From the Board: Results of Our Congregational Meeting

On June 1st, 2014 we held our annual congregational meeting. It was well-attended and lively. The congregation voted to elect our 2014 – 2015 Officers and Board members:

  • President: Carol Alfus(returning)
  • Vice President: Judy Stettner (newly elected)
  • Treasurer: Sandra Lott (returning)
  • Secretary: Scott Brix (returning)
  • Greg Dionne (newly elected)
  • Gale Harris (returning)
  • George (“Kaz”) Kazlusky (newly elected)
  • Sue McCowin (returning)
  • Ron Relic (returning)

We also elected our Nominating/Leadership Development committee:

  • Marcia Johnson
  • Lily Bailey
  • Kathe Lacey-Anderson

And a new Endowment Committee:

  • Ed Robbins (chair)
  • Whit Sears
  • Sandy Light

After much discussion, including a commitment from the board to solicit additional funds from every member to cover Fair Share costs ($88 per year,) the congregation adopted the budget recommended by the Board.    This budget projects a deficit of over $8000 and cuts all program budgets (and the minister’s professional expenses) by 15%. It was noted several times at the meeting that this is not sustainable and the congregation recommended that the Board lead a process for congregational reflection on and commitment to our mission and vision and  a strategic plan for going forward.

It was also noted that though we projected a similar deficit last year, (over $6000) if pledges are honored and paid on time, we will end this year with a surplus. We are currently about 11% behind on pledge payments. If that continues, we will not have a surplus, but will likely end the year slightly in the red.

If you’d like to make sure your pledge is paid up-to-date, please call the church office at 815-322-2464

Minister’s Mind: Cabaret Church

About a year and a half ago, several things came together that started me thinking about what “church” might look like in the future.  I was seeing article after article and study after study asking the same question:  Is the church, as we know it, dying?

It’s a tough but important question based on the numbers: almost every mainline denomination is shrinking and shrinking fast.  A majority of people in our country, when asked about religious affiliation, answer “none.”  Because I’m a minister, this both terrified and fascinated me. The terror, of course, is because my livelihood is at risk. What’s fascinating is thinking about possibilities. After all, in theological circles, death is not necessarily the end. There is always room for resurrection.  What would “church” look like if it was reborn as something more relevant, interesting, and life-giving for the future?

At the same time I was thinking about all that, I was being reminded that for many years I considered myself a poet and an artist.  Even during seminary, I made a point to take at least one art class each semester to nurture my creativity.  But ever since I entered full-time ministry, I’ve struggled to hang on to even a little of that part of my life. When people asked about my poetry, I say, “I feel like I use up all my words in sermons.” And when they asked about art in general, I answer, “I just can’t find the time…”

As I’ve gotten to know the people who make up Tree of Life, I’ve found I’m certainly not alone.  Our congregation is full of artists. Look around on a Sunday morning and you will see and hear our passion for the arts all around the building. Think about the congregation’s history and you’ll no doubt think of Dille’s Follies, the Choir’s amazing Concerts, Our Haystacks Coffee House and Jam Nights, Diversity Day, Art shows… This is a congregation that values creativity, beauty, art, and artists.

Then I discovered artist and musician Amanda Palmer, formerly of The Dresden Dolls, and now a prolific solo artist. Amanda’s music, art, poetry, and openness and community with her fans has become a big inspiration. Her TED talk on The Art of Asking amazed me with its relevance to my life as a minister.  Amanda has long called her musical style “Punk Cabaret” which also got me thinking about—and studying—the history and culture of the Cabaret—which was both an artistic movement and a response to increasingly oppressive, even fascist, politics in Europe and beyond.

I began imagining what would happen if “church” was infused with art, with the passion and humor and daring of the Cabaret?  I wrote an article called “Why Amanda Palmer Makes Me Think About Church” and published it on my personal blog.  The response was overwhelming, especially (but not only!) from young people. In comment after comment I read, “I would go to a church like that!”

That inspired me to create some online spaces where I could share information about this crazy new concept of “Cabaret Church” with people who were excited about the idea. I created a tumblr blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account where I share ideas and art that inspire me. I also began to write about what I call the three core commitments of Cabaret Church: art, compassion, and resistance.  These ideas seemed to catch on among a lot of people, both Amanda Palmer fans and Unitarian Universalists. I started dreaming of bringing these people together, face-to-face for something that would a combination of cabaret, tent revival, and art festival.

Last August, when the Board met on retreat, I timidly shared my idea.  The Board surprised me with their unequivocal support and enthusiasm.  In February, when I decided to apply for grant money to fund a gathering, they voted unanimously to support the idea and act as “fiscal agent” for Cabaret Church.  At our recent congregational meeting (June 1), I let the congregation know that we had received the grant.

You may be asking, “Why didn’t we know about this before now?” The most important reason is that I didn’t want Cabaret Church to be a distraction. Tree of Life is growing and maturing as a congregation and that work is incredibly important. Cabaret Church is not meant to be a replacement for all that we do so well, but an addition to it. Since the soonest we could gather is Spring 2015, I didn’t want to interrupt the good work we’ve been doing.  I also didn’t want to draw attention away from the many amazing events already happening: the Monstrously Good Auction, the weekly worship services which just get better and better, our time with our Intern Minister, the Rummage Sale, and our amazing Wedding on June 8.

But now is the time. We’ve received grant money from the Unitarian Universalist Funding Panel and gifts from gracious donors. On June 25th the next phase of fundraising begins: We’ll be a launch project for Faithify—the UUA’s new crowdfunding platform—where we hope to raise the final bit of money we need to make a Cabaret Church gathering happen. When the campaign begins, we will send you an email with a link to it. We hope you’ll share it with all your Unitarian Universalist and artist friends who could help support this re-envisioning of what church can be.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about Cabaret Church as we get the details worked out. Right now, I think of it as a big, joyful experiment that has the potential to reveal to us that church is not dying at all. It is being transformed.

Wedding Service



Dearly Beloved,

We have a joyful and profound purpose here today and it is fitting to begin with a moment of reverence, aware of and grateful for the innumerable forces that have made this moment possible.


In this moment of promising

May each of us be present to love

And aware of the sacredness of this ceremony.

May we all be blessed as we witness their commitment,

But most of all, may these couples be blessed

as they entrust themselves again to love and to each other.

May they continue to be courageous in their loving.

May their love shine through moments of difficulty

as well as times of joy.

May their confidence in each other never waver.

As we celebrate with them today,

may our hearts be fully open to the power of love

may our minds be fully open to the courage of commitment

may our eyes, our ears and our whole bodies be open to the beauty of this sacred event so that it may transform us all.

May we meet this moment reverently

and fully faithful to the promise of love.

Amen, Ashé, and Blessed Be.



Reading  from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams


“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”


“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”


“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.


“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”


“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”


“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”




Love Makes a Way


The women who stand here before you represent 83/98 years of love and commitment.  They have already been together through good times and hard times, through sickness and health, through times of loss and times of joy. That anyone might doubt or demean the love that is present in this room is unfathomable to me, for when I look around this room, Love is all I see.


These couples that stand in front of us now are not fragile beginners in love, but are proof positive that Love will make a way when there seems to be no way. When their relationships began, marriage equality seemed an impossibility. Still, they made and marked their commitment through ceremonies, civil unions, and—hardest of all—the realities of life together, day by day, sorrow by sorrow and celebration by celebration. They have laughed and cried together, found their way through disagreement and disappointment, celebrated each other’s successes and held one another through long nights of worry and fear.


We are not here to legitimize their love, but to learn from it. To celebrate the example of these women, who despite all of the obstacles, found ways to Love and keep Loving, even though their relationships were neither recognized or valued by law. These women before you had both the courage and the strength to keep loving each other in a world where it was—and still can be—both difficult and dangerous.  These four/five couples are examples of what Love can and should be and what commitment looks like.


Theresa and Mary are new to our congregation, but I have already loved watching them laugh together and pitch right in to help however they can. They have shown me their big hearts and their commitment to each other and to helping make the world a better place.


Gale and Deb have together for 26 years, in good times and in bad. Their love is deep and strong—strong enough to weather each time Gale brings home a new dog. They have been, for me, an example of caring—for each other, for this congregation, for those who are suffering in this world, and yes, even for baby squirrels.


Mary and Barb have built an amazing life together and I have witnessed the way they have helped each other through times of grief and great joy with love that I can only admire. They have given years of their time to the youth of this congregation and to help create a women’s group in this congregation. They share their love and their talents joyfully.


Jodi and Megan I’ve only recently met, but their love for each other is obvious. In just a short time, I’ve come to appreciate the way they encourage and care for one another and light up the room with laughter. Their commitment has sustained them through challenging times, and their love continues to make a way forward in their lives.


Today, as these amazing women marry, they are choosing to commit themselves anew to the Love which has already sustained them and which will never cease to challenge them to keep learning, keep risking, and keep caring for each other and for the world around them.


Love, as we all know, is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling.  It is a powerful and mysterious force that lures human beings out of selfishness and into partnerships of mutuality and caring.  Love, as we have heard many times before, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  It is this that these couples have been seeking and have found in each other.  It is this powerful, mysterious, and compelling love that has brought them, and us with them, to this moment.


Each of these couples knows the value of love that must love.  Their relationships are each based on deep and enduring friendship and that friendship is built on mutual and profound respect.  They have learned to have faith in life and in each other.   They have made a conscious decision to live lives that are caring, genuine, and whole.


Mary and Theresa, Deb and Gale,  Barb and Mary, Megan and Jodi… (Barb and ______________) you have chosen Love over fear.  You have chosen the risk of trust rather than the security of isolation.  You have chosen to be faithful to one another, to your family and friends, and most importantly, to Love. We are here today to witness and honor the beauty of your commitment to one another and to offer our support and blessing of your marriage as you, once again, give yourself to Love.


Vows & Exchanging Rings


As you prepare to make the promises that will form this marriage between you, remember the respect, patience, and laughter that have sustained you thus far.  As you speak your vows to one another, know that your love and commitment are holy and will bless not only you, but also a world that so needs more people who choose to live lives of love. Will the officiants come forward, to lead each couple in their vows?



It is my privilege to offer you the first of what I hope will be many blessings upon your marriage:


May your love for one another be a dance of two souls

joined together in love, respect, and deep friendship.

May the joy of this day sustain you,

May the promises made today

remain forever unbroken

as you share your lives from this day forward.  Amen!



It is now my honor, in the presence of all who have gathered here to bear witness to your love and  commitment and by the power vested in me by the state of Illinois to pronounce you legally married.  You may celebrate your marriage with a kiss.


June 22–A Playful Life

Studies show that the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is more true than we may have thought. Join us to explore the importance of play to our spiritual, physical, and emotional lives.