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September 13, 2001

CGNews #38b

An occasional newsletter about a new/old way of organizing your church read by 731 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.


clerk at the wine shop
notes the date
nine one one
-- Johnye Strickland, President, Unitarian Universalist Church, Little Rock, AR

The Rev. Glenn Turner was preparing for a workshop he will be doing soon for eight congregations in Schenectady, NY, when Tuesday's horrors happened. He put together the following session plan which may be useful to the facilitators of Small Group Ministries or Covenant Groups:


The central task of a religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others.
- Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed

Our conversation and our ministry begins when we turn to each other and ask: What are you going through?

CHECK-IN/SHARING: (25+ minutes)

The facilitator should explain briefly that this is a time when each person in the group has about one or two minutes to share their joys or concerns, to share whatB9s happening in their lives, what they are going through.

FOCUS: (30 minutes)

The following is a reading from Loren Eiseley:

"...on the edge of a little glade with one long, crooked branch extending across it, I had sat down to rest with my back against a stump. Through accident I was concealed from the glade, although I could see into it perfectly."

The sun was warm there, and the murmurs of forest life blurred softly away into my sleep. When I awoke, dimly aware of some commotion and outcry in the clearing, the light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lit like some vast cathedral. I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of life, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a red and squirming nestling in his beak."

The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling's parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing. The sleek black monster was indifferent to them. He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch for a moment and sat still. Up to that point the little tragedy had followed the usual pattern. But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents."

No one dared to attack the raven. But they cried there in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the unbereaved. The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries. They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer. There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated, that they knew. He was a bird of death."

And he, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat on there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable."

The sighing died. It was then I saw the judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. I will never see it again so forcefully presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of protest, they forgot the violence. There, in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful. They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were the singers of life, and not of death."

Analogies are never perfect, but from Eiseley's metaphor we can focus on three aspects of our response to evil:
1) our outrage
2) our anguish
3) the song that we will pass to one another

Remember that this time of focusing is not an argument or a debate, but an opportunity for each of us to give voice to what is in our hearts.

CLOSING WORDS: (join hands)

Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.
-- Nancy Wood


No UUA staff members, to our knowledge at present, were killed in Tuesday's violence, although some were stranded far from home, including the acting head of my department, the Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris (on the West Coast). Five or six friends of our Program Consultant, Jennifer Nichols-Payne were employed in the Trade Center Buildings that were destroyed and there's been no news of them. The Fire Department Chaplain who was killed was a family friend of the Rev. JoEllen Willis, minister of our Little Rock church.

For advice on talking with children about this tragedy, you may go to the UUA web page, You'll also find a statement there from UUA President Bill Sinkford and other information.

As I thought, many of our congregations held special services Tuesday evening. Here are a few early reports.

BATON ROUGE - The Rev. Steve Crump, minister of our Baton Rouge congregation and the SWUUC Settlement Representative, had to endure a 36-hour bus home from an interrupted trip, but a member of his congregation, Diana Dorroh, reported:

"Our Branches 1 group had a previously scheduled meeting on 9/11. Our topic was Forgiveness, from the Glenn Turner document. The leader asked if we wanted to postpone the topic, but the group felt that it was appropriate to take it up and we continued, after the check-in, to talk about the tragedy and forgiveness.

"Members said they felt much better after our meeting, partly because they had heard so much talk of immediate retribution, such as "Let's just make a crater out of Pakistan," and were glad to be in a religious group of ten rational, feeling people. Some even expressed the hope that our country would become a more rational, feeling place, as a result of having its innocence taken away.

"We've continued scheduled church activities. Last night, our "Intro to the Jesus Seminar" course met for the first time. We all expressed our feelings and thoughts about the tragic attack and related it to the topic at hand. Again, it seemed to help.

FORT WORTH -- The Rev. Craig Roshaven is in England on UUMA business, and in his absence, the Rev. Marjorie Montgomery, member, conducted a service at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Worth. The Rev. Lillie Henley put together a candlelight vigil for Westside Unitarian Universalist Church there. Only a few attended, but those who did, according to member Myrtle McMann, "found comfort from one another."

LITTLE ROCK - President Johnye Strickland reported: "Our church had a memorial service Wednesday night. It was helpful, I think, to those of us who came. Board members were asked to form a telephone tree to alert every member/friend, and email messages were sent to everyone on our church lists.

"We also were asked by the head of our Social Action Team (seconded by several other members by email) also by email to go to the Red Cross headquarters to give blood, rather than waiting for the scheduled Blood Drive they were going to do at our church in October."

NESHOBA CHURCH, CARDOVA, TN -- The Rev. Jean Rowe, minister, and Vicki Grimes, President, of our congregation in this Memphis suburb sent a letter today to the local Imam and Muslim congregations offering support. They wrote:

"On behalf of the Board of Directors of Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church, we extend the right hand of fellowship and good wishes. Concerned at backlash towards our Muslim neighbors in Memphis and America, we want you and the other Muslim congregations in Memphis to know that we reach across interfaith lines to embrace you as brothers and sisters in the service of God and community."

We also want to offer you meeting space should the need arise; if you ever feel threatened and need a safe place to gather and pray. We have just moved into our first "building of our own" just east of Shelby Farms. ."

We are praying for all the people of our community, our country and the world and earnestly and sincerely hope that this will be a time of bringing people together, not dividing us further based on prejudice and fear. Please let us know if we can be of help to you."

OTHER DISTRICTS - I have heard from colleagues on the UUA Field Staff that leaders of our congregations elsewhere are also reaching out to Muslim groups in their communities. Meetings are being canceled for this weekend in many places because of travel uncertainties.


Some CGNews subscribers got Vol. 3, No. 8, with the heading "Two Indelible Images" without formatting, for reasons I don't understand. If you are one of those and you'd like a normally-arranged version, send me an email (to, not by hitting "reply" above) and I'll correct the error.

Do you have a story to tell about how your small-group experience helped you deal with this week's awful events? I'd like to receive any of your reflections by email for possible re-telling in this newsletter and/or the book I am writing as a part of my work for the Southwest District and the UUA. Please send your message to: and put "CGNews Story" in the subject line.

Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to others. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.

The Rev. Robert. L. Hill,
District Executive for the SW District, UUA,
713 660-7164