In every life there are certain moments which partake of another, higher order of experience – peculiarly precious moments which offer serenity, hope, and strength and which allow us to return to the demands of daily life with renewed vitality and confidence.
The growth of a spiritual dimension in each of us as individuals seems to result in a multiplication and a deepening of such moments both in ourselves and in the world. - Elizabeth M. Jones, quoted by John Buehrens in Our Chosen Faith
The wonders of science, when viewed through the eyes of awe and mystery, can feel miraculous. I remember the Director of Religious Education at Unity Church-Unitarian telling stories of spring awakenings that evoke such wonder including as the beauty of budding tulips and the choir of song created by spring peepers (the small frogs that emerge from a frozen winter hibernation).
We witness the transformation of our natural environment throughout each season in Minnesota. Sometimes, our lives parallel such radical transformation and other times are more commonplace. Unitarian Universalism asks us to pay attention and recognize the “peculiarly precious moments” in our days. Our faith, which focuses on the journey of this life versus the destination of an afterlife, acknowledges the importance of each life and calls us to live with intention.
Daily spiritual practices turn us toward attention and intention. Spiritual practices including mediation, prayer, walking, coloring, or cooking can help us recognize the interconnection of our lives and our desire to be of use and at peace. I love Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement, “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” We are forever learning and in apprenticeship to some truth (with a little “t”). His words are anything but stagnant, they are words of motion, relationship, transitions, depth, and transformation.
How does being a part of Michael Servetus Unitarian Society contribute to your life? My hope is that this place, these people, and our living tradition help multiply and sustain your own spiritual growth, curiosity, and contributions to the world so desperately in need of our love and care.
To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out for another is to risk exposing our true self.
To place our ideals—our dreams—before the crowd is to risk loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
To live is to risk dying.
(Reading #658 from the Unitarian Universalist Association's Singing the Living Tradition)
A group of us gathered for the recent new member session in mid-February. We participated in a lively conversation about what attracts each of us to this faith. Many of us came from other faith traditions and recognized how our own questions and doubts were not welcome there. The attraction to Unitarian Universalism included: religious pluralism, the individual search for meaning, the desire to be connected with a community of people who care about social justice, the joy of being among open-minded people who want to continue to learn, and the diversity of sources one can turn to for exploration and spiritual practices. I was energized by the conversation. Many of us had to risk being seen as “different” in our own families and communities when we decided to be UUs. This difference can create real challenges, particularly with family members who believe we are putting our own salvation in jeopardy if we are “non-believers.”
The worship theme for March is risk. I believe that life is risky business—we wake each day uncertain of what may occur. Risk is inherent when we dream, love, speak up, make a change in our lives, create, or engage in justice making in private conversations or in the public square. There is an element of courage or faith that accompanies taking risks. There is something that drives us out of complacency and into the discomfort and excitement of growth.
This congregation took a risk by deciding to move into full-time ministry. I took a risk by saying, “yes,” to being called here. We are in the risky process of reflecting where we have been, who we are today, and who we long to be in the future. I believe we have a faith that breathes life and hope into the world. We are at a time when radical openness, living from a place of connection to all, and engaging in the work of justice truly matters. My hope is that MSUS is a place where you risk being truly alive. May this UU community inspire you to laugh, cry, reach out to one another, love, dream, and stay engaged in this free and responsible search for meaning and the call to create a better world.
Rev. Laura Smidzik
"Spirituality is meant to take us beyond our tribal identity into a domain of awareness that is more universal." Deepak Chopra
I remember attending a graduate-level psychology class at the University of Minnesota many years ago when I was working on my Masters of Educational Policy and Administration. The faculty member was talking about identity and I remember him specifically noting how being gay or lesbian (it was in the late 1990s so bisexuality and transgender were barely acknowledged) was a primary identity. I thought to myself, “That can’t be true, I am so much more than that one part of my identity.”
Today, I’d acknowledge that being a lesbian is certainly is central to my identity and has impacted many aspects of my life. Deeper family relationships, my understanding of engaged democracy, and continuing to learn how to impact unjust systems are some of the outcomes of coming out and living as an out and outspoken lesbian. It has also impacted my ability to understand and advocate for other marginalized groups who lack the privileges that are afforded to me and so many. The truth is that we all have multiple identities which intersect and inform our perspectives in our own personal lives and beyond. Intersectionality is a term we hear often in interfaith organizing work. It is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Intersectional community and political organizing is now more intentional with some unlikely coalitions forming around a common goal even if there are differences in other areas of policy or approaches to systemic change.
We enter into this new U.S. Presidency with great division in our country. Some have called out “identity politics” as being part of the problem. I believe we must honor our unique identities (which are complex and multi-layered) and find places where we can work for common cause with our UU Principles as our spiritual guide. As a faith community, my prayer is that we find a way to move beyond our “tribal identities” which can feed isolationism, self-righteousness, and close-mindedness in order to find points of commonality be they large or small. If we can’t do that here, where can we? Let our spirits guide us to stay awake to that which requires action and continue to call us to lives of generosity, understanding, and healing.
Rev. Laura Smidzik
Our worship theme for the month of January is prophecy. One of our sources is Jewish and Christian teachings, yet we rarely speak about the prophets of the Older Testament or the Torah in significant ways. I know that I am more likely to site the source of the words and deeds of prophetic people both past and present. With an open Canon, these prophetic voices are not limited by age, gender, nationality, religious perspective, or vocation. Poets, politicians, educators, family members, philosophers, scientists, children, elders, and social action activist are among the few who comprise a chorus of prophetic voices.
In my Older Testament class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities we learned that the main characteristics of the ancient prophets were that they were contemporaries who lived among the people, they were called to step forward, to take a risk, and engaged in prophetic truth telling. The prophets of the Torah resisted when they were initially called, they often replied with “why me?” Perhaps, you have felt called in small and big ways in your lifetime. Was there a time when you would have preferred to stay on the sidelines, doubted your own agency, would have preferred not engage and just remain in your own comfort zone? In our social justice oriented faith we are called to make a difference in this world. I know many of you have been instrumental in the creation of beloved community organizations, efforts that impact the environment, and involved in the democratic process. The Social Action Committee is creating a way for you to share what type of work you are doing in this congregation and beyond to support institutions and very real needs in the community. This will roll out sometime in the New Year.
Unitarian Universalist ministers are expected to be involved in social justice work as well. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) expects all candidates for ministry to develop competency in the area of Prophetic Outreach. This is described as: Those aspects of ministry that extend the Unitarian Universalist commitment to justice, peace, democratic process, and interdependence beyond the congregational or community-based setting. This work includes:
- Public witness of the personal involvement with regard to community or world issues;
- Social advocacy, the engagement with anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multicultural initiatives; and
- Promotion of institutional inclusivity and commitment to Unitarian Universalist values.
Christmas week, I was called by Ashley Horan, the Executive Director of Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA). She told me that she and a contact from the Unitarian Universalist Association are arranging support for the Bismarck-Mandan UU Congregation which has been the only church in that community supporting the action at Standing Rock. The congregants and their minister are weary. The previous months have taken a toll on their energy, capacity, and their daily lives in the community. Ashley mentioned that the minister, Karen Van Fossen, asked specifically if I would come for a week and provide support. The past few months I have chosen not to go to Standing Rock when prior clergy calls took place. I knew other clergy from larger churches and congregants with more time to spare were showing up. I felt the need to stay behind and be with all of you.
This is different. The Bismarck-Mandan congregation were involved with Standing Rock before most of us heard about it and have been a crucial link for people of faith who have been showing up for public witness and with supplies. MUSSJA and the UUA are arranging ministers and the UU Trauma team to spend time there. I see Karen and the Bismarck-Mandan congregation as providing a much needed prophetic voice of the faith community. Although the numbers of people on the Standing Rock land have decreased, the water protectors remain strong. The area is now closed to visitors, although I may be asked to help deliver supplies. I will provide pastoral care for congregants and be a support to Karen in any way I can. I will leave after services on Sunday, January 8 and stay through services on January 15th.
I know that if the time comes when we need to make a personal ask of colleagues they will come to us. It is what we do in this movement and in this faith. I will let you know if there is a need for supplies prior to my departure. I leave with the blessing of Laurie Young, the Board Chair, and hopefully yours as well. Together, we do the hard and holy work of justice making and amplifying the voices of those on the margins.
I’m aware that as we hear each other’s joys and concerns during services or have a conversation during a gathering at church, we often are limited in terms of what we can actually “do” to alleviate another person’s pain or suffering. Yet, there is still something powerful about being seen, heard, and understood. One can experience a slight shift in the weight of the one’s burden when we are willing to take the risk and share major life transitions out loud in the presence of a caring congregation.
A number of you have shared your feelings about upcoming holidays citing sadness, fear, and concern about gathering with your politically divided family. Clearly, you are not alone…Websites, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, and national phone calls have all emerged as resources during the first few weeks following the election. There are a range of ideas and tools that have been made available to help navigate such gatherings. It has been noted how faith and politics are often entwined creating even greater challenges when trying to stay grounded in one’s own values and beliefs without retreating fully or engaging in hopeless arguments. The national call I joined recently also reminded all of us about the impact of alcohol at such gatherings. I encourage you all to pay attention to yourself and those around you if alcohol is present.
My hope is that we can all find ways to nurture our spirits and ground ourselves in a greater love, even if we are not feeling it in the presence of others who have a very different world view. Know that you have a faith community that holds you in love wherever you may be. Imagine us at your side, more than willing to see, hear, and understand that which you are experiencing.
We can also offer such presence to others. Reach out to those you see who are vulnerable and hurting in your community. Acknowledge their fear and pain. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we fail to actually see each other. We will find ways to move out into the world and advocate for justice as the year unfolds. I welcome your ideas in the New Year.
By Virginia Satir
I believe The greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them.
The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and to touch another person. When this is done I feel Contact has been made.
Take great care,
Covenant is the gift of leaning into each other’s arms…arms that hold and comfort and arms that also push us forward to take the next leap into justice. It all starts, though, with turning to our neighbor. It gains traction with our curiosity about their story. It gets deeper as we discover the subtler nuances of our own story. It goes full monty when we together lay bare the pile of hurts along the way, and it clothes itself in glory when we find connection and healing and hope in the new patterns of community that make space for us all. Essay titled, Telling Our Story, by Parisa Parsa from Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism, Fredric Muir, editor.
The source of my greatest joy during these first few months of ministry at MSUS is hearing your stories. I look forward to the years ahead and time to get to know each of you better and to listen to the stories that inform your lives and spirit. This joyful task is not mine alone—it is a central part of this faith community. It is through stories that we come to discover and make meaning, we find common ground and differences, and we build deep connections across the congregation.
We vary greatly in terms of our own belief in what can or should be shared publicly and what is best kept in the silence of our own hearts and intimate relationships. What I have heard over and over again, is that when we risk being open and authentic with each other new (and often unexpected) bonds begin emerge. Those who were just acquaintances at church have an opportunity to become dear friends.
This year, we have created a number of programs that are built on a framework of time together as a full group coupled with small group conversation or practice. As you enter programs focused on learning about the history of race, the lived experience of being over 60 years old, spiritual practices, or reflecting on the political climate you were raised, the hope is that you will be curious about other’s stories and begin to discover the nuances of your own.
This November I begin a seven month clergy series in Congregational-Based Spiritual Direction which was launched by staff of the MidAmerican Region of the UUA. The series includes three days of intensive learning in November, January, and May. Several of you have spoken about a longing to go deeper into defining your theology and tending to your spirit. I imagine this program will provide tools to create an initial and sustained model of such a practice congregation-wide. Colleagues from other UU churches shared that the congregations they serve were transformed when they began to implement what they learned from this course.
MSUS is a storied place with solid roots and leadership. As our story turns to the next fifty years, may we “we find connection and healing and hope in the new patterns of community that make space for us all.”
With Love, Rev. Laura
It was abeautiful fall afternoon that was 50 years in the making. Reverend Laura Smidzik was installed as MSUS' first full-time minister as the sun streamed in through the floor to ceiling windows of the First Unitarian Society sanctuary.
The installation held on October 8, 2016 was followed by a reception.
Numerous UU and Interfaith clergy from around the Twin Cities, MSUS youth and adults, and special guests welcomed Rev. Laura to the UU community of ministers.
The ceremony included:
- Prelude, Connie Metcalf, Pianist
- Welcome by The Reverend Dr. David Breeden, First Unitarian Scociety Senior Minister
- Processional Hymn - "Wake Now My Senses," Bruce Van Bronkhorst, Accompianist
- Greetings from:
- The Reverend Phil Lund, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), MidAmerica Region Congregational Life Consultant
- The Reverend Jim Floti, Unitarian Universalist Ministerial Association (UUMA), Prairie Star District Secretary
- The Reverend Ashley Horan, Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA) Executive Director
- Dave Rudolf, Southern Anoka Community Assistance Food Shelf (SACA) Manager
- The Reverend Beth Donaldson, New Brighton United Church of Christ representing Local Interfaith Colleagues
- Call to Worship, Kathy Burek, Michele Wallace, and members of the MSUS Ministerial Search Committee
- Chalice Lighting, Barbara Hughes, Connie Metcalf, Doyle Mullin, Sig and Marti Reckdahl, and Lois Roadfeldt representing the Founders of MSUS
- Prayer, The Reverend Danny Givens, Above Any Name Ministries, Minister
- Anthem, The MSUS Installation Choir, Kate Burek, Soloist
- First Reading,The Reverend Karen Hering, Unity Church-Unitarian Consulting Literary Minister
- Second Reading, The Reverend Lisa Friedman, Unity Church-Unitarian Minister of Congregational and Community Engagement
- Sermon, The Reverend Janne Elier-Isaacs, Unity Church-Unitarian Co-Minister
- Hymn -" Spirit of LIfe," Bruce Van Bronkhorst, Accompianist
- Offering - Living Tradition Fund, The Reverend Luke Stevens-Royer, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church Associate Minister
- Offering Music, The MSUS Installation Choir
- Act of Installation
- Church President Laures Young, MSUS Board of Trustees President
- Congregation's Affirmation of Installation
- All Gathered Affirmation of Installation
- The Reverend Laura Smidzik's Acceptance
- Charge to Minister, The Reverend Justin Schroeder, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis Senior Minister
- Charge to Congregation, The Reverend Victoria Safford, White Bear Unitarian Church Lead Minister
- Extinguishing the Chalice, The Revered Ruth Mackenzie, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis Minister of Worship and Coming of Age and Kate Burek, MSUS Member
- Recessional Hymn - "Go Now in Peace," Bruce Van Bronkhorst, Accompianist
- Benediction, The Reverend Laura Smidzek, Michael Servetus Unitarian Society (MSUS) Minister
- Postlude, Connie Metcalf, Pianist
Special thanks to First Unitarian Society (FUS) for hosting the ceremony and reception.
Fifty years ago members of a northern suburbs FUS reading group decided to experiment with lay-led ministry. This led to the founding of the Michael Servetus Unitarian Society. After fifty years of lay-led and part-time ministry Reverend Laura was called by the MSUS Congregation to be our first full-time minister.
Welcome Reverend Laura Smidzik!
We enter October with the worship theme of healing. This theme finds us at a time when we are feeling the loss of Bob Randall and reflecting on his passing. Rebecca Parker, President of the UU seminary Starr King, for 25 years, names the beauty and challenge of our very human lives. Her poem, In the Midst of a World, acts as a litany stating, “there must be those…” over and over again. She points us toward the range of human experiences, emotions, actions, witness, and care that are present in a faith community.
In the community circles following Bob’s death and in individual conversations with congregants the very real struggle with “shoulds,” “coulds,” “if onlys,” and “what ifs,” have been spoken. The verbalization of these thoughts is healthy and I know that for each time these words have been spoken they have been echoing in many people’s minds and hearts a hundred times more. I believe that no one could have saved Bob. In a recent walk with a dear friend who has a sister who is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, she said, “If it was brain cancer, we all would know there is nothing we can do to stop it.” Yet, there is something about the human heart and hopefulness of companionship that wants us to believe otherwise.
It is important to note that there are those who knew Bob well and others who were simply blessed by his gift of music and song. We will need to continue to provide space for this early and continued healing. When someone dies, it often stirs grief that has accumulated over our life time. In our silence and sharing we can continue to honor Bob and to hold those who are suffering. This is the work of the church, this is the love we are called to and the first step in a long period of healing. May you each find your place as we hold and support the healing of one another. Whether you are a theist and walk humbly with God or are a humanist who finds your holy center in human-relations and love, we can call on a greater strength to heal, transform, and bless our own, and each other’s, one precious life.
Please know that I am always available for appointments if you need support.
In love, Rev. Laura
IN THE MIDST OF A WORLD, By Rebecca Parker
In the midst of a world marked by tragedy and beauty there must be those who bear witness against unnecessary destruction and who, with faith, rise and lead in freedom, with grace and power.
There must be those who speak honestly and do not avoid seeing what must be seen of sorrow and outrage, or tenderness, and wonder.
There must be those whose grief troubles the water while their voices sing and speak refreshed worlds.
There must be those whose exuberance rises with lovely energy that articulates earth’s joys.
There must be those who are restless for respectful and loving companionship among human beings, whose presence invites people to be themselves without fear.
There must be those who gather with the congregation of remembrance and compassion draw water from old wells, and walk the simple path of love for neighbor.
And, There must be communities of people who seek to do justice love kindness and walk humbly with God, who call on the strength of soul-force to heal, transform, and bless life.
There must be religious witness.
May your new work excite your heart,
Kindle in your mind a creativity
To journey beyond the old limits
Of all that has become wearisome.
May this work challenge you toward
New frontiers that will emerge
As you begin to approach them,
Calling forth from you the full force
And depth of your undiscovered gifts.
May the work fit the rhythms of your soul,
Enabling you to draw from the invisible
New ideas and a vision that will inspire…
May you come to know the work
Which emerges from the mind of love
Will have beauty and form.
May this new work be worthy
Of the energy of your heart
And the light of your thought.
May your work assume
A proper place in your life;
Instead of owning or using you,
May it challenge and refine you,
Bringing you every day further
Into the wonder of your heart.
From "To Bless the Space Between Us" by John O’Donohue
A wise colleague suggested I take time during my first day at Michael Servetus Unitarian Society to sit in the sanctuary, light the chalice, and ground myself in the history and spirit of this place. I imagined the sanctuary in its prior locations down the road and on top of the current building. I imagined the services, speakers, music, weddings, memorial services, plays, and child dedications. So much has happened over fifty years of assembling as a Unitarian Universalist community. We have a strong history to build on.
The text above is part of the blessing I read and reflected on my first day. I see this as a call for my own ministry as well as yours. I’m humbled to join all of you in the joyful work ahead of us. I come ready to engage in all of the dimensions of Michael Servetus Unitarian Society from religious education across the life span to leading worship, engaging in social justice, creating supportive volunteer systems, and facilitating life passages that honor both joys and sorrows.
You have chosen to invest in a full time minster. That is a remarkable act of commitment and hope. May I be worthy of your trust and vision. I will begin leading services the last two weeks in August and will be inviting congregants to Hopes and History small group gatherings in the fall. I look forward to getting to know all of you and leading this small and mighty congregation into the future.
Rev. Laura Smidzik
First off, CONGRATULATIONS! To your Intrepid Search Committee who presented you with such a worthy Candidate; to all of you who showed up to the Candidating Week events and were impressive as well as impressed; to all who were able to be present and who voted without reservation to claim Rev. Laura as your choice to lead you into the next phase of your journey as a UU congregation.
The work we have done together over the past two years has been steady and without much drama. You have demonstrated a capacity for flexibility in trying new things and for claiming that which is most central to your values as a community. You have grown in your UU Identity and have adopted a vision that will open you and your new leaders to untold possibility.
On May 11 at the Annual Meeting, you will be asked to vote on an annual budget that will stretch past previous use of congregational resources. This year’s budget is bold and not in the least about sustaining MSUS as you have known yourself to be as a congregation. This vote will potentially change everything. Last year at the Annual Meeting the question was raised, “Is this sustainable?” Some of you will want to ask this again. And again I will say that this is not about sustaining. It is about risking for growth; about investing in the future; about saying “Yes!” to the vision you have set for yourselves. This is far from fool hardy. Your Board of Trustees deliberated long and hard and is aware of the need for careful management and vigilance going forward.
Some of what this budget supports is the direct result of your decision to call a full-time minister. There will be adjustments in staff hours to continue the effort to more appropriately support full-time ministry. There will funds necessary to support the celebration of your 50th Anniversary as a congregation and for the installation of Rev Laura. Please take time to read your Annual Meeting materials when they arrive.
Your support is needed. Here is what you can do. To every extent possible, you should endeavor to fulfill your 2015-16 pledge and to make a good faith pledge for 2016-17. You are part of a community and everyone understands that personal resources ebb and flow. Your pledge is a personal promise and not an enforceable contract and no one will ever fault you for holding back in a hard year. And…to the extent that the use of your discretionary income reflects your most deeply held values, MSUS might well hold an important place in your family’s ongoing conversation about use of resources.
If you are not able to pledge, please consider ways in which you might support fundraising efforts on behalf of your beloved community. Volunteering to run or work for the annual Auction or craft sale; finding ways to provide service that might otherwise need to be purchased. You can also help by serving on a committee or task force that supports the growth in membership that will both serve and be served by extending your Unitarian Universalist spirit.
As I write this message the spring wind is blowing and the many shades of green are dancing outside my window. I feel the edge of spring in the outside world and feel as well that awakening in the life of MSUS. May it be so.