Messages from Rev. Elizabeth
July 30, 2019
Beloved First Church Folks,
I wanted to let you know that I'm back from vacation and eager to reconnect! I had a lovely and meaningful five weeks away. I connected with our wider denomination at our UUA's General Assembly in Spokane, squeezed my adorable niece and nephew in Seattle, got away to Maine for some relaxation, read a wonderful UU theology book called After the Good News (read it and come talk to me about it!), and spent a week at the UU/UCC Conference Center on Star Island, in New Hampshire, at the Faith Development Conference, learning about "family ministry" and religious education for children and youth. I'll share more about this in the next month.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear suggestions about what you'd like to hear addressed in worship this fall and winter. Hit "reply" to this email and let me know what's on your mind, heart, and spirit.
I also wanted to let you know I will be using a new email address this year: m inister @ firstchurchjp . org. Please add it to your contacts and delete "rev elizabeth bukey @gmail.com." Thanks!
As always, make an appointment to meet with me if you'd like to chat, tell me about your summer, wrestle with your spiritual beliefs, drink iced tea, show me pictures of your grandchildren, ask questions about Unitarian Universalism, talk about what's bothering you, or just sit in an air-conditioned office for a bit. Use this scheduling link:
With gratitude and care,
May 17, 2019
On Sunday, at our Annual Meeting, you'll be asked to vote on adopting our new Covenant of Relationship. Would you click here to review it and reflect on it?
For the past year, I've been challenging us to think about this idea of a "covenant of relationship." In this context, “covenant” that basically means “promise” or “commitment," and refers to the promises that a congregation makes to one another about how they are going to behave and be together. It means commitments to uphold certain values and practices, and it means committing to remain in relationship with one another through disagreement, discomfort, and conflict.
The Ministerial Committee, the Standing Committee, and I have worked with you to wrestle with what it means to practice "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations" as our UU Principles call us to do. I asked on Connection Cards: "what is something you know about how to have a hard conversation? How to have a productive, positive conflict, how to apologize? How and when to forgive?" I invited you to unearth assumptions about respect, conflict, and behavior. Several of you attended workshops about covenants of relationship.
The Covenant of Relationship we've drafted for our community is here. You can also watch the video to hear me read it aloud for you. See you Sunday!
May 9, 2019
Just quick note to say: I counted all the people in our congregation who served First Church in the 2018-2019 church year…and fifty-five people served on Sunday morning (doing coffee, greeting, reading, opening, and/or working with children), or served on committees. We have, by my count, about 80 adults who are "worship regulars," attending worship at least once per month. That means that our "regulars" are a really active and engaged bunch of people!! It's a real group effort to do church and you do it well.
May 7, 2019
Beloved First Church Congregants,
As I announced on Sunday, we're changing the words we say at the beginning of worship. For now, we are no longer going to recite: "In the love of truth and in the spirit of Jesus, we unite for the worship of God and the service of humanity."
Instead, we will experiment with three different statements of mission and union between now and summer. The first, used this Sunday, is based on our 2011 Mission statement, and reads:
We unite in the power of love, and the strength of community.
We nurture spiritual growth through worship, education,
social justice, and service to others.
Please watch this video version of Sunday's sermon, and let me know what you think.
It was exactly two years ago today that you called me to be among you as your minister. I have found you to be the most caring, prayerful, deep, scrappy, adorable, silly, and trusting bunch of Unitarian Universalists. What a ride it's been, and I can't wait to find out where this journey brings us next. When I asked for the song "God Is A River" as a musical meditation for worship that week, I had NO idea how real that would feel in this ministry.
I have the excited/nervous/confused feeling this is really just the beginning of how we will transform one another and our world together.
March 4, 2019
Beloved First Church Congregants,
We wanted to let you know that Ellen has submitted her resignation, effective August 31. We will plan a celebration of her forty-year tenure at some point in the spring. We are both grateful for our creative and collaborative working relationship over the last two years together. We look forward to finishing out this year in style with all the love and warmth that First Church does so well.
Rev. Elizabeth Bukey and Ellen McGuire
It's hard to know quite what to say. I began my time at First Church when I had just finished school. I was paid $25 per Sunday, and we had only one four-member committee, who met one Sunday a month, before the service. There was no choir, there were no kids, and there was no minister (we were a preaching station for the interns at First & Second Church in Boston).
Now you (we) have begun a new phase in the life of First Church, and I have great faith that you will prosper under the wise and able guidance of Rev. Elizabeth. I look forward to our next few months together.
I am so grateful for Ellen's extraordinarily capable, creative, and collaborative leadership of our music program during the time I've been at First Church. I know I will miss her! Please don't hesitate to contact me with questions or make an appointment to chat as we plan celebrations and next steps.
August 23, 2018
I’m writing to all our members and those who pledge to thank you for your support of our pledge campaign for the 2018-2019 budget year. Together, all of you pledged $128,700.00; that’s up from the previous year’s pledges by 5.5%. I know that many of you were able to increase your pledge, and many are giving a significant percentage of your available income. Whatever your means, your gift is significant and shows you value the mission and vision of this congregation.
Your pledges will make it possible for us to give much-needed cost-of-living adjustments to the staff, to pay for five guest ministers to lead worship when I am away, to offer paid childcare at more all-congregation events and meetings, to purchase additional sheet music, to fortify our efforts to welcome newcomers, and to fund our social justice efforts in the budget for the first time.
With your support over the last year, I’m growing in my ability to provide leadership to our financial and stewardship efforts. In January, I attended a three-day training on “Spiritual Leadership for Stewardship and Fundraising” with the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. In June, the Standing Committee voted to give the minister access to pledge information. This is a current best practice that promotes transparency, signifies trust, and enables the minister to have pastoral conversations that relate to pledging and money. This coming year, I hope to continue facilitating conversation about money and about the spiritual aspects of giving money to organizations we believe in. I also hope for us to have focused conversations about financial visioning for our congregation’s future. If you’re interested in digging deeply into the relationship between Unitarian Universalism, money, and spirituality, I recommend reading The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving, by Mark V. Ewert or The Abundance of Our Faith by Terry Sweetser and Susan Milnor. I’m still far from an expert, and as I am beginning to uncover and understand my own relationship to money, I found these books very helpful; I hope you will, too.
Money can also be a hard topic. If you are struggling around money, either materially or emotionally, please reach out to me. I want to be here for you.
We are all so grateful to you for your gifts of time, energy, and creativity as well as money. As I say on Sunday, it is your generosity that sustains this congregation. In a world that’s full of so much heartbreak and inequality, I’m so grateful to be serving a community of such open-hearted and generous people.
With gratitude and love,
April 23, 2018
Edited and adapted from my sermon "Called In" on April 15
Those of you who have been around First Church know that we have a tradition of closing the service by singing “God Be With You Til We Meet Again.” People look around at one another, as if to say “God be with you. And you. And you.” A number of years ago, the decision was made to add American Sign Language to this tradition. So many of you are used to singing and doing this interpretation as well.
A couple of weeks ago, the Welcoming Committee mentioned to me they were concerned that newcomers would feel left out, and asked for me to help make the invitation more explicit and help people learn what to do. This reminded me that I had had a Deaf acquaintance express discomfort that we—a congregation with no Deaf people who use ASL—would use their language in this way. So I went back to that person and to a couple of other communities I’m a part of and asked: what does this practice seem like to you?
I learned a lot. I emailed with several people in-depth, specifically: a) a certified ASL interpreter, b) two UU ministerial colleagues of mine with Deaf family members, and c) a Deaf advocate, who I was connected with through the UU organization EQUUAL Access, which works for the full engagement of people with disabilities in Unitarian Universalist communities and the broader society.
They all had the same request of us: please don’t use ASL in this way, unless it is part of a service and ministry that is fully inclusive of Deaf people. One wrote: “My short answer is ‘When in doubt, don’t!”
Why not? Weren’t we trying to be welcoming and affirming that ASL is a beautiful language? Yes, we were. But that’s not how it was received by these folks.
Let's move through the steps for being "called in:" Centering, Listening, Acknowledging, Inquiring, and Moving Forward.
Centering: This is not meant to shame us as people. This is about a practice we are being asked to change or stop.
Listening: With a spirit of wonder and learning: what was harmful?
The Deaf advocate I spoke with pointed out that main slogan of disability rights is “nothing about us without us,” which is the title of a book. In this context: any choice about whether to use ASL, or how to provide access and inclusion for Deaf and/or hard of hearing people, should be done in conversation with Deaf and hard of hearing people. That makes sense, right?
This goes extra for a marginalized community. The story of ASL and Deaf communities is complex and full of oppression and controversy. As I’m sure you know, ASL is not just signs for English words: it has its own grammar and culture. There’s much more to say, but to quote the certified ASL interpreter I spoke with:
"ASL is the birthright language of the Deaf community. Historically and still today, Deaf folks have to fight for their right to use ASL. They did and still have to fight to protect ASL from harm by hearing people, often hearing people with power."
With that in mind, I was asked to consider: who is your use of ASL for? Now, this congregation does not provide certified ASL interpretation for our worship and coffee hour. That’s not to shame and blame us and make us feel bad. It’s just a reality that someone who communicates primarily with ASL cannot fully participate in our worship. So when we do ASL interpretation at the end of worship, we are a group of hearing people doing something for other hearing people. That makes it misappropriation, probably.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the term “cultural appropriation,” to refer to “borrowing” specific pieces of a culture, like language, music, or rituals, without understanding or appreciating the full context. I’m more likely to use the phrase “cultural misappropriation,” which acknowledges that I mean something different than mutual cultural borrowing between groups of equal power.
To quote the ASL interpreter I spoke with:
“Misappropriation, in general, involves taking something from the identity/culture of a marginalized community and adopting it without context or power analysis into a majority community's practice.
So when we who are hearing and not connected to the Deaf community "sign" part of the service, we're taking the rightful language of Deaf folks away and claiming our right to use it for our own enjoyment.”
That's not to say that that there aren't good and appropriate uses of ASL for non-Deaf people. ASL and/or its signs can be used as an important communication tool for young children, and for hearing people with disabilities, especially folks who have a delay in being able to use spoken language, and/or including Autistic people. And I've been learning how having an ASL moment in worship has been meaningful to families helped by ASL in this way.
There’s much more to say, but I want us to move through the steps of Acknowledging, Inquiring, and Moving Forward. As your minister and worship leader, I would like us to acknowledge that some folks in Deaf communities felt the Church's use of ASL was harmful or at least, to quote one colleague, "annoying." Of course, no community is monolithic. I know there are some Deaf folks who wouldn't be bothered by a hearing congregation using ASL, or who wouldn't bring it up because there are bigger fish to fry. But from what I've learned, a lot of people find this cultural borrowing harmful.
So I’m asking us to suspend our use of the ASL interpretation of “God Be With You.”
I don't make worship changes lightly, especially to established regular practices that hold meaning for many of you. It's my general orientation and preference to approach such changes by consulting with congregants and other worship leaders, and to proceed with an attitude of curiosity and experiment.
That said, whenever we adopt the practice of another culture, we are accountable to that culture in how we use it. And once a Deaf advocate, parents of Deaf children, and certified interpreters told me our practice was problematic, it didn't feel responsible for me to continue leading it.
I have spoken with the folks here who were involved in starting this practice, and they have told me they are ok if we suspend it.Now what? This can be an opportunity for us to inquire: what we could have done instead? What is important to us about accessibility and inclusion? And then to move forward with changed practice. I would encourage you to talk to me, and for us to think about if and how we DO want to be accessible to people who use ASL. I will be meeting with folks in the congregation who have Deaf family members/who use ASL: please let me know if this includes you so we can set up a meeting. I am, obviously, still learning myself about responding to being "Called In," and I'm practicing this messily with you.
For now, let’s try ending our worship by singing “God Be With You” either simply by singing, or by using a prayer posture I was taught by my colleague Rev. Sharon Wylie. One hand on our heart, connected with our deepest self, and one hand reaching out toward one another and the wider world, acknowledging we are all connected.
Let’s do this together, in gratitude for an opportunity to be called into better alignment with our values and our call to harness love’s power to end oppression and co-create healthy relationships and communities.