General Assembly 2017 Event 443
Captions were created during the live event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
This is the middle and we are enough! The transition from youth to young adulthood is the middle of a lifelong journey. Politically we are in the middle an ongoing struggle. We keep moving forward knowing we are Unitarian Universalist (UU) enough, and we have enough of what we need to resist.
Order of Service
Gathering Music: The GA Band
Welcome: Zollie Davis-Huntley and Colleen Lee
Chalice Lighting words: Elliot Crary
Singing Together: “The Tide is Rising” The GA Band
Story: Elliot Ferrel-Carrety
Sung Response: “Como La Marea” The GA Band
Story: Kadyn Frawley
Sung Response: “Monte la fiévre” The GA Band
Story: Zollie Davis-Huntley
Sung Response: “The Tide is Rising” The GA Band
Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman and Yotam Schachter
Invitation to the Offering: Lugh Baxter
Offering Music: The GA Band
Introduction to the Bridging Ritual: Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen
Bridging Ritual: Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen
Charge to the Bridgers: Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario
Singing Together: “Turn the World Around” the GA Band
Benediction: Colleen Lee
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Colleen: Hello friends
Zollie: and welcome to this year’s 2017 synergy service
Colleen: We are so glad to see all of your smiling faces here to support and help us recognize our youth transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood.
Zollie: We understand that this transition can be scary, going from what you are used to something completely new. But we are here for you, and you are not alone.
Colleen: But hey friends this is an amazing time in our lives full of such adventure and new opportunities. Its time to celebrate this!
Zollie: now let's get started by thanking all the worship service participants, the GA band, all who helped make this possible, and of course all the bridgers as well as all those who are here to support them.
Elliot Crary: In the spirit of our sacred flame,
Thank you for coming here.
We all come with our own gifts, and faults, but the one thing that connects all of us is our faith.
We We are united by it, strengthened by it and healed by it.
We light this fire at the beginning of every service, but it truly is always burning inside us, always.
Yet when we light the chalice we come back, from where we have been apart from one another.
We connect to each other and share in our worship.
And we commit to help this light grow, just as we help each other grow.
GA Band Leader: Each of us is in the middle of our own journeys and our world is in the middle of a climate crisis. That crisis motivated Rabbi Shoshanna Meira Freidman and Yotam Schacter to write this simple song we are about to sing “The Tide is Rising.” We will learn it now in English, just the first verse and then we will sing it in Spanish and in French and then again with new verses in English as we respond to these personal stories of being in the middle as young UUs.
Elliot Ferrell-Carrety: I am in the middle. As a junior in highschool not quite yet a senior, I’m in the middle. As a leader in my youth group but not yet in the wider world, I am in the middle. As a bi-racial boy and having dual nationalities, I am in the middle. Being in the middle, or at least where I am is hard sometimes. You may know the most when you are at the end, but what is the end? When you graduate, when you turn 21 and become an adult, when you retire, when you die? I don’t really know. What I do know is that it’s hard to know where I am in the middle if I don’t know where the end is. As a leader in my youth group I sometimes find myself wanting to take on the world. Change everything for the better and make everyone happy, only it’s not that easy. I feel like I have a lot of leadership to give but at the same time I have a lot to learn as I realized in the fall of last year.
You see, the youth group at my church has been struggling for some time now. When I was a freshman we would have a packed youth group. We would be hip to hip on the couches in the basement of First Universalist church of Denver. Some days we’d have over 20 youth come. Today however we can’t seem to get above 5. A few months ago me and my friend Zoe decided to bring the youth group back together. We texted all of our old friends and met in a starbucks. We planned for hours coming up with new ideas left and right, we wanted to make a new curriculum and change everything to be perfect for us. That sunday we all got together for our youth group. And although 16 youth showed up that day for the first time in a while there was still an uneasy atmosphere that morning. But there we were, fully ready and motivated. We proposed our idea to take back charge of our youth group. It was the perfect plan for us. Only, that’s what it was, a plan for us. In the end, the adults said no. At first I didn’t understand. I was upset. It made me question whether or not I wanted to continue being a leader in my youth group. I believed that being in the middle meant I couldn’t actually change things. That I had to be at the end and know everything before I could add anything. I kept going to church but began to lose sight of the reason I even went in the first place.
But then I heard a story a from my teacher that I would like to share with you. There was a study done on monkeys. There was a colony of captive monkeys and in the middle of the enclosure was a tower with a banana on top. Now, if a monkey would go up and get the banana then all of the other monkeys would get sprayed with water. Then when the monkey would climb back down the pole the other monkeys would beat it up, so that it wouldn’t want to go back up and they wouldn’t get sprayed. After awhile, they stopped spraying the monkeys. But when a monkey came down it would still be beat up regardless of if the rest got sprayed. In addition, the monkeys would be switched out so that new monkeys were introduced. Eventually it got to a point that there were no original moneys in the enclosure. However, if a monkey went up to get the banana they would still beat up that monkey even though they had never been sprayed. This story got me thinking. It made me realize that those monkeys are just like us, sticking to things as they had been without knowing why.
The monkey’s serve as a lesson, because they reflect us as people. The unwillingness to make change or doing something and not really knowing why. With our youth group it feels like a cycle. We as youth want to change things, but go about it the wrong way, the adults say no, we give up. Then the cycle repeats. We never stop to ask ourselves why things don’t work out. We just play a a back and forth game. That’s why the monkeys are important, they show how narrow minded we can be, however, we have the ability to be different. We can make change in the middle by asking why things happen, or why they don’t. We can question why things are the way they are, instead of going along with it. We can actually make real change. Moving forward, I want to keep pushing on with the rest of my youth group. Already we have come so far since that time. As we move into a new middle together I will always remember how easy it is to be like monkeys, and never stop appreciating the power of being in the middle.
GA Band Leader: We will respond together in song, this time in Spanish: “Como La Marea.”
Kadyn: Being fortunate enough to be a life-long Unitarian Universalist, I learned from an early age that all UU’s live in the middle of a deep divide. Coming out of RE classes from the age of 5 I realized a stark difference between my world at school and my world at church. I didn’t understand that it was ok to question the mainstream and create imaginative and unique ideas about the world at church, but not ok to do the same at school, where conformity was valued over community.
This shocking separation between what I determined to be the UU world and the “normal” world became most apparent to me after my first youth CON in the fall of 2013. At CON I felt more confident and loved than I had ever before. After having a weekend of positive growth mixed with unconditional love and empowerment I was attacked by the whirlwind of what I saw as the dog-eat-dog mentality of high school. I hated the world for about 5 days afterwards, longing to crawl back into my new-found cuddle puddle of compassion forever.
Fast forward to 3 years later. After attending many more CONs, trainings, workshops and camps, I attended Summer Seminary at Star King School for the Ministry, the highlight of my UU career thus far. After the most educational and inspiring week of my life I ended up in the familiar, emotionally heightened time where I floated between the UU world, and the world most other people lived in. As the plane took off from San Francisco and I began to cry as was typical for me, instead of pointlessly resenting all those around me who had done nothing to deserve my distaste, I instead practically felt joyous. I was determined to make some sort of positive change in the world and to try to give the “normal” world some of the incredible light I receive in the UU world.
Following this sensational change of heart, I now deliberately reflect on our 7 principles and turn to them for guidance when I feel stuck in the middle. I regularly remind myself that to act on “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations” means to constantly search for the good in our world, and in others, and use that to fuel the renovations in our greater society.
We can choose to fight to infuse the beauty we find in our beloved community into our day-to-day lives. By living in the middle of drastically different communities we have the ability to enact positive change. While I’m always saddened by leaving the safe and accepting world that I love, I’m now more introspective as to why it’s challenging, yet important to live in the middle.
GA Band Leader: Again we respond in song, this time in the French language that is spoken by some people in the New Orleans area: “Monte la fiévre.”
Zollie: My story began with Cat Stevens. In 2011, when I first came to my congregation, when I first sat down in the sanctuary-- back when we still had this atrocious green carpet-- I sang my first hymn, of course it was Cat Stevens, "Morning Has Broken". I remember sitting there, in the stifling heat, overdressed because I thought it would be like my grandmother's church, and it felt like a beginning. We were there singing about first mornings and first grass, and I thought that this meant that I was being reborn. What I failed to realize, though, was that I had been singing Cat Stevens for a long, long time. As a matter of fact almost as long as I could remember. My mother played Tea for the Tillerman on long car trips and I sang along to "Longer Boats" in between Aladdin and Winnie the Pooh cassettes. And since then Cat Stevens has popped up throughout my own experiences as a UU-- "Peace Train" being played at a church fundraiser, a reference in a short film played at my very first youth CON. It's all very random. Quick flashes of familiarity in an ocean spent engrossed in UUism. Again, when I was coming home from my last youth event, "Morning Has Broken" popped up on my iPod. And in the moment I recall feeling incredibly disappointed. First of all, that it had begun and ended with what is by far my least favorite Cat Stevens song, and secondly, that it was ending at all. You see, at that point I saw "ending" as arriving at a time in life when there are things-- places-- that you can no longer return to. But I was so caught up in beginnings and endings that I forgot about the middle. I could only see that I was no longer at the beginning, so I assumed I was at the end. But I am in the middle-- the middle of my journey as a UU, the middle of figuring things out, the middle of life. We are all in the middle. Our lives are novels being written as we live them. They are words being poured out onto an endless blank page-- The Story of the World, that we are writing. And leaving the youth community was not and is not the end. The end of a chapter maybe, but most certainly it is the beginning of another. In one of her may novels, Cassandra Clare writes, "Hail and Farewell. He had not given much thought to the words before, had never thought about why they were not just a farewell but also a greeting...In every meeting there was some of the sorrow of parting, but in every parting there was some of the joy of meeting as well." And this is true even if we are only meeting and parting with versions of ourselves, or eras, or parts of our stories.
GA Band Leader: Every ending is indeed a beginning. Denial ends, movement begins. Normal weather patterns end. Activism begins. Here we are in the middle of it all, rising and ready and right where we need to be. Join me again: “The Tide is Rising!”
Invitation to the Offering
Lugh Baxter: Last August, I had the honor of attending Summer Seminary at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. It was one of the most brilliant and valuable experiences I have ever had. Summer Seminary taught me so many things about what it means to be a religious leader, got me started on building the skills that it takes to lead, and above all, gave me a greater, clearer sense of my purpose in the world. When Summer Seminary started, I thought that parish ministry, religious education, and hospital or prison chaplaincy were the only possibilities for me in ministry—and that I had to pick just one vocation and stick to it. By the time Summer Seminary was over, I had realized I wanted to be a music minister, a street chaplain, and a performing jazz pianist, and I was determined to do all of them. Every day we gathered for lectures on various forms of ministry, where many very wise religious leaders shared their knowledge and experiences with us so that we could get to know what the work of ministry really looks like. It was truly exhilarating to be able to be a part of a group of such compassionate, thoughtful, dedicated youth who were all committed to creating a safe, joyous space for learning and community.
One of the most special moments I can remember from Summer Seminary was circle worship on the last night. I was really sad to have to let go of the safe, loving space of the community we'd built, and I was preemptively missing all my new friends already. At worship we wrote love poems to ourselves, and held hands and sang. It was a great way to reflect on all the big and small ways that I had changed and grown over the week, and to feel a sense of connection to my fellow seminarians and know that we would stay connected even when we were all separated by vast distances again.
Summer Seminary is literally a life-changing experience, giving youth the opportunity to explore their call to ministry, learn about life as a religious leader, and connect with other youth who are interested in religious leadership. For many youth, the Katie Tyson Fund is what makes it possible for them to travel to Summer Seminary and other leadership trainings. It's really important for youth to be able to get to leadership events and trainings so that they can explore their dreams and passions, and the Katie Tyson Fund enables that to happen. In fact, the Katie Tyson Fund made it possible for me to be here at General Assembly, speaking in front of all of you.
The Katie Tyson Fund exists in honor of the life of Katie Tyson, a Unitarian Universalist young adult who was a passionate leader in UU-ism and wanted to become a minister someday. Sadly, her life ended in a car accident when she was returning home from General Assembly in 2009. Her parents decided to honor the work that she had been so involved in by creating the Katie Tyson Fund to help other youth and young adults live their dreams of leadership. Katie's mother Karen died in 2012, but her father Herb continues to give to our faith community through his incredible generosity. May his resilient spirit inspire you to offer your resources in honor of Katie and in honor of the young leaders you believe in.
You can give cash, write a check payable to the UUA with Synergy in the memo, fill out your credit card details on the envelope, or follow the instructions that will appear on the screen for mobile giving.
Thank you for your generosity.
Music: “Somewhere Off the Foot of This Mountain” by Gina Forsyth
Introduction to the Bridging Ritual
Elizabeth: I’ve been on a lot of good bridges in my life - a slippery wooden one where I skinned my knee rollerblading in the rain around age 8. The bridge the subway takes across the Charles river from Boston to Cambridge and my dear friend Kye told me it was promise she made to herself to never be too busy to not look up when the train goes hurtling across the water. Some of my favorite bridges are old railroad bridges, overgrown and weedy, rusted, but still strong, many repurposed as footbridges that arch over wide water where barges used to make their slow, plodding way. Near here, a bridge across Lake Pontchartrain is the longest continuous in the world. 23.875 miles over water, each of them beautiful.
Beloveds, this is the middle, we’re on a bridge! Your bridge may be world record winning long, it may be rusted, overgrown. You may be enjoying the view or skinning your knees on it right now.
Our UU tradition of a bridging ritual invites us to surround our UU youth with love in this middle moment as they metaphorically move on to the bridge of becoming UU young adults.
Unitarian Universalists honor this transition at our denominational gathering because being here, now, with you all, connects us to the bridgers who have come before, to those who bridge in congregations and summer camps, and to the milestones of transition and transformation we share with our friends and families.
Each bridging youth, come forward to the pulpit and say share your name and your congregation so that we can celebrate you, your journey, your enoughness.
Then cross the stage to greet and receive a gift from the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Bart Frost.
It’s the middle - so the beginning and the ending are far out of sight, the path that has led us to this moment is behind us, the journey that unfolds before us. But we don’t have to be behind or in front. Just right here. Wherever we are on the bridge, we are enough - sturdy enough for struggle of this moment. Beloved enough for the questions, grounded enough for the uncertainties. Courageous enough for whatever comes.
Where the Mississippi river begins in Itasca, Minnesota, you can walk right across it, ankle deep and no wider than this podium - no bridge necessary. Here in New Orleans is where it meets the ocean in a wide delta. Wherever we come from, wherever we are going, here we are, in the middle, on a bridge, enough.
Charge to the Bridgers
Marissa: I really like crossing over bridges. I’m not sure why. But I do. In New York City where I live, whether it is the B train as it crosses over the Manhattan Bridge or the act of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, or any bridge, it always leaves me with an odd sense of accomplishment. Knowing that it was quite possible that I could end up not being the same person at the end as when I first started the trip over the bridge.
Another example of this was over a decade ago when I found myself in traveling throughout southeast Asia, in Cambodia and Laos. After two bus breakdowns, several journeys across a mini-boat in the middle of the night that I thought would tip over at any time, and on the back of motorcycles, I found myself with two traveling companions, a young Irish entrepreneur and a French doctor. Although I’m not a fan of maneuvering any type of thing with wheels (car, rollerblades, shopping cart), my two travel companions managed to convinced me to ride a bike. After my initial fears has passed, we had a joyful bike ride, around the island, across muddy paths, over tiny streams, and through leafy jungles.
Until we came across two other bicyclists. These bicyclists looked completely exhausted and looked like the harbingers of doom. They waved to us and we stopped to talk to them.
“Just to let you know. There’s….there’s a bridge over a massive river coming up along this path. You’ll want to be careful. It’s the worst. Nearly impossible to cross and pretty dangerous. We just wanted to give you a warning.”
Even though we became concerned, we thanked the couple for giving us a heads up and continued on our way. As we moved across the path, we eventually came upon a bridge.
The bridge was tiny and secure. We started to laugh at the other bicyclists and then ourselves. “This…this is the dangerous bridge? This is nothing. This is the bridge they were afraid of?”
We moved over the bridge quickly chuckling the entire time. We had it in our head that this bridge would be so daunting, only to find it was nothing to be afraid of.
Yet, as we peddled on, we slowly came up to another bridge. We immediately stopped in our paths. At that moment, we realized that the other bridge wasn’t what the couple was referring to. THIS was what they were referring to. Imagine a bridge straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. And then imagine a bridge out of an Indiana Jones movie that takes place in hell. THAT was this this bridge. The bridge was rickety, filled with holes, and the river was huge.
“Are you afraid?” my Irish companion asked me. In all honesty in that moment, I was very much afraid. But I also very much wanted to cross the bridge as well. But I also know that I could not cross the bridge and carry my massive bike over. Either the bike would fall into the river or I would fall into the river and get swept up by the stream. I was trembling and I was lost and afraid and wasn’t sure what to do.
We came to the conclusion that one of our traveling companions, would be the one to carry the bikes over for us, so that we could safety cross without our bikes. Eventually, one by one, we all crossed the river without any harm. We had crossed over the bridge.
I’ll stop here for a moment. I can’t tell you how embarrassed and ashamed I was initially at not being able to cross. I was even embarrassed about being afraid. Here I was on this incredible journey and I was afraid. Afraid of falling in, afraid of not being able to carry my own weight, afraid of being the weakest of the team.
But I realized two important things.
First was, there is glory in the middle. Like Zollie had mentioned, we are all in the middle. I became so consumed on crossing the bridge, that I didn’t take the time to think about what it was really like to be in the middle. I too, became so caught up with the beginning and end of that bridge crossing, that I didn’t realize what an incredible feat I was engaged in. I crossed this rickety bridge in the middle of an isolated jungle. I had taken this journey by myself and had met strangers who now became dear friends. I wrote the novel of my life as I lived it. It was in the middle that I realized what I was truly capable of as a human being. I was enough.
Secondly, in the middle, I realized how much I really did need the help of my companions. WE NEED EACH OTHER. We need each other as we cross bridges. We need each other to carry our loads when we do not have enough strength. We need each other for support in the work that we do and the work that we will continue to do. In the good times. In the challenging times.
Along the lines of supporting one another, I recently saw a powerful documentary on the struggle at Standing Rock, as a community came together, led by Indigenous resistance to protect the precious natural resource of water from the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. There is one scene captured in the documentary when the community begins to construct a bridge onto Turtle Island Hill. One by one, the resistors slowly cross over the water to reclaim the sacred space, once an Indigenous burial ground. One by one, you see the water protectors help one another onto the wooden platform to make their way to the peaceful gathering at the other side. While we cross many different bridges throughout our lives, some important, others light-hearted, I was honored and inspired that in our lifetimes, we were able to see an example of such powerful act of resistance in our lifetimes. This is the Story of the World.
And undoubtedly, we will see so many more. We will see so many more bridges crossed in the upcoming years. You will see so many bridges crossed. You yourself will cross these bridges. And you’ll be scared at the middle of those bridges. You might even wonder why you are on the bridge in the first place. You might wonder how you got there.
But remember, you will always have someone there to guide you as you cross that bridge. There will always be support at the middle. And we need to remember this now, more than ever.
I remember during the evening of the election, I was thousands of miles away from home and alone. As I saw the colors of the states change, I became devastated. The only glimmer of hope were the voices of a group of community immigrant organizers in Nevada. Immediately interviewed after the election, a news reporter asked them if they thought if the Wall was going to be built. Without hesitation, they very confidentially responded “Wall? There isn’t going to be a wall. We will never let there be a wall.”
Even though I might never meet them, I want to say to them thank you. Thank you for being with me on the bridge. In the middle. Because while the results of the election were devastating for me, they were not the end of the world, nor the beginning of a resistance movement. In fact, I had realized that we are actually in the middle of a resistance movement - one that undocumented immigrants, trans folks, women of color, and incarcerated folks have been in the middle for a long time. To say that it is the beginning is to disregard the struggles of those who came before us and those that will inevitably come after us.
Lastly, the second thing that I’ll never forget goes back to when I was in Laos on that day when I crossed the bridge with my companions. As we made it across the bridge, the French doctor who had carried all of our bikes across had fallen in a few times into the river. Although safe, he was dripping from head to toe. As we examined him over though, and as he pulled a cigarette out to smoke, we noticed he was bleeding.
He was shocked, but then we soon realized that he was bleeding because of another companion he had met along the way, a river leech. At first we were all unsure of what to do and looked at one another.
Deep in the corners of my mind and in all of my experiences, I remembered something. I took one of the doctor’s cigarettes and placed it into the leech and slowly watched the leech shrink up and fall off. We all smiled at one another. Although I hadn’t been able to carry my bike across the bridge, I got removed the leech. This was my small contribution.
For all of you bridging today, I hope that you spend some time to think about your own contribution you have made as young Unitarian Universalists, in your youth groups, at your congregations, across youth faith. You are enough. You have done so much more than you think and you have impacted more lives than you could ever imagine. In fact, you will never know the full extent of your contributions, as you stand here at the middle. I look forward to what you will continue to contribute and as you eventually, will look behind you, and reach out to those others who will follow you across the middle of your own bridges.
GA Band Leader: Yes, we are in the middle of this journey and we need each other. If we see each ending as a beginning and find the power of the middle we can work together and “Turn the World Around!” Let’s sing this classic Harry Belafonte song with joy!
Colleen: Go now!
Go into the world knowing that we are all with you
Go knowing that you are more than enough
That you are worth it
Go knowing that this is not the end nor the beginning
but the middle
Go knowing that this is your journey
and you have the power to make it what you wish.
And may it be so.
Reprise: "Turn the World Around"
Bill Sinkford: Perhaps the most important role of the religious community is to mark the transitions of our lives and the transitions of our lives in community.
We have gathered to witness and to bless those who have bridged this evening.
We mark their passage into young adulthood with gratitude for the leadership they are already providing our community and welcome of the new leadership we hope they will offer.
And the leadership of our larger community is also continuing its transition. My Interim Co-President colleagues and I are completing our short period of service, deeply grateful for both for the support we have received and the opportunity to make a contribution.
It is time for the results of the Presidential election to be announced.
I invite Rob Eller-Isaacs, Secretary of the UUA Board of Trustees, to come forward.
UUA Secretary Rob Eller-Isaacs announced that the new President of the UUA is the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray.