From You I Receive (To You I Give)
One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest. — Maya Angelou
To be generous takes courage. And there is certainly a courage that is involved in stewardship season here at the church. At this time of the year, we begin to look to the financial realities of the new year. It is exciting as we begin to consider what the church means to us, we dream and plan what the new year might bring, and we meditate on what will be required of us to bring this vision to fruition both with our combined efforts and combined financial pledges to support the church. I do believe that this work takes courage. Anytime we put ourselves in a position where we ask ourselves honest questions, it takes courage to hear and respond to honest answers. Then there is the courage it takes to even have conversations about money. This can bring up anxieties or patterns, hidden and seen, around our experiences with giving in the past, feelings of scarcity, and our role as being a steward of the church. Or perhaps we bring with us the baggage of previous church life where financial matters were handled poorly, in secrecy, or in a cohesive manner. And finally, there is the courage it takes to give bravely. To trust in the church and what it stands for that your hard earned money will become something of beauty.
Giving takes courage. I would invite you to look around our community should you need to bolster your courage. Look at the young children who are learning to be discerning and loving young people in our Religious Education program. Witness the many faith development groups and programs that offer our people a place to explore, share, and grow in their understandings of faith and possibility. Be with our gathered community on Sunday morning as we create together an embodied spirit of love. Know that our church is serving those in need and fighting systems of oppression. Trust that those who are hurting are being companioned. Hear the laughter and songs in the air. See the full range of generations gathered around values we hold in common like a fire that warms us, directs us, and illumines our way.
This is all very real. This is a sacred place where the holy is present to play and heal. We have great reason to have faith in and be faithful to this church because of the ideals we hold and because of our people. May this faith enable us to find courage as we support our Unitarian Universalist church.
If you are proud of this church, become its advocate.
If you are concerned for it future, share its message.
If its values resonate deep within you,give it a measure of your devotion.
This church cannot survive without your faith, your confidence, your enthusiasm, your generosity.
Its destiny, the larger hope, rests in your hands. ~ Michael A. Schuler
Have you ever described Unitarian Universalism to someone only to have them ask, “Well, how in the world does that work?” The one word answer would be “covenant.” And it’s not a fancy fangled new idea. In 1648, a council of ministers in Connecticut and Massachusetts gathered together to put forth a statement on how the Puritan Congregational churches of New England would be organized. The document they created was the Cambridge Platform. Central to their theology and ideas around organization was a vision of people “freely and mutually covenanting to walk together.” And while our theology has certainly changed over time from that of our Puritan ancestors, this document formalized congregational polity, which is still the organizational foundation upon which our Unitarian Universalist churches exist.
The idea of “walking together” remains central to our faith today. As a creedless community gathered, we agree to enter into a collective relationship with one another that focuses more on the art of the journey than an agreed upon map. But how shall we walk together? This is the “covenanting” part. Our congregations are bound together by covenants, or sacred promises that we make to one another.
“Covenant” is our monthly worship theme during February. We will be exploring the history, theology, and function of covenants in Unitarian Universalism. Until now, UUCNH has used the 7 Principles somewhat as a default covenant. Toward the end of February, we will begin a process that will move our covenant from implicit to explicit by creating a congregational covenant. It will guide us toward being in right relationship with one another and act as a reminder of how we aspire to be in community.
At our worship service on February 22, we will be having a conversation around what we want in our covenant. There will be other opportunities as well should you not be able to attend church that day.
We are very intentionally a church without a creed. We do not believe it is the place for the church to dictate the Truth. Unitarian Universalists see our religious community as a loving, challenging, and nurturing environment for exploring and claiming beliefs, which may grow, shift, stretch, and change over time. This is work we do together. And from this process, truths arise. Rather than a creed, we have a covenant. The idea of covenanting together is at the heart of who we are as religious people. Our religion is deeply relational and always is given shape and voice by those particular people who have gathered together with the hopes of moving together in the world with the spirit of Love.
I am really excited for this process this month and for deepening our understanding of our covenantal faith. Creating a covenant will be a valuable process that creates an expression of who we want to be as a church community. Please join us as we walk together in creating our church covenant.
The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.~Sydney J. Harris
Sydney J. Harris was an American journalist in Chicago during the 1900’s. In the quote above, he parses out a major difference between two words. What we hope to do here at the church is “communicate.” I have never been in a church system where lines of communications are not a constant conversation. I once heard that you have to have people come into contact with information seven times before they actually consume it. (Is that true? I have no idea. It points in the right direction though.) Quite simply, there is a lot happening at the church. There are committees meeting to make certain we remain a healthy church in our future, there are teams that create the programs and services of our congregational life together, there are worship services, fellowship groups, faith development classes, social justice events, potlucks, special events, new programs starting, and older ones fading away. Like the fountain in the song I used to sing about in Sunday School, this church is “deep and wide.”
Among ministers and religious educators, there is a running joke or sorts. Or maybe it is just amazement. Something will be put in every imaginable form of communication possible in a church, but invariably, after the event passes, someone will say, “What is that you are talking about? That sounds interesting. I didn’t hear anything about it.” Again, we hope to communicate, and not just supply information. This is less about staff communicating with the congregation, and certainly more about how we as an entire church own and engage the ways in which we share ideas, events, and opportunities.
As such, I thought it might be helpful to lift up all the different ways we communicate in our church. When I use the word “we” below, please wonder to yourself if you are a part of that “we.”
1. Word of Mouth:
This is the most prized and important one (also the most fun). We share what is happening and what we know by spreading the word, by being in interpersonal relationships, and by calling people to let them know what is happening. We ask questions about things that interest us or ways to get involved deeper in the community.
The e-news comes out once a week on Thursdays to your email (hopefully). It contains events that are happening roughly in the coming two weeks along with some save the dates, Joys and Sorrows, opportunities, and the calendar for the week to come.
It is called the Intercom harkening back to the days we used to pump in the service from First Church in Shadyside. The Intercom is edited by Dawn FitzGerald, to whom submissions can be sent by the third Friday of the month via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is then formatted for online distribution our Office Administrator.
- Activities Guide:
This is a resource found in the brochure rack that lists all the committees and teams, faith development opportunities, and fellowship groups. It is white with a rainbow colored chalice on the front. GO get one! (Also, the brochure rack is filled with introductory information for you to take or point others toward.)
We launched a new website at the beginning of this year. The website has a calendar which is the master calendar of the church. There is a blog looking for YOUR church experiences and all sorts of information on the site for new folks and longtime members as well. www.UUCNH.org
1.) We have a Facebook page at “Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills” that is our official church page and pushes out church events. (“Like” us.)
2.) We have a Facebook group at “UUCNH Community” which is a place for ongoing discussion by members and friends. (“Join” us.)
- Bulletin Boards: We have three
- Church Activities Board (closest to the silos). This board presents religious education opportunities, fellowship groups, and social action events.
- The Connections Board (by the office) features new members, information on the Lay Pastoral Care Team, last Sunday’s announcements, and the Activities Guide.
- The Community Board (in the kitchen hallway) is the “catch all” board where members put of events or items of interest in the community. (No commercial solicitations please.)
- UUCNH Staff:
Jennifer Halperin, our Interim Director of Lifespan Faith Development; Lynne Ferrari, our Office Administrator, and me, Scott, our minister, are at the eye of the (lovely and wonderful) storm. We are a well-spring of information. Feel free to call or email us anytime with questions about church goings-ons.
- Sunday Worship:
Weekly, we print the coming events in the order of service, as well as make special announcements on all-church events, new programs, or announcements for new comers. Sunday morning is also a great time to be here, see people, learning things, laugh, think, feel, learn, and love.
- Annual Report:
Each year we produce an annual report of the previous year. It contains reports from staff, the board, and (in theory) all the groups in the church. A copy is available in the office or via email.
- Congregational Meetings:
Twice a year, we come together as a congregation to live out our congregational polity. In our tradition it is the gathered congregation that makes decisions in the church or grants that authority and responsibility to members. We vote on any items that necessitate congregational attention as well as hear from the board and other groups about congregational issues.
- Word of Mouth:
Again. This is the best one. A conversation is better than a flyer. A “Hey, I was thinking about going to this. Would you like to come along?” is better than an email. An “Excuse me. I don’t know what to do or where to start. Can you Help? ” is better than wondering where you might connect.
All this is with the hopes of communicating and not just sending out information. WE do a lot of great stuff here at the church. More than any one person could ever do. Our goals is to make sure that you are aware of the things that call to you, that you might engage, or are curious to explore.
SO… reach out. Be in touch!
Have you ever seen acrobats do a trapeze act? Oh, my goodness! I believe it is one of the most spectacular things humans do. Now, I will grant you that I have always been partial to monkeys. I have always liked swinging on things. I have always enjoyed climbing and heights. I recall the first time I saw people swinging on a trapeze set. One person swung on a suspended bar, back and forth, until they got the timing and speed just right… then they let go and flipped through the air until they opened up their body and reached out their arms, hands waiting to clasp the other person’s out-stretched arms.
For a trapeze artist, there must always be the bar or the person attached to the bar that swings in from the opposing side that meets them in the middle of the sky. No matter what this acrobat might want to do, how many flips they hope to spin, how high they hope to go, what they might imagine, they will need to know where to find that point of connection.
At our church, we talk often about our shared ministry. Our church life “happens” because people are willing to offer their time, talent, and treasure to make it happen. Being a part of our church means you receive from and give into the life of the church. I feel sometimes that our hymn #402 From You I Receive (To You I Give) speaks the most clearly and directly to what it means to be in beloved community and reciprocal relationship through our church.
So back to our trapeze artist in the sky. What if the trapeze artist had great hopes but did not know where or when to connect with the other trapeze artists in the sky? What if they had high hopes of what they might do, but were new to the whole high-flying act? Before you soar through the air, you have to know where you will connect.
Our church community does many things: it inspires, transforms, heals, supports, deepens, enlivens, and offers promise. Our hope for every member and friend in the church is twofold: that you will receive these blessings, and that you will help in the work to create these blessings for others. We want to make sure that if you would like to join in the act, launch off the bar, soar through the air, and reach out with your trapeze arms, that you are able to connect.
If you want to do “something” but don’t know what; if you have been standing against the wall for a while and are curious what opportunities there might be that nurture your soul, if you have been on “a break” but are being called back into feeding our community, let’s talk. Call me. Email me. BE IN TOUCH!
Get in touch with Greta Porter, our Director of Lifespan Faith Development. Or Bernita Clover, our Connections Team Chair. Or me. There is so much happening at the church. So many ways to join in. I am sure there is something that fits your grip! We want to help you connect. Our shared ministry happens through YOUR ministry!
Imagine this: you have gathered in a historic Unitarian Universalist worship space over 100 years old. You sense that in this place are the roots of your own congregation. There is a joyous worship service happening with ministers from all over the area joining together. You look around you and see familiar faces and many more that you have never seen before. You know that you are connected to all these people. They are your brothers and sisters in a chosen faith. You feel a kindred spirit with them as you sing hymns you know well. After the worship you are feeling buoyant and light. You then hear a keynote speaker talk about the work of fellow Unitarian Universalists coming together to create something that will make a difference in the world. You feel inspired and proud. Then you break out into workshops and you can’t quite decide which one to go to because many seem to pique your interest. After the workshops, you sit with some old and new friends and share about the life of your church and hear about how other local churches are doing. You see some similarities and some differences. A brief business meeting officially claims an identity and bylaws for this new relationship being forged among these congregations. You close the day with a short worship service and think back to the new folks you met, the new ideas you encountered, and you feel good about being there when it started.
You can do all this… and more! There is still time to register for the first annual Greater Pittsburgh Unitarian Universalist Churches Cluster annual assembly! This idea of Unitarian Universalist churches being in relationship with one another is nothing new. Deep in our polity (how we do church) is the concept that these free churches that are governed autonomously should be connected to one another to help one another, to work with one another, and to hold each other accountable to our greater ideals. It makes sense that in Pittsburgh, where we have eleven churches within about an hour and a half of one another, we would have strong associations with other Unitarian Universalist churches. We have great hopes for joining together in a more intentional way. We want to encourage mutual relationships between Pittsburgh area Unitarian Universalists churches in order to create fellowship, share resources, and act collectively. There should be networks among our congregants, church staff, and ministers. Together, we can address common concerns compelled by our shared values organizing to cooperatively learn, play, worship, engage in service, and work for justice.
If you go to the Ohio Meadville District website and click on events, that is where you can register. The cost for the day is $15. Scholarships are available to anyone in the church to go. Please register! (Tassi Bisers from UUCNH is in charge of food and needs to know how many to prepare for. Thanks Tassi!) It would be great if UUCNH showed up in numbers to kick off this collaboration. Have you ever been in a large gathering of UUs before? It always reminds me that I am a part of something much larger than just our church. We are connected to people all over the world who share our faith. In the same way that individuals come together to create something unified and bigger when they create a church community, so too, is our cluster of Pittsburgh Unitarian Universalist churches “Better Together!” (That is the theme of the conference by the way…)
One more quick thing… our small group ministry program of Covenant Circles has elicited an incredible response! We have 8 groups with over 70 people participating! This came directly as a response to our Visioning process last year. A hearty thank you to all our facilitators, participants, and to Greta, our Director of Lifespan Faith Development (who was so flexible and committed as the numbers repeatedly grew past our expectations). This is a wonderful shared ministry in our church that will certainly nourish spirits.
Most of the time, I like to use this space in our monthly newsletter to share reflections I gather while gazing into my breakfast cereal (why do Cheerios stick together?). There is so much exciting going coming up in the next month that I want to highlight some of these opportunities here. You can find more details on the following pages.
First off, we are happy to be rolling out an electronic version of the Intercom next month. People have been asking for this for quite some time and after some deliberate planning, we are finally ready for the roll out next month. For some, this will be the last time you hold this paper copy in your hands. Don’t worry though if you still love your paper copy. You can continue to receive one simply by contacting the church office and letting us know that you want the paper version. Dawn FitzGerald-Swidal will continue to act as our editor, receiving and organizing our submissions. (What would we do without Dawn at the helm of our newsletter, where she has been for so long fostering the communications of UUCNH? In her own words, “A well-informed congregation is an active one.”) Lynne Ferrari, our Office Administrator, will be managing the online version. Our excitement is for the paper saved, the postage not spent, and in hopes that the more available the newsletter is, the more eyes will see it.
One of the responses from our Visioning conversations last year was a clear desire to nurture and develop the connections that bind us together here at UUCNH. And so we are beginning small group ministry! During September and the beginning of October, you can sign up for a Covenant Circle that will run for the next 8 months. I am really excited about the opportunity that this will provide for our members and friends to deepen relationships around meaningful sharing and listening.
For the last year, our cluster ministers, board leadership, church staffs, and some committees and teams have been gathering to dream how we might bolster our cluster to foster better collaboration, build stronger relationships, share resources, and have more fun among our UU churches in the Greater Pittsburgh area. As the Ohio Meadville District dissolves into the larger Central East Regional Group (CERG), we wanted to make sure that Unitarian Universalists in our area still had a meaningful way to join together. The goal is not added governance, but rather mutual cooperation to advance Unitarian Universalism. I hope you will consider joining us for the first UU Cluster Assembly. There will be energizing worship, workshops, a keynote speaker, a business meeting, lunch, and the chance to gather with other UUs in our area! It will be November 1 at First Unitarian Church in Shadyside.
And there are also plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. On October 7, we will welcome Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow for an evening presentation at the church. This will be a fantastic program that will inspire and challenge us to think about climate change in a new way. Lunch and Learn conversations will also begin in the afternoon October 7. Come break bread with new and old friends and then stay for a discussion. Also, ever wonder how a Sunday worship service gets put together? Ever wonder why we do what we do on Sunday mornings? I’ll be leading a discussion about Worship at UUCNH on the morning of Saturday, October 11. Information on all these events can be found elsewhere in this Intercom.
This is only a bit of what is happening. Grab an Activities Guide from the brochure rack and find out what other things might fulfill you. What will nourish your spirit? How can you help sustain this community so that others will be fed? Possibilities abound!
After an amazing summer of church activity and wonderful Sunday services, we find ourselves in September. Gone are the days where church “closes” in the summer. Though some committees take a month off during the summer, our church is certainly year-round church given all the goodness and joy that happens during the summer months! And still… September is always special as we come back together for Ingathering and begin a new year. To me, Ingathering Sunday (September 7) is very much like January 1. Full of promise, hopes, and newness.
Every New Year’s Eve, I am seduced into dreaming about the “empty canvass.” I really like beginning again. A fresh start! A new beginning! So… Let’s do the same at UUCNH! Let’s grab this empty canvas as a congregation for our new year as a congregation! Wonderful blank open possibility with nothing behind or ahead of us. Ours to create whatever we want! Let’s reach out to pull this blank canvas in front of us…
And in doing so… we cannot help but to see that the canvas is not blank. It never could be. It is not an expanse of blankness. Our canvas is very much painted upon. Our canvas is weather worn with deep hues of color and structural lines underneath. The first layer on our canvas is buried under time and life but still shines through. Underneath all on our canvas are the brushstrokes of people we will never know but that we should always hold in our hearts. They are the ones that first wrapped the empty blank canvas around the wooden frame. Then they stepped back and said, “What shall we create?” We are all living in, on, and inside that first vision by those brave and imaginative souls.
And since then, we have been painting on that very same canvas. Layers upon layers. Year after year. The canvas of our congregation is thick with layers of love and life. Every Sunday morning. Every committee meeting. Every moment that one person reached out to another in need. Every justice event. Every potluck. Every child shaped by our religious education. Every moment of understanding. Every song sung together. Every phone call offering care. Every congregational dream realized. Every relationship forged. Every encounter with the sacred or the holy. Every single thought or action inspired by the church. Every single person who ever crossed our threshold and shared in an experience. All the hard moments. All the wonderful moments. Anything that has happened upon our hill, or in the name of, or because of our church. That is our canvas. It is full and wonderful and colorful.
We do not and never will have a blank canvas. We are a product of our past and are living into our future. There is only one ongoing canvas that is the history and life and celebration of our church. Each of us stands with this canvas in front of us, paintbrush in hand, or finger paints, or glue and paper, or yarn, or metal, or wood, or time, or effort, or money, or care, or a fist full of glitter. Reach out and touch this canvas that you are a part of. This is a canvas that affects us all. The question then becomes, in this new church year, … What is it that YOU can add to our canvas? We need your artistry!
The rapper the Fresh Prince kicks off his song Summertime with these words: “Here it is – the groove, slightly transformed. Just a bit of a break from the norm…” Summertime is like that. The shift to sunshine and pools, the move to longer days and hotter nights all changes up what has become the norm. In that spirit, I like to use my July rambling space to offer up a few poems and other inspirations that I happened upon during the year but never found the right place for in a sermon or article.
From The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
“As long as this exists,” I thought, “and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.” The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.
“Millennium Blessing” by Stephen and Ondrea Levine
There is a grace approaching
that we shun as much as death.
It is the completion of our birth.
It does not come in time, but in timelessness
when the mind sinks into the heart
and we remember who we are.
It is an insistent grace that draws us
to the edge and beckons us to surrender
safe territory and enter our enormity.
We know we must pass beyond knowing
and fear the shedding.
But we are pulled upward
through forgotten ghosts
and unexpected angels
realizing it doesn’t make sense
to make sense anymore
This morning the universe danced before you
as you sang — it loves that song!
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden
“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” ~ E. B. White
“Questionnaire” by Wendell Berry
How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.
For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.
What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy
In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.
State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security;
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
A new website! If you came directly to the site the first day, you will have noticed that there are parts that are not exactly right. Up to this point, it has been a long process with glitches and delays. And we will continue to adapt, update, and move it in the direction we want. Years ago, our church didn’t have a website. A simple one was created by Greta’s then teenage son. It was added onto and expanded. It was worked on and shaped by congregants. A few years ago, Fred Geiger overhauled the entire site making leaps and bounds. Now we are working with a web developer trying to move forward once again by building on what we have now. Now, we will have a new “front door” to UUCNH. We are really excited by the results. The new site is more attractive for first time visitors and more interactive for current members and friends. There are additional ways of engaging social media that we hope to explore in the future. The website has been, and will continue to be, a work in progress.
This is the way of church as well – a work in progress. Our church has been a work in progress ever since our founders from First Unitarian Church decided to begin meeting in the North Hills and then bought an old dairy barn to convert into a church. For more than 50 years, the people, the building, the spirit has been growing and shifting. It was added onto and expanded. It was worked on and shaped by congregants. Thank goodness for work. And thank goodness for progress, for that is what has brought us to where we are today.
How do you know if you are a work in progress? When you stop and look around you, you can see that good stuff has already been done and that you are moving toward more that can be done. “In progress” is always in the middle. Looking at our church program year, we can look back to this year as having many, many great successes all across our church. These range from the care and community that happens in our congregation to the many programmatic opportunities led by congregants and staff. I really hope you have a chance to read the Annual Report to see all the pieces that create the thriving ministry of this church. And we know we are in progress, because we can look to our visioning process that has begun to yield results. What is emerging is an exciting and challenging path!
At the end of this month, we will also be saying goodbye to our Jen Fontaine, our Office Assistant as she pursues other interests. She has been an incredible asset to this church and helped us move forward in so many ways. We deeply appreciate her work and the willing and kind attitude she brought with her to this job. We will miss her.
Progress doesn’t always follow a straight line, but as long as we are facing forward and moving, we can say that we are progressing. Our church has been and will always continue to be a work in progress. This is a good place to be. It is a very Unitarian Universalist place to be in its openness to changing and being changed while claiming and lifting up what we know to be good and true. Nearly a century ago, the Universalist Lewis Fisher wrote. “Universalists are often asked to tell where they stand. The only true answer to give to this question is that we do not stand at all, we move.”
In Peace and with Love,