Families and Friends,
We are in a time of uncertainty. We are afraid. We feel no control. But we have each other. The past two Sundays, thanks to Rev. Rachael, Lea our Office Administrator, Brenda our Musician (and myself) we are meeting as a congregation online. This past Sunday we had four full screens of people logging in to worship! We will support each other through this terrible time and we will come out stronger.
I am a parent of two daughters in their late teens. They can drive and entertain themselves for long periods of time. Even so, there is more to do. More cooking, cleaning and checking in. I can only imagine how hard this is for parents of small children! Please please ask for help and if there is some way I can support you, I WILL!
I do not want to put our Zoom links up in this public space. Please contact me and I will be happy to share them. At this point we have several ongoing zoom meet-ups set up: Thursday nights is parent check in, Sunday worship is at 10:30, Sunday Children’s Joys and Concerns is at 12 noon and Coming of Age is at 9:30 on designated Sunday mornings.
Take care everyone!
Here is the RE at home sheet I made up for this week – the gist of it is – you can make a chalice at home. Try it! #1 – UU at Home
This past Sunday all of the children started upstairs with their parents because part of worship on being a Safer Congregation was having a fire drill. Rev. Rachael gave us instructions and once the alarm was pulled it took us one and a half minutes to leave the building – A+!! Lucky for us it was a nice day and good for us, our building is in good shape. We are all up to date on our inspections and our signage. This spring we will have a fire drill practice for the children in RE.
We are a Safer Congregation which means we have policies we can turn to when we have safety issues. You can see the Policy Book here: http://www.uusocietyamherst.org/safer-congregation/
Thanks everyone for your cooperation,
This past Sunday Lesley led us through several mindfulness activities that helped us focus on the moment and each other and she related this to our UU Fifth principle which states that everyone should have the right to use the democratic process in our faith communities and in society at large. It takes practice to really see each other, and practice we did.
First we played Dance, Dance, Freeze using Bob Marley’s famous Get Up Stand Up reggae song. We all agreed it was hard to think of other things when trying to pay attention to when the music was going to stop.
Next we got comfortable on the floor and tried to be mindful by listening to a singing bowl chime. Following that we got really comfortable and listened to our surroundings for 20 seconds. We practiced this several times and we heard all kinds of noises we hadn’t heard before!
Following the listening we took turns looking into each other eyes and saying, “Hello, I see your eyes are __________(color). We were all surprised by each other’s eyes because, well, most of us don’t notice eye color on a regular basis. It took some getting used to looking that carefully and closely into someone’s face.
Last, but not least we played, “Step into the Circle if…” Some of the questions related to eye color, if we had siblings, etc.
Happy March Everyone!
During the Time for All Ages Rev. Rachael spoke to the children about two important African Americans.
Francis Ellen Watkins Harper was a Abolitionist and Universalist who freed slaves through the Underground Railroad, wrote novels and poetry and lectured about slavery and women’s rights.
James Weldon Johnson wrote Lift Every Voice and Sing which was originally sung by school children in Jacksonville, FL in 1900 to celebrate President Lincoln’s birthday.
Downstairs we talked about how the adults in the congregation were kicking off the annual canvass and how keeping the UUSA requires members and friends to give money. I asked the children to list things they thought we should consider raising money for and what kinds of things we could do together that would not cost money, but would help bring us together. I gave them pennies to incorporate into their artwork and we wrapped up by playing pass the penny guessing game.
On February 9th we had a whole congregation worship service that was a special “break out” service organized by the UUSA Religious Education Ministry. The original breakout was designed about five years ago after RE went to a training and learned about the many ways we can worship beyond the traditional Sunday Sanctuary experience. RE Ministry has been experimenting with different types of services ever since.
In the past RE asked people to choose between music, conversation, art and action and they heard people say, “It is so hard to choose!” This year RE Ministry set up the breakout groups in a way so that they didn’t have to choose because each group had a little bit of conversation, did a small amount of art, some action and some music. This system encouraged a good mixing of people. Many people in the congregation say they want to get to know each other and this was one small step towards helping people mix and mingle.
Four weeks before the service we began collecting items for a backpack project supported and run by A Project of St John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield & the Franklin and the County Transition from Jail to Community Task Force (TJC).
Here are some of the highlights of the program that were told to the breakout groups in our congregation:
It’s difficult when women are released, because there are waiting lists for low-income and subsidized housing, and it can be hard to find work. The women often leave jail with nothing but the clothes on their back.
The organizers asked women being released from jail for ideas about what would help the most if included in the backpack. The list has developed from their ideas. 35 packs were given out the first year and 45 were given out last year.
A member of the organizational committee is quoted as saying “The program continues to grow and evolve every day…” “We want to expand, but we need the help of others. This little church (the St. Johns Episcapal Church) with a big heart does a lot, but we can’t do everything. We’ll be doing some outreach to other churches this next year.”
The UUSA collected and packed 16 backpacks and an additional five or six boxes of items that could be used by the group to pack more packs!
Below is a photo of Brenda Miller leading the congregation in singing How Could Anyone. After we sang together we blessed the packs with backpack charms we had made for our own Back Pack service in the fall.
This past Sunday we had an enthusiastic session. We started off reading I Have The Right To Be A Child by by Alain Serres, Aurélia Fronty Helen Mixter
Next I asked the children to quickly draw a flower on a folded piece of paper. Then I gave them flowers to observe and take apart. We taped down the separate pieces of the flowers and then labeled the parts. It is a good thing we didn’t have a huge group because helping everyone do their labeling was challenging. Next time I will do a big drawing and label it so everyone can see, rather than passing out the tiny print outs I found online.
Finally we talked about the parts purposes of a flower and the children discussed if flowers were around before people and if we could live without them. There was general consensus that we could not live without beautiful flowers, happy bees and plants to breathe out oxygen.
Upstairs two members talked about Tet and how the New Year is celebrated in Vietnam. At the end of the presentation they revealed a present that children at a very special school gave to our RE children as a symbol of peace and the New Year. I will share a photo of the embroidery and a link to the school in my next post. Thank you!!
Downstairs we discussed the Fourth Principle which is all about our individual right to search for truth and meaning. The activity to go with this discussion was symbolic. As we were talking about the principle I counted the children and then cut up a poster board with the same number of puzzle pieces as children. Then I asked them to draw a symbol of searching, truth, UUism, or they could write what they believe on their puzzle piece. After ten minutes I called the children back together and the they worked to put the puzzle back whole and when they were done, they asked their puzzle neighbors if they could draw on their pieces.
We join together on Sunday (like a puzzle) to worship in a faith that believes we all have the right to seek and find our own truths (like a piece of the puzzle). I know, its a stretch, but it was FUN!
(In the excitement of putting the puzzle back we realized that I thought there was writing on the wrong side of all the pieces, but one of them did not have writing so the drawing was on the wrong side. Sorry to J!! The other blank piece was from a child who just didn’t feel like drawing, but she was instrumental in putting the puzzle together.)
Thanks to Susan and her expert children’s librarian skills , our small group of K-4th graders spent the entire 40 minute session reading and talking about this book! I loved participating with the children and seeing how they thought through what appeared to be a simple book, but which was in fact a pretty complicated story about a mob of little acorn creatures who take and take until… well, I won’t spoil it, but I will say it took a lot of UU caring and sharing to get through to the end. The pictures are awesome and a good message can be found. Check it out here on Goodreads. I’m not exactly sure I agree with the write-up, but go ahead check it out for yourself! We filled up the whole time with looking at the pictures and talking about the story that we had no time for an activity which I think is a first. And since it was just a day before our national celebration of MLK, our conversation turned to what MLK’s message was and why it was so important for our nation to hear. What do you do when the crowd around you is acting on principles you don’t appreciate or believe in?
This past Sunday we had a whole congregation service based on being present together. For the Time for All Ages we read Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean. Following the Time for All Ages we read an excerpt from Thich Naht Hanh’s You Are Here. The point of both? Be present, be aware of your breathing. Be calm and focused on the here and now.
Can you guess what we did next?
We breathed in and out.
A minute seems like a very long time when you are focused on your breath.
And yet we did and we did it together. Several times. You could feel the energy in the room. And in the quiet, there was the sound of us gathering in. That sound is very special. I suspect it is that sound of gathering that is what keeps people coming back every Sunday whether they know it or not.
Then we tried a walking meditation while singing the The Plum Village song I have Arrived which you can hear here. I say we tried because so many people got up to walk that it was actually hard to move! What a good problem. Next time we will move in two circles to help us get going.
Thanks to all.
It is a new year. A time when people often set goals and resolutions. Last Sunday in RE, Lesley Smith helped our UU children do two mindfulness exercises. The first was to imagine themselves in the future. What would they be? Who would be with them? What would they be doing? The children’s answers varied between the magical and the real. A writer for fairies, a hovercraft driver, a princes in a castle with a unicorn, a historian. The second activity focused on what it would feel like to be this you. What would it smell, taste, look and sound like?
The third activity was an art project that involved embossing on tinfoil with sharpie pens. Very satisfying. The designs were supposed to represent their intentions for the year to come. The results were beautiful.