October News from Our Minister

Greetings everyone. First of all, I want to thank all those who sent me good wishes before I went to Boston to visit the Ministerial Fellowship Committee at the end of September.  Your support and good feelings helped me achieve something that I’ve been working toward since starting seminary 4 years ago—becoming a fellowshipped minister with the UUA. Our congregational polity states that any church can ordain anyone they wish, regardless if a person is fellowshipped with the UUA or not. I chose to go through with that process because I want the sanction of our national governing body. Now that I’ve passed, I can become ordained.  When, how and where that happens remains to be seen. But I will keep you all up to date as that progresses. But for now, I can say that I’ve graduated from the Not Yet Rev. Kevin to Almost Rev. Kevin.

This month’s theme is Sanctuary. This past summer this church became a literal sanctuary to a family from Romania.  I was pleased to hear that they have all been reunited in Romania and that our church was a big help in keeping that family together. I’ve also been thinking about recent news events that have brought to light issues of white supremacy and toxic masculinity and the intersectionality of both. While no institution is free of either of these issues, my hope is that our church can be a sanctuary where we can talk about what white supremacy means and how it’s affected all of us. Perhaps by opening a dialog with each other, and eventually the wider world around us, we can find ways to heal each other from participating in a culture we didn’t ask for. Perhaps we can offer sanctuary to those who don’t want to partake in the institutions that prevent us from being our best selves, that find ways to prevent us from being fully human. As I mentioned during the window dedication, my hope is that we can be the beacon that can help heal a bruised and hurting world.

Almost Rev. Kevin DeBeck

Minister’s Mind: Creation

April is here and it’s already been wild. Thundersnow and blustery winds, sunshine and daffodils–sometimes at the same time! Living in the prairie midwest is exciting, beautiful, and sometimes strange. The seasons are a paradox of predictability and surprise. There is never a lack of things to experience, witness, and talk about in our little corner of creation.

We’ve already been busy here at Tree of Life, with the amazing Haystack’s Coffee House, our clean-up day that made the building sparkle, and The Church of Vivaldi: Spring filling our sanctuary and our souls with beautiful music. And we have so much to look forward to: April 10th’s service (by members of the Worship Arts Team) about Feeding Your Creative Spirit,  the Western Crescent Choir Festival that same afternoon in Rockford, and on the 17th. an Earth Day service that includes one of our favorite traditions: the Flower Ceremony.

We will also be celebrating our Sesquicentennial (that’s 150 years!) the weekend of April 23 – 24th. The weekend will include a tour of our former building (now the Blue Lotus Temple in Woodstock,) an Open House at our current location with displays about the congregation’s history, a Gala Dinner and Celebration with music from each decade, and a Sunday Service and Celebration with special guest preacher, Rev. Barbara Merritt, who served the congregation from 1975 to 1982.

As we hope you have heard, April also marked the launch of our new Year-Round Giving process. The first letters have gone out and the first pledge has been received! Our hope is to emphasize generosity, gratitude, and community by shifting our focus and our process. Each month, we will be in conversation with approximately one twelfth of the congregation, communicating the congregation’s needs and vision and asking for a pledge of financial support. As pledges come in, volunteer Pledge Captains will acknowledge and thank our givers personally and follow-up by hosting a small thank you event that will do something else that means a lot to our members: create an opportunity to build relationships and community.

The most important question we can ask ourselves and each other is “What would be missing if there were no Tree of Life Congregation?” What would be missing in our own lives, in the communities around us, and in the world?The answer to this question helps clarify the purpose and mission that Tree of Life already fulfills. It may also help us see what is missing—how we could be even more connected and relevant as we move forward.

We hope the Year-Round Giving process will be a positive and creative way to help people understand how important Tree of Life is in their lives and the larger community and respond by giving. We also hope that the changes we’ve made will relieve some anxiety and free up a lot of volunteer time and energy for other fun projects and programs. We will be evaluating the new process regularly and “tweaking” as we learn what is most effective and meets the needs of the congregation. We’re approaching the changes as a grand experiment based on research and “best practices” in the not-for-profit and church fundraising world.

April will also be a full month for me, as I travel to the first-ever Retreat for Transgender UU Religious Professionals. This is an event that several of us have been working to make happen for almost fifteen years. Of the 32 transgender religious professionals we are aware of in the UUA, 18 will be attending, along with 2 UUA staff members and an outside facilitator. I will be in California from April 9 – 16 for this event.

This month is full of so many good things–music, celebration, history, creativity, and community! Let’s celebrate together!

Love Will Guide Us,


Rev. Sean



Minister’s Mind: Liberation

Liberation is a word we may hear often, but may or may not think much about. Women’s Liberation, political liberation, even Liberation Theology may come to mind, but may seem distant issues and not part of our own personal lives. This month, we ask ourselves “What does it mean to be a people of liberation?” How does being Unitarian Universalist or a part of the Tree of Life community challenge and inspire us to liberation? (Our own or other’s.)

In order to know the answer, I think each of us has to take time to look at our life. Have we allowed ourselves to become creatures of habit, living by rote instead of by intention? Have we begun to worry so much about what others will think that we make choices based on fear instead of our real desires and self-knowledge? Have we gotten stuck in unhealthy patterns, even addictions? Do our lives reflect our actual values and passions, or something else, dictated from outside?

We also have to look at the ways we might be a force for liberation beyond ourselves, which can sometimes be tough. What are the things that keep us silent when we could speak out for another’s liberation? Are we more afraid of what will happen if we do speak out than what will happen if we don’t? Has cynicism gripped us so tightly that we don’t even believe we can make a difference? Are we afraid to make a mistake? Do we worry that if we rock the boat we will end up alone?

One thing I know for certain about liberation is that it is far easier to create together than alone. Liberating one’s self, without companions along for courage, strength, and accountability is almost impossible. And liberating our world from greed, prejudice, and hatred is going to take us all–a whole movement of people dedicated to collective liberation. We say it often: No one is free until all are free. What does it mean to live it?

I invite you to talk to me, any member of the board, or each other about what you’d like to see Tree of Life do as a first step to being a people of liberation. Supportive small group ministry? Putting up a “Black Lives Matter” sign? Work to alleviate poverty and homelessness in McHenry county? Let’s get liberating!

Here is a link to the fantastic Soul Matters resource packet on Liberation.

Minister’s Mind: Resistance

I had to laugh when I saw that the Soul Matters theme for January was resistance. So much is changing–in the world, in our lives, and at Tree of Life–and resistance is so often our response to change. It’s a good thing, I think, for us to take a look at resistance and try to see how it helps and hinders us in this changing world.

So much of the media is full of fear-mongering, scapegoating, and even hatred as politicians, parties, and ideologies jockey for power. It seems like many in our nation and in the whole world are afraid and keep looking for ways to keep things the same. It’s hard to admit that the old systems are beginning to fail us. It’s scary to wonder what will happen if we cannot trust the way things have always been. It’s what we know.

The new movements for social and environmental justice that are emerging are both a cause and effect of these changes. Climate change is real and people are beginning to wake up to the possibility of devastating consequences. Social media makes us aware of the brutality with which police have long treated Black people. We see the faces of refugees in ways we did not just a few years ago. We see them and we are changed. And that can be uncomfortable, even painful.

Some people are motivated by these changes to try to make a difference. We’re seeing new efforts–at the grassroots and beyond–that call for a more just, equitable, and compassionate way. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that call. But we may also be uneasy with the anger behind it or the lack of clarity about how to get from here to there. All of this is resistance.

At Tree of Life, we are working hard to understand and respond to the changes all around us. We are looking at the research, asking a lot of questions, and trying to respond to the trends and the needs in our world, including us. We are creating new ways to be together and new ways for our Sunday service to uplift us. We are also creating new systems that acknowledge that people’s lives are changing and are often so full that they don’t have the time to volunteer. We’re trying to adapt, and that means we have to experiment with new ways of doing things.

The Church of ______________

Tom Steffens and I are excited to begin collaborating on a new kind of worship service that we’ve been dreaming of for years. Four times between January and May, you are invited to explore the power of music with us during our Sunday morning Service. On January 24, we kick off our “The Church of _______” series with The Church of Jazz: Duke Ellington In February, we’ll have The Church of Folk, featuring Joe Jencks.  In April, we will celebrate classical music and in May, we are hoping to unveil The Church of Rock.

At each of these services, music will take center stage. Professional musicians will share their talent, interwoven with readings, quotes, and commentary on the artist, the genre, and the message of the music. We know that music touches a deep place in us and we hope that this new way of worshiping together will be moving and inspiring, as we look at all the changes in the world and hope to be transformed as well.

Our New Year-round Pledge Process

The next big change you’ll be seeing is to the way we ask you to support the congregation financially. Instead of relying on volunteers to create, manage, and implement an Annual Pledge Drive, we are creating a year-round system. (Click here to read the proposal the Board approved.) Our administrator, Mila Brinker, and I will take the lead to set up the new system. Each month a group of members, friends, and other donors will receive information about the congregation, our financial needs, and the possibilities of growth through generous giving. A volunteer Pledge Captain will help follow-up by paying thankful attention to our givers: expressing gratitude, answering questions, and hosting an event for that month’s givers.

We hope this new way of doing fundraising will free up much of the time and energy of our volunteers, as well as ease anxiety. Instead of the past process that started each year from zero, we’ll start with the idea that our givers are going to continue to support the congregation and will give a little more each year to absorb rising costs and grow our programs and mission. After all, this congregation has been around for 150 years so far. We’ve decided that trust and gratitude are a better way to start our fundraising! We hope you think so too.

As we continue to adapt to a changing world, we hope you will continue to be involved at Tree of Life however you can. If you are interested in the way congregations and their leaders are learning and growing together, you’re invited to join us for Reinventing Church Leadership–a cluster-wide workshop hosted by our congregation in Elgin on January 30th.  The day will feature workshops, projects, and a keynote address by Rev. Nancy Bowen, Regional Lead of the Pacific West Region of the UUA, called Making Meaning while Evolving and Adapting. The cost for the day, including lunch, is $15.

Love Will Guide Us,

Rev. Sean

P.S. Here is this months packet of resources on Resistance.

Minister’s Mind–Expectation

December is a month full of expectations. For some, those expectations are an inspiration and a joy. For others, this season includes much disappointment and sadness.  In the busy rush of the season, I often find myself remembering the words of Rev.Mark Belletini who wrote, “Take care of yourselves as bodies, for you are a good gift.”  In this hectic time—whether joyful of sad or some combination of both—I hope each of you will remember to take care of yourself.  In that spirit, I offer you this calendar of care:

  • December 1— Reflect for a moment on your greatest accomplishment.
  • December 2—Take time to breathe deeply today.
  • December 3— Take care of your body by eating three balanced, healthy meals.
  • December 4— Give a compliment. (to yourself or another.)
  • December 5— Find five minutes to sit still.
  • December 6—Come to Tree of Life for “From What Remains,” a service about Hanukkah.
  • December 7—Make two wishes: one for yourself and one for the world.
  • December 8—Notice something beautiful and pay attention to it.
  • December 9—Get a good night’s sleep.
  • December 10—Play.  Get out the dreidel or the playing cards, or go to the park.
  • December 11—Make a date with someone you’ve been meaning to spend time with.
  • December 12— Come to the Cookie Walk and indulge in some homemade sweetness.
  • December 13—Come join us for a No-Rehearse Christmas Pageant at Tree of Life.
  • December 14—Write down three things for which you feel grateful.
  • December 15—Spend a few minutes just sitting with your eyes closed, listening.
  • December 16—Make a phone call to someone you love.
  • December 17—Acknowledge the grief that may also be present at the holidays. Come to our Blue Christmas Service at 7 pm.
  • December 18—Give something away.
  • December 19—Say “I love you” to yourself and mean it.
  • December 20—Come to church to celebrate as the Wheel of the Year turns towards light. Fill your heart with song at the Holiday Concert at 4:30 pm.
  • December 21—Tonight’s the longest night of the year.  Revel in darkness.
  • December 22—Look for a reason to smile, chuckle, even belly laugh!  Do it!
  • December 23— Say “yes” to something you’ve been wanting.
  • December 24—Celebrate with us at the tradition candlelight Christmas Eve service, 7:00 pm
  • December 25—Look for real gifts and say thank you.
  • December 26— Make time to rest, relax, recover.
  • December 27—Come to church and learn about Hope Where We Least Expect It.
  • December 28—Be a secret giver now, when no one’s expecting it!
  • December 29—Think about your hopes for the next year.  Say “yes.”
  • December 30— Listen to a song that reminds you of a favorite time. Let yourself linger in the memory.
  • December 31—Say a tender good-bye to the old year and hello to the new.

For more resources for the December Soul Matters Theme, click here.

Love will guide us,

siggoodRev. Sean

Minister’s Mind: Ancestry

Who are your ancestors? Who are the people who have made you who you are? Can you name your biological ancestors? Your spiritual ones?

Our theme for November is “Ancestry” and it has already stirred these questions and more in me. Thinking of my biological ancestors is most often an opening for gratitude. I remember those who made a way for me, who sowed and planted, worked and built, weeded and harvested. Even though they were far from perfect, they did the best they could and I am here because of them. I would not be who I am without all of them–their mistakes and their triumphs. I am glad to be reminded of this.

My spiritual ancestors are another story. These are my chosen line, the thinkers, artists, and rabble-rousers that I take courage from and hope to emulate. These are the lineage of my heart, my soul, and my calling. These are the ministers who preached truth when it was unpopular and dangerous. These are the artists who reveal the truths of naked emperors and pierce the veil of apathy and numbness. These are the gender outlaws who trusted who they knew themselves to be and began to build the world that could hold them. These are the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights pioneers who rallied to the side of the broken, the oppressed, the abused. Remembering these spiritual ancestors is an opening for courage and for the strength that comes from knowing that we are not alone.

Then there is the sense of connection that opens from knowing that in fact, we are descended from the cosmos itself. We are connected to everything and everything is connected to us. Remember this is an opening for awe, for that feeling of being part of something vast and holy and beautiful. Remember this is an opening for inspiration and reverence for all that surrounds and upholds us, all that connects us through time and space. This sense of belonging is also a source of gratitude.

This month, as we explore the theme of ancestry, see what opens in you. There are amazing resources from our Soul Matters partners here. Questions, activities, movies, books, readings, music…there are so many ways to bring our themes into your life between Sundays.

Love will Guide Us,

Rev. Sean

The Minister’s Mind: Letting Go

This month’s “Soul Matters” theme is one that it seems like we human beings need to return to again and again. Even though we know that change is inevitable and resisting it is painful, we tend to get anxious when it’s happening to us. We’ve learned a lot from the Buddhists who know so deeply that it is our stubborn attachment and clinging that causes suffering, and yet…when the time comes to let go, we still have a hard time with it.  We need constant reminders to open our hands and let go. It takes too much effort and causes too much pain to stay stuck.

One of my favorite reminders is this poem by Jack Gilbert:

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

May each of us practice letting go. May we do so gently and celebrate our triumph.

You can find more resources on Letting Go (films, books, quotes, activities, questions…) in the Soul Matters packet here.

Love will Guide Us,

Rev. Sean



Minister’s Mind: Invitation

One of the things Unitarian Universalists are most proud of is the wideness of our welcome. So many of us have felt excluded for one reason or another in our lives and, in response, have made a commitment to truly embrace the worth of every person by making room for them in our congregations and our lives.

Sometimes we’re puzzled that our commitment hasn’t meant that our congregations are more diverse. We look around on Sunday mornings and see and awful lot of people who look like us, sound like us, and believe like us. Even though we hope to be truly diverse communities, we’re often disappointed that the reality doesn’t match the ideal.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes it is chalked up to human nature, but I think watching groups of young children play together is pretty good evidence that the way we respond to difference is learned. If no one interrupts them, groups of children seem more curious about differences than wary of them. But somehow, as we grow, it seems that barriers begin to grow.

At Tree of Life, it’s easy to say that our lack of diversity is because of the demographics of McHenry County. According to 2013 data, if we reflected the population of our county, our congregation would be about 82 percent white, 12 percent Latina/0, with the remaining 6 percent being a mix of other races and mixed race people.  It also means that 8 percent of us would not have graduated from high school and only 32 percent of us would have a Bachelor’s degree. We’d have only 49 percent of our members reporting that they were married, and about a third of our households would have children at home. Only ten percent of us would be over age 65. About 8 percent of those under 65 would have a disability of some kind, and 35 percent of those over 65 would report a disability. Approximately 15 percent of us would have been born outside the United States or in Puerto Rico. Over 22 percent would speak a language other than English at home. 14 percent of us would have incomes below the poverty level. The median age of our community would be 37.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. It seems that congregations–where people go to form deep relationships that address our core values–reflect not our ideals, but the realities of societal separation by class, race,age. income, language, sexual orientation, and ability. It is not how we want to be, but it reflects how we are and and how we think about our congregations. So often I hear Unitarian Universalists talk in glowing terms about our congregations as groups of “like-minded” people and I always wonder why we would be satisfied with that. Our faith calls us to be something more.

This month, as we explore the theme “invitation”–I hope we will all look around and begin to think about who and what we invite into our lives and spaces. Are there people or parts of ourselves that we “cover” or push aside in order to belong? Do we truly embrace and celebrate the dignity of every person? Will we invite them to church and if they accept our invitation, will we invite them to be fully themselves, willing for our community to be changed by their presence?

To learn more, check out the packet of Soul Matters resources for this month.



Minister’s Mind: Stories

What does it mean to be a people of stories? It’s our stories that make us who we are and give us ways to share that with each other. A big part of Unitarian Universalism is the commitment to honor one another’s stories, especially those that define our deepest commitments and beliefs. Our Sunday services this month will be full of opportunities to think about, hear, and share meaningful stories.stainglasswindows

As we move through August, we finish up the summer, it’s time to gear up for the Tree of Life sesquicentennial. That’s right, on October 24, 1865, a few brave people signed the charter that formed the congregation that grew into Tree of Life. You can read about the congregation’s history here. We’ll celebrate together with music, a special guest in the pulpit, and a very special project that will beautify our building and honor our past and future.

MichelleWe also welcome our two interns this month.  Michelle Lattanzio and Misha Lentz are both beginning their Congregational Studies year at Meadville Lombard seminary in Chicago. Each of them will be engaged with Tree of Life and other cluster congregations  half-time (~20 hours a week.)

I will act as their Teaching Pastor, supervising their work and reflection, and Rev. Matthew Johnson in Rockford will provide support and additional opportunities for learning. We will be looking for five people to work closely with Misha and Michelle over the next 24 months, giving them feedback on their ministerial presence, preaching, and overall gifts for ministry. If you’re interested in being part of the Teaching Team, please let me or one of the interns know.Misha This is a chance to participate in a minister’s formation–a gift to that minister and to Unitarian Universalism as a whole.

There are many exciting things happening this year! Don’t forget to collect water for our annual Water Ceremony on August 30th. And be thinking about who you’ll invite to our first Bring a Friend Sunday on September 20. That day, we’ll gear the whole morning toward folks we think would be great Unitarian Universalists. We hope that by encouraging everyone to invite a friend on the same day, we can create an atmosphere of welcome that makes it fun and easy for newcomers to feel part of Tree of Life.

We’ll also be launching some new groups and educational opportunities, so keep your eye on Happenings to learn the details. In case you’re wondering about me, I’m on study leave–a time of preparation, reading and planning for the year–until August 13, when I return to my regular office hours. In September, I’ll also be restarting my Community Office Hours in various coffee shops around McHenry County. See you soon.


Minister’s Mind–Health & Healing

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie —
True Poems flee —

 ~Emily Dickinson

July is a time that many ministers, myself included, take time to rest, restore body and soul, and reconnect with hobbies, passions, and the friends and family who sustain us.  Having made it through another fiscal and program year and another amazing General Assembly, I’m ready to take some time to see and appreciate the Summer Sky. 

Taking time to slow down helps us all heal. The long, warm days often allow us to shift our rhythm and spend some time each doing something we love: playing, walking, watching nature unfold her full beauty…and that helps us come back to balance. In a world that values productivity, it’s good to remember that we are meant for more than work and have value beyond our labor.

Even the Soul Matters program takes the summer off, so we don’t have a resource packet this month, though your Worship Arts Team chose the theme “Health & Healing” for July. We’re hoping our summer services provide chances to stay connected to what is important and to each other.

We’ll be exploring compassion with incoming intern Misha Lentz, hearing from Rev. Lou Ness about her ongoing work for justice, exploring the work of Joseph Campbell with Ron Relic, and learning more about eating healthy and local with members of the Food Shed Co-op.

While I am on vacation, our administrator, Mila, is able to contact me in case of emergency. She is in the office Tuesday – Friday. If there is an emergency on a weekend, please contact our President, Judy Stettner, who will also have my contact information.

While I am away, I hope you will also have a chance to attend to the health of your whole being. I’ll see you in August!