir with director Mary Neumann, UU Church of Reading, MA, and the GA Band.

  • Gathering music and service hymns: Led by David Glasgow, GA Music Coordinator.
    • Vocalists: Erika Nielson, Elaine Romanelli, Sarah Jebian, Carrie MacDonald, and Wendell Werner
  • GA Choir: Conducted by Mary Neumann, Choir Director of UU Church of Reading, MA
  • GA Band: Directed by Shawn McCann, keyboard; Mark David Buckles, guitar; Dalton Harts, drums; Stuart Schulman, bass

Transcript

Pre-Service Singing

[SINGING]

SPEAKER 1: We gather each year as a powerful experience of corporate Unitarian Universalism. But let's remind one another that our faith doesn't happen because we gather together, it happens because love reaches out through us every single day.

DAVID GLASGOW: Sing with us. Where is our holy church?

[SINGING]

CARRIE MACDONALD: In the back of our silver hymnal is a tune with a scary title, but with a very simple text, and a tune that is one of the most recognizable in the world. Would you join with us in singing to Johann Pachelbel's famous melody, the Alleluia Chaconne?

SINGING]

DAVID GLASGOW: What key am I in, Sean? What is my first note, Sean? How much sleep have I had in the last six days, Sean? I have no idea what I'm doing at the moment.

[SINGING]

Did I make up for it just then?

[SINGING]

Have you heard the Spirit speaking this week? Have you? Have you been listening? Are you ready to take the love you feel in this room, and reach out with it? Are you ready to do, when the Spirit says do? I was just about to ask you to rise in body and spirit, but I think we got that covered. Let's start it from the top, y'all. You gotta do when the Spirit says do.

[SINGING]

Opening Words

The Rev. Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)

PETER MORALES: I know it's a lot to ask, but you can be seated. Welcome. Welcome to this celebration of our faith, a faith that challenges us to reach out in love, and to risk crossing new spiritual borders.

As President, one of my privileges is to choose the preacher for his service. And every year I ask colleagues for suggestions. And every year, the Reverend Mark Stringer's name comes up. Mark, you have won the respect and admiration of your colleagues for your ministry that embodies love and reaching out into the community.

And I also want to acknowledge and thank the GA Choir, a legion of them up here.

[APPLAUSE]

Under, as you will hear, the very capable direction of Mary Neumann.

[APPLAUSE]

It is good to be together today. Let us open our hearts. Let us draw inspiration and strength from one another. Come, let us worship together.

Chalice Lighting

The Rev. Darihun Khriam, Unitarian Union of Northeast India

DARIHUN KHRIAM: I light this chalice on behalf of the 10,000 Unitarians in the Khasi Hills of Northeast India, halfway around the world, but we value and share this faith with you.

In my ministry, I serve eight churches. And being the first among the Khasi women to be a minister, I travel to the churches.

[APPLAUSE]

To us, our religion is not only a Sunday worship, but what we live every day. Our children, our youth, and adults are taught to live a good and righteous life. Our faith also teaches us to live a life full of love, love which is unconditional in spite of the many differences we have, because we value each other.

We also value community. In the Khasi Hills, we have 33 Unitarian schools that provide secular education to over 3,000 children from many faiths. And we also run one orphanage to help children who mostly don't have any close relatives. We also have this self-help resource group, working for people in the village communities to uplift their livelihood.

As Unitarians, we also pledge to preserve the environment, because in India and beyond, much harm has been done to it.

And lighting the chalice reminds us of the connections we have with one another in our place, and around the world. It reminds us that life has to be a source of joy and inspiration to everyone. The light reminds us of the divine spark that shines within and outside us. May the chalice flame continue to shine brightly. Amen.

[APPLAUSE]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Hymn: “Wake Now My Senses” (Singing the Living Tradition 298)

CARRIE MACDONALD: If the words of our next hymn remind you of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. it may be because the hymn's author, Reverend Doctor Thomas Nicholson, is a noted scholar of King's theology and social ethics. Would you rise in body and/or in spirit and join us in singing.

[SINGING]

Welcome

The Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, Senior Minister, River Road UU Church, Bethesda, MD

NANCY MCDONALD LADD: I live just outside of our nation's capital, which means that I have the pleasure from time to time of driving down Embassy Row, past the flags of 100 nations, on my way to and from the heart of our democracy.

And one of the places that I pass all the time took on a whole new resonance this year, with the loss of Nelson Mandela. Now just over a year ago, not long before his death, the South African embassy unveiled a statue of Madiba, modeled on footage of his triumphant stride to freedom after 28 years of incarceration.

That statue, it shows him there with his hand upraised in an age-old gesture of defiance and of pride. His fist is closed. His eyes are bright. And on his face is an expression indicating that at any moment he may just break out in either protest or praise, or both at once.

His is resistance paired with joy, standing firm and reaching out all at the same time. Here we are, friends. Look around you. We are thousands strong. Here we have gathered, we who resist oppressions large and small. We who open ourselves to the act of shared transformation. We who seek partners always in the holy work that is ours.

Resistance, transformation, community-- these are the tools of the Spirit that we have been given to make this world more whole. These are the tools of the Spirit that change us, and that challenge us to grow so much braver than we already are.

Inspired by courage such as his, I invite you to rise in body, or in spirit, or in both, to join me. And when you are ready, I invite you to join me in raising that one arm high above you in pride and defiance, in praise and in protest. Feel the ages of resistance captured in this gesture, the power to stand unafraid.

And as you are able, open that fist. Bear a wide open palm to the space that surrounds you. In this equally ancient gesture, we show our willingness to be changed by everything we encounter, the freedom we all have, not only to resist, but to be transformed, to be open to the courage all around us.

And let your arms fall, knowing that while you are surrounded by companions, they will never fall far. Love reaches out, friends. So reach out for each other, hand in hand, arm in arm. Connected, we each find more courage than any of us could find alone.

And as you squeeze those hands next to you ever so gently-- nobody get crazy here-- carry those gestures with you in your heart. Resistance. Transformation. Community. With these forces, love actually triumphs. With these forces together, we will make it through. Amen.

[APPLAUSE]

Offertory Choral Anthem: “Hand In Hand"

MARY NEUMANN: The message of our anthem, Hand in Hand, by composer Rollo Dilworth, is simple yet powerful. Together through singing, talking, working, shouting, and even dancing, we can break down the walls that divide us, and lift up our call for unity. And just as the words we sing exhort us to sing and dance together, we have a part for you to sing.

Please join us as we reach the last part of the piece. And these are the words. Hand in hand, we can make it through. Hand in hand. Try singing that with us now.

[SINGING]

I'll turn to you, and cue you when your part to sing with us begins.

[SINGING]

Offering

PETER FRIEDRICHS: We can make it through, hand in hand in hand-- walking, talking, sometimes dancing, although our dancing might need a little work. But always singing. We reach out in love.

We reach out in love in Phoenix, Arizona. We reach out in love in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the steps of the Supreme Court, and here in Providence, Rhode Island. We reach out, hand in hand, across the globe, in the Khasi Hills of India, and many places in between.

In all these places, we stand on the side of love. We don't stand on the sidelines of love. We build beloved community. We help heal the wounds of hopelessness and despair.

We are blessed this year to be able to support two local organizations-- Housing First Rhode Island, a program of Riverwood Mental Health Services. Housing First Rhode Island serves the chronically homeless. In nine years, their 50-person pilot program has grown to operate 175 permanent housing units for more than 200 formerly homeless persons and families.

And McAuley House. McAuley House provides food, emergency assistance, and a sense of community to those who live with addiction, mental illness, and poverty. McAuley House serves hundreds of meals a day, in an atmosphere of love and respect.

Together, Housing First and McAuley House provide ongoing support, healing, and engagement through daily programs. I'm pleased to introduce to you today two Unitarian Universalists who lead these vital ministries. Please join me in welcoming Reverend Mary Margaret Earl, administrator for the McAuley House, and Dan Kubas-Meyer, executive director of Riverwood Mental Health Services.

[APPLAUSE]

MARY MARGARET EARL: Unitarian Universalism's first principle recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We recognize this, too, at McAuley House, where we provide meals, emergency help, and hospitality to all those who come to us.

We provide up to 45 breakfast meals, 300 hot lunches, and dozens of bag suppers daily. Many whom we serve are treated with disdain in the wider world. Some are homeless. Some are mentally ill. Some are struggling with addiction. Some have housing, but barely. Beyond the basics of clothing, medication, food, we provide a warm welcome and respect. What we give is not nearly so important as how we give it.

We also partner with Housing First for enrichment activities-- arts, crafts, life skills, healthy living classes-- to those who are homeless and may be waiting for the shelters to open in the evening, or those who now have housing but still need what we have to offer-- community, engagement, support, love. Thank you for reaching out today with love in support of this work.

[APPLAUSE]

DAN KUBAS-MEYER: Our second principle is justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. We recognize inequality and seek change. The Housing First program seeks that as well. We work with the chronically homeless-- people for whom there seems to be no way out of their predicament. Housing First gives them a chance.

Our pilot program gave housing to 50 people who had been homeless for, on average, more than seven years. No strings attached. Supportive services were offered, but not required. The results were stunning. Twelve months after entering the program, 87% were still housed. Three years later, 80% are still housed.

Lives have been put back together. Families reunited. Mental illness is treated. Human beings experiencing healing. And now we're serving hundreds. When simply given affordable housing, even the most disabled of the chronically homeless can make monumental strides for a better life. Thank you for reaching out in love to make that opportunity possible.

[APPLAUSE]

PETER FRIEDRICHS: All week long, we have been reaching out in love. Now it's time to reach in-- into your backpacks, into your wallets, into your checkbooks. Now is our opportunity to join Dan and Mary Margaret, and all those who support McAuley House and Housing First Rhode Island. Your gift to support their vital work of justice, compassion, healing, and hope will now be gratefully received. Please make checks payable to Riverwood Mental Health services.

Offertory Music: Improv based on “Hush” from Singing the Journey

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Excerpts from Beatitudes for Justice Builders by Lindi Ramsden

WENDEL WERNER: Blessed are we who live from a place of gratitude. We have seen the meaning of life in one another's faces and hearts. We know that however long or winding or journey may be, love will guide us on our way. Would you please rise in body or spirit, and sing along with us?

[SINGING]

Meditation

The Revs. Shana and Melora Lynngood, Co-ministers First Unitarian Church of Victoria, BC

MELORA LYNNGOOD: Please join us in a spirit of meditation and reflection. Breathe in, breathe out.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: We have all done it.

MELORA LYNNGOOD: Especially those of us who like to think of ourselves as intelligent, astute, well-informed.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: We criticize and judge, convinced that we know the right way.

MELORA LYNNGOOD: And sometimes we are right, especially when our object of critique is an injustice, an unfair law or system.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: We clench our fists, indignant, righteous.

MELORA LYNNGOOD: Take a moment to consider. In justice work, in life, what makes you clench your fists?

SHANA LYNNGOOD: Sometimes that response is justified, the clenched fists understandable, even appropriate.

MELORA LYNNGOOD: But if we remain in that pose, our posture rigid, our approach set, convinced of our own superior view--

SHANA LYNNGOOD: Then we miss the blessings--

MELORA LYNNGOOD: Steamroll right past the beatitudes.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: To experience spiritual transformation in justice-making and in life--

MELORA LYNNGOOD: We have to unclench our hands, open our fists.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: Hands open, letting go of the need to be right, the urge to point the finger of critique.

MELORA LYNNGOOD: Hands open signaling humility.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: Hands open, receptive to the love that can guide us.

MELORA LYNNGOOD: Hands open, ready to serve.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: Hands open to grasp the hands of others, joining across differences, finding their meaningful connection.

MELORA LYNNGOOD: Hands open like a toddler stumbling with arms akimbo, awkward but poised to explore and experience new possibilities, new insights, new growth.

SHANA LYNNGOOD: Take a moment to consider. If you were to open your hands, step into a more embracing stance than is usual for you, what blessings might you receive?

MELORA LYNNGOOD: May our hands open to the Spirit, give life the shape of justice.

Musical Response: “Spirit of Life”

[SINGING]

Readings

Nora Collins, First Parish in Brookline, MA, and Benen Elshakhs, UU Society, Manchester, CT

NORA COLLINS: Our first reading is from Reimagining the American Dream, an essay by Marilyn Sewell. I am intrigued by words often attributed to Rudolph Therou, an East German dissident. When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.

I think about us as Unitarian Universalists. This is who we are. We are not afraid to be insecure. We are not afraid to search, to go deeper, to find the truth, even when the truth is unpalatable. We are seekers who want to live out of that truth.

Unitarian Universalists, though few in number, can be the yeast in the loaf. However, let us be wary of the usual distractions and follies of our movement. It is grown-up time now. We can no longer prioritize petty quarrels about how religious our language should be, conflicts between the humanists and the more spiritually inclined, or squabbles about who is in charge.

The mission of the Church is not to meet our needs. The mission of the Church is to heal our world. It is to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves. Ironically, when we give of ourselves in this way, we find that our deepest needs are met.

[APPLAUSE]

BENEN ELSHAKHS: This second rating is by David White, entitled Working Together. We shape ourself to fit this world, and by the world are shaped again-- the visible and the invisible working together in common cause to produce the miraculous. I'm thinking of the way the intangible air, passed its speed around a shaped wing, easily holds our weight. So may we, in this life, trust to those elements we have yet to see or imagine, and look for the truth in the shape of our own self by forming it well, to the great intangibles about us.

[APPLAUSE]

[SINGING]

Sermon: “Be Ours a Religion”

Rev. Mark Stringer

MARK STRINGER: I'm chatting with a member of the Church I serve. The hymn, Be Ours a Religion comes up. A look of disgust crosses her face.

"I do not like that hymn," she says.

This is a member who is more engaged in the life of our congregation than most. She has a strong UU identity, and is active in the greater community. So I'm curious why she doesn't appreciate the sweeping call of this hymn that asks us to live our religion boldly, and to cross lines that divide us more frequently. What's not to like? I ask.

"It's so saccharine, " she said. "Be Ours a Religion, which like sunshine, goes everywhere. "

Do the origin of those words? I ask.

"Have you told us?" she countered.

So let it be known by all who have not yet been told, the words are from Theodore Parker, the 19th century Unitarian minister, abolitionist, reformer and activist, who preached the prophetic imperative as much as any other minister in our liberal religious history.

It was Parker, after all, who first spoke about the moral arc of the universe being long, but bending toward justice, words that have been echoed by many from Reverend Doctor King to President Obama.

When Parker proclaimed be ours a religion which like sunshine, goes everywhere, he was not preaching saccharine. And he was not being hippie-dippie, as another member recently described the hymn to me. He was encouraging us to let our religion infuse everything we do, so that we will better serve the common life that we share.

Be ours a religion which like sunshine, goes everywhere. Its temple, all space. Its shrine, the good heart. Its creed, all truth. Its ritual, works of love.

When I found Unitarian Universalism at the age of 29, I confess I didn't need its sunshine to go everywhere. I mostly just needed it to illuminate the possibilities of my own life. I'd spent most of the previous decade avoiding religion. I still held many of the values I had received growing up in Christian congregations-- the importance of loving my neighbor, the need for compassion, the necessity of forgiveness. But I had come to see that ideas about God held too tightly were often divisive and sometimes dangerous.

Could there be a religion that would leave space for believers and non-believers alike? A religion that would leave space for me? Well, I found that space in my first UU congregation, the Community Church of New York. I remember my first Sunday there, how moved I was by the banners representing world religions hanging throughout the sanctuary, how delighted I was by the evidence in the hymnal that theological diversity was welcomed.

Unitarian Universalism clicked with me. It clicked because I knew that I had the freedom to believe not on someone else's terms and with their terms, but on my own, with my own. And I knew that others had the same opportunity, and that it was better for us all that we were doing it together.

A year after walking into Community Church, I enrolled at Meadville Lombard Theological School . And these 13 years since graduating, I have served the church, where we have done much of what I was called to do. Together we have grown the presence of our religion in Des Moines. Together we have helped welcome hundreds of new UUs into our congregation. Together we have changed lives.

We've had to take some bold steps. We've had to let go of some of the old ways, ways that we're not helpful to our mission or welcoming to newcomers. We've made decisions so that ours could be a religion that could, like sunshine, go everywhere-- or at least go more places than it used to.

But I've come to understand that we have just begun to live what this religion really asks of us. And I'm guessing the same may be true in the congregations that you call home. We tell ourselves we want to be a religion for our time. But mostly, we play small. We self-deprecate. We make excuses for ourselves. We're just a tiny religion, we say, as if that's all we're called to be, satisfied with welcoming just a few members each year.

We shrink from taking risks, fearing that not everyone will agree, as if anything worth doing has ever received universal agreement. We quibble over logos and buildings, and which names for the holy belong in our services and which names don't. And our greatest stumbling block-- we say we promote religious freedom, yet too often we don't want to be in the company of people practicing faiths other than our own. I know that last one well, because I've lived it.

At the end of my first year of ministry, I was invited by a leader of AMOS, our local congregation-based community organizing effort, to attend a three-day training in the principles of organizing. At that time, no one from our church was participating with AMOS and its more than two dozen member congregations.

The first day of the training, I introduced myself as a Unitarian Universalist minister. One long-time AMOS leader, a respected Methodist colleague in town, ribbed me in front of everyone saying that UUs aren't sure why we are a religion. I tried to take his teasing in stride. He just didn't get it, I assured myself.

As the training continued, I learned what it means to be a citizen. I learned about the importance of public life. And I was reminded of the prophetic imperative, the call to live in service to the vision of beloved community of love and justice-- the call I recognized at the core of our UU principles and history.

I was also invited to pray, probably just a few times during the three days. But even that felt like a lot. I pushed back, telling the organizers, I'm not sure how this is going to go over with the congregation I serve. Do we have to pray so much?

These good people just looked at me funny, like I was a vegan expecting to be served in a steakhouse. I had to do some soul-searching. Mark, I thought, you can't claim to value religious freedom and crossing the theological lines that divide us, if you're going to be put off by other people practicing their religions. Can't you leave them some space? Why does this have to be about you?

At the end of the training, I had much to think about. Maybe my colleague, my Methodist colleague, was right after all. Maybe I, too, was one of those UUs who weren't sure why we were a religion.

I returned to the church agitated and inspired. The congregation had told me that they wanted to be more known in the community, that they wanted to be more active, more visible. I saw involvement in AMOS as a way to do that, so I started bringing members with me to actions and trainings. And each time we began or ended a meeting, we were invited to pray, usually by a Christian minister, who would use words like Heavenly Father, and include lines like, Lord, help us do your will.

I could see the discomfort in the faces of many of my friends. Afterwards, they would tell me how awkward they felt. I told them the same thing I had told myself. Give those of different faiths who share our interest in working for justice and building the beloved community the space to be who they are. This isn't about you. This isn't about us. This is about the work we are called to do.

Some couldn't get beyond hearing religious language that stirred up complicated emotions and past trauma. I understood. But many of us did not have to work quite so hard to stay, and so we did. More than a decade later, our congregation remains a vital, active member of AMOS.

We are no longer known in the community as the people who don't pray, or the people who aren't sure why we are a religion. We are known as the people who show up, the people who get things done.

Along with the member congregations of AMOS, we've contributed to improvements in our local justice and mental health care systems. We've challenged the institutions of the labor market to work for the underemployed. We've launched school mediation programs. We've expanded the charity care agreements of area hospitals.

But perhaps most importantly, we've learned how to focus more on growing our own faithful UU commitments than on being put off by the commitments of others. We have found that our works of love include staying in relationship with those we might otherwise avoid.

We have seen that when we live our UU faith in public with generosity and compassion, when we set aside our theological differences long enough to discover what we share, we can be difference-makers. We can be the yeast in the loaf.

Mark, that person is a member of your church? That person, too? Our AMOS partners have been shocked, not only by the talent and commitment that UUs bring to the table, but also by our influence. Our membership does not just include the grass roots. We often have the grass tops, too. We have not only those impacted by the decisions of the powerful, we have decision-makers as well. And with this privilege, even in our relatively small numbers, comes great responsibility.

When I've asked Unitarian Universalists around the country why their congregations are not members of their local interfaith organizing efforts like AMOS, I've heard lots of responses. Well, the local groups are too Christian. Or they're not diverse enough. Or intentionally anti-racist enough. Or they won't work on LGBT issues or reproductive rights. These differences can be challenging and painful. This, I know.

Still, I don't think they should keep us from the work that we can do together. We can't be the difference-makers our religion asks us to be, if we won't show up, if we won't leave space for others and respectfully add our voices to the mix. We can't be difference-makers if we won't generously engage with those who don't agree with us on all matters. We can't be difference-makers if we are only talking to ourselves.

I remember the first one-to-one meeting I had with a nondenominational Pentecostal pastor, whose congregation was just getting involved in AMOS. I anticipated he might not share my very public support of same-sex marriage, so I brought it up. I said, we may have different views on marriage equality, but that's not a subject that AMOS is working on right now, so I don't want it to come between us. He agreed, and so it hasn't.

Over the years since that first meeting, I have served on a team with him, along with pastors from Seventh-Day Adventist and African Methodist Episcopal congregations, building together from scratch a workforce development initiative that has helped nearly 100 Iowans move from dead-end jobs to living-wage careers.

Along the way, I have been humbled by how these pastors have put aside their differences with me to work toward the common good. How they have made their own compromises to stay at the table. How they have modeled, for me, what it means to be in community. Collaborating with them has actually strengthened my faith, because I have seen yet again how our different views of the holy matter less than what those views lead us to do.

My experiences with them remind me of something a church member shared not long after we joined AMOS. His words have stayed with me, because they echo the same discovery that many of us have made in this interfaith work for justice. He said, "I used to think that Christians were good people despite their faith. Now I know they are good people because of their faith."

But this isn't just about what we have learned. The members of other congregations and faith traditions in town have come to know much more about who we are as Unitarian Universalists, too. They can see ours is a religion committed to bringing about a better world. They can see that ours is a humble, open religion, less focused on a specific understanding of God or no God than on what we can do and become together.

This is the religion that clicked with me so many years ago, the religion that leaves space, that reaches out in love. This is the religion I believe we must be more often, if we are to stay relevant in a world where we can no longer afford to remain cloistered in the so-called comfort of like-minded people.

I know that some may be hesitant about participating in interfaith organizing, fearing that we may be distracted from acting on behalf of the causes for which we may not easily find partners. I understand that time is a limited resource. There's only so much a congregation can do.

However, I have found that my experiences with AMOS have led me to be bolder in my other justice commitments. My AMOS work has helped shape my public voice of faith, and taught me how to navigate the tension that comes when I don't know what to do, but I know that something must be done.

One example. After marriage equality had come to Iowa, I attended a subcommittee meeting at the Iowa State House on a proposed ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. In order to secure a seat in the small room where the meeting was scheduled, I arrived 90 minutes early, requiring me to sit for a nearly 90-minute long prayer meeting held by a nondenominational group.

I took my seat in a chair against the wall, along with some other marriage equality supporters who also wanted to be sure to have a seat for the meeting to follow. The dozen or so members of the group doing the praying sat at a big table in the middle, and traded off extemporaneous prayers for our legislators, for our country, for our state, for each other, for unborn children, confessing their love for all people and their desire that the meeting that would follow would be civil, and that all voices would be heard.

At one point, the state representative who was chairman of the subcommittee entered the room. It seemed the prayer group had invited him. They put their hands on him and they prayed. Then he shared his position that the people of Iowa should have the right to vote to take away the rights of others. Soon he left, and the group continued their prayers.

I remained silent, taking in the scene, thinking of my time in the room as an opportunity to meditate on the complicated humanity and inherent worth and dignity of my neighbors. Just past the one-hour mark, one of my fellow marriage equality activists leaned over to me and said, "Mark, I'll give you $5.00 if you offer a prayer."

I brushed off the offer at the time. I didn't think it was my place to invade their prayer meeting, when my theology was so clearly different. But just a few minutes later, after one of them offered a prayer for those perverting the Lord's sexual intentions, I couldn't help myself.

I broke a moment of silence with a prayer for all the couples I've had the privilege to marry. For their families. A prayer of celebration for them receiving the rights and benefits and equal treatment they have deserved for so long. I offered words of gratitude to live in a state where this is possible, and to be able to be at the state house that day in support. And I prayed that we could all be inspired and motivated by the spirit of love.

I didn't get that $5.00. Oh, but I got a lot more. Even with my friends beside me, I felt really alone in that prayer meeting until I was able to respectfully participate on behalf of my faith. I felt alone until I lived my religion, so that it could, like sunshine, go everywhere.

Did my prayer alter the thinking of the prayer group? Probably not. But it did change the energy of the room, and lift the spirits of those who were present on behalf of equality, including me.

Many years ago, a retired minister shared with me that her interfaith work in the community had saved her. At the time, I thought her testimony was a bit dramatic. I assumed maybe she had been frustrated with her congregation and just want to get away from them.

But I believe I now know what she meant. She was saved by her interfaith organizing and public witness, because it is the work through which we shape ourselves to fit this world, and by the world are shaped again. It is the work through which the visible and the invisible come together in common cause to produce the miraculous. It is the work that can save us, too, for it is the work through which we can give ourselves to something larger than ourselves, finding through this giving that our deepest needs are met.

So let's give ourselves more often to the possibilities of collaboration. Let's be witnesses for our faith in this troubled world. Let's put aside our discomfort with difference, taking the risk to work with those who are willing to work with us, and letting that work agitate and inspire and transform us.

Let's choose to be the religion we know we are called to be. The religion whose love reaches out. The religion which like sunshine, goes everywhere. Its temple, all space. Its shrine, the good heart. Its creed, all truth. Its ritual, works of love.

[APPLAUSE]

Hymn: “Come and Go with Me”

[SINGING]

DAVID GLASGOW: We need to go everywhere my friends, like sunshine. We are called to reach out in love, until all space is holy. Until all hearts are blessed. Until all truths are cherished. And until the work of love is our ritual day to day to day to day to day. Are you ready to work for that place? Are you ready to go? Let's sing it all together. There'll be freedom in that land.

[SINGING]

Benediction and Extinguishing the Chalice

Peter Morales

PETER MORALES: I invite you to take the hand of the person on either side of you. Feel, really feel the connections that bind us. We are one. One with each other. One with all humanity. One with all creation. May we go from here back to our communities across this land with a renewed commitment to make ours a religion that reaches out, that goes everywhere. And hand in hand, let us walk toward trouble together. And together we will get through. Go in peace. Go in love. Amen.

Postlude

[APPLAUSE]

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Last updated on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

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