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Synergy Bridging Worship: A Promise We Will Keep, General Assembly 2011
Worship with us, honor our bridging youth, and rejoice in our multigenerational relationships! Fifty years ago youth and young adults paved the way to consolidation. Celebrate the beginning of the next 50 years in spirit and song.
Led by Abhimanyu Janamanchi, Cathy Rion, and Nick Page.
Report from UU World
Prelude: “Down By the Riverside”
[Music by the General Assembly (GA) Band]
CATHY RION: Good evening. And welcome. Good evening, and welcome. My name is Cathy Rion. Welcome to the Synergy Bridging Worship. Welcome to this space made sacred by our presence. Where our youth will enter the next phase of their lives as Unitarian Universalists [UUs] in this beloved community. Starhawk writes, community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter, a circle of healing, a circle of friends, someplace where we can be free.
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: We gather as this Jewish Sabbath begins to worship and reconnect in spirit and truth. To rejoin within the eternal mystery. To reconfirm our covenant to seek wisdom and love. And to revitalize our commitment to the common good. Welcome to the Synergy Worship My name Abhimanju Janamanchi. And now, let us embark on this journey and guide each other across the bridge of the eternal.
ELISSA MCDAVID: Hello, I'm a Elissa McDavid. Some say that it is the youth of women's communities who first lit a flaming chalice. Taking the logo of the Unitarian Service Committee and bringing it to life by lighting chalices and worship in ritual. The practice then spread into our congregational life. And thus, represents so many of the rituals, traditions, and practices, in which our youth have led the way.
Tonight, we light our chalice honoring those who began this tradition generations ago and those who will carry our flame forward. The flaming chalice leads us into sacred space. May we celebrate the many flames that have come together to bring us here. May we rekindle the flame of commitment to our faith. May we all find comfort in the light of this chalice. As we pass the flame from generation to generation, let us commit to sustain one another and build a beloved community that radiates from this place into the world. These are the promises we strive to keep may the lives we led speak for us.
Hymn: “Let the Life I Lead Speak for Me”
NICK PAGE: Beautiful old hymn. Say this, let the life I lead speak for me.
AUDIENCE: Let the life I lead speak for me.
NICK PAGE: Let the life I lead speak for me.
AUDIENCE: Let the life I lead speak for me.
NICK PAGE: When I'm lying in my grave and there's nothing more to say.
AUDIENCE: When I'm lying in my grave and there's nothing more to say.
NICK PAGE: Let the life I lead speak for me.
AUDIENCE: Let the life I lead speak for me.
NICK PAGE: We have here a youth and young adult chorus. And they're going to sing it for us first. Just sopranos and altos. A please.
NICK PAGE: I want to thank our wind players. I understand one of you played with Louis Armstrong. Is that correct? Who was that? Played with Louis Armstrong.
Laying the Foundations: Pre-Merger
CATHY RION: Let the lives we lead speak for us. I became a UU, because I saw homegrown UU young adults leading their lives with integrity and passion, clearly alive and awake in the world. Tonight, we are here to recognize and honor youth who are bridging into adulthood. We are here to honor our Unitarian Universalist faith that is also coming of age. And we are here to honor that which came before. And that history that we here will make in the next fifty years. Each of you bridging tonight will cross a bridge that many have tried before. And yet, you will make new tracks.
Those tracks would not be possible if it weren't for the bridge builders who came ahead of you. Those who laid the foundations of our faith not fifty years ago, but generations and generations ago. The foundations of our faith lie deep within the ocean. They are not readily visible to us, but they form the pillars on which we build our movement. The lives we lead rests on the legacies of those who came before for generations and generations. Our foundations were laid by young people. Young people like Michael Servetus, who wrote his heretical critique of the Holy Trinity at the age of 20. How many of us here have written an incredible theological critique at 20? We can clap for that, that's okay,
Young people like Nobel Laureate Emily Greene Balch, who founded Boston's first settlement house at 25. And young people like African-American Unitarian and inventor Lewis Howard Latimer. Who worked alongside Alexander Graham Bell also in his 20s. While Latimer and Balch were inventing and working for peace in the late 1800s, Universalists and Unitarian young people began organizing. Laying the foundations of what would eventually become our youth movement today. They held conventions that opened up new worlds. They delved into deep spiritual waters together. They experimented with worship and community-building. They wrestled with the social issues of their day.
Eventually, the Universalists Young People's Christian Union and the Unitarian Young People's Religious Union evolved into the groups that decided to form Liberal Religious Youth in the early 1950s. Ten years before the UUA [Unitarian Universalist Association] was formed, our Unitarian and Universalist young people came together and formed LRY. Our young people lead the way. For twenty seven years LRY [Liberal Religious Youth] anchored our youth and built another strong piece of the bridge. And then in 1983, LRY transformed again into Young Religious Unitarian Universalists, YRUU. And the bridge's span grew into the bridge that we all have today. And that is still evolving.
Tonight, we come here to share stories of bridge building over the past generations. Much has changed. And yet, much remains the same. In the words of Charles Bolster, president of the Unitarian Young People's Group in the 1920s: "I believed, and still believe, that if young people can organize a group closely affiliated with a church, and if that group can assemble at monthly gatherings such activities strength and the life of the members and also the corporate life of the church. He continues, I know that my experiences locally and later in the national work meant a great deal to me and enriched my life as much as anything I did."  Let us enrich our lives by building on the foundations of generations before. Let us build this bridge of promises.
Anchoring: Liberal Religious Youth
BILL SINKFORD: So many of the Unitarian Universalist leaders of my generation found our faith, or formed our faith, in Liberal Religious Views, LRY. LRY was a spiritual anchor for us during the turbulent 1960s. The civil rights struggle was at an apex. And the Vietnam War was continuing its sad, and very maddening trajectory. By the end of my time in LRY, the sex, drugs, and rock and roll era had begun in earnest. And many LRYers were happy to be called hippies. LRY was the place many of us found support and religious grounding as we navigated both these major cultural shifts and the passage into adulthood. The world seemed open to every possibility we could dream. And we dreamt a lot. The evils of racism and militarism were clear to us. And even sexism had made it onto our screens in my last LRY years. We believed that we could create the beloved community in the world and especially in our faith.
In a youth culture that did not trust anyone over the age of 35, we found adults we could trust. We were the beginning of the baby boom generation. There were a lot of us. And we were going to create a better way. We tried to be the change we wanted to see. On my seven member executive committee when I served as continental LRY president in 1965, '66, three of us were African-American. The year before, a Native-American woman had been vice president. The year after, a Japanese-American man served. We believed that multiculturalism and racial diversity could be, and would be, the future of this faith. It was called for by our theology and needed to become central to our practice. We took it for granted. Many of us were disillusioned when we found that the adult UU experience was vastly different and hugely resistant to change. We were naive without a doubt. Perhaps idealistic is a better word. We sang. And we took seriously the words of the LRY hymn, "We Would Be One."
LEE BARKER: Everything seemed possible in 1967 after I attended my first Northstar Federation LRY conference. The spirit of camaraderie that encircled us was a circle of hope. The ideas we explored were aimed toward our hope. Our ideals were captured in workshop titles like, Say No to War and Yes to Life. Black power or civil rights, which side do you choose? We LRYers did not incubate our hopes on our own. In my case, they were instilled by my parents and our church. From the moment of my christening, the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis taught me that universalism is synonymous with justice and mercy for all. And remember my minister, John Cummins, would say in one way or another, there's no guarantee that it is to be. If there is any justice and mercy in the here and now, it was created by our forebearers. And if justice and mercy is to be widened, it will be because of our own human efforts. Held by that truth, and held by the love of my fellow LRYers, conferences were homecomings for the soul.
One winter night in 1969, I was listening to The Stone's "Let It Bleed." For optimum volume, I would lay my head on my desk between two portable stereo speakers. So my sister had to knock extra hard on my door that night. Lee, long distance. Long distance? We don't get long distance phone calls, they're way too expensive. Lee, it's Helen Marsh. Helen Marsh? Why would Helen Marsh, the president of our North Star Federation be calling me? I ran to the phone. She said words to me, Helen did, words that I barely believe still today. Lee, the nominating committee just met. And we want you to be the next president. This was from nowhere. I always thought of myself as a follower. I was content to be a follower. Why me, I asked? Shouldn't I serve on some committee or something first? You know, prove myself capable? Which I did not believe I was, incidentally. You're ready, Helen said. So this is how youth empowerment worked. My peers saw something in me that I did not see and then forced me to see it. I started to link it up. My Universalism taught me to preserve and widen justice and mercy. LRY was my community of justice and mercy. So when nominated, I had no choice, but to accept even if it required me to stretch way beyond myself. I was elected. I served. Throughout, I fought feelings of inadequacy. But I did the best job that I could. And I got a taste of what it was like to be a leader to a religious community. True, it was about transforming the world, but it was also about the transformation of this high school kid, who began to find his very own place in serving the god of hope in the world.
Over the Christmas holiday that year, I attended a regional LRY conference at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago. Coming and going I noticed that across the street, there was a Unitarian Universalist Seminary, Meadville Lombard Theological School. A thought entered my head. Hm, I wonder what it would be like to be a student at that school. Several years later, I wondered no more. Today I serve as president of that school. LRY was about the transformation of a high school kid finding his place in the world.
Spanning: Young Religious Unitarian Universalists
BETTY JEAN RUETERS WARD: Good evening. My name is Betty Jeanne Rueters Ward. Young Religious Unitarian Universalists, YRUU. A precious space that held us in the transformation and the turbulence the fierceness and fragility of our adolescents. For thousands of us spanning multiple decades, YRUU was a salvational experience. YRUU saved us from the despair we felt about the brokenness of the world. YRUU saved us from the pain and struggle from the isolation that we experienced at school, at home, in our neighborhoods, in our own bodies, even in our congregation. Here we built a meaningful friendships that have delved deeper and lasted longer than most in our lives. In YRUU, we were empowered to grow, learn, love, and relate to each other to live into our deepest humanity. YRUU was a beloved community in which youth and adults worshiped together in creative, emotional, and revelatory ways. Be it in church basements at midnight, in forests at twilight, or in a parking lot at dawn. YRUU taught us that practicing one's faith cannot and must not be contained within the walls of a congregation or a Sunday morning.
From our ancestors in Unitarian and Universalist Youth movements, we inherited a bolt of legacy of authentic youth leadership. From our adult advisers, we receive brave and generous support for true youth empowerment. YRUU birthed me and birthed so many as religious leaders, as community organizers. Not only in our own congregations, but as part of an international movement. A movement in which we made radical social action one of our deepest spiritual practices. YRUU with a laboratory for living our values. Inviting us again and again to bring our passion and our leadership to create a more just, sustainable, and loving world. Through YRUU, we learned that love and that faith are not just concepts. They are actions. Through YRUU, we learned that we did not just need a faith that is liberal. We needed a faith that is revolutionary.
YRUU are you here tonight? As you can hear today, many of us are professional leaders and active volunteers in our congregations. And most of us are not. Some of us haven't been to church in a long time. Some of us may never return. Some of us feel as if we've been raised to be too radical for our own congregations. But make no mistake. No matter our formal involvement, we are not lapsed Unitarian Universalists. We have not lost or left this faith. Unitarian Universalism pulses through our veins. As it has since we learned to speak, or ride a bicycle, or fall in love. Unitarian Universalism informs how we build our relationships. It informs how we make meaning of our lives. And it informs how we commit our gifts to the common good. Unitarian Universalism lit in us a fire of commitment that still shines brightly wherever and however we practice our faith.
Now some of us, young religious Unitarian Universalists, whether here or elsewhere, carry with us wounds of broken promises. Too many of us question whether we are in fact welcome in this, the faith that we were raised in. Too many of us question whether the promises to the next generations will in fact be kept. Too many of us wonder whether youth movements will in fact thrive again. May we grieve and may we reconcile the promises that have been broken. May we all come together and commit anew to building youth movements that honor the wisdom and leadership of those raised Unitarian Universalist. May we do this work together. May we keep that promise. To the youth and to the children among us, we who were so blessed by YRUU are here for you. We are ready to be your adult allies, your advisers, your advocates, and your friends. Not because you are without a doubt the future of this faith, but because you are and have always been its present. Amen.
Musical Response: “Promise of the Children”
NICK PAGE: Unitarian Universalism has changed a lot since I was an LRY. But one thing remains the same, the dreams of the children. We are all the children. The dreams, the hopes, the promise of the children live on.
Connecting: The Next 50 Years
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: Thank you, Nick. So here we are, the youth and young adults who walked before us lay down the foundations and forged a path upon which we tread with respect and love. We stand humbly on their shoulders looking into an uncertain, yet hope-filled future. This bridge is more than just a rite of passage that connects one phase of life to another. It is also a vital link between the past, the present, and future. A link that unifies our multi-generational faith as a beloved community of spirit, justice, and love. However, we will not have arrived once we cross this bridge. When I hear people say that youth and young adults are our future, I want to say no. We are not the future, we are the present as well. For if we are not active and engaged in the present, there won't be a future. The ones who we revere as elders today were once used in youth and young adults who stuck it out, or who came back, because here is where they felt at home. Here in this human and humane faith is where we belong. We need to stick it out. To stay engaged, we must step up to the plate and seize the opportunities that are presented to us to grow deeper in our understanding of who we are to serve our faith movement. And to help it grow and flourish. We must both be humble and proud in the recognition that our presence and participation adds to the beauty, depth, richness, and diversity of Unitarian Universalism.
Yet we find ourselves now caught in the interest is he's between the past and the future. We are still struggling to find and claim our place within this movement. We're trying to create and recreate rituals that help us find meaning, connection, and community in this speed-addicted, attention deficient, Twittering, and downloadable world of ours. Fifty years from now, I don't want our youth and young adults to face the same problems that we encounter today. The isolation, alienation, and general disconnect that many of us feel needs to be eliminated if we are to be true to who we are as an inclusive and welcoming faith. One of my hopes for the future is that we will work together with intentionality to bridge the gap between youth, young adults, and adults. And with renewed passion to help our faith become more intergenerational and inclusive. A place where youth and young adults feel welcome and empowered to live lives of hope, integrity, and service.
My friends, this is the promise we are called to keep. May it be so. These stories, memories, and future aspirations have helped us build a symbolic bridge connecting the past, present, and future. May we embark on our journey across the bridge with the bridging ritual. This uniquely UU tradition that began back in the late 1990s to mark an honor the passage of our youth into the next phase of their spiritual journey as young adults. And the bridging song we're about to sing is an important part of the sacred ritual.
“Take My Hand” (The Bridging Song)
[By Jennifer Hazel]
NICK PAGE: The words are simple. Each verse has one phrase. Say this, take my hand. That's verse one Verse two, fill my heart and I will call out each verse. And this has been a tradition for bridging. And it's a beautiful song by Jennifer Hazel with additional words by Erica Hewitt. And this year I've added some Spanish words. For give me your hand, say this, dame tu mano. Fill my heart. We're going to abbreviate that to just do, my heart. Say this, mi corazon. I'm going to ask the young people to sing it through once.
The Bridging Ceremony
CATHY RION: Now let the bridging begin. Please hold your applause until all of the bridgers have gone. Let us now make space for this year's bridgers.
[AUDIENCE]: My name's Diana Beebee and I'm from the Goodland Goodwill Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
I'm Cecilia Campbell from the Unitarian Universalists in the Church of Arlington.
My name is Emily Dumont from the Unitarian Universalists Church of San Mateo and the first Unitarian Church of San Jose.
Joe [? Gaiesgue, ?] Unitarian Society of New Haven.
[? Kaitlin Harre, ?] Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida.
My name is Sara Harris and I'm from the Green Will Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
I'm Jack Miller. I'm from the First UU church in Richmond.
My name is [? Onica Win Nichols Pain ?] and I hail from First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
I'm [? Ian Phillips ?] from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville in Gainesville, Florida.
[? Lucian Pulshack ?] from the First Unitarian Universalist Fellowship from Gainesville, Florida.
I'm [? Shaun Rangland, ?] First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, Virginia.
My name is Victoria [? Seibow ?] and I'm from the UU Congregation of Princeton, New Jersey.
I'm Lucy Smith and I'm from the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Fairfax.
Alex Snow, First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Texas.
I'm Catherine Turner from the Unitarian Universalists Fellowship of Gainesville.
I'm Annie Vouge from the First Universalist Church of [? Yarmithlee. ?]
I'm Hannah [? Ballbret ?] from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames, Iowa.
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: Let's give them all a round of applause.
NICK PAGE: Mi corazon.
Charge & Litany
CAREY MCDONALD: This may be one of the best things we do as Unitarian Universalists. My name is Kerry McDonald. I'm a seventh generation UU who has stood where you now stand and has felt the swelling sense of possibility that perhaps you now feel. That has looked beyond the bridge here today. But I assume my role as the UUA's director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries this August, I will carry this moment with me as a reminder of the joyous work before us together. This may be the first, but maybe not, of many bridges you will come to in your life. The waters flowing below can be unknown and treacherous. But the foundation of our bridge is strong and can hold you well. It is built on a rich tradition on youth leadership that spans over a century in the Unitarian and Universalist faiths as you have heard here today. It is rooted in a millennia of liberal religion dedicated to making a world filled with more love and more justice. Know that with each step across that span we walk with you.
As someone who has navigated the path before, I can tell you, you are not alone. Even when it may seem that way. And I hope that the experience of this unconditional support of the firm structure beneath your feet is not new to you. I hope it has been communicated in every word and action of this faith community.
What we haven't always told you is how much we need you in return. So many UUs come as adults seeking refuge from the faith of their childhood. Or looking for a religious community for the first time. But you have been seeped into UU identity and values. You feel it in your bones. And we see how you live those values every single day. When we look at you we see a vision of the world transformed. As youth, you show our movement the way forward not just speak as of who you will become in the future, but because of who you are now.
Before the merger in 1961, it was youth who blazed the trail, yes, demonstrating we could be with the creation of liberal religious youth in 1954. Youth commitment has been critical for raising the profile of issues like anti-racism and keeping those issues at the forefront of our faith. That is why our presence today may be one of the best things we do as you youths. There is no greater investment in changing our world than in empowering you to go out and change it. In that spirit, I charge you to make that promise to turn your hand, your thoughts, and your life toward making the world out there look a little more like the incredible beloved community in here. Together, we make that promise to turn again and again toward good and toward each other. Knowing that we are human and fallible and that it can never be enough, but still it is enough at the same time. May you find grace in that promise and that path. For the journey is long and the road is hard, but we will travel it together with our great flame lighting the way. Congratulations.
Blessing to Bridgers
CATHY RION: We honor our bridgers tonight and also each other. Let us take a moment to reflect on the bridge we have built. That these bridgers crossed tonight. I invite you into a moment of silence to reflect on the learnings of our past and your hopes for the future. What is the promise you are called to keep? Amen.
Now let us bless these hopes and dreams and promises. I will teach you a blessing now using our arms. Feel free to adapt it so it works for your body. First, let us bring our hands to our heart center, bowing to the beauty within. Then raise one hand, remembering the learning from the past. And the other holding hopes for the future. Bring our arms down at remembering we are connected in the community, and forward in blessing. Bow to beauty, remembering the past. Hoping for the future. Connecting, blessing, beauty, past, future, connecting, blessing. Let us now rise and offer this blessing to the bridgers tonight. Bowing to beauty.
Hymn: “Love Will Guide Us”
[Words by Sally Rogers, Music Traditional]
NICK PAGE: Love Will Guide Us.
CATHY RION: Amen.
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: Please be seated. We depend on love to guide us to keep the promise. To stay true to the spirit of the incredible youth movements that came before. To invest in the young people who we raise in this beautiful faith. Together, we can build a powerful, relevant, and multi-generational religion for our time. As we close our time together, let us pause for a moment of silence, as the flame of our chalice is extinguished and it's light, is passed through the generations once more.
Extinguishing the Chalice
CATHY RION: Please rise. Embody your spirit for our benediction. As you do so, I invite you to reach out and touch the hand or shoulder of those near you. For we are all connected. Leave with courage to cross the bridges that come your way.
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: Leave trusting the strength of love within.
CATHY RION: Go in peace.
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: Go making peace.
CATHY RION: Living gently.
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: Loving fiercely. And bowing to the mystery and let the people say.
ABIHIMANJU JANAMANCHI: Blessed be.
- As quoted in We Would Be One, Arnason & Scott, 30. (Bolster was YPRU President in 1926, 1927, & 1928