From the Ministers

February – From the Minister

Posted by on Feb 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

An older couple I know and love are both in their late ’90s. Creatures of habit now by necessity, they are also no strangers to the constant disruptions of daily living and frequent betrayals by their physical selves of the vibrant people that they are still “inside.”

One of them lives increasingly with both hearing loss and memory loss; he can’t always understand why the world has gone suddenly so quiet. “Speak up! ” he shouts, to people in the room, to the Jeopardy contestants on TV, to the teller at the bank. His partner sometimes strains her voice, both with loud speaking and by constantly repeating her responses to his most simple questions, asked over and over when the answers slip through the screen doors of his mind. He’s still physically strong and hale; she is less so, and together they daily re-negotiate all the old familiar dance steps in the partnered waltz of their life: he adjusts his long stride and vigorous pace so they can walk together across a parking lot; she checks her ferocious independence, and her pride, and asks him (shouts at him) to help carry the laundry basket. He grieves whole-heartedly the loss of his driver’s license, although he gets it and does not complain; she misses deep conversation with him, and entire chapters of their shared life which his memory can’t retain, but still she cheerfully converses. This past year, they weathered two hurricanes, sheltering in place in their apartment for 10 days with no electricity, gas or running water, and when their cellphones were finally charged up again, both reported that they’d lived through worse. Every day, they readjust their plans and expectations to accommodate new and deepening afflictions – and amazingly, they do not stop planning. They are still vigorous and vital, in their way, still eager to wake up in the morning and still grateful to lie down at night, side by side.

There is something so poignant and so lovely in their constancy, in the way each has stayed true to the core of the self, the essence of character and spirit that defines them and has always defined them. They are modest in their needs, generous in their concern, alert to the world around them (including the worlds of politics, art and technology), and matter-of-fact about mortality. They are kind to each other and to others.

It doesn’t always go this way with memory loss and aging; often and understandably, people get crabby or depressed as they age – but not these two. He still rests his hand on her shoulder as he walks by, and ever more gently as her shoulders have sharpened and slumped; she still raises her hand to brush against his, murmuring “hello there” even though he can’t quite hear. They’ve been alive on the earth for 194 years combined, and they’ve known disappointment, disaster and disruption, from the Great Depression to the Second World War, from the deaths of their spouses, the loss of a brother, the loss of a child, to the loss of so much ordinary capacity. We think of “disruption” as disruptive, as if it were somehow the exception to the rule of orderly calm in this life, but these elders, and others, are teaching me that disruption – of plans, health, relationship, weather, everything – is the baseline and the ground on which we build our character. Nothing’s a given in this life, everything’s disruptable, yet some things stay the same, and more so, over time.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

January – From the Minister

Posted by on Jan 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

I can’t think of a better time of year to contemplate discipline than the month of January in the North. A month for homebodies and introverts and mystics. A month for the weary and disillusioned. In its cold, dark embrace we can withdraw and reflect – whether in hopeless dismay or patient faith. January is a time of rest in the wake of the holidays – the race from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, and into the New Year. It is a time of waiting for the renewal promised in the coming of Spring. Allowing ourselves the luxury of rest in this busy world takes discipline. Being patient in the waiting certainly takes discipline. Even sustaining faith in the light’s return takes discipline. So, hunker down and hibernate, let yourself be still, and just breathe – you may just hear the whispers of your heart.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

~ Joyce Rupp, from Winter’s Cloak

Marion Zimmer Bradley once wrote, “To know you are ignorant is the beginning of wisdom. Then, when you begin to learn, you will not have to forget all the things you think you know. ”

There have been many times throughout my life when I have willingly admitted my ignorance, gracefully surrendering to the gentle (and not-so-gentle!) lessons life offers me at every turn. And, I admit, there have been times when I have very ungracefully tripped over my own two feet in my rush to share all the things I think I know.

The annual MLK, Jr. breakfast is coming up and I’m excited to be a part of this year with all of you. I’m reminded of something a colleague of mine recently said in a sermon – that sometimes courage looks a lot like silence. As we as individuals and as a society move forward in confronting white supremacy and racism, I’m beginning to think that sometimes courage looks like stepping back and realizing that all I think I know is not all there is to know. That’s a mouthful and takes some careful thought! Courage, sometimes, looks a lot like being quiet and admitting ignorance. And that takes discipline. For me, a middle-class, well-educated, white person, that can take a lot of discipline. Not only do I need to step back and listen to others, it also means slowing down and listening to my heart rather than my ego. Because, really, even with all the discipline in the world, none of this work we do will mean anything if it doesn’t come from a place of love. Now that’s something to contemplate during this cold January.

“Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long…There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
~ MLK, Jr.

December – From the Minister

Posted by on Dec 1, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

Our search process for a new Assistant Minister is well underway. I would like to give thanks to a capable and visionary Advisory Committee appointed by the Board in August, as well as to you for your participation in six Congregational Conversations held this past month. We’ve been asking you three questions: How does this church matter, in your life and in the world? What do you want our candidates to know about our congregation? What are we seeking in our new minister? Your answers have been strong and clear:

When in crisis, this is the place to be for whatever you need.

It is a beacon for non-cisgender folks, whom we actively support.

We sing, we march, we cry in church.

Healthy governance prevails.

This church shows up for what matters. This church matters to me because I need a community. It gives me the inspiration and hope I need to combat the depression and hopelessness that I fear. I feel at home here. This church matters to the world because it unites us and doesn’t divide us. It is working toward the goal of peace.

To find the right candidate, we are engaging a rigorous process prescribed by the Unitarian Universalist Association. It ensures that those who apply here meet all requirements in preparation for UU ministry and that they are in good standing; the process also helps us live into our intention to remain in covenant with all other UU congregations currently in search.

Before Christmas, the Committee will have completed a 25-page description of our congregation, with help from past and present members of the Board, lay leaders, key program staff, and many of you. They’ll design a website through which applicants can “meet” us in even more detail.

By mid-winter, they will be reviewing applications. We hope to interview 3-4 applicants in person, and to select our next minister in April to begin work here in late July or August. Already prospective candidates are calling me with inquiries, and it is an honor to tell them, “I know of no place better to do ministry.”

Our search team is advising on two other vacancies as well: a half-time membership coordinator and a half-time youth coordinator (as, with pride and sadness, we will bid farewell to Jill Schwendeman this June). Our thought now is to combine those two positions into one, to attract a dedicated applicant who can work with Amy Peterson Derrick and with me to help us reimagine ministry to children, youth, and adults in a more unified, cohesive way. This position may be filled by a minister or by a talented lay person. It, too, will begin this summer.

In 2011, when we were searching for WBUUC’s first Assistant Minister, I wrote these words to a colleague I had not yet met, and they hold true now: Friend—I hope to serve, and serve with, this people for a long time. I seek a colleague whose calling to ministry and to the liberal tradition is passionate and rooted, who loves this work and unique life. I seek a comrade who will work extremely hard, yet guard the boundaries of professional deportment and selfcare. I want your light to shine, and I want to be among those who are a little dazzled by it. I seek a colleague who will love these people as much as I do, and who will know their love and their respect in return.

And I hope that you like snow.

I hope you’ll contact me with questions or ideas about the search, or contact the Search Committee at search@wbuuc.org: Alex Bartlett, Alan Hagstrom, Pat Hogen, Laurie Kigner, Kathy Sedro, Renee Smith, Nancy VerSteegh, and Katy Lowery (Chair).

November – From the Minister

Posted by on Oct 27, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

I was recently given the gift of reuniting with some old friends that I worked with 20 years ago in Tacoma, WA, at a homeless shelter called Nativity House. This reunion brought back all sorts of memories of my time with the “guests” of Nativity House, and there is one in particular that has stayed with me.

One afternoon, I was busy helping to get lunch prepared when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to find Andy, a regular guest, standing behind me, quietly crying and desperately trying to stay on his feet. Andy was extremely drunk and, by the looks of him, had been for several days. I took one look at him and said quietly, “Come with me.”

I led him into our small chapel and sat down next to him, trying to figure out what to say, but before I could get a word out, Andy fell apart. In the dim light and deep stillness of that place, he wept as if his heart was breaking, and mine broke as I listened. We sat that way for a long time, close but not touching, through his tears and into the silence that followed.

Finally, Andy started talking. He told me how long he had been sober this time, what had happened to trigger this relapse, what he could remember of his behavior from the past few days, and how it all made him feel. He expressed remorse, disappointment, self-disgust, fear, anger and confusion—and deep, deep sorrow. When Andy was done speaking I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He grabbed my hands. “Say a prayer, Shay. Will you just pray with me?”

So I closed my eyes and prayed.

When I was done, I looked up to find Andy watching me. He said, through more tears, “Thank you. You’re truly an angel, come down to Earth. ” I blushed and smiled, shaking my head and muttering that I wasn’t any such thing. He squeezed my hands, looked directly into my eyes and said, “Don’t be embarrassed. You are an angel.”

And then he leaned in even closer to me and whispered, “It’s OK. I’m an angel, too.” It was a moment of pure grace; a gift given with no strings attached. “I’m an angel, too. ” With those four words, Andy reminded me of the light that resides within every single person, and proved that every encounter with another person—regardless of who is “giving” and who is “receiving” or who is in control—every encounter has the possibility of being mutually transformative. For me, that’s what balance is all about.

There is a balance to be found in humility and grace—the balance between acknowledging that we can’t do everything ourselves, and accepting that we, too, are beings who contain the spark of divinity within us. It is a great gift to come together with this community every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening and Third Thursday, to be given what I need to grow my soul from our time together; and I must remind myself that you need me to be present, as well. This covenant between us, this call to a relationship of commitment to each other, is a two-way street. This month, as we come together for worship and play, to share food and stories, in theme circles, grief groups, RE classes, committee meetings, let us be mindful of the balance between our giving and our receiving of the gifts of this community, and the grace that is found within those gifts.

- Shay MacKay

October – From the Minister

Posted by on Oct 2, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

Some years ago, I joined Jill Schwendeman, our Youth Director, in guiding our 7th and 8th graders through a whirlwind tour of the bible. We met with them on Sunday afternoons, packing plenty of pizza to wander with them through the desert of the ancient world to see how these sacred stories speak to their lives as young Unitarian Universalists.

Jill, their teacher, gave them a beautiful gift in the first session: she translated the meaning of each of their names into ancient Hebrew, and spoke their names in that beautiful, strange language. She wrote each one out for them to copy from right to left on their name tags.

In the second session, she told them their names in ancient Greek, and again wrote out the elegant, unfamiliar letters. They were enchanted by this, to hear that Gavin may come from “Gabriel, ” which means “angel of God, ” or that Rachel means Ra’quel, or “ewe, ” the mother of lambs that give life to the people, or that Vada indicates “the gathering of great wisdom, ” or Erin, which means “peace” in Gaelic, the language of her ancestors, must translate to “shalom. ”

It was like giving them a blessing, this naming, reflecting back to them a bright glimmer of who they are, who we see when we look at them. It’s what all our work with youth and children tries to be about. It’s what all our work— yours and mine—tries to be about. Who tells you who you are? Your parents, your people, your mentors and friends, your spirit within, the Spirit of Life. I remember the first time that someone (now a young woman) called out in the night a word her mouth had never spoken and my ear had never heard— christening me with a beautiful and terrifying brand-new name: Mama. We are named by every covenant we choose to make and keep and honor.

As we enter October (which one member here calls “The Holy Month of October, ” because it is so jaw-droppingly beautiful in Minnesota, because it is the season when he comes most alive), our theme, Celebration: the practice of naming, feels right. We’ll hear the stories of recent immigrants and share foods from our own family traditions on Wednesday night, October 4; Annie Humphrey, Water Protector and powerful songwriter from Leech Lake, will bring the magic of her music in concert on October 7; with our feathered, finned and fourlegged companions, we’ll share The Blessing of the Animals and a potluck supper, on Sunday afternoon, October 8 (bring your dog, your cat, your horse, your chinchilla, and your friends!); and we’ll mark All Souls Day and All Saints, remembering lost loved ones, on Sunday morning, October 29. (For our common altar, please bring photos, mementoes, tangible tributes to those who have died.)

All of these gatherings, and other celebrations, too (the Auction on October 14, the Bazillions Concert and Halloween Ball on October 28, and Sunday mornings all month long) —all are celebrations, each one an opportunity to name and honor what we cherish, what we love, what we care about and share.

September – From the Minister

Posted by on Sep 1, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

On the day of the eclipse I was in an airport. We were not near “the path of totality, ” but people were excited anyway, pressed to the plate glass windows, squinting their eyes and snapping pictures, sharing news from friends across the country and arguing adamant armchairastronomy with strangers. Little kids clutched snack-box pinhole cameras and grandparents traded memories of past eclipses, where exactly they were standing in 1970 and what it felt like when the world went dark at noon.

Under one sky, headed for a thousand different destinations, for a couple of hours we were all caught up together in something moving and mysterious, something larger than ourselves, rare and wondrous, beyond our control and thrilling, and fun. On board the plane, we all disobeyed the recorded request to close our window shades before take-off, so eager to experience the simplest miracle, as the bright sunny sky turned just a little cloudy. Everyone cheered—along with just about everyone in the whole country— except my seatmate, who reached across and snapped our shade down in exasperation. “This thing is SO overrated, ” he harrumphed. “Who even cares? ” he said, as he turned on the movie and his headphones.

There are many imperfect, approximate ways to describe the religious life, and in particular the way we do religion, practice faith, grow the soul, at White Bear UU Church. Seated thigh to thigh high in the air with my jaded companion, I recalled one thing for sure: that however disparate our beliefs here, however various our spiritual journeys and conclusions, we are adamant a little reverence—in fact we yearn toward it, thirst for it, welcome it with outstretched arms. We’ll take beauty, mystery, awe, amazement over cynicism any day, even when we’re not in the direct path of perfection. Curiosity about our world and one another is a sacrament for us, and the kind of holy truth that we love best is the kind that opens ever to more questions—the very kind that has enchanted scientists and mystics, poets, philosophers and little kids, since the first humans scanned the skies for signs of what it means to be alive.

The great wheel turns, and the season brings us home again to fall and one another, to our beloved church community. Here on the ground, beneath the sun and moon, the hard and holy work awaits: to grow our souls in wonder and humility, to serve the world with generosity and courage, to deepen our compassion. This is the gate at which we check the heavy baggage of numbing cynicism; we search the luggage of our lives for excessive privilege and arrogance, taking care to carry what we carry wide-awake; we stretch our moral muscles and deepen the prayerful practices that steady us through all kinds of scary turbulence, adjusting our own masks that we might help each other also. We breathe deep, with mindful gratitude, the breath of life.

As ever, I am honored to be traveling this journey with you.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

Summer 2017 – From the Minister

Posted by on Jun 1, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

How do you tell your story, the history of yourself, and your people, your family and country, your sense of place and your own dirt—your land, your home, this common ground—and how do you tell it in relation to all the other stories, the story of the person next to you right here, and the story of the stars, invisible, right above your head (and also below you and around you, infinite in all directions), and the story of the soil beneath the concrete floor that holds the bones and dreams of ancestors whom we choose to call family, or not. The way you enter your story, locate your plot, the way that you write history, is the way you do religion. What matters here? What’s true? Where’s the thread of meaning? How do the threads connect? Religion is the practice of doing this together, mingling the small streams of our little private stories in a greater, flowing confluence —finding our place in the family of things.

These words come from the first sermon of this past church year, way back in September, but I think of these things in the spring as well, when at the Annual Meeting we close the chapter of one year together, and open the chapter of the next. And I am filled with gratitude, for the lives of beloved members who have died this year, who made this house holy by their presence: Randy Castle, John Weaver, Dean Honetschlager, Ann Berry, Lowell Hanson, Channing Donahower, Marlys Oliver, Charles Grady, Donna Jorgensen.

And I have gratitude as well, beyond measure, for all of you remaining, children and adults, who grace this house with laughter and hard work; with music, art, and wisdom; preparing budgets, coffee, classes, as if our lives depended on these things— because they do. In this hard year especially, with our country shaken to its core, the church is ever more a beacon of light and love and truth and hope. Our lives are anchored here.

With sadness now, and pride, we say farewell to Luke and Jenna Stevens-Royer, as Luke answers the call to our Rochester congregation—and again, I’m filled with gratitude for his ministry and friendship. Looking forward, our hope is to hire an interim Assistant Minister to be here for one year as we gather a Search Committee and clarify our intention for a permanent position.

And in the meantime, thanks to your incredible and practical generosity, our building is in a state of cheerful, crazy chaos, as ceilings, floors and offices are ripped apart to make way for the new HVAC system, which will warm us and cool us more reliably and efficiently for years to come. Watch your step this summer—and be proud of this accomplishment! If you’re in the building on a weekday, speak a word of thanks to Anna Gehres, Steve Bolton, and John Macke, who are managing the project.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat. And give thanks.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

May – From the Minister

Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

If you could see the journey whole, you might never undertake it,
might never dare the first step that propels you
from the place you have known to the place you know not.
Call it one of the mercies of the road:
that we see it only by stages as it opens before us,
as it comes into our keeping, step by single step.
- Jan Richardson

Our 3 (and 1⁄2!) year old, Louisa, says, “You can have two feelings at one time, Papa. ” It is true. The state of my heart these days has been a mix of grief, love, appreciation, hope—curiosity for the future, gratitude for what has been.

As I begin to say goodbye to this church, and move toward beginning a new ministry at the First UU Church in Rochester, MN, I will bring you with me. I will carry in my heart the good work we’ve done together, the hard and holy conversations, the joyful laughter and the struggle to find hope in a broken, and yet so beautiful, world.

Part of carrying you in my heart is an honoring of this transition. I won’t be journeying alongside you anymore. We know, from sound principle and practice, it is important for me to have a clear separation from ministry among you. It is important for me, for this church, and for the church I will serve next. It is important for you to gain trust and build a relationship with new ministry staff here, and it is important for me to focus my attention on serving a new community.

While it can be hard in many ways to move away from ministerial and social connection (rites of passage, social media, email and phone calls), we know that is a healthy way for former bonds to clearly loosen, so that new bonds can more easily weave together.

In these last weeks leading to my final Sunday on June 11th, I look forward to sharing gratitude for how you have held and supported our growing family; how you have held and support my ministry; and I will hold you in my heart, in prayer, and in hope, for the unfolding journeys before us.

In faith and gratitude, Luke

From Victoria

With gratitude and sadness, and also with great joy for Luke and his family, we will say farewell in June. As members and friends of the congregation which ordained him, you should be deeply proud of your influence and imprint upon his ministry. Luke will carry with him forever a part of White Bear UU Church.

Looking ahead, the year before us will be rich and full. I’m working with the Board of Directors to discern next steps for ministry staffing, deciding in the next few weeks whether and when to fill our open Membership position and/ or to gather a search committee to seek a new Assistant Minister. That process takes about a year. This is a vibrant congregation, clear in its intent to build beloved community and serve the world in love. I have no doubt that strong candidates—for ministry or for the lay membership position—can be attracted here.

The annual pledge campaign has been heartening, with many new contributions and generous gifts from longtime donors; however, many pledges are still outstanding, and this complicates the planning for next year. I’ll be here through the summer grateful for your questions, your wisdom and your shared dreams as together we go forward.

April – From the Minister

Posted by on Apr 1, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

From the outside looking in, the religious life seems otherworldly and impractical, concerned with “what once was” or “what will be, ” and Paradise lost either in a fairy-tale garden to which we’ll never return, or gated in Heaven, which we’ll never attain. These are stereotypes of a shallow piety, yet even here I’ll sometimes speak about the necessity of “bifocal vision, ” and our call, as religious liberals, to dwell at once in two places: both in the world as it is—desecrated and despoiled— and as it yet can be: fair and just, beautiful and green, the hardearned and well-served home of a beloved global community of wise, compassionate people. We live, always, in both “the now and the not-yet, ” with our feet planted in the land of “what is” and our hearts in the land of “what could/should/shall be. ” That is the religious life, that practice of radical analysis and radical faithfulness, that practice of radical hope, whether orthodox or Unitarian Universalist.

This month’s theme challenges us to dwell in just one place at once, to look no further than the here-and-now for beauty, truth, and love, to find precisely amid the rubble and the heartbreak of our lives, and in the broken world, whatever hope and holiness we need. Immanence refers to that which is hidden in plain sight, the sadness and the loveliness of the ordinary world, our ordinary lives, and the extraordinary love and courage of which each of us is made. At this time of year, old stories of the season, religious stories, remind us more than ever: the Exodus from despair to liberation begins exactly now; the Resurrection of the weary spirit is a choice, not an event; and lo! – the earth awakes again, even in mud season, right before our eyes. To notice and say yes is an act of blessing; it is holy, revolutionary work. It is the most ordinary magic.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

March – From the Minister

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 in Spirituality | 0 comments

Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify, simplify!

These words from Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist, naturalist, writer, and Unitarian, are as much a challenge today as they were in the mid 1800s when he wrote them.

The call to simplicity, by its very nature, seems like it should be, well, simple. Wouldn’t it be nice, to sift through the complex matrix of our lives, appointments, tasks, agendas, responsibilities; to break out of the tangled thicket of a life, a world, complicated by frenetic news feeds and incomprehensible conflicts. Wouldn’t it be nice, to have not just a less cluttered life, but a more intentional, focused, and simplified version of who we are and who we are called to be.

The Quaker tradition has a historic practice of simplicity. Part of that tradition comes out of a type of living that rejected the modern world and the constant wheels of industrial and societal progress—a humble style of resistance to what seemed, from a spiritual perspective, to be a world trampling values of generosity and community for the vices of greed and individualism.

There is also a thread within the Quaker tradition that was less focused on rejecting the modernization of the world, and more focused on how to live in a way that was congruent, intentional, aligned with one’s values and hopes for a more just and equitable world. It wasn’t a simplicity that was only about living calmly and quietly, but a simplicity that focused one’s time, energy, resources on a life that, for that person or community, was worth living.

Quaker Christin Snyder expressed this by writing,
Simplicity is not so much about what we own, but about what owns us. If we need lots of possessions to maintain our self-esteem and create our self-image and to look good to our neighbors, then we have forgotten or neglected that which is real and inward. If our time, money, and energy are consumed in selecting, acquiring, maintaining, cleaning, moving, improving… our possessions, then there is little time, money, and energy left for our other pursuits such as the work we do to further the Community of God.

Simplicity is a way of living by heart. Heart is a word that relates to cordo and creed – pointing to what is at the core of a person.

To live simply, to live by heart, is as diverse as there are people. What is simple and a way of the heart to one might be quite hard and stressful to another. A simple life might mean leaning into the invitation of finding where your gifts and your passions and a need in the world find some common ground. Within that simple life, there may be many complex processes, techniques, approaches, and details – but to live by heart is to give as much of one’s energy, skill, and resources, to the creating of beauty and hope in the world in the best way you know how.

While carving out the time, and simplifying a life might be a little complex at times, any move toward focusing the intention and attention of the heart to what you feel called to do might be healing and life-giving.

Putting color on canvas, lifting notes off a page, firing up the skillet, fixing an engine, or wiping a nose—whatever it is—if it heals your heart, if it grows your soul, if it serves the world, in ways noticed and unnoticed, then lean away from the distracted life toward something you give your heart to. When you give your heart to something, or many things, if you lean more and more into your values and hopes for your own life and the life of the world, then perhaps no matter how complex and draining and hard it seems at times – the act of choosing it, whatever it is, again and again, may feel quite simple.

-Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer