General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Honoring Service: Worship with UUs in the Military, General Assembly 2011

General Assembly 2011 Event 3044

Presenters: Rev. William G. Sinkford, Rev. Jan Christian, Rev. Meg Riley

Our Unitarian Universalist (UU) military chaplains invite UUs presently in the military, veterans, military family members and General Assembly attendees to worship together. As a loving community celebrating our faith, we honor the legacy of our veterans, celebrate the current service of military UUs, and pay tribute to military families.


Prelude: “On Holy Ground”

[Words and music by the Rev. Amy Carol Webb]

[GUITAR MUSIC] AMY CAROL WEBB: The words for the chorus of this song are in your Order of Service. Now some of you have heard me say, I am the reverend of the church of no wrong notes.

AUDIENCE: No wrong notes.

AMY CAROL WEBB: There are no wrong notes.

AUDIENCE: There are no wrong notes.

AMY CAROL WEBB: There are no wrong notes.

AUDIENCE: There are no wrong notes.

AMY CAROL WEBB: There are no wrong notes.

AUDIENCE: There are no wrong notes.

AMY CAROL WEBB: Say it like you believe it. There are no wrong notes.

AUDIENCE: There are no wrong notes.

AMY CAROL WEBB: Occasionally there are notes that belong in different songs. And that's OK. Sing them anyway. They'll find their way. And the Psalm has said, make a joyful noise. [SINGING] step Amen.

REV. MEG RILEY: We are on holy ground. We are on historic ground. In 50 years of the Unitarian Universalist Association, this is the first worship service dedicated to you, you military, and those who love them, and those who come to honor them. Amen.


Opening Words

REV. MEG RILEY: We arrive from singular rooms. We arrive from different points a view. We arrive from a common longing in our hearts to reach out and touch one another. We arrive with a common passion for justice and love to prevail, for peace to prevail. Look around. This is holy ground. Take a minute, see who's here.

Come, let us worship together.

Opening Song: “One More Step”

[In Bless All Who Serve, page 99]

AMY CAROL WEBB: If you'll turn please to number 99 in our shared resource for this morning.



REV. CYNTHIA KANE: You can't be a Unitarian Universalist and be in the military. In the early 1990s, Unitarian Universalist colleagues and congregants often expressed this sentiment to me, and to my fellow Unitarian Universalists in uniform. The thought however, that our faith and a profession within the military are incompatible, is an unfortunate and erroneous sentiment. By way of example, here is this afternoon's muster.

So I ask that you please stand when the category with which you identify is called. Those people currently serving in any branch of the United States military on active duty. Those people currently serving in the Reserves, National Guard, or Auxiliary. Those who are retired from active duty, Reserves, Guard, or Auxiliary. Anyone who has ever served any length of time in the United States military. Active duty dependents. Reserve and Guard dependents. Retiree dependents. Anyone who has a family member or friend, who is serving, or has served, in the United States military.

Please look around. Every time I have done this exercise, approximately 98% of the congregation is standing by this point. Clearly you can be a Unitarian Universalist and be in the military.

Those of us who are standing, whether or not we wore the uniform to serve our country and its ideals, we are a part of every Unitarian Universalist congregation. Please be seated. And thank you.

Oftentimes, however, we are a silent presence. My military chaplain colleagues and I have experienced when we go guest preaching in various congregations, that afterward we've been pulled aside by one or several people in attendance, telling us of their military service. That person, that once silent presence, told us another Unitarian Universalist of their military service.

And again and again, it was often the first time since World War II, or the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, that that person made such an admission.

These fellow Unitarian Universalists had not felt our congregations safe to publicly bring their military life into their spiritual life. One man drove for more than 200 miles to hear me preach. Though I might like to think it was because I'm that good of a preacher.

He said it was because he needed to see for himself a Unitarian Universalist minister in uniform. Up until that point, he said, I was not able to bring that part of my past to this part of my present. Many of us have come from more than 200 today.

And yes, Jan and Bill are that good of preachers. And Amy is that good of a musician. And on a side note, please note that Jan's book and Amy's CD will be available for purchase after the service.

And the Bless All Who Serve book that you have in your hands used during this service are yours to take with the request that you then share it with a service member. Also Matt, Jan, and Amy will be available after the service and later at the CLF booth at the exhibit hall to sign their books and CD.

This afternoon's service breaks the silence. This service is a much overdue reconciliation of these two seemingly incompatible worlds of military and our faith. This service is one of healing towards wholeness so our past can be a part of our present.

And in our future, our hands and our hearts will be open to welcome home the veterans among us, and welcome into our fold those veterans who have found in Unitarian Universalism a spiritual home. I pray our time together may be so blessed. Amen. And welcome.

Reading: “Memorial Day Prayer”

REV. DAVID PYLE: Our reading this morning is a prayer. A prayer written for Memorial Day by the Reverend Barbara Pescan for you to look at later. It is on page 19 of your Bless All Who Serve. But I ask that you join with me in a spirit of prayer and meditation for our opening prayer.

Spirit of life, whom we have called by many names in thanksgiving and in anguish. Bless the poets and those who mourn. Send peace for the soldiers who did not make the wars, but whose lives were consumed by them.

Let strong trees grow above graves far from home. Breathe through the arms of their branches. The earth will swallow your tears while the dead sing no more, never again.

Remember me. For the wounded ones, for those who received them back, let there be someone ready when the memories come. When the scars pull and the buried metal moves.

And forgiveness for those of us who were not there, for our ignorance. And in us, veterans in a forest of a thousand fallen promises, let new leaves of protest grow on our stumps.

Give us courage to answer the cry of humanity's pain. With our bare hands, out of full heart, with all our intelligence, let us create the peace. Amen.

Reflection: Always Faithful

REV. JAN CHRISTIAN: I am humbled and honored to be in your presence today. And to have this chance to speak from my heart. I was 16 when we received word that my 23 old brother Bobby, the family favorite, had been killed in Vietnam.

The telegram told us that his body was un-viewable. I wasn't sure that the center would hold. I wasn't sure that it should hold.

And in my grief and anger, I left part of my brother behind. I left the Marine part behind. I wanted nothing to do with it.

I never demonized the troops as so many did during that war. But I saw him as purely a victim. It was convenient. But truth and life are messier than that.

In 2005 my son Robert Lucas Christian Luke, did an internet search for his own name. And found a website where two former 31 Kilo Company Marines who served with my brother in Vietnam, paid tribute to 2nd Lt. Robert M. Christian.

This began a journey which I have chronicled in my book Leave No Brother Behind A Sister's War Memoir. It was Bill Ager who started that page on He came home and named a son after my brother.

He had been looking for my brother's family for over 30 years. After my first conversation with him, I wrote him that I hoped my contact with him was not disappointing or troubling. Because unlike me he had had decades of expectations. And I had shared a very different view of my brother with him, and a very different view of the war in Vietnam.

He wrote back. There was nothing disappointing or troubling in the things you shared with us on the phone. We are just so very glad that you contacted us, and shared with us so many things about Bobby and your family.

You took a big chance contacting us, because you really didn't know what to expect. You are brave. Just like Bobby. Yes we are different in some ways, but share many more things in common.

We already love and accept you, and are very happy that you seem to feel the same way toward us. I wrote him that we Unitarian Universalists say that our good news is that we need not think alike to love alike. And that he was living that out for me.

And so for the first time in my life, I gave consideration to the fact that the Marine motto is Semper Fidelis. Always faithful. When this journey began, I would have said that theirs is a blind faithfulness. And mine is a questioning faithfulness.

What I have learned has both humbled and transformed me. And I think has the power to transform Unitarian Universalism. We taught those Marines that there is no way to separate your own well-being from your brother's.

We said, you're part of a living tradition that started before you were born. And with your faithfulness will be here after you are gone.

We taught them not to leave anyone behind. We said that the greater your rank and privilege, the greater your responsibilities. We said that faithfulness is the opposite of fear. We said that the right thing isn't always the easy thing and you do it anyway.

We taught them to move in a common rhythm in spite of their tremendous diversity. The US Marine Corps did a better job than our nondenominational childhood church, of teaching my brother about faithfulness and sacrifice.

Since my journey with these former Marines, I often think of how little we give our children when it comes to those lessons, and how very little we ask of ourselves. They came home still achingly young. And they called parents who had lost sons.

They named their own sons after their fallen brothers. And as years passed, and as the internet made it possible, they began to look for one another. And they began to gather in greater numbers. At each reunion they hold a memorial service.

One maintains the nearby graves of two brothers, both corpsmen, who were killed in Vietnam, although he knew neither of them. One of those corpsmen, Doc Barrett, lost his life as he attempted to care for Chris Giordano whose left arm had just been blown off. Several years ago, Chris drove 2500 miles to be at the funeral of the man whose face he first saw when he woke up from that devastating injury.

One, Tom Hobbs, who had never spoken about the war to his wife of almost 40 years, sat down with me, and with her, and talked about that day. A day that has haunted him all these years. He talked about it, because I asked him to.

In August of 2010 at the reunion banquet, I watched as another sister of a fallen Marine who lives here in Charlotte, was given her brother's compass. Someone had held onto it all these years.

And then there's David Crawley. Early on David Crawley had written me from his Rockets Up email address, that my brother was OK as far as officers went. I laughed when I read that. I knew that there was a pervasive mistrust of Second Lieutenants in Vietnam who were almost always green.

But I also knew this is a guy who's going to call them like he sees them. Later he wrote me that it was liberal thinking like mine that lost the war in Vietnam. Well the mind races. There are so many clever and defensive ways to go with that.

I could have said, thinking like mine would have kept us out. But David Crawley wouldn't have seen necessarily as a good thing. His email tag line sometimes reads, except for ending slavery, fascism, Nazism, and communism, war never solved anything.

So I wrote back to him just to set the record straight. I'm not a liberal. I'm a radical. And we crazy Unitarian Universalists also have a saying that we need not think alike to love alike. And even though we don't think alike, I think something more important connects us. How's that for crazy? Take care of your bad self.

And David answered, amen.

And as I write in the book, that exchange captures some of the beauty of this journey for me. But it gets better. David's read the book. And he loves it. He especially loves, he tells me, the part about my faith journey.

Because I have articulated, he said, something he's always believed but had been unable to articulate. I told David that our relationship gives me hope for the world.

My son Luke and I went to Vietnam in 2007 to visit the area where my brother was killed. On the flight over I was reading A Rumor of War by Phil Caputo. Writing about his fellow Marines, Caputo writes, there were more admirable men in the world, more principled men, and men with finer sensibilities.

But they slept in peaceful beds. Those words haunted my trip. They indicted me and they convicted me. Life is messy. We Unitarian Universalists often pride ourselves on our ability to live in uncertainty, to embrace ambiguity.

But I find we often see ourselves as neatly above the fray, engaging in either-or thinking when it comes to issues like the military. In his memoir on Vietnam, Tobias Wolff reflects on his service there by writing, my reasons were personal, rather than patriotic.

But I had consented to be made use of, and in spite of my fears, it never occurred to me that we could be used stupidly. Or carelessly. Or for unworthy ends. Our trust was simple. Immaculate. Heart-breaking.

Our work as citizens in a democracy it seems to me, is to make sure that those who are willing to serve, to let themselves be used, are not used stupidly, carelessly, or for unworthy ends. That is our work. Those of us who sleep in peaceful beds.

When we let those who are willing to serve be misused, we are the ones who are not holding up our end of the bargain. Not those who've agreed to serve. I hope we will commit ourselves anew to this work. And that we will commit ourselves anew to the work of healing the hurts of war, to making our congregations and Unitarian Universalism safe for those who have served.

That we will commit ourselves anew to the work of healing the kinds of hurts that in evidently lead to war. I wonder about David Crawley. I wonder, if he walked in to the nearest Unitarian Universalist church congregation, whether or not he would be welcomed. Or if he already knows because of his politics that he might not be.

I wonder if we might be more willing to set aside our need to be right, so that we can be in relationship. Not just with people like us, but with people not like us. I wonder if we can just learn to do a better job of being present to the suffering, which more than anything else connects the human family.

If we could do this, and this alone, we might really become a religion for these broken and beautiful times. Last Fourth of July, I gave two book readings in my hometown of Boulder City, Nevada.

Fourth of July in my small town had been one of my favorite holidays as a child. When my brother was killed, all of that changed. To be back in my hometown for book readings was a kind of resurrection.

There were people from my past, and my brother's past, and people I didn't know. I read from the book and then I invited others to speak. Neighbors, friends, strangers, a former prisoner of war, spoke. Some, like a World War II veteran tried to, but couldn't.

We just held the silence, and made space for the tears. A younger woman I didn't know stayed in her seat after the first reading. And I said, well I'm going to do the same reading at the second reading.

And she said that's all right. I don't know you. I don't know anything about the war in Vietnam. I really don't know anything about your book. But what just happened here is the most amazing experience I've had in years.

We are hungry, are we not? We are hungry for the spaces to speak from the heart, to share our hurts, and to listen to the hurts of one another. To find those things that connect us across political and religious differences across boundaries of race, gender, class, and age. Places where we do not rush to judge or fix.

Parker Palmer tells us that violence arises when we don't know what to do with our suffering. Violence arises when we do not know what to do with our suffering. Richard Rohr has written, if you don't transform your pain, you will always transmit your pain.

May we learn to create spaces and places where pain can be transformed. The first question restorative justice asks is, what are the hurts? The older I get, the more I believe that this question is at the root of all justice-making.

What are the hurts? It may be the most powerful question in our work to heal the hurts of war. To keep us from making war with one another, and to help us stop the war in our own hearts. This journey of mine was never for closure. It was never for closure. It was for opening.

This journey was never to make peace with my brother's death. But it was to make peace out of his death. And I want to do that within our living and growing tradition. This quote from Wendell Berry opens my book. Somewhere underneath all the politics, the ambition, the harsh talk, the power, the violence, the will to destroy, and waste, and maim, and burn, was this tenderness.

Tenderness born into madness preservable only by suffering. And finally not preservable at all. What can love do? Love waits, if it must. Maybe forever. Love is waiting on us.

Friends dear ones, love is waiting on us. We must not let it wait any longer. May all of our congregations be congregations without walls. Amen. Blessed be. Semper Fi.

Silence, Musical Meditation


Reading: “The Choice to Serve”

REGINA LARGENT: Each spring, First Unitarian Church Portland, my first congregation, and the congregation that the Reverend Bill Sinkford now serves as senior minister.

Every spring that church celebrates graduating high school seniors who tell the congregations what their next steps will be. Derek Rush is a young man who graduated in 2009 and offered the following words about his decision to volunteer for military service.

The Fifth Principle states, the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. In my life my conscience has led me to my life-long dream of becoming a soldier. On June 15 I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

I have been asked many times why I would volunteer to potentially kill people. That if I really wanted to help people that I should join the Peace Corps. And why would I be willing to go halfway around the world to fight in a war that I may not agree with or understand.

I have also already experienced the stereotypes that many people put on the military with the negative opinions that they have no problem sharing. I was standing in a group of people when a person next to me looked at my Marines t-shirt and asked if I was joining the military. When I nodded he said, dude, so you like you hate guys and want to go to kill Arabs and stuff like that, right?

I wanted to make him understand that I was joining to support and defend the Constitution. That I was joining because I felt a duty to give back to society in a country that had given me and my family so much—such as opportunity, education, and peace. That I didn't want to kill people or be sent into harm's way. That what I was going to do was not out of hate, but love.

I know I was born into a world love. I think of my forefathers and mothers who sacrificed so much to give me a better life. My parents, who have done so much to help me become a good person. And the countless soldiers and patriots who died answering the call to defend the freedoms of complete strangers. I can only hope to do something in my life that would be worthy of that word, love.

Reflection: Worthy of Love

REV. BILL SINKFORD: This is a spirit filled room this afternoon. And it's a privilege to be present. I want to thank the Church of the Larger Fellowship for sponsoring this service. And for calling our faith to attention, making a space for us to think and pray together again about those among us, and not among us, who defend us and the Unitarian Universalist chaplains who minister to them.

At the 2008 General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, it was my privilege to recognize our military chaplains and honor their service. That was another first for this faith. Those chaplains who were there will remember that the reaction of some Unitarian Universalist's faithful was not gratitude, but criticism and attack.

Some could only understand the chaplains ministry as complicity with war and militarism, wrongly believing that it is impossible to be a Unitarian Universalist of integrity and serve in the military. That reaction was painful. I know. And it pointed to spiritual work our faith community has to do.

The question that seems to me, is how we can inhabit a religious place in which we can be both patriotic critics of our nation's decisions, and strong supporters of those individuals who serve. Can we oppose militarism and still minister to those in the military, and their families, and their friends?

Sadly that spiritual agility has been more than too many of us have been able to muster. My son served in the U.S. Army. He's been a civilian now for years. And he came back physically unharmed.

But in 2001 when he was 20 and going through basic training, his first letter to me asked a question for which I had no answer. Where are the UU chaplains on this base, dad? I need a minister and there's nobody here I can talk to. Where are the UU chaplains?

My commitment to military chaplains see, is quite personal. I arranged for a relatively local UU minister to speak with him. I could do that as president of the Association. Some perks are very nice. But it says volumes about our faith that we prefer to locate our congregations near universities, rather than military bases.

Though theologically we may say that our faith has good news for everyone, our practice is to narrow the audience that can hear our message. There are reasons aplenty why we do this. But I wonder if part of the reason is a shallow trust in what we have found, and what we have to offer.

Do we have enough to minister to what is in this room? The words of Derek Rush, the young man from the congregation I now serve, remind us that our soldiers are not them, they are us. And this may well sound like a little finger wagging, but don't soldiers have inherent worth and dignity as well as college professors and social workers?

Do we welcome Colonel Smith as warmly as Captain Smith in our congregations? Is our universalism only as deep as our career choice? I never served in our military though my father did in World War II. He developed hypertension while in the service, so when he died of a stroke 15 years later, he received a military funeral. I still have that flag. And I received a small stipend from the VA until I finished college.

I also received another huge fringe benefit. I was exempt from service in Vietnam. I'm the only child and there was an exemption in the Code for the sole surviving son of a deceased war veteran. The objective was to ensure that the military would not be responsible for snuffing out a family line. Our understandings of family names and families has developed a lot since that portion of that Code was written.

The importance of that exemption may not be obvious to those of you who did not live through Vietnam and our military with a draft. At its height, almost a half a million Americans fought and served in Southeast Asia, and the war became massively unpopular here at home. I was out in the streets protesting in 1968 when I graduated from college.

Now you shouldn't miss the way privilege operated in those days, although the draft theoretically applied to everybody. But if you were male, and 18, and not headed to college, the likelihood was that you were headed to 'Nam. If you were in college, or teaching school, in the Peace Corps, going to seminary, you were safe. You were safe.

Danger could be avoided by education, and therefore, by affluence. We've not had a draft for decades. But the volunteer army has its own biases as well. And many of you know them. I want to recognize that there are those like the young man from my congregation, from across the demographic spectrum, who volunteer for military service out of love. Because they want to give back.

But the military tends to appeal to those with less education, and less opportunity, to people of color especially in this depressed economy. And for undocumented immigrants, the military can be especially attractive. In 2003 I was out in the streets again protesting. This time protesting the run-up to Iraq. As president of the UUA, I added our religious voice to those who argued against a unilateral invasion, who questioned the justifications that we were offered, and raised serious questions about the real reasons for our nation's relentless move to war.

We did not prevail. Our voices did not prevail. And the long, bloody occupation began. We had to learn a new role. The loyal and losing opposition. Being right was very small consolation. But the real test for me was that my son was serving in Afghanistan, and had been in Iraq in the Army while I was out on the streets protesting.

I know what it feels like to be simultaneously a critic of our nation's decisions, and the strongest possible supporter of those we asked to execute. The religious protest against the Iraq occupation was based on a thoughtful and prayerful view of the particulars of that invasion. We referred to Just War Theory. We looked at it as carefully as we could, and we found the justification too thin.

And each possible use of force should be inspected carefully in that way. But it's also necessary to look at patterns of behavior over time, and not simply the specifics of a particular decision. So I've been thinking about all of the wars our country has fought while I have been alive.

Korea, '50 to '53. Vietnam, '55 to '73. First Gulf War of '91. Afghanistan, 2001 until. Iraq, 2003 until. Now those are the big declared wars. Though we actually have not declared a war since World War II.

Some other military interventions have been for humanitarian reasons, internationally sanctioned, and for some of us, easier to accept. Lebanon, '82 to '84. Bosnia, '94 to '95. Kosovo, '99. Libya, 2011. Should I count those times when our military might has been used to prevent the spread of democracy and social equality, especially in this hemisphere.

The Dominican Republic, '65. Nicaragua, off and on, 1970 to 1987. Grenada, 1983. Honduras, 1988. Panama, 1989. I could go on with that list. Does the Cold War count? "47 to '91. And what happened to that peace dividend we were supposed to receive at its conclusion?

The war on terror? How about the war on drugs? How's that one working for us friends? The United States has put our troops, our sons and daughters, and brothers, and sisters, and fathers, in harm's way 111 times in my lifetime. We have been using force-- we have been at war every year that I have been alive.

Is this the history of a peace loving people? Or simply the history of the latest empire imposing its will by force? What toll does this constant use of force take on our spirits? All of our spirits.

I like to think of myself as a realist. It can be a dangerous world. And sometimes it seems to me the use of force is justified. As costly as it is. But the fact remains that we've made war routine. No wonder our military spending equals that of all of the rest of the world combined.

It's no surprise that we keep permanently stationed troops in almost 50 countries around the world. It seems to me that our use of force has become an addiction for this country. Our economy depends on it. Our politics demand it. Can we imagine a world in which the United States was not acting like the world's chief policeman? What would that look like?

We know something about addiction. We know how hard it is to move out of denial. We know the kind of vigilance and support staying clean requires. We know that overcoming addiction is not only a physical, but a spiritual discipline. And we know that overcoming addiction requires a compelling vision for a better life, or in this case a better world.

It is time for us to look honestly at the real cost of our devotion to militarism. Not just the impact on our budget, but the cost in lives lost, lives damaged, physically and emotionally. And our balance sheet needs an entry for the price that we all pay in our spirits by living at a nation that is constantly at war. It is my prayer that we can honestly and deeply value those who choose to defend us, and the families who sacrifice that they may serve.

But I also pray that we can look with fresh eyes at the missions we give them to execute on our behalf. We need to hold both in our heart if we are to be worthy of that word love. Amen.

Silence, Musical Meditation


Together on Holy Ground

REV. DR. MATT TITTLE: I'd like to ask everyone to rise in body or spirit, to stand as you're able. Here we stand together on holy ground. As Meg and I read this litany, we'll ask you at various points to repeat that refrain.

REV. DR. MATT TITTLE AND REV. MEG RILEY: Here we stand together on holy ground.

REV. DR. MATT TITTLE: We come here today out of the yearnings of our hearts to be with one another, to honor with our presence the years of service, the labor of hearts, to remember, to protect.

ALL: Here we stand together on holy ground.

REV. MEG RILEY: We come here today out of the yearning of our hearts to be with one another, to remember, to bring home to our congregations, our religious home, the memory of service well done, of the years of service, the labor of hearts.

ALL: Here we stand together on holy ground.

REV. DR. MATT TITTLE: And so today in this space we remember, we honor, those who have gone before, those who have made our days sacred, special, free. Here we stand where once they did. Where for some, they will never come home.

ALL: Here we stand together on holy ground.

REV. MEG RILEY: We who long for peace know too well the cost of that peace. Know too well the lives ventured, saved, and spent, in too many wars, in too many places, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends, who no longer walk this way with us, whose days were spent giving us peace.

ALL: Here we stand together on holy ground.

REV. DR. MATT TITTLE: We who long for peace know too well the cost of that peace. Yet for those who have never served, how can we know the cost deep in their bones of those who went before, those who serve us now, those who may yet wait. To find a true homecoming within our walls, we who have never served, must bid them welcome. Welcome them in.

ALL: Here we stand together on holy ground.

REV. MEG RILEY: Let us be reminded together and let us remember well. We all desire justice, and yet we forget it is not free. We all desire freedom, and yet we disregard its cost. We all desire to be safe, and yet we still disparage war. We all desire to forget, and yet we dare not be naive. We all desire peace, and yet we know not how to get there. Let us be reminded together and let us remember well.

ALL: Here we stand together on holy ground.

REV. DR. MATT TITTLE AND REV. MEG RILEY: And as we stand here, let us be reminded, we are all of one body, one heart, one spirit. It is up to us to make our religious homes free. Homes of remembrance, homes of thanksgiving, for all who serve. Homes of gratitude and love. Homes of peace for all.

ALL: Here we stand together on holy ground.

Blessing of our Veterans

REV. DR. LISA PRESLEY: I would like to invite all those who are veterans—those who have completed their service to our nation, to any nation, in whatever branch of the military, to please come stand in the aisles to receive our blessing. Dear you, dear all of you. We stand today in the presence of all that is holy, humble, thankful, remembering to impart to you our blessings.

You who have labored long on our behalf in war and peace on foreign and domestic lands, who have had the smell of gunfire, sand, rain, sun bleached beaches, endless deserts, throbbing forest. Who did not know if you would ever return. Who did not know who you would be when you returned. You who fought and marched and flew and sailed into the unknown.

Who even in times of peace, knew not when danger would come. You who sacrificed much. If only dreams deferred, life turned aside, you who sacrificed much. If only injury to heart, challenge to soul, you who sacrificed much. Who came back injured in body, who lost those you loved. You who have sacrificed much by being willing to risk for what you held true.

You who are here present with us today, you have always been blessed. You have always been held in the hand of the holy. You have always been blessed. But here today, in this place, in the heart of your religious community, we add our formal thanksgiving, gratitude blessing. You who are present with us, we add to you our blessing.

Those whose return was met with love and cheers. Whose religious home was truly a haven for you. You who have never felt adrift, but knew you were valued. To you we add our blessing. And here today we add blessing, thanksgiving, gratitude, that was withheld too long from some of you within our religious home. Withheld by those who did not understand what we wished not to see.

That it has been you who have held our lives in your hands. You who held our freedom so tightly, that we could let it go. You who protected us from worry. To you we add our blessing. You who are here who have served before and may never have heard these words, hear them now. In your Unitarian Universalist community, welcome home.

To you we owe much. To you we are ever grateful. By you we are blessed. We will not forget. We bless your names, your being, your lives, your love, your gift to us all. And I now invite all those who are currently serving in any branch of the military to join our veterans in the aisles.

And those of you who are nearby to these people in our aisles, please reach out and lay a hand gently upon them. If you cannot reach them, reach someone else who is reaching them, or simply hold your hand up, reaching out to them.

Prayer for Servicemembers and Fallen Veterans

Let us pray. Spirit of love, of life, of grace, God whom we know by many names, and by none at all, be with us now as we gather in your presence. Holy life we lift up to you these our friends and comrades. These brave women and men who have chosen in their lives to live out the call they heard to serve and protect. Who have not taken for granted what we all deserve. We lift them up to you.

Remind them, remind us how blessed we are to have them in our presence. How grateful we are for their service. How deeply we embrace them in the fold of our religious home. Hold too in your loving spirit, all those who have come before. Those whom we have lost in body, spirit, presence. Whose lives were forever shaped and reshaped by their service to us all. Whose dreams died young. Whose lives were lived in fullness.

The dear friends and companions of those who stand before you. We ask oh Spirit of life to hold in your loving care, all who these people call family. Keep them safe so that worry for them need not invade these gentle service members as they serve us so well. Oh God of fullness of life and possibility, there are no words that can ever erase what they have seen, what they have done, what they have given.

No word that can erase lights that may have come, glory in action, tears of honor and sadness. There are no words that will ever take away their pride, their courage, their beings. Hold them now in the fullness of life, in the fullness of love. And let us now pause in this time of stillness, and let us all call out into the air the names of those whom we would honor, those who have served their nation who are no longer present with us, or may just simply not be here today. Add their names to this space.

Spirit of life, of love, God, we lift up the names spoken and those standing before us. We hold them in our heart, in our love, as do you. Welcome them deeply. Remind them that they are here in our shared religious home. May we always be reminded that we are always standing together on holy ground. Amen.

Closing Words

REV. SEANAN HOLLAND: Thank you all for this moment. Every era in history revolves around a few defining issues particular to that time and place. The issue of war has shaped the character of our time. This issue, the matter war, stands before us like a monument that both refuses to be ignored, and somehow remains camouflaged by cultural baggage and political rhetoric.

Within our tradition of Unitarian Universalism we have made noble progress in making space for our veterans and their loved ones. And we know that many of our veterans are still, and just now, finding ways to share their stories in their congregations, that are themselves only now becoming ready to hold such stories. We must continue this healing and coming together.

Because our time calls on us on the one hand, to redeem a piece of our past as an association. And on the other, to be a redemptive force in nothing short of seeking a cure to the ailment of war. And it is this second task that looms even larger. Even more so than the first task it will require us to work together and to build bridges between veterans and non veterans.

As we work together, may the songs we sing, the prayers we lift up, and the litanies we recite, to bind ourselves in purposeful covenant, may they reach beyond ourselves and our neighborhoods. May they reach beyond the bounds of relative comfort and security. May they reach out into the distant chaos and confusion of conflict to steal the hearts and minds of young servicemen and women.

That they might survive in their witness of the sorest of humanity's dysfunctions. We need their stories. We need the shutter of distant artillery to speak to us through the wincing of the web of life. We need the images and sounds to become just real enough to move us. We need to allow ourselves to be changed by the stories of our warriors and all who are affected by war.

And may we allow ourselves to be moved by the revulsion and exhilaration of battle. All this that we might take one more step. All this that we might have the greater courage that is even more necessary than battle can muster. All this that we might have the greater courage that is more necessary in the risk of living and loving toward the peace that we all hope for in this imperfect world. Blessed be. Amen.

Closing Song: “STAND!”

[Words and music by the Rev. Amy Carol Webb]



The words for this song are in the Order of Service, for the part that we'll sing together.




REV. MEG RILEY: As we go forth from here let us be reminded we are all of one body, one heart, one spirit. It is up to us to make our religious homes free, homes of remembrance, homes of thanksgiving, for all who serve. Homes of gratitude and love. Homes of peace for all. So let us be about this work. The materials are precious and they are highly perishable. May we walk together on holy ground. Amen.

Postlude: “Guide My Feet”

[In Bless All Who Serve, page 97]



Free Copies of Bless All Who Serve

Due to the generosity of donors to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), copies of Bless All Who Serve are free to military families, ministers and military chaplains. Contact the CLF office ( or (617) 948-6166) for more information.

Thanks to Service Participants

Many thanks to our service participants today.

  • Rev. Amy Carol Webb, Minister, Hospice Chaplain, Miami, FL
  • Rev. Meg Riley, Senior Minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship
  • Rev. Cynthia Kane, Lieutenant Commander, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy
  • Rev. David Pyle, First Lieutenant, Chaplain Corps, United States Army Reserve
  • Rev. Jan Christian, Minister, UU Church of Ventura, CA
  • Regina Largent, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired), United States Army, & Member, Committee on Military Ministry
  • Rev. William Sinkford, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Church, Portland, OR
  • Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle, Minister, Paramus, NJ, Commander (Retired), United States Navy, & Member, Committee on Military Ministry
  • Rev. Dr. Lisa Presley, District Executive, UUA Heartland District, & Chair, Committee on Military Ministry
  • Rev. Seanan Holland, Lieutenant, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Music Histories

Prelude: “On Holy Ground” was inspired when our service musician, the Reverend Amy Carol Webb, entered seminary. It is sung in Unitarian Universalist congregations in the U.S. and Canada, as well conferences, rallies, festivals and meditation gatherings. Rev. Amy is a hospice Chaplain, musician, and minister based in Miami, Florida. She is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Musician’s Network and the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and has taught voice at the Southeast Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute since 1999. [© 2006 words & music, Amy Carol Webb (1956 - )]

Opening Song: “One More Step,” was written by Unitarian Universalist singer songwriter Joyce Poley (1941 -) for a worship service packet distributed by the Unitarian Universalist Peace Network in 1986. This lilting piece reminds us that our good work in the world is sometimes as matter of taking one determined step at a time. Harmonization is by Grace Lewis-McLaren. (source: Between the Lines: Sources for Singing the Living Tradtion, 2nd Edition; Boston: Skinner House Books, 2001).

Closing Song: The Reverend Amy Carol Webb’s “STAND!” is a call to unity of purpose in the work of justice, peace and compassion in the face of all odds and for the sake of all humanity. This anthem has been lifted up in Unitarian Universalist congregations, gatherings, demonstrations, rallies and UU social witness events throughout North America. [© 2008 words & music, Amy Carol Webb (1956 - )]

Postlude: “Guide My Feet” is a traditional spiritual harmonized by Wendell Whalum (1932-1987) a composer, arranger, choral conductor and authority on gospel music. (source: Between the Lines: Sources for Singing the Living Tradtion, 2nd Edition; Boston: Skinner House Books, 2001).

About the CLF

The Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF), Unitarian Universalist, is a church without walls serving isolated religious liberals. We create community with our parishioners on the Web, through the mail, and on the phone and we support congregations with worship and religious education resources. The CLF also creates programs that encourage the growth of Unitarian Universalism.

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