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Service of the Living Tradition, General Assembly 2013 Worship

General Assembly (GA) 2013 Event 4044

Program Description

Speakers: Rev. Vanessa Rush Southern, Rick Fortner, David B. Smith

The Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group honored fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders, remembered those who have died, recognized those who have completed active service, and welcomed those who received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year.

The sermon was delivered by the Rev. Vanessa Rush Southern, Parish Minister to The Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ, since 2001. Vanessa has seen the church through the building of a new extension and a reinvigorated focus on programming and outreach. In 2010 the Summit congregation was named a “Breakthrough Congregation” by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), was awarded the first ever Congregational Social Justice Award by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Vanessa graduated from Stanford University in 1990, with a degree in philosophy and religious studies, and from Harvard Divinity School in 1995. Her book, This Piece of Eden, was published by Skinner House Books in 2001. Vanessa and her husband, Rohit Menezes, and their daughter and dog live in Maplewood, NJ.

Our Music Directors were Rick Fortner and David B. Smith. Serving at All Souls Unitarian Church, Tulsa, OK, Rick is the Director of Music and David is the Associate Director of Music.

Order of Service

  • Ingathering Music: David Smith, Choir and Congregation
  • Welcome: The Reverend Sarah Lammert
  • Calling Forth Preliminary Fellows: The Reverend Wayne Arnason
  • Calling Forth Credentialed Religious Educators: Jan Devor
  • Calling Forth Credentialed Music Leaders: Kevin Tarsa
  • Calling Forth Final Fellows: The Reverend Wayne Arnason
  • Calling Forth those Completing Full Time Service: The Rev. Richard S. Gilbert
  • Invocation: Jaimie Dingus
  • Opening Hymn: “Rank by Rank”
  • Chalice Lighting: Dr. Tuli Patel, Lucy Boggis, Leila Menezes
  • Songs: “Spirit of the Living God” and “Spirit of Truth, of Life, of Power”
  • Intro to Remembering Those Who Have Died: Rev. Peter Morales
  • Reading the Names of Those Who Have Died
  • Prayer
  • Silence
  • Choral Response: “The 23rd Psalm”
  • Musical Reflections: “You Raise Me Up” and “People Get Ready”
  • Sermon: The Rev. Vanessa Southern
  • Choral Affirmation: “Unwritten”
  • Offering for the Living Tradition Fund: Rev Gail Geisenhainer
  • Offertory
  • Closing Hymn: “Life Calls Us On”
  • Benediction: Jaimie Dingus, Gregory Boyd
  • Recessional: “Lord, Give us Power”


Announcement of Election Results

TOM LOUGHREY: We had two extraordinary candidates for the office of moderator. For the last 18 months, they've shared their lives with you. And as I thought, from the very beginning when we worked hard to select two very qualified people, we did indeed have a very close election. For those of you who ran unopposed, you will be pleased to note that we found nothing irregular, nothing in the bylaws that would prevent you from taking the offices to which you have been elected. And you are indeed elected.


TOM LOUGHREY: Particular congratulations to the reelection of our president Peter Morales.


TOM LOUGHREY: It is my pleasure to introduce to you the next moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association-- Mr. Jim Key from Beaufort, South Carolina.

JIM KEY: Thank you so much for your support. I'm humbled, of course. I'm honored to serve. I'm deeply passionate about this faith. I need your help as we go forward.

And I can't go forward without thinking Tamara and her team. They've made me a better candidate. They've made search deeper about my own spiritual practices. And I think they will make me-- her collegiality in this whole process will certainly make me a better moderator on your behalf. I'm anxious to start serving to you. Thank you very much.

Ingathering Music

DAVID B. SMITH: If you came ready to celebrate let me hear you say, yes I did.

AUDIENCE: Yes, I did.

DAVID B. SMITH: If you came ready to celebrate, let me hear you say, yes I did.

AUDIENCE: Yes, I did.

DAVID B. SMITH: I'm going to invite you to stand with us. And let's sing some songs together.


DAVID B. SMITH: Now, I wonder if you can clap your hands with us. Can you clap your hands with us? Whether you clap on one, two, three, of four, it all works. Ready? Let me hear you! Enter!

Would you look over to someone next to you and tell them, I'm so glad to be standing next to you tonight? Tell somebody, would you?

Tell somebody else, you look great. Did you lose 30 pounds or what?


DAVID B. SMITH: I love this verse-- don't be afraid of change because change is the only constant in life. Let's sing it again. Don't be afraid!

Now put your hands together.



DAVID B. SMITH: Now, some of you probably know this one. I want you to join in and sing with me.


DAVID B. SMITH: Listen. Sing this with me.

Just before we set out, I want to get all the lower voices. If you have a lower voice, will you just wave your hand and say, yeah?


DAVID B. SMITH: If you have a higher voice, let me hear you say, yeah.


DAVID B. SMITH: All right, listen. We ain't never forget the sisters in the house. I want to say, you just call on me, sister. How many sisters we got out there? Any sisters?



REVEREND SARAH LAMMERT: Welcome. Welcome, brothers and sisters and those otherwise identified. Welcome to this 52nd service of the Living Tradition. Welcome to those of us present here in Louisville and those of joining virtually from across the nation and across the world.


REVEREND SARAH LAMMERT: Each year we gather in this special ceremony to honor the accomplishments of our newly credentialed ministers, religious educators, and musicians, and the final fellowship of ordained clergy, to celebrate the many years of dedicated service of our newly retired ministers and other credentialed professionals, and to mourn the deaths of our precious colleagues who have died during this past year. We recognize that the ministries to which these professionals serve are called forth from the lay people with whom they serve.

Traditions, such as this service, provide the grounding from which we can imagine new ways of being in a multicultural and multi-generational religious community. At its best, the service of the Living Tradition is an annual opportunity to reconsider who and what we are called to be as Unitarian Universalists. This year, we will be challenged to a new awakening for our faith. And the music will bring us there on the wings of possibility. We extend a special welcome this evening to our international guests and to the family members of the deceased ministers who are being honored this evening.

Ministry is many things. It can be a moment of transcendence in a prayer or a song, a meeting of the hearts across the generations, an offered hand in a time of trouble, or a signal call to a just and transformed world. As we now begin our calling forth, you are invited to raise a glad noise as our honorees venture onto the stage.

Calling Forth Preliminary Fellows

REVEREND WAYNE ARNASON: I call forth from among you these persons who have received preliminary fellowship as Unitarian Universalist ministers:


  • Eric Benjamin Kealoha Banner
  • Timothy Knox Barger
  • Robin Bartlett
  • Thomas J. Bodie
  • Mary Bohman
  • Susan Carlson Browning
  • Lucy Bunch
  • Marisol Caballero
  • Jennifer L. Channin
  • Carol Thomas Cissel
  • Joe Cleveland
  • Michelle Collins
  • Joanna Fontaine Crawford
  • Kelly Dignan
  • Greg DuBow
  • Leon L. Dunkley
  • Cathey Edwards
  • David Etherington
  • Carly Gaylor
  • Annie Gonzalez
  • Michael F. Hall
  • Fiona Heath
  • Angela M. Henderson
  • Nathan Hollister
  • Kierstin Elizabeth Homblette
  • C. Lynn Hopkins
  • Celie L. Katovitch
  • Jennifer Ann Kelleher
  • Caroline Hoffberg Knowles
  • Rachel Lonberg
  • Ruth MacKenzie
  • Sue Magidson
  • Justin Martin
  • Patrick McLaughlin
  • Russ Menk
  • Amy Katherine Moses-Lagos
  • Elizabeth Buffington Nguyen
  • Craig M. Nowak
  • Nancy Bird Pellegrini
  • Michael Leslie Quayle
  • Darcy Alicia Roake
  • Tandi K. Rogers
  • Kristen Rohm
  • David Schwartz
  • Amy Petrie Shaw
  • Sally Beth Shore
  • Linda Simmons
  • Aija Ruth Simpson
  • Laelia' D. Tawnamaia
  • Linda Thomson
  • Debra D. Thorne
  • Colleen L. Vahey
  • Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa
  • Judy Zimmerman

Calling Forth Credentialed Religious Educators

JAN DEVOR: I call forth from among you these persons who have completed the credentialing process for the master level certification for religious education.:

  • Pat Kahn
  • Michelle Richards

JAN DEVOR: I call forth from among you these persons who have been certified as credentialed religious educators:


  • Tracy Beck
  • Melissa MacKinnon
  • Laura Worley
  • Debra Zagaeski

Calling Forth Credentialed Music Leaders

KEVIN TARSA: I call forth from among you these persons who have been certified as credentialed music leaders.


  • David M. Glasgow
  • Arthur Kuller
  • Shawn McCann

Calling Forth Final Fellows

REVEREND WAYNE ARNASON: I call forth from among you these persons who have received final fellowship as Unitarian Universalist ministers:


  • Carol Allman-Morton
  • Matthew D. Alspaugh
  • Erica Parsley Baron
  • Margaret Louise Beard
  • Rebecca Benefiel Bijur
  • David Breeden
  • Andy Burnette
  • Janet C. Bush
  • Dawn Skjei Cooley
  • Amy Kulesza DeBeck
  • Kent Doss
  • Mara Julia Dowdall
  • Mark David Evens
  • Megan Leigh Foley
  • Jeffrey Briggs Gamblée
  • Frieda L. Gillespie
  • Kathleen A. Green
  • Lucas Hergert
  • Ronald A. Hersom
  • Rebekah C. Ingram
  • Mitra T. Jafarzadeh
  • Jill Jarvis
  • Carie Johnsen
  • Wendy Jones
  • Nina Irene Kalmoutis
  • Mary Knight
  • Jacqueline Lahey
  • Judith Long
  • Megan Lynes
  • Robert A. MacDicken
  • David A. Miller
  • Rebekah A. Montgomery
  • Margret A. O'Neall
  • Eric Posa
  • Jane Ramsey
  • Elizabeth Scheuerman
  • Justin Schroeder
  • Catherine Senghas
  • Terrance Lee Sims
  • Sonya Sukalski
  • Julie Taylor
  • Tim Temerson
  • Jody Whelden
  • Aaron White
  • Steve Wilson

Calling Forth those Completing Full Time Service

REVEREND RICHARD GILBERT: I call forth from among you these persons who have completed their careers of full time service to our congregations:


  • Timothy W Ashton
  • Jose Ballester
  • Richard F. Beal
  • Jane Bramadat
  • Charlotte E. Cowtan
  • Alexander L. Craig
  • Frances A. Dew
  • Kathy Duhon
  • Gary M Gallun
  • Patience Jane Gardner
  • Elizabeth L. Greene
  • Karen Johnson Gustafson
  • Sally Hamlin
  • Morris Hudgins
  • Kay Jorgensen
  • H. Vann Knight
  • Bruce L. Lakin
  • Phlox Laucher
  • Karen K. Matteson
  • David More Maynard
  • Karen J. McFarland
  • Denis Meacham
  • Susanne S. Nazian
  • Penny Rather
  • William Charles Sasso
  • Ken Sawyer
  • Craig H. Scott
  • Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz
  • Louise Ulrich
  • Douglas Wilson
  • J. Mark Worth

JAIMIE DINGUS: Let us have one final round of applause.



JAIMIE DINGUS: Come. Let us gather with the spirit of ministry that surrounds us, this spirit of leadership, of compassion that guides our communities and encourages each of us to be our best selves. Let us gather with reverence for the history of this, our beloved Living Tradition, acknowledging all that our faith has been and all that it has the potential to become-- a force for justice, a home for all who would seek it, a community of love.

Let us gather with pride in our current understandings of our faith, this faith that enriches our lives, that nurtures our children, that encourages all to share in ministry, that brings us peace when our lives seem too hard to bear. Let us gather to relish in the joy way that this community, this faith brings to us now. Let us not forget that we gather here to envision the future. We are a living tradition.

We have not finished realizing all that Unitarian Universalism can be. So let us gather with excitement for the future of our faith. Let us bring all that we are and all that we hope to be into this constantly new and renewing faith.

And as we gather with hope and anticipation for all that our faith can become, let us also gather with patience. Let us gather with patience for the challenges, the rough spots that come with growing as a movement, and with patience for the leaders whose ministry guides us in this growth. For all that we hold holy, for all acts of love and compassion, for all that is our common ministry, let us gather.

Hymn: “Rank by Rank”

Chalice Lighting

DR. TULI PATEL: Breathe in. Breathe in. Breathe in the spirit of this hour. Spirit and breath-- two words whose origins are the same. Breathe in remembering the fragility of life, how it hangs on air.

Breathe in remembering the need to live with heart and intention. Breathe in and be recalled to spirit, its demands, its invitations, its fierce remembering. For the mind questing to understand, the heart stretching to love, and the hands determined to serve, we light this chalice for Unitarian Universalism.

Song: “Spirit of the Living God”

Introduction to Remembering Those Who Have Died

REVEREND PETER MORALES: Each year, we honor those whose legacy is the ministry of our faith. As we have for generations, we will read the names of those who died during the last year. To live is to create a legacy. The legacy of these ministers are acts of love and service.

Although much of ministry is public, more of it is private and hidden from view. Ministry is countless acts of comfort, nurture, listening, counseling, and conversations that are never seen. As I call the roll of those ministers who have died, let us hold the memory of their ministries in our hearts.

Reading the Names of Those Who Have Died

  • The Reverend Dr. Dwight Brown
  • The Reverend Dr. Gaston M. Carrier
  • The Reverend R. Lanier Clance
  • The Reverend Robert C. Clarke
  • The Reverend Robert L. Hadley
  • The Reverend W. Edward Harris
  • The Reverend John F. “Jack” Hayward
  • The Reverend Dr. Raymond C. Hopkins
  • The Reverend Donald J. Jacobsen
  • The Reverend Dr. William R. Jones
  • The Reverend Byron E. Kelham
  • The Reverend David V. Leonard
  • The Reverend Dr. Ronald M. Mazur
  • The Reverend Dr. Jack Mendelsohn
  • The Reverend Steven C. Reinhartsen
  • The Reverend Nancy C. Roemheld
  • The Reverend Charlotte Justice Saleska
  • The Reverend Nancy M. Shaffer
  • The Reverend Connie P. Sternberg
  • The Reverend John “Jack” Wilkinson, III

Judith Frediani lit the Memorial Candle.


Please join me in a spirit of prayer. Spirit of life and love that lives within us and among us, let us feel your presence. We mourn the loss of these good ministers.

We have lost dear friends. We have lost ministers who mentored us, inspired us, consoled us. Never more will we converse with them, see their smiles, feel their touch. May we be filled with profound gratitude for their lives.

They kept the faith. They stood on the side of love year after year. They worked for justice. They handed on a precious tradition.

Their lives continue to inspire us and to give us hope. May we be worthy heirs of their legacy. The work of love is not done. Their ministries are now our ministries.

We pray for consolation for those closest to these departed. May they feel our compassion. May they find comfort. Now, in silence, let each of us honor those who have passed and reflect on our place in this living faith.


Choral Response: “The 23rd Psalm”

Musical Reflections

JAIMIE DINGUS: Life deals us incredible blessings and struggles, people born into our lives who change us forever and who are taken from us. If we are blessed-- and most of us are-- there are people, forces, moments when the seen or unseen reaches in, and we are carried through the hard parts of this life. For this, for these, for all that raises us up, including those we bid goodbye to this night, we give thanks.



REV. VANESSA SOUTHERN: Now I had a choice. I could do a reading. Or I could pick another song. You never quite know when life is going to ask you to step up, step in, give back, get on board, and begin an adventure in which it needs your participation. We ready ourselves with lives practicing courage and compassion and all the other virtues and skills of leadership and discipleship for a moment that comes on an unpublished schedule.

Sometimes, sometimes, however, sometimes, you can hear the train rumbling up the tracks. Sometimes, someone sounds the call that it is the hour to put your traveling shoes on and strap courage and love to your back and get ready for the journey of a lifetime.


DAVID B. SMITH: Would you lean over on somebody? Just lean over on them gently, would you, and ask them, are you ready? Are you ready? Are your ready?



REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: Peter Morales just told me this was cheating.


Sermon: The Rev. Vanessa Southern

REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: I want you all to imagine I am standing on the edge off a back of a boat that is rocking in pretty decent waves. I have 8 pounds of weight strapped around my waist and another 40-- or so they tell me, though it feels like more-- strapped on my back. And my size 12 feet are now even more absurdly large because they are covered in flippers. So I look like a red-headed Donald Duck, only I can't quack because they have stuck some tube in my face and told me to breathe through it. While the mask that covers my favorite breathing orifice, my nose, and my eyes, despite their best preventative measures-- the instructors' measures-- is fogging.

So I can't walk or breathe the way I'd like to. And the world is getting misty, which might be nice and atmospheric, except that they are now also telling me to hold onto my mask and regulator and jump with my legs like this, scissor style, which, as we all know, is crazy. No one jumps like this. At the very least, it is inelegant.

But at the moment, I have lost all dignity. And truth be told, all I'm really concerned about is survival, so is my lizard brain. Do you know lizard brain? It's that part of our brain kind of near the base that's been around since the woolly mammoths whose job it is to just keep us alive and warn us of danger. So lizard brain has come for a chat. Actually, mine is in a panic.

First, she tells me to step back off that ledge like I am someone on the eighth floor of some New York apartment building about to take my own life. When I don't listen, she gets hysterical. She wonders aloud, sarcastically, why they don't just tie a noose around my neck and be done with me all at once. Finally, she tries the pastoral approach.

She tells me, I don't need to be embarrassed bailing on a birthday gift of the dive lesson, that a good friend will understand. I listen. I take it in. Then I cover my face the way the instructor tells me to and I jump. And a whole new world opens up beneath what I knew and trusted.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's relevant, I think, to that train that's coming, the one we can hear, the one we don't need a ticket for. But we might need to get rid of some baggage before we get on board.

I'm telling you because I think we are standing on the edge preparing to leap into a world beyond what we know and trust. I'm talking, my friends and colleagues, about the religious revolution that is headed our way. Diana Butler Bass, professor of religious studies and writer, calls this the great turning. William McLaughlin, historian of religion and former professor at Brown University, 50 years ago predicted the signs of what he called the fourth Great Awakening.

What they are saying makes sense of what you and I are hearing and seeing all around us. It makes sense of all the changes and the cultural upheavals that Peter Morales has been calling to our attention for years, that Fred Muir explored in last year's Berry Street lecture that the pew survey on religion found ways to quantify and Faith Formation 2020 put in neat, little lists for us. It makes sense of all the changes that are ordained and lay leaders have been wrestling to incorporate into our sense of who we must become.

By now, you know the facts as well as I do. Mainstream denominations are on the decline. The nones, those who identify themselves as having no religious affiliation, they're on the rise. Increasing numbers of people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. More and more families and marriages, like my own, are made up of people of mixed religious, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. And in the rising generation of adults 18 to 35, these trends are growing fastest.

When asked why they reject religion, this growing cohort of people say they reject it because they associate it with words like narrow, judgmental, homophobic. The age of belief or dogma is out, says Harvard professor Harvey Cox. Enter the age of spirit. Cox and Bass and leaders of the emergent church movement and others say increasingly, people are looking for a more direct experience of the divine, one unmediated by religious leaders-- no offense to us all, we have our calling still-- or staid ritual or dusty doctrine.

They bring to their lives an ethic informed by a world that has grown smaller and more clearly interdependent, a world where differences of race and gender and sexual orientation blend and brush up against each other all the time. Where they gather, they want professed truths to be visible and in action. They are tired of religion getting in the way, rather than paving it.

In this future, increasingly shaped by the radical democracy and full and open participatory influence of the internet, if people don't find a community they like, they will make their own in one great flash mob of religiosity. The religious wave that's washing over us is made up of people who have no innate love of institutions. And why would they?

In the last decade alone, we have watched institutions launch the war against Iraq without proof of weapons of mass destruction. Institutions allowed the bundling of subprime mortgages that collapsed the economy into which many people entered the first time looking for jobs that were not there. And religious institutions, religious institutions fought and split over the rejection of gay and lesbian clergy. And religious institutions protected priests over children. It is into this world you, my new colleagues, enter, a world in which congregations whose mission is just to maintain the congregations and denominations whose de facto mission is simply to maintain the bureaucracy are out.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: What is in is communities alive to spirit, people gather to question, doubt, struggle, live with ambiguity, serve directly, who are ecologically minded and affirming of the pluralism across all real and supposed differences. These are the only communities into which this growing cohort of adults will join and offer its allegiance to. Exactly. Perhaps you were thinking, as I was when I was reading all of this, this is great. Perhaps under your breath you started singing, we are the ones, we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Sounds good to be true, doesn't it? We love questions and doubts too, don't we? Deed over creeds, baby, you want to shout out. We live pluralism and interfaith dialogues, some of us in our own homes, every day. Some of our best ministers and lay people, let alone friends, lovers, children, are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer folk. In fact--


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: In fact, this year I co-officiated at the first same sex wedding in the chapel at West Point.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: For Unitarian Universalists Penny Gnesin and Sue Fulton. We need to give them a shout out for their work on behalf of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: It was a moment in history. No one who participated in that wedding didn't realize and appreciate what we stood in the midst of. And looming right beside the joy we felt was the sadness that the defilement of Marriage Act-- that's what DOMA stands for, right-- that it still stood, but it still stands. And so the soldiers and their wives and husbands are still second class citizens in the military if their partners are of the same sex, though their blood, if you will pardon the image, still runs as red, white, and blue.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: But we were there, and in places like that all over the nation, on courthouse steps and city halls, hanging banners in the front of our churches, demanding that our nation make good on its promissory note once again, the note that promises equality and justice for all, and we were there. We don't want religion to get in the way either. We want it to pave the way. And we are out there helping to make it so.

We get this wave of the future. We get this age of spirit because we've been wrestling to live it for decades, for centuries. But that doesn't necessarily mean that our work of preparation is done.

Cox and Bass say this age of spirit may be a little more chaotic than we are used to. It may be a little bit more like early stages of all faith traditions than it will be like the age just passed with its doctrines and procedures and institutional focus. In the beginning, writes Andy Stanley, the founder of North Point ministries in Atlanta, in the beginning, the Church was a gloriously messy movement. It may be so again.

Early on, not bound by creed or hierarchy, the early church was bound by a pretty clear mission, which was figuring out what it meant to live the teachings and example of its founding prophet Jesus and how to usher in the coming of God's reign of Shalom of peace and justice and love that He talked about. This awakening will be about going back to those basics, about being focused back on core mission, and being willing to question any inherited traditions that get in the way, that get in the way of its serving this mission. Be married to mission, says Andy Stanley, and date everything else.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: What does that mean? Does that feel intimidating to any of you? Because it certainly does to me. It involves a lot of uncertainty about what it is we lose and what it is we gain. For some of us, it may mean sitting with a pretty chatty lizard brain warning us of all the dangers that come with every change, every letting go. But it's also exciting. And it might just be fun.

I knew one person who was the most alive to life spirit-filled person I have ever met. If she had a mission, that would be it. And very little got in the way of her living it.

No norm, no convention was more important to Toni than responding to what life demanded of her in the moment, which meant taking road trips was with Toni was about paying the toll for everybody behind you in line at the bridge. And going to lunch with her meant sending a piece of cake or pie to the person at the table next to you, the one who had the look on their face as if life had just fallen out from under them. Almost nothing was completely routine with Toni around.

So the quintessential moment of my relationship with her took place at a stop light. We were out running some errand. I don't remember what. And a song came on the radio, a song we loved, a song we loved to dance to. And we loved to dance.

So we were dancing in the car, which, as you know, is a little restrictive to your freedom of expression. And we just happened, at about the time the song was getting going, to pull up to a stop light. And it just happened to turn red. And before I knew what was happening, Toni had cranked up the volume, thrown off her seat belt, opened the door, and was out running in the street, hair tossing, huge smile on her face, dancing, cars going by, honking. She's waving them to come join her, people dancing from their cars, laughter and joy erupting all around us.

The mission was to be alive to life, spirit-filled. And everything else took its rightful auxiliary place. I'm not saying we have to dance in traffic, you and I. I am saying, though, that we might want to throw off what holds us back, especially if it's getting in the way, in the way of what spirit and what mission require of us.

We are a pretty flexible lot, we Unitarian Universalists. But radical innovations will, with time, become traditions. And traditions, with time, can become fossilized artifacts. So every once in a while, we have to clean house and get back to basics and then risk and experiment, take a chance that we will look foolish and a bit incompetent, all to be more alive to what it looks like to live those commitments for this age and, in our case, for this great turning.

The good news is I think we are already doing this. I think we're already getting ourselves back, grounded in mission. And I think we're already taking a lot of risks. As we speak, our headquarters is getting ready to leave its stately address for the offices that will allow for 21st century technology and accessible space that speaks more to our future than our past.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: We all have been asking and answering what it means to stand on the side of love, keeping that core piece of our witness front and center for ourselves, as a movement and in our congregations. We are talking this entire general assembly, think about it, about the glue that holds non-creedal communities together across differences and through chaos, namely those convenantal promises of the heart that we make to each other. We are experimenting with reaching beyond our walls, using technology to embroaden the embrace of our faith. We are opening our eyes to what are the interpersonal skills and cultural competencies that we need if we are truly going to be welcoming in this pluralistic, multicultural world.

And some of our ministers, particularly the newly minted ones, are doing all kinds of fantastic experiments that I don't think we're hearing enough about-- wherever you are. Some have started coffee houses with justice programming. Others have started small house churches. And one newly gathered community in my area is talking about meeting in a tent amidst an urban garden.

These ministers and lay folk are casting off some of the inherited patterns to see what new ways of being might invite to dwell among us, what and who. And I would bet your church has a few examples of its own. I know mine does.

We just passed a mission that says that we are a radically inclusive religious community that feeds the human spirit and heals the world. So you know what our theme for next year will be? Living the Mission Impossible.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: And in October we, I expect, are going to be ripping up a mortgage on a property next door, a property that the powers that be said that we neither had the time nor ability to buy on short notice. But spirit and mission told us we had to. $2.5 million pledged in record time and paid off in two years--


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: --because spirit is a powerful partner. So what's it going to take, my friends, my colleagues? What's it's going to take for us to step into this revolution as full partners and participants? The truth is no one really knows. It's emerging. It's an adaptive change, a paradigm shift. It's just something we're going to have to figure out together.

I mean, there are a few things I think we can say with certainty. I think it's going to mean giving up some of our stinginess.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: Big missions do not happen on starvation budgets.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: And on average, last I checked, we give one and one half percent of income to our congregations. Really? That is just not worthy of us. So we need to stop pretending that we are just people who are really careful with our money, and we need to get crazy generous.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: Second, I think we need to admit that no perfect form of governance alone will create a congregation or an association that does great things. That would be the myth of governance. The best assurance of great things has always been people gathered in a spirit of collaboration and trust.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: So I just think we need to go back to making that our focus and not spend too many years hammering out a governance structure because, meanwhile, children are starving and the earth is choking.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: Lastly, you and I have got to become great experimenters in the laboratory of religious life. We have got to be like 1,000 R&D departments all over the world, reporting in daily on their experiments to bring faith more alive, how we have succeeded, what our victories look like. We need to tell stories and laugh together of the victories the face plant failures.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: We will laugh and celebrate and learn together. We will be pioneers of the spirit, entrepreneurs of the soul, married to mission, dating everything else. We must do this if we are going to be partners and co-creators of the next Great Awakening.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: A good friend, Emerson, told us not ever to take any truths second-hand. But generation after generation, we take two truths as our own. And these two give our Living Tradition it's continuity.

First is a commitment to a love that refuses to honor false and constructed boundaries between us. This is the love that banished hell from religious imagination and then set to banishing it everywhere else.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: And it is the expense of this love's embrace that will, in the end, be the best judge of the worth of our living. Second and related is the unity we affirm beyond all divisions, real and imagined, interdependent web of all existence, injustice anywhere a threat to justice everywhere, all creation woven into one garment of destiny. Ecologically, theologically, politically, economically, this is the reality we seek not to forget, that we are one.


REVEREND VANESSA SOUTHERN: Remembering it generation after generation opens us up to both deep pain and great joy and wisdom. Love and unity-- love and unity, these are our enduring mission. Someday we will have to answer for these. What did we make of them? How did we serve them? To this dream and purpose you and I are married, which is why we find ourselves standing here facing these waters.

That's why we have this awkward new gear strapped on our backs and some old habits working against us. And we are preparing to leap because a train is coming, my fellow pioneers of the faith, love and unity waiting to take their rightful place front and center on the human stage because there is an age of spirit waiting to be born. It's this Great Awakening that we have been preparing for for a lifetime. And for this, we are asked to leap just beyond the surface of what we know and trust. This is the time, writes poet Sonia Sanchez, for the creative human being.

Before you dive, the instructor tells you there are two things you have to remember, only two. The first is just to remember to breathe. Breath-- that word so close to spirit, that which ties you to life and its call.

The second thing to remember, he says, is never to dive alone. Once you're in, you can take my hand, he tells you. So you reach up to secure your mask. You walk to the edge, and you do that crazy leap they tell you you must. When you land, he reaches out and takes your hand. And breath and that hand will be what makes the scary possible. And so the adventure begins. And the rest, the rest is still unwritten.


Choral Affirmation: “Unwritten”

Offering for the Living Tradition Fund



REVEREND GAIL GEISENHAINER: In 1988, we established the Living Tradition Fund, and with that establishment, the request that ordinations and installations held in member societies include an offering to the Living Tradition Fund. And after 25 years of practice, we now have a tradition. The Living Tradition Fund helps clergy. It provides emergency financial assistance for ministers and religious professionals. The Living Tradition Fund brings to life our core values of love and unity, our core practices of protecting the dignity and the worth of persons, and our expectations of making a difference in real lives, live time and personal.

The Living Tradition Fund gets important things done. And I can attest to the way this current ministry's and faith development staff team gets things done. Through them, the Living Tradition Fund gets important things done well. Yeah.

The single widest stream of support for the Living Tradition Fund is this service. Tonight, we have the opportunity to do something that matters, something that brings our values to life, something that supports clergy in times of fear and need. The reach of this fund extends from underwriting seminary debt to providing heating oil, dentures, and daily bread for retired clergy. In between, the fund is often the only safety net for clergy families.

A few years ago when my beloved in life had a frightening and complicated brain surgery, I had a choice. I could pay our mortgage and utilities. Or I could pay the hospital, which required payment before post-surgical follow up appointments could even be scheduled.

We were close. We only needed $1,000. And we were afraid. That gap felt huge. And we felt isolated. But we were never alone.


REVEREND GAIL GEISENHAINER: All of you were there through the Living Tradition Fund. Thank you.


REVEREND GAIL GEISENHAINER: And just last year, you all provided travel and support money to ensure that a minister with a terrible and a terminal illness did not have to spend her last weeks alone. Thank you. Year after year, you are present to seminary graduates who carry an average of $50,000 in tuition debt. You are present to retired clergy who need expensive hearing aids to stay connected to families and to congregational life. Thank you. Thank you.

The Living Tradition Fund supports the lives of our ministers and our religious professionals. And it is my honor to ask you to build up the vitality of the Living Tradition Fund. And I challenge us all tonight to surprise and hopefully to comfort the ministries and faith development staff team who watch over that fund. Can we do that together tonight?


REVEREND GAIL GEISENHAINER: The envelope, on the front, will tell you how to make out checks. It'll give you an opportunity to have a more discerning conversation in your kinship circle where you write checks from. I'd like you to look with me, if you would, at what you have prepared to offer tonight.

Do you have perhaps a $20 bill in your hand? Can you and would you find another one? Would you double your intended gift tonight? And if you can-- I have a sense there's one among us tonight-- if you can, now would be the time, if you are able, for one among us to write a check for $25,000 tonight.

We have an opportunity to make a difference tonight here together if we can support those who can do that. And I believe we've got someone here tonight who can do that. And I also believe there may be two of us tonight who could write checks for $20,000. Shall I do the dissension for you, or would you find your place on that list?

We get to make a significant impact tonight. How many of us could write a check for $1,000 tonight? Please know that your gifts will matter. Please consider offering twice what you have ever, ever given before. Let's do this important and joyful thing together tonight.

Let's offer these clergy and our religious professionals. Let's offer the convincing message that we've got your back and you are not alone and we are here for you and your families and your kinship circles through this fund. I thank you all for your love, for your unity, and for your generosity. Thank you. Thank you. I invite the ushers, please, to receive the evening's offering.





Closing Hymn: “Life Calls Us On”

MALE SPEAKER 1: Please rise in body or spirit as we sing our closing hymn.



JAIMIE DINGUS: Breathe. Breathe.

MALE SPEAKER 2: Take my hand.

JAIMIE DINGUS: Life calls us on--

MALE SPEAKER 2: --to our place in the awakening of the human spirit.

JAIMIE DINGUS: Anchored in our past strength--

MALE SPEAKER 2: --lured forward by the dreams yet unfulfilled--

JAIMIE DINGUS: --we write the future, one day of daring experiment at a time--

MALE SPEAKER 2: --until love and unity reign--

JAIMIE DINGUS AND MALE SPEAKER 2: --until love and unity reign. And let the people say, amen.






About the Author

Vanessa Rush Southern

Vanessa Rush Southern is the senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco and has served congregations in Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Summit, New Jersey. She is the author of two books, This Piece of Eden and Miles of Dream, and has been published in the Dallas...

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The Rev. Vanessa Southern spoke at the 2013 Service of the Living Tradition Sermon.

The Rev. Vanessa Southern

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