General Assembly 2008 Event 4038
Speakers: Rev. Jane Rzepka, Rev. Meg Barnhouse, Denny Davidoff, Rev. Keith Kron, Dan Kane, and Rev. Patty Franz.
Musicians: Beth Norton, Ruben Piirainan, Matt Meyer, Leon Burke, Sarah Dan Jones, Mary Neumann, and Kiya Heartwood.
More than 200 people gathered for the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) worship service, drawn together by rousing music led by Beth Norton: the traditional song "Guide My Feet," arranged by Rev. Jason Shelton, and the African-American spiritual "When the Spirit Says Do," arranged by Mark Freundt.
The mood became more thoughtful with the introit, "Now I Walk In Beauty," adapted from a traditional Navajo prayer and set to a haunting canon by Gregg Smith.
Rev. Jane Rzepka, senior minister of CLF, opened with words invoking the magic of the occasion (PDF), when "time measured by the hands of a clock is replaced by time measured by breaths." She welcomed us with the words: "What a magic trick it is to gather us here."
Rzepka described how Denny Davidoff, chair of CLF’s board of directors, has almost completed her term of office. Those gathered were invited to honor Davidoff by singing with enthusiasm her favorite hymn: "For All That Is Our Life."
In response, Davidoff affirmed that "serving for six years has made me very glad." She described how, in six years, the CLF has crossed a divide to embrace all the electronic gifts that technology has given us. "We have learned how to have marvelous congregations without walls," she said.
Rev. Keith Kron, director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns, presented CLF with a plaque to certify their new status as a Welcoming Congregation.
Sarah Dan Jones led the congregation in a virtual chalice lighting and in the chant, "When I breathe in, I'll breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I'll breathe out love," a piece she wrote following the 9/11 tragedy.
For the reading, Dan Kane and Rev. Patty Franz read "The Journey" from Dream Work by Mary Oliver.
There followed a song, "Chrysalis," composed and performed by Rev. Meg Barnhouse: "Change feels scary. Do butterflies worry? Does a rose get scared when its petals begin to loosen and unfurl? Does blossoming sometimes feel like falling apart?" The chorus: "Butterfly, you can try your bright wings/Let your colors fly/A chrysalis really is a fine thing/Until it's time to take the sky."
Rzepka led the congregation in the spirit of prayer or mediation (PDF), a time to pause and check in, a time to take a breath, get in touch with ourselves, return to ourselves, as we sit among those we know as kindred spirits.
The theme of the homilies to follow was introduced by a song, written and performed by Barnhouse: "Mango Thoughts in a Meatloaf Town."
The reading "The First One to Try," by Rzepka, described the first snow monkey in northern Japan to venture into hot springs. Barnhouse said she didn't know about Japanese monkeys but she does know the monkeys of her home town, so she described what the other monkeys said as they watched the first one who tried such a dangerous and delightful experience.
Moving to a more serious tone, she picked up on the chrysalis theme and connected it to the monkey's plunge into the hot springs. A cocoon is a really safe place, she said. You are just in there by yourself. But when you run out of food in there, you start to get hungry and you have to start tearing up the cocoon; you have to take the plunge. "It was this hunger that drove me to become a Unitarian Universalist," she told us. "Are you hungry for an authentic faith? Come on in, the water's fine!"
After an interlude anthem, "The Storm is Passing Over," performed by a star-studded cast of Unitarian Universalist musicians, Rzepka read Barnhouse's essay "Trying to be There." Rzepka described the recognition of beauty behind the story. This theme was echoed by a repeat of the introit: "Now I Walk In Beauty."
With her closing words, Rzepka urged "May we ever walk in beauty and in the midst of joy may we each shine."
The service closed with the rousing African-American spiritual, "This Little Light of Mine," arranged by Jason Shelton.
Reported by Mike McNaughton; edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley