Minister and Staff Blogs
From the Ministers, May 2018
Let’s get creative!
For May, our theme in worship will be creativity, and it’s something we think about a lot. As musicians and ministers, cooks and parents and a lot of other things, we create many things. While we may never create a Sistine Chapel or a renowned symphony, every day each of us creates new things and new ideas.
Our church is no different. A lot of things have changed in the 127 years this church has been plugging along, and the constant creativity of our members and friends is a big part of that.
Lately, we’ve been working hard to think creatively about how we do church and what we can do better or differently as we enter into a new era – and hint, we’re always entering into a new era! The world keeps on changing, and we have to change with it.
The board’s working groups on sustainability are a big part of this creative thinking. The working groups are tasked with gathering information about a number of different ways we can ensure the financial sustainability of this church into the future, and thinking creatively about solutions that might not seem obvious at first will be an important part of their work.
Our social justice council thinks each year about where it is being called and what it will focus on. The creativity and commitment of those who have worked this year to make us a sanctuary congregation and prepare to help immigrant families has been inspiring, as has the work of the Green Sanctuary team in engaging us around environmental issues.
The creativity of our music program, which each year leads us to new heights with all of their work in worship, in performances, and in rehearsal deserves all the praise it gets and more.
Our family ministry program has been working on how they can best balance a lot of competing needs and desires and is thinking creatively about what is best for our congregation, our children, and our staff. Even something as simple as moving our nursery for a few weeks so that we could revamp the nursery building took a creative mindset to make happen.
We’ve also done creative work in worship: to give one significant example, in Reverse RE (Religious Education) we thought creatively about how we do worship and opportunities for spiritual deepening by reversing our usual pattern. Instead of children leaving the sanctuary to go to their activities, they stayed in for worship and we invited the adults to leave for various opportunities.
It’s tempting to stay in the same old comfortable patterns, but we can’t. A new world requires our commitment, our love, and our creativity to come fully alive.
Revs. Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, April 2018
We write this in the wake of massive walkouts, in which hundreds of thousands of students—high school, middle school, even elementary—left school to make a statement: that we must work to end gun violence, and that there must be an end to mass shootings in our country. We watched students ask for something simple but difficult: a safer world.
How can any of us do less than these brave students?
Unitarian Universalists have been at the forefront of many of the social justice movements in our country’s history, and the time has come again. So many issues matter right now, to us and to our communities: oppression of all kinds, poverty, income inequality, racial justice, immigration, gun violence, the environment, to name just a few, knowing that so many more also matter.
The needs of the world can be daunting. It’s important to remember that we’re not responsible for fixing everything. But we are responsible for doing what we can, when we can.
For those of us not in school, a walkout is perhaps no longer our best mode of protest. But we have many ways to make a difference:
- In this year, we vote. Hundreds of races at the national level, and thousands at other levels, will be contested in 2018. Making sure that every person who can vote does should be among our top priorities.
- Getting out and supporting candidates and issues. Many of our members have done this and know what a difference it makes.
- Getting involved in government: let our elected officials know what we think and why it matters. Write, call, and show up at their offices and meetings.
- Work with our partners in the community. As a congregation and in our social justice council, we have done work with local, state, national and international partners.
- Get involved (or more involved) in our work as a sanctuary congregation, or in a social justice issue that matters to you.
- And yes, marching or protesting in the streets to make it known how we feel and how many of us there are.
It’s a challenging time in our world, and we are called in it to do more than we have done before in order to achieve results we have never known before.
We’re thrilled, always, to be the senior co-ministers of a congregation that is engaging deeply with the world’s issues, with members and friends that bring such an array of experiences and skills. Together, we can make a difference; how can we do any less?
Revs. Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, March 2018
In worship this month at UUCB we will be exploring the theme of “balance.” We follow the Soul Matters pre-chosen schedule of themes along with many other congregations around the country, and yet this theme seems particularly relevant here and now. As we draw nearer to spring, nights that were so long in winter are growing shorter and the sun is beginning to rise earlier each morning. Families are getting back into the regular routine after a recent week off from school. And we are working on reaching greater balance in several areas here at church.
We are making strides in reaching new financial balance as a congregation. The Board welcomes your participation in the working groups it is forming to explore some potential paths toward a financially sustainable future for the church. If you are interested, please fill out the application (see “From the Board” below). Alongside those efforts, your Coordinating Team is working hard to craft a budget that is not only balanced but will carry a surplus in order to begin addressing the deficit that built up over the last few years. Also, the committee to oversee the five deferred maintenance projects for which the congregation approved funding last month has been formed. They should be starting their work together by the time you read this article.
Because the realities of 21st century church mean we are “always in beta mode,” we have evaluated some of the new initiatives we began in the fall and have decided to continue some, retire others, and start two new ones. In particular, participation in Community Office Hours and the weekly Sunday morning Adult RE classes has been spotty, so we will be retiring Community Office Hours and shifting to a once-a-month (rather than once-a-week) Sunday morning Adult RE schedule. That said, our First Thursday evening potlucks have seen pretty steady participation and Church on Tap has been growing.
We’ve noticed among the congregation many who are experiencing significant but varied transitions in both young adulthood and the second half of life. So, we are in the process of organizing both a support group for people in later life and a young adult group. It looks like we will try a young adult group once a month on Sundays after worship, perhaps going out to lunch together at a nearby restaurant. The support group for those in later life would also meet once a month, and will offer those facing the “empty nest,” navigating retirement, grieving the loss of friends and loved ones, or struggling with poverty in later life a space to speak their truth and draw support and strength from one another.
In a world profoundly unbalanced in so many ways, may we all use this season to make the small changes we can to grow toward greater balance of work and rest, goals and spontaneity, heart and mind in our lives.
Kristin and Christian
From the Ministers, February 2018
Every day at UUCB we are impressed and humbled by the commitment that members of this community bring to living out our values here at church and in the wider world. The time and talent that volunteers and staff spend making our worship, education, justice, and fellowship gatherings and activities happen is amazing, and it speaks to the importance of this community in our lives and the lives of the communities of which we are a part.
But it takes more than generous commitments of time and talent to fuel the ministries our congregation is known and loved for; it takes generous commitments of treasure, too. This year, our Stewardship Team has set a goal of a 20% increase in financial commitments for the upcoming fiscal year. The Team will be sending out information and talking with the congregation about the importance of this year’s goal. All throughout the month of March worship will include a focus on the value of stewardship and everyone will be invited to consider what they feel called to pledge, or promise, in terms of financial support to fuel the mission of this congregation for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. And March 25 is Celebration Sunday, when our guest preacher will be UUA Co-Moderator Barb Greve, and everyone will have the opportunity to make their financial pledge during the service.
As many of you know, and as was discussed at the special congregational meeting at the end of January, our congregation is in the midst of discerning how best to support our thriving ministries as we make decisions about the future of our campus. The Board is actively recruiting volunteers for working groups to explore several ways we might proceed into the future in a sustainable way. Along similar lines, the Coordinating Team and our treasurer are crafting a budget that reflects changing times; the budget will be balanced, but hopefully not by making painful cuts.
After carefully considering all of this, our family is increasing our pledge this year by 25%. Though we know not everyone will have the means to make such an increase, we encourage you to think deeply about how much this congregation matters in your life and how much you can increase your pledge to help us live even more fully into our mission to “create loving community, inspire spiritual growth, and encourage lives of integrity, joy, and service.”
One especially exciting part about stewardship this year is the debut of online giving! It’s up, running, and an option available for anyone to use that connects directly with our database system. In fact, we have already received $9,000 in pledges and other giving online. If you’d like to give this way, just click the “Give” button at the top of our website www.uucb.org and follow the instructions. If you run into any trouble, just call the office or speak to a Stewardship Team member. However much you are able to give this year, and by whatever method you choose to do so, we are proud to serve with such generous, committed people. May our generosity and our commitment continue to guide us all well.
Revs. Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, January 2018
This month, we will be exploring the theme of “intention” in worship here at the UU Church of Berkeley. This seems like a wise thing for each of us to focus on as we begin the first month of a new year. But it seems even more auspicious considering what lies ahead of us as a congregation.
Like most other religious institutions today, we are in the process of figuring out how best to “do church” in the 21st century. As part of that, we are faced with several significant decisions, the most pressing of which have to do with how we can create a path toward financial sustainability. In brief, we have more building maintenance expenses than we can find funds to cover in our yearly budgets without making cuts that would impact our most beloved and effective programs. As a result, we have a significant deficit that has built up over many years.
This is a situation that can’t continue forever, but thankfully it’s anything but dire. Our church is rich in so many ways. We are blessed with an incredibly valuable property, considerable endowed funds, vibrant ministries and programs, and a congregation filled with passionate, intelligent, wise, and faithful people who are capable of making hard decisions guided by our values rather than fear. While this community may have to consider some changes that feel hard and unpleasant, these are very solvable challenges.
When it comes to making big decisions together as a community, the most important thing we can focus on is the process we use to do so. Your Board has been doing a wonderful job discerning a good process for exploring every potential option and leaving no stone unturned in the quest to find a financially sustainable path. Some of those stones include assessing our community’s capacity for a significant capital campaign, assessing our staffing structure in case there is some money to be saved there, and evaluating whether this is truly the right location and set of facilities for us today. Perhaps there are even more stones, like finding another organization to share our campus with us, or stones nobody has even thought of yet.
Ultimately, as your co-ministers, we are not on any “side” of this issue. We are committed to ministering with and among this community no matter what decision is reached to address the challenges ahead. Because no matter what our annual budget is, the state of repair of our buildings, or even where we are located, our call to be a liberal religious community where people can nurture their spirits and help heal our world will be the same. May we approach our challenges, whether in our personal lives or here at church, with great intention and commitment to our callings.
Happy New Year!
Reverends Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, December 2017
Happy Holidays! Even here in the temperate Bay Area, there’s a bit of a nip in the air. The nights are longer and longer as we approach the winter solstice, and both in our congregation and in our personal lives this is the season of holidays.
Our diverse religious community has people who celebrate both many different holidays and none at all. Those may include Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and more. Though each of these comes from a unique tradition and has its own distinctive elements, they do share some things in common, not the least of them being that all occur about the same time in the calendar year. Each also reminds us of traditions handed down from those who have come before, each encourages us to be together in community, and each reminds us that love and joy and hope can come to us even in the least likely of times and places.
So it is again this year. In what has been a trying year, we wait and hope.
What does it mean to celebrate in this season when many of us have struggled this year? Whether that was because of wildfires across the North Bay that have taken homes and lives, other natural disasters that have touched us or those we love, or difficulties in health, finances, or other parts of our lives, many of us have felt pain and difficulty in 2017.
As we enter December and the onslaught of holidays, find time to be kind to yourself. Remember that it’s OK not to feel joyful, regardless of what the world around us tells us. It’s also certainly OK to feel joyful, too! Make sure that you care for your own needs first, so that each of us can be healthy as the demands of the season crop up.
And when things start to seem overwhelming, either because of all the difficulties in the world, or just the difficulties in your own household, we offer this thought: Hope. Each of us can access hope, even if we have to borrow a little from a friend!
It doesn’t always make sense, nor does it need to. Hope isn’t a rational evaluation at our prospects; often it is despite a rational evaluation of our prospects. As the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker once said, we believe that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. The problem is that it bends very slowly, and sometimes even takes a bend in the wrong direction temporarily. Our lifetimes will not be enough to fix every problem or disaster, but our hope lies in that our collective efforts, given enough time, can make a real and lasting difference for the good in our world. Hope can help us through the worst of situations, not because it blinds us to difficult realities, but because it brings out the best in us despite those realities. In this season of holidays, may hope come to each of us as the most precious gift.
Revs. Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, November 2017
Dear UUCB members and friends,
This month’s worship theme of abundance reminded me of our first few holiday seasons as a married couple. Having moved to a part of the country new for both of us, what I noticed most during those early holidays together was what was missing. I was sad that we couldn’t go to the holiday craft fair I’d gone to since I was eight, or my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, or drive around the neighborhoods in DC with the best holiday lights and decorations. But once I was able to let go of all of the things I was missing, I began to discover the abundance of blessings in my new city, my new home, my new family.
It is easy to journey through much of our lives noticing mostly what’s missing. Whether it’s people, places, or things we’ve lost, moved away from, or never had in the first place, it’s easy to spend a lot of energy focusing on how to fill up the empty parts of our glasses. And injustice calls us to work to make a world where everyone has access to enough. I believe we are also called to savor every bit of goodness, beauty, and blessing that fills the world around us.
Talk about the cost of deferred maintenance to repair and improve our buildings has begun to heat up at church lately. While figuring out how best to work towards financial sustainability will be a challenging process, it is not an insurmountable one. It will require us to change, to make some different choices than we’ve made before, but ours is a community with an abundance of generosity, commitment, and promise. The ministry we share is vital not only to us, but to many people in our wider communities. And as your co-ministers, we have faith in this congregation, faith in our shared ministry, faith in the wisdom that emerges when the many are gathered into one.
Our work to discover who we are as one gathered congregation and what we are being called to be and do into the future continues this month with the next phase of our mission/vision process. In September we celebrated our roots and discovered who we’ve been when at our best. Now we transition into “Taking Stock of Our Blessings” and discovering who we as a congregation are today, in this time and in this place. There will be two opportunities for face-to-face conversation, one on Thursday, November 2 (after dinner and evening worship) from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. and the other on Sunday, November 19 from 12:15 to 2:00 p.m. I hope you’ll join us!
In this season of abundance, may we do as poet Laurel Sheridan writes, and
Take from life its coals, not its ashes.
Fan the flames of love and justice;
join hands and hearts in common endeavor;
and there will be no limit to what we can achieve together.
Rev. Kristin Grassel Schmidt
From the Ministers, October 2017
We say this frequently, so bear with us, but the world has changed A LOT.
Recently, we saw the annual listing from Beloit College, called the “Mindset List,” which gives a sense of what members of the year’s incoming class grew up with. This year’s incoming class was born in or around 1999, and their list had some gems (among many others!). During their lifetimes:
- There have always been emojis to cheer them up.
- Justin Timberlake has always been a solo act.
- They are the first generation for whom a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, and research library.
- By the time they entered school, laptops were outselling desktops.
- They were never legally able to use a Montgomery Ward catalogue as a booster seat.
- Bill Clinton has always been Hillary Clinton’s aging husband.
As we have already embarked upon mission and vision work this year, it’s worth letting this sink in for a moment: the world is changing: from pop culture to changing demographics to the role of the Internet in more and more parts of our lives. Why, then, would anyone expect that our congregation and the reasons people come to us wouldn’t change? Certainly many things about our faith and the purpose we exist as a community are timeless, but a lot of the other things about how we do church are changing. Given how rapidly our world is shifting, an important part of mission and vision work is developing a shared understanding of who we are and what our context is today.
Who are we today?
This congregation has changed since it was founded in 1891, and again since 1961 when it moved to the present location in Kensington. We’re also not the same congregation we were in 2000, or even just last year. There is a continuity of the congregation, a line of tradition and history that connects us to the congregation that was and the congregation that will be. But in this time of considering our priorities for the future, it’s important to take stock of who we are as a community today. Believe it or not, as of mid-September, we have 376 members (plus a bunch of children and youth!), and 185 of them have joined in the last 10 years. That’s right, 49.2% of our current membership wasn’t here even a decade ago. Talk about change!
Where are we today?
Similarly, the communities where we live, work, and play are not the same as they once were. The Bay Area has changed hugely in the last 126 years, and the East Bay significantly even in the last few years. There has been one great move for this congregation in terms of its own location – the 1961 move from Berkeley to Kensington. As we’ve mentioned before, even our own church campus has changed over the years. In the coming weeks there will be opportunities to learn about the state of our facilities and to explore the opportunities and needs in our wider communities.
Who are we today, where are we today, and what does that mean for us now and into the future? These are questions only we as a community can answer together, and we look forward to discovering those answers with all of you.
Revs. Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, September 2017
In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy quoted what he said was a Chinese curse (it turns out that there’s no good evidence that it actually is!): “May you live in interesting times.”
Welcome, friends, to interesting times.
Our nation’s government is making decisions and actions that are both troubling and often baffling. White supremacists, whether they are called neo-Nazis or white nationalists or the alt-right or alt-lite or a dozen other terms, are literally marching in our streets and wreaking violence and even death. We hear about violence around the world designed to promote hateful ideologies from many sources. Climate change is accelerating and causing problems across the globe.
But even in all of this, there is also optimism and signs of hope. The removal of Confederate monuments which present a skewed and nostalgic view of our nation’s history is a painful, difficult, but necessary step towards healing. The counter-protests have generally been orders of magnitude larger than the hateful rallies they are opposing. Despite the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, the rest of the world is moving forward to make real steps toward slowing climate change.
So it is in the midst of this, the trouble and the hope, that we exist. It is more important than ever at this time for us to affirm who we are and where we are going as a congregation. That’s what mission and vision (which you may have heard us talking about lately!) are really about: Who are we? What is core to us? And what are we called to do about it? Who will we be in the future?
We can’t, by ourselves, solve all the world’s problems, and we shouldn’t try. Rather, we must discern which of them we are called to engage – which of the infinite number of opportunities and challenges we are passionate about, that we can do something about, and that are true to who we are as the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, and then work as hard as we can to do good in the world!
Over the next few months (and starting with meetings Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 12:30 p.m.), we’ll be holding sessions that explore our values, the context in which we exist, and what we should focus on for the future. We invite you to participate as much as you can as we form the future of UUCB, because it is only through engaging our entire church community in this work that we can be successful. It’s more important than ever in this time!
Revs. Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, August 2017
It may be hard to believe, but this month marks the first anniversary of our ministry with all of you! We thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learned while serving with and among this wonderful, ever-changing congregation for a year:
This feels like home. We enjoyed two weeks of vacation in beautiful Olympia, Washington but are happy to be back. It was great to return to a house that now feels like home and a congregation full of good work and even better people we know and love.
Two Annual Meetings? Most congregations have just one all-church meeting each year, but this one has two. We didn’t know what to think at first, but now appreciate the flexibility possible with this way of accomplishing the business of the congregation.
Christmas Eve is huge here. We figured this holiday wouldn’t hold quite as much cultural cache here in the East Bay as it did back east, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. While initially surprising, it is also humbling to consider how important this congregation is to the many people who may come here only once or twice a year for this spiritual touchstone. May they come to know us as a warm, welcoming community ready to embrace them more fully if and when they need us.
Our staff is amazing. We tell our colleagues all the time that we have the best congregation and staff in the whole Unitarian Universalist Association, and we mean it! While everyone has growing edges—ourselves and our staff members included—we feel so blessed to get to work with the capable, devoted, and hard-working staff of this church.
UUCB gives life the shape of justice. We couldn’t be more proud of or inspired by your work to build a better community. The depth and breadth of this congregation’s experience, participation, and commitment to many justice issues is remarkable. It’s also humbling, especially when we discover that we’ve unintentionally failed to acknowledge something important in worship, like we did a few weeks ago with San Francisco Pride. This congregation has a long and inspiring history of working for LGBTQ rights and we are sorry to have missed the opportunity to lift up that witness at the end of June. While there are too many deserving issues and events for us to acknowledge them all in worship, we hope you reach out to us with things you think we should know about in the community.
We’re excited about the future! This congregation has some important, exciting decisions to make in the near future. But, before we can make them, we need clarity about our shared purpose and priorities as a community. The Board has asked us to facilitate a process that will help the congregation reengage with its mission and vision. So, we hope you’ll join us on Sunday, August 27 after the service or Thursday, September 7 at 7:30 for “Celebrating Our Roots,” a guided conversation about who UUCB has been when at our best. You can find more details about these and future gatherings elsewhere in this issue of the Beacon and on the church calendar.
Rev. Christian and Kristin