This Congregation and Its Ministers, 1947-2000

The sermon below was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, California, at the 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. services. The sermon text below is a reading text; the actual sermon contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon copyright (c) 2018 Daniel Harper.

Sermon: This Congregation and Its Ministers, 1947-2000

On the surface, this is simply a sermon full of little stories about interesting people. But I also hope to make a serious theological point: in the words of Unitarian theologian Bernard Loomer: “We are born or created … as members of a Web of interconnections.”

To begin this history, you have to understand that we Unitarian Universalists see the relationship between clergy and congregation a bit differently than other religions. Unitarian Universalist congregations don’t have to have a minister. If a Unitarian Universalist congregation does decide to have a minister, it is the congregation that chooses which minister, and the congregation has the power to sever its relationship with the minister. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the relationship between our congregations and its ministers from 1947 to 2000.

Our congregation began in 1947 when Rev. Delos O’Brian, the regional representative of the American Unitarian Association, met with some Unitarians who lived in and around Palo Alto. He then placed advertisements announcing the formation of a Unitarian group. O’Brian called the first meeting on Sunday, April 6, 1947; and the following week, April 13, 27 people signed a charter membership roll. By April 27, 1947, the Palo Alto Unitarians had arranged with Nat Lauriat, then minister of the San Jose Unitarian church, to lead weekly worship services for them.

This group, calling itself the Palo Alto Unitarian Society, continued in this way some months, content to remain small, with fewer than 50 members. Nat Lauriat recalled a meeting in October, 1947, where “the general feeling was to proceed with great caution, and just have a pleasant little group.” Lauriat wanted to shake them out of that attitude, and he was pleased when the excessive caution at that October meeting “produced a reaction among the younger members for more action and growth.” Lauriat’s encouragement of action and growth soon paid off. Sixty people attended the first anniversary dinner, April 16, 1948, and voted to form a new congregation, the Palo Alto Unitarian Society.

By late 1948, the congregation learned about the new “Minister-at-Large” program offered by the American Unitarian Association (AUA). One minister-at-large was Rev. Lon Ray Call, who traveled from place to place across the country, spending two or three months at each place building excitement and enthusiasm, helping set up a congregational organization, and then leaving when he judged the new congregation would survive on its own.

Call arrived in Palo Alto on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1949. Within a month, membership had increased from 54 to 102. Years later, lay leader Bob Harrison recalled Call and his wife by saying, “Were they terrific!” With help from the Calls, the congregation saw there was strong demand for liberal religion in Palo Alto. The Calls also helped them see they would no longer be content to have Nat Lauriat come up once a week for an hour on Sunday; the congregation realized they would do best with a full-time minister. Based on Call’s recommendation, the AUA agreed to pay two thirds of the new minister’s salary.

In a historical footnote, some months after Lon Call left Palo Alto, the American Unitarian Association began a new policy, encouraging small congregations to form without professional leadership. These lay-led congregations, called “fellowships,” needed only ten members to formally affiliate with the AUA. If the fellowship concept had existed before the Palo Alto Unitarian Society organized, perhaps they would have been content to remain at 50 members in rented space. We owe our current congregation to Nat Lauriat’s encouragement, and Lon Call’s vision of rapid growth.

Above: Dan Lion ready to preach in the Lucie Stern Community Center, the space rented for worship services before moving into the new building, 1957

Above: Dan Lion standing in the pulpit on the first Sunday service in the new building, Sept. 7, 1958

In mid-June, 1949, the Committee to Recommend a Permanent Minister voted unanimously to extend a call to Nat Lauriat. Lauriat turned them down, saying it wouldn’t be fair to the San Jose church. Next the congregation settled on Rev. Felix Danford Lion, then the minister in Dunkirk, New York. Lon Ray Call wrote to Lion on behalf of the congregation, encouraging Lion to accept the position without an in-person interview; Call added, “I do not wish to over-sell this church, but under the right leadership it can very quickly become one of our great [Unitarian] churches.”

In the years from 1949 to 1962, the Palo Alto Unitarian Church (they changed the name in 1951) did indeed become one of the “great churches.” Growth happened very quickly. By 1958, the congregation had grown enough to move out of rented space into its own building, built on a cabbage field at the intersection of Charleston Road and Adobe Creek. Growth peaked in 1962, when there were three Sunday services with six hundred children enrolled in the religious education program. Sunday school classes were held in 13 classrooms, the Fireside Room (which was built as a children’s chapel), and living rooms in houses of people who lived nearby. In order to remain at their preferred size of about 500 members, the Palo Alto Unitarian Church spun off several smaller congregations, including both the Sunnyvale and the Redwood City Fellowships.

The theology of both Lion and most of the congregation might be called vaguely theistic but strongly pragmatic, focused on social issues in the here-and-now. Rites of passage were very important, and Dan Lion officiated at scores of memorial services, child dedications, and weddings. (A historical footnote: If you know something about the 1960s folk music scene, you’ll be interested to know that Lion officiated at the wedding of a young banjo player named Jerry Garcia, and at the wedding of Mimi Baez Fariña, Joan Baez’s younger sister.)

By the late 1960s, the post-war Baby Boom was over, at the same time that people began to drift away from institutions like churches. Unitarian Universalist congregations across the U.S. declined in membership, and Palo Alto was no exception. By 1965, Sunday school enrollment in our congregation had dropped from 600 to 500; by 1970, enrollment dropped still further to 200. To quote a popular song of that time, the times they were a-changing.

Above: Mike Young and Janet Buelow at a meeting in the Fireside Room c. 1967

During the 1960s, the congregation hired two assistant ministers. Bud Repp served as assistant minister from June, 1961, to September, 1962, while Dan Lion was on sabbatical. Even 1962 was the peak attendance of the church, Repp’s “salary was minimal and was not raised at the May congregational meeting,” so he resigned.

In June, 1965, the congregation hired Mike Young as assistant minister; he was also a Campus Minister at Stanford, so he was not at our congregation full-time. He was expected to stay just two years. Instead he stayed for nearly four years, and during his last year he was “under pressure from the Board to find a church of his own.”

In April, 1970, the congregation hired Ron Garrison as a half time “Minister to Youth,” although he was not actually an ordained minister. In January, 1971, Garrison began working full-time as Minister for Youth and Community Education. He helped organize both Thacher Preschool, and “Lothlorien,” an alternative high school that occupied what are now Rooms A through D. By 1972, the congregation had two full-time ordained ministers, so they only funded Garrison’s position at half time; he then resigned.

Above: 1973 photo with (L-R) Margaret French (charter member), Sid Peterman, Milton Evans (charter member), Ron Hargis, and Mildred Justesen

In July, 1971, Ron Hargis was hired as a Minister of Religious Education. Hargis later recalled he “had arrived at the church in the midst of a real conflict of staff personalities and church people.” A year after Hargis’s arrival, Dan Lion resigned to become Associate Minister at Community Church in New York City.

Why did Lion resign? The Palo Alto Times reported: “There has been occasional in-house controversy at the church … but members of Palo Alto Unitarian’s Board of Trustees say it is no more than the usual amount and has not been the impetus for Lion’s departure…. [One] trustee, Mrs. Gail Hamaker, said that some criticism was directed at Lion along the lines that he was perhaps providing too much leadership in church affairs….” Other documents in the church archives imply that Lion was forced out. With Lion’s departure, Hargis found himself as the sole minister of a congregation in conflict.

Back in 2002, Darcey Laine, minister of religious education at our church from 2000 to 2008, interviewed a few people who remembered Ron Hargis. One person remarked on the “creative ferment” during his tenure, another remembered him as “free wheeling, kind, and gentle,” while someone else recalled that his wife would sometimes share the pulpit with him. But another person felt he “lacked some properties that a good minister should have.” In any case, the Baby Bust continued through the 1970s, so that by 1973, Sunday school enrollment dropped to about one hundred.

In December, 1972, the Board of Trustees hired Sid Peterman to be an interim minister following Dan Lion’s departure. This was a new and experimental concept at the time: after the departure of a long-time minister, a congregation would hire a specialized interim minister for a year, someone who specialized in what we now call change management. Peterman later said he began doing interim ministry in 1973, so Palo Alto was his first interim ministry.

When he was ending his interim ministry in late 1973, Peterman wrote eight single-spaced pages of detailed critical analysis of the Palo Alto Unitarian Church. In 2002, lay leader Georgia Schwaar gave a copy of this report to Darcey Laine. Georgia wrote: “Some of the comments [in the report] … are not of current pertinence but much of it is still, surprisingly, à propos.” I will quote one such comment that in my opinion still applies to our congregation in 2018:

“It seems to me [Peterman wrote] to be quite clear now that I have been here a year that most of the [internal] problems facing this congregation are due to a unique history. Starting in 1949 [sic] with a handful of people and no possessions and a budget which was almost fifty percent underwritten by the AUA, PAUC grew by 1970 to be one of the largest churches in the region…. All this was done under the strong and effective leadership of one minister who served the church all during this time…. Many of the administrative and personnel practices in 1972 were the same they had been for a much, much smaller church. The developing and inevitable pluralism of a larger Unitarian church in the late sixties and early seventies were not taken into consideration and the result was the enforcement of an artificial dualism which not only caused great individual strains and discomfort but made the operation of the church far more difficult than it should be…. I stress this analysis because to fail to see what really happened in the past dozen years leads up dead-end roads of personalities and recriminations, rather than providing fruitful ways of continuing the growth — [both] spiritual and physical….”

Above: Bill Jacobsen, 1988 photo directory

In 1973, while Peterman was still on staff, the congregation called Bill Jacobsen to be a co-minister with Ron Hargis. Since there were those who considered Dan Lion to have been an autocrat, I suspect for some people this co-ministry idea seemed like a way for two ministers to keep each other in check. However, the co-ministry idea wasn’t financially viable. Beginning with the 1973 oil crisis, the United States entered a severe economic downturn, and the congregation could not afford two ministers. In response to the economic downturn, in 1975 both Hargis and Jacobsen stated they would automatically “offer their resignations effective January 1, 1978,” if the finances of the congregation did not improve. The finances did not improve. Hargis kept his promise and tendered his resignation on schedule. Jacobsen changed his mind and stayed on as the sole minister.

Not long after arriving at the Palo Alto Unitarian Church, Jacobsen got divorced. There are persistent rumors that subsequently Jacobsen engaged in what is called “sexual misconduct,” that is, he allegedly had sex with women in the church, perhaps including teenaged girls. Whether or not these rumors are true, I do feel there’s a change in the relationship between the congregation and the ministers from the 1970s on. Documents from the 1950s and 1960s show a mutual respect between lay leaders and the senior minister. By 1990, the documents seem to show a different relationship between the congregation and its ministers, characterized by a lower level of trust and a tendency to carefully circumscribe the authority of the minister.

I find it difficult to characterize the relationship between Jacobsen and the congregation. Apparently, lay leaders took on most of the leadership of the congregation, leaving him to focus on sermons. He is remembered for his strong sermons, yet those who were not humanists like him sometimes felt left out.

During Jacobsen’s tenure, attendance dropped enough that the congregation went back to one service. Nationwide, Unitarian Universalism declined beginning in the mid-1960s, beginning to grow again in the 1980s; but here in Palo Alto, it appears that growth didn’t begin again until the mid-1990s.

A September, 1988, survey revealed a mixed response to Jacobsen; comments ranged from “I like [his] sermons” to “The church lacks leadership from our minister.” Other comments from this survey questioned lay leadership, such as this one: “many of the lay leaders are quite sexist in their attitudes.” In December, 1988, Jacobsen announced that he was looking for another ministry position. Finally, in August, 1990, Jacobsen said he’d retire. He then helped form the Humanist Community of Palo Alto, and became executive director there.

Above: Sam Wright and Donna Lee c. 2005

In 1990, our congregation hired Sam Wright as interim minister. Up to 1988, Wright had lived for two decades in the back country of Alaska with his first wife Billie. When she died, he wrote a book about his Alaska experience, which was published by the Sierra Club. Having read his book, I’d call Wright a mystic, in the naturalistic mode of Henry David Thoreau. One of the few mystics who had remained in the congregation during Jacobsen’s tenure told me they welcomed Wright’s arrival, and were deeply inspired by him.

Wright and his second wife, Donna Lee, considered themselves to be co-ministers (Lee was then in process to become a minister). Lee made a significant contribution to their interim ministry by writing a history of the early Unitarian Church of Palo Alto which existed from 1905 to 1934; Lee’s history remains important today because she had access to historical material that has since been lost.

During the one year that Wright and Lee served as interim ministers, the congregation added 69 new members.

Above: Ken Collier (at right) during a UUCPA Work Day, c. 1995

After the interim ministry of Sam Wright and Donna Lee, the congregation called Ken Collier as sole minister in 1991. Later Collier said that he was warned away from taking the position as minister: “I was told [the congregation] was an aging, tired, isolated and somewhat troubled church that had enormous untapped potential. It needed to heal from its recent troubles….”

Two achievements stand out from the decade when Ken Collier was minister. First, Collier and a small group of lay leaders led the Welcoming Congregation program. This program, an initiative of the Unitarian Universalist Association, was designed to “undo homophobia” and ensure the congregation was a welcoming place for gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons. The congregation’s commitment to welcoming gay, lesbian, and bisexual people was soon tested. In 1993, Collier and his then-wife Marnie co-wrote a letter to the congregation in which they explained they were getting divorced, saying, “The central issue that we have not been able to resolve is that Marnie has come to realize that she is a lesbian-identified bisexual.” Marnie Collier and her new partner remained a part of the congregation.

The second major achievement during Ken Collier’s tenure was the introduction of the worship associate program, which continues today. Worship associates are lay people who share leadership with ordained ministers in planning and leading worship services. This is a distinct change from the 1950s and 1960s when Sunday morning worship was not a shared responsibility, but rather delegated to the minister.

By 1998, effective leadership by Ken Collier and lay leaders had helped congregation recover from its low ebb in the 1980s. To continue that growth, lay leaders decided it was time to start thinking about adding a second minister. In order to establish this second ministry position, the congregation hired Til Evans, an experienced minister of religious education and sometime faculty member of Starr King School for the Ministry, for a two-year interim ministry. Those who remember Evans speak of her with affection, and when a new garden was established next to the McFadden Patio, it was named the Til Evans Garden in her honor.

By 1999, the congregation had seen enough growth that members also voted to add another Sunday morning worship service. (Remember that there had been three services in the 1960s, but the congregation dropped to one service during the 1980s.) The task force charged with adding a second service included lay leaders Ruth Freeman, Cathy Leach-Phillips, and Ed Milner, along with the two ministers.

Above: Darcey Laine in 2000, when the congregation installed her as co-minister

In August, 2000, our congregation called Darcey Laine to be the settled minister of religious education, and co-minister with Ken Collier. This was the first time since 1927 that there had been a regularly called and regularly ordained woman minister settled in the Unitarian congregation of Palo Alto. The previous one had been Rev. Leila Lasley Thompson, ordained and called in 1926 to the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto; she was the first woman minister called to any Palo Alto congregation, but resigned in 1927 when that old congregation could no longer afford to pay her (that congregation was defunct by 1934). I find myself astonished that, after having been such pioneers in women’s rights, it took Palo Alto Unitarians nearly three quarters of a century to call another woman minister.

 

Darcey Laine’s arrival provides a convenient ending point for this brief history. Before I end, let me tell you what struck me as I was researching this history.

I couldn’t help noticing that the relationship between congregation and ministers was never perfect, not ever. We human beings are fallible, which means we regularly make mistakes. Some said Dan Lion took on too much of the leadership of the congregation. Some said Bill Jacobsen took on too little leadership. You could, with equal validity, say that lay leaders during the 1950s and 1960s took on too little leadership, while lay leaders during the 1980s let themselves take on too much leadership. The relationship was never perfect.

We should never forget that human beings are fallible; this is a crucial theological point. Any time a human being thinks they are infallible, they become dangerous; the lone rangers who have no check on their own fallibility, they’re the ones we need to worry about (and there are numerous examples of the lone ranger phenomenon both in contemporary U.S. politics and among Silicon Valley executives). With that in mind, ideally our congregation will be a place where our relationships with others protect us from the worst effects of our own fallibility. This in turn suggests that fallible humans need share leadership with others, because this is the best way to help us through our mistakes and moments of fallibility.

To put this in theological language, what I’m saying is that we are part of a Web of interconnections. The dimensions of that Web are measured by trust, power, gratitude, forgiveness, transformation, and so on. And the balance of shared leadership is simply another way to measure the dimensions of the Web of interconnectedness that binds each of us together with all reality.

 

Notes: The primary source for this sermon was documents from the in the UUCPA archives, including those listed below. I also referred to my notes of a few reminiscences from long-time members, notes which remain confidential.

Published sources:
Loomer, Bernard. Unfoldings. Berkeley, Calif.: First Unitarian Church of Berkeley, 1985
Ross, Warren R. The Premise and the Promise: The Story of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Boston: Skinner House, 2001.
Ulbrich, Holley. The Fellowship Movement: A Growth Strategy and Its Legacy. Boston: Skinner House, 2008.
Wright, Sam. Koviashuvik: A Time and Place of Joy. Sierra Club Books, 1988. (Contains a brief reminiscence of Dan Lion.)

Photographs:
All photos are from the archives of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto.

Unpublished sources:
Anonymous. [Folder titled “PAUC All Church Survey 1988”].
Anonymous. “Church Timeline from February 5, 2001, Meeting.” Notes from “Visioning Our Education Ministry” meeting, 2001.
Anonymous. “History of UUCPA.” 2 pp., undated photocopy of a document (c. 200?).
Bell, Rachel. “Parish Ministers, Interim Ministers, and Intern Ministers,” timeline. 7 pp., n.d. (c. 2000).
—————. “Religious Education,” timeline. 2 pp., n.d., c. 2005.
—————. “Religious Education at UUCPA,” timeline. 16 pp., n.d. (2000).
Call, Lon Ray. Letter to Felix Danford Lion (“Dear Fe,” [sic]), 2 pp., June 11, 1949.
Collier, Ken. “Minister’s Report, 1997-1998.”
—————, and Marnie Collier. Letter to the congregation. 2 pp., July 30, 1993.
Currie, Rigdon. Untitled [letter from Currie as President of the Board of Trustees to the congregation]. 1 pg., Feb. 28, 1989.
Ruth Freeman, Cathy Leach-Phillips, Ed Milner, Ken Collier, and Til Evans. “The Dual Services Plan.” 2 pp., n.d. (c. 2000).
Hargis, Ron. “The Palo Alto Unitarian Church: An Analysis.” 2 pp., Jan., 1977.
—————, and Bill Jacobsen. Untitled memo (“We are concerned, as I know all of you are…”). 2 pp., n.d. (c. Nov., 1975).
Hamaker, Gail. “History of the Palo Alto Unitarian Church.” 3 pp., 1980.
Harrison, Bob. Untitled [memories of the Palo Alto Unitarian Church]. 2 pp., Aug. 7, 1983.
Indergand, Litsie. Untitled [letter from Indergand as President of the Board of Trustees to the congregation]. 1 pg., Oct. 17, 1989.
Jacobsen, Bill, and Diane Jacobsen. Untitled [announcement of their divorce to the congregation]. 1 pg., n.d.
Laine, Darcey. Notes from interviews conducted in 2002; and column in “The Bulletin,” the UUCPA newsletter, May 23, 2003.
Lion, Felix Danford. “Biographical data.” 1 pg., August, 1969.
—————. “Memories and Reminders” [sermon for the 25th anniversary of the building]. 5 pp., Oct. 16, 1983.
Macdonald, Charles H. (Attorney-at-Law). “Status of Loan on Parsonage of the Palo Alto Unitarian Church, 339 Kellogg Aveneue, Palo Alto, California.” 1951.
Mackay, Ned. “Rev. F. Danford Lion resigns to join church in New York.” Undated clipping from the Palo Alto Times (1972).
Niles, Alfred S. “The Early Years of the Palo Alto Unitarian Society, 1947-1950.” Typescript, 1958.
Perry, Bryce. “Staff at UUCPA.” 2 pp., Oct. 9, 1998.
Peterman, Sid. No title (“Because the interim ministry…”). 8 pp., 1973.
Schmidt, Muriel. “A Brief Resume of the Palo Alto Unitarian Church.” 4 pp., 1972.
Schwaar, Georgia. Note to Darcey Laine dated Oct. 15, 2002.
Wright, Sam, and Donna Lee. “Report from Sam and Donna.” 3 pp., April 18, 1991.

Above: Groundbreaking ceremony for the new building; the robed figure (center left) is probably Dan Lion

Life in a Judean Village in the year 29

The sermon below was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, California, at the 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. services. The sermon text below is a reading text; the actual sermon contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon copyright (c) 2018 Daniel Harper.

Readings

The first reading is from the essay “The Aims of Religious Education” by Gabriel Moran:

Teaching is what every human being and some non-humans do. Teaching is one of the most important and regular acts that we perform in life. Humans have to learn nearly everything they know; humans learn by being taught. We are shown how to do something, and we respond. In modern educational theory, teaching has been reduced to explaining, giving reasons, or providing information. In most of the rest of history, including today’s actual practice, teaching means to show someone how to do something, a process that may or may not include explanations, reasons, and information. In its most comprehensive meaning, to teach is to show someone how to live….

The second reading is a poem by Everett Hoagland [not reproduced here in order to respect copyright].

Hymn — In 1916, in the midst of the First World War, the English poet Clifford Bax wrote a poem about the insanity of war which began “Turn back, O Man, forswear thy foolish ways.” Then, in the middle of the Vietnam War, Stephen Swartz used a version of Clifford Bax’s poem in his rock musical Godspell. We Unitarian Universalists have updated the poem with gender-neutral language — but we are still waiting for an earth made fair, with all her people free. Please rise as you are willing and able and sing hymn 120, “Turn Back.”

Sermon — “Life in a Judean Village in the Year 29”

The sermon below was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, California, at the 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. services. The sermon text below is a reading text; the actual sermon contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon copyright (c) 2018 Daniel Harper.

“Turn back… forswear thy foolish ways….” It seems as though every generation finds itself asking: When will we have an earth made fair, and all her people free? — when will the era of justice and righteousness finally begin? And it seems as though every generation finds the same answer: Not just yet. Not just yet. Yet every generation must find something to believe in, some ethical guide for action….

And what do we Unitarian Universalists believe in? The poem by Everett Hoagland that Brian led is my favorite Unitarian Universalist poem, because it captures an essential truth about us: We try to get beyond belief. Getting beyond belief does not mean that we have to be cynical and critical; getting beyond belief means getting to the realization that belief is not enough.

For most people in the United States today, “religion” means the same thing as “belief in God.” But that’s not true for us Unitarian Universalists. Our religion requires neither belief in God, nor disbelief in God. What is important is what you do with your life, and how you make meaning as you live.

This creates some very interesting side effects for us — as, for example, when we start teaching our kids about Jesus. For most of United States society, Jesus is a being that you either believe in or don’t believe in. But rather than telling kids to believe or to disbelieve in Jesus, we have them travel back in time to the year 29, to a village in the land of Judea, which was a province of the Roman Empire.

That is what our Sunday school is doing this spring — traveling in time to the year 29 in the land of Judea. And this year, for the first time, I am able to take all you people in the adult worship service back to the year 29. You see, it takes far more energy to send adults back in time, but with the solar panels on our roof and over our parking lot, we now have enough energy for our time machine to accommodate you.

Here’s our official UUCPA time machine; let’s all step inside. I’m going to set the space-time coordinates for the year 29, Roman Empire, Province of Judea. (I really wish I could cue up some eerie music right now — time machines work better if you have some eerie music.)

Ah! The time machine has stopped! Let’s open the door and step outside. We’re near the marketplace of a small village. It’s dusty and hot. Everyone we see is wearing what looks like a dress or long robe, and a cloth head covering. As we start walking around the marketplace, I’m glad that I have a ponytail, because all the men and women have long hair. However, my lily-white skin really stands out when everyone else has brown skin.

The marketplace is fascinating. Look at all the craftsmen — and most of them do seem to be men — selling all kinds of goods, from pottery to metal ware; the craftspeople are even making some of their wares as they wait for customers. Everything is so different from twenty-first century Palo Alto: nothing has been imported from China; everything is made with human or animal power, without any fossil fuel; it smells completely different; oh, and I notice that people are scratching at body lice, so I know there are no showers and no washing machines.

As we walk around the marketplace, notice how children are fully integrated into the life of the community. Children don’t go to school, they help their parents make a living. Here come some shepherds bringing their sheep to market, and sure enough there are children helping herd the sheep. There’s a potter working at his trade, with a child nearby wedging clay.

While most of the people in this marketplace seem to get along with each other, one person is obviously hated by everyone — the Tax Collector. A Tax Collector in the Roman Empire gives a new perspective on the Internal Revenue Service; the IRS, while sometimes annoying, is mostly governed by the rule of law. But in the ancient Roman Empire, there was no such thing as the rule of law; a Tax Collector could extort as much money from the people as he thought he could get away with, and that way he made a nice personal profit for himself.

The Roman soldiers who strut through the marketplace are an uncomfortable reminder that Judea is ruled by Rome. Judea had been independent for about a century under the rule of Judah Maccabbee and his successors, but the Romans first installed client kings over Judea, and then in the year 6 took direct control of the once independent land.

The current Jewish leaders, centered in the great Temple of Jerusalem, have been happy to cooperate with the Romans. The Romans gave them a major renovation of the Temple. And the Jews are the only people in the Roman Empire who do not have to publicly worship the Roman gods and goddesses. But in the village, it seems people are not entirely happy with their Roman overlords. As we walk around, we hear some people talking quietly about their dislike of Rome — but they talk very quietly, because if you’re not a full citizen of Rome, you have legal no rights. And we hear strange rumors going around, like the rumors that there are bands of rebels living in the hills, waiting to sweep down and drive Rome out of Judea.

The strangest rumors we hear concern a man from Nazareth named Jesus. He’s supposed to be a son of a carpenter, which means he should be a carpenter himself, but people are saying that he’s now a rabbi (although it is not clear that he actually knows how to read, so he’s not an official rabbi). Some of the rumors say that Jesus performs healing miracles — remember that in a world where only the most wealthy people can afford a doctor, people depend on faith healers. The rumors have it that Jesus is a holy man, a sort of Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama for the first century. People in the marketplace repeat wisdom sayings attributed to Jesus.

And then there are the parables told by Jesus. These short pithy stories, well-suited to oral transmission, get repeated and passed along, and some of these stories we’re hearing make it seem Jesus criticizes Roman rule. The parables make it sound like Jesus treats everyone as an equal. Imagine that! He supposedly says you should treat everyone else the way you yourself would like to be treated.

I’m sure we’d all like to see more of this Judean village, but the power levels in our time machine have dropped, and we need to leave now. Let’s get into the time machine and return to our own time — and let’s hope we don’t bring any body lice back.

Now you’ve heard the story behind our Judean Village program. In part, this program is our way of teaching kids about Jesus, and we make it clear that there are many different possible opinions about Jesus. We acknowledge that some people in the year 29 probably believed that Jesus was divine — but the main arc of our story also makes it clear that Jesus was fully human, and very much a product of his time and place. (I should add an important point: in the Judean Village program, Jesus is always off stage; that way, we don’t impose one limited image of what Jesus might have looked like.)

The remarkable thing about the Judean Village program, from my point of view as an educator, is how much the kids like it. We were supposed to offer Judean Village last spring, but the Children and Youth Religious Education Committee and I decided to pilot an ecology program instead. I thought we were going to face an armed insurrection by children and middle schoolers; we had to promise them that we would definitely have Judean Village this year.

Why do the kids like Judean Village so much? I don’t think Jesus is the big draw. More important, I think, is that this is education that has NOT been reduced to explaining, giving reasons, or providing information. Instead, the kids get to serve as “apprentices” to various “shopkeepers,” and they get shown how to do things like simple weaving, small-scale pottery, brick-making, making a simple musical instrument, writing with a quill pen made out of a feather, and so on. They love choosing which shopkeeper they get to learn from THIS week.

And while they’re making these simple things, there’s time to talk, to socialize with one’s peers and with other age groups — because we include all ages in the program from kindergarten to grade 8. The middle schoolers are the senior apprentices who help show the little kids how to make things, something they love to do, and something the little kids like, too. They love to try to fool the Tax Collector who comes around shaking down the various shopkeepers (please note that we try to make clear the difference between the corrupt ancient Roman Tax Collector and the IRS).

Embedded in all this fun are stories and thoughts that intrigue our kids. Our kids are confused by the many myths and stories and beliefs they hear about Jesus. To our skeptical, thoughtful Unitarian Universalist kids, the conflicting stories about Jesus in the Judean Village program help them make sense out of the cultural phenomenon of Jesus. They learn that even in his own day, people had different opinions about Jesus. They learn that Jesus was a human being, which makes sense to them. They learn that Jesus was Jewish, not Christian (because, after all, that’s true). And they learn that Jesus cared about people who were poor or homeless, that Jesus was willing to stand up to a corrupt regime.

Our way of teaching about Jesus helps our kids confront the confusing reality that some of their friends think Jesus was a god, and some of their friends think Jesus is humbug. We offer a third alternative: Jesus was a radical, rabble-rousing rabbi from Nazareth. I have used that phrase when I telling stories about Jesus, and I’ve heard back from parents that when their conventionally Christian relatives come over, and corner their seven year old child, and ask that child who Jesus was, some children reply: “Jesus was the radical rabble-rousing rabbi from Nazareth!”

We have to repeat our messages about Jesus frequently and memorably, because the wider culture around us tells our children over and over again that Jesus is a god; even atheists who say, “I don’t believe in Jesus,” are still affirming that Jesus is a god whom they don’t believe in. Our response to this societal pressure is to try to move beyond belief. Rather than focusing on the historical facts about Jesus, or the Christian dogma about Jesus, we simply tell stories about Jesus that convey important truths: Take care of people who are poor or homeless. Treat everybody the way you’d like to be treated yourself. Stand up to injustice.

Indeed, why bother children and middle schoolers with all the historical arguments for and against the historical Jesus? It makes more sense to focus on the ethical content of the Jesus stories: Jesus cared for homeless people, he stood up to injustice, he treated everyone as equals. Tell powerful and ambiguous stories, and let those stories start the process of ethical reflection.

And one way we make the Jesus stories especially powerful is by assuming that Jesus was fully human. If you’re a god, it must be pretty easy to care for poor and homeless people, stand up against injustice, and treat all humans as being equal to one another. But if you are a human, then it is NOT easy to stand up to the oppressive forces in society; it is NOT easy to care for people who were poor and homeless; it is NOT easy to treat other people the way we want to be treated. When you tell the Jesus stories with Jesus as fully human, that makes the stories far more ethically interesting.

By now, you will have noticed that this is not like the STEM education taught under a Common Core curriculum. Providing information, giving reasons, and explaining do not take center stage. We weave stories that help kids make meaning in their lives. We hope to prompt them to ask themselves: What would I do if I were faced with the massive injustice of the ancient Roman empire? — would I openly follow someone who stood up to that injustice, or would I try to live my own life and stand up to injustice quietly when I could do so without fear of reprisal against me and my family? How will I treat people who are poor or homeless? — will I ignore them so I can focus on my own needs, or will I do what I can to help out other people? More generally, how will I treat other people? — will I be able to treat all other people as true equals, as the stories say Jesus did, regardless of economic status, incarceration record, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on?

A kindergartner probably won’t get to this level of moral reflection. But last week, when we were talking with the middle schoolers about Judean Village, we explained that they are going to become characters in the story, which means they will help talk about the rumors about Jesus. They have to decide, as characters in the story, what opinions they would hold. Would their character support Jesus against the Romans? Would their character be pro-Roman instead? One of the middle schoolers said that their character wouldn’t be someone who would stand up to Roman oppression OPENLY, that would be too dangerous, and that their character also would be someone who’s skeptical of any rumors about miraculous people. Thinking about what their Judean Village character would do allows the middle schoolers to think about what they themselves might do in real-life situations.

So it is that the Judean Village program uses the old Jesus stories to help young people begin to think about some big ethical questions. And every time I teach in the Judean Village program, and hear again those old stories, I find that I ask myself these same big questions:

— What would I have done to stand up to Roman oppression? And how much am I willing to risk to stand up to oppression and injustice today?
— Had I lived in Judea in the year 29, would I have treated everyone as an equal? And in today’s world, how do I treat people who have a different economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation?
— How do I help people who are homeless or poor? Is there ever going to be a solution to homelessness and poverty?

Perhaps as you hear about this Judean Village program, you have started thinking about these ethical questions yourself. This is what we Unitarian Universalists do: we listen carefully those old amazing religious stories, and regardless of whether we believe them or not, we use them to make meaning out of our own lives. We listen to those old, ambiguous, rich and complex stories — and what always catches our attention are the moral questions raised by those old stories.

Questions like:
What will I do about homelessness and poverty?
How will I stand up to injustice?
Am I able to treat all others as true equals?

There is no final answer to any of these questions — there is only the never-ending effort to make meaning out of our lives.

Why do we do what we do in our Sunday services?

Script of a complete worship service. Reflection copyright Castor Fu. Sermon copyright (c) 2017 Dan Harper. Castor Fu and Dan Harper retain the copyright to the questions and answers.

Community Welcome and Announcements

KERENSA FU: Welcome to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, where we come to transform ourselves, each other, and the world. We begin our time together by greeting each other. Please turn and greet someone you haven’t seen in awhile or have never met, if you meet a newcomer, please ask them if they would like you to introduce them to everyone. Newcomers, you do not have to speak yourselves!

Is there anyone who would like to introduce one of our guests? I’ll bring you the microphone….Let’s all say welcome to everybody. WELCOME!

Guests, please stay for refreshments and conversation after the service. At the Information Table, with the red tablecloth (POINT), you can get a name-tag and answers to your questions about UUCPA from a friendly volunteer.

I have one very important announcement. I’m Kerensa Fu, this is my father, Castor Fu, and this is Dan Harper. The question we will be asking in this morning’s service is — Why do we do what we do in our Sunday services?

CASTOR FU: Dan, I have a question. Why do we have announcements in our service?

DAN HARPER: Our congregation traces its history back to the old established churches in New England in the Colonial era. Those old churches didn’t have access to cheap printing so they didn’t have printed orders of service, nor did they have telephones, email, or social media. If you wanted everyone in the congregation to hear an announcement, you had to make a spoken announcement in the Sunday service. Some twenty-first century Unitarian Universalist congregations have eliminated spoken announcements during their Sunday services, but we still hold on to this historical artifact.

KERENSA: And now, let us begin our service.

Prelude

Chalice Lighting and Centering Words — KERENSA

CASTOR: Dan, is lighting the chalice a Unitarian or Universalist thing?

DAN: Lighting a flaming chalice in the Sunday service is a ritual peculiar to Unitarian Universalists. It can probably be traced back to the Charles Street Meetinghouse, an innovative Universalist church in the 1950s. But the practice of lighting a flaming chalice during Sunday services didn’t become widespread until the 1990s.

My mother, who was born a Unitarian, didn’t like the flaming chalice — her generation of Unitarians tried to get irrational symbols out of our churches. I remember the first time we saw a flaming chalice lit in my home church — my mother shook her head, and muttered under her breath, “Graven images.” For this or other reasons, there are probably a few of our congregations that still do not use a flaming chalice. But today, most Unitarian Universalists like the flaming chalice, and feel it is a part of who we are.

Hymn — KERENSA introduces

Caring and Sharing — KERENSA leads

CASTOR: Dan, I have a question about Caring and Sharing; is it a Christian thing, a UU thing? At a lot of faith communities we visited with the middle school Neighboring Faith Communities class, we saw people would just light candles in silence.

DAN: It’s more commonly called “Joys and Concerns,” and it is a wide-spread custom in Unitarian Universalist congregations, and also in liberal mainline Protestant Christian churches. I don’t know where the custom came from, but I suspect Joy and Concerns spread during the feminist revolution that swept through both Unitarian Universalist congregations and liberal Christian churches beginning in the 1970s, when we decided we didn’t need a male authority figure (most ministers in those days were men) telling us about our own births, death, and illnesses.

Not all Unitarian Universalist congregations do Joys and Concerns the way we do. I remember going to services at the Arlington Street church ten or twenty years ago, and their practice was just as you described it: people went forward in silence to light candles. But the Arlington Street Church had a good reason for doing it that way: they had the first openly gay minister of any church in Boston, and during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s there would be lines of people extending the entire length of the church — and this is a church that seats some 600 people — waiting to light a candle for someone who was sick or dead or dying. Actually, in our own congregation, at times in the autumn and winter when attendance is high, the worship leader has to cut Caring and Sharing short because there isn’t enough time for everyone to speak.

Reading — KERENSA
[Not included here due to copyright.]

CASTOR: Dan, I have a question about readings…why do we sometimes have readings in our services?

DAN: Our congregation traces its historical roots back to the Puritan churches of colonial New England, and each week those old churches had a reading from the Bible that the minister would then expound upon for two or three hours. Sometimes the sermons ranged far afield from the Bible, as when Rev. Samuel West of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, began preaching outright rebellion against England starting in the 1770s. Samuel West’s church became a Unitarian church around 1800 — by the time that church called radical abolitionist John Weiss as minister in 1847, they had become a post-Christian church, and didn’t bother too much with the Bible. But as Unitarian Universalists became post-Christian, we retained the old custom of having readings from religious literature. In our congregation, most of our readings from religious literature come during the centering words, but sometimes we have readings just before the sermon or reflection — just as Samuel West did during the American Revolution.

Reflection — CASTOR
Copyright (c) 2017 Castor Fu; Castor’s actual reflection differed from the text reproduced here.

For the last two years I’ve been helping teach our Neighboring Faiths class. That means I got to go with middle school students to see other church services. I’ve got to go to a Muslim masjid, a Sikh gurdwara, a Quaker gathering, and Memorial Church. Each time we go on a field trip, even if it’s to someplace I’ve been before, I see things I hadn’t seen before.

At first I was fascinated just to see things which I’d heard or read about.

I thought it was great to see up close “communion” for example. The western culture class I had had focused on the idea of Transubstantiation, where bread and wine miraculously transformed into the blood and body of Christ. That seemed incomprehensible to me, because I had focused on it literally. Being there in person seeing the ritual of people silently lining up solemnly moving forward and receiving the host while organ music played and the choir sang was completely different, creating space for meditative contemplation.

I could relate it to our own flower communion and water communion ceremonies, which certainly developed (or perhaps as UU’s we might say evolved). But as time went on, and also from interesting discussions as a member of the Committee on Ministry, I found it interesting to think of these not just as historical artifacts, but also as a program which is actively created by people. Yes, ministers are people.

So as we see each of these elements, some we may like, some we don’t. So maybe ask yourself how did it get there? And remember that someone made a choice.

For example, we saw many different ways churches to deal with their finances. Here, we have a token offering, as a small reminder. In one of the catholic churches, we saw that they were literally keeping score of the amount brought in by different services. In a Mormon service, they didn’t collect money at all at the service at all, even though they are known to be pretty observant about tithing. But they did But they had a lengthy portion where they recognized the service that different members had provided or were going to be providing. In the Mormon congregation, it’s all lay led. There is no minister on the payroll. So they work hard to make sure that volunteers are recognized.

As we look at these pieces we can think about the reasons behind different elements.

Is it ritual, where repetition brings both a familiarity and a sense of order? Is the goal to emphasize community, trying to bring people together? Could it be providing space, space for other thoughts to grow? Could it be to share wisdom? Perhaps through a story or an analogy.

Hymn — KERENSA introduces

CASTOR: Dan, I have a question about singing hymns, why do we all sing, or at least try to in my case?

DAN: In Western culture, singing in worship services is a hard-won right gained during the Protestant Reformation. Prior to that, the only voices you were allowed to hear in a Western religious service were the voices of priests, or the voices of choirs and soloists under the control of priests. Five hundred years ago this year, Martin Luther started the Protestant revolution, and he insisted on the priesthood of all believers. One result of that insistence was that the voices of ordinary people were finally heard in Western religious services. The tendency continues to evolve, and our Unitarian Universalist feminist revolution took us even further, challenging the notion that only experts can do things like sing, and challenging us to make our religion be fully embodied, as it is when we sing.

There are also physiological reasons to sing together. Unitarian Universalist choral director Nick Page says the roots of group singing lie far back in our evolutionary history. And a recent article in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology (vol. 160, p. 21) reports on an experiment showing how synchronized experiences enhance peer cooperation; the authors state: “Music making is … a joint creation that encourages flexibility in the face of changing patterns and dynamics.”

Castor, you say that you “try to sing,” and that points to a real problem: in today’s society we learn how to consume music, or to perform music, but not how to make music together. Fortunately, our congregation offers opportunities to learn how to sing in groups: we have two different Sunday afternoon singing groups, and our choir warmly welcomes anyone who wants to sing, regardless of skill level.

Sermon — “Why Do We Do THAT in the Sunday Service?” — DAN
Sermon copyright (c) 2017 Dan Harper.

The question that we are posing in today’s service is this: “Why do we do THAT in the Sunday service?” I’m going to try to give a few answers to this question. Mind you, I’m not going to try to provide THE answer, the final complete and utterly true answer, because there isn’t one. I’ll start by talking about our ideals, and then I’ll talk about some pragmatic and even trivial things. But although I will give you some provisional answers, my real goal is to get you thinking and wondering about why our services are the way they are.

Let me start off by repeating that we Unitarian Universalists are no longer Christians — we got kicked out of the Christian club about two hundred years ago, when we started thinking that it was necessary to get away from blind reliance on some authority figure who told us what to think and feel; as a result, we stopped affirming the Nicene creed. The Christians looked at us in horror, and said, “But you can’t be Christian unless you believe the Nicene Creed.” But we had learned the Nicene creed was something the Roman emperor shoved down the throats of the Christians in the fourth century as a condition for becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire; we had learned that creeds were fallible human inventions and we preferred to seek after truth and goodness on our own.

In short, we Unitarians and Universalists rebel against blind obedience to authority, and we have consistently refused to have creeds. We do have the so-called “Principles and Purposes,” which are printed just after the table of contents in the gray hymnal. But the two most critical sections of the “Principles and Purposes” were NOT printed in the hymnal, so I’m going to read them to you now:

First: “Systems of power, privilege, and oppression have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories. We pledge to replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect. We strive to be an association of congregations that truly welcome all persons and commit to structuring congregational and associational life in ways that empower and enhance everyone’s participation.”

And second: “Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test.”

These two statements, flawed though they might be, represent important ideals that shape our worship services, and they shape our unique identity.

The first statement has deepest roots in our Universalist heritage. The old eighteenth century Universalists shocked their Christian neighbors by declaring God was love, and therefore God would never condemn anyone to hell. Their Christian neighbors said in reply, “But if there’s no threat of hell, what’s to keep human beings from doing evil?” To which the Universalists replied, “Evil is OUR responsibility. It is not up to some Daddy God to make us behave well; WE have to make OURSELVES behave well.” This ideal of radical love drove a few nineteenth century Universalists to become radical abolitionists, because if God loved everybody equally, that meant God loved black people the same as white people. And this ideal drove the nineteenth century Universalists to be the first denomination to officially sanction the ordination of a woman, because here again women were just as worthy of God’s love as were men. These days, we may not talk about God very much — but we are still focused on the ideal of radical love: that all persons are worthy of love, and somehow we have to create a human community that embodies this love.

As to the second statement, that “nothing … shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief”: this comes from both our Unitarian and Universalist heritages. In its most debased form, this gets stated as: “No one can tell me what to believe!” But doing away with creeds is a far more radical act than the childish sentiment, “You can’t tell me what to believe!” No, this is a radical act that requires us to come together as a community of inquirers, knowing that no single person can ever serve as an ultimate authority, but also knowing that the way to make progress towards the truth is to share our knowledge and test the insights others have had, and build upon those insights. So this is no infantile individualism, but rather a freedom of belief related to the growth of knowledge that can come from scientific communities. Except that we cannot test our answers through peer-reviewed journals, because we are asking subjective, personal questions like: Who am I, what is my identity? and: What is the best way for me to live my life? and: Why is there suffering, and what can I do about it?

So it is that these two ideals help shape our Sunday services:– We want to create a human community that reflects our ideal that all persons are worthy of love; and we want to create a community of inquirers that encourages us to share and test our insights so that we can make sense out of the world, make sense out of our own actions, and progress in our search for truth and goodness.

 

By now it should be obvious that our ideals sometimes prompt us to REFUSE to do certain things in our service. In other words, sometimes there are things missing from our services because of our ideals. Let me give you a couple of examples:

First, one thing we do NOT do is we do NOT have bits of the service that are only accessible to people who have some kind of special knowledge. Thus, all the language in our services is common everyday language; we do not use Latin, like some Catholics, and we do not use Old Church Slavonic, like some Russian Orthodox churches; we want everyone to understand everything that we do in the service. However, in today’s increasingly multicultural world this impulse is leading us in some interesting directions. We have a good many non-native speakers of English in our congregation, and so we sometimes use languages other than English in our services, typically accompanied by an English translation; we have used Spanish, German, and Mandarin in this fashion. But we do NOT use obsolete, archaic languages: we want everyone here to understand.

Another thing that we do NOT do is we do NOT have any secret bits in our service that only certain people are allowed to participate in. Some Christian churches do not allow everyone to participate in communion; some Buddhists have certain rites or practices that only initiates can participate in; and so on. by contrast, we want everyone to participate in everything, as much as we can make that happen. The technical term for this is that we are an exoteric religion, not an esoteric religion.

 

I must also tell you that sometimes we do things in our services, not out of our ideals, but for historical reasons, or practical reasons, or because something evolved randomly. I’ll give you an example:

We have three main pieces of music in our service: the prelude, the offertory, and the postlude. The original purpose of these pieces of music was entirely practical; they were what we might call traveling music: the prelude covered up the sound of footsteps as people came into the service; the offertory covered up the sound of the ushers walking around collecting money; and the postlude covered up the sounds of people going out of the service. In some Unitarian Universalist congregations, that’s still the way it’s done. But in our congregation, we like our musicians so much that we want to sit and listen to them play. So now we have the prelude after people have come in and seated themselves (unless you come in late); and we sit still for the postlude, then after the postlude we applaud for our musicians as if this were a concert performance. The prelude, offertory, and postlude are examples of things that originally had practical reasons behind them, but which have since been subject to random evolution.

 

To conclude, then: Some of the things we do in our Sunday services embody our highest ideals; some of the things we DON’T do in our services also reflect our highest ideals; and some of the things we do in our services are there for purely practical or historical reasons, or no reason at all.

As I wind up this sermon, I realize that I’ve said nothing about why our services include a sermon. Well, part of the reason we have a sermon in our services is to live out our ideals: the sermon should be one locus of the ongoing conversation we have together as a community of inquirers seeking after truth and goodness. Part of the reason we have a sermon is historical: the Christian tradition we came out of had sermons to explain Christian doctrine and beliefs. And part of the reason we have a sermon is practical: most religions in North America with regular services include something that looks like a sermon (though it might be called a dharma talk or the “platform” or some other name).

And as I wind up this sermon, I also realize that an hour is not enough time to give a full answer to the question “Why do we do THAT in our services?” So we don’t have time to talk about what we do in special services, like next week’s Water Communion service, or the Flower Celebration we do in the springtime. I am also very aware that the answers I have given in this sermon are partial and incomplete; if our senior minister, Amy Zucker Morgenstern, did a sermon on the same topic she would give you more information. With this latter point in mind, there are other people I would like to hear speak on this topic: anthropologist Don Brenneis, and psychologist Susan Owicki, and artist Lynn Grant, to name just a few.

But I hope that I have at least prompted to you ask yourself: Why do we do THAT in our Sunday services? I hope that by asking this question, you are drawn into a deeper examination of what it means to be a part of a religious community committed to an ongoing search for truth and goodness. And I hope that together we may strengthen our commitment to the radical love that causes us to try to root out evil wherever we find it.

 

CASTOR: Dan, now that you are done with the sermon, I have a question about why we take an offering during the service. What good does it do to give a dollar? I noticed the Mormons do not do this, and they seem to take tithing very seriously.

DAN: Like the Mormons, we trace our historical roots back to the early Christians; they took offerings of food, not money, food which became a meal that everyone got to eat together: so the offering was actually a social justice project: rich people in the church brought more food than poor people, and if you were poor you knew you’d get at least one good meal a week. (It’s worth remembering in this context that at our Second Sunday lunches and Fourth Sunday brunches we ask for a VOLUNTARY donation; some people give MORE than is asked, and some people can’t afford to put any money in the basket, and so we break even; in my opinion Second Sunday lunches and Fourth Sunday brunches are thus historically related to the offering.)

What good does it do to give a dollar? Well, we have people in our congregation who are on very limited incomes, and a dollar is a LOT of money for them; indeed, social scientists have shown that low income people generally give a greater percentage of their income to charity than do upper middle class people. You mentioned tithing, which means giving ten percent of your income away. For some people, a dollar is tithing, and there are other people who could give a hundred dollars or more a week and that wouldn’t be a tithe. Thus, it’s not the dollar amount, it’s the relative amount that matters most.

Offering — KERENSA
As a part of the free church tradition, we accept no money from any governmental body, nor do we receive money from any ecclesiastical authority, in order that we shall remain free to govern ourselves. In addition to their annual pledges, each week our members and friends may choose to give an additional contribution as a public witness that we are, and shall remain, a free church.

Offertory — Musicians

Hymn — KERENSA introduces

CASTOR: Dan, we’re about to extinguish the chalice. Why do we do that?

DAN: Extinguishing the chalice is something that was started in the 1990s by Elizabeth Selle Jones; she was a Unitarian Universalist minister who insisted that if you light the chalice at the beginning of a service, then you have to extinguish it at the end. I never agreed with Elizabeth’s reasoning, but I do think it’s a pleasant ritual, and a nice way to end the service.

Chalice Extinguishing — KERENSA
[#705 in the gray hymnal]

Postlude — Musicians

[DURING THE POSTLUDE, Castor and Dan stay at the front of the Main Hall for one more question and answer, while Kerensa takes the handheld mic and walks to the back of the Main Hall to give the unison benediction.]

CASTOR: Wait, there’s more? Why do we have a benediction, and a chalice extinguishing, and a postlude, and sometimes even a sung benediction?!

DAN: Yes, sometimes it feels like this is the service that never ends. All these things — extinguishing the chalice, the postlude, the sung benediction when the choir is present, and the unison benediction — got included in our services for good reasons, but all of them together might feel a little awkward if you stop to think about it. This is a perfect example of the random evolution of the service. I guess I’d say that maybe we don’t have to think through EVERYTHING in the service; some things, to use an expression of my Pennsylvania Dutch forebears, are “just for nice.”

Unison Benediction — KERENSA [from the back of the Main Hall]
Please rise in body or in spirit, join hands as you are willing and able, and let us say together the unison benediction. There is an insert in your order of service with the benediction in three languages; please read whichever language you are comfortable with.

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings