From Our Co-Ministers
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.
From the Ministers, March 2017
It’s the most wonderful time of the year: our Stewardship campaign! Some people might think I’m joking that this season, in which we ask members to pledge their financial and other support to the congregation, is the most wonderful, but I’m not. Because although it can seem like we’re talking about money, we’re actually talking about community, dreams, and vision.
This community runs the way it does because of the support it receives from its members and friends. That support is in time, in energy, in presence, and yes, in financial resources. Without any one of those, we could still have a church community, yes, but it would be a radically different community than the one we have now. Repeatedly, in our six months here, we have heard about the importance of the community here, of the people who are a part of it, the places where it gathers, and the activities, events, and programs of which our church is a part. The small interactions on Sunday mornings, being together in a rally or march, coming together to create music and teach children and learn: these are the moments we make together in community that change lives and our world.
I often ask people what their hopes or dreams are for themselves and for UUCB, and I am always impressed by the answers. The way we achieve those dreams is by setting our efforts towards them, working together, and providing resources to make them possible. Again, this is exactly what real stewardship is all about.
In the words of one of our stewardship team co-chairs, Cordell Sloan, we get to “actualize our dreams and hopes for this congregation” through this campaign. We get a chance to make real the things we want to happen through our voices, our participation, and our financial support.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! So let me invite you again to our all-church luncheon on Feb. 26 and then to the March 5 Sunday services, where we formally kick off our campaign. If you already feel moved to pledge, fill out the form you should have received in the mail (or get an extra one from the stewardship display next to the church office, or ask a member of the stewardship team for one!). I hope you will consider how much you can give, how much you will give to help make dreams come true, and what this community truly means to you.
From the Ministers, February 2017
Who are we? This is a question we frequently engage in in religious community, both as we work for greater personal depth and understanding and as our congregation strives to live out our mission and vision in the world. This month in worship, we will explore our many identities as individuals, in our relationships, and as members of wider communities.
Key to a piece of our identity as a community is the way we fund our ministry. Here at UUCB (and at all Unitarian Universalist churches) members and friends fund our budget and play a key role in determining how that budget is used to support our work together. As we prepare for our stewardship campaign and budgeting process for the 2017-2018 year, we have begun to envision what UUCB could be like in the next year, including shifts in how we do things.
As your new co-ministers, we have been paying attention to the community and how it appears to our fresh eyes—and how it might appear to visitors. Ever since we began our ministry with and among you, we have heard over and over again how much people want the congregation to grow. So, one of our highest priorities is to make the community as welcoming to newcomers as possible. Some aspects of making our church a welcoming one are easy (and some were in place long before we got here): providing clear information on our website, having a great welcoming presence when people walk through our front doors, clear directions in worship and signs around the building.
And there are other welcoming practices we will encourage the congregation to consider in the coming year. One such practice is providing free refreshments after worship each Sunday. This way, what one of our ministerial mentors calls “the sacrament of fellowship” will be more welcoming to our members and friends with financial hardships, and to those of us who simply forget to carry cash anymore.
We are also considering deeply what programming the church currently offers, whether it is the best use of staff and volunteer time and energy, and what we might offer in addition to, or instead of, what we do now. In some cases, programming might continue but in changed form, as we better align our staff and ministerial resources towards areas of energy and growth. For example, May of this year will see the last staff-led Thursday night Vespers service. Though this has been a long tradition of this congregation, attendance at the Vespers services is quite small—and some dedicated people are considering continuing Vespers as a lay-led activity. We are exploring offering weekly opportunities for spiritual deepening, some at the church and some out in our communities. Whatever shape this programming takes into the future, we are committed to providing dynamic opportunities for connection and growth that welcome and are accessible to as broad a cross-section of the congregation and beyond as possible.
As someone wise once said, change is inevitable, but progress is not. It is our mission as a congregation to make sure that the changes we make, either those we choose or that circumstances push upon us, are furthering our mission and vision, not hampering it. As we move forward, we hope all of you will contribute your thoughts and efforts toward these goals.
Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, January 2017
Revs. Christian and Kristin Schmidt
Our worship theme for January is prophecy. When we hear the word “prophecy” many of us think of the prophets in the Bible, or Islam’s prophet Muhammad. For others, this word might evoke an image of a mysterious hooded figure with a crystal ball delivering a prediction about the future. At is core, prophecy is simply the act of speaking truth to power. That might seem innocent enough, but prophets in every place and time always seem to speak truths that threaten to destabilize the status quo.
This month in worship, as our country enters a time when the scope and limits of our leaders’ power are uncertain, we will explore our religious and cultural heritage of prophesy. Carried faithfully by Elijah and John the Baptist, Michael Servetus and Theodore Parker, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and today’s leaders in the work for justice and equality, the torch of prophetic liberal ministry is now in our hands. As such, we ask you to consider how and where you might be called to speak your truths for the sake of a better world.
We are also working with the Social Justice Council to consider which imminent needs in our wider community might align best with our congregation’s resources, talents, and gifts. We are exploring how we might become a sanctuary congregation, how we might offer medical support to elders if Medicare is abolished, and everything in between. We hope you will share your ideas and questions with us and that you will join the Social Justice Council in conversation about this at its next potluck meeting on Wednesday, January 11 at 6 pm.
To help empower our ministry as a congregation even more, we are thrilled to share that we’ve begun accepting applications for an intern minister to begin next fall! It will be wonderful to share our gifts with a minister in formation and to receive the many gifts they will bring to our ministry together. And as we dream about and discern all we may be called to be and do as a community next church year, we encourage everyone to begin thinking about how much this church and its ministries mean to you, and what time, talent, and treasure you can commit in the upcoming season of stewardship.
In faith and gratitude,
Kristin and Christian
From the Ministers, December 2016
Revs. Christian and Kristin Schmidt
If you walked up to a stranger on the street and asked them what they know about the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, what would they say? If you asked your neighbor in the pew the same question, what would they say? And what would you say?
Our monthly worship theme is presence: how we are and how we are perceived. What does our physical, virtual, and community presence mean? To whom are we present? How are we present to them? And … is that the way we want to be?
We’ll be asking questions this month: what does being present mean? How can we be fully present in a world that calls us constantly in so many different directions?
For 125 years, this congregation has been a fixture in the East Bay. We’ve been a presence for liberal religion, a voice for justice, reason, and compassion. Tens of thousands have passed through our doors, have been a part of worship, and learned in our religious education classes. Even more have been affected by our social justice efforts in the wider community. We’ve been a presence.
With new ministers and entering into a new era in our congregation, it’s time to ask what presence we might like to have now and in the future. No doubt we’ll carry many things from the past, and add or replace some others.
This month, we’ll be asking questions about who we might become as a congregation: should we consider becoming a sanctuary congregation? What would it mean for us to sponsor a refugee family? Should we envision our presence in the community in new and exciting ways—satellite congregations, mission centers, bigger presences at community events, like we had this year at the Solano Stroll?
These are (some of) the questions. As we explore them in worship this month, we invite you to explore some of them in your lives. Who am I? To whom am I present? And what do I want that to be like?
Come, explore these issues with us this month!
Christian and Kristin
From the Ministers, November 2016
As one of the most contentious presidential elections in living memory draws near, it seems especially fitting that our theme for worship at UUCB this month is “Covenant.” A covenant is a promise, or set of promises, that people make about how they want to be with one another. Many faiths are rooted in specific faith statements, and our tradition certainly includes particular and very deeply held religious ideas. We believe that every person is precious, that human beings have agency, and we believe in the importance of building a world community that works for everyone. But at its core, Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith. In other words, what binds us together as people of faith is a promise about how we will behave with one another rather than a list of beliefs we share.
Though we are still new here, we have already borne witness to the ways members of this community put our congregational covenant into practice. Some of you have practiced direct communication to share feedback and questions with us. We’ve seen others care for people in times of need. And we’ve been so glad to see you assume good intentions and engage with one another respectfully even as issues of conflict have inevitably arisen.
Our church community, like all communities, is complicated, and because it is made up of people, we will never live out our covenant perfectly. But thankfully, perfect adherence isn’t really the point. Rather, by practicing our covenant with one another at church, we develop all sorts of people skills that can serve us well in other areas of our lives. And by being called back into covenant with one another over and over again, year after year, we can grow in compassion, patience, humility, and countless other spiritual or inner fruits.
We are also thrilled to announce that we’ve set a date for a pretty significant part of our covenanting with all of you. The service to install us as the Senior Co-Ministers of this church is scheduled for 4:00 pm on Sunday, May 7. In this service, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, President of Starr King School for the Ministry, will preach, the congregation and ministers will make promises to one another about how we want to serve together, and then we’ll celebrate with food and cake. We hope you can make it!
Early Thanksgiving Blessings,
Kristin and Christian
From Rev. Christian, October 2016
As we enter October, ghosts are on our minds. That’s our monthly worship theme—and Day of the Dead, Samhain, and Halloween all fall at the end of this month—and if you haven’t seen the recent Ghostbusters movie, we recommend it! But even if none of that resonates with you, it’s worth keeping those ghosts in mind, anyway.
A historic congregation has a lot of ghosts, though perhaps not of the spooky, floating apparition type. Ghosts here might mean those habits, thoughts, and ideas that have come down to us from those who were here before. Many of these are friendly ghosts—think “Casper”—that are still providing helpful information, grounding, and guidance for us as we move into the future. Others might have been great ideas of their time that it is now time to let go of as we move forward.
In our own lives, we carry similar ghosts at times. Opportunities missed, people who are no longer with us, or choices that didn’t work out (or even the ones that did but meant another possibility was lost!). For many, this is a time of year to ponder these and consider how we might move forward, with or without them.
And as we barrel on towards Election Day in November, let’s remember that our country has a lot of ghosts, too, those specters of the past that continue to haunt us: racism, sexism, poverty, economic inequality. As the great writer William Faulkner once put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We live with both the gifts and challenges of the past, and it’s up to each of us to reckon with these. Recently, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has made headlines for not standing during the national anthem at his team’s games. Many have criticized him and called him unpatriotic. Others have praised him for highlighting the U.S.A.’s deeply troubled relationship with people of color, and a national anthem written by a slaveholder that recalls capturing slaves who have sought freedom. Whatever one might think of Kaepernick’s decision, I’m grateful to him for pushing us to consider deeply and critically something many of us take for granted.
As we move through October, I hope you will take time to consider our ghosts, that we might learn, love, and come together in community.