Equity and Compassion: Perspectives During a Pandemic

It is not too early to reflect on the lessons being learned about equity during the Covid-19 virus. How have the impacts of the virus varied for communities? How has our readiness for crisis shone a spotlight on underlying systemic disparities in society? At this virtual service with Rev. Sue Browning we’ll consider how our early learning might guide our next right actions in the broader community.

Find all our recorded services online here.


Service May 10, 2020

May 10 Service

Equity and Compassion: Perspectives During a Pandemic

Rev. Sue Browning

Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton


Call to Service  – Rev. Browning

Welcome. I am Sue Browning and I serve as minister for the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Easton, MD and Chestertown, MD.

We invite you now into a time for connection.

We center our time together today with the ringing of the bowl and Spirit of Life.

Ring Bowl

Spirit of Life (hymn 123) 

Philip Dutton’s recording

Welcome and Chalice Lighting

Welcome member, friend, and visitors. It is good to be together.

And for those celebrating Mother’s Day, or remembering a mom, or grandmother, or in law, or special friend, we send good thoughts your way. A Holiday of reaching out, and often of visits. For many will be celebrated in adaptive ways – good for those who figured out ways to adapt, and sad too for missed connections.

We come to be awake to all that is around us; to give and receive in fluid and loving ways. We come to remind one another to pay attention to the many ways the virus and associated limitations are impacting us and our community. What are we noticing? What is emerging for you?

We gather to soothe our souls; we gather to make meaning; we gather for inspiration; and we gather to create a just and fair world. We invite you to bring all of who you are into this virtual space. Come with your full identity; your full experience.

If you have questions about our eastern shore congregations, or about the Unitarian Universalist faith, please ask! Check our websites, email or call. Even while we are not meeting in-person we hope you’ll get to know us better.

Come, let us worship together. 

Chalice Lighting

Words by Rev. Charles Howe

We light this chalice to affirm

that new light is ever waiting to break through to enlighten our ways:

That new truth is ever waiting to break through to illumine our minds:

And that new love is ever waiting to break through to warm our hearts.

May we be open to this light, and to the rich possibilities that it brings us.

(Light chalice)


Thoughts for All Ages (Liz Hausburg)

Recording of an adapted version of the ANIMAL SCHOOL (Devorah Greenstein)


Meditation   Rev. Browning

I invite us into a time of reflection.

We come, each with our own gifts to share. We come with the blessing of difference. We come with shared dreams…

Words from Rev. Leslie Takahashi

Here in this place of peace, may we find hope.

Here in this place of connection, may we find life-giving community.

Here in this place of rest, let the unrest of our hearts turn us toward justice.

Here in this space made sacred by memories of connection, let us each feel ourselves part of the new world that grows from the old in the spiraling unity of years.


Spirit of Life and Love, our meditation words linger….Here is a place of peace, here is a place of of connection, or here is a place of rest. We need to imagine ‘here’ and ‘place’ in fresh ways. We come to remind ourselves we are joined across physical spaces. Yes, there is a ‘here’ – we are connected. Help us sense today the ways we are joined through our sources of hope and our commitment to equity and justice.  We come feeling the ways our commitment to social distancing is stretching our hearts. May we honor the yearning to be with family and friends; hold what we miss. Let us take a moment to hold in love what we are experiencing and learning in these months.


Joys and Sorrows    Rev. Browning

We build community week after week through our sharing of joys and sorrows…In these times, please email me by Noon on Friday.

First candle as we are doing each week for the losses due to covid – the deaths and the struggles, and too the recoveries. We light this candle for the first responders, the medical teams and the many providing services so we are sustained and safe.

From MQ – On this day (Mother’s Day, May 10) in 1959 I was my mother’s, Mother’s Day gift at 12:50 in the afternoon. I am so very fortunate to be happy, healthy, & working and I hope I can share this positive energy as my birthday gift, with all of you! 

We light a candle for Mary who had surgery this past week. We are glad that is behind you Mary.

We light a candle for Nancy who has had health scares these past weeks. We hold you in love Nancy.

From Don – My joy is that I am grateful for this glorious springtime with so many days of warm sun and cool breeze, and other days with gentle rain. And this was the week of first harvest from our large garden – spinach we planted on March 19. We are grateful for the bounty.


Music (Anthem) – “A Mother’s Prayer”


Reflection (Sue read works shared by Patty H)

“Like many jobs, this pandemic has made the challenge of being an educator of immigrant students on the Eastern Shore even greater. My high school students are mostly new to the country and often years older than their peers. I am never sure if I should focus more on teaching them how to speak English or helping them earn a diploma. Both are goals they are entitled to, but they have little time to fully accomplish both. As teacher-student contact has changed from face-to-face to house-to-house, I am seeing my job more clearly.

Meeting my students where they are right now means helping them answer online quiz questions correctly, because there isn’t time and they don’t have the connectivity for much more. And also because they are being assessed in the same way that their peers are: no matter the differences in learning styles, housing situations, reading levels, food availability, or English language skills.

How can these prescribed grades equitably assess student learning and effort when we don’t see what our students are doing or what challenges they face during normal school hours?

Because of the pandemic, many students have had to make incredible sacrifices to keep up with their rent and living expenses in houses they are sharing with extended family and friends while sending money back to their home countries.

They are scared and anxious.

They are completing their own work while babysitting siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews.

They are coming home from working  at McDonalds or the mushroom plant to hours of homework in a language they haven’t mastered yet.

Teachers adapt, we provide accommodations when needed, and we strive to meet students where they are. All of that is so much harder to do from afar. Our educational instruction and assessments are often one size, but they don’t fit all. This is clearer now more than ever.


Sermon … Rev. Browning

Equity and Compassion: Perspectives During a Pandemic

Last week Bill and I rented the movie ‘Just Mercy.’ The movie is a true story about Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, who defends a man who is on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. It’s a powerful story.

I heard Bryan Stevenson speak at the UU General Assembly in 2017. He spoke, from what I could tell, note-free for over an hour. He was mesmerizing in his clarity and conviction on what it takes to work for equity. For equity Stevenson calls us to do four basic things:

First, get “proximate” to suffering. He sees you need to be close to understand the nuanced experiences of those who suffer from and experience inequality.

Second, he calls us change the narratives that sustain problems. Stevenson finds narratives which fail to acknowledge or accurately portray the reality of inequality only serve to perpetuate it.

Third, stay hopeful about what we can do to end injustice.

And finally, to have impact we need to do things that are uncomfortable.

We find ourselves in a pandemic. How are we going to look back at this time? Will we be wise enough to look at this time from multiple perspectives? Do Stevenson’s guide posts help us as we collect our stories.

I’m reminded of the story of six blindfolded men running into an elephant; each describes what they are touching – a tusk, a trunk a leg…none with a grasp on the whole animal.

We have a chance to learn. Where is our attention drawn.

So today some early story collecting; a start at framing a broad narrative. For this sermon I’ve checked in congregants, family and friends, especially with those doing outreach in the community. As we’ve talked, the stories came out free-flowing streams, all still fresh. In that spirit, I offer this sermon as bits of stories – pieces of the puzzle yet to come together.

One member, who has been active in our congregation’s equity work, shared, “Everything seems magnified. I feel my privilege differently in these times. Even the idea of ‘self-quarantine’ presumes the privilege to do so. How is self-quarantining possible in a small home with extended family together? How does it work if some in the household need to go to ‘essential jobs’ and then return?”

It struck me the phrase ‘essential jobs’ has taken on new meaning. We’re realizing essential workers are not just emergency responders, ie police and fire, but includes grocery workers, and meat and poultry packers, postal carriers, truck drivers, pilots, and flight attendants. All jobs in addition to nurses, doctors and all hospital workers.

Which essential workers have the right to say, “I don’t feel safe working; I care for an elder in my home. I won’t be able to come in?” …”What are the rights of those who sustain others?” … “How might work environments be made more safe?” …  “How do we assure those in essential positions have ready-access to healthcare without risk of crippling debt?” … “Who deserves a living wage?”

These are not new questions, but there is value in asking the questions with a fresh lens.

Matthew Peters, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Multicultural Center, was interviewed in April and noted that employers have requirements for employees in some situations are told to be tested before reporting to work, yet employees are told they are not eligible for tests. Confusion abounds. Many caught in the cross hairs– workers who are in healthcare, food service, landscaping and construction.

Challenges yes. And the story needs to include the ways people are pulling together as issues which need attention are identified. Outreach improves with better translations and clearer responses to important questions. A lesson: When we articulate needs clearly, there is a chance of change.

On food, there seems to be a strong commitment of the community and society: No one should go hungry. Closing food security gaps has taken (and will continue to take) a multi-pronged effort with individuals working with non-profits and other loosely organized groups, along with local and state government.

Tens of thousands of pounds of food have been collected and distributed on the Eastern shore. We see generosity in funds collected for food – $42,000 raised in Kent County. We see plenty of willing volunteers.

Too, we are learning how difficult it is to identify all who are in need of food. The outreach is a continual learning process. We witness many more are asking for food than had been asking prior to the corona virus; from seniors, to the newly unemployed, to those with reduced hours. And distributing food has required driving way down rural down lanes. Some delivering food had never seen these parts of our communities; hidden spots of rural poverty.

A generous response to a need for food; a response which will need to be sustained.

Earlier I read Patty’s reflection on education. Her sense that one size doesn’t fit all.

Another educator described to me the “fear of visibility” for some students and families. “They have disappeared. We aren’t hearing from some students at all.” She described, “We know some are in families have mixed immigration status – some in home with documentation, and others without. Or the family might have one person with a cell phone who can access the Internet, but that person works all day so mostly there isn’t a connection. The assumption that each child in the home has a device for connecting and that there is unlimited Internet service just isn’t the case. And instructions to drive to a WIFI spot assumes a car.”

One volunteer who’d been helping with food, mentioned meeting a grandparent who was driving from public parking lot to parking lot looking for WIFI for their grandchild to do homework in the car.

Someone described working with a college student who had to leave an online tutoring session early because her kids went out on their bikes while she was distracted. She was on her own and needed to juggle the safety of her kids and commitment (and investment) in her own education.

I heard of a teacher who had called a father to check on a student, and on the call this father cried about the fear of not having enough to eat. Despite extensive outreach – communications by email, and voice mail, and messages translated regarding the broad availability of food, there was not an understanding by this dad that food was available less than a half mile from where he was. The family translator – the 1st grader – could only do so much to bridge gaps.

Anecdotes during a pandemic.

Our stories include example after example of teachers and staff brainstorming and implementing ideas. They clearly care passionately about students.

We also know some educators they are living with their doubts and second guessing. Wondering, “What could I have done before the pandemic to have known more about the student? What more can we do now?”

There is a fresh feeling of proximity to the lives of students; oddly, proximity found due to a forced barrier.

Teachers and educators, in your many roles, we see you. Thank you.

A question which seemed to capture a slice of these stories: Asking, during this pandemic. “Who are we missing?”

Whether in education, healthcare, food distribution, criminal justice, or domestic violence a good question. A question which reminds us of the underlying structural challenges. “Who are we missing?”

The pandemic includes stories which are a literal call to our shared well-being.

We are being asked to wear masks in certain circumstances; we are told to stay 6 ft from others, and to intensify our hygiene. The rules are vague, and guidance shifts.

How are we seeing equity and compassion surface as ‘social responsibility’ in our stories? It’s a time to ask: To whom am I accountable in these times? Where is fear for you? Where is fear for me? What perspective do I bring to the stories we are sure to tell? What will help us see across the community that to be kind, I wear a mask – for your family to be safe. That to be respectful I will stay 6 ft from you. Where is science, and common sense?

Which stories of struggle and of cooperation will help us collectively name that with freedom comes responsibility?

This isn’t a sermon to call us to guilt or shame. It is instead a reminder of our invitation to pay attention and to hear the nuances in the stories. It is an invitation to imagine in fresh ways of ‘how things could be’ and move in that direction – to see the possibility in the ways we care for one another and adapt in our own lives as we ask, what is awakening in us? where are new possibilities for equity and compassion?

And remember, Stevenson says to do the work we must not lose hope.

May It Be So


Closing Hymn

95 – There is More Love Somewhere

Announcements/Outreach Collection 

For those new to our congregations, both Easton and Chestertown regularly pass the plate on a Sunday to collect a contribution for a partner in the community. We usually have a speaker from the group with us – a chance to build relationships. Generosity is a key value – we grow in our faith as we share.

I mentioned during the sermon that Easton is doing an outreach collection today for CarePacks. CarePacks, a weekend food program aimed at preventing hunger among Talbot County’s most economically vulnerable students.Even though schools remain closed because of the virus threat, the CarePack program continues to deliver food every Friday afternoon to sites throughout the county for pick-up. Their hope is that students, no matter what their financial situation, can benefit from regular nutritious meals.

You can donate to CarePacks by going on the UUFE homepage website and using the “Donate Now to UUFE” button or by sending a check. See the newsletter for directions.

For Chestertown, please see this past week’s newsletter – now Reflections – and see the list of groups needing support. The list was pulled together by your Social Concerns team and is a chance to give in this time of the pandemic.

Gratitude for all contributions to these causes.

And please, please read the weekly newsletters – our best way to connect and share what is going on!

Closing Words

Words by Rev John Buehrens and Rev. Rebecca Parker.

Hope rises.

It rises from the heart of life, here and now, beating with joy and sorrow.

Hope longs.

It longs for good to be affirmed, for justice and love to prevail, for suffering to be alleviated, and for life to flourish in peace.

Hope remembers.

It remembers the dreams of those who have gone before and reaches for the connection of them across boundaries.

Hope acts.

I acts to bless, to protest to repair.


Extinguishing the Chalice:

(Unison) “We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we meet again.”

(Extinguish chalice)

Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.

Sung Benediction



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