Worship transcript for November 8, 2020

Prelude (All Souls Brass Ensemble)

“Fanfare for the Common Man” (Aaron Copeland)

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

It’s a new day for America. The people of this nation have spoken with an outpouring of joy and of hope of a renewed faith in tomorrow. We gather together this morning as one community, as one nation. We gather together around this one flame as we harken to these ancient words:

Above the generations the lonely prophets rise
while truth flares as the daystar within their glowing eyes.
And other eyes beholding are kindled from that flame,
and dawn becomes the morning when prophets love proclaim.

Hymn

40 “The Morning Hangs a Signal”

The morning hangs a signal upon the mountain crest
While all the sleeping valleys in silent darkness rest
From peak to peak it flashes, it laughs along the sky
Till glory of the sunlight on all the land shall lie.

Above the generations the lonely prophets rise
while truth flares as the daystar within their glowing eyes.
And other eyes beholding are kindled from that flame,
and dawn becomes the morning when prophets love proclaim.

The soul has lifted moments above the drift of days
When life’s great meaning breaketh in sunrise on our ways.
Behold the radiant token of faith above all fear
Night shall release its splendor that morning shall appear.

Welcome (Kerry Reichs)

Good morning, and welcome to our live long-distance worship at All Souls Church! My name is Kerry Reichs and I’m so glad to be here as your Worship Associate today.

For almost 200 years, our congregation has sought to live up to the vision inherent in our name, All Souls. Our mission is to build what Dr. King called the “Beloved Community” – a vision of human community where the divisions that separate us in our daily lives come tumbling down and we recognize that all people are welcome at the table of God’s love and human fellowship. As Unitarian Universalists, we are diverse in many ways but united in our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and in the obligation to express our faith through acts of justice and compassion. We invite you to join us as we seek to create a diverse, justice-seeking, spirit growing community that is true to the dream of all souls.

If we were together in our uplifting sanctuary, I’d now invite you to turn to someone near you in the pew for a handshake or a hug. Instead, I invite you to “behold” – rather than absorbing the light streaming through our sanctuary windows, bask in the light emanating from the faces of your All Souls friends in DC and around the world. Although you’ll remain on mute, please exchange smiles and waves and chats as you draw strength and joy from the exquisite gallery of this congregation. Again, welcome to All Souls Church!

Congregational Concerns and Prayer (Rev. Rob Keithan)

Good morning All Souls! There are several updates and invitations that I’d like to share with you this morning.

This coming Wednesday, November 11, is Veterans Day, when we show our appreciation to those who have served our nation in the military. This Wednesday is also All Souls monthly Vespers at 7:30 PM. These meditative services are a wonderful opportunity to ground yourself in community and song.

Looking further out, in an ordinary year Sunday Nov 22 would be our annual Thanksgiving Food Drive. Staff and volunteers have agreed that we cannot to a large in-person collection event this year, and we’re investigating a few options that would be both safe and helpful. We will announce the final plans in the coming week.

One thing we do know about that Sunday is that Rev. Kathleen will host a conversation about gratitude with Rev. Galen Guengerich, Senior Minister of All Souls, New York, whose book The Way of Gratitude: A New Spirituality for Today was published in May of this year. That’ll be from 12:30 to 1:30 PM.

Finally, speaking of both gratitude and spirituality, I’d like to invite you, if you are able, to make an additional financial commitment to All Souls, or to fulfill your pledge if you haven’t already done so. This is a challenging time in so many ways, and the economic downturn has left the church with a $96,000 gap in our budget. Your financial support is needed to help All Souls continue ministering to and with you, and to and with our city and nation. Please give generously if you are able so that our work may continue.

We shift now to pastoral concerns.

First, in case anyone was asleep or unconscious for the last 24 hours, allow me to share that Joe Biden is the President-Elect of the United States, and as Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris will break the long, long overdue barrier to women serving in that office. We offer prayers of support and courage to them as they prepare to lead a deeply wounded, and deeply divided nation.

We will do a special recognition of our Reeb Project for Voting Rights later in the service, but for now let us also offer prayers of gratitude for everyone throughout the country who worked to engage more people in our democracy.

Shifting to the more personal concerns in the All Souls community, we offer prayers for T. Vatnick’s sister Jessie, who will have brain surgery on 11/10 for epilepsy treatment. We are thinking of T and sending healing thoughts to Jessie as they prepare for this day and the recovery period.

We pray also for Serena Lowe, a leader in many of our ministries, and her daughter Isabella as they recover from concussions and other injuries sustained in a scary car accident last week. We send them prayers of emotional as well as physical and healing.

We offer condolences to Kurt Fernstrom on the death of his father on Tuesday, after several weeks of struggling with health issues. Kurt is glad his father lived a long life and got to see his grandchildren grow up. We send our love to Kurt, spouse Jennifer Abercrombie, and their children Jasper and Shelby.

And finally, Cynthia Durham is now at Maryland rehab center as she recovers from colon surgery. She’s doing well, and can’t have visitors. Family and friends are encouraging her with phone calls.

In the silence that follows, I invite you to remain muted and say aloud the names of those you carry on your heart this morning.

Prayer (for Democracy)

Our prayer today is from Mr. Barb Greve, a courageous activist and tireless Unitarian Universalist leader who recently served as co-Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association. It is entitled “the work of Democracy,” and takes its inspiration from the Work of Christmas by Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman.

When the glee of the progressives is stilled,
When the posters in yards are removed,
When the lawyers and politicians and pundits are quiet,
When the protestors are safely home,
The work of Democracy begins:
To prioritize the vulnerable,
To reunite the caged children,
To feed the hungry,
To house the houseless,
To release the prisoner,
To decriminalize poverty,
To provide healthcare for all,
To educate the masses,
To care for the Earth,
To protect the vote,
To let life flourish.

Amen.

Hymn 123

“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 (Morgan Duncan)

Reading from an Ancient Source – from the book of Amos, 5: 21-24, Translation: “The Message”

“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (MSG)

Reading from a Modern Source – a second reading from Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

[In 2016]…the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy was in spasms over an election that would transfix the Western World and become a psychic break in American history, one that will likely be studied and dissected for generations. That summer and into the fall and in the ensuing years to come, amidt talk of Muslim bans, nasty women, border walls and s-hole nations, it was common to hear in certain circles the disbelieving cries, “This is not America,” or “I don’t recognize my country,” or “this is not who we are.” Except that this was and is our country and this was and is who we are, whether we have known or recognized it or not.

The candidates were polar opposites, equally loathed by fans of their respective adversary. The extremes of that season forced Americans to take sides and declare their allegiances or find a way to dance around them..The campaign had become more than a political rivalry – it was an existential fight for primacy in a country whose demographics had been shifting beneath us all. People whose ancestry traced back to Europe had been in the historic ruling majority, the dominant racial caste in an unspoken hierarchy before the founding of the republic.

Sermon (Rev. Rolenz)

“The Work Begins”

It is so good to be with you all this morning – there is no place I’d rather be than right here in Washington DC, coming to you live, from the sanctuary at All Souls. And though you aren’t here with me in the building, you are most definitely here in this church – I can see you in these pews and I more importantly, I can feel you.

Do you remember where you were yesterday when you heard the news?

I do- and it’s a memory that will stay with me forever.

I had just hopped off a city bike and was walking to church. A man was beside me, talking on his cell phone. People started honking their horns and shouting and he couldn’t hear so he said:

“What, what just happened?” he shouted into his phone.

Then he turned me with a big smile and said “we did it.”

And we both started to hug each other and then remember we shouldn’t, and it didn’t matter because suddenly the street around the church had erupted into a glorious cacophony of celebration – someone was driving around and around the block blaring Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and there was screaming coming from the church – and it was the children – here for a choir rehearsal, who were jumping up and down with their parents.

And when I ran into Jen Hayman she said “we should ring the bell” and we dashed up the bell tower and rang that glorious Son of a Paul Revere Bell – and pealed it with joy. It felt like freedom.

You know – a part of me didn’t want to preach a sermon today – I just wanted to simply rejoice with those of you who are celebrating the change in leadership. And I also want to give a shout out to all of you who have done so much, cared so deeply and worked so hard to sustain mind, body, heart and soul throughout this election season. I know you’re tired and if the election had gone in another direction – many of us would be mourning and not celebrating.

Earlier this week, I came across a beautiful pastoral letter that was written by my colleague Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons of the First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn to her members – who, as a way of acknowledging the emotional exhaustion of these past couple of weeks – and as a way to frame the end of this election season:

Whatever you have done, known that from the standpoint of faith, you have done enough.

If you helped get out the vote by volunteering or giving money – you have done enough.

If you were part of the protests or activism of this era – you have done enough;

If you cared for students, your colleagues; if you helped a child or an adult feel safe when you were scared;

If you took care of your family you have done enough;

And if you were just barely able to keep your own body and soul together through the devastations of this time – you have done enough.

We need a moment to rest and reflect on what just happened; because I can’t get away from this four year season fast enough – can you? This season of covid-denying, science-rejecting, money- worshipping, immigrant hating, racist-supporting, trash talking, self-centering, migraine-inducing past four years. I’m done! Are you done? Like so many people I’ve been reading on social media, I want to be able to say: “This long national nightmare is finally over.”

And, like many of you, I want to revel in these good feelings for as long as possible, but we know that underneath this joy is some other truths. Covid is still with us and will be for sometime. The 70 million people who voted for the current President are still here. Some of them are our neighbors, friends and maybe our fellow members of All Souls. And as they said in Game of Thrones – Winter is Coming. Now I wasn’t a big Game of Thrones fan, but what I do know is that is a metaphor for that which is coming – more storms are brewing and we had better be prepared.

Earlier this week, as the votes began to pour in, it was not clear who the winner of this election was going to be. Some of us vacillated between hope and despair. As I said at Wednesday’s vigil, I wanted it all – I wanted the Presidency, the Senate, the House but more than that, I wanted the American people to resoundingly reject this Administrations values, policies and practices. The winter that is coming is the energy behind the 70 million people who embraced those values. These numbers didn’t tell us anything new– and yet, having it revealed so plainly brought another level of trauma to an already traumatized, Divided States of America.

Why are we so divided? There have been many books and theories written which attempt to understand these deep divisions in our country. Some assign the divisions solely race and others to class – but Isabel Wilkerson’s brilliant new book –Caste: The Origins of our Discontent posits that our divisions are deeply rooted in an American caste system. Caste, she writes “is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our case, a four-hundred year old social order.” That is worthy of an entire sermon unto itself, and I’m going to take up this theme in greater detail in January – but I want to share with you once piece from the book that explains the conditions that create this snowstorm that is coming.

We are well familiar with the white anxiety which elected our soon-to-be former President. We call it a white backlash, and Wilkerson acknowledges that as the country becomes less white, the desire to preserve whiteness in all its manifestations is real. She recalls a conversation with civil rights historian Taylor Branch about how democracy will fair when it reaches a demographic watershed: the moment in the 2040s when non-Hispanic whites are expected to see their majority disappear. “So the real question would be,” Branch says, “If people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?”

Is it really that stark? Is it really that terrifying? Yes, my friends, I think it is – and I think, Branch named what is right before our eyes. But the trauma of this nation did not solely rest on the shoulders of a President, or Congress. Their dysfunction is only a symptom of the larger trauma from which this country has never faced and will never heal unless it deals with its embedded caste system that proscribes black and brown lives to the lowest rung on the caste system; until it gets to the root of its racist past and –as they say in Haiti – enact dechuke – pull it up completely by its roots – and until this nation repents for its arrogant assumption known as American Exceptionalism.

It is no coincidence that this month’s theme is “prophetic imagination” because the work that is needed most right now is prophetic imagination. The role of the prophets is to call out the status quo – that which we find acceptable or simply take for granted – to reveal its rottenness and to say this will not stand. But what they also do is to IMAGINE a world that reflects the values we believe are critical for survival – not just for red states and blue states – but All states – all of us.

Ancient Hebrew prophets would wander around the streets of the wealthiest cities in the Kingdom, weeping and wailing and pointing out the horrors of living in a society that does not value human life – and as I walked the streets of DC this week, I wondered what a Jeremiah or Amos or Ezekiel would say to what I saw:

I saw men lying in the streets because they have nowhere else to lay their head; asking for change – and the only change I could give was in my pocket; we’ve got room, we’ve got money – but we don’t have the VISION to do any better; America – we can do better!

I saw the food in the little food pantry by the side of the church disappear within an hour; a mother with her child; a painfully skinny teenager; an elderly couple filling one plastic bag, careful to leave food for others; in a country with the greatest resources in the world – this elderly couple counts on US for their daily bread? America – we can do better!

And as I walked around the city, I heard the voices of other, more contemporary prophets too – like environmental activist Greta Tunenberg, who, like an ancient Biblical prophet railed at the world leaders when she told them: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” America – we can do better!

And I heard the words of Rev William Barber, co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, who said: We must shock this nation with the power of love, we must shock this nation with the power of mercy,” he said. “We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy, not now, not ever!” America – we can do better!

The prophets spoke harshly not out of rage alone – their anger was also born of love – a deep abiding love for the people, the nation and the vision of would could be but was not yet. Just like the prophets –our rage and our power must also be intertwined with love – love for that which we cannot yet even imagination. As Vice President Elect Harris reminded us last night – now the real work begins, the hard work, the necessary work, the good work, the essential work to save lives and beat this epidemic – and I would add –bring the shock of love to the heart of our democracy.

Two weeks ago, we offered you a poem by the Poetic Prophet Amanda Gordon. I want to bring her back, with an excerpt from one of her poems entitled “We the People.” That speaks to the love and the passion and the hope and the prayers and the WORK that we have to do. Gorman writes:

We the people are brave enough to love this country’s creed
We the people love this country enough to question its misdeeds
We the people question enough to build upon this foundation
We the people erect an improved hilltop of a nation
Indivisible by where we come from, or who we are born
We the people are those who let freedom ring
So that no matter how we love, talk, pray, or mourn
This America too is ours to build and ours to sing

Amen and May it Be so.

Special Thanks to the Reeb Voting Rights Project (Rev. Keithan)

All Souls Reeb Project for Voting Rights 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 in March 1965 while working for voting rights in Selma.

We’re still waiting on final numbers, but this year hundreds of Reeb Project volunteers joined with Unitarian Universalists from all around the country in the first ever nationwide UU the Vote Campaign. The campaign’s original goal was to reach 1 million voters. In the end, it’s looking like the campaign will have reached more like 3 million voters. And the Reeb Project, through our partnership with Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, played a significant role in that overall total by hosting text banks, phone banks, and post card drives to voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, DC. Our voting campaign organizer, Kelsey Cowger, helped get us rolling in the summer, had a baby in September, and then helped us finish the year strong including by coordinating the national UU the Vote action on Election Day itself. Lay leaders Mattie Feder, Pam Coukos, Ann Maxwell, and many others did hours upon of hours of research, planning, organizing, and last but certainly not least: data management. Because your organizing is only as good as your data!

So, in the chat and/or with the reactions feature, I invite you to show your appreciation for all these leaders and for everyone who participated in the Reeb Project this year. Yayyyy!!!!!!!!!

Now, we also know that the work isn’t over–there hasn’t been a concession, the election isn’t certified, and the Georgia runoff has widespread implications for the nation. So I want you to both celebrate AND stay tuned for future actions. Thanks.

Anthem (All Souls Jubilee Singers)

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” (J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson; arr. by Roland Carter)

Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise high as the list’ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat have not our weary feet come to the place for which our people sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out of the gloomy past, Till now we stand at last
Where the bright gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might, Led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

Offering (Kerry Reichs)

When Joe Biden was projected President at 11:24 am yesterday, my ten year old son ran to where I was anchored in the five-day cushion dent that had become my new home in front of a TV mercilessly broadcasting cable news and cried: “Is it true?” It was. A new President had been declared at last. Jubilation commenced, with my five-year old daughter joining us and chanting: “Our team won, go blue, go blue!”

After a month-plus fog of cable news hypnotization, I emerged blinking into the sunlight feeling as if I had simultaneously shed a weighted blanket, my bra, and too-tight hair braids. I could breathe again. We put on our spiffiest Biden/Harris and RBG tshirts, hopped in the Mini Cooper with the top down, and joined the joyful honking parade to Black Lives Matter plaza. Though slightly nervous about joining a crowd, I wanted my kids to remember forever the day democracy won and we danced in the streets. Though every single person we saw wore a mask, universal elation radiated through their eyes and whoops.

No victory happens without foot soldiers, and I reflected on the many heroes of the 2020 election. First, of course, must be my new emotional support animal Steve Kornacki at MSNBC, the Clark Kent of the map board. My anxiety doubled in the rare moments they let twitter’s new unflappable boyfriend off screen. A not insignificant shout out must go to the employee at Four Seasons Total Landscaping who answered the call from the White House and booked them. Watching that, I thought: 1) my job is at risk because I could fiction write my whole life and still never think of anything funnier, and 2) it should be illegal to feel this happy.

Most of all, my mind turned to Stacy Abrams, a woman people said was not qualified to become governor of Georgia despite having multiple degrees and political experience. A woman people called selfish for not wanting to run for Senate after losing the Governor’s race run-off. Instead, Stacy started her own organization, Fair Fight, to fix what she saw as the gross voter suppression that cost her the election. Some called her a sore loser, but two years later we watched her work unfold in real time as the 800,000 plus new voters she registered helped hand Joe Biden the Presidency, could flip the Senate, and permanently shifted the entrenched way of thinking about whole swathes of states. Stacy Abrams showed the power of the individual foot soldier doing quiet work behind the scenes, getting out the vote one by one, and clearing the path for the first female black Vice President, though the path was not clear for her. Yet.

Four years ago, I came to church in an abjectly different mood. Frightened, confused, grieving, and lost. I don’t know what I would have done had I not found our sanctuary. It was seeing so many of us together, despite open weeping and sorrow, that gave me hope in 2016. I was not in this alone. After only brief mourning, this congregation mobilized, through the Reeb Voting Right Project and many other initiatives. I give generously to All Souls because it is one more tireless foot soldier, relentlessly pressing the arc of the moral universe forward toward justice. I ask that you do, too. On the screen and in the chat you’ll find a link to give in real time. Please join me for today’s digital offering, and consider making a special gift to celebrate this special day, and all the heroes who made it possible.

Hymn (Jubilee Singers)

155 “Circle ‘Round for Freedom”

Circle ‘round for freedom,
circle ‘round for peace,
for all of us imprisoned,
circle for release,

Circle for the planet,
circle for each soul,
for the children of our children,
keep the circle whole.

Benediction (Rev. Rolenz)

With faith in the creative powers of life, with hope for the future of life in this world, with love for all others who share this life with us, let us go forward together in peace.

Our meeting has ended; let our service begin.

Music (All Souls Brass Ensemble)

“Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman: No. 1” (Joan Tower)