rivka: (chalice)
It's Sunday morning, and I don't want to go to church.

Nine years ago, Michael and I made the decision that we are a family that goes to church whether we feel like it or not. That goes double now that we have kids in Religious Education. Church is the way it is. But I'm not feeling it, and I haven't for a while.

Well, I have a toddler. I haven't been able to sit and listen to an entire service in... yeah, it's been a while. Michael does half the Colin duty, but he does it on the weeks that I am occupied during the service teaching Religious Education. (Which by the way, I have not been enjoying at all.) We could have made a push to get Colin comfortable in the nursery, but we haven't. I confess that I don't feel particularly motivated to do it. I don't feel like I've bonded to our new minister, so I guess I've felt less of a drive to get Colin settled so that I can go hear the sermon.

Michael, of course, is hugely involved in church leadership. Hugely. He's the vice-president of the Board of Trustees and the chair of the Stewardship Committee. We're swinging into stewardship season, so church business is about to start taking even more of his time than it already does. And the Nominating Committee has asked him to stand for presidency of the congregation this coming year. They don't really have any other candidates. It's something he is called to do, and he'll be awesome at it, but I'm dreading it.

I kind of feel like, the more that Michael does at church, the less there is there for me. Church starts to feel like an obligation, something that cuts into our family time and demands that I do a lot of extra solo parenting.

I don't know. It's not like my feelings about Unitarian-Universalism have changed at all. And it's not like I don't respect the value of our church as an institution. But I don't feel like going to church is feeding me. It just feels like work.

I know there are people on my friends list who have been committed to a church or another institution for the long term. How do you handle the down cycles? Or don't you have them?
rivka: (chalice)
There have been a few requests to post the entire text of the sermon I gave today. There are changes from the various pieces I posted, but probably nothing earth-shaking.

it's pretty long, y'all. )
rivka: (chalice)

The service went really well. At five minutes before the hour, there were only about 35 people present, and I felt disappointed. But by the time the prelude and call to worship were over every seat was filled and there were a couple of people sitting on the floor. (This was just the Parish Hall, so it was probably about 60-70 people - not the 300 it would take to fill the sanctuary).

I felt as though the readings and hymns I chose worked well. Hymns might actually sound better in the Parish Hall, where they don't get swallowed up by the immense barrel ceiling - but also I tried to choose hymns that were quite familiar so people would be more comfortable singing out. (For fellow UUs: we sang "There's a River Flowin' in My Soul," "Gather the Spirit," "Blessed Spirit of My Life," and "We'll Build a Land.")

I was nervous beforehand, but not at all nervous once I started to give the sermon. Michael only had to signal me to slow down once.

When it was time to introduce visitors, it turned out that the Final Exit Network guy didn't bring anyone to church after all, so all my worries about that were groundless. Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] zeldajean, [livejournal.com profile] selki, and [livejournal.com profile] wcg, who were visitors on my behalf, as well as the home crowd: [livejournal.com profile] curiousangel, [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb, and [livejournal.com profile] telerib. I felt very supported.

After church, a number of people came up to tell me how much they appreciated what I had to say. I talked to someone who had been a hospice chaplain for twelve years and, oh my gosh, a woman whose adult son committed suicide three months ago and who wanted to ask my advice about her grandson. Several people asked me to send them the text. Several other people told me, more neutrally, that I had given them a lot to think about.

In the talkback afterward, Final Exit Guy told the group that, far from thinking he was on opposite sides from me, he thought I sounded just like a representative of his organization. Because - and he had written this down - at one point I said "everyone has a right to make their own decision." That was apparently all he heard.

A range of opinions were represented. For much of the talkback we discussed making choices about when to stop treatment, and personal and medical factors affecting those decisions. We got more into questions of suicide towards the end - maybe because that's such a more vulnerable issue. Interest was expressed in an adult RE class on end-of-life issues, which I think would be excellent.

I don't know if I changed any minds today. I do think that I complicated the issue for some people who thought it wasn't that complicated before, which may be all I can hope for. And I know that it was very helpful for people who were already leaning toward my point of view.
rivka: (chalice)
So. My service is this Sunday. I drove by the church yesterday and my name was on the sign out front, the one with the slide-in letters. Holy cow.

If you're in or near the Baltimore area and you'd like to attend, the service will be held at 10am (not 11, if you've been to our church before) at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. The church is at the corner of Charles and Franklin Streets, and there is free parking on Sunday mornings in the garage across Franklin Street from the church. The service will actually be held in the Parish Hall, which is on Charles Street behind the main church building.

The service will be followed by coffee hour (the only UU sacrament) and then, at 11:45, by a post-sermon discussion moderated by someone who is not me, in which I fully expect to wind up in a fistfight with members of the Final Exit Network.

My minister said very nice things about the sermon draft, but man am I ever terrified.

I've put the last portion of my argument (following this one) under the cut. This is the part where I try to undercut the false dichotomy which says that we either leave people to suffer under the current broken system of care for the dying, or we help them kill themselves.

Read more... )
rivka: (chalice)
More of my argument about assisted suicide follows. This part is really long, so I'm putting it behind a cut tag. This is also the part that needs the most work, [N.B.: Michael says no, it's the last section (not posted yet) that needs the most work. So watch for something worse than this.] because I'm not used to making religious arguments - there are so few contexts in which they are appropriate. (Of course, a sermon would be one of them.)

Opinions and argument continue to be welcome.

Read more... )
rivka: (her majesty)
I dreamed this morning that I had organized some kind of complicated outdoor fair at my church. It was being held on Sunday morning before the service. Everything went well until, as I was cleaning up afterward, the head of the Worship Committee leaned close to me and whispered,

"It's not going well in there."

In a series of crashing realizations, I remembered that:
(1) This was the Sunday I was supposed to be preaching.
(2) The service had already started, and I wasn't in there.
(3) I hadn't even thought about what to do for all the non-sermon portions of the service.
(4) I HAD LEFT MY SERMON AT HOME because I was so preoccupied with the fair.

I frantically sorted through various options in my mind while she looked increasingly horrified: could I give the sermon from memory? Did I have time to run home or send Michael home? What was going on in the sanctuary, if I wasn't there?

Then my sanity reasserted itself and I looked at the head of the Worship Committee firmly: "There is no way I would have signed up to do the fair on the same day that I was preaching. This cannot be my day."

Without a hitch she started telling me that the person giving the service had almost no audience and was really upset about it. Instead of panicking over how badly I had screwed up, all I had to feel was vaguely guilty that I wasn't in there being supportive. Then I hopped on a carnival ride and it carried me home.


Jun. 8th, 2010 09:46 am
rivka: (chalice)
So you might remember that I am preaching at my church - for the first time ever - on July 11. The monthly newsletter just recently came out with this sermon description:

July 11—“Life or Death Situations”
Rebecca Wald
Rebecca will share lessons she's learned from working with people who are dying and people who want to die - two sometimes-overlapping groups. Is assisted suicide the best we have to offer those among us who are dying?

One of the things that led to me feeling called to preach this sermon is that a member of our congregation, a physician active in the Final Exit Network, was arrested a year or two ago for assisting in a suicide in Georgia. When he came back to church the interim minister lauded him from the pulpit and he got a standing ovation from the congregation. I think that his position has sort of been automatically adopted as the church's position, because, well, he's one of the noisiest members. But I think that many people haven't really thought it through. That's one of the reason why I really, really want people to hear a different perspective.

Well. That member just called my house and spoke to Michael. He told Michael that he wanted to bring a number of people from outside the congregation to hear my sermon, and was that okay? Clearly he means his Final Exit Network/Hemlock Society buddies. Michael said - as, really, what else could he say? - "Come, come, whoever you are..." But shit.

OMFG I am panicking about this. I'm gonna be lynched. Well, probably not. But he's going to pack the audience with people who are hostile to me from the outset. As if this wasn't going to be hard enough already.
rivka: (chalice)
I'm going to be preaching at my church on July 11. In fact, with the help of a Worship Associate (who presumably will know what he or she is doing, one hopes - because I don't), I'll be doing the whole service.

I kind of can't believe I got myself into this.

The title of my sermon is "Life Or Death Situations." I'm going to talk about my experiences working with people who are terminally ill and and people who are suicidal. The scary part, for me, is that I am going to talk about why assisted suicide is problematic and why I believe that endorsement of assisted suicide is contrary to UU religious values. I don't think that will be a popular opinion in my church.

I met with our minister yesterday to talk about it. He is very encouraging, and has promised me any support I need. But it's still going to come down to me writing a sermon and then standing up to deliver it, in front of a whole bunch of people who probably don't want to hear what I have to say.

I know there are several ministers and lay religious leaders who read my LJ; any advice you have would be incredibly helpful.
rivka: (colin in whoville)
Our Director of Religious Education posted this yesterday:
One of our little guys at church has begun walking. This morning in worship during "greet your neighbor" I went over to see the kids who were hanging out at the children’s corner. I saw him let go of the table and I squatted down and put my arms out. He toddled right over to me and gave me a hug. He’s a snuggly little guy and when he hugs, he tilts his head and puts it on my shoulder like he’s settling in for a long winter’s nap.

The almost-eight-year-old twins from another family were also hanging out at the coloring table and they came over immediately to give me the good news: "He can walk!" They were proud of him, recognizing the accomplishment with both joy and reverence. He let go of me and did a couple more laps, moving like a pin-ball between the kids and adults who were taking in his success with love and admiration. When he fell, one of the twins helped him back up. When he reached a boundary and turned himself around, he looked up at all the loving faces and beamed.

Sometimes church is magic.

The little guy in question is Colin. The twins were in our Christmas pageant this year, and they are a prime counter-example to everything society tells us about boys "naturally" being rough, rude, and non-nurturing. They're active, exuberant kids and they're definitely not goody-goody - but they love on Colin with sweetness and gentleness every time they see him. A lot of the bigger boys at church do. It gives me so much hope about the kind of men they'll grow up to be.

This community is something I value beyond measure. I am so grateful to be bringing up my kids in this love.
rivka: (sex ed)
Did I mention that Michael and I are co-teaching OWL this spring?

This weekend is the first overnight. The kids arrived at the church at six to have dinner, do a session, and play games. Tomorrow we'll do two more sessions and wrap up at 3:30pm. Michael and I will have childcare for the regular weekly sessions, but we're doing the overnight by swapping off. So Alex, Colin, and I went to church to have dinner with the OWL kids, and then I brought my children home and Michael stayed to do the evening session with our co-teacher Laura. Tomorrow morning, he'll stay home with the kids and I'll go do a session with Laura. In the afternoon, he'll bring the kids down to church and he and I will trade off watching them and being in the session. It's complicated, but it works for us.

All this is by way of explanation so that I can now make this remark:

If your teenager can look at a woman who is nursing and ask "Is that your baby?" ...your kid is probably overdue for OWL.

Just sayin'.

(Also, hooray! I forgot that I have an OWL icon.)
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
So the church Christmas pageant has three Sunday morning rehearsals followed by an evening dress rehearsal the night before Christmas Eve. Only this year we got about 20 inches of snow the day before the last Sunday morning rehearsal, which meant that it didn't happen. Instead, on Wednesday night a bunch of excited hyper pre-Christmas kids showed up for the first rehearsal with costumes (which weren't done, incidentally), the first rehearsal in the sanctuary (which always leads to insane aisle-running), and the first rehearsal without scripts (which was supposed to have happened that missed Sunday).

They had done a surprisingly good job of learning their lines, but everything else about the rehearsal was pretty awful. It's hard to nail down a lot of the blocking before you have the sanctuary to work with. The kids were pretty crazy. I honestly left the rehearsal expecting the performance to be a disaster.

Christmas Eve I was so flustered that we were parking outside the church when I realized that I was still wearing a pair of jeans and a grungy brown wool hoodie over a faded red T-shirt. "I forgot to get dressed!" I wailed to Michael. He looked down at his own jeans and sweater. "...So did I." It was 5pm. I had told the kids to arrive no later than 5:10. I was planning to be onstage for much of the pageant.

We dashed in carrying the last few props and an eleven pound ham. Threw the ham in the oven in the church kitchen and asked someone who happened to be in the kitchen to put the brown sugar glaze on it at 6:30. I took both kids with me to the sanctuary while Michael ran home to change and bring my clothes. The majority of the kids didn't show up until sometime after 5:30. We had no chance to rehearse, but we did go over my list of Important Last-Minute Reminders: Everyone speak LOUDLY and SLOWLY. Face the audience when you speak. When the Herdmans are being bad kids, they shouldn't actually make any physical contact. When the Herdmans are in the pageant-within-a-pageant, they stop goofing off and take it seriously. Angels and shepherds need to be quiet when they're onstage.

Also in this time period, one of the mothers went to town on the Herdmans' faces with a mascara wand to make them appropriately grimy and smudgy. They were all thrilled to be at church in their oldest and most awful clothes. I did not tell them how adorable they were, because they would've taken it the wrong way.

Ten minutes before the service was supposed to start I herded all the kids out of the chancel to the robing room. No, they were too loud to be there. To the little entryway behind the robing room. Still too loud. To the upstairs hall. I tried to engage them in conversation about Christmas to stop them from shouting and chasing each other. Michael brought me Colin to nurse at the last minute before church. I kept on chatting with the kids on my end of the hall until I looked over and saw a few of them at the other end of the hall looking at me like this: O.O O.O O.O "It's just how babies eat, guys," I said and hoped that I wouldn't be hearing from their mothers later on.

6:05. I marched the kids down the stairs, through the entry, through the robing room, into the chancel, and down the steps to the front pew. There was a welcome and a chalice lighting and then we were on.

And the pageant went beautifully.

We had some luck with the play-within-a-play format, because I could stay on stage the whole time (as a parent helping out the pageant director, very realistic) and move people into place if necessary. But the kids needed very little help. They said their lines beautifully and with feeling. They were mostly in the right place at the right time. They did not burn down the church when I let some of them hold candles. They looked fantastic, even the ones who were in totally makeshift last-minute costumes. And they had the pageant spirit, just beautifully.

Afterward during their shaky and confused bows [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb swooped down on me with a bouquet of white roses and, um, something else pretty. I don't know flowers.

And then we went to the Christmas Eve potluck. Last year there wasn't enough food and Michael didn't get any dinner. (That's partly why we brought a ham this year.) This year there was plenty, and we feasted on turkey and ham and smoked gouda mac and cheese and horseradish scalloped potatoes and tzimmes and all kinds of miscellaneous side dishes and desserts. And Alex actually ate food instead of just running around being hysterically excited. (Colin had a jar of pureed turkey-apple-cranberry holiday dinner, because I fall for marketing tricks like that.)

And we went home and put the kids to bed and hauled presents out of hiding places and wrapped a few things and hung candy canes on the tree from Santa and I lost one of Colin's stocking presents. And poured ourselves glasses of red wine and curled up on the couch to watch the first-season West Wing Christmas episode, "In Excelsis Deo," except that Colin kept waking up and finally we went to bed without finishing it.

Christmas Eve was good. The pageant was wonderful. We have amazing, amazing kids at our church. Is it too early to start worrying about what story we'll do next year?
rivka: (chalice)
Today was the first rehearsal for this year's Christmas pageant. We're doing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which was originally a book by Barbara Robinson. The story is about a family of horrible awful juvenile delinquent kids who muscle in on a church Christmas pageant, take over all the roles, and wind up Teaching Everyone A Lesson About Christmas. Yeah, I know. But it's going to be fun. The kids are really excited.

This year we're going with simplicity. Most of the exposition comes from a narrator, a teenage boy who will be reading from the script. A teenage girl plays the mother who gets roped into directing the pageant, and she also has a fair number of lines. The younger kids (who play the rest of the roles) have just a manageable few lines each.

The thing that's really ideal about this story, at least from my standpoint as the director, is that the play-within-a-play aspect means that I don't have to worry about the little kids learning where to go and what to do. If they need to be herded around the stage by adults or they wander off or whisper to each other? It'll just pass as realism. And I do have reasonably sharp kids in the key child roles.

Against my better judgment, I gave Alex a speaking part. She really, really, really wanted to be Gladys Herdman, the youngest delinquent kid, who winds up with the part of the Angel of the Lord in the pageant. She has one line, which she delivers at two different points: "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" Hopefully she will manage it all right. I painted a vivid verbal picture of how she'll have to deliver her line in a church full of people she doesn't know, and she insisted that she could. Cross your fingers for us.

Also, as if that weren't enough, I am gearing up to teach OWL again. OWL is the UU comprehensive sex education curriculum. It's a 27-session course aimed at grades 7-9, or about ages 12-14, and covering everything from the mechanics of the reproductive system to equal rights for GLBT people to dating and relationships to what people do when they have sex. It's intense, and fun, and draining, and awesome.

Neither of my two previous co-teachers are repeating. Instead I'll be teaching with my friend Laura and with Michael. Michael! Will be teaching OWL! Which means that we are going to need childcare for OWL every week, unfortunately. But Michael was the only likely male volunteer, and you can't have OWL with only female teachers. And Michael will be great.

We have parent orientation this coming week (twice - once Tuesday evening, and once Saturday morning) and then we start with the kids on January 5. Whew.
rivka: (chalice)
Under the cut, the full text of the dedication ceremony Colin had at church on Sunday.

Read more... )
rivka: (panda pile)
My parents are visiting this weekend. They came down for two reasons: Colin had his child dedication service at our church this morning, and on Friday my father had an appointment at the National Federation of the Blind to learn about screenreading software from Michael's old colleagues.

It's been a joy of a visit, without the emotional stress that's hung over my relationships with my family for a while. They're just hanging out, enjoying the kids, helping, being good company. The kids adore them. My father has taken Alex to the park two days running now - it's a great partnership; Alex has vision and he has good judgment, so they help each other across the streets.

Colin's child dedication was just beautiful. When Alex was dedicated, our ministers gave us a big booklet of potential liturgy elements and let us choose what to have. This was our new minister's first dedication, so we didn't know what to expect. The only input we had into the ceremony content was asking for Alex to be included, and asking that he not use his favorite child dedication hymn because I hate it. He and [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb put together a lovely service. I'll share the text of the ceremony, and the pictures our friend Adrian took, if/when I can get them.

He was a preturnaturally good baby for the service, too. Saturday he was cranky all day and cried a lot, and I worried that his dedication would be a nightmare. But he went perfectly happily into the minister's arms to be blessed and paraded up and down the church aisles, and afterward he crawled happily around on the floor of the sanctuary, and after that he entertained himself happily for an hour and a half while we entertained a few close friends for his dedication lunch. What a good boy.
rivka: (chalice)
Every year, our church runs a "Mystery Buddies" program in which kids from the congregation rare matched up with adults. They spend a month (I think it's March) trading notes back and forth, signing their notes with secret code names, until the end when all is revealed at a special breakfast.

Apparently, adults in the congregation have complained that they want their own Mystery Buddies program, because this year the program has been expanded with an adults-only version called the "Big Questions Exchange." Each Sunday in November, those who sign up exchange letters with a person they have been secretly matched to by the Director of Religious Education. At the end of the month, we'll meet our match. Each week, as the program name suggests, the letters are supposed to tackle big religious questions.

[livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb assures me that my secret match doesn't read my LJ, so I'm going to post the letters I write each week.

Here's my first letter, addressing the question 'what happens when we die?' )
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
I think that this year's Christmas pageant is going to be The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

It feels a little bit like cheating to use a ready-made story, but realistically speaking I am not going to have time to dream up an original script this fall. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever already has a reasonably UU sensibility, and someone else has already cut down a script that I can adapt. And I think the kids will have fun with it.
rivka: (I love the world)
On Saturday, Alex and I went hiking.

We've done it a few times before, and she asks to go hiking pretty often. But this was the first time we've ever taken the opportunity to leave Colin home and go off to the woods for what Alex refers to as "special girl time." She was very excited.

It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the low 70s. Perfect for hiking. I decided that Cascade Falls would be a good short-distance, high-reward hike for a four year old, so we headed to Patapsco Valley State Park not far outside the Baltimore city limits.

I hadn't been up that trail in years, and in the interim they had reworked the bottom portion to prevent trail erosion. So I, um, missed the turnoff to the falls. Instead Alex and I climbed to the top of the steep ridge, meandered up and down a hilly path for a while, and then turned around and came back. We found the falls on the second try. Alex had a lot of fun scrambling around on the rocks and was very very proud to be able to cross the stream from rock to rock and climb up to the top of the waterfall. Our hike was made complete when we found a small snake swimming at the base of the falls and got to watch his progress around and between the rocks.

All told, I think we went about a mile. Maybe a bit more. Some of it was quite steep and slippery, so even with the short length it provided plenty of challenge and excitement. I was proud of Alex. I hope we'll be able to do it again soon.

Sunday at church we covenanted with our new minister. Seven leaders from the congregation (including kids representing the Religious Education program) charged Rev. David with leading us in various aspects of our church life, and then he spoke about his goals and intentions, and we all wound up the ceremony by pledging in unison to support each other in the mission and work of the church. It was inspiring. It's exciting to have a new beginning.

Have I said anything about the new minister yet? It's still early days, but I think he's going to be good. The most obvious early change is a vast improvement in congregational singing, which, frankly, was pretty wretched before Rev. David got here. (Q. Why are UUs so bad at congregational singing? A. Because everyone is reading ahead to see if they agree with the next line.)

Rev. David has a beautiful voice, and he leaves his mike on for the hymns so he can act as songleader. Also he asked the church to buy the new UUA hymnal supplement, which includes more contemporary and world music, and he's having us sing the same songs several weeks in a row to improve people's comfort and familiarity. Those changes are making a huge difference in how well the congregation sings, and since singing is one of my favorite parts of church it's making me very happy.
rivka: (chalice)
I'm on the DRE Advisory Council at my church. It's a small panel of people who provide support and feedback to our Director of Religious Education, and who are available to help sort out any difficulties or dramas that arise within the RE program. I'm counting down my last few months on the committee - I'll be replaced in the fall. I've really enjoyed the work.

Over the next six weeks, we're hosting a series of before-church breakfasts, one for the parents and other interested adults of each RE class. The primary goal is to find out how parents are feeling about RE and what their thoughts are about the future direction of the program. We're also hoping that the breakfasts will help foster a sense of community and will encourage parents to commit to bringing their kids to RE more often. (We have a problem with sporadic attendance.)

I'm facilitating the first two breakfasts. This morning's was for parents in the youth group, and next week's will be parents of babies and toddlers in the nursery. My friend Laura provided breakfast this morning - quiche, fruit, juice, and coffee - and also set a table beautifully, with tablecloth, decorative runner, china, cloth napkins, et cetera. It's amazing, what that will do to make a meal feel special and make the guests feel honored. The parents were quite obviously pleased and touched.

what we talked about )

The parents present were all highly dedicated church families. (I'm hoping some less involved families come to subsequent breakfasts.) They spontaneously mentioned making a conscious family decision that "church is what we do" - a commitment to be part of the church community and help with church activities. They all agreed that it doesn't work to make a week-by-week decision about whether to go to church, or to allow your kids to see church as optional. "We have to help parents understand that when you go all the time, it's just better. Kids get more out of it, parents get more out of it, the church gets more out of it."

I am particularly interested in this question, about what makes some families commit to church and others remain on the fringe. Back when Michael and I first started attending, we made a conscious decision to have church be our default, rather than waking up on Sunday morning and deciding whether or not we felt like going. That decision deepened our relationships within the congregation and led to us being much more involved in church activities and church governance. But we were both raised in deeply committed church families, so I think that model felt natural to us.

I'm not sure how the process works for other people. In Unitarian-Universalism there is no obligation to go to church, no sense that it's wrong or sinful to skip church, no sense that the minister has access to spiritual gifts you can't get on your own. What makes church a deep part of life for some people, and a when-it's-convenient activity for others?


rivka: (Default)

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