Guest In Your Pulpit - JD Stillwater

Guest in Your Pulpit

JD Stillwater is a past President and Trustee of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg (UCH); frequent speaker and preacher at UCH and other UU congregations in PA and nearby states; active in the UCH Music Ministry; Transition Team; father of UU minister Robin Stillwater (Union Theological class of 2018). As president of UCH, JD shepherded the congregation through the process of purchasing a second campus in inner-city Harrisburg. JD's Seven Candles work is encouraged and supported by UU living legends Connie Barlow, Michael Dowd, Peter Mayer, Jim Scott and Howard Dana. Videos of some sermons are available on JD’s YouTube channel.

Titles of programs/sermons and a brief statement of content on each:

  • Unraveling, COVID-19 and the Great Turning The COVID-19 pandemic is like an approaching wildfire. The fear many of us feel is already accompanied by grief, for dashed hopes and plans, livelihoods, and the anticipatory grief of more deaths from the disease. This time of pause is also an opportunity, a chance to create a new normal. Shall we try to return to the familiar course we were on just a few weeks ago? Or turn towards something that’s better, richer, simpler than what we’ve known. (can be updated)
  • Combustion Addiction: 12 Steps to Climate Recovery Our dependence on fossil fuels looks an awful lot like addiction. Could the 12 steps of AA and Al-Anon offer any helpful guidance as we seek a way out? If climate change is a moral/spiritual crisis, maybe a 12-step-style “spiritual awakening” can help.
  • Building A New Way: DIY JD describes lessons learned from his do-it-yourselfer father and grandfathers, and how those lessons might be applied to building a new way for our increasingly precarious global society. What kind of world do we want for our grandchildren, and for their grandchildren? Are we behaving accordingly? Building is not easy or comfortable—are we willing to do what it takes?
  • Science & Interconnection: A Message of Peace & Hope What would happen if we got out of our heads and took “the poetry of reality” to heart? The wondrous nature of reality revealed by science today offers meaning-making that speaks to our deepest selves. That process is inherently “spiritual,” and it parallels or exceeds the spirituality of traditional religions, but with one advantage: it is truly global and interfaith.
  • Fiddling While Rome Burns When the entire planet is engulfed in flames (climate change, nuclear arms, fascism, extinction, mass migration), isn’t full-time activism the only reasonable activity? Isn’t everything else a kind of indulgence? What if activism just isn’t your thing? What if your talents and passions lie in something like fiddling? JD shares his own wrestlings with this quandary, and where they have led him.
  • Mystery: Today's culture war pushes us to perceive spirituality and science as enemies, and holds up a false dichotomy between reason and mystery. The universe, as science reveals it, speaks only of transcendent unity, and holds up Mystery as both muse and ground of reason.

  • One Song: For millennia mystics and prophets have told us “All is one” and yet we feel ourselves surrounded by separation, antagonism, and isolation, plenty of reasons to conclude instead that “All is horribly splintered.” Recent advances from mainstream science reveal an underlying integrity, connectedness, and wholism in everything from human bodies to ecosystems to the fabric of space-time. Science agrees: “All is one." New findings from science offer an interfaith, non-dual spirituality, grounded in Reality itself.

  • Active love: An Antidote for Anthropocene Angst: That humans are having major impacts on the planet is now quite clear, and some of those impacts may be evident millions of years from now. Are we a cancer on the biosphere, a plague? Would it be better if we had remained blissfully in the Stone Age? Our angst about such matters may be no more helpful to building sustainable systems than is white guilt in forging racial justice. JD will somehow relate all of this to romantic relationships, parenting teenagers, Venn diagrams, and Joni Mitchell.
    How guilt about environmental destruction won't help build a sustainable society, but active love might, the kind of love we have for our teenagers when they're being especially obnoxious.

  • Befriending the Thief: (Ten- or twenty-minute versions) An exploration of both the loss and the grace offered by Death, and how science can help us make peace with it, especially if we remember the gifts it brings. Note: "Thief" was a one-time homily for my home church’s annual Service of Remembrance. It got such a favorable response, along the lines of “I can finally let go of my mom” that I plan to lengthen it, generalize it, and offer it more widely as a sermon.

  • Befriending the Thief; Remembering Mary Oliver: Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer-Prize winning poet revered by many UUs, died January 17, 2019. Mary was not one to deny or push off thoughts of her own mortality; death and loss were present in many of her works. In this service we join her in facing and embracing what will come, what IS coming, for each of us, while also remembering her and reveling in her powerful poetry.

  • This is Not My Beautiful House: One of our culture’s foundational myths is about ownership, security, and permanence. JD offers a bit of science, some personal experiences, and a Talking Heads song as puzzle pieces toward a new, more vulnerable humility.

  • Complementarity: Quantum Physics and the End of Dogma. Do you despise the question “What do you believe?” JD finally gets real about his own personal beliefs, and discovers a scientific approach towards a New Agnosticism, one that fully embraces the mysteries and ambiguities inherent in natural reality. Along the way we meet a cryptic cat, a famous psychic, a woman with a problem, and a religious organization for atheists. The exclamation “Poppycock!” also makes a cameo appearance.

  • Resurrection: Death, Science, and the Profound Meaning of Spring. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. Easter, whose name comes from the Pagan celebration of Ostara, celebrates spring within the Christian theology of resurrection and the defeat of death. What meaning might “resurrection” have for Non-theists? Science offers a springtime way of thinking about death and resurrection, one infused with hope, renewal, legacy, even rebirth.

Other Programs:

  • Seven Candles: Science for a Deeper Spirituality, my flagship multimedia presentation about the spirituality of science is great for both worship and RE, though it is nearly an hour long and replaces much of the traditional liturgical elements. UCH (PA), MainLine (PA), First Parish Concord (MA), and Marietta (OH) have all done this with good success. Other congregations prefer Seven Candles on Saturday evening, and a spinoff sermon the next morning for worship. All my talks are appropriate for RE from middle-school up. For younger kids, I can read my children's book about the Great Story and discuss other (non-science) origin stories.

Availability: Anytime within 3 hours of of Harrisburg, PA. Will go further in summer.

Fee arrangements: Home Hospitality for Saturday evening may be requested based on distance. Payment is whatever your congregation's standard fee for presenters is.

Contact: Email JD Stillwater at