Posts Tagged heart

Transformation in the Sharing

“In our community of caring we take time to share with one another what is in our hearts — our joys, our sorrows, and important milestones.  I invite you to receive and light a candle, tell us your name, and briefly share what is changing your life.”

Each Sunday these familiar words introduce what our Order of Service names as “Sharing Joys and Concerns”.  For many people, such sharing is an important part of the service, an opportunity for members whose lives are being changed by either joy or sorrow (or, sometimes, both at once!) to speak briefly about that personal transformation.  It’s important because heart-felt sharing develops and deepens fellowship in a way that nothing else can.

What we call Joys and Concerns was introduced into Unitarian Universalist worship during the 1960s and 70s.  It’s generally a combination of the candle-lighting remembrances of Catholicism and Judaism with the personal confessions or petitionary prayers of Protestant churches.  From what I’ve seen, though, it’s done differently in just about every UU congregation.

Some do Joys and Concerns every Sunday while others only do it once a month.  Some have a limited number of candles or a limited amount of time for sharing or a limited number of chairs for people to occupy in advance of their sharing.  Some have candles lit or stones dropped into water, but no sharing.  Some have people write their joys and sorrows in a “book of life” and then they’re blended into a pastoral prayer offered by the minister or a lay leader.  One in seven congregations do not do Joys and Concerns at all.

There have also been debates about Joys and Concerns since it was introduced.  Aside from the amount of time it takes, which can vary unpredictably from two minutes to ten minutes or even more, just about every minister has at least one horror story of thoroughly inappropriate sharing.  Personally I value Joys and Concerns for the emotional warmth it brings to our community, and visitors often comment on how impressed they are that we take this time to care for one another.  For in our stressed-out, endlessly competitive lives in a culture that increasingly values what we have over who we are, Joys and Concerns is a rare time for sharing not what is on our minds but what is in our hearts, not what is happening in our lives but what is changing our lives.

When it comes to the joys, we want to hear about the new child or the new job — or the milestone of a major birthday or wedding anniversary.  When it comes to the concerns, we really want to hear about the family death, the loss of a job, or the illness of a sick friend whose name we should keep in our hearts.  We want to know what is truly changing your life, what it is that is transforming you such that, in the sharing, it can transform everyone who hears you, too.

And that’s because, when all is said and done, we are here to be transformed, to transform one another and our world.  Congregations, more than any other social institutions, exist to change lives.  Sunday services, religious education, small group programs, social events and even committee meetings are all means that serve the end purpose of transformation.  Our members and friends also pledge their financial support of our mission and ministry to change lives, from growing our individual souls and nurturing the life of the community to building the world we dream about.

On Sunday mornings, you’ll hear not only the joys and sorrows that are changing people’s lives, but also personal testimonials about how the Fellowship is changing lives.  These are stories of individual transformation and community deepening as well as stories of how we are changing the world for the better.  So, how have you been transformed?  What is your story of how your life has been changed by being a part of the congregation?  What is your story of how our Fellowship is helping to make the world a better place?  We want to know what is truly changing your life, what it is that is transforming you such that, in the sharing, it can transform everyone who hears you, too.

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The Power of Recognition

From time to time someone I don’t know figures out that I’m a minister.  This is most often in a setting where that’s a safe guess: someone in a jacket and tie asking where they can find a particular patient in a hospital is quite likely to be a minister.  Sometimes it happens elsewhere — at the counter of a fast food restaurant, for example — particularly if the other person has already guessed that the chalice design on my lapel pin is a religious symbol.

There are situations where it’s helpful to be identified as a minister, of course.  I’m more likely to be allowed into the Emergency Room to see a member of the congregation — or to be with the family of that member — if I have a badge with “clergy” on it.  There are also situations where it isn’t helpful, where the other person becomes painfully self-conscious or sees me as a challenge to their own faith or even feels the need to confess what they think are their sins!

Furthermore, there are situations where being recognized as a minister can make a big difference.  When you see clergy at protests, for instance, it sends a powerful message that this isn’t just a secular matter of unfairness but a religious matter of injustice.  My colleague Rev. Jeanne Pupke of First UU in Richmond shared with me her decision to wear a clerical collar at public witness events after seeing photographs of collared ministers at civil rights protests in the 1960s.  The media certainly pays more attention to the presence of people in clerical collars, particularly if they’re being arrested for civil disobedience!

In the July 2010 “Day of Non-Compliance” protests over Arizona’s SB 1070, for instance, many Unitarian Universalist ministers wore clerical collars.  Now few of them would wear such garb in their own pulpits — the stole is standard for an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, even more than the preaching robe — and yet there is power in being easily recognized as clergy, by the media, by those with whom we stand in solidarity, by fellow protesters of all faiths and, yes, by other Unitarian Universalists.  Some of those collared ministers also wore yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” T-shirts on top of their clergy shirts — demonstrating a willingness to suffer for a good cause in the heat of Phoenix in July! — and helped contribute to the visibility of “the love people”, as the yellow-clad Unitarian Universalist protesters became known.

Given that the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association will take place in Phoenix — and is specifically recast as a “Justice GA” — I’ve been considering buying a shirt with a clerical collar.  I’d wear it at public witness events, at GA and elsewhere, whether protesting racial profiling, worker exploitation, economic injustice or marriage inequality.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw an announcement from the UU Ministers’ Association that a well-established outfitter of church supplies and clerical attire would be selling clergy shirts in the yellow of the “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign and with the campaign’s heart symbol on one sleeve.  “What a great idea!” I thought.  “That solves two problems in one go!”

Not all of my colleagues agree with me.  Some dislike the shirts on aesthetic grounds.  Others object to what they see as the corruption of a religious message through merchandising.  Some complain about the self-righteous Unitarian Universalist sense of “terminal uniqueness”, that we’re entirely separate from “mainstream” religion.  Others argue that we are separate and thus have no right to a traditional symbol of Christian ministry.  (“Traditional” should probably be in quotes: the Church of England records that the clerical collar was invented by a Scottish Presbyterian minister in the 1890s, and was only adopted by Catholic priests in 1960s.)

On the other hand, I remember the story (as related by UU minister Dick Gilbert) that in 1917 the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church assembled in St. Petersburg, and while they were engaged in a bitter debate over the color of priestly vestments, the revolution was raging just a few blocks away.  So, I’m buying the shirt and I’ll wear it at protests and other places where I’m a minister who works for justice, because it’s the revolution that really matters, not the debate.


I hope you’re enjoying a happy and peaceful holiday season and I wish the best for you and yours in the new year!

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