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.
My second Fridley spring lurches forward into the final stretch of this interim time. For many of you this past month has been pretty much business as usual. Sundays have come and gone; there have been Sunday services and committee meetings and clean-ups and building repairs. There was a small flurry of activity when we all spruced things up a bit in honor of the secret visits of the pre-candidates vying for the honor of being your minister. No heroic efforts here except those of Land and Facilities to finish the arch in the middle of the expanded classroom and those of our DRE to clean out the supply closet. Thank-you one and all. On the whole, you all do a better than average job of keeping things tidy.
For others, March was, well, a real march. Your Ministerial Search Committee has been exerting truly heroic efforts as it narrowed down the field of possible candidates and conducted weekend interviews with the final three. This month it will be your turn to choose and to be chosen. Please be ready. Here is a short list of readiness suggestions.
- Candidating week is scheduled from April 15-24. Watch for a schedule of activities and then put them on your calendar. These events will be designed to help both you and the candidate to get acquainted. Remember, this is a kind of courtship in which you are seeking the basis for a mutual connection.
- In all ways, come with an open heart and an open mind. The candidate will not meet all of your hopes or expectations on the first visit. You will not meet theirs. First impressions are important but that’s what they are. “First” impressions. It is the accumulation of impressions over time, received in hope and gratitude, that form lasting bonds between imperfect people and between imperfect churches and imperfect ministers.
- Prepare yourself by taking time to remember your own story and what you bring to and what you want from your church. A way to do that is to review the “Kinds of Commitment” sermon from March 20 that is linked on the MSUS website and answer the questions posed at the end. This is not so much about what you share in those first encounters as about the integrity you bring to the process.
- Be mindful of how you share the time you spend with the candidate. Be welcoming; be brief; be interested; be real.
This is such an important time for MSUS. Your Search Committee has done an extraordinary job of courting and vetting your candidate. Please be sure to thank them and to do your part to forward this process.
In love and gratitude,
All organizations rely on resources to forward their common agendas. Even with lavish resources, it is in the best interest of everyone involved to pay attention to how those resources are used. So it is at MSUS. As churches your size go, you are a reasonably well resourced. You have a building without a mortgage; you have money in the bank; you are a congregation of generous people who pledge responsibly within the limits of your family income and follow through with your payments. You have an annual auction which generates money and fun and opportunities to connect socially and in service throughout the year. Pay attention. Say, “Thank-you.”
And you are a group of committed volunteers who invest your time and talent in efforts small and large to turn these physical resources into a whole that far exceeds the sum of the parts in the ways that enliven spirits, provide care, strengthen the practice of Unitarian Universalist values in the world and so much more. Pay attention. Say “Thank-you.”
All of this is the product of voluntary association. You do not require a certain level of pledging nor a certain level of participation to associate with this congregation. Over the past fifty years of your history, programs have come and gone relative to the voluntary contributions of your people and the resources they have brought. There has been aging and changes in employment and ability; deaths and marriages and divorces; families changing as children mature and move on. And there has been a stability of commitment that has weathered these changes. Pay attention. Say “Thank-you.”
In recent years there have been enough changes in the resources of MSUS to warrant a new kind of resource: paid support staff. You now have a Director of Religious Education (the longest existing support position at MSUS); a Director of Music (the longest continuously occupied position at MSUS) and an Office Administrator. It is easy to underestimate the value of your staff. The work they do is largely invisible unless it isn’t getting done. They are the ones who often take up slack when volunteers are not able to follow through. These are the ones who monitor and direct MSUS resources and channel communication These are the people who are bound to you both by contract and by covenant. Their contracts provide a basis for both expectation and protection. Their covenant comes from their membership at MSUS and the promises they make to support the vision as “committed agent of compassion, service justice and joy”. This is no small task and you need to continue to find ways to increase both support and appreciation for these wonderful folks. Pay attention. Say “Thank-you.”
Soon you will be asked to consider your annual pledge. Please do so with your most generous spirit. Make this year a new beginning in all ways! Pay attention. Give generously. Say “Thank-you.”
P.S. A great way to express appreciation for your staff is to understand that they are all PART TIME EMPLOYEES. Please observe the following:
- Contact or expect responses to voice and e-mails from them during Office Hours which are posted in each week’s order of service, on the bulletin board by the door to the Social Hall and on the MSUS website.
- Regardless of your personal relationship with any staff member, PLEASE refrain from engaging them about church business outside of church unless you are specifically invited to do so. Please respect their right to say, “ Please call me at the office or send me an email about this which I will get to on such or such a day”. If you hear this please just stop.
- PLEASE do not call them at home and leave messages with their family members. Voice mail on cell phones and emails at the MSUS address are the best way to contact a staff member unless you are specifically invited to do something else.
The worship theme for February is “love." It is a word that appears in the MSUS Vision Statement in the challenge to be, “Open, loving and inclusive.”
It appears in the open cannon in two of the sources that inform the living tradition of Unitarian Universalism, namely:
“Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love; and
“Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving
our neighbors as ourselves”
Love is a word that stimulates reactions from giddy to squeamish to panic to scorn. It has inspired art and music and cynicism and seems to have very little place in the public sphere outside of the entertainment industry. And yet the power of both its presence and its absence has shaped our leaders, driven our fear and occupied the fullest and the emptiest moments of our lives.
My own efforts to address the themes of “Love” in my February sermons will barely make a dent in its complexity and the prevalence of our cultural anxiety and addiction to our quest to understand how we have been shaped by our understanding of this mysterious and powerful force.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank our staff and volunteers for all that you do to keep MSUS afloat. Winter is a good time for stepper uppers to step back a little and for the next wave of helpers to step in. If you have been thinking about volunteering but have not gotten around to it, this would be a good time. Religious education volunteers are especially crucial right now. Talk to Anna Paquette. Otherwise, look around you on Sunday morning. When you see someone doing something to enhance your community, ask if you can help. We all need to be remind from time to time that what makes a church community so special is that those who are served are also those who serve.
Thank you for all you do!
A new year, or so they say. More like a marker in the midst of passing time, a continuation of the endless unfinished business of life. In this year marked as 2016, there will be important markers unique in the life of MSUS. There will be call to a new, full-time minister. There will be a 50th Anniversary Celebration. There will be a review and renewal of the RE program for children led by a new RE Director. There will be a planned and concerted effort to get the word out about the value and presence of MSUS in the larger community. And there will be surprises which, we can all hope will be mostly welcomed. This is a time of great self consciousness for this congregation, a time for paying special attention to your individual development as Unitarian Universalists and to how you are perceived as a Unitarian Universalist community.
A strong element of MSUS since its beginning has been your grounding in humanism. For many of the founders, this has continued to be a strong personal identity. In the 1960’s this congregation was formed by members of First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a beacon of humanism in a movement tugging at the tethers of tradition, claiming its right to be religious without God.
Today, Unitarian Universalism has emerged as a broad and deep opportunity for people who share principles of inherent worth and dignity; justice equity and compassion; free and responsible search for truth; the right of conscience; the use of the democratic process; respect for the interdependent web of all life, and more, to join in community and seek to be nourished and informed by many sources of wisdom that include among them:
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
In this year of renewal and celebration of 50 years it seems appropriate to take time to review this important source. On January 10, I will be speaking of reverence and respect as they relate to the humanist tradition and on the 31st I will speak in more general terms about what it might mean to claim a humanist identity.
I have been refreshed and renewed myself by a wonderful holiday break and I look forward to being your minister for a final six months. May our work together pave the way for the next part of the adventure.
In love and gratitude,
I come to this holiday season aware of the combined sense of loss and anticipation that presently grace the MSUS family. Amidst the dying and the memorial celebrations for our dear Christine Spiritwolf and D’Ann Prior has been the continued work of the church. The Holiday Bazaar; the start of Coming of Age; the ongoing efforts to accommodate an early service along with the practicing of the MSUS Band. There have been committee meetings and the hiring of Anna Paquette as Acting DRE; we have been encouraged to challenge our categorical thinking and to engage in a partnership with Alexandra House. The MSUS Ministerial Search Committee has submitted the congregational profile to the UUA and soon they anticipate hearing from ministers interested in the possibility of being your new minister.
And now it is December with the coming of the Men’s Group Holiday Brunch and the Choir’s Holiday Concert and the traditional Christmas Eve Service. There is so much that you offer one another.
As your interim minister I have been impressed by the ways in which your wonderful Search Committee has engaged you in creating a profile that will attract your first full-time mister. I have supported the efforts of your leadership to make the Committee structure more efficient. Together we have managed to add a service which has been credibly attended. You have a governance structure that would be the envy of any mid-sized congregation.
And all of this is way more than you need to have if MSUS is to remain a congregation of about 100 members. You are such a welcoming and generous congregation and one of the best kept secrets in the northeastern region of the Twin Cities metro. Your Search Profile indicates that you are interested in growth. If this is the case, we need to put some more intention behind making that happen.
Anna Paquette has graciously agreed to help develop a publicity/outreach plan. She will be available after the service in the social hall on Sunday, December 13 to field ideas that you might have about how to get the word out about this great congregation. If you want to send her an idea by email, please do so.
Thank you for all of the efforts that you make to create this UU congregation. Be proud. Spread the word! May your holidays be safe and include the best of all that matters most in your lives.
Please contact me with your questions and concerns.
In love and gratitude,