All posts by Barn Blog

We Are All Stewards of UUCNH

Here at UUCNH we experience and share in many traditions, with the common threads being loving and sharing.

Mother Teresa says it best:

A Lifelong Sharing

Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning.
Love has to be put into action and that action is service.
Whatever form we are,
able or disabled,
rich or poor,
it is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing;
a lifelong sharing of love with others.

 -Mother Teresa

As we become stewards for UUCNH, we must consider what we can contribute to maintain the community, maintain our building, maintain our employees, our inside and outside activities, and grow our whole organization. We can look to the Unitarian Universalist Association for guidance:

“In making your decision, consider the four commitment levels below and how they relate to your membership. Consider your UU values in thinking about your income and your financial commitment to the congregation, as expressed in the four levels below. Note that within each commitment level, the guide is progressive, with giving levels rising with capacity.

• Supporter: The congregation is a significant part of my spiritual and intellectual life that I want to support. My fair share financial commitment starts at 2% of my income and rises to 6% as my income and capacity rise.

• Sustainer: The congregation is my central community; I am committed to sustaining the programs and ministries of my congregation. My fair share financial commitment starts at 3% of my income and rises to 7% as my income and capacity rise.

• Visionary: My commitment is a clear demonstration of the unique importance of this congregation and of my spiritual principles. My fair share financial commitment starts at 5% of my income and rises to 9% as my income and capacity rise.

• Transformer: I am deeply committed to the congregation; my contribution provides fuel for transformation and is part of my spiritual practices in living out my UU Principles. My fair share financial commitment represents 10% of my income.”

Alex Landefeld
Stewardship Team, Chair

Action on Great Sorrow Leads to Great Joy!

I am saddened, actually sick, of how the US is diverging from the values that make us great. I was born American and brought up American. As a child, every day in school I said these words. I believe these words!

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for ALL.

For this group I use the 1945 version!  Few Americans haven’t said these words.  I think the vast majority actually believe or at least want to believe them.

“ALL” today includes:

  • Our African Americans,
  • Our Muslims born in the USA or immigrants,
  • Our white WASP males,
  • Our women,
  • Our native Americans
  • Our members of the LBGTQ,
  • Our rural, struggling and displaced,
  • Our refugees and immigrants from all nations,
  • Our police,
  • Our Latinos,
  • Our less well educated,
  • Our Republicans, our Democrats, and the President too,
  • Our people of every religion,
  • Our homeless,
  • Our rich and our poor,
  • …….

To sum it up, if you are homo-sapiens you are in.  

My great sorrow is to see us diverging further from our patriotic values. Some of my sorrow is due to the fact that I am naïve.  I always believed in those words I was taught. It never occurred to me that others have had or may have a more limited definition of “all”. We might disagree on how united we have been in the past, but there is no doubt we are moving further and further away from these values as evidenced, every day, by increasingly divisive rhetoric and increasing polarization within our society.

I am over-joyed to have recently joined this church. I see so many wonderful people, with wonderful values doing wonderful things.  It has helped me to crystalize my OWN values. I see many things clearer. I have learned so much from all of you. I am compelled to try to make a difference.  To remind us ALL, homo-sapiens, to aspire to these very American patriotic values- one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for ALL.

I am preparing a proposal to use courage, kindness and respect to help close divides and change the dividing rhetoric, so prevalent in our country today, to uniting rhetoric. Every day the dividing rhetoric takes us further from our goals of positive change.  The dividing rhetoric is hurting (seriously hurting) every justice movement in progress today!

The initial outline of this proposal embodies the values of this church demonstrated by our members. Courage as demonstrated by Eleanor Howe in Africa, kindness – to only ask and expect people to do “ their best, in their circumstances and in their time” (Susie Wood), and there is “nothing better than good people doing good work and having fun doing it” (Scott Rudolph).  AND MANY MANY MORE. Every interaction I have in this church makes me better, stronger, and happier.  That is true JOY!

I hope you will support this. I would welcome help from people with:

  • A passion for kindness and respect – That is YOU if your stomach is beginning to turn when you hear the divisive angry rhetoric of movements for which you support. FOR ME, that is the women’s movement. I was all in until I heard some of the language and it made me pause.
  • Technology skills- social media usage, conf calls, collaborative document development, email, website, etc.
  • Graphic design skills.
  • Communications skills (providing guidelines for communicating kindly and respectfully).
  • Diverse perspectives to make our approach as compelling as possible to ALL!

Changing the rhetoric will get us back on track towards one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

It is a joy to be working on it. Come join me! If you join me, you will never be asked to give more than you can comfortably and want to give. As I have learned from Susie, ask for people to do their best, in their circumstances and time.

GREAT SORROW leads to GREAT JOY when you do something about it.

Feel free to email me at

Connie Hester

UUCNH Committee of the Month – Sunday Services Team

In the early days of UUCNH, we didn’t have a minister, so all of the Sunday services were lay-led and we didn’t meet during the summer. It worked pretty well. Still, we felt that, if we were to become a vibrant focus for liberal religion in the community, we needed to grow past that stage. So we did, and it has worked.

Our ministers have led us to become that vibrant church we dreamed of. But ministers need out-of- the-pulpit time to rejuvenate and do their other church business, and we do have a history of lay-leadership that can support that need. The Sunday Services Team (SST) is the group that does this. In “official-ese” the SST “is charged with providing high-quality, dynamic Sunday services for UUCNH, in concert with the Minister” and “planning and coordinating all Sunday services that are not led by the Minister.”

“Support” is the key word.  While we (the SST) have a lot of autonomy, Scott is the boss.  He usually lets us roll on, but if he needs to have the last word, he does.  By contract and design, the minister is out of the pulpit once every month and for several weeks during the summer.  We keep a file of available UU speakers, brainstorm among ourselves, and listen to congregational ideas to find subjects and speakers for those Sundays. For each of those days, one of us serves as a coordinator to help design a service that has a coherent, relevant message and that uses at least one “service element” that speaks to every individual. For example, some in the congregation need a time to meditate, some need music, and some need to see the children’s involvement. We try to include those, and more, to be sure each service speaks to everyone.

Besides issues of content and presentation, a lot of seemingly distinct issues can affect the services. Parking, seating, sound system quality, visual theme, music, lay leadership, and accessibility are a few of them. We are to be responsible for, or more commonly, to share responsibility for taking care of such issues. For the most part, other committees handle them quite well and we stay out of the way, but occasionally the buck stops here.

And after Sunday is done, we go over each service to discuss what worked well and what didn’t. We always try to improve. That’s something you can help us with, too.  We look forward to hearing from you. You’ll find a “Service Topics Suggestion Box” in Friendship Hall. We’ll be there, too, if you’d like to talk.

Sunday Services Team (Kathi Finch, James Clark, Mary Doubleday, Cris Graham, Julie Kant, Alex Landefeld, Randy Minnich)

Children and Youth Faith Development Classes OPEN HOUSE – Sunday, March 26, 2107

People often wonder what we mean by Faith Development in Unitarian Universalism. One way of understanding different stages of faith development is to use an analogy of trees. SAPLINGS are those folks, regardless of age, who are relatively new to Unitarian Universalism, perhaps coming out of a faith tradition that didn’t work for them, who define themselves by what they DON’T believe. TREES are those folks who have engaged with Unitarian Universalism and who define themselves by what they DO believe. And OLD GROWTH trees are those, from youth through adulthood, who define themselves by what they Do believe and what they DO to act on those beliefs.*

Our goal in Faith Development is to grow UUs who integrate their beliefs and core values with their actions. What does it mean to be part of the “interconnected web of existence” in this faith community? How do we grow and mature into being a congregation that has the strength to change ourselves and our world?

Some say it starts with the children…so even if you are not involved with the Children and Youth program at UUCNH you are invited to our Open House to meet people and find out what is going on in this part of our faith community.

This Sunday, March 26, during coffee hour, you are invited to come to the classrooms upstairs and in the nursery wing. Look around, chat with teachers, and collect leaves from each class.  If you present leaves from each room to Melissa Nelson in the library, you will be entered in the drawing for a terrific gift basket donated by the Stewardship Team to be raffled that day.

Sapling, Tree or Old Growth, we invite you to make connections with our classes.  With nurture and care our roots will go deeper and wider…

Jennifer Halperin
Interim Director of Lifespan Faith Development

*This analogy by Starr Austin, UU Credentialed Educator

PSI (Philosophical, Spiritual Insights) Group

The goal of this group has been to look for meaning and connection in the Worlds of Science, Philosophy and Spirituality. As an off-shoot of the Jesus Discussion Group in 1995, the members began with a search for an understanding of Christian Fundamentalism but quickly moved on to the mysteries of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Evolution.

From there, topics ranged even further, from Spirituality and the Brain, to the nature of communication with the Divine, to the development of human nature through Darwin’s theory of Sexual Selection, an upcoming topic for 2017 based on The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller.

Psychology was also investigated, from man-woman relationships through verbal self-defense. A particularly popular topic was the psychological nature of Evil, and the notion that despite the horror of the evening news, humanity as a whole is becoming more moral with passing years.

Each topic was/is based on at least one landmark book in its field and presented once a month in open discussion form. As with the Jesus Discussion Group, questions and differing opinions are encouraged and afforded respect.

PSI has also seen a few hundred attendees over the years. Some stay for an entire topic, as many as 6-7 sessions, some for a few years. Please join us!

Tony Palermo

Jesus Discussion Group

With the goal of presenting the Jesus of history and scholarship, this group has met, one Sunday per month, at UUCNH since 1992. Over 300 people have stayed an average of 5-6 sessions.

Presentations involve an approximately 2 year cycle, beginning with the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, and then delving into what the evidence, mostly biblical, tells us about the man from Galilee: his family, occupation, philosophy and quotes, along with his birth religion and cultural milieu.

From that point, the gospels are discussed in detail: authorship and time of composition, as well as editorial concepts. Special note is made of the trajectory of various notions of Jesus’ status on the way to divinity.

Stopping points along the way include the Nativity stories [purpose and divergences in Luke & Matthew], the events of his week in Jerusalem – arrest, death and resurrection – and the development of thought about Jesus as the Son of God, a process covering 300 years of history and “heresies.”

Some topics have been added by request: Jesus and Mysticism, the epistles of Paul, Gnosticism and the Apocryphal Gospels, among the most popular.

The presentations are open. Questions and discussions are always encouraged, and usually happen. Attendees in the past have ranged from Christians to agnostics to atheists to Eastern. All points of view are respected.

Tony Palermo

What is Green Living Anyway?


I wanted to contribute to the recently approved Green Sanctuary program at UUCNH. In the kickoff meeting for Green Sanctuary I volunteered to do the weekly green living idea. People would send me green living ideas. I would write them up and put one in the newsletter each week. It seemed straightforward enough.

I was about to learn what I didn’t know.  Green living isn’t straightforward. It isn’t simple. It is very personal.

I wrote a draft of the first green living idea on dishwashing. I sent it out to the Green Sanctuary Team for comments.  I received many great comments back resulting in a much better article. One of the comments was to be sure to include a reference to a quantification of the benefits.

That drove me to do more research on the ideas. As I learned more, I came to the realization that an idea that is green for one person is not necessarily green for another. The environment has different priorities in different places and for different people. An idea that consumes less resources for one person may consume more for another.  How do I pick a good one?

I kept reading, but time was running out. I needed to get the next green living idea done. I had an idea I thought was straightforward. I even had a firm reference recommending it from I was confident; this was a good idea for almost everyone.

The idea originally started as “wash clothes in cold water” as stated on, since 90% of the energy used is for heating the water. But, when I sent the write-up out for review, comments came back with concerns about sanitation. Oh NO! In the name of green, was I making a recommendation that would risk people’s well-being?  I certainly didn’t want to do that.  Should I go back to square one and find another idea? I tried.

  • You might think cloth diapers are greener. But, if there is a shortage of water and plenty of landfill area, disposable may be the better choice.
  • You might think reusable cotton napkins are greener than paper. But, for restaurants that must wash, dry and iron napkins for every use, using paper instead reduces emissions by over 60%.
  • You might think using a ceramic mug is greener than using disposable cups. But, production of the ceramic mug consumes more energy than producing the disposables for the number of times the mug would likely be used in its lifetime.

When I ask myself if a suggestion is a good green living idea, I keep coming back to the same answer. It depends.

It depends on what is most important to you. Do you want to minimize landfill usage, or climate change, or water pollution, or … etc.  Do you want to help reverse the damage? Is the cost ($$, time, sanitation, etc.) worth the benefit? What are the tradeoffs?

As with the wash in cold water idea, every idea needs to be considered in context. For a hospital, washing laundry in cold water doesn’t work. For a laundromat, cold water is concerning since the debris from many people are in that washer. For home, many times it is fine, but not always.  Maybe sanitation is a high priority to you and you would rather save energy in another way. We all use resources and create pollution. It is up to us to use them sparingly for what is important to us and make tradeoffs based on our values.

To me, green living is continually learning about the impacts of your choices on the environment, considering alternatives to minimize your impact, and making conscious choices based on your priorities and environmental goals.

The weekly green living idea will hopefully increase your knowledge and present some alternatives. It is then up to you to make the choices that are best for your vision of green living, doing your best, in your circumstances and in your time.

– Connie Hester, Green Sanctuary Team Member

Green Sanctuary is launched at UUCNH!

Green Sanctuary is a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) program that is designed to guide congregations on a path of assessment and discovery followed by action related to environmental justice and battling climate change. The Green Sanctuary program is an opportunity for congregations to engage in an in-depth review of the church’s activities related to the last of our seven principles
“Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” 

The Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills (UUCNH) has a long history of social and environmental conservation and action originating with our founders. Our church has recently identified fighting racism and climate change as our two areas of congregational focus. Green Sanctuary is directly aligned with these areas of focus. Additionally, our church is very active in several Pittsburgh area groups that have committees/groups working with disadvantaged populations addressing hunger, income inequality, transportation inequities, water/sewer infrastructure issues, and racism. The existing long-term relationships with North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO), Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) and Neighboring Organizations Responding Together for Hope (NORTH) may lead us to deeper partnerships and additional undertakings as we identify projects for Green Sanctuary.

The Green Sanctuary journey provides a framework for us to work together to deepen and broaden our commitment to the Earth, to conservation and environmental action, and to justice through designing and implementing at least 12 projects in the following areas: worship and celebration, religious education, sustainable living, and environmental justice. The Green Sanctuary process involves five steps culminating in certification (Beginning, Assessments, Action Plans, Applying for Candidacy, and Accreditation). The UUA provides the congregation with a Green Sanctuary coach to assist the Green Sanctuary team with the steps along their journey.

Our Green Sanctuary journey started on January 22, 2017 with a congregational vote to proceed with earning a Green Sanctuary designation. Now our Green Sanctuary Team has had two meetings and is busy gathering information, working on new projects, and assessing our church’s status regarding battling climate change and environmental justice. We have people looking into conducting an energy audit of the church, and the Tree HUUgers are assessing our grounds/landscaping situation and issues. We have started our new weekly Green Tips and are working with Sunday Services on our Earth Day service. We are working on assessing our internal groups to determine our current “state” regarding environmental justice. When the assessments are complete, we will use the learnings gathered to engage with the congregation to discover the projects and action areas of greatest interest, impact, and passion.

The Green Sanctuary process is expected to involve all age groups within our church and all of our committees and church activities. The Green Sanctuary process is a multi-year journey and will have many steps and many opportunities for involvement. Please consider joining in this important effort here at UUCNH. For more details regarding the Green Sanctuary process, please check out the the Green Sanctuary Program page of the UUA website.

Thank you for your work and support to preserve our planet!        

Susie Wood, Green Sanctuary Team Coordinator at UUCNH (

Social Justice Starts with You at UUCNH

The world is really looking like a mess right now, so you’re motivated to do social justice work. It doesn’t matter which issue motivates you. When you find your passion, go for it. But if you’re not passionate, stop right here. This work takes deep passion and long-term commitment. Tearing down systemic racism, reversing climate change, equal pay for women, and so on are all going to take years! This is why I feel that social justice work belongs in religious congregations. Unitarian Universalist clergy, values, and our loving community will sustain us on these long journeys. Every journey starts with the first step, so where do you start?

At UUCNH we differentiate between charity work, done by the Compassionate Care Team, and Systemic Change. The Systemic Change Team is trying to right the wrongs that create the need for charity. There is some middle ground, in that the two can complement each other in building relationships with communities with which we want to be responsive and accountable. Steve Fuegi recently volunteered to deliver water to people affected by the crisis in the East End of Pittsburgh. This was organized spontaneously by a group of black activists, essentially the same group who organized the Intersectionality March on January 21st. By participating in compassionate service activities organized by the community being served (rather than the usual charity activities organized by outsiders) we support the autonomy of these communities and build relationships that can also support our Systemic Change work.

Read, listen, research. Stay informed on a few topics. No one can know everything. Don’t be embarrassed in a conversation to say, “I haven’t been following that issue.” Pick one or two that you are passionate about and educate yourself!

Register to vote and vote regularly. This is your most fundamental right as an American. Pennsylvania is infamous for gerrymandering. If this issue concerns you please go to Fair Districts PA on Facebook or introduce yourself to Suzanne Broughton who’s our UUCNH leader in this movement.

Find out who your Federal and State legislators are here. Put their phone numbers in your contact list, or even on speed dial. Call them regularly. If you have never done this before take a look at the Shy Person’s Guide to Calling Representatives or use 5 Calls. 5 Calls provides the phone numbers and scripts on a variety of issues. I try to call daily, usually late afternoon. The staff is generally keeping tallies of how many calls come in on which issues, and also how many for and against. You don’t need to have a long speech or loads of details. Simple and to the point is best!

Are you a listener? We need people to go to meetings or sit on phone calls or online meetings and take good notes. We build power by working in coalitions. That means there will be meetings. We have regular monthly meetings for PIIN (Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network) and UUPLAN (Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network). The PIIN meetings are local and generally face-to-face. UUPLAN meetings are statewide and are done by phone and/or zoom internet. There are eight justice teams; Anti-Mass Incarceration, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Gun Violence Prevention, Immigration Justice, LGBTQ Justice, and Reproductive Justice. We really need eight congregants who can each take one call, take notes, and send the notes to the Systemic Change Team. The calls are generally one hour long and you don’t need to drive anywhere!

Are you a writer? We need you for social justice work, too! We need people to research and write position papers and talking points. Material needs to be posted on social media. Letters and petitions need to be written. Letters to the Editor and Forum pieces are needed as well. If you know how to get information on social media, then we really need your skills!

Show-up for social justice! Go to city, township or borough meetings. Go to legislator’s town hall meetings. Visit your legislator and their staff in their local office. Show up for the PIIN annual meeting and the annual banquet. Come to the UUPLAN annual meeting. Attend UUPittsburgh events so you can network with fellow Unitarian Universalists. It’s so uplifting to be with others who share your values.

March if you are willing and able. Marches demonstrate the power of the coalition and get media attention. It also builds relationships within the coalition. Marches are fun too –but dress for the weather!

Practice civil disobedience. This is not an easy decision. I’ll allow Tassi Bisers to describe her experience:

“On a beautiful July day in 2013 a diverse, well-trained group of 30 of us sat down in the middle of Grant Street during Rush Hour. Our target? Regional giant UPMC, whose poverty wages for service workers and union-busting tactics set the standard for every other local employer. Amid blaring horns and the singing of “We Shall Not Be Moved” by 500 of our closest friends, we were respectfully escorted to the Hill District police station and released, with orders to appear in court at a much later date. What did we accomplish besides inconveniencing a city? Our piece of a much larger sustained effort led to 5000 more Pittsburghers gaining a seat at the table at work. And an entire region has now put UPMC on notice. When we, all of us, fight, we win.”

Please join the work, at whatever level you are comfortable with the issue you are passionate about. If you have questions please see any of the Systemic Change Team members: Carol Ballance, Tassi Bisers, Steve Fuegi, Suzanne Broughton, Susie Wood, Ron Smart, or Scott Rudolph.

Carol Ballance

An Elevator Pitch for our Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills

Rev. Scott Rudolph encouraged us in his sermon last Sunday to develop an “elevator speech” to pique people’s interest in UUCNH and UUism generally. Here is mine. You may borrow from it, copy it, claim it as your own, though I have also posted it on my Facebook page.

Dear friends, allow me to proselytize briefly. Many of you share and cherish what I regard as fundamental values, values such as awe, appreciation and respect for the interconnectedness of all life and our precious, fragile planet; the inherent worth and dignity of every person; tolerance, compassion, and an unwavering commitment to justice; loving acceptance of diversity in every manifestation – race, gender and sexual orientation, religious belief, national identity, taste for cilantro, and countless other wonderful varieties.

Many of you think, as I do, that these values are being challenged and undercut by reactionary attitudes and harmful policies here in the US and elsewhere. Millions of others share this concern, as shown by the global support for the Women’s March on Washington, the visceral opposition to Trump’s recent refugee order, and countless acts of kindness toward the oppressed or marginalized that we read about on social media and the mainstream press.

But I also read posts from people wondering how they might do more, how can they connect with like-minded people with whom they can collaborate to advance a just, peaceful, loving world.

I am a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills in Pittsburgh, a passionate, liberal, welcoming community that shares my values and together strives to make the difference we want to see in the world. UUCNH is quite different from how many people think of a traditional church. Belief in one or more deities is not required, though it is tolerated. God, by any definition I’ve yet seen, has no place in my universe. We are a spiritual community, but every person brings her or his own spiritual focus to the church. There is no UU creed, or dogma, or ritualistic mumbo-jumbo. We do have good music. People like me have no problem embracing the seven fundamental UU principles.

I encourage each of you who are looking to join with sisters and brothers in support of tolerance and justice to investigate a UU church in your neighborhood. There are 11 UU congregations in the Pittsburgh area and more than 1000 nationwide. You can learn more about Unitarian Universalism at the website for the Unitarian Universalist Association (

Tom Brown