A Year We Never Expected

We are in our fifth month of dealing with the pandemic. We’ve adapted and we’ve been challenged. There have been losses and discoveries. What will the next few months look like? the next year? Join Rev. Sue Browning at this virtual service as we explore the dilemmas that come in this time of prolonged uncertainty.

Find all our recorded services online here.

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Sunday Service August 2, 2020

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton

Rev. Sue Browning

Spirit of Life

Welcome to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton, a UU congregation on the Eastern shore of Maryland.

I am Reverend Sue Browning and am honored to serve this congregation. It is good to be together.

In our opening slides you saw images of today’s order of service – the outline for the morning. No worries that you don’t have an actual copy -we’ll walk through the service together.

We are right in the middle of summer. Not surprisingly it has been hot and humid. The bugs are out in full. The grass is looking a bit brown – so good to have some late week rain on Friday. And the summer vegetables are starting to really fill the farm stands. July done and August stretched before us. For those of us who love long days and the break in traditional routines (yes, even this year there is a break), it’s a lovely time of year.

Today will be a service lifting up the gentleness of this season; a reminder not to rush through this time – this precious time.

We offer thanks to all who are helping make our summer virtual services possible. Gratitude to Liz, new to the tech team who edited our service today. Gratitude to the many staff, members and friends who continue to sustain UUFE as a vibrant faith congregation where we live out our values, and care for one another, and together renew our souls.

If you have questions about this congregation, or Unitarian Universalism, please ask. Our contact information is noted at the end of the service.

Board Announcements – Emily 

Call to Worship/Chalice Lighting

Take a moment and center. Feel your breathing – in and out.  Take a moment and pull forward your favorite images of mid-summer. Come, let us worship.

We light our chalice this morning with these words from Christine Robinson

We gather this hour as people of faith

With joys and sorrows, gifts and needs.

We light this beacon of hope

in celebration of the life we share together.

I invite you to join in saying the covenant of our fellowship – stand, or sit as you are comfortable…

Covenant of Our Fellowship

“At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton, we seek to nurture spiritual and intellectual growth for all ages, and to be actively involved in community outreach and service. Cherishing diversity, and celebrating our oneness with all humanity, we covenant to support each other in the spirit of compassion, respect, and love.”

Meditation

What are your favorite images from summer?

As we enter a time of reflection, a time of meditation let your mind wander to these images. Whatever summer holds for you – whatever this summer holds for you I invite you to bring memories, and experiences, and hopes in to this shared and sacred time.

Words from Barbara Pescan titled,

“First Fire”

High above you the sun shines

And beyond its glory

The stars of night

Hide in the daytime sky.

Below your feet

Worms  Out of their bodies remake soil

And in the center the earth still simmers

With its first fire.

Somewhere between the stars and the earth’s core

We live

And weep

We ask

And laugh

And answer.

How can we not be amazed?

Let light and darkness bless each other and bless us.

Amen

Joys and Sorrows

We build community by sharing our joys and sorrows each week. We ask that any joys or sorrows you would like to be included to be emailed to me and to the office by noon on Thursday.

We light the first candle for all we are holding in the middle of the pandemic. The losses are significant, and we hold those who have died and their loved ones in love. We hold in love all who are working to keep us safe. We hold in love to the many making decisions on next steps – leaders, families, communities.

We light a candle of joy for Peace Camp held this past week, and the opportunities for connection for our children.

We light a candle of joy for all celebrating birthdays in August and wish you all a wonderful year.

Let us hold those joys and sorrows spoken, and those held in our hearts for a moment of silence.

Amen

Invitation to the Offering

Our fellowship is sustained by the contributions of our community. Our financial sustenance comes through your generosity expressed through  annual commitments made as a pledge each year, by weekly passing the offering plate weekly. During traditional church, we pass the plate every week. (Show slide with donate button.)

During virtual church days we invite you to contribute through our ‘Donate’ button on the UUFE website home page. The offering will now (or later – it’s virtual!) be gratefully received.

Offertory 

Reading

Our reading today is by Mary Oliver

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Sermon – Rev. Sue Browning

“A Year We Never Expected”

A challenging part of my routine as minister is writing that little sermon blurb that goes on to the website, and into newsletters. The blurb is the sermon title and those two or three sentences which give you a glimpse of the message we’ll consider together. While often challenging for me to pre-choose a topic/direction, once it’s done these few sentences in the blurb guide me and others as we prepare a worship service.

About choosing preaching topics, in training we’re reminded: Don’t ignore what is forefront on people’s minds; preach to their lived experiences and challenges. So a month ago I confidently wrote this blurb, “We are in our fifth month of dealing with the pandemic. We’ve adapted and we’ve been challenged. There have been losses and discoveries. What will the next few months look like? the next year? Join Rev. Sue Browning at this virtual service as we explore the dilemmas that come in this time of prolonged uncertainty.”

Surely a message on prolonged uncertainty would be relevant. Just look at the headlines. Just listen to every conversation about everywhere I went. Blurb submitted; service publicized. Done and off to do something else.

Yet, in a conversation with a congregant last week – and the conversation was not about today’s sermon – she shared, “I’d love to hear something that is not about the pandemic; I need to think about something else.”

Those dogged second thoughts we all have. I wondered, Might ‘something else’ have been the greater need for today? Might ‘something else’ be a healthy spiritual focus for the weeks and months to come?

Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Her question looms before us, pandemic or not.

So, for today whether you are still one of those grateful for the slower routine of the pandemic (I know you are there!), or if you are struggling with a decision or worry tied to the pandemic, or if you are spending time in rage screaming at the TV or computer about the pandemic, I challenge us all to put the pandemic down, or at least to the side, for this hour.

We need to remind one another that life is not on hold; life is happening. Even if there are some things we enjoy and miss, or know can’t happen in this time of prolonged uncertainty, life has not stopped.

If we feel like we’re just waiting for ‘it’ to be done, so we can get back to ‘normal’ or even ‘new normal’ are we on a helpful track?

What is your plan for your one wild and precious life? In what direction are you headed?

How might you go about answering these questions?

Here I’ll boldly ask: “Have you prayed on it?” “Have you checked in with God?” …

Yes – I know this is a recorded service – right on YouTube – and yes, I know I’m a UU minister.

Hang with me for a minute. I sense we’ll need a varied and flexible tool kit in the months to come as we learn to live with this virus. Let’s not rule anything out.

“Have you prayed on it?” “Have you checked in with God?” …

I see prayer is about making time for careful thinking and feeling; for me prayer is about intentionally opening myself to something beyond myself, in its broadest sense. In prayer I vent, in prayer I listen, in prayer I re-center and re-align. Mostly it’s about making time. Often it’s silent.

Mary Oliver says, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention.”

Let’s not worry about pinpointing terms, and consider what helps us pay attention. For me prayer is not about proposing requests to be answered, at least not exactly. I don’t look to an external force change nature, or viruses, or to change a frustrating leader or neighbor’s behavior. I pray as a way to pay attention to help me see the neighbor in a different way, or to ask a new question to help where I am stuck. I pray in short to change me; to change my perspective; to help me be creative, and more caring. I pray to know where I may need to speak, or to step back.

In periods of prolonged uncertainty, it’s easy to find ourselves guided by fear – or fears. Making choices based on fear. Circling around fear. In prayer I look for other guidance – guidance other than fear.

In her memoir ‘Becoming,’ First Lady Michelle Obama offers, “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.”

Prayer – or paying attention – can help us name the fears. Can help us each figure out what is ours to work through, and what is out of our control – a sense of being “in God’s hands.” A check in with God, is for me a way to focus on values, and the essence of living.

Prayer and conversations with God not a fit for you? Maybe think about making reflection time wondering where love is pulling you?

We need joy; we need purpose; we need ‘stuff’ to look forward to.  We need the ‘something else’  We need a process or practice to remind us the world and our lives are more than the pandemic – “it” is there, but is not everything.

Maybe part of our shared work in these times will be to remind one another to name fears, but not to be sucked into their orbit.

There is something about the pace of mid-summer that can open space for reflection. Can we use this time of gentle breezes to move toward hope and possibility? Yes with a pandemic will need to be considered, but not to let “it” be in control of our lives.

I’m hearing of ways life is being safely reclaimed.

I know when I prepared a traditional order of service for today it felt good to do so. I didn’t need to, but wanted to. (Hold up OOS). I was missing our traditional UUFE service. While we can’t gather, I realized I could, at least for this week, prepare an order of service. I could project the order of service during our virtual service. As I typed out my service ideas (and moved them around a few times – sorry Liz) I felt renewed connection. As I looked at the last order of service Linda prepared back on March 8, I recalled our weekly process.

Not the same as being together, but a bit closer to the feel of preparing for church that I miss. What is ready for you to reclaim?

Exercise classes are resuming, and the ladies’ tea is a time of connection, now more frequent opening space, the Men’s Zoom call, and the Soul Matters small group exploring the topic of ‘Joy’ this month. Gratitude to the leaders.

Too much pandemic in the forefront and we risk seeing life as a waiting game.

Gratitude for my conversation about needing to hear ‘something else.’

I scanned other UU websites for their topics and sermons being offered today. (I found first that some didn’t have blurbs – big and small that practice is varied.) Where I could find a topic, some included:

  • America 2.0 – Picking Up the Pieces
  • Encouragement to spiritual growth in these challenging times
  • Life and love in a time of corona virus.
  • For a minister preaching her first service in her new congregation (a large one) “Well, this isn’t what I wanted at all”

The most ‘something else’ service I found, at least for this week, was a pet blessing – something we could plan for the fall.

I see keeping a healthy perspective – often a distance – from the pandemic will be a part of our shared spiritual journey this year.

What is the ‘something else’ which is helpful to hear about? What might we explore together as a religious community? We are planning now – please check in with me, Emily, or Christina with hopes and possibilities you see as we together find a path.

With the crepe myrtles in bloom, and wild heather on road sides, and lightning bugs still out in the evening – all of these gentle images, the invitation to intentional pause is there.

My hope the rhythms of your summer make space for you to pay attention to the pull of love – the unfolding of your life.

May It Be So

Hymn – “There Is More Love Somewhere” – 95

Closing Words/Extinguish Chalice

A Power at Work in the Universe by Rev. Tom Schade

My friends,
There is a power at work in the universe.
It works through human hands,
but it was not made by human hands.
It is a creative, sustaining, and transforming power
and we can trust that power with our lives
[and with our ministries].
It will sustain us whenever we take a stand on the side of love;
whenever we take a stand for peace and justice;
whenever we take a risk.

Trust in that power.
We are, together, held by that power.

 

Extinguish chalice

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

Postlude

 

 

 

 

 

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