Closing Celebration, General Assembly 2015: "On Our Way!"
General Assembly 2015 Event 508
This joyful worship sent us home from General Assembly (GA) with our toes tapping and our hearts glad! The Rev. Cecilia Kingman and Steven Ballesteros inspired and encouraged us, and music from the General Assembly Choir and Band bless us as we take GA home.
- Rev. Cecilia Kingman
- Steven Ballesteros
- Susan Peck
- Bert Gulhaugen
- Mark David Buckles
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Susan Peck, GA Music Coordinator: Good evening! What an extraordinary week we have had together. I invite you to worship one final time with us, as we honor the work we have done.
It’s been a long week. It is all right if you are tired, even exhausted, and especially all right if you are thinking of dinner, email, flights, laundry, jobs, families, home. And yet you are here. You have stayed for this worship. Maybe it’s because you want something more. One more word to carry you home. One more song to lift your spirit. One more story to show the way. Something more for your journey.
Feel free to join the GA Choir, singing Wendy Luella Perkin’s wonderful song of thanks: for this beautiful day, for the time we have spent together, for all gathered one last time in this room, for our loved ones afar, and for all who are traveling from here to their homes.
Introit: “We Give Thanks”
Choir, Band, Quartet, Congregational singing
Hymn/Invitation to Worship “Building a New Way” with Spoken Parts
Susan Peck: Friends, we have been singing about building a new way all week. Have we seen the way before us? Will we follow it? As Edwin Muir wrote: “and what will come at last? The way leads on.” Please rise in body and spirit, to sing our GA 2015 theme, Building a New Way.
Steven Ballesteros: We gather one last time, weary, joyful, and blessed. Let us recollect from the week the hopes we have hoped and the dreams we have dreamed.
Rev. Cecilia Kingman: Let us remember that we do not do this work alone. We join the mighty river of human hope, the vast work of human history, and we are held in the arms of a great and abiding Love.
Steven: Let us sing our songs of freedom and hope. Let us pray our prayers of peace and compassion. Let us love the hell out of this world.
Cecilia: Let us lift our voices in song and story, that we might be restored for the journey home. Come, let us worship together.
Invitation to GA 2016
Laura Howe, GA 2016 District Coordinator
Choir Anthem: “Amazing Gratitude”
Bert Gulhaugen, GA Choir Director: Hal Walker, a Unitarian Universalist musician from Kent, Ohio, wrote a song which we think captures the spirit of this moment. This is his song “Amazing Gratitude” sung by the GA choir.
Reflection and Powerpoint
Steven Ballesteros; David Servias, GA Pianist
Rev. Cecilia Kingman, Worship Leader: You may be excited about this idea of “building a new way.” You may have a list of things to start working on as soon as you get home. Or...you may be exhausted. You may feel like you can't do it all and don't know where to start. The good news is you don't have to "start" anything. The work has already begun. The work has been unfolding since long before we were born. For now, just sit back, rest, and open your mind’s eye. See Spirit alive and at work in the world...
The phone call came from the groom: Could I perform a wedding in a Portland park this week? His voice was young, his tone urgent.
“Yes,” he said, “we have our marriage license. We have everything planned. We just need a minister. Can you help?”
Every minister knows this one: a couple have planned a lovely, expensive wedding, only to overlook the necessary question of a legal officiant. I was tired and cranky that day. I wanted to say no. But there was something about his voice—he sounded desperate. I know desperate. Everyone in my family knows desperate. So I asked, “Can you tell me a little more about the two of you?”
“Sure,” he said. “My name is Mike. My girlfriend Sara and I moved here a few months ago from Oklahoma. We are trying to get a clean start. I just got a job in a warehouse. It even has health insurance. Sara was looking for work, but...she got sick. She needs some treatments. We have to get married right away so she can be on my insurance. We weren’t quite ready to get married but she has to have health care. I know we’ve never met you and we don’t go to church or anything but we’re decent people and we try to love Jesus and we just need to get married. Can you help us?”
“Which park? Where do you want to get married?”
“Oh, the one downtown with the statue of Abraham Lincoln. We want to ask our friends to come and that’s a good place to meet.”
“When would you like to get married?”
“You’ll do it then? Oh, thank you!”
I arrived at the park at the appointed hour, my stole and Bible in hand. Throughout the park were folks enjoying the sunshine: older people from the retirement home, working people on breaks, and the usual assortment of what in Portland are sometimes dismissively called “street kids,” young people who are often homeless. Most of these young people were heavily tattooed and pierced, many were smoking, and a few sat on low slung bikes. I made my way through this crowd and took up my station at the foot of Abraham Lincoln. I looked around expectantly for a bride and groom to appear.
“Hey!” a young man with spiky hair and tattoos on his face called to me. “Hey, are you the minister?”
“Um, yeah-yes I am.”
“Hey, Mike, your minister is here,” he shouted. “Nice to meet you, I’m Ryan. I’m staying with Mike and Sara at the youth shelter.”
Another young man came hurrying up. “Hi, I’m Mike. Thanks for coming!”
Mike was indeed young—still a teenager, with blue eyes that radiated kindness, and something else: the watchfulness of someone who has taken and given a few knocks.
Mike took me over to a nearby bench to meet his bride. I had to remind myself that they require ID at the county clerk’s office, because Sara didn’t look quite 18. She had the sign of illness about her. I sat next to her and she smiled quietly.
We went through the ceremony. I had guessed that they would want the standard text. Mike asked for a bit of scripture, that one about “Love bears all things, believes all things.” I said I could do that. Sara said quietly, “We’re not church people, in fact we’re more the sinner type. But we want to start over. Can you pray for us?”
I thought of all my own sins. All the things I had done in my life to hurt others or myself. “Yes,” I said. “I can pray for you.”
We filled out the marriage certificate, with Sara’s loopy cursive and Mike’s spiky script. Then Mike said, “Oh! Your fee!” and held out his hand.
I squirmed. I didn’t need to take these kids’ money. “I’d really prefer not to get paid for this.”
“No, it’s okay. You have to eat too.” He held out his hand again. Clutched in it was a wad of bills. “Our friends took a collection for us. I think some of ‘em will have to give up smoking for a month, but they wanted to do it.”
I put out my hand, and he placed the rumpled dollars into it. I carefully folded the stack and placed it into my wallet.
“Thank you,” I said.
That settled, the three of us returned to the statue. I put on my stole and opened the Bible to Corinthians. Sara was in ordinary clothes, jeans and a t-shirt, with no adornments for her wedding day. Just then another young man came tearing up on his bike. “Sara, Sara, you need this!” He handed her a stalk of daisies—the kind that are dyed vividly in purplish blue. “I got them at Safeway when I went to buy the beer. You can’t get married without flowers!” Sara smiled widely, and turned to face me.
The young people gathered around. About fifteen of them, one with a dog, a few with heavy packs, all of them marked by the signs of poverty and life in transition. And all of them grinning. Sinners and saints, each of us. The gathered church. The Kingdom of God. The Beloved Community.
No need, I thought, to invite these kids to my church. They are already in their own cathedral. God is already at work in our neighborhoods. It’s not about making things happen. It’s about watching for the signs, noticing where the Holy is already in the streets and on the move. It’s about partnering with God, seeing that the kingdom is already present, the beloved community is already around us, and joining in.
The Beloved Community is within. The Beloved Community is at hand. The Beloved Community is always breaking in. And each of us is wanted and needed and loved in that Beloved Community.
These kids were already loving the hell out of this world, their corner of this world, and I was lucky enough to be invited in.
“Dearly beloved,” I began.
Choir Anthem: “O Yini”
Bert Gulhaugen: “Oh Yini (Where Are You?)” is a traditional, anonymously composed South African song. The original verses speak of a mother’s fear that her son, whose name is “Themba” meaning “Hope,” has been taken by robbers. It is a story that expresses a fear that hope has been lost to the violence in the community. The English words we will sing, written by Peg Duthie, a Unitarian Universalist in Nashville, Tennessee, remain respectful of the original intent of the verses while speaking to our Unitarian Universalist commitment to justice-seeking.
Cecilia: Will you pray with me? God of hope, God of freedom, God of love, I thank you for these good people and all they have worked toward this week. I ask you to strengthen each of us for the journey home and the journey on. Help us to keep faith with all those who came before us, all those who sang and suffered and struggled for freedom. Help us to keep solidarity with all people and all beings, that we might share in the work of love. Grant us humility, that we might know ourselves as part of the whole. Grant us courage, that we might be faithful stewards of this free faith. Bless us on our way. I ask this in the name of all that is sacred. AMEN.
Hymn “Fire of Commitment”
Susan: Please rise in body and spirit to sing for the covenant we share, here before the light of our Unitarian Universalist chalice, "The Fire of Commitment."
Benediction and Extinguishing Chalice
Steven: We extinguish this flame, but not the light of our free faith, which we carry out into the world. May that light shine brightly in each of us. Go in peace and go in love. Amen.
Closing Hymn “I’m on My Way”
Susan: Please join in our closing song, a spiritual from the African American tradition. We will sing in call and response on the first three lines of each verse, with Bert leading the call and me leading the response. And sing that last line of each verse together, “I’m on my way, great God, I’m on my way.” Let us rise in body, rise in spirit, and lift our voices one more time.