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September 17, 2001

CGNews #38c

An occasional newsletter about a new/old way of organizing your church read by 739 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.


AN OUT-OF-THE-ORDINARY PROFUSSION

Please do not fear that your mail box is in danger of being swamped with long CGNews issues. It will not be, I promise, even though this is the third in about a week instead of one every month or so. I have the nerve to send this out to you, though, for two reasons. One is that I'd like to call your attention to a sermon which I consider to be a powerful analysis of our world situation with a (faintly) hopeful conclusion. It was given yesterday in our Austin First Church by the Rev. Davidson Loehr, and I expect he'd send you a copy by email if you asked for it: Davidson.Loehr@firstuuaustx.org.

Second, I just received the following email and service outline from the Rev. Kathleen Ellis. If you are in charge of leading a service this coming Sunday or sometime soon, you may want to emulate and/or borrow from what our folks in College Station did. I feel sure it was a powerful and helpful service. -- Bob

FROM THE REV. KATHLEEN ELLIS --

Some time ago the Covenant Group Facilitators in College Station decided to transform a Sunday morning service into a shortened CG format to give people a taste of CGs and to encourage further participation. We settled on 9/16 for the service.

In light of the world events, we modified the service still further. The CG segment was only 30 minutes, following an abbreviated service for the whole congregation, which I led.

I met with the children during the first part of RE to talk with them and pray. They did not come to the main service as usual. Instead, when the adults formed groups of 6 for their personal sharing, I rejoined the children and told them a story about "The Evil Wizard" and a little girl Esmerelda who fought him off time and again. (Story in What If Nobody Forgave, and Other Stories of Principle, but I can't remember the author's name.) I had time to converse further with some of the older kids.

Then I went back to close the main service. Received a request to sing hymn #159: "This Is My Song," which we did instead of the postlude, and people loved it.

At least one person suggested that we use this format 3-4 times a year. Although it was not quite like my first vision, it worked well. - Kathleen Ellis

Order of Service 9/16/01
College Station Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, College Station, TX
The Rev. Kathleen Ellis, Minister

Prelude--Dries Berghman

Introduction to the service For several weeks we have been planning to devote this hour to an experience of Covenant Groups. Because of the event of this week, the service has been modified to allow us to gather together as a single group, and then to move our chairs into small groups so more of us can share our feelings about the catastrophic strike against civilians.

Those of us who have joined these groups think they have really strengthened our ties and have actually contributed to the congregation's depth of community. And so, we invite the rest of you to consider signing up. If you would like to be a facilitator, by all means ask me about that.

One thing we encourage is to have an empty chair, as we have on the stage. This signifies that someone new might join the group or help start a new one with a similar common interest.

Chalice Lighting (congregation in unison)
Let us open our eyes to see what is beautiful;
Let us open our minds to learn what is true;
Let us open our hearts to love one another.

Opening Words by Herman Hesse

Heaps of shards and shambles far and wide:
Thus ends the world, thus ends this life of mine.
And I wished but to cry and to resign-
If there were not this stubbornness inside,

This stubbornness to ward off and to fight,
Defiance deep, deep in my heart below,
And then my faith: That what torments me so
Must, must one day turn into light.

Conversation with the Children (pass offering baskets now)
Go now in peace, go now in peace . . .

Ancient Readings
Psalm 1 (not Psalm 5)

Blessed is the man who doesn't walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the way of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 But his delight is in the law of Yahweh; On his law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also does not wither. Whatever he does shall prosper.
4 The wicked are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked shall perish.

Qur'an 5:32 (not 42:30-43)

The Qur'an tells the story in which Cain killed Abel, but in doing so, he ruined his own life. Chapter 5 verse 32 says

"On that account: We ordained
For the Children of Israel
That if any one killed
A person-unless it be
For murder or for spreading
Mischief in the land-
It would be as if
He killed the whole people:
And if any one saved a life
It would be as if he saved
The life of the whole people.
Then although there came
To them Our Messengers
With Clear Signs, yet,
Even after that, many
of them continued to commit
Excesses in the land."

Related note: Islam says: if you must take a life for a life, at least there should be some measure of equality in it. That is, the killing of (one) should not involve a blood feud where many people would be killed. The law of mercy, with reasonable compensation, would be better.

Modern Readings [excerpt from] "Conscientious Objector," by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall: I hear the clatter on the barn floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans,
many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not tell him
which way the fox ran
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where the black boy
hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to any [one's] door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me;
never through me
Shall you be overcome.

from The Young Dead Soldiers, by Archibald MacLeish

We were young. We have died. Remember us.
We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.
We have given our lives, but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
Our deaths are not ours; they are yours; they will mean what you make them.
Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say;
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them meaning.
We were young. We have died. Remember us.

Prayer

Let us pray:
God of Every Name, we pray for the office worker, the rescuer, the airline passenger. One by one their stories come forth and they become more than faceless numbers. We pray for their families who expected them home again, for children who need a kiss good night. We pray for the injured and the medical teams who tend them. We pray that anyone left alive will be found-and soon. We are grateful for the outpouring of compassion. We pray that wisdom will rule the reaction, that pain will not give way to blind vengeance, and that the innocent will not suffer with the guilty. May we learn new ways of being in the world. In your Holy Name we pray. Amen.

Covenant Groups
Opening Words
THE CENTRAL TASK OF A RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY IS TO UNVEIL THE BONDS THAT BIND EACH TO ALL. THERE IS A CONNECTION, A RELATIONSHIP DISCOVERED AMID THE PARTICULARS OF OUR OWN LIVES AND THE LIVES OF OTHERS.
- Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed

Check-In (15 minutes)
This is a time when each person in the group has about one or two minutes to share your joys and sorrows, what's happening in their lives, what you are going through. It might be helpful to have a timekeeper.

Focus: Saving the World Six at a Time (15 minutes) In times of crisis, people reach out to one another or they risk feeling isolated. We believe that close connections made through Covenant Groups are an excellent way to offer support even within the larger membership of a congregation. Talk about your small groups and the benefits you gain from participation.

Check-Out (3 minutes)
Describe how you feel now in one or two adjectives.

Closing Words
LET US GO FORTH FROM THIS PLACE
READY TO EXTEND A HAND TO OTHERS,
OPEN OUR HEARTS IN SHARING, AND
FIND KIND WORDS OF PRAISE FOR ALL WE MEET.
Scotty Meek

Benediction Hymn #184: "Be Lamps unto Yourselves"

Chalice Extinguishing (congregation in unison)
We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth,
The warmth of community, nor the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts until we gather together again.

Postlude

Hymn number 123: "Spirit of Life"

Message Tragedy has shocked us into an examination of the way this country does business in the world. From the first awful news I have experienced all kinds of reactions: shock, anger, disbelief, deep sorrow. My mind wanted to know what happened, who did it, and why--even while I tried desperately to believe all would be well.

But all was not well. Nor shall it be. Ripples of pain have spread in all directions, churning the waters deep and wide. Where is God now? Where is Allah? Where is Yhwh? Have they abandoned us utterly?

Linda Causey shared this Sufi teaching: "Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?" God said, 'I did do something. I made you.'"

And so the world has responded. We will never forget the story of rescuers who rushed into the buildings to help, only to be crushed when the buildings collapsed. We cannot dismiss the image of a bucket brigade of workers who continue to remove rubble and precious body parts down the line.

I have noticed several changes in myself in the past few days: More prayer; more giving, and more awareness. Friday's prayer service took place right under that beautiful oak tree. A dozen of us shared our thoughts and feelings, and we represented at least five different countries. It occurred to me that it would be good to have a multi-cultural awareness group. We need to learn more about the real people among us who come from all over the world.

Then yesterday when the Manor Volunteer Fire Department was collecting donations on Highway 290, I dug much deeper into my wallet. I think a lot of us have even more respect for the work they do.

I have also become more aware of myself as a world citizen. I find myself looking upon strangers more kindly. And I pray for our future.

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: bhill@uua.org 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.


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
E-mail: bhill@uua.org