General Assembly 2019 Event #308
Unedited live captions of the Synergy Bridging Worship (TXT) were created during the event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
Gather to remember childhood, acknowledge trauma, and celebrate where we are today. Join Young Adults at General Assembly (YA@GA) and GA Youth in honoring our bridging youth moving into young adulthood. Together, Unitarian Universalists of all ages will commit to supporting them through the beautiful and painful parts of their journeys.
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Opening: "Resilient" written by Rising Appalachia
Rev. Sara Green: Welcome all, to this year’s 2019 synergy service!
Bart Frost: Welcome to youth, who might be looking ahead to their own bridging.
S: Welcome to young adults, who remember their own transition to adulthood.
B: Welcome, especially to our bridgers, and to those who have gathered to support and recognize them.
S: Welcome to our communities, families and ancestors. Welcome to those who have journeyed alongside us.
B: Let’s take a moment to thank the GA band, the participants in this worship service, and everyone who helped make it all possible.
S: We know that even though this is an exciting time, transitioning to a different stage of life can be overwhelming. In fact, this world, a fractal of your experience as young people, is overwhelming. In this service we are going to bear witness to that- to your realities. This work is hard and messy. It is uncomfortable and will likely feel heavier than you can bear alone.
B: But look around you. Our faith holds us. Our chaplains can help bear witness to your experiences and emotions. And, every face you see in this room is a part of the tapestry of support and love that sustains us. It is in community, communities such as this one, where we can be together to struggle through the hard times and celebrate the joyful ones. When we gather, with our whole selves, we create holy space.
Kari & Andreas: Bart gratitude
B: And now we’d like to invite Iris Chalk, the GA Youth junior worship coordinator, to light our chalice.
Iris Chalk: In the spirit of wonder and of bravery, in the spirit of our coming together, we light this chalice.
We light it in acknowledgement of the imperfections of our journeys, and of the wholeness.
We light it in affirmation of the struggle and the shine, the scars and the songs. The stories which tie them all together.
We light this chalice to remember. To remember each other, to remember those lost, to remember this faith, to remember ourselves.
Let us be awakened by this flame, let our spirits be renewed, and our collective being united.
Responsive Reading: "Invitation to Brave Space" written by Mickey ScottBey Jones
Emerson Finkle: Please join me in the responsive reading “Invitation to Brave Space” by Micky ScottBey Jones.
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together,
We will work on it side by side
Congregational Singing: "More Love Somewhere"
Invocation of Childhood
Iris Chalk: May we gather in deeper connection, here in this space of remembrance, calling upon those past experiences which have led us to where we are today.
May we welcome in the playful memories, the joyful ones, the ones shaped through a passionate curiosity, a hopeful vision for the future.
May we welcome in those memories told to us through the whispers of the ones we used to be:
The children who dream, who play, laugh and cry, fall, lose their way, find it again.
The children we used to be, their experiences now our memories, may we remember them here.
They have wisdom to offer us—listen carefully—they have their own songs to sing and stories to tell, ones we may have forgotten about.
Let us gather with their hopeful voices present.
Let us gather to affirm those parts of our journeys lost or forgotten.
Let us gather to remember, to listen, to connect
Ayanna Kafi: Punk rock changed my life. It was a parachute when I was free falling. It was beans and rice and spice soaked kale before I even knew of kitchen witchery. It was reason and logic when the world outside of my headphones didn’t offer any. It was open arms, inclusion, and my very own activist fairy godmother. It unsettled the status quo and whispered that I didn’t have to accept less than humane treatment. That no one has to accept less than humane treatment. In my earliest years, listening was baptism and I was reborn, named riot.
My first rock show was in second grade when my mother was still matching my bobby socks to my barrettes. I sat, criss cross, cornrowed, and overall clad, as my aftercare teacher’s band, Ultra Baby Fat, played atop faded hopscotch chalk on the cement block, outside of my classroom. UBF played and I was saved.
The first time that I dyed my hair was a late Friday night in a best friend’s basement bedroom. We passed the time, under plastic caps, to the sounds of the Dead Milkmen and the Queers, perfectly collaged into our death of normality hair dye mixtape. That night, we were belly laughs, snarls, and bubble gum. We were pink and raspberry topped, jeweled middled, like oversized treasure trolls. Punk rock changed our lives. That long weekend, we took to the woods and sang Moldy Peaches and Pixies by light of our self lit glamp-fire then stomped down tree lined paths, in thrift store boots, as if it was our familier city sidewalks, giving our hearts to the very Earth that we sprung from.
My brain is a slow, clunky, out of date computer that, as time goes on, becomes less and less user friendly. It can only remember one way to get home from work but somehow can remember every word to Bohemian Rhapsody. My emotional memory, on the other hand, flashes me back, at a moment’s notice, to Red Hot Chili Pepper acapela dance parties with temporary platonic soul mates, behind closed elevator doors, and Deftone soundtracked first kisses from first loves under twinkle and black lights. I’ve always been a writer but rock introduced my feelings to a worthy format. I inherently knew better than to trust something as faulty as my brain to store my precious memories, so I left tiny pieces of my soul, like horcrux and breadcrumb, in songs. Memory is a liar so mixtapes become both diary and holy book.
The things that have been left behind can easily be a parachute, long since rendered useless, filling with air as we exhaust ourselves by racing into our future, towards the next incarnation of ourselves. The things that have been left behind can also be our origin story. A foundation that is never erased but built upon. Our past is a collage of songs. Some happened to us like a dance party to a stranger’s pick on the jukebox. Others are made, like off key screaming Where Is My Mind? in both bridal suite and gym bathroom somehow overlapping with each other, in faded memory. And some seem to be written into your very dna, like that moment when you put on the New York station, and listen so hard that your grey world turns technicolor.
Congregational Singing: "My Life Flows On in Endless Song"
Offering for the Katie Tyson Fund
Rev. Kate Walker: My name is Kate Walker. I am honored to serve as the minister of the Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA. Ten years ago I was horrified to learn that one of my young adults was killed in a car accident on her way home from General Assembly.
Katie Tyson grew up in my church. She served on our board, regularly attended and was a leader at cons, mentored younger members, served on the district board and went on to be a lay leader at the Arlington Street Church while attending Boston College. Katie had two career paths, one in biostatistics and one as a UU minister. Neither happened.
Her parents, Karen and Herb Tyson, were front row members. They bought their house next to the church in part, to ensure their only child had a community surrounding her. (Slide 16) They modeled for their daughter as engaged lay leaders and generous financial stewards. When their only child died, they immediately envisioned a fund to help Unitarian Universalist youth and young adults like Katie. We started the fund at my church, and soon approached the UUA to enlarge it and ensure its longevity.
Then tragedy hit again when Karen died in 2012 following complications from cancer. Herb Tyson, having lost his only child and wife, took to the road with his talent as a singer and song writer, raising money at UU churches for the Katie Tyson Fund. He brought those talents to GA multiple times. In his heart, Katie and Karen were always with him. With time, Herb healed and found love again, but then Herb too died last fall from complications from cancer.
There was nothing in my training or 20 years of ministry that prepared me for the grief of burying an entire family who were so dedicated to our faith. My grief is channeled into the Katie Tyson Fund so that UU youth and young adults have opportunities to explore and learn about their faith, and receive leadership training. There is one thing I know as one who was raised UU, our UU youth and young adults need to know that this beloved community believes in them.
The fund provides scholarships to conferences and projects such as GA, Meaning Makers, Thrive Youth and Summer Seminary. It is in community and with training that we raise our youth into their future as Unitarian Universalists. With encouragement, invitation and love our youth can be live into their unfolding future.
To make that happen, they need our financial support. You can give by writing 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 to feel extra cool. Cash is still good, particularly if it has large numbers on it.
Please recognize that the future of our Unitarian Universalist faith lies in our hands and our generosity. I personally extend my gratitude to each and every one of you.
"The Heart of It All" written by Herb Tyson
"Everything Possible" written by Rev. Fred Small
"Where Does the Time Go" written by A Great Big World
Invocation to Honor Grief
Iris Chalk: May we deepen our connection here as we enter into a space of acknowledgement, where we meet to honor aspects of ourselves often hidden away.
May we recognize the trauma we have endured which weighs on our bodies and hearts to this day.
May we gently and bravely invite in our wounds, our scars, our anger proclaimed with fire, our songs sung through grief--melodies forcefully created by deep hurt and pain.
There is sadness and there is sorrow through all this struggle. Here may it be held in love.
There is deep, profound anger where there is injustice. Here may it be held in breaths of liberation.
There is a brokenness to every new aspect of life lived after trauma. Here may it be held. Fiercely, gently, held.
Here we acknowledge our hurt. Here we acknowledge the world as both beautiful and broken. Here we acknowledge ourselves as both beautiful and broken.
Emma Merchant: I will remind you that tonight we gather in brave space, not safe space, and that to be brave we must lean into the discomfort and pain we have hidden for so long. I will remind you that tonight is both an occasion for celebration and mourning. There are youth who are not here, be it because they have left our faith, or because they have been taken from this world. There are parts of ourselves which are not here tonight because we have been damaged. I remind you that this is a brave space, and that together, we must be brave to heal the world.
My life was not supposed to happen like this. My life was not supposed to be full of so many quiet murders. I knew this was not supposed to happen to any of us, but this was not supposed to happen to a girl like me. Girl with a loving mother. Girl who wanted to be minister. Girl with straight As and straight teeth. Girl who taught herself clumsy guitar with a folk song voice. This was not supposed to happen to me, girl of second chances, and yet, it still did.
Youth is the only experience I have ever had. She is a brutal thief in the night. Steals trinkets of my story and replaces each with a scar. She never opens her hands to ask for more, only takes. She takes bodies. Takes blood. Takes secrets that twist and writhe. Not everyone survives youth, but everyone remembers. My youth was nothing special in its great terribleness. My trauma is a warped mirror of my mother’s, which was a warped mirror of her mother’s: trauma compounded over time. The horror of my childhood and youth, the murders of myself, should have never happened. And they still did.
I am not who I once was. It started with the year of silence. The year of quietly crying in the bathroom. That year I turned fourteen. I turned from girl to statistic, just like so many. One in four of us will self harm. I’m just one who spoke. Of hiding scissors and old pocket knives around my room. I had been asked to grow up too fast, had been screamed at for every step I took. I thought I would die that year. Saw death around every corner. Felt watched in the night. I craved the control of a blade. That summer I finally told my secret, the same summer my mother cupped fire in her bare hands. Both of us consumed and set ablaze by our faith.
Two years later was the year of hunger. The year I turned sixteen. Year of searching. Year of eight hour meetings that ended in resigned screaming, as if we all knew we were just playing our part. Saw the lightning of faith strike down my best friend while I only felt the blast of heat from across the table. She hungered for the control of counting calories, like so many of us. We spent so much time together, how did I not notice? How did I not notice her shrinking? The crusts hanging around the edges of her plate and how she was always cold? This year was gaining a new family and watching it crumble. The sweetness of community and the bitters of isolation.
That was the same year the universe sent me a boy with blonde hair and blue eyes. I thought he could be the answer to all my prayers, my salvation. Human cliché may have a scorched earth policy, but the universe does not. The boy wields ‘I love you’ like a weapon, ‘I’m sorry’ like a sword. Hears my stories and subtly tells me it was all my fault. Gently reminds me that I do not matter. Pulls me away from my dearest connections. I do not see the warning signs. That summer he proves that my body is not my own. I push the word rape away because I do not want to believe this could happen to me, but it happened anyways.
The next year he tells me he does not know who I am, except my family’s sins. Tells me that I am a monster and that he loves me in the same breath. I cry so hard I can’t feel the dead stumps of my hands; it becomes imperative to see if my pulse is still running in my skin. The day of my return, he tries to reach across the void he ripped in me. He doesn’t understand why I am so hurt. So dazed and confused. Why I cry whenever he grabs for me. After a week of gaslit coaxing, I am back in his arms. When my best friend asks why I stay, I say I love the boy. What I mean is that I am afraid that he is the best I deserve. I have stay. He proves again and again that my body is not mine. My rape is countless and perpetual. Always ends with an apology of atonement. And even after all this, I still cry when he leaves.
The summer that he leaves is the summer of seas. Of endless tears. I lose weight like water. I survive on coffee and plain pasta. Anything else feels dead in my mouth. My mother offers nothing, she knows this pain. I am silent; I always have words and now I do not. I write miles anyways. Write down everything except for the real experience. Only describe the after. Only describe the absence of him. Or the absence of myself. Slowly, I stop crying for him. Starting crying for myself. I grieve the murder of the girl I used to be. Her hands were always open to the possibility of love, mine are always closed and cold. I know that I have died, but no one around me sees it. They come to my funeral and congratulate me on surviving, not seeing the blood, not knowing even when I send a message from beyond the grave. I hold my own seance to find my voice, it is broken and choked. I am not who I used to be; I am dead, the ghost of some girl who used to be me.
I have lost so much to this handful of years. These four impossible years should have killed me, almost killed me. Youth has stolen so much from me, fingers sticky with blood. She has stolen from my friends. Whole summers, and winters, gone to crying. Whole years taken by depression, by anxiety. Being a young person in this climate has taken so much from me, has quietly killed so much of my soul. I fear nothing now, because I know what I have survived. Know that I have returned from what should have killed me. Know I will do it again.
Because we are still here. I am still here. This was never supposed to happen to a girl like me. Was never supposed to happen to any of us. My life was never supposed to unfold with so many murders. I grieve the murder of the girl I used to be. For the children we used to be. But as I am mourning, I am also engulfed in rage and the power of justice. This world has tried to extinguish us, has tried to paralyze us with fear and it has not worked. Our every step is rebellion. This world tried to kill me and I live. This culture, this country, these ways of being have tried to kill us, the uprising. We name our abusers, we name what has hurt us and we march forth to bring justice. This was never supposed to happen, but it did. We rise from the cremation of ourselves and call for what is good and true.
I do not accept that this trauma had to happen. There is a revolution if we are brave enough to call for it. There is a new world if we will build it. There is healing even if there is no true healing for pain like this, no knitting the wound back to perfect flesh. There is no way to bring back the dead, but whatever we are now, we are here. We survived yesterday and all the years before. I have no hope of surviving tomorrow, except for that I have done it before. I do not hope, I know. I know this rose will open. I know my soul will spread its wings, not whole but healing.
Because I am still here, girl of second chances. Girl of survival, of walking through flame and fire. And even after my death, I rise.
Congregational Singing: "I Know This Rose Will Open"
Rev. Sara Green: Dear friends-comrades-co-conspirators, you have crossed rivers and traversed mountains to be here. You have traveled unimaginable distances to be here, hand in hand, this week and tonight.
Six years and a handful of months ago, you arrived at that seemingly uncrossable ocean of youth and started this journey.. Some of you joined the voyage later, pucked off of islands and welcomed with open arms. Some of you left early, chose a new home and settled into new sands. You gathered memories and relationships like precious shells, each one whispers a story if you hold it to your ear. You found community amongst each other and the waves, even as the water perpetually rolled and changed underneath you. And it was home, and sometimes it was good, and sometimes it was bad.
But the ocean always take tribute. The ocean’s ability to remember yet not clench will always astound me. You are not who we once were. You are not those children who set out on an adventure. Some of you made it across that great and terrible ocean, and some of you did not.
But here you are, at the edge of the sea. Finally at the shore. Finally at the bridge from sea to sky, horizon.You have crossed such distance that it can only be described as time, as memory. And tonight, you cross this bridge to continue your journey from youth to adult. And it is a miracle. It is a wonderment that you have arrived, it is a testament to your strength. To the ancestors. To the power of the communities you’ve have built, and to the power deep within your own souls. You cross this bridge, and we join you in the deep overwhelm and the relief of living.
And in that same joy, that same wonderment and awe, you grieve deeply and unfathomably. Some of you made it across that great and terrible ocean, and some of you did not. Some parts of you made it across that great and terrible ocean, and some parts of you did not. The only thing left to do is to honor what was lost, what was taken too early, what never should have been taken at all. All we can do is name what we can name and raise up a new land of justice.
So as you bridge, drop your stone into the ocean, remember what has been taken and what you have gained. Grieve as you may and honor as you must. And as you cross this bridge, celebrate your being here. Your journey was a long and perilous one, and here you are anyways. You have been lost, and found yourself over and over again. The shells and stones whisper the story of you, of us. Your stories are twisted, are joy and pain, are sweetness and sorrow, are celebration and grief, all in the same breath. All in the same ocean.
Leave your grief, lay your burden down. Pick up your story, your blessing. Celebrate the miracle of yourself. We honor this moment, this split second in time. And we work towards our future, bringing every story of our lives, the journey never over. The story never ceasing.
We invite you now, to drop the stone, to cross the threshold and to name yourself.
Invocation of Change and Revolution
Iris Chalk: May we enter now into a space of transition; we have honored those parts of our journeys experienced thus far, may we now begin to bless the unknown.
May we step into uncertainty, onto paths we've yet to cross, but will meet soon.
May we do justice to our lives thus far by experiencing those paths to their fullest potential:
- By listening to the whispers of the ones we used to be as they guide our dreams and hopeful visions for the future.
- By honoring the aspects of ourselves lost and broken, remembering them as parts of our journeys, holding them in the deepest love.
- By stepping forth from here, into this world, with a promise of justice radiating from our beings, calling for revolution.
Calling for a time when our playful, curious, unrelentingly joyful experiences as children do not become mere memories as youth.
A time when we do not have to endure so much trauma, grieve all the losses of our dear friends and of parts of ourselves.
A time where we breathe and live and love and dream freely, finally.
This is where we prepare for unknown paths. This is where we hold one another with our promises, our fierce love. This is where we are called to grow.
Charge to the Congregation
Emerson Finkle: In my congregation growing up, our bridging ritual always involved an actual bridge. It was stored in a back closet, taking up a ridiculous amount of space only to emerge once a year when another class of youth would transition into young adulthood. I remember watching this ritual, transfixed. Parents walked their child to one side, the bridger shuffled awkwardly across, and they were greeted by whichever young adult member was in church that day. This ritual was meant to be a time to reaffirm promises to young people in our congregation. But all too often, we see our youth to the bridge and then stop there, waving to them while we stay behind. But bridging is not the severing of a tie. It’s the stretching of that tie, it’s a challenge to our relationships with our bridgers. It’s not enough to wave goodbye and throw our fledgling young adults to the wind. We have an obligation to continue supporting them in new and different ways. In ways that honor this transition in their lives.
To congregations touched by bridgers now moving away, do not let your connections to them disappear. Get their new addresses. Send them cards congratulating them on milestones. Send cards reminding them that they are loved. Send cards offering a reading you heard and thought of them. Friend them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram and send all those same things virtually. Remain connected to the emerging adults in your congregations and they will remain connected to Unitarian Universalism. But wave goodbye permanently and they may feel as though they are no longer welcome in your congregation or in our faith.
To congregations who find emerging adults at your doorstep, welcome them in with excitement. Let them know that you’ve been waiting for them. Offer rides to church or the potluck Thursday night. See if they want to serve on the board. Learn about their interests. Start conversations with them during coffee hour. And when they move on yet again, mark that transition too. Don’t let yourself be left wishing you’d have gotten to know them better.
To you General Assembly, the congregation of congregations, I charge you to meet and exceed the expectations of these bridgers. There is work they expect beyond simply allowing them into your congregations when they arrive. This group of bridgers expect more than what’s been received by emerging adults in the past. They are raising the bar and expecting you to meet it. They expect us to celebrate their leadership and to help it grow. They expect us to be beacons of possibility and encouragement for imagination. The bridgers expect us not to make them into boring adults, but to support their blossoming into the kinds of adults they are called to be. The world in which we live grows ever more hostile. The forces of injustice threaten us at every turn. Many young people have faced trauma and violence. For some, simply existing can feel like an insurmountable feat. We must provide safe havens specifically designed to welcome full selves. As the world grows colder, our congregations must exude light and warmth, drawing in those haggered by the weather.
And so I ask you, the congregation of congregations, to verbally acknowledge your commitments to our bridgers. Please respond to the following questions with “We will.”
Will you hold these beloved bridgers, through their highest and their lowest times, as they enter young adulthood?
Will you commit to being with them wherever their journey unfolds?
Will you cultivate congregations that allow them to lay down their burdens, congregations that hold space for their joys and their sorrows?
Will you listen to their needs and adjust accordingly?
Will you follow these emerging adults where they lead our faith?
To cement these promises, I invite you to join with me in singing the response on the screen.
Bridger’s Charge to Each Other
Emma Merchant: After this we will scatter to the four corners and beyond. We are departing, never to return to this moment again, never to return to this liminal youth community again. We are leaving, pulling away from each other and towards a new future, but before we leave, before we goodbye, let us make one final promise to each other. One last demand of each other and whatever magic brought us together. Please turn towards another bridger and repeat this charge to one another:
No matter where you go or who you become
I charge you to always remember this love.
All of its failures.
And all of its miracles.
I charge you to always know you can come back, or leave.
I charge you to always know me,
whether we meet again, or not.
I charge you to hold me accountable
And to always know that where you go, I will go.
I charge you to always call for justice and revolution, no matter the discomfort.
To fight to heal the world, to fight for justice.
To feed the hungry.
To clothe the poor.
To protect love at the center of every action.
To be the uprising we need.
To build this world together.
To always know that your people are my people.
I charge you to know that we will forever support and cherish each other in every endeavor and fraction of life.
Amen and Blessed be.
I now invite you to join me in song to seal this charge, now and forever more.
Chalice Extinguishing & Benediction
Iris Chalk, Rev. Sara Green, Bart Frost
Emma Merchant: With the extinguishing of our chalice, we lose the physical flame, but its bold and bright declaration of this faith community remains lit within our spirits.
(Emma extinguishes the chalice)
Sara Green: May the compassion and truth it holds affirm the challenging, wondrous journeys experienced in this community.
Bart Frost: May the power and the promise of justice it holds guide and sustain us into revolution, onto the journeys yet to come.
Iris Chalk: As we depart from this community, we depart from each other, from this aspect of our lives and onto new, glorious paths.
Sara Green: These paths will be lit by many other hearts, met with perils, miracles, celebrations, challenges. But amongst all of them will lie the love and the hope of here. Of this moment.
Bart Frost: May every step taken away from this space be blessed with the magic of this faith, may every moment experienced from here be held in the love of our community.