Worship transcript for September 13, 2020

Prelude (Gordon Kent, piano; Allison Blakely, Eliza Carney, Jen Hayman, Bob Jayes, Cristina Mercurio, Shebbie Rice, Ann Watters, David Wiley, Taryn Wilgus-Null, vocals)

“Walk Together Children” (Traditional African American spiritual; arr. by Lenard Starks)

Walk together, children, don’t you get weary (3x)
There’s a great camp meeting in the promised land
Gonna walk and never tire (3x)
There’s a great camp meeting in the promised land

Sing together, children…
Gonna sing and never tire…

Pray together, children…
Gonna pray and never tire…

Walk together, children…
There’s a great camp meeting in the promised land!

Call to Worship/Chalice Lighting (Rev. Kathleen Rolenz)

Welcome all souls whose boundless spirit of faith, of hope and love cannot be contained within any walls

For, as A. Powell Davis has said: “for None of our private worlds is big enough for us to live a wholesome life in.

We need the wider world of joy and wonder, of purpose and venture, of toil and tears.

What are we, any of us… until we draw together and find the meaning of our lives in one another, dissolving our fears in each other’s courage, making music together, and lighting torches to guide us through the dark?

From many places of the Spirit we have gathered this morning

If you have a chalice at home, I invite you to be prepared to light it now

We kindle this separate flame for the larger light of truth, the warmth of community and the fire of commitment; may these guests attend well our gathering this Hour.

Hymn (members of the All Souls community)

“Gather the Spirit”

Gather the spirit, harvest the power.
Our separate fires will kindle one flame.
Witness the mystery of this hour.
Our trials in this light appear all the same.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks,
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope compassion and strength
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit of heart and mind.
Seeds for the sowing are laid in store.
Nurtured in love and conscience refined,
With body and spirit united once more.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks,
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope compassion and strength
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit, growing in all,
Drawn by the moon and fed by the sun.
Winter to Spring, and Summer to Fall,
The chorus of life resounding as one.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks,
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope compassion and strength
Gather to celebrate once again.

Welcome (Sunu Chandy)

Good morning and Welcome to our live long distance worship at All Souls Church!

Welcome to a community where our search for spirituality and our passion for justice meet and mingle.

Where our head and our heart are divided no more.

Where reverence for the Earth and belief in the dignity of every person inform our ethics.

Where music is an expression of our joy, prayer a sign of our faith, and acts of justice a symbol of our hope.

Welcome to a place where when we say All Souls we mean it, a place where ALL people—people of all races, creeds, gender, sexual & affection orientations—where ALL people are welcome at the table of love and fellowship. We extend a special welcome to our visitors and guests and all those who may be joining us for the first time.

If we were together in the building – this is where I would say “turn and greet one another” and you still can! Although you’ll be on mute, simply take a moment to behold one another, and to say hello to one another in the chat.

Announcements (Rev. Tony Coleman)

Good morning, friends! My name is Tony Coleman, and I serve as All Souls’ Minister of Adult Spiritual Development. I’m very excited to share with you some news about the life of our congregation this morning.

First, I want to wish you a very happy homecoming Sunday and let you know that as we come together to kick off the new church year, many of our staff members are offering some very special opportunities for community and connection at our Homecoming Sunday Zoom Festival! Directly after this service you can join us for our usual coffee hour, or you can visit the music room, DJ’ed by our Associate Director of Music and Arts, Rochelle Rice. You can visit with Rev. Louse for a time of intentional care and spiritual nourishment, and you can much more.

Also, this and every Sunday, we want to let you know that Religious Education classes for children are going to be offered throughout the morning. Additionally, drop in mindfulness on weekday afternoons, masked outdoor hikes and other special events are in the works. You can find out more details on the All Souls website.

For of those of you who would like a chance to get to know Rev. Kathleen a little bit better and introduce yourself to her, you can join her for a Zoom happy hour/tea time. There’ll be one more general gathering and then there’ll be identity-specific gatherings for some of our communities of color. You can check out the All Souls website for more info about that, too.

Now, I want to turn it over to Rev. Rob Keithan, our Minister of Social Justice, who will share some updates about All Souls’ Reeb Voting Rights Project.

Reeb Announcement (Rev. Rob Keithan)

I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you about the importance of this upcoming election, so instead I’ll talk about the power of taking action through the Reeb Project. Quite simply, All Souls Reeb Project is the largest and most effective voting rights effort I’ve seen in a UU congregation. It was founded in 2014, in part at the invitation of Rev. William Barber to partner on work in North Carolina and in part after the US Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. It is named in honor of Rev. James Reeb, a former minister of All Souls who was murdered while working for voting rights in Selma.

Today, these foundations still guide all the work of the Reeb Project—we work with partner organizations in key states, and we are clear that the struggle for voting rights is a struggle against ideologies that use race and racism as political tools.

We’re also clear that this work is best done in community, with very clear actions and training. So that’s what the Reeb Project does—we plan focused events, like writing postcards, phone banking, and test banking—and we provide training every time about how people can participate. So it’s easy, it’s effective, and it feels good to be part of a group that’s making a difference. And this year, the Reeb Project has partnered with UUs for Social Justice and the national UU the Vote Campaign to extend our reach even further.

In 2018, we had a goal of 150 people completing 500 2-hours shifts. For 2020, we’ve tripled that goal: this year we want to have at least 450 people participate to fill at least 1500 volunteer shifts. There’s a text bank this very afternoon from 2 – 5 PM in partnership with CASA Pennsylvania, which organizes with and for Latino and immigrant communities. There are phone banks every single Thursday evening from 6-8 PM in partnership with the UU State Advocacy Network of North Carolina. And there will be a big push at the end of September for national voter registration day. And that’s just some of the possibilities.

So I hope you’ll join literally hundreds of your fellow All Souls congregants as we work this fall as we work to build Beloved Community in one of the most important and concrete ways possible. You can sign up on the Reeb Project section of the All Souls website, via the link in the chat. Thanks!

https://all-souls.org/social-justice/reeb-voting-rights-project/

Story for All Ages (led by Dolores Miller)

“Why People Tell Tales: A Romanian Folktale”

Narrator: Once there were three people who were traveling together. As day turned into night, they grew cold and tired. They looked for a place to spend the night. Up ahead they saw a cottage. They knocked on the door. An old woman answered.

Woman: What can I do for you?

Traveler 1: May we come in?

Traveler 2: We need a place to spend the night.

Traveler 3: We will gladly pay you.

Woman: You are welcome in my home, but you will each have to tell me a story.

Traveler 1: Sure!

Traveler 2: Gladly!

Narrator: The third traveler said nothing. After they had warmed themselves by the fire and eaten soup, the woman said

Woman: Now I will have a story from each of you.

Traveler 1: Well, I have a really funny story about…

Narrator: And she told a story about a friend who played tricks on people. The woman laughed so hard she almost fell over!

Woman: Now your story?

Traveler 2: My story is sad…

Narrator: And she told a story about some very lonely people. The woman wept.

Woman: And your story?

Traveler 3: I don’t really know any stories.

Woman: Everyone has a story. Something must have happened in your life. Tell us about it.

Traveler 3: So I don’t have a story, what’s the fuss? I offered to pay you!

Woman: Well, if that’s the way you feel, get out of my house!

Narrator: And she kicked him out without a coat or shoes. He knew he had to find shelter soon, so he ran to another house. But when he looked in the window, he saw the most alarming thing! He saw a snake, ready to pounce on a sleeping person! He ran to the next house. But when he looked in the window there, he saw a large mountain looming over another sleeping person! In horror he ran to another house. And there he saw 3 flames of fire circling 3 sound sleepers. The poor traveler had no choice but to go back to the house of the old woman. He told them about the snake, the mountain, and the flames. Then the old woman spoke.

Woman: Now listen well. At the first house it wasn’t really a snake you saw. But a belt that was left out. It was a warning to put your clothes away. At the second house, it wasn’t a mountain, but a mountain of toys that were left out. Don’t be lazy, put your toys away.

Traveler 3: So what about the third house?

Woman: Ah, the third house. In that house three people were sleeping peacefully after each one had shared a story. Each story turned into a flame to protect the house so no harm could come to the sleeping people. So, you must see how important it is to always have the gift of a story in your heart, and on your lips.

Narrator: The travelers never forgot her words. And from then on wherever the third traveler went, he was never without a story. Of course, it was always the same story. It was about the time he had been a man with no story!

Congregational Concerns/Prayer (Rev. Louise Green)

I am Rev. Louise Green, the Minister of Congregational Care. It’s great to see so many of you today!

After this service, I’ll be facilitating a Congregational Care hour, so come share more about life happening for you right now. Zoom link on the website homepage.

In addition, this Wednesday, September 16, at 7:30, I’ll begin hosting a weekly drop-in Listening Circle for one hour. This will be lightly organized time for reflection and sharing, a space to connect with All Souls folks every Wednesday that you are able to come. The Zoom link will be on the website homepage that evening.

And now some congregational joys:

We celebrate a new baby born September 2: Isaac Stafford Abbott Carter. Little Isaac is welcomed by happy parents, Matthew Carter, and Kelsey Cowger, whom you may know as the Reeb Project Voting Campaign Organizer.

Congratulations to Mary Lauran Hall and Michael Hendrix, married just yesterday, September 12, in Mary Lauran’s parents’ backyard in Massachusetts.

We also mourn with so many family members and friends in health challenges or mourning deaths.

Will Hayes has been in the hospital for a few days of diagnosis, and is being released to hospice care at home. He has cancer with complications, and the situation has moved very quickly for Will and his spouse Peg Barratt. We pray for Will’s comfort, and the strong support of family and friends for Peg and their son Nick.

We send prayers to Bonnie Manwell, who remains in hospice care, and is now in at the end of life, at Riderwood. She is supported by her three children, and many extended family and friends.

Franz Jansen’s father Carl died peacefully in his sleep, in Oxford Ohio on August 29. We offer condolences to Franz, spouse Jean Badalamenti, and their children Isaac & Sicilia.

We lament the death of Laura Sailer’s aunt, Margaret Harden, on September 9 at Riderwood hospice care. Thinking of Laura, Peter, Fred and Lisa today in this loss.

Last month, Jomo Graham’s father, O’Neal Lorenzo Graham, died in San Diego. Jomo was able to travel to California for the service, which included full Navy honors for his dad. Our hearts are with Jomo, spouse Marta Urquilla, and their children Luz and Rubén, as the extended family grieves.

Let’s take a moment for names of any people or situations on your mind now, spoken aloud, or in silent meditation.

Please join me in prayer or reflection:

Holy web of many names, we are surrounded by stories of both pain and possibility. Just this week in the U.S.: massive fires from climate emergency in the west, increasing political tensions around a critical election, racial strife in places of protest and pain, hardship for many facing eviction, job loss, and immigration challenges. It is easy to hit overwhelm and grief.

We pause this morning to breathe and reach out. May we design new stories that break through old systemic narratives–of injustice, carelessness, and the illusion of separation. Let we at All Souls be a people that embody new world myths—bold and compassionate stories of connection, reciprocity, and love. We pray in all the names of the sacred, Amen.

Hymn 123 (All Souls Virtual Choir)

“Spirit of Life” (words and music by Carolyn McDade) (sung in English and Spanish)

Fuente de amor, ven hacia mi
Y al corazon cantale tu compassion
Sopla al volar, sube en la mar
Hasta moldear la justicia de la vida
Arraigame, liberame
Fuente de amor, ven a mi, ven a mi

Spirit of life, come unto me
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice
Roots hold me close, wings set me free
Spirit of life, come to me, come to me.

Reading (Rev. Coleman)

“The Understory” (Mark Nepo)

I’ve been watching stars rely on the darkness they resist.
And fish struggle with and against the current.
And hawks glide faster when their wings don’t move.
Still I keep retelling what happens till it comes out
the way I want.

We try so hard to be the main character when it is
our point of view that keeps us from the truth.

The sun has its story that no curtain can stop.
It’s true.
The only way beyond the self is through it.
The only way to listen to what can never be said is to quiet our need
to steer the plot.

When jarred by life, we might unravel the story we tell ourselves
and discover that story we are in, the one that keeps telling us.

Sermon (Rev. Rolenz)

“Who Keeps Your Flame, Who Tells Your Story?”

Welcome member and friends of All Souls – to this historic and unprecedented Homecoming Sunday! This is historic because although members and congregants of All Souls have gathered now for almost two hundred years – this is the likely the first time we have had a Homecoming Sunday in any place other than in the building. I like to imagine that if we were in the building, you might hear the tolling of the famous Abolition Bell, cast by Joseph Revere, Paul Revere’s son, to welcome you all back home.

For those of you who don’t know why it’s called the Abolition Bell, it’s a great story. All Souls famous bell was used as an unofficial city bell for emergencies and city meetings, until December 2, 1859, when the church tolled the bell for the death of abolitionist John Brown. When I heard that All Souls rang that historic bell for John Brown, I was proud of All Souls and of my faith as a Unitarian Universalist. I was even prouder to hear that the officials of Washington D.C. then stopped using the bell shortly thereafter, denouncing the church’s show of respect for Brown. Every since then it’s been called the Abolition Bell.[1]

It’s a great story –and it is likely that it never happened. If we were together in the sanctuary, I might hear a gasp or two from the pews because this story, has been retold so much that it’s part of All Souls lore. But where did it come from? It was recounted in a 1910 “Sketch of the Unitarian Church” by Jennie Scudder, is likely the source of the myth. In her essay, she quotes what she heard a Dr. Shippen say, who said he was “informed” by someone else. It’s the telephone game of storytelling – Scudder recounts something that Shippen heard who says simply that “I was informed…” but we don’t know by who – and by the time the story makes its way to print – it now becomes a documentable fact that can be found on Wikipedia! However, after talking to historians and archivists who have researched this story – they can find no evidence that it is true.

So why am I telling you this alternative story on Homecoming? It has much to do with not only the theme for the month of September – which is story – but is inextricably intertwined with my work as your interim minister for the next two years. As Rev. Tony Coleman so eloquently described in last week’s sermon, we are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves; the stories we believe about ourselves and the stories others tell about us. Likewise, we are powerfully shaped by the myths we adopt and the ones we debunk about ourselves, our communities, and our larger world. Accepting as fact the story of the Abolition Bell being rung for John Brown has been one of the ways All Souls members affirm that this church and by inference the Unitarian Church has historically been an anti-racist anti-slavery church. The historical truth about 19th century Unitarianism is that there were many different opinions about slavery in our congregations before the Civil War, and we have chosen to memorialize the leaders and stories that reinforce the values we want to affirm today.

I’ve now been with you for about a month, and already I’ve heard a variety of stories about All Souls – Creation stories of how All Souls was started and the vision that kept it going; Success stories of rapid growth, expansion, seeding of several local Unitarian congregations; building renovations and beautification; So many justice stories –of building relationships with the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; of A. Powell Davies calling for members to boycott restaurants and theatres where blacks were not admitted; of relentlessly persisting in Marriage Equality. In the 14 months leading up to the 200th Anniversary of the Founding of All Souls, the stories we tell about the church shape not only who we understand ourselves to be now – but point us to who we want to become in the next chapter of All Soul’s life. I’ve heard stories about historic ministries; of senior ministers, of associate and assistant ministries; of interims and intern ministries as well important lay leaders of All Souls. All of these stories point to both human strengths and human failings. What’s important for us to remember is something we know in our bones but often forget.

That is, what author Chimamanda Nogozi Adiche reminded us in her Ted Talk of 2009 entitled “The Danger of a Single Story.” The single story is one story we learn and repeat until we are convinced that it’s fact. As a Nigerian author she was often confronted by the single story that people wanted her to either tell her or reflect back to her about her own country. She writes: “If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.” That’s the story her white college roommate had adopted; and her white editor, and others who were shocked that her novels featured characters not unlike them. Adiche continues “So that is how to create a single story; show a people as one thing; as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”

My time with you will be shaped by the stories we tell about past triumphs and wounds. But one of the benefits of being a new person to your culture is that I can ask naïve questions about the stories, keeping in mind Mark Nepo’s cautionary statement: “Still I keep retelling what happens till it comes out the way I want.” I wanted the John Brown bell story to be true because it says something about the character and values of the people of All Souls back in 1859. And yet, that’s the danger of a single story.

The biblical scholar Marcus Borg used to say about the stories in the Bible “I don’t know if happened exactly in this way, but I know this story to be true.” That statement blew open my mind and the way I would read sacred and secular texts that purported to be true. The stories in the Bible may not literally be factually accurate, but the truth that is there lies in the fact that they reveal something about what the story tellers want to be true. The stories we tell about All Souls may or may not be factually true. There are some facts which can indeed be verified. But there are other stories which live in the both + and; in the grey areas of memory and history where we create a narrative that speaks to some truths but not others.

So this year and next, all of us, are going to be storytellers – sharing with one another the story of our spiritual and religious lives, the story of this church and the story of this time. I think about the fact that my granddaughters were born two months in lockdown of a global pandemic. What story will be fashioned for them about their birth and these early days of visiting them feeling like we should be in hazmat suits? What stories will we tell about how All Souls not only survived the pandemic, but thrived, and grew, despite all rumors of the demise of religious institutions? What stories will be told about the ways in which we are doing church now will forever change the way we do church in the future, making it more possible for more people to connect with this Beloved Community?

I have to tell you one more story, which is a composite story, drawn from some of the stories I’ve already been hearing. It’s a story that often begins as a reflection story of a childhood faith, although sometimes it’s a wilderness story at first – a story of feeling this vague longing for something – community perhaps, or meaning, or a place for your child or children; and then the story grows and expands, and it becomes a story of the shared experience of worship, of being touched by something greater than the everyday – a story of being moved by a Spirit that is in this place and that is so much more expansive than the bell, or the courtyard or the sanctuary or even the whole building can contain; it’s a story of pride – and for some it’s a story with deep roots told by people who have been at All Souls for 20, 30, 40, 50 years – who have seen it all, the good, the bad, the ugly the beautiful and the holy and who are still here and aren’t going anywhere; and it’s the story of a brand new class of Roots and Wings people from 2020 who have found in All Souls, a spiritual home, even while staying at home.

It’s the story of a deep and profound love of this church, one that hold on to the vision of Beloved Community even when they feel betrayed and disappointed by the church. They know it is a human institution, and that all of us are more than a single story of success or failure; resurrection or redemption. It’s the story of people coming home to this place, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. As one member said “we love on each other – we fuss on each other – and we keep coming back.” We can feel a loss when a cherished story which we believed to be true is discovered not to be so, or we can ring the bell for what is true – the fact that we gather again and again with the hopes of realizing a bit of paradise right here on earth.

Adiche concluded her TED talk with this final story: “The American writer: Alice Walker wrote this about her Southern relatives who had moved to the North. She introduced them to a book about the Southern life they had left behind. “They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained.” I would like to end with this thought, that when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” [2]

The title for this sermon was drawn from the musical Hamilton, who asks “and when you’re gone, who remembers your name, who keeps your flame, who tells your story?” And as we look back on these times and on this Sunday, a Homecoming Sunday unlike any other, we know even more deeply the answer to these questions.

Who keeps your flame? You do!

You tells your stories? You do!

These can be strangely rich times, as we grow in appreciation for the complexities of all of our stories. “When jarred by life,” the poet says, “we might unravel the story we tell ourselves and discover the story we are in, the one that keeps telling us.” Welcome Members, Friends, Congregants, Brand New Members, First Time visitors – welcome Home All to All Souls.

[1] Historical Sketch of the Unitarian Church of Washington DC, Jennie W. Scudder, quoted Dr. Shippen: “Down to 1861 it was rung for public purposes. I am informed that it tolled a requiem for John Brown on the day of his death. Thenceforward it was denounced by some as an abolition bell and in the exciting time of 1861 its use by the city authorities was discontinued.’ Pg. 182

[2] Chimamanda Nogozi Adiche Ted Talk 2009 available as a video

Anthem (members of the All Souls community; Teddy Nagel, Roy Barber, and Amelia Peele, soloists)

“One Fine Day” (David Byrne and Brian Eno)

Saw the wanderin’ eye inside my heart
Shouts and battle cries from every part
I can see those tears, every one is true
When the door appears, I’ll go right through, oooh…

In a small dark room where I will wait
Face to face I find I contemplate
Even though we all are made of clay
Everything can change that one fine day

Then before my eyes is standing still
I beheld it there, a city on a hill
I complete my tasks one by one
I remove my masks when I am done

Then a piece of mind fell over me
In these troubled times I still can see
We can use the stars to guide the way
It is not that far that one fine day

Offering (Sunu Chandy)

Now is the time in our service when we consider how much this church means to us, and how much we can give back to our church community. I / Our family/ My spouse and I give(s) generously to this church because… (tell the congregation a brief story about why the church is important to you.)

This morning, we are doing something a little different. On the screen and in the chat, you’ll find a link to be able to give in real time, as if the offering plate were being passed. Your contributions make a difference to maintain the health and vitality of All Souls Church. I invite you to consider the importance of this church in your lives, and to give generously. Thank you in advance for your generosity.

Hymn (Jen Hayman, piano and vocals; Bill Kane, Fred Katz, Rose Lindgren, Tricia Peavler, Jennie Wasserman, vocals)

“There Is a Love” (Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker)

There is a love holding us
There is a love holding all we love
There is a love holding all
We rest in this love

Benediction (Rev. Rolenz)

We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth, the warmth of community or the fire of commitment. These we carry with us, until we meet again.

Music (Gordon Kent, piano and vocals; Dante Pope, percussion; Jen Hayman, Amelia Peele, Rochelle Rice, vocals)

“With a Little Help from My Friends” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney; arr. by Joe Cocker)

What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
I get high with a little help from my friends
I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends, oooh

What do you do when your love is away?
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do you feel at the end of the day?
Are you sad because you’re on your own?
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
I get high with a little help from my friends
I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends, oooh

Do you need anybody?
I need someone to love
Could it be anybody?
I just need someone to love

Would you believe in a love at first sight?
Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time
What do you see when you turn out the light?
I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
I get high with a little help from my friends
I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends, oooh