Community Ministry Blog, June 2017
Rev. Jane Ramsey
Why am I here?
Why doesn’t God take me?
These are the questions I get asked most often in my job as a hospice chaplain.
As they look to me expecting an answer…..
Or not; they don’t seem surprised when I respond with “I don’t know.”
It actually is a trick question; if I gave them an answer they wouldn’t believe it.
I have met very few who actually fear death…palliative care medicine has advanced to the point where I rarely see anyone in physical pain.
So the person is….existing….just existing and ever
“Why am I here?” they say
“I don’t know” I respond.
- There is something left for you to do.
- God has God’s reasons.
- Would you believe – there is no reason?
- Your body parts are wearing out and that can be a slow process.
Have you given it much thought?
Why are you here?
Is there a reason?
Does there need to be a reason?
Think about it.
Community Ministry, April 2017
Spiritual Leadership as Relationship
Rev. Jeremiah Kalendae, Affiliated Community Minister
“Go where you’re CELEBRATED, not merely tolerated” was a constant reminder of my beloved late Sheikh, Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé (December 19, 1952 – February 9, 2016), on his social media pages and in real life. Anyone who knew Ibrahim Baba knew the ecstatic love he was constantly showering upon everyone around him. When Sufi masters offer sohbet, or spiritual teaching and conversation, it is said that the essence of the teaching is communicated not simply by the spiritual knowledge conveyed but by the quality of the relationship itself. At Starr King School for the Ministry we use a model of education called Relational Constructive Learning, which “cultivates right relationship with self, others, with communities of accountability, and with the sacred ‘ground of all relating,’ which is understood and honored in many diverse religious traditions and spiritual practices” (www.sksm.edu). We understand that our own spiritual development, and capacity for leading others, and ultimately, transforming our broken world, is inherently a relational process.
For Sufis, our relationship with Allah, or that “ground of all relating,” is the foundation for all of our relationships. It is the orientation of lover to Beloved. We strive to treat each person, being, thing, and environment as a unique expression of divinity. In religious communities, we have the rare and profound opportunity to experiment with what it means to truly cherish our relationships with others and to challenge ourselves to grow in new and exciting ways. They can be sacred containers to explore what it means to celebrate others, to journey together, to learn to listen deeply, to empathize more wholly, to “bless those who curse you,” to cultivate a sacredness in our bonds that transcends what we might find offered by popular culture or the secular world. It also means we learn to practice being in accountable relationships, we commit to ongoing self-reflection, and to owning up to our own imperfections. It means finding a community of support, healing, and love that may help us accomplish all of those things. And then, it means living those rich relationships into the world, each a thread in Beloved Community that is yet to be.
Community Ministry, March 2017
In my community ministry of spiritual guidance to individuals, couples and communities, I do a lot of traveling, leading worship services and workshops on Creating a Culture of Right Relationship for UU congregations.
This work focuses on helping people have the sometimes difficult dialogues across differences that will allow them to understand one other, communicate respectfully and authentically, and stay in covenant even when it’s tough.
I call my ministry The Path of Joy because I so deeply believe that this is the call of the Spirit of Life: to stay connected to ourselves AND to one another—openhearted, compassionate and honest simultaneously— and to experience the deep fulfillment that brings.
I believe it’s crucial to extend this effort at mutual understanding across the deep national divides we find ourselves in now. In the long run, nothing else is going to work.
Recently, in a service in another state, I spoke about the universal human needs I believe voters on both sides were longing to meet in the recent election. These include needs for security and safety, respect, community and belonging, as well as financial sustainability.
A couple came up to me after service with tears in their eyes. He said, “I am a Republican, and my wife is a Democrat. We’ve been searching for a spiritual community where neither of us would be shamed.” She said, “Today we have hope that this UU congregation could be that place.” I told them I hoped so, too.
Good people across the political spectrum are hurting. In the shared ministry of this faith, so beautifully grounded in inclusivity, I invite you to open your heart in every direction.
With You on the Path,
Community Ministry, February 2017
Rev. Jane Ramsey, UUCB Affiliated Community Minister
I have to tell you, February is one of my least favorite months…. When living on the East Coast, I remember the beauty of winter wearing off, sort of turning to slush, and it is still cold…. And on top of that—there is our new President.
I know this election has been soul-crushing.
It is one of my goals in my work as a hospice chaplain to assist people in finding genuine hope when coming to terms with dying. This may take the form of looking forward to being united with deceased loved ones, or anticipating release from pain and suffering, or a desire to live until some event, such as a birth or wedding or graduation within the family.
Maybe it is time for us to work on ourselves in that way.
As a person facing death comes to terms with the inevitability of death, what is there left? Viktor Frankl (in Man’s Search for Meaning) was able to find meaning while living in a concentration camp … can’t we find meaning (hope even), given the circumstances we live in today? Many people are afraid of hospice because they believe it is a step into hopelessness. I certainly felt that way as I ever so slowly accepted the reality of our new president. (Actually I’m not there yet.) Yet, if people can face death with hope, if Viktor Frankl could find meaning in life under the most dire of circumstances, who are we to complain and give up? We need to find a way of accepting the reality of our new President and still have hope.
It is essential that we keep hopelessness and fear from obstructing our way to hope.
That truth of hope exists, we just need to reveal it.
Community Ministry, January 2017
In my work as a chaplain at San Leandro Hospital, I serve everyone – patients, staff, and visitors. When I see families and friends keeping vigil at their loved ones’ bedsides, I check with them about self care: are they remembering to eat? hydrate? sleep? get fresh air and exercise? take a break? I tell them how easy it is to lose track of these human necessities when focused on a loved one’s needs. I remind them that they need to take care of themselves so they can care for their loved one. I advise them to put on their own oxygen masks first.
We would all do well to heed this advice as we fear for the health of our country. Our collective sense of urgency and alarm is similar to what comes with a dire prognosis: we’ve received horrifying news, and the day-to-day updates keep getting worse. No one knows what lies ahead. There are serious reasons for concern and there is much we can do to make a difference. In order to care for our country and those most vulnerable, we will need to take excellent care of ourselves. It’s going to be a long haul.
As we step up to these challenges, may we find healthy rhythms of rest, reflection, and re-engagement. May we seek out joy, laughter, love and beauty. May we prioritize kindness, compassion, and justice. May we be gentle with ourselves and others. And may we remember to take periodic breaks from the news!
Community Ministry, December 2016
Rev. Cathleen Cox
This fall, I took up the presidency of the Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries. UUSCM is a national UUA affiliate which describes its mission in these words: “UUSCM is a Unitarian Universalist movement of lay ministers and ordained clergy committed to promoting a broad spectrum of healing and social justice ministries. We believe that only through many diverse forms of ministry can we heal the broken, create justice, and live in harmony with the spirit of life. We hold a vision of a larger ministry that sees the world as its parish.”
I invite you to consider the opportunities in the new socio-political reality in which we find ourselves. Can we look for the ways to move forward, committed to our UU Principles and Purposes, towards empower-ment and meaningful engagement rather than being driven by fear and alienation? We can and we must.
At the Sustainability Summit held by the UUA in Boston last spring, a key theme was “Unleashing Lay Ministry”—an idea UUSCM has long championed as central to strengthening the shared ministry of our faith in the world.
Would it empower you to view the service you offer in this congregation and beyond as a lay ministry? Would it support you to join with other community ministers, both lay and ordained, who are working in concrete ways towards building the world we want to live in? Whether through your volunteerism or your work, your commitment to service makes a difference. What could it mean to you to claim it as a lay ministry? If this is an idea you’d like to explore, I invite you to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk.
With You on the Path,
Community Ministry, November 2016
Rev. Jeremiah Kalendae
It has been an honor to serve as an Affiliated Community Minister with Starr King School for the Ministry and UUCB this past year. I’ve met so many wonderful members of the community with a passion for spiritual growth, social justice, and community engagement. I want to offer a special thanks to the co-chair of my Committee on Ministry, Lonnie Moseley, and committee member Dr. Ali Kayhani for offering their skills, insights, time, and love to strengthen my spiritual leadership and our communities. We faced an especially difficult year with the unexpected passing of my dear heart-friend, sheikh, and co-chair of my Committee on Ministry, Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé. Anyone who knew “Baba” admired him not only for his dedication to educating generations of multi-religious, counter-oppressive Unitarian Universalist and progressive religious leaders but also for his immense spirit, contagious humor, and all-embracing love. We felt his spirit with us as we accomplished so much at UUCB and Starr King and, indeed, he lives on in each of us.
In the past year, I was able to co-facilitate multiple new member events, including chapels and dinners; consult with lay leaders and staff responsible for membership, hospitality, and outreach; and contribute to the Sunday worship life of the community. I also served full-time at Starr King where as the Director of Admissions and Recruitment I’ve been able to recruit some of the largest and most diverse classes in the history of the school, in addition to joining the adjunct faculty and teaching Eastern philosophical traditions and counter-oppressive change. We’ve had so many transformative conversations in all of these contexts about our ongoing work dismantling white supremacy cultures, deconstructing cisheteropatriarchy, addressing Islamophobia, challenging dominant economic systems, and dreaming of communities and a world where the inherent dignity and worth of every person is affirmed and celebrated. Thank you to everyone who helped bring this past year into being, and I hope our work continues to burn brightly into the future!
Community Ministry, Oct. 2016
Rev. Theresa Hardy
Let me assure you, even if you are failing miserably in some areas you are not alone. You are good enough. Parenting in this particular time is challenging. I am not referring to endless nights of interrupted sleep and countless viruses that plague our family of five!
I am referring to the judgment and criticism that parents deal with at the park/store/school/ or on Facebook. In this age, many of us live far from familial support and struggle to do this alone. I would hope parents would band together and find more spaces to congratulate each other on being good enough! Yet, sadly I notice the opposite.
Our anxiety and fear, stress and exhaustion lead us into judging other parents. When I notice this within myself, I ask myself some questions. What am I afraid of others seeing? How do I forgive myself for failing in some areas? How can I model being good enough, for my kids and others? I’ll start—without Netflix and hot dogs our family life would be miserable!
I invite parents to recognize the often stormy weather of parenting and reflect on how we can, as Gandhi wrote, “be the change we want to see in the world.” Let us be honest about what parenting looks like! Let us be holy fools and remind ourselves and others about the deep spirituality of parenting.
Community Ministry, September 2016
Rev. Sue Magidson
Mornings at the hospital where I work:
Supervisor (warmly and collegially): “So what are your plans for the day?”
Sue: “Ask me when it’s over.”
Hospital chaplaincy is, by its very nature, unpredictable. I never know who will need me, when they’ll be available, what they’ll need, or how long we’ll have. So many variables disrupt the best-laid plans. Sometimes I manage to be in exactly the right place at the right time; other times, I spend entire days trying to connect with a patient, only to find that the patient isn’t interested in a visit after all.
Over the years, I’ve learned to be both methodical and opportunistic, paying attention to what’s in front of me, as well as my To Do list of intentions. After all, it only takes a moment to exchange a smile, say a kind word, offer a hug, or check in to see how someone’s feeling. A moment of connection at an emotional time can make all the difference.
As a chaplain, I step in and out of people’s lives, accompanying them through challenging times and rarely learning the end of the story. Hello. Goodbye. In between, a moment. Of varying duration. Sometimes pedestrian; other times deeply connective and transformative. A dance of connection and release, connection and release. Will I see this person again? I never know.
Isn’t that how life is? Unpredictable. Filled with opportunities to touch each other’s lives, even if just for a moment. What if we held our To Do lists a little more lightly, paying attention to what’s right in front of us? What if we lived our lives, knowing that all we have are precious moments?
Community Ministry, August 2016
Hospice Chaplain II
By Rev. Jane Ramsey
Gaunt is the only way to describe him.
He sits upright in his bed,
a word search book in his hands.
“I’ve had this cough forever
….it doesn’t mean anything
I’ve been sick like this before
…..and I always get over it
All I need is some physical therapy to strengthen my muscles.
Oh yes, I talk to him all the time
What do I pray for?
To get well, of course…”
So I pray for a cure
not believing it will happen…..
searching my soul for a shred of faith in the kind of miracle he is asking for
so that I may not speak in an in-authentic way….
But this is not about me……
and I move on….