The Minister’s Mind–Service

One of the core values of Unitarian Universalism is a commitment to making the world a better place. Often, we jump in to lead or even found efforts and organizations for this purpose. What we aren’t always as comfortable with is the idea of service. Sometimes “service” is associated with being “less than” or with a level of oppression and sacrifice that makes us uncomfortable.

In the past few years, many of our congregations and organizations, as well as the association as a whole, have become aware that our focus on leadership and justice sometimes gets in the way. Sometimes, in our hurry to “help,” we forget to listen to the true needs of the people. We may jump in and create a solution without having really heard the problem. Or we might come in as “saviors” instead of encouraging and empowering people to be their own leaders. To create justice, we have to be in right relationship with the people we hope to help and often, a better way to start that relationship is with an attitude of service.

Serving others does imply humility. Rather than focusing on our own desire to make things better or fix things, we wait and ask, “What can I do to help?” Sometimes the answer will be “Nothing.” Sometimes it will be, “Do this thing no one else will do.” Sometimes it will be “Join us in our struggle.” Sometimes it will be, “Listen and learn.” Service doesn’t demand a specific role or task. It doesn’t ask for recognition. It just does what needs to be done.

The word “ministry” comes from the Latin root ministrare which means “to serve.” Unitarian Universalists have long believed in and worked toward shared ministry, where no one person serves alone. The congregation works together—ordained or not, old or young, wealthy or poor, expert or beginner—to serve the mission and purpose of the congregation.  It’s not about having the biggest building or the biggest congregation, but about having a big heart.

By building relationships with each other, our communities, and the larger world, we are positioned well to minister to and with each other, in the Spirit of Love.

MONSTER-ously Good Auction

monsterJoin us at 7 pm on Saturday, November 2 for the event of the year!

Ghosts, goblins, and ghoulies still hanging around from Halloween will be looking for bargains and we have them! Our Silent Auction will feature personal and business services, meals, get-a-ways, tickets to theater and sporting event, and a chance to ride a Harley for a day! The live auction includes a beautiful vintage Brunswick Panatrope (circa 1923), hand-crafted jewelry, unique parties and events, a quilted wall hanging, many works of  art and other fun and valuable items.

In addition to the silent and open auctions, the evening will include live musical entertainment and refreshments.

Kids will have their own auction with play money. (Bring an outgrown or unwanted toy from home for the auction.) A fun and age appropriate movie will also be shown.

Costumes are optional but add to the fun. Surprise us!

Admission is free to the public. There is plenty of parking.

Your Truth, Your Story

In a small group ministry, or “Chalice Circle” as it’s frequently called in UU congregations, meaningful questions are explored in a way that encourages each group member to look for his/her story.  In the process of exploring the questions, stories are shared in an environment of attentive, caring listening and in this framework, ties of friendship grow and are strengthened.

The following are excerpts taken from an article by Christine Robinson and Alicia Hawkins, that appeared in the UU World and that give an overview of the dynamics of the small group ministry:

Deep listening means listening from the heart rather than the mind or ego. It grows out of silence. Deep listening happens when people listen without responding, so they don’t have to think about what to say, what the other person needs to hear, or how to heal the person or solve the problem.

When we speak from our hearts and talk about ourselves—saying what has happened to us, how we believe and feel and think—we find not only that we have gained from hearing ourselves, but that our stories have been interesting to others in the group.

When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honored. If your problem is soul-deep, your soul alone knows what you need to do about it, and my presumptuous advice will only drive your soul back into the woods.

When the heart is speaking and the heart is listening, silence becomes fulfilling. After some practice at this, the early awkwardness is gone and the silence becomes as rich as a river of love flowing to and from the listener.

(The full article can be found at

Listening is a way to show respect, regard, love.  Listening and speaking are a dynamic: we speak more of what we value when we feel valued by people’s attentive listening.

We are currently restarting one Chalice Circle and forming a new one. There will be a Circle meeting the 1st Sunday of the month, from 9:00 – 10:00 in the basement youth room (or we can make other meeting arrangements if there are mobility challenges).  There will be another Circle meeting the 4th Wednesday of the month, from 7:00 – 8:30, in the sanctuary.

Although anyone can join a group at any time or attend just once to check out the format, after joining the group, the program structure only works well when group members make a commitment to attend regularly.  Signing up with the intention of regular attendance is respectful to the members of the group and is also the approach that is most rewarding to the individual.   Open to adults and youth, there is a maximum of 10 members in each group.

Next 1st Sunday:  October 6,  9:00 – 10:00

Next 4th Wednesday:  October 23,  7:00 – 8:30

For more information, contact M.E. Tanabe:    ph # 815-337-9895

The Minister’s Mind: Roots

One of the challenges at Tree of Life is that we are a religious community that consists of a lot of “come-outers” (people who come to us  from other faith traditions.)  Our congregation itself began in Congregationalism and moved away from a more traditional Christian identity–first to universalism, then to Unitarian Universalism. This means that we don’t always know much about Unitarian Universalist history or feel connected to its roots.  Even those who were raised  Unitarian Universalist sometimes learned more in our Religious Education classes  about other faith traditions than our own.

It’s easy to forget that Unitarian Universalism is not new.  Though our current configuration and polity were established in 1961 by the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, the story of our faith is much longer and deeper. People held unitarian and universalist beliefs for centuries–perhaps from the very beginning of Christianity–but because these ideas ran counter to the orthodox faith of the powerful, it was dangerous to try to organize a community around them.

So what are the roots of our faith?  What were the powerful  ideas that people were willing to risk their lives for?  What are the ideas that endured and that still hold us together?  Earl Morse Wilbur, famous for the epic volumes of Unitarian and Universalist history he wrote in the early 20th century, named three: “Freedom, Reason, and Tolerance.”

We might choose slightly different language today, but these three ideals remain the roots of our unique theology and practice.  They are heretical ideas in the classic sense, because they do not rely on the authority of others—the orthodoxy—to tell us what to believe.  (The etymology of the word “heresy” leads back to the root  “to choose.”) Instead, they invite and challenge us to wrestle with our own beliefs. The early Unitarians and Universalists faced imprisonment, excommunication, and death rather than let someone else determine what they would believe.  Our commitment to Freedom is one of the taproots of both our congregation and our tradition.

Reason is the root that keeps us balanced as a faith.  We measure our beliefs against the discoveries of science and humanity’s ever-increasing knowledge.  We don’t enforce a separation between the mind and the heart.  We know that when our beliefs are challenged, that is a good thing because it keeps us thinking, growing, and stretching.  Reason is a way of making sure our beliefs stay relevant and don’t slip into superstition. Yet we also know and honor that there is plenty of Mystery left, plenty of powerful metaphors and stories, plenty of love, hope, and other immeasurable qualities that are a part of a meaningful life and faith. We balance head and heart, reason and imagination, what we can know and what we cannot.

“Tolerance” is the name for the root that nourishes and enriches our communities. It is an old word for a concept we still cherish: the idea of acceptance of all and celebration of difference.  We do not reject and exclude people who believe or look or live differently than we do.  We often summarize this “root” idea with words attributed to Francis David, “We do not have to think alike to love alike.”   Instead of fearing or rejecting those whose beliefs or lives are different from our own, we know that we can learn and grow by being in community together.

These three ideas–Freedom, Reason, Tolerance–have upheld our communities and tradition for centuries, even as they set us apart and sometimes even endangered us. These days, they don’t seem all that radical and in fact, many mainstream churches embrace them, at least in part. We have and will continue to grow in our understanding of Freedom, Reason, and Tolerance as well, never doubting that these roots will continue to nourish our lives and congregations well into the future.

Sam Harris, one of the most vocal critics of religion and author of The End of Faith said in an interview with the UU World, ““If I could wave a magic wand and make everyone a Unitarian Universalist,” he began, “I’d be tempted to do so, because I doubt that people would then fly planes into buildings, blow up children at street corners, or bend U.S. foreign policy to conform with biblical prophecy.” But he also cautioned us not to allow our belief in tolerance to silence us in the face of dangerous extremism. Freedom, Reason, and Tolerance are beliefs that call us to act on behalf of those who do not enjoy them. Former President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. Bill Sinkford warns us similarly when he says, “the voice of the religious right has been enabled by our willingness to be silent for so long.” He describes his hope that, “we can begin moving toward a way of being religious people, which doesn’t mean striving to be right, but which understands that the pluralism within which we live could enrich all of us.”

May it be so.