Sunday Morning Worship: “Beyond the Water’s Edge,” General Assembly 2020

Program Description

Join us for the largest annual gathering of UUs joining in worship. This powerful, communal worship experience is open to the public. Rev. Joan Javier-Duval will deliver the sermon at the 2020 General Assembly Sunday Morning Worship. She serves as Minister of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, VT. She is the daughter of immigrants from the Philippines, mother of a kindergartener, and spouse of a proud Vermonter. Beauty, gratitude, and love are at the heart of her faithful striving for collective liberation and a thriving planet.

The worship service will include a collection for the Tomaquag Museum, an indigenous museum featuring an extensive collection and archive of Southern New England tribal communities. Donate now.

Order of Service

“Beyond the Water’s Edge”

These are uncertain and volatile times. These are times that call on us to work towards our collective liberation while also tending to our spiritual needs and caring for others. How do we ready ourselves for what is being asked of us? How do we keep moving even when we don’t feel ready? 

  • Gathering
  • Music 
  • Honoring the Land and Welcome 
    Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
  • Call to Worship and Chalice Lighting 
    Rev. Joan Javier-Duval and Rev. Mykal Slack
  • Opening Song 
    “We Are...” by Ysaÿe Barnwell
    GA Virtual Choir directed by Benjie Messer
    Soloist: Dr. Ysaÿe Barnwell
  • A Message for Us All 
    Rev. Mykal Slack
  • Offering for 
    Tomaquag Museum 
    Testimonial from Lorén Spears, Executive Director of the Tomaquag Museum
    Flute music by Ridge E. Spears
  • Meditation and Prayer 
    Rev. Mykal Slack
  • Responsive Music 
    “Deep River” trad. African-American spiritual
    Performed by Philip Rogers (vocalist), Nivek Anderson (cello)
  • Reading 
    Adapted selection from Three Dreams in a Desert by Olive Schreiner
    Read by Clyde Grubbs, Aja Davis, Yuri Yamamoto
  • Anthem 
    “Tomorrow” by Kate and Justin Miner
    GA Virtual Choir
  • Sermon 
    Beyond the Water’s Edge
    Rev. Joan Javier-Duval
  • Closing Song 
    “Keep On Moving Forward” by Pat Humphries
    Performed by Emma’s Revolution with Melanie deMore
  • Benediction
    Rev. Joan Javier-Duval


I join you here from my home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the ancestral lands of the Massachusett people who lived here for at least 12,000 years before Europeans came. The name Massachusett is an Algonquian word meaning "At the Great Hill," referring to the Blue Hills overlooking Boston Harbor from the south, which was a sacred and ceremonial area. A community of Massachusett people continue to live in the area of Ponkapoag, also known as Canton. To the south of the Massachusett are their traditional neighbors, the Wampanoag, and to the west, the Nipmucs. I invite you to take a moment wherever you are to honor the Native People and the land on which you live.

And, if you don't know this history, then commit to learning it. Land acknowledgments help combat the erasure of Indigenous Peoples and cultures, breaking the silence in settler communities that diminish the legacy of trauma, violence, and theft that is the reality of colonialism experienced by Indigenous People throughout the United States and globally. And it is not just history. It's happening right now. Indigenous People are still here. Their lands are still occupied. Dear ones, I am Susan Frederick-Gray, president of your Unitarian Universalist Association. Welcome, Unitarian Universalists from all over the world gathered in this sacred hour for the closing worship of the 2020 all-virtual General Assembly. Throughout this week, we have rooted ourselves in history, including the complicated history of Unitarian Universalism's complicity in colonization and conquest. We have been inspired by the vision of leaders both within and beyond our tradition, calling forth liberating practices of community, resistance, spirituality, faith, and organizing. We are inspired by the courage of resistant movements rising up today, and we are ready. Ready to act, ready to join more deeply in solidarity, to breathe more life into a faith and a world liberated from systems of colonialism and white supremacy and more deeply embodied by the values of compassion and interdependence, and the practices of justice and equity. It is my great pleasure to introduce the worship team for this service, the Reverend Joan Javier-Duval, minister of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, Vermont, the Reverend Mykal O'Neal Slack, community minister for worship and spiritual care for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, otherwise known as BLUU. And Mr. Benjie Messer, music director for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix, Arizona. Thank you to these leaders, the choir, musicians, tech support, and all those who make today's worship possible. Now as we enter this space together, I invite us to take a deep breath and to gently let it go.

It is good to be together.

Hello, I am Reverend Joan Javier-Duval.

And I am Reverend Mykal Slack. We are so grateful to be worshiping with you today.

The elements of today's service have all been pre-recorded. Most of the spoken elements of the service were recorded just days before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the subsequent global uprising for Black lives.

The movements to abolish systems of policing in favor of true community safety and care are generations old. And yet, people all over this country and the world are still fighting. Still making their voices, our voices heard.

We hope that the service shared with you today feels relevant and nourishing to you, even with the time lag between its original recording and your receiving it today.

There is still much work to be done and many rivers to cross. May our shared faith carry us through.

Have you ever made your way to the edge of a riverbank?

The terrain may be slippery and uneven with loose dirt and shifting rocks, and it may be hard to settle our wheels, our canes, or our feet on the unsteady ground beneath.

But we go anyway, because of what we may find there. All the growing things and surprises of nature, the uncertainty and the intensity of the adventure, sometimes alone, and at other times with your best people, living water.

Today, we will journey together, come and go with us.

We may not take the same path, but that's fine. Bring what you need, and you will fare well all along the way.

Know that you are not alone. All those ancestors who have loved and cared for us, taught us, held us, and inspired us. They are here with us, too.

As we begin our time of worship, we call upon those familial ancestors, biological and chosen, parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, siblings, cousins, lovers, and partners.

We call upon those religious ancestors who loved this faith, who stayed in it even when it felt like this faith community didn't love them back. And those who left blazing new trails.

We call upon those activists and healers, community builders and visionaries, who have led us forward on our path towards a more beloved community.

On this 51st anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, that fateful day when trans folk and queer folk rose up and said no more to violence and disrespect. We call into this space Sylvia Rivera, Marsha "Pay it No Mind" Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, and countless others. Their love for themselves and each other, and a clear vision for a better world for all of us, sparked a movement that is still calling us all into account for Black, Indigenous, and POC trans lives being lost every day. So as you feel led, join us in calling forth your ancestors now by typing their names into the comments or chat section of your screen.

Now, having welcomed in our ancestors, honoring the love that we have for them and the love and the power they share with us, we light our chalice, an enduring symbol of Unitarian Universalism. We kindle one flame and another, and another across distance and geography uniting in this sacred time. May these flames remind us of who we are, and the path lit for us by those who have come before.

We are all here together now. Slowly, but surely, let us make our way down.

Hello, everyone. I'm Benjie Messer, music coordinator of this year's General Assembly. In her song "We Are," Dr. Ysaÿe Barnwell celebrates the wonder of each life and suggests that even when separated, we are one. I love the lyric, "We are the breath of our ancestors." As we sing, you'll see a few personal photos from our singers showing that profound truth. Please join with our virtual choir led by Dr. Barnwell herself in singing "We Are."


Good morning, everybody.

At a time in my life of deep curiosity, long before you and I were here together, I asked someone, What is Unitarian Universalism? The person I asked said, It's basically all about principles and people. That seemed like a very wide, open response. I appreciate being open. But it was almost too open to be recognizable.

So I asked someone else.

The next person said, It's all about congregational polity, you know, how congregations govern themselves. At the time, I'm grateful that I understood a little bit about what that meant. But I wondered how a Unitarian Universalism whose primary function was to focus inward, was supposed to speak to the people who are hungry for it, who just haven't found it yet. So I kept asking, and kept asking, and kept asking some more. Because each of us whether we're 8, 18, or 88 often have different answers to the same question. And I kept asking because it matters how we connect to our faith and what those connections rise up within us to share and also to live into. Many of the responses I've received over the years have either been deeply engaging or, at times, deeply troubling. But thankfully, ultimately, they have all drawn me closer. Along the way, of course, I started doing some of my own reading and I came across words from Reverend Lauren Smith, the UUA's director of stewardship and development. She was a parish minister at the time she wrote these words.

She said, We're all part of an unfolding personal and communal human story, whose ending has not yet been determined. My job as a preacher is to plumb the wisdom of our religious traditions, including its sources, to help guide those stories in the direction of wholeness, peace, liberation, and life. The sermon brings the wisdom of our source traditions to bear on the challenges of human existence, which may relate to the personal lives of individuals, to a particular community, or to humanity as a whole. Each of us participates in life at all these levels. In her essay entitled "Call and Response" in the book "Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry," Reverend Smith was reflecting on her call to ministry and the influence of place, identity, and purpose on her ability to live out that call. And it still speaks powerfully to me about the richness of, as well as some of the constraints around, our varied entry points into Unitarian Universalism.

My early inquiries reflected worries about my own entry points.

The stories that we carry here, both personal and communal, have a deep impact on what we're drawn to here, on what offers comfort, or perhaps even challenge here.

And what drives us to move or stay still here.

To put it simply, we're not all in the same place socially, politically, economically, or theologically. Sometimes, this presents what seems like an insurmountable struggle. Because the desire is so great for Unitarian Universalism to look, sound, and act the same for all of us, all the time.

But Unitarian Universalism is not universal.

Just like dancers dancing all over a stage and moving to the same music, we don't all have to be in the same place in order to move with clarity and with grace.

Our charge, especially in this moment, I believe is two-fold.

One, to know where we are as individuals and as communities. And two, to trust people when they know what they need here. If we can only root down into where we are, we may know better how to grow, and what growing together may look like, sound like, and ultimately may mean. Our movements for liberation carry within them powerful ideas. Unitarian Universalism is no different. And all of our movements begin with real people in different places along the journey and with different needs.

They also come, we also come, with varied hopes, and varied dreams.

We cannot always wait with or wait for one another. In the journey toward, what did Reverend Lauren say? Wholeness, peace, liberation, and life. That journey remains wherever we happen to be along its path.

But not to worry.

As June Jordan offered in 1978, in her Poem for South African Women, "the ones who stood without sweet company will sing and sing back into the mountains and if necessary even under the sea."

There is work to do. Rivers to cross. Journeys to take separately and together. Rest and play to be had.

Unitarian Universalism, because it is vast enough, powerful enough, and salvific enough will continue. It will continue to thrive as some of us move. And even if all of us don't, can't, or won't. May it be so.

The gathering of our financial resources towards a common purpose is a sacred act. Today we join together our financial gifts in support of the Tomaquag Museum, based in Exeter, Rhode Island and originally founded in the Tomaquag Valley. The native Narragansett people have lived continuously on the land that is now the state of Rhode Island for more than 30,000 years. They are telling their own stories as well as their own history. They are making visible and known the traditions of native ancestors and the present-day lived experience of the over 8,500 Indigenous People who live in Rhode Island. Today, you can support the work of this organization in preserving cultural artifacts, educating the public, and empowering native youth, artists, and small businesses. There are a few ways that you can donate as part of this virtual General Assembly. You can donate using the GA mobile app by selecting "More" in the bottom right corner of the app's homescreen. You can donate online by going to on your web browser. And you can text TOMAQUAG to 91999 on your smartphone or tablet. All GA collection gifts are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Even if you no longer itemize on your federal taxes, the CARES Act recently passed by Congress created a $300 universal deduction for charitable donations made in 2020. Thank you for giving as generously as you can. And now here is Lorén Spears, executive director of the Tomaquag Museum, to offer greetings and tell us more about the work of the museum.


Hello, to all UUA attendees! My name is Lorén Spears. My traditional name is (Narragansett). I am Narragansett Niantic. Welcome to the homelands of the Narragansett people. I am executive director of Tomaquag Museum, Rhode Island's only Indigenous-led museum. We won the 2016 Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal, the highest honor in the US. You can see the award video with former First Lady Michelle Obama on our YouTube. We provide education for toddlers to elders, including tours, lectures, art workshops, cultural programs, events, and of course today, more virtual programming. Check out our Children's Hour new postings each week as well as our archive of educational presentations. Along with public education programming, we provide important services to the native community through our Indigenous Empowerment Network, where we leverage over 40 partnerships to provide educational resources, internships, and trainings for native youth, artists, and small businesses. We mentor youth and others in museum careers, cultural arts, and historical knowledge. The Indigenous Empowerment Program creates opportunities, supports health and wellness, continues teaching traditional arts, builds leadership skills, and supports small businesses through one-on-one trainings in grant writing, budgeting, marketing, and other business development. We will miss visiting with each of you in person, but I hope you'll visit our website, YouTube, and social media to learn more about the museum. We thank you so much for your support of Tomaquag Museum, the Indigenous community, and the important work you do to create equity and inclusion. (Narragansett) Thanks, peace, and blessings.

Enter into this moment, breathing deeply, calling upon all of the sources of love and light as we pause to take in the sacred in us and around us today.

Spirit of Life, goddesses, and gods of many names and of no name.

Bring into deeper awareness the beating of our own hearts today. May we approach this stillness as grateful as we may be weary. Grateful for the people in our lives, in our online spaces and our neighborhoods, our cities and states who are doing the good work of making sure we are cared for and comforted, fed and hydrated, who are making joy, healing, connection, comfort, and love possible. Grateful for the earth and the life and abundance she makes way for. Grateful for friends and family, chosen and given, who are picking up groceries and prescriptions, checking in by phone, writing letters, and going on physically-distanced outings. Grateful for local officials and faith leaders who are heeding the call for more care and a commitment to the health of our communities by asking us, sometimes even requiring us, if we can, to continue to stay at home. Today, may we know in this time of uncertainty, fear, grief, and anger, that it's okay to feel all of these things. Remind us, Great Mystery, that connection and care are the keys to our strength in times like these.

Give us what we need to hold one another in the sadness that may creep up when we least expect it. And to support one another in the distress over what's happening and all the folks who are sick or dying. And for those who have transitioned, may we honor and remember them well, today and every day. Here are the names of people connected to us as UUs, family members, friends, fellow congregants, patients and clients, coworkers and classmates, who have gone on.


In this space, we can surrender all. All our greatest hopes for ways we can care for one another better in these times. And all our deep grief over the loss of human life and all the ways people and systems are doing unfathomable harm. We may not know how to capture the essence of our prayers right now. We may not know what happens to them, or who or what may be listening when we pray or direct our energies in all the ways we do.

All that we ask today is that we be surrounded and held both in our clarity and in our uncertainty, in our hopelessness and in our distress, that in all these things, we are surrounded and held with love and with compassion.


Aṣẹ and blessed be.

This reading is a selection from Olive Schreiner's "Three Dreams in a Desert." Schreiner was born in South Africa in 1855, the daughter of English missionaries. Schreiner became an activist for women's rights, pacifism, and abolition, as well as a writer. The African American theologian Howard Thurman edited an anthology of her work in 1975 entitled "A Track to the Water's Edge: The Olive Schreiner Reader," which includes this selection. The reading has been adapted for gender inclusivity.

I saw a desert and I saw a woman coming out of it. And she came to the bank of a dark river and the bank was steep and high. And on it, an elder met her who had a weathered face and a stick that curled within their hand and on it was written "reason."

And they asked her what she wanted.

And she said, I am woman, and I am seeking for the land of freedom.

And they said, It is before you.

And she said, I see nothing before me, but a dark flowing river and a bank steep and high and cuttings here and there with heavy sand in them.

And they said, And beyond that?

I see nothing. But sometimes when I shade my eyes with my hand, I think I see on the further bank trees and hills and the sun shining on them.

That is the land of freedom.

How am I to get there?

There is one way and one only. Down the banks of labor through the water of suffering. There is no other.

Is there no bridge?


Is the water deep?


Is the floor worn?

It is, it is and your foot may slip at any time and you may be lost.

And she said, Have any crossed already?

Some have tried.

Is there a track to show where the best forwarding is?

Has to be made.

She shaded her eyes with her hand and she said, I will go.

And she stood far off on the bank of the river.

And she said, For what do I go to this foreign land which no one has ever reached? Oh, I'm alone. I am utterly alone.

Unreason, that elder said to her,


What do you hear?

And she listened intently.

And she said,

I hear a sound of feet, and thousand times 10,000 and thousands of thousands and they beat this way.

They said,

They are the feet of those that shall follow you. Lead on. Make a track to the water's edge. Where you stand now the ground will be beaten flat by 10,000 times 10,000 feet. Between the locusts of across the stream. First, one comes down to the water edge and are swept away and then another comes, and then another, and then another. And at last, their bodies piled up on a bridge is built, and the rest pass over.

She said,

And of those that come first, some are swept away and are heard of no more. Their bodies do not even build the bridge?

They're swept away and are heard no more.

And what of that?

And what of that?

They could track to the water's edge.

They make a track to the water's edge. Over that bridge, which shall be built with our bodies, who will pass?

They said,

All of humanity.

And the woman grasped her staff. And I saw her turn down that dark path to the river.

And I dreamed a dream.

I dreamed I saw a land and on the hills journeyed brave people hand in hand and they looked into each other's eyes. And they were not afraid. And I saw the woman also hold each other's hands and I said to him beside me, What place is this? And they said,

This is heaven.

And I said, Where is it? And ze answered,

On earth.

And I said, When shall these things be? And per answered,

In the future.


Although it is just 10 and a quarter square miles, the smallest state capitol in the country, there are at least 26 bridges in Montpelier, Vermont. Bridges speak of the water that flows beneath them, the journey into watersheds and beyond. Montpelier lies at the confluence of the flowing waters of the Dog River, the North Branch and Winooski Rivers. The Unitarian Church of Montpelier, where I serve as minister, sits on the bank of the North Branch, which begins in the town of Elmore and flows for 18 miles before joining its water with that of the Winooski. There is a bridge over the North Branch just outside our building. Winooski is an Abenaki word that means "wild onion." This wild onion river flows from the town of Cabot westward for 90 miles to Lake Champlain, up to the St. Lawrence River and eventually out to the Atlantic Ocean. Hundreds of miles from where I stand now, flows the north branch of the Chicago River, four blocks from the house that I grew up in on the north side of the City of Chicago. Thousands of miles from there is the bridge my father crossed in a rural village in the Philippines when he was courting my mother. The family lore goes that the bridge was impassable on the day of one of his visits. So my father had to walk carefully along a wooden plank to cross that bridge in pursuit of romance. These waterways and bridges have shaped my past and continue to shape my present. When I was asked to lead this service, and General Assembly was still happening in Providence, Rhode Island, I imagined us gathered there in the convention center on the banks of the Seekonk and Providence Rivers, at the confluence of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers, in a city and state of many waterways and many bridges, just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean. I imagined some of you would be streaming in live from other places across the country and, perhaps, world. I imagined how important it would be to acknowledge the ground beneath us and the water whirling and flowing near us. Although we are now gathered virtually, I believe this acknowledgement is still important and still possible. So I invite you to notice where you are in this moment. Lift your eyes from the screen. Shift the attention of your ears to the world around you, to the natural world just beyond your living room, or dining room, or kitchen, or wherever you are taking in this service.

To imagine a way forward together, and to be on this journey together, we must first know where we are. We must know more intimately the waterways and bridges and neighbors with whom we share this present time, this pandemic time that feels like no other that's come before. We must also know where we come from, the land and waters and people who have made us who we are. Much of this General Assembly has been about rooting ourselves, getting connected with where you come from, the ancestors in history that have formed you and have formed us in this shared religious tradition. Our individual and collective ancestry is often fraught. The very origins of the Unitarian branch of our religious tree is gnarly. This year 2020 marks the 400-year anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth Colony, the 400-year anniversary of the occupation of the Wampanoag land by the pilgrims of England. Those of us who claim Unitarian Universalism as part of our roots must grapple with this part of our past, which laid a foundation for the construction of this religious tradition. That grappling is part of the journey. Olive Schreiner, whose words Aja, Clyde, and Yuri shared with you, speaks allegorically of the journey towards freedom and liberation. The imagined journey that Schreiner describes probably sounds familiar to you. The traveler wanders alone on a difficult path. The destination is far off and the journey there is sure to be arduous and full of suffering. The elder who encounters the woman speaks truthfully of what lies ahead for her. How many will be lost and swept away. How the bridge will be built upon the bodies that have been lost. Loss is something I know many of you have grown intimately familiar with over the last few months. Too many bodies have been lost. Bodies lost to the weariness and danger of the inescapable labor others can choose to ignore and make invisible. Bodies lost to renegade neighborhood watchmen and unchecked police officers. Bodies lost to disease ravaging lungs, already weakened by microscopic but deadly particulates saturating the air above parts of the city where people of darker skin and fewer economic means reside. Bodies lost because that body doesn't fit the mold of gender normativity or that body is deemed disabled and worth less than other bodies. Too many bodies have been lost. These lost bodies are friends, and family, and neighbors, and lovers. They are the named and unnamed, the known and the stranger. These lost bodies are the kin with whom we join in solidarity in the movements for liberation.

"Liberation is costly," said Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Liberation is costly. Schreiner writes, "And of those that come first some are swept away and are heard of no more. Their bodies do not even build the bridge and are swept away and are heard of no more. And what of that? And what of that? They make a track to the water's edge. They make a track to the water's edge. And she said, Over that bridge, which shall be built with our bodies, who will pass? They said, All of humanity." Liberation is costly and it is compelling. We are drawn toward it for survival. We are drawn towards it for flourishing. We are drawn towards it by the bonds that we share with one another. As Unitarian Universalists, our faith compels us towards seeking collective liberation. A liberation that recognizes we are dependent on one another and upon the earth, and that the freedom of any one of us is tied to the freedom of all of us. Many of you have been fighting for liberation for longer than memory allows you to fathom. Your fight for liberation was passed down to you by the ancestors, who couldn't even dream of your existence, but whose strength and perseverance you draw upon now. Some of you are new to this struggle for liberation, or at least to the idea that somehow your own liberation is connected to your neighbor's. Before this pandemic, before the current administration, Unitarian Universalists were trying to make some tracks seeking a land of freedom. A land of justice, a land of environmental wholeness, a land free from the destruction wrought by white supremacy. Unitarian Universalists have tried to move forward with the faith and the hope that there will be better days. In these trying times, this may feel less like a statement and more truly like a question. There will be better days? Will the days that come after these be better? There is so much uncertainty in the world right now. Even if we can have some clarity about where we've been, where we are now, the future and where we are headed is like an abstract painting whose forms we can barely make out. In these times that test our readiness, how can we feel ready for what is unknown? I believe we can each learn from times in our own lives when our readiness has been tested. For me, one such time came in March of 2019 when I joined in an interfaith delegation to Honduras, including a handful of Unitarian Universalists. The purpose of the trip was to better understand the root causes of migration from that country to the United States. Early on in this pilgrimage, a smaller group of the delegation that I was a part of traveled to the Santa Barbara region to visit a community that had been resisting a hydroelectric dam project.

The community of La Presa is located on the banks of the Río Tapalapa, an Indigenous Lenca word for "abundance of underground water." When we arrived in our big yellow school bus, we soon learned that the only way to get to La Presa was by foot, across a suspended wooden bridge about 300-feet long. I watched as a few children ran across the bridge to greet us, the bridge swaying side to side under the weight of their small bodies. I cross the bridge with trepidation holding on to the chain-link fence at its side, sensing the uneasiness behind my knees, and the relief to make it across. Like many people in Honduras, the people of La Presa were not only defending the land upon which they had built their homes, but also the sacred water, source of food and beauty, peace and joy.

A primary purpose of the delegation was also to provide accompaniment to Hondurans who were resisting political repression. We were told that, at the request of our local hosts, part of our accompaniment during our time would include a trip to the capital city of Tegucigalpa to offer our presence as a group of mostly United States citizens at a vigil in defense of democracy and political prisoners. The vigil would be staged outside the US Embassy. Recently, the Honduran government had cracked down on protests and rallies and the streets had remained unoccupied by the people. Students, activists, and everyday people who had been out en masse denouncing the corruption and fascism of the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández. But in the weeks leading up to that day, people had started to slowly claim the streets once again. With our delegation's presence, the organizers knew they would have an added layer of protection, a cloak of protection woven by our privilege as holders of US passports. Though I had participated in many protests and rallies, I had not been in a situation where the presence of the military was a certainty, or where the stakes felt quite so high. Hondurans were being murdered daily for speaking out against the government. How could I feel ready for what was to come? Wearing a clergy collar is supposed to give you a sense of authority. And it can also serve as a tool signifying a readiness to take on a role beyond the individual self. I did have a color with me so while the bus was stopped at a gas station at the edge of town, and most of the other passengers had deboarded to use the restroom and have a snack, I changed out of my t-shirt, put on my clergy shirt. I slipped in the hard cardboard tab of my collar.


We spent another 30 minutes crawling through traffic before arriving to yet another gas station where our bus would stay parked for the duration of the vigil. I could feel the nervous energy of the group as we made our way across the road, like the frog in that video game Frogger avoiding cars that were not trying to avoid us. A small crowd was positioned opposite the embassy beginning to form a circle and then pushing slowly out into the street. I joined a group that had unfurled our banner. The banner read "Delegación Religiosa Internacional en Solidaridad con El Pueblo de Honduras." International Religious Delegation in Solidarity with the People of Honduras. Armed guardsmen formed a line in front of the embassy. We formed a line with our banner between the guards and the street.

My heart was pounding.

Again, like when I had first crossed that bridge to La Presa, my knees felt shaky. I felt fear. I also felt determined. I was buoyed by the determination and conviction of those at my side, those who our group had met along our pilgrimage, whose lives were much more at risk than mine. I thought of all that those who have been en la lucha for so long have sacrificed to stay on the journey, their personal safety, time with loved ones, all that they have given up for the sake of one another's freedom and dignity, not just their own. I fixed my feet to the ground and witnessed as across the street local clergy led prayers and proclaimed the names of the dead and imprisoned and activists led songs. An armed militia eyed the scene from the street and the rooftops, but stayed back.

Friends, when are we ever ready?

The moments come that ask for our action. The world tumbles and we spin and fall and somehow land. But are we ever truly ready? Not if we think of readiness as foretelling a series of future events, and preparing to execute our part in those events exactly as we expect and predict. We cannot be ready only for what is certain to happen, because we all know that isn't how life unfolds. How can we instead cultivate a readiness that isn't dependent on certain guaranteed, predictable outcomes? In our volatile, destabilized world, we cannot take anything for granted.

This is one of the reasons dismantling white supremacy culture is so important.

If we remain fixated on perfectionism and controlling outcomes and results, hallmarks of this culture, we create more suffering. We push people out who have grown weary of a culture that stifles risk-taking and creativity, and ways of being that are raw and messy.

Readiness does not mean perfection. It does not mean mistakes won't be made along the way. Readiness instead is open-hearted, willing to take risks, and willing to make sacrifices. Being spiritually ready means being willing to try and to make mistakes and to ask forgiveness. Being ready means looking for who was there first, and learning from what has already been done. For some of us, especially those whose voices have historically lived in the center of power, this means being humble and quieting down those voices. For others, being ready means trusting ourselves to take up space and making our voices louder. Being ready also means remembering that we don't do any of this alone, just for the sake of our own individual survival.

The individualism so strongly ingrained into our secular and our Unitarian Universalist culture has a rugged and reckless streak. When we instead embrace our interdependence, we can see that there is a sacredness in the sacrifices we make as individuals for the collective good and for collective liberation.

Even when we are surrounded by uncertainty, we can, with clarity and conviction, be ready to set aside the pursuit of our individual comfort and instead take up the shared work of moving forward towards liberation together. We cannot prepare ourselves for a predictable future. That is the only guarantee at the moment.

Yet we can faithfully, truthfully, and lovingly ready ourselves to continue as travelers, as elders, as bridge builders. Olive Schreiner writes, "And I dreamed a dream. I dreamed I saw a land and on the hills journeyed brave people hand in hand. And they looked into each other's eyes, and they were not afraid. And I saw the women also hold each other's hands. And I said to him beside me, What place is this? And they said, This is heaven. And I said, Where is it? And ze answered, On earth. And I said, When shall these things be? And per answered, In the future." The heaven that we dream of can be, must be here on earth. And we're not just waiting for it to arrive in some distant future. In this present moment, we are part of creating that heaven on earth, the land of freedom that so many, too many have lost their lives in the process of seeking out. To cross that bridge to the land of freedom, we each have to dig in deeper to where we are right now. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to stay put, to stay local. So how do you build intimacy and relationship with the people and the land right where you are? Can you tune into the heartbeat of the earth and the heartbeat of your human neighbors and hear your own heart beat right alongside? Can you feel the wave upon wave of grief and sorrow and also determination and take one more breath, and then the next. In this corner of the world where I live and serve, folks in my congregation and the broader community have been making tracks to the water's edge. Some cautiously eyeing that bridge, some charging towards it with urgency, creating the world as we know it can be. They have joined in creating and sustaining mutual aid networks. They have set up face mask-making operations in their own homes. They make calls to voters all around the country. They have organized car protests in front of ICE offices to free them all. And I know that wherever you are, there are people digging in deep, holding fast to the belief that, in the words of Reverend Theresa Soto, "All of us need all of us to make it." The way ahead is not like any of us could have imagined a year ago, or six months ago, let alone three months ago. Our creativity and our will is being tested and stretched. Not all of us are going to do this work the same way. There are many roles to play in our movements towards collective liberation. We make tracks, sometimes taking different paths, with a longing that burns brightly in our hearts for those better days. However you engage in the necessary and faithful work of making those tracks and crossing over that bridge, let it be real and concrete. Let it be a manifestation of your love. Let it be persistent and insistent. Let it be joyful. Let it be full of song and laughter. Let us keep on moving forward, joined with others, hearts stretched towards one another across distance in the service of love. Always love.

Gonna keep on moving forward

Keep on moving forward

Keep on moving forward

Never turning back

Never turning back

Sigamos adelante

Siempre adelante

Siempre adelante

Sin mover atrás

Sin mover atrás

Gonna keep on loving boldly

Keep on loving boldly

Keep on loving boldly

Never turning back

Never turning back

Amaremos con pasión

Siempre con pasión

Siempre con pasión

Sin mover atrás

Sin mover atrás

Gonna reach across our borders

Reach across our borders

Reach across our borders

Never turning back

Never turning back

Vivamos sin fronteras

Siempre sin fronteras

Siempre sin fronteras

Sin mover atrás

Sin mover atrás

Gonna reunite the families

Reunite the families

Reunite the families

Never turning back

Never turning back

Familias reunidas

Siempre reunidas

Siempre reunidas

Sin volver atrás

Sin volver atrás

Gonna keep on moving forward

Keep on moving forward

Keep on moving forward

Never turning back

Never turning back

Never turning back

Never turning back

Never turning back

Never turning back

Peace. We love you.

This hour of worship was but one stop on the journey. As you continue on your way, may you bring with you the wisdom of the ancestors and elders. May you bring with you the clarity of your vision and the conviction of your heart. May you stop and ask for what you need along the way. May you listen closely and deeply to your companions. And may you know yourself accompanied by beloved kin, by faithful partners in spirit, and by a big and bold love that holds us all.

About the Authors

Joan Javier-Duval

Rev. Joan Javier-Duval serves as Minister of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, VT.

Mykal Slack

Rev. Mykal O'Neal Slack is the Community Minister for Worship & Spiritual Care for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, an organization and growing spiritual community that provides support, resources, and care for Black UUs across the diaspora. He is also one of the co-founders of the...

Benjie Messer

Benjie Messer is the Co-Chair/GA Music Coordinator for the 2020 General Assembly 160-member virtual GA Choir.

For more information contact .

“We Are…”

“We Are…” by Ysaÿe Barnwell; Performed by the GA Virtual Choir, Directed by Benjie Messer; Soloist: Dr. Ysaÿe Barnwell


“Tomorrow” by Kate and Justin Miner; Performed by the GA Virtual Choir, Directed by Benjie Messer

Using This Music in Your Sunday Service


"Tomorrow" is registered to ASCAP. If your congregation has a license that gives you access to those catalogs (i.e., WorshipCast), you do not need to get additional permission to play it.

Miner is thrilled to see so many people connecting with their music through this Sunday service. They've offered the use of their music to us all, free of charge, but given the effects of COVID-19 on their business the band would benefit greatly from any donations. If you are able, we suggest a $25 donation via Paypal to

"We Are"

"We Are" is registered to BMI. Dr. Barnwell has graciously granted permission to use this recording in UU Sunday services. If you want to perform it with your own singers and have purchased scores for each of your singers, there is nothing else required. If you wish to keep it in your repertoire please include a one time fee of $30.00 payable to Barnwells Notes Inc. at 2442 Tunlaw Rd North West, Washington DC 20007.