Monday, December 19, 2016

When Hope is Hard to Find

Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Field Staff for the Southern Region of the UUA

The mission of the Southern Region Field Staff is, “More Hope, More Love, More Courage, More Justice, More Joy. Now.” In every program, consultation, and coaching call we have with a congregation or emerging ministry, your staff judges its work upon that standard: does this opportunity bring more of these five core values into being? 
I must that I am having a difficult time with that first core value. After a particularly difficult 2016 which was challenging all on its own, I find myself walking into 2017 with a sense of dread. I know that I am not alone in fearing for the basic human rights of many people in my community, in the United States, and all over the world. Most mornings I wake up feeling absolutely hopeless, and I wonder, how can I do my job today? How can I, as the hymn says, bring hope when hope is hard to find? 
As a religious people, we engage in story as a way to pass down our deepest values and views about the world. As Unitarian Universalists, we are so grateful for the pluralism of thought, belief, and tradition that brings us to so many wisdom stories that can inform our spirits. 
At the end of this upcoming week, we are invited to engage in the telling of two important stories, one from our Jewish heritage and one from our Christian heritage. 
On December 24, the Jewish Holiday of Hanukah begins. The Festival of Lights then lasts for eight days, commemorating Judah the Maccabee and a small band of faithful followers who, against all odds, defeated the mighty Seleucid Army and reclaimed their Holy Temple. When they sought to light the Temple's Menorah, they found only a single bottle of oil had not been contaminated. This single bottle was supposed to be a one-day supply, but it miraculously lasted for eight days.  
This Jewish story and celebration can tell us a lot about hope in these dark times. First, even when the odds seemed stacked against us – or especially when they are – don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right. Judah Maccabee and his small group were definitely no warriors, but they had great faith. They faced a great force- and won. We can do the same. Second, a little light goes a long way. The light that was supposed to last for just one day lasted for eight. It multiplied, just as we should continue to build on and multiply small acts of kindness and love. Even though our light is small, it is mighty and can grow. And third, and possibly most importantly, the story of Hanukah tells us that we have to take our fight to the streets. A lit menorah doesn’t stay safe on a table in the center of the house. It is placed in the window as a beacon for all of those who need to see it. We must look outward, we must let our light shine in public spaces, and we must call to people who can band their good tidings with ours. 
On December 25, we are invited to celebrate Christmas and to once again hear the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The nativity story has particular meaning to us in this time of political upheaval and division. Joseph was required to return to the place of his family, Bethlehem, to be counted in the census. The census was ordered by Caesar Augustus, and it was done because the Roman empire wanted to make sure everyone was paying taxes correctly. This travel for the young and very pregnant Mary was probably very “taxing,” and the family probably arrived in Bethlehem sometime in the evening, when all of the rooms in the town were already taken by earlier-arriving travelers. Soon after arriving, Mary gave birth to a baby boy, in conditions that could be interpreted to have gone strictly against her birth plan. A little while later, after the Kings from other nations came to see this tiny baby who was hailed as the new King, they set up a ruse to save the child from King Herod, the insecure, egotistical “King of the Jews” who wanted to obliterate any threat to his power. Escaping to Egypt ushers in another part of the story that sounds familiar to us today, that of a Middle Eastern refugee family fleeing abuse and certain death. 
This timeless tale continues to have so much to say to us today. First, Jesus was a symbol of hope, as all babies are. A new life, with endless possibility. A life that must be protected, and a life we know will end. Each day we awaken is like being born again, with new possibilities and new opportunities to change the world for the better just by being a hopeful presence. Second, Jesus never turned away from evil and injustice. He confronted it head-on. He called it out when he saw it. The story of his life would have been very different if he had distanced himself from the evil he saw, but he chose another way. He chose to go confront it. He didn’t want to close his eyes to it; he wanted to understand it….so he could eradicate it. And third, Jesus was a human baby in all his vulnerability and need. Hope, as fortifying as it is, asks us to be so vulnerable as well. To put faith in things we cannot or haven’t yet seen. To keep moving forward even through our pain. 
Both of these stories teach us about hope. They show us how to confront the evils of injustice. They show us how to take the rebellion to the streets, not to hide when we are scared. And moreover, these teaching stories from our great Jewish and Christian sources show us the true importance of making it our personal duty to keep our eyes on the prize: the beloved community, the Kingdom of God, the Temple Immaculate. That is worth more than any gifts we receive, and it’s certainly worth giving our lives in service. 

This is what bring me hope: the congregations and individuals still working. Those who refuse to hide, who confront evil head-on. Those who take it to the streets. Those who fight evil empires. Those that put their light in a window and draw others in close. Those who stay hopeful and vulnerable. Thank you, my brothers and sisters in faith, for helping me fight. I promise that when you feel hopeless and lost, I will do my best to put a candle in the window and prepare a room for you. The only way through is together. 

Greetings from the UUA Southern Region Events Desk!

from Kathy Charles, UUA Southern Region Events Coordinator

As many congregations begin the budgeting process for their next fiscal year, we thought you might be interested in some of the upcoming trainings that will be available for leaders of your congregation. 

Your Southern Region field staff team travels around the South listening to the needs of the congregations. Shared here are a few changes and additions we are making in an effort to meet those needs.

Our Presidents’ Convocation format will be new this year. There will be a kick off meeting for congregational presidents at each of our four Spring Gatherings (April 8-10, 2017).  After the kick off, in person gathering, all Southern Region congregational presidents will be invited to participate in a monthly series of online conversations. Each monthly session will have a theme based on the needs expressed by the presidents and will be supported by Southern Region field staff.  We hope this will be a continuing support group to all of the congregational presidents. Aside from the optional (but recommended!) attendance at a Spring Gathering for the kick off meeting, there will be no travel or hotel fees. Additional details will be available in our January e-news.

Our four Spring Gatherings (April 8-10, 2017) will also focus on the needs of Southern Region congregations.  These events will be hosted by Bay Area UU Church (Houston, TX), First UU Church of Nashville (TN), Unitarian Church in Charleston (SC), and UU Fellowship of Marion County (Summerfield, FL). There will be a panel discussion with the UUA Presidential Candidates at the Charleston location with the forum web streamed to the other three locations. Along with the meeting for congregational presidents mentioned above we are working with the hosting congregations to offer workshops based on theology, justice and stewardship.

Total immersion Leadership Experience has always been an important part of the training available in the Southern Region. We are hearing that the cost and time commitment for traditional Leadership Experience is more difficult than ever for participants to manage.  We are trying several new styles of Leadership Experience to support Leadership Training across the region. In 2015 we tested the Extended Leadership Experience in the Austin/San Antonio area with great success. Participants gather on four different Saturdays spread over several months to experience as many of the traditional lectures as possible. This program is now in North Texas and again has been very successful.  Would you like an Extended LE in your cluster? If so, please contact me and I will direct you to the right staff members.

The Southern Region staff team encourages you to consider the online UU Leadership Institute ( This is a wonderful program for your leaders to get the basics of Unitarian Universalist leadership training without the costs of travel or the time away from home. A suggested starting point is Healthy Leadership 101 ( This low cost course will be a required assignment for leaders who wish to attend one of our two traditional immersion Leadership Experiences in the future.

We are continuing to offer the traditional Southern UU Leadership Experience (SUULE), August 6-11, 2017, for those who prefer the traditional immersion experience.  The location is the 4H Center in Wirtz, VA. Please plan to send a team to this high level training. We will be offering Dwight Brown Leadership Experience (DBLE) in May of 2018 at the 4H Center in Little Rock.    

For those wishing to commit to an intense and specific Leadership Experience we offer the Condensed Leadership Experience. This is a full weekend experience with intense study for those wishing to consider specific needs in congregational management. Again, if you have interest in hosting a Condensed LE in your cluster please contact me for more information.

2017, more than ever before, will be a time when we choose to gather as a Unitarian Universalist family and consider our values.  The Point offers a customizable experience for all ages to come to a camp setting and pick your study track of interest.  We offer tracks based on Justice Ministry, spiritual path ministries, and for those who would like to relax, there is a track including yoga, arts and crafts and pool time. The Point offers tracks for children of all ages with learning steeped in UU values. Come to The Point. It is good to be together. The dates for The Point are July 23-28, 2017. Our site for The Point is Sequoyah Lodge near Tulsa, OK.  

Over the next 12 months, there will be many one day trainings focused on stewardship, justice ministries, worship, leadership, volunteer management and many more, coming your way.  Watch your e-news for listings. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions about any of the events you see posted or would like help registering or would like to have a program brought to your cluster.

Our UUA GA Chalice at The Point 2016, Fort Gibson Lake, OK  |  © Christine Purcell