Minister and Staff Blogs
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
From the Ministers, July 2017
Dear members and friends,
As the regular program year draws to a close and church begins to enter summer-mode, we can’t help but think about all we have shared together this year. It was a year ago this month that you voted to call us as your Senior Co-Ministers, and since then we’ve grown together with you in spirit, commitment, and service. We’ve also grown in pride and affection as we’ve watched this community hold one another through the year’s national political turmoil, the changes in the leadership of our Unitarian Universalist Association, and the ongoing revelation of just how deeply racism and other oppressions are rooted in the systems in our lives. In times of high anxiety and conflict, whether at a national, local, church, or even individual level, covenant becomes even more important.
As we’ve written about before, a covenant is a promise, or set of promises, that people make about how they will be with one another. Many faiths are rooted in specific faith statements, and our tradition certainly includes particular and very deeply held religious beliefs. But at its core, Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith. In other words, what binds us together is a promise about how we will be and behave with each other rather than a list of theological beliefs we share. In 2007 this congregation voted unanimously to adopt the following covenant of right relations:
We covenant to build a religious community guided by love and sustained by respectful relationships. Believing that building healthy relationships is a spiritual practice, we aim to listen appreciatively, speak with care, express gratitude, honor our differences, and assume good intentions. We endeavor to communicate directly, honestly, and compassionately, particularly when we are in conflict. When we hurt one another, we will try to forgive, make amends and reconnect in a spirit of love. In celebration of the common purpose that unites us, we will do our best to abide by this covenant.
While our tradition prizes reason, personal experience, and individual opinion, our covenant counter-balances that with the reminder that it is more important to our community that we behave with kindness and care than that we “be right” or have our opinion become the majority. It’s not always easy to take responsibility for our own feelings of disappointment or upset while being kind to those who voted a different way than we did about something important to us. And yet that is exactly what allows us to support and empower one another and the ministries we are each called to serve in our corners of the world. And while it’s an inner skill we can develop as part of a Chalice Circle and in many of the upcoming “Learning to Serve and Lead” gatherings beginning in September, it is a skill that will serve us well in all areas of our lives, not just church.
We hope you have a great summer, whether you’ll be working or vacationing, staying around town or going somewhere exciting. Whatever your plans, we wish you space this season for rest, renewal, and recharging. And we hope to see you on Sunday mornings for the great lineup of summer worship and forums that lie ahead.
Reverends Kristin and Christian
From the Ministers, June 2017
Rev. Kristin Schmidt
I write this after having spent a day with 1800 colleagues soaking in the wisdom and insights of some of the best preachers in this country and around the world. Much of what has been said at this conference so far has addressed the challenges faced by the institutional church right now. But what has resonated most for me has been the infectious spirit of hope and excitement about new places of connection, new opportunities to work for justice, and new possibilities for ministry in our rapidly shifting world.
Little more than a week after our installation, my heart overflows with that same sense of hope, excitement, and new possibility for our shared ministry here at the UU Church of Berkeley. We have sensed here overwhelming hunger for connection with what is greater than ourselves, with one another, and with our wider communities. So, in conversation with people across the congregation, we have been working to align the ways we use our time as your ministers with our shared mission to “create loving community, inspire spiritual growth and encourage lives of integrity, joy, and service.”
Our catered Thursday evening gatherings are shifting from every week to a shared potluck dinner and evening worship just the first Thursday of each month. Please bring a dish or beverage to share (if you can, if not just bring yourself!) and join us on Thursday, September 7 from 5:30 to 7:15 pm for the first of these monthly gatherings.
Beginning in September, alongside of our amazingly successful and meaningful Personal Theology series, the intern (yay!) and co-ministers will offer a rotating series of opportunities for connection, learning, and spiritual deepening on Sundays at 9:30. These sessions will include classes about the roots of our faith, opportunities for leadership development, and open conversations about the month’s worship theme.
We will also be offering opportunities to connect outside of Sunday mornings and even outside the church campus. From 10-11:30 am on the first Friday of each month one of the ministers will offer Community Office Hours, an opportunity to meet and chat with us over coffee or tea. We’ll start on Friday, September 1 at Inn Kensington.
On the fourth Friday of each month from 6 ‑ 8pm we hope you’ll join us for Church on Tap – an evening of fun, fellowship, and froth at the Albany Taproom. This is a great opportunity to get to know folks from church outside of the church, and can be a great way to invite a friend to meet the ministers before visiting on a Sunday. We hope to see you and your friends for the first Church on Tap on Friday, September 22!
And finally, the ministers will be leading Parents Night Out while Merrin is away on parental leave, so we hope you’ll take advantage of this awesome opportunity to connect with other parents and enjoy some time kid-free on the church! Join us on Saturday, September 9 at 4:30 for the first of these in the new program year.
We look forward to seeing where our shared love, values, and commitment to justice take this congregation in our second year of ministry together. What an honor and a joy it is to be your ministers!
Peace and joy,
Rev. Kristin Schmidt
From the Ministers, May 2017
What’s an “installation,” anyway?
You may have heard that we will be formally installed as UUCB’s senior co-ministers at 4 pm on May 7th. That may sound a little confusing, since we’ve already been here serving in that role for some eight months and it’s been almost a year since the search committee first introduced us to this community (indeed, May 6 will mark exactly one year from the first time Kristin and I spoke to the search committee in an initial interview)!
An installation is a ritual acknowledging our ministry, and that we and this congregation have made a covenant and a commitment to be together for a long time, to serve together in shared ministry, and to support one another in this community in living out our mission and vision.
It’s been some 20 years since UUCB last installed co-ministers, so let us refresh memories of what it looks like. In many respects it will look like many of our worship services, with music and readings, a sermon, prayer, and offering. It will also have some special aspects: charges (short speeches giving suggested guidance, sometimes quite forcefully!) to the congregation and the co-ministers, a laying on of hands in which we will receive blessings from all gathered, and perhaps most importantly, a set of promises between us as ministers and the congregation, represented by our president, Jack Duggan.
Also different from most Sundays will be the guests in attendance in addition to all the members of our congregation that will be there. Our preacher will be the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, president of Starr King School for the Ministry. Giving the charges will be the Rev. Morgan McLean, assistant minister of the UU Church of Davis, and the Rev. John Buehrens, developmental minister of the UU Church of San Francisco, and Christian’s former internship supervisor. The Rev. Maria Christina Vlassidis of Starr King UU Church in Hayward will introduce the offering, and UUCB’s affiliated ministers will also play several roles. Other guests from the area, lay and ordained, will be here as well. Our emeritus ministers, the Revs. Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway, sent a lovely message of congratulations along with their regrets that they will not be able to attend.
Perhaps most importantly, after the ceremony there will be a reception with food and drink and fun! We hope you can and will come and be a part of this joyous day. Childcare will be provided.
Revs. Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, April 2017
Rev. Kristin Schmidt
Over the last few years I’ve watched with fascination as Rob Bell and others like him have challenged Evangelical Christianity in America. Bell is founding pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and one of a growing number of contemporary evangelical Christian leaders exploring universalist theology and its social implications. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I find this increasing interest both disappointing and exciting. It is exciting that Bell and others are questioning narrow Christian notions of Hell that have harmed so many of the people I’ve served. But it’s also disappointing because the questions they are asking and the theological points they are making are hardly original.
Centuries before Rob Bell rearticulated the question, our Universalist tradition’s own Hosea Ballou asked how a loving God could allow any part of the creation God had originally deemed “good” to suffer eternal damnation. Decades before Bell’s congregation wrote its mission to work for “measurable change among the oppressed,” the great Universalist Clarence Skinner taught that a foundational belief in humanity’s worthiness shapes our ethical response to human suffering and oppression in this world. And yet, somehow Bell has a knack for reengaging these classic questions and ideas in ways people who may never darken a Unitarian Universalist church’s doors find relevant.
Whether we consider ourselves Universalists or not, or even if we aren’t sure, these questions about ultimate worth and worthiness are some of the most important things for us to be thinking and talking about right now. As our nation’s leaders consider economic, healthcare, and foreign policies that will literally spell life or death for millions of people, and as the President continues his “America First” campaign, it is important for us to be clear about who we believe matters. Because while we are a faith of “deeds not creeds” what we believe or don’t believe about who is worthy of saving—worthy of insuring, worthy of protecting, worthy of seeking justice for—will shape how we perceive and treat others.
In this month of springtime holidays and holy days, may the newness of life all around us serve as a reminder of the mysterious, creative power at work in our world, even when we can’t perceive it. Through winter’s coldest and darkest days, the power of life waits within a seed, ready to burst forth when conditions are right. However you celebrate in this season, may you be moved anew by the power of life and love over death and hate. And may we all make room for a better world to take root in and transform our minds, hearts, and spirits.