When Our Freedom is Limited

Find our recorded April 5 service online here.
As we stay close to home, what are we learning about freedom? How does it feel to be restricted? Has anything felt liberating? At this virtual service with Rev. Sue Browning we’ll explore our current sense of the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Find our recorded services online here.
Script of Virtual Service, including the sermon.

For the virtual gathering of the


Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River

and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton

Rev. Sue Browning, Minister


Service April 5, 2020


(A recorded version of this service is online.)


Welcoming and Opening Words

Welcome. I am Reverend Sue Browning. I am the minister serving the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton.

To members, friends, and visitors, we are glad you are with us today.

This is our third virtual service. We learn and experiment each week. There are a few ways to think about this learning. We can tentatively think, “Wow, it’s only our third service, this still feels so new.” Which is true. Or we can go with, “Wow, it’s our third service. We know three times as much as we did on Week 1!” Which is also true! When in doubt, go bold! Thank you to all who have made today’s service

Our setting for recording worship this week has also changed. This past week Governor Larry Hogan issued a stay-at-home order for Maryland, so I am recording this from home. We are all adapting and this is the safe alternative. Welcome to our home.

With the preamble done, come let us enter worship together.

I invite you put down what you can from the day-to-day of this past week…as you can, no pressure…set what you can down at the door. Bring in all of who you are – your full identity into this time together. Unitarian Universalism is a faith grounded in principles of deep inclusion. We strive to live into this aspiration in all that we do.

Come into our circle made sacred in our being together.

Come, let us worship.

Chalice Lighting

Our chalice words,

May we be reminded in this time of our highest aspirations;

May we be inspired to bring our gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.

May we know once again that we are not isolated beings but connected in mystery and miracle, to the universe, to this community, and to each other.

Thoughts for All Ages

The April Holidays

It is now April. We made it through the first holiday of the month, April Fools Day. Did anyone have fun with that holiday? (Please Email me your funniest pranks; I need ideas for next year!)

There are more holidays and special days coming up in April. We have Easter coming next Sunday. And the Sunday after that is Earth Day.

And before those holidays, is the Festival of Passover. This holiday begins next Wednesday and lasts for eight days. This is a Jewish Holiday. I’ve learned another name for the Festival of Passover is ‘Season of Our Freedom.’

At Passover people gather with family and friends and tell a story about the Jewish people’s ancestors who were not free. These were ancestors who lived thousands of years ago. They were in an areas where the rulers treated these ancestors as slaves, and they could not make choices about their lives. Their lives were controlled by other people who forced them to do hard labor. Eventually they had a chance to escape. They needed to do so quickly and hundreds of thousands of people travelled and travelled together until they were free.

This is an important story in the Jewish tradition and families make time to tell the story every year. The story is told during a long meal called a Seder. Maybe some of you have attended a Seder with special food and a ritual of telling the story about being enslaved and then getting to freedom? It’s often told by children asking questions and then everyone learns the story from the answers.

The Passover story is told so people remember how hard it was to not have freedom. It’s easy to forget then past if you don’t have good reminders.

Most of us are pretty used to having our freedom. Think about Holidays – whether Easter, or Passover, or Thanksgiving or Christmas. We usually have the freedom to celebrate holidays wherever we want, with whomever we want.

But this April is different. Because we’re working together not to spread germs so we’re all safe, we need to have smaller celebrations. We can still celebrate with the people we live with, but most of us won’t be able to travel or have a big party to celebrate.

What are the creative ways you are figuring out to celebrate Holidays? What are you decorating? What stories are you telling about the holiday?

My hope is that you and your family, however you gather, and whichever Holidays you celebrate make time to talk about the stories tied to the holidays, especially stories about freedom.


Time for Centering

Our Souls Speak Spring

By Evin Carvel Ziemer

If we lived in another climate
Our souls might speak other languages
We might speak oasis or permafrost, dry season or monsoon

But our souls speak spring
Our souls speak green shoots pushing through last year’s leaves
Our souls speak flower buds stretching to sun
Our souls speak mud puddle and nest building,

damp earth and worm castings, tiny green leaves and frog choruses.

We speak spring because spring sings in us

We gather to nurture our faith in our own growing
Our own courage to push through
Our own blossoming in beauty
Our own small part in the spring of this world

Let us take time to notice, even in these unusual of times, the signs of spring.

Let us take time to feel the rhythms of spring.

Let us together hold these images of growth; these images of beauty.

We need these images; we know too well there are other images around us which are frightening; images of suffering, images of the anticipation of pain.

Let us hold together our fears; our concerns. Let us do so gently. 

Spirit of Life and Love be with us now. Remind us of our resilience; Remind us of the deep roots of connection which hold us together; Remind us to lean into a greater Love. 



Joys and Sorrows

We build our communities each week by sharing our personal joys and sorrows with one another each week. That is hard to do virtually, but today we will try.

On process in these times, please share Joys and Sorrows with me by noon on Friday.

I have five candles to light today. I’ll light them first.

  • Our first candle this week, and likely for a few weeks to come, is for lives lost and struggling in light of the virus; for the many medical professionals and first responders who are doing their best to keep us safe.
  • From John, a joy that his good friend Solange, very good friend from outside Poughkeepsie NY, has been declared covid-19 free after spending 10 days in bed.  It is a relief that the first person, that I personally know, has recovered.”
  • Also from John, a reflection “My new best friend, David, and I were discussing what this lockdown feels like. David said at this point, it feels sort of like being snowed in after a major blizzard., I told him that my wife, Marcy, came to me yesterday and said, ”If I catch the virus, promise me that you won’t let me die alone.” The reality of the crisis landed like a stone.”
  • Beth shared this milestone: “Our family, Beth & Dick, and Bill & Paula are happily ensconced in our new Easton home after a whirlwind, socially-distant-appropriate move on March 20th.  Our home-based activities continue to be unpacking, unpacking, and more unpacking, plus exploring the yard and spring plants of our new home.”
  • Patty shared “A concern for those students whose lives often hang in the balance of security and wishing that this new distance learning experience can be more enrichment than stress for them, and joy to those educators and parents doing creative things in the name of education!



“When Our Freedom Is Limited”

In the sermon description this week I asked: “As we stay close to home, what are we learning about freedom? how does it feel to be restricted? has anything felt liberating?

Atticus, a 9-year old congregant from Easton, shares,

“Is distance learning driving your Mom crazy? Is distance learning driving your teachers crazy? Is distance learning driving you crazy?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are not alone! It is challenging to write with a dog on your lap. It is hard to type when there is a cat on your keyboard. It is difficult to use ‘apps’ when your Mom cannot find the passwords.

But it is not all bad. I can hug my dog. I can pet my cats. And I can relax when my Mom goes crazy. As you can see, there are good things and bad things about distance learning.”

Atticus nails it. Even our adaptations to these unexpected challenges come with pros and cons.

The restrictions keep changing; more and more limitations are imposed.

I heard from a Heron Point resident, a senior living community in Chestertown, that trips off-campus are no longer permitted. The possibility of doing your own grocery shopping or errands has ended. There are provisions to care for resident’s needs for food and medicine, but the freedom to do anything much beyond a dog walk is curtailed for now.

How are you doing? How is your family doing? How are you all doing together?

Social distancing is what we should do; it’s what we’re mandated to do. And yet as this drags on, we’re a bit, shall we say, ‘edgy’; a little ‘touchy.’ We are three weeks in and sense a cumulative effect of these restrictions. In our heads we get why each new limitation is imposed. It doesn’t make it easy.

One member shared that her kids miss friends, and school, and grandparents’ hugs, and at the same time feels some liberation from the busy calendars of activities, practices, and homework. There is freedom in the slower pace and a new sense of family time.

A few silver linings, and too we’re chafing at these boundaries.

And what about the ever-changing advice on what is safe – masks or not? parks or not? take out or not? Add on the never-ending media coverage.

Yes, feel all of the above. Yes, screaming (or whatever you are feeling) is permitted; let it out!

When the screaming is done (and yes it’s good), this situation we find ourselves in is an opportunity to learn more about freedom and about liberty; our own freedoms and others.

As Unitarian Univeraslists we talk of freedom often.  One of our principles calls for the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. This is a principle which which ties the benefits of freedom to responsibility. Another UU principle calls for a goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. It’s our call to co-create a world with liberty for all. This is beyond a sense of personal freedom, and a reflection of how societies are set up to prioritize individual inherent rights to freedom.

We talk of freedom often. We see ourselves as defenders of freedom. Often, we presume freedom is firmly in place for ourselves. Often, we’re picturing the freedom of others. The references to freedom can seem conceptual.

It’s easy to be complacent.

Earlier I shared that the Festival of Passover is also called the ‘Season of Our Freedom.’ Passover is about telling the story of Jews being enslaved in Egypt, their exodus from Egypt – the escape from slavery. Passover uses story, and ritual and prayer to tell and retell the story. The Passover story tells not only of moving to freedom, but about the responsibilities that come with freedom.

The telling and retelling of stories at holidays creates space for new insights each year. Our current situation with Covid – 19 will, in time, become a part of our shared story. We’re called to pay attention to what is occurring. It is a story being formed which will be told and retold.

In an article in Nation this week by Marco della Carva I reflected on the situation in Iowa City,

“Many people are no longer shaking hands or crowding into stores, but they are still going shopping, buying cars and some are even heading out to work each day.

“We’re doing what we would do for the flu, with older people sheltering in place and the rest of us taking the best care we can,” says the interviewee from Iowa City whose restaurant is doing a brisk take-out business of its fabled pork tenderloin.

“But let’s be honest, what country do we live in?” he says. “It’s the USA, which is freedom, freedom to choose. When we get notes from the government saying do this or do that, it feels like that’s not what this country is built on. People should be smart, and you live with your choices.”

Our freedoms are being limited. It’s easy to call out this interviewee. To want to scream: “But you’re not listening’ – it’s not about each individual person; it’s about our shared wellbeing.”

Consider his words and context. He’s saying behaviors changed. And encouraging personal responsibility. He’s defending a version of freedom. As we start forming our stories, we need to listen; to hear the fears behind actions. It is scary when personal freedom at stake. It’s a value we’ve defended.

We also know that freedom is about more that personal freedom. There is the lens societal liberty, where we create space by keeping barriers to freedom low for all, but also look at the greater good. Consider the example of 2nd hand smoke, and the need to look at overall good. Or seat belts. Or motor cycle helmets. The balance of personal freedom, and the good of the whole.

How are feeling right now? Stressed and limited? -In this challenging time what can learn about freedom and liberty. How might this learning strengthen our social justice work and our understanding of civil rights for all communities?

I wonder if we might each have a better sense of the underlying fear which comes when freedoms are limited?  Even in the small personal ways we are being limited.

The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I have no doubt that we place a high value on these values. My hope is that, in time, there is unexpected learning in this time of challenge on freedom and on many other things.

For now, together we head into Week 4; we head there together; we head there with the stresses and the silver linings.

We head out with open hearts and minds. We move forward together.

May It Be So



Stay tuned to emails, please!

Zoom and others ways to share are available – just ask!

Have a question – email or call the offices – we’re checking messages everyday.


Closing Words

We close today with words from Rev. Dr. Debra Haffner, words shared in the spirit if Passover.

It Is Our Journey Together

We are on a journey.
We didn’t plan it.
We didn’t have time for the bread to rise.
We may find ourselves in the wilderness, hungry, thirsty,
Doubting that we should have ever come.
But look around:
We are not alone.
It is our journey together:
A journey to our better selves,
A journey to a better world,
A journey to a more promised land.

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

Extinguishing Our Chalice

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.



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