Sunday Morning Worship: No Time for Casual Faith, General Assembly 2018
General Assembly 2018 Event 502
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is the ninth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). She has served as lead minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix from 2008 to 2017. She previously served as minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, Ohio, where she was a leader in congregation-based community organizing efforts, and served as intern at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, Tennessee. After leading the UU response to Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws in 2010, she became lead organizer for the Arizona Immigration Ministry and a key organizer of the 2012 Justice General Assembly. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Harvard Divinity School. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, and their nine-year-old son, Henry.
Anne Watson Born is honored to be the 2018 GA Choir Director this year. She is the Director of Music Ministry at the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Newton and is a Credentialed UU Music Leader. She is the chair of the UUA’s Music Leadership Certification Committee and is also the Lifelong Repertoire & Resources chair for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association.
Order of Service
Call to Worship
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
Introit: “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” Dolly Parton, arr. Craig HellaJohnson
Sarah Jebian, soloist
Story: “The Perfect Heart” adapted from Paulo Coehlo
Hymn: “Busca el Amor”
Reflection from Centering Rev. Natalie Fenimore
Testimony: “What breaks your heart?”
Rev. Natalie Fenimore
Choral Response: “Precious Lord” arr. Roland M. Carter
Amanda Thomas, soloist
Sermon: “No Time for a Casual Faith”
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
Offering Communities Creating Opportunity www.cco.org
Offertory Anthem “Wake Up, My Spirit”
Testimony: “Sources of Hope and Resiliency”
Hymn: “Life Calls Us On”
Kendyl Gibbons and Jason Shelton
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary. Unedited live captions (TXT) were created during the event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
Songleaders: Julie Enersen, Anne W-B, Beth Norton (violin), Francisco Ruiz, Sarah Jebian, Kenneth Griffith, Emily Jaworski, Leon Burke
“I Lift My Voice”
Words & Music: Andrea Ramsey
The composer Andrea Ramsey writes: “I was inspired by the line ‘with glad defiance in my throat, I pierce the darkness with a note’ from James Weldon Johnson’s poem, 'The Gift to Sing,' and I created this tune in hopes of acknowledging the power of music and the importance of community in pursuing justice and unity.” Let’s sing the Refrain of “I Lift My Voice” a couple of times together.
“Our World Is One World”
Words & Music: Cecily Taylor (1930 -)
The poet Cecily Taylor wrote the words and music to our next song, “Our World Is One World”, with this prophetic text: “the way we build our attitudes, with love or hate, we make a bridge or wall.”
“Danos un corazón”
Letra y música: Juan Antonio Espinosa, 1972
“Give us a heart strong enough to love and fight for the freedom of all peoples—for those struggling in search of the truth. Renew us to embrace all humanity, breaking down all barriers.” Let us sing “Danos un corazón.”
“The Tide Is Rising”
Shoshana Meira Friedman, Yotam Schachter
Rabbi Shoshana Friedman wrote our final song with Yotam Schachter, in 2015. We sing it today in affirmation of our call—to witness and act for justice in our society and in the world.
Call to Worship
Susan Frederick-Gray: If you are an immigrant, a refugee, undocumented,
you are welcome here.
If you are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Zorastrian, Buddhist,
a theist or an atheist,
you are welcome here.
If you are gay or straight,
if you are a woman or a man,
transgender or queer,
you are welcome here.
If you have a disability,
visible or invisible,
you are welcome here.
If you want for nothing or if you struggle each day make it through, you are welcome here.
If you are heartbroken, angry or afraid,
you are welcome here.
If you feel strong, powerful and ready you are welcome here.
If you hold a dream of peace and love alive in your heart
you are welcome here.
Whoever you are, you, your family,
your whole self is welcome here!
For this is a community of diversity and inclusion,
a community of love and justice.
And it is good to be together!
Susan Frederick-Gray: Precious ones, here we are, gathered in faith, in spirit, in song and story, in worship at the 2018 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly!
I welcome the Hasam Family (Khary Hasam, Khalil Hasam, Genevieve Hasam, Samir Hasam, Dawud Hasam, and Raegan Buatte) from All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City to light our chalice this morning.
"Good morning, my name is Khary, and I light this chalice for ..."our principle to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. “
May the cup of this chalice connect us to our history and those who came before and who struggled to bring the practice of our faith into the fullness of its theology of love, liberation and interdependence.
And may the flame of this chalice keep us attuned to the deepest calling of our faith. May its light remind us of the joy that is present in life, even in struggle—a joy that is the fullest expression of the liberated and loving soul of humanity.
Introit: “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”
GA Choir with Sarah Jebian, soloist (a capella)
Story: “The Perfect Heart,” adapted from Paulo Coehlo
Susan Frederick-Gray: [Slide #1] Once upon a time in a town not so different than this one, a young man walked through the middle of town proclaiming that he had a perfect heart, the most beautiful heart of anyone.
He began to gather people around him and explained that he would prove his claims by showing everyone his perfect heart. The townspeople gathered around wanting to see what this young man was up to. [Slide #2] And then through the magic that often happens in stories, a light shown in the man’s chest and all the townspeople could see his heart. And indeed, they were impressed. The young man’s heart had a strong, regular beat and there was not a mark or a flaw on it—it looked perfect.
As the crowd watched in amazement, a commotion started at the back of the gathering, and then the crowd began to part as an elderly woman—a grandmother—made her way to the front. She smiled at the young man and said my boy, indeed, you have a beautiful heart—but let me show you my heart. [Slide #3] And then through the magic of stories a light shown in the woman’s chest so all could see her heart. And the people were surprised.
The woman’s heart was beating strongly but full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in … but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. The woman explained Yours is perfect looking … but I would never trade with you. You see, in my heart every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of their heart to me. These are the empty gouges, giving love is taking a chance. And there are places where my heart has been broken and you can see the crevasses left by loss or betrayal. Where it is stitched up, there has been forgiveness, and other places forgiveness has not happened.
A perfect heart, the woman explain is one that has known love and loss, joy and sorrow, the perfect heart is one that has been shared. [Slide #4] And then through the magic of stories a light shown through the towns people and they were able to see one another’s beautiful hearts.
[Slide #5] The young man was so moved by what the grandmother shared that he took a piece from his own unblemished heart and gave it to the grandmother. In return, the grandmother took a piece of her own heart and placed it in the space left open by the young man’s sharing. The young man looked at his own heart, now more beautiful from the sharing and he felt the grandmother’s love flowing through his own.
[Slide #6] As you came into the service today, everyone was given a fabric heart. This is heart you are invited to share or exchange with another person, and opportunity for you to be mindful of what you carry in your own heart as we welcome both the joys and the sorrows of living into this time and space of worship.
Hymn: “Busca el Amor”
Francisco Ruiz: “Examine that heart of yours As you look for the love on your high shelf Past the pleasure and passion for your own self For the love that’s reaching someone else” Please rise in body or in spirit to sing “Busca el Amor.”
Reflection from Centering
Natalie Fenimore: I come to Unitarian Universalism from a testifying religious tradition, not a confessing tradition. I come from a tradition where you stand, in the midst of the people, and speak your pain out loud. You call the pain into the room, and everybody in the room is called to attend to it. That is what unity is. That is what church is. We are called to attend to each other the way that we really are, not our passing selves. “Church”—faith community—is about building places where we can process pain and struggle as well as love and celebration. This is “Strength-in-the-Valley” theology. Unitarian Universalism has long turned toward a “Mountaintop” theology. But you cannot really get to the mountaintop until you’ve been in the valley. You can’t just skip over the struggle. As an institution, Unitarian Universalism does Easter without Good Friday. So Unitarian Universalism struggles with how we, as a religious body, can build a structure for learning how to hold pain, and I think that one way Unitarian Universalism tries to do that quickly is to cheat and “steal” it from other people’s traditions. The harder and slower route is to be in relationship with communities who have been in the valley and to let them lead the climb to the mountaintop—to be in relationship with communities of color and the other communities that the dominate culture deems marginal.
There are things I’ve learned in the African-American religious community, things I hear from people in the Hispanic Catholic tradition, things I hear from the Muslim traditions, and from indigenous peoples of faith. This knowledge and experience can enrich Unitarian Universalism. When I am invited into Unitarian Universalism, when those from these other traditions are invited in, all that they have to offer must be invited in.
Video: “What breaks your heart?”
Natalie Fenimore: When what I have learned, experienced, and lived as a Black woman is not valued in my faith—when it is hard to feel heard it can break my heart. What breaks your heart? What breaks your heart?
Natalie Fenimore: Spirit of life and Divine Love, called by many names and no name. We call out to you and to one another to heal our broken hearts. We human beings are fragile creatures: our hearts broken and scared. Grief and pain and conflict separate us—one from the other.
We are crying out. Can we hear one another? Can we feel the pain of Black mothers whose sons are targeted for being Black sons, immigrant and refugee children separated from their parents, students fearful of gunfire in their schools, those suffering still in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean? What about those who cannot even safely drink the water from their taps?
May we hold ourselves accountable—because it is not just “these times” but all times—May we be held accountable to justice in all times.
May our ears open to hear each other’s voices. May our eyes perceive each other clearly. May our hearts enlarge to hold each other’s pain and joy. May our arms entwine in an embrace as we journey. We call out—we reach out our hands to you Spirit of Life - and to each other—Amen.
Choral Response: “Precious Lord”
GA Choir with Amanda Thomas, soloist (a capella)
Sermon: “No Time for a Casual Faith”
Susan Frederick-Gray: My Fellow Unitarian Universalists. It is a joy to be with you this morning. To be called together once again. This GA represents the completion of one year as your President—a role in which I was charged to not just be a leader but to also to be a pastor to our faith in these difficult and challenging times.
I want to begin by saying what an incredible honor it is to serve as your President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I have experienced this first year as one filled with gratitude—for it is an gift to serve our faith in this way. And it has been a time of enormous challenge, heartbreak and urgency.
A time where we are called to bear witness to so much pain, to acknowledge the past we are coming from, and to do the work that enables us to create a new story from where we are now.
Last August, just days after I arrived in Boston with my family, having packed up and moved from Phoenix, AZ, the call came for faith leaders to show up in Charlottesville, VA. Local faith leaders, including Unitarian Universalists, called others to join them in fortifying an effort to stop white supremacist violence descending on their town.
I didn’t hesitate because at its best our faith teaches us that the humanity of every single person is threatened when we let those who dehumanize others go unchallenged. And because I know that it is not enough to intellectually want to change the world, then shrink when that change calls us to take risks, to show up, to sacrifice to protect one another. It was important to show up and follow the challenging call of our faith to embodying a fierceness of love in the face of hate.
Being in Charlottesville was terrifying and traumatic. A number of Unitarian Universalists were injured on the streets that day and Heather Heyer was killed.
Even as the news cycle moves on with the day’s latest shock and tragedy, it matters that we not forget what happened in Charlottesville in August of 2017, for it revealed explicitly what is at stake in these times.
The violence and dehumanization that undergirds racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, anti-semitism, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia—were all on full display in that white supremacist rally. It made the power and renewed boldness of these movements in our nation undeniable. And it revealed the federal administration, the police, and the state’s complicity and protection of these movements. To be clear, this is not about individual police officers—people of dignity and worth—it is about the system of policing. Let me be specific about what I mean by complicity.
The night before the rally, white supremacists marched through the campus of the University of Virginia with fiery torches. They assaulted members of the Black Student Alliance and they marched on to the Presbyterian church where faith leaders were gathered in a peaceful interfaith prayer service. Throughout this the police were...nowhere. The police were similarly absent as men armed with long guns marched in front of the Charlottesville synagogue during services shouting hate-filled Nazi slogans at the faithful worshippers. In fact, the synagogue had specifically request police protection, but none showed up.
The next morning, the police again stood back, far from the crowds. We faith leaders stood face to face with well-armed white men, dressed in surplus military gear, long guns, and hundreds and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a right wing volunteer militia supposedly “policing” the event. And then, when dozens and dozens of white supremacists came marching down the street chanting and yelling with shields and helmets, wooden clubs and sticks, coming right at faith leaders and peaceful protesters—the police were nowhere to be seen.
It was terrifying to see that level of white nationalist violence, and terrifying to see it be completely unchecked by police. And I own how my shock reveals my own white privilege and the degree to which I assumed the police are in the business of protecting me, my body, my life. That is an assumption not everyone gets to make.
Let us just take a moment to reflect on the fact that the police largely stood down to give space for armed white men to carry out intimidation and violence throughout the community of Charlottesville—and compare this to the what happened in Ferguson, MO, when unarmed black people came out to streets to protest and mourn the killing of the young Michael Brown and were met with a militarized police force armed with tear gas and tanks.
This disparity brings into sharp relief the reality that Black Lives Matter organizers have been naming for years of the racism and broader system of white supremacy in our nation and its system of policing. This is not about individual officers, this is about a system of policing that has been set up to preserve order in a system that is fundamentally unequal, untenable, and oppressive, particularly against communities of color and the poor. In fact, as injustice, inequity and disparity grow in our country and globally, our nation’s investments in policing, jails, weapons and warfare all grow—seeking to protect profit motives over human lives and human dignity. It begs the question—would we need such investments in warfare, violence and militarism if we had justice and equity for all?
It was important to be in Charlottesville with UU’s from across the South and East—ministers and lay people—who came to support the local congregation, its leaders and be in solidarity and witness to the larger community. And your UUA was there in ways both visible and behind the scenes—providing communication support to the organizers and staying after for trauma response and pastoral care. This is one of the ways that we can hold each other as a collective faith in this time. I know from my previous ministry in Phoenix, and in the struggle for immigrant rights and combating the abuses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the power of the UUA and our shared faith when we show up for and with one another in times of crisis and turmoil and challenge.
And unfortunately, we are getting more and more opportunities where this is needed. Because, let’s be clear, it is not just about Charlottesville.
As a people—a people of faith—that say we are committed to justice, compassion, and equity. As a faith that says we are committed to the inherent worth and dignity of all people. As a faith that says we are committed to respect for the interdependent web of all life—we have a critical role to play in this time.
Two things that are absolutely clear. #1—This is no time for a casual commitment to your faith, your community, and your values, and
#2—this is not time to think we are in this alone.
This is no time for a casual faith. As Unitarian Universalists, we are first and foremost religious communities, religious communities that practice love as our foundation—and we are living in times of heartbreak, violence, struggle, and pain. In this time, we need communities that remind us of our humanity in this very inhumane time.
Fifty years ago, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was asking what it would take for we as a nation to turn away from the giant evils of racism, militarism and economic exploitation that infected so much of our society. He said it would take a kind of powerful, unconditional, overflowing goodwill for all people, a universal love for humanity. He called this kind of love, agape love and he said it could very well be the salvation of human civilization. King said of agape love that “it is the love of God operating in the human heart.” Even if you need to translate the theistic language, feel the power and the calling in this message. Agape love is “the love of God operating in the human heart.”
We need communities that teach us how to love with this fullness, this boldness, this courage, unconditionally in the midst of propaganda and politics that tell our hearts to be afraid. We need communities where we can bring our heartbreak—and the fullness of our pain and be reminded that we are not alone in this. We need communities of both courage and compassion, of resilience and resistance. And we need to nurture in our children this faith and these values.
We may not all be able to be on the streets in places like Charlottesville and Ferguson, but we all have a vital role to play—and we can all make a stronger commitment to nurture healthy, vital, radically inclusive, communities and the powerful practice of this faith that helps us build a courageous and fierce, embodied agape love that fosters what is best in us as human beings.
I know from talking with many of you that when UU’s witnessed what happened in Charlottesville, many turned to their congregations for healing and to hold the trauma from what we witnessed. But where we want to be a salve to the wounds of the world, we must also be a mirror to our role in their infliction.
My prayer for we as an association is that we answer both of those calls, to hold each other in times of pain and to hold each other to account, in acts of courageous love when we or our institutions contribute to harm. Ours has never been a monolithic faith and it does not have to be limited by the monocultural roots of its past.
The promise of our faith means liberating ourselves from the systems of dominance and exploitation we all suffer under. The promise of our faith means making compassion a way of being, it means creating a collective sense of both community and responsibility. It holds the vision of a yet to be realized future where our collective survival, our liberation, and a practice of the fullness of our theology is possible.
When we stepped into the streets in Charlottesville as faith leaders, we knew our safety could not be guaranteed nor expected. Our faith gave us strength, but it wasn’t just faith holding us.The other thing that gave us courage and strength was that we were not alone.
Friends, this is no time to go it alone—we as Unitarian Universalists can’t go it alone. We as individual congregations cannot be in this struggle alone. I was strengthened by the faith leaders who I stood with shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, on that line. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist—Siding with Love.
Now is the time to build stronger relationships across our faith deeper partnerships and commitment with those most impacted, on the frontlines of campaigns for liberation.
Theologically, our Universalism tells us that no one is outside the circle of love. However, we must understand that in our lives, in the context of oppression and discrimination, that the circle has never been drawn wider from the center. It has always grown wider because of the vision, leadership and organizing of people living on the margins who truly understand the limits and costs of oppressive policies—and what liberation means.
This time we are living in is one of tremendous opportunity and needed change—and the health and strength of our communities and our commitment to our values, to this theology of love and interdependence is crucial. I know this work is calling more from us, but I also know that we have been readying for it. And I know it will change us, but I also see that day when we will look back and see the measurable change in our hearts, in our communities, in our faith and in our society that were nurtured by our struggles and our courageous love today.
Now this change won’t come through optimistic hope or casual practice. It will take a greater commitment and generosity to communities that sustain courage, love, hope and resiliency. It will mean new ways of living our faith and reaching out more boldly, lovingly and faithfully with others for justice. And it will take each of us finding our work, our place—where our gifts help call something new—something life giving—into this world.
Thank you. To all of you—for the love you offer your own communities and for your commitment to our wider faith and the Unitarian Universalist Association. As your President, I look forward to this second year of building beloved community with you and with UUs all over this country and in partnership beyond Unitarian Universalism in the work of love and justice.
May the spiritual community that we practice strengthen all of our hearts, may it give us courage, may we not be silent or shrink back from the the demands of love. May we hold one another in love as we follow new pathways of joy, of community, of change, of risk and of joy. And may we all be held the practice of agape love that leads us to the liberation we all need—until all are free.
Emily Jaworski, GA Choir, GA Band
Intro Offering: Communities Creating Opportunity
I am (name) and I am a member of the (church name) and I am so excited to introduce you to leaders of the Communities Creating Opportunity! It is our great privilege as UU’s in Kansas City to partner with Communities Creating Opportunities and I am delighted that you all get to hear about and support their incredible work with your generosity.
Please welcome (names)!
“Wake Up, My Spirit”
GA Choir with piano
Testimony: Sources of Hope and Resiliency
Natalie Fenimore: This is no time for a casual faith. We must pull together the pieces of our broken hearts and expand our ability to love. Together we must seek higher ground. Together we can find the sources of life giving hope and resilience. In our faith, we can testify to the struggle for justice which gives us strength and power—and everlasting life.
Natalie Fenimore: The late theologian, James Cone, wrote that, “The passive acceptance of injustice is not the way of human beings.” And it is not the way of our Unitarian Universalist faith.
Our faith calls us to resilience. And to hope—not blind optimism but hope as an act of active struggle and commitment. Hope in the here and now—hope in what we can achieve together. Hope as resistance to injustice. Hope that calls us on—as Life calls us on.
Hymn: “Life Calls Us On”
Leon Burke, leader, GA Choir, GA Band, congregation
Susan Frederick-Gray: Friends, as we leave this sacred place today, let us remember to praise this gift of life, to wonder and marvel at its beauty, to kindle more joy and more song into our hearts and into our days. May we be led out in peace and may we give back love.
“Put a Little Love in Your Heart” (with “Love Train”)
GA Choir, GA Band, soloists