Sunday Morning Worship: The Shared World, General Assembly 2017

General Assembly 2017 Event 503

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Program Description

This powerful, communal worship experience will be led by Rev. Mara Dowdall. She is Senior Minister of the First UU Society of Burlington, Vermont. Previously, she served congregations in Montpelier, Vermont and the Boston area, and spent a year as the UUA’s Interim Youth Ministry Director. A Philadelphia native, life-long Unitarian Universalist, and graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Mara worked in national politics before her call to ministry. She lives in Burlington with her husband, Ben, and their two young sons.

2017 GA Choir Director Mark Vogel has been Music Director at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston since 2015. Previously, he was Director of Music & Arts at the UU Congregation of Fairfax, VA. He is also Artistic Director of International Voices Houston, a 140-voice multicultural choir specializing in global repertoire.

“The Shared World”

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye speaks of “the shared world,” in which we connect deeply with one another in and through our differences. What does it mean to live in “the shared world”? As we navigate this time of peril and possibility, beauty and anguish, despair and resistance, how might a theology and practice of “the shared world” help us find our way?

Order of Service

“And I thought this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”
—Naomi Shihab Nye

Call to Worship

Chalice Lighting: "Bright Morning Stars" (Trad. folk/Atlhouse)


Story: "A Bus Called Heaven" (Graham)

Hymn: "Now On Land And Sea Descending" (Longfellow/ arr. Stevenson)

Reading: "On the Day You Were Born" (Frasier)

Spoken Prayer/Silent Meditation

Response: "Comfort Me"

Reading: "Gate A-4" (Shihab Nye)

Anthem: "We Are One" (Tate)

Offering: Recipient: Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children

Anthem: "Hope" (Barnwell)

Sermon: "The Shared World"

Hymn: "Life Calls Us On" (Gibbons/Shelton)


Choral Benediction: "Amens" (Smallwood)

Shared Ministry: Rev. Mara Dowdall & Mark Vogel; GA choir, soloists, and Abigail Charbeneau, accompanist; GA band with Leader Markus Grae-Hauck; Interim co-presidents Rev. Bill Sinkford, Rev. Sofia Betancourt, and Dr. Leon Spencer; Sana Saeed; FLICC Executive Director Gina Womack, and Charmaine Washington; and Denver Film & Digital.

Special thanks to: The GA Planning Committee; Todd Eklof and the GA Worship Arts Team; Leon Burke; Leslie Runnels, Tim Murphy; the crew behind the computers, curtains and cameras; and the many volunteers and staff.

The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.

Gathering Music

Mark Vogel: Good morning, and welcome to our special Sunday morning worship service. My name is Mark Vogel, and I am so honored to be this year’s GA Choir Director. Are you ready for some inspiring music this morning? We couldn’t do it without the help of our amazing band led by Markus Grae-Hauck. And we are also so grateful for our choir accompanist Abigail Charbeneau. Are you ready to lift your voices in song? We invite you rise in body or in spirit as we sing and dance in true New Orleans style with the rousing African-American Spiritual, “Down By the Riverside.”

Mark: And while we are down by that riverside, let us “Wade In the Water.” We know there is going to be trouble in that water. But let us have the courage to face those challenges that lie in our path. We invite you all to join in on the refrain. The choir will sing the verses.

Call to Worship

Rev. Bill Sinkford: Spirit of Life, come unto us.

We call on the spirit of our ancestors

Our religious ancestors like Ballou and Channing,

Sophia Fahs and Ken Patton,

Ancestors who bequeathed to us a faith

That promised love for all of us and saw hope in each of us.

Our religious ancestors like Francis Ellen Watkins Harper,

Ethelred Brown, Bill Jones and Marjorie Bowens Wheatley,

Ancestors who spoke from the margins and began to shape a faith, a hope and a love in which the margins hold the center.

We call on our personal and family ancestors,

All those who have mothered and fathered and parented and helped shape us

Into the persons and the community that has gathered here.

We call on a great cloud of witnesses, whose hope lives on through us.

They are present within us and present among us as we come together

In this faith that is our religious home,

As we come together, held in the chalice of this community

Inspired by the promise of love which we do not need to earn and the commitment to justice which is our abiding hope.

Chalice Lighting

GA Choir and three soloists


Rev. Bill Sinkford: Welcome everyone.

I am Bill Sinkford and I serve, at least for another few hours, as one of the Interim Co-Presidents of the Association.

I want to extend a particularly warm greeting to the folks from the larger New Orleans community and from our congregations in the area who decided to worship with us today. You are all very welcome here.

We gather in worship to nurture our spirits, to renew our commitments and to remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are.

We gather, on this final day of this General Assembly, in faith, in hope and in love.

Come now and let us worship, together.

Story: "A Bus Called Heaven"

Bill: This morning, our story for all ages is in video form.


Hymn: "Now On Land And Sea Descending"

Mark: As evening has descended on our "Bus Called Heaven" let us rise in body or in spirit as we join together to sing a vesper hymn of togetherness and celebration.

Reading: On the Day You Were Born

Mara Dowdall, Mark Vogel, Leon Spencer, Sana Saeed: On the Day You Were Born

Sana: The first reading comes from Debra Frasier’s picture book, On the Day You Were Born. Frasier was born in Vero Beach, Florida and now makes her home in North Carolina.

Spoken Prayer/Silent Meditation

Rev. Sofia Betancourt: I invite us to open our hearts together in the spirit of meditation and prayer:

Spirit of Holiness, and Mystery of life,

God of many names,

We come together in praise and possibility to remind ourselves of all that nurtures the best of our human living.

We who commit ourselves morning by morning and day by day to be bearers of love and justice in the world,

Find ourselves strengthened by these days of gathering together in common cause,

And hopeful in our time of new beginnings.

Yet we do not forget that even as we are held in the chalice of this community,

Both in this hall, and across the country and globe online,

Our voices and values are needed perhaps more than ever before to respond to the needs of a hurting world.

Our own Universalist heritage teaches us of an All Embracing Love that holds us in our living.

in recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of all peoples and all beings,

in celebration of the potential of every one of us, both known and unknown,

and resting in the immense potential born of our connections to one another -

this love lies at the root of all that might be understood to save us.

May it remind us in the moments when we falter,

That we are part of a greater whole,

That our very faithfulness might be key to building the world we dream about.

May it remind us in the moments when we harden our hearts,

That this greater love preserves the possibility of a world shaped by justice, by wholeness, and by a shared communion.

May it remind us when we are weary from struggle, contention, and disappointment,

That there is a larger promise of goodness and kindness and mercy that shelters all.

As we enter into a brief time of silence, I invite us to reflect on this All Embracing Love, and on the promise of this community. Is there an example of that larger possibility that comes to mind for you, and can you offer its grace, silently, to our gathering as a whole?

[Sofia will hold the brief time of silence]

Each of us is part of a greater love. May it guide us in moving faithfully toward the beloved community.

Amen, Ashe, and Blessed Be.


Sofia and congregation: “Comfort Me”

“Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood


Sana Saeed: The second reading is the poem “Gate A-4” from Naomi Shihab Nye. Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1950’s to a Palestinian father and white American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and later, San Antonio, Texas, where she lives today.

Anthem: "We Are One"


Leon Spencer: We are one. Those words represent a core spiritual truth. And yet, we know that the world we live in falls short of that promise. Unjust systems and structures divide our human family; they marginalize, dehumanize and oppress. Our faith calls us to name those systems and to work to dismantle them in every way we can.

This morning, through our offering, we will support an organization here in Louisiana that is doing this work every day. It is my honor to introduce Ms. Verna Carr, from Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, who will tell us more about their lifesaving work. And thanks to three generous supporters, I want to let you know that our offering this morning will be matched up to the first $35,000. We hope to well exceed that amount, but it is a blessing our gifts will be amplified in this way.

Ms. Verna Carr: Hello Unitarian Universalists! Welcome to New Orleans – we are so glad you are here!

My name is Verna Carr, and this is my family ….

I am the lead family advocate for Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children also called FFLIC.

FFLIC is a statewide parent-led organization that prepares parents and youth to serve as change agents in their communities. We provide advocacy support that parents and families need in order to stop the funneling of our youth, especially youth of color, into the prison pipeline. We call it the School to Prison Pipeline, and we gotta stop it!

6 years ago my 13 year old son had multiple suspensions and I was worried he would end up in prison. One day I was at court, seeing my 13 year old shackled and I was crying and members of FFLIC came to my rescue. They helped me find my way through the unjust juvenile justice maze to ensure my son received his due process.

They trained me on civic engagement, know your rights, advocacy 101, how a bill becomes a law, and how to organize to be able to challenge power and win. They helped me gain my own power to advocate for my son to ensure his safety.

Now through FFLIC’s support and leadership development, I proudly provide that same support to other families!

As a result of my time with FFLIC, the Orleans Parish juvenile detention Youth Study Center asked me to come into the facility to provide mentoring for the girls detained at the facility. We meet weekly with these young ladies empowering them to rise above their circumstances to strive for success. We have story circles with the young ladies and encourage them to create a plan for themselves to follow upon their release so that they do not repeat their mistakes. We use positive healing activities such as art and writing to address the trauma youth continue to experience 11 years after Hurricane Katrina.

I’m going talk from heart now: (live caption)

Thank you so much for your contributions to FFLIC – through your generosity FFLIC will be able to continue to work with families and children to find their own power to fight systems that seek to bring harm to our children, youth and families. Your generosity will help us build capacity and leadership, provide mentoring to families and parents, and to educate each other.

Anthem: "Hope"

Offertory Blessing and Prayer

Rev. Mara Dowdall

Sermon: “The Shared World”

Rev. Mara Dowdall

Hymn: "Life Calls Us On"

Mark: Would you please rise in body or in spirit as we sing together Jason Shelton’s stirring song of community, “Life Calls Us On.”

Responsive Benediction: "Gloria!"

Service of the Living Tradition #534 (Rev. Barbara J. Pescan)

Musical Benediction: "Amens"

From “Total Praise” (Smallwood)

Rev. Mara Dowdall

Rev. Mara Dowdall will preach at the 2017 General Assembly Sunday Morning Worship.

Offering Recipient

The mission of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children is to create a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those involved in or targeted by the juvenile justice system.