Worship transcript for December 20, 2020

Prelude (Jen Hayman, Rochelle Rice, Amelia Peele, Alex Bodenham, and William Kenlon)

“Carol of the Stranger” (Abbie Betinis; text by Michael Dennis Browne)

Peace and grace be to this house
Where all are welcomed in
Receive the guest, receive this heart
Tell the stranger, tell!

Tell the stranger what you cannot tell those who love you
And desire your joy
Tell!

Make tall your walls, make long these beams
Who once believed alone
Make wide the circle, feed the fire
Tell the silence, tell!

Tell the silence what you cannot tell those who love you
And desire your joy
Tell!

Blessings be upon this place
Let every wound be healed
Let every secret, every dream:
Tell the angel, tell!

Tell the angel what you cannot tell those who love you
And desire your joy
Tell!

Peace and grace be to this house
All will be returned!
Let every soul be called your own
Tell the mystery, tell!

Tell the mystery what you long to tell those who love you
And desire your joy
Tell!

Call to Solstice Ritual (Rev. Louise Green)

Good morning everyone.  I’m Rev. Louise Green, and I welcome each of you to the sacred time we are creating together today. 

We begin in a different way than usual, with an opening reflection, a call to ritual space.  We are honoring our connection in this planetary being, Earth, and our orientation in directions, land, and space.  In so doing, we begin to let go of individual orientation, and remember a set of relationships which are always present.  We come into the presence of one  another, and the particular All Souls site so many of us love, and yearn to be in again next year.

All around the world, millions of peoples are marking and honoring a key moment over the next 24 hours.  In our Northern Hemisphere we approach the Winter Solstice, which will align tomorrow at 5:02 am Eastern Time.  In the Southern Hemisphere, this is the Summer Solstice, and some of you reside there as well. 

For millennia, human beings and other living creatures have tracked our place in the cosmos as viewed from Earth.  The Solstice is that moment of balance between darkness and light observed in the Sun’s relationship to this planet.  Today we will have the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year.  The Sun will be at its lowest daily elevation, and at the North pole there will be continuous darkness or twilight.

This Solstice occurs with what is a rare visible closeness of Jupiter and Saturn, what will appear as one superstar Monday night after sunset.  The conjunction will be most visible from the Equator region, yet apparent many places. The last time this occurred in a way so clearly visible from Earth was the year 1226.  Eight hundred years ago, Earth residents witnessed a similar event.

I love what we see and learn from planetary movements, and the long view of galaxies and Universe unfolding.  It is a reminder of our connection to a larger vision, and the place from which we view:  our home on Earth, Gaia, interdependent web in which we are formed from the same elements.  Earth elements, which contain cosmic materials, which came from distant stars.

To open our worship together this morning, I invite you to be more aware of the land on which you sit, and your own orientation in Hemisphere and biosphere.  We also hold in consciousness the All Souls building site, the corner of 16th St. and Harvard St NW, in Washington D.C. in the United States.

Our building there was created in 1924, however our congregation goes back to 1821, founded at a site near Judiciary Square.  The land beneath both was once the home of the Piscataway indigenous peoples, residents of the Potomac and Anacostia river regions, and the many waters such as Rock Creek that move into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  

Our All Souls buildings were created by generations of laborers that included immigrants, enslaved peoples and free residents.  We let go of any sense that this site is only ours now, a building disconnected from native lands and deeper histories.  We seek to embrace and learn from the 200 years of our congregation and the complexity of its relationships over time. We let go of our tendencies to center human history, and remember a longer sense of time.

I invite you to join in the calling of the directions, a way to recall our place among all relations, on this planet Earth. This has been one of my daily spiritual practices for many years. Today

I will stay facing you because of our virtual space.  If this is your practice or you would like to join, I invite you to rise or lift a hand into each direction as named. 

Please take a deep breath, and land fully in your geographic setting and the room in which you sit.  

We call on the teachers of the sky, Sun, Moon and Stars.  Align us to our highest purpose today, and to the healing of the ongoing community which is All Souls. We let go of isolation and the illusion of separate being and embrace our Oneness.

We call on our Earth Mother.  Hold us in the bowl of your being and help us truly honor the land and region of All Souls.  As we honor the land and regions in which we each reside.

We call on teachers of the South.  Unbind us from our personal history, our community history, that we may feel collective clarity and the ability to transform.

We call on teachers of the West.  Guide us to the place of intuition and inner knowing. Remind us of the gift of darkness, and the creativity of retreat and restoration.

We call on teachers of the North.  Move us to the greater wisdom needed in these times.  Open us to the knowledge and experience of teachers over time in many wisdom traditions.

We call on teachers of the East.  Help us as we fly into our future, rising to higher potential and emergence of human consciousness, for the sake of all beings. 

And So It Is. Blessed Be. 

Thank you for your presence. After this deeper orientation, we now light our chalice, Unitarian Universalist symbol of the Light. We will be led by the Andrews Zitelli family today, Elizabeth, Ben and Genevieve.

Chalice Lighting (The Zitelli family)

We light this chalice for our Unitarian universalist spirit growing justice seeking community. I am a living member of the great family of All Souls.

Hymn

“Joyful Is the Dark”

Joyful is the dark, holy, hidden God,
Rolling cloud of night beyond all naming:
Majesty in darkness, energy of love,
word-in-flesh , the mystery proclaiming.

Joyful is the dark, spirit of the deep,
Winging wildly o’er the world’s creation,
Silken sheen of midnight, plumage black and bright.
Swooping with the beauty of a raven.

Joyful is the dark, shadowed stable floor;
Angels flicker, God on earth confessing,
As with exultations, Mary, giving birth,
Hails the infant cry of need and blessing.

Joyful is the dark depth of love diving,
Roaring, looming thundercloud of glory
Holy, haunting beauty, living, loving God.
Hallelujah, sing and tell the story!

Welcome (Jana Owens)

Welcome to All Souls Church.

Since 1821 the members of this church have been walking and rolling together toward an important place, a place that Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. With joy and determination we journey together, regardless of where you began your journey, how much or how little you carry with you, or with whom you choose to hold hands along the way. We are all going there to lend our hands to the creation of a diverse, justice-seeking, spirit-growing community that is true to the dream of all souls. We invite you to join us on this grand adventure. We acknowledge that the physical building of All Souls sits on the ancestral homelands of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, whose existence pre-dates All Souls church.

So for members of All Souls – Welcome! For those of you visiting us for the first time – Welcome! For those of you who make up our virtual church – We are glad you are here!

If we were in the sanctuary, we would turn and physically greet one another. We can still do that – only in a ritual which we are calling “Beholding” We invite you to remain on mute, but to scroll through the gallery of faces. Express gratitude for one another in the chat – for being able to safely see each other while listening to music.

Congregational Concerns and Prayer (Rev. Rob Keithan)

I’m Rob Keithan, your Minister of Social Justice. We start our announcements today with some good news for our community. This past Tuesday, Dec 15, the DC Council approved the critical amendment we’ve been working on and also the entire Sanctuary Values Act! This critical legislation will make our city safer and better for more people, and its unanimous passage is a testament to the strong coalition built among organizations and congregations, including All Souls, to make it happen. So here’s a huge shout to all those organizations, to the members of All Souls Migrant Solidarity Team, and especially to all of our undocumented neighbors for their courageous leadership.

Today, our special Solstice Stroll is SOLD OUT (though there are still spaces available for the labyrinth walks between noon and 1, and between 1 and 2). BUT all are invited to gather (safely) on the lower steps and sidewalk on 16th Street (or even across the street) to listen to live jazz. Bring a lawn chair and relax, and wave hello to friends.

A few more holiday observances. Tomorrow is the last day to sign up for our Ornament Exchange, facilitated by Rose Eaton, where families or individuals can sign up to make an ornament and exchange it with someone else. You can sign up on the homepage.

And we will have two services on Christmas Eve.

Our 7:00 pm Pageant Service with appearances from children & youth, music from the Children’s Choir and Jubilee Singers. And then at 10:00 pm, our service of Lessons and Carols featuring special music from All Souls Choir.

And a bittersweet note for the congregation. Sunday Dec 27 will be the last service of Rev. Tony Coleman, our Minister of Adult Spiritual Development. Rev. Tony moved to Memphis earlier this year for his family, and for a job there, and he has stayed on with us—which we’ve appreciated. But the time has come for us to part ways. And so we will be grateful for him and his ministry here, and we wish him luck at First Congregational UCC in Memphis, TN.

And finally, another thing to look forward to in the All Souls calendar, is that Bokamoso—the amazing youth choir from South Africa—although they cannot be with us in person, they will still provide music for our service on Sunday January 10.

We turn now to our pastoral concerns.

Many of you, I hope, have seen the letter that went out on Saturday, sharing the news that unfortunately an unhoused person who had been sleeping on the steps of All Souls Church died on Friday. We know his name. His name was José Moisés (moi-SAYS) Santos Hernandez, age 44. He’s from El Salvador. He has family here in the city, in Columbia Heights. And so we say a prayer for him, for all the unhoused people in our community who lack the support and services they need. For his family.

And it turns out that starting today, and going into tomorrow, is the annual observance in Washington, DC, of the lives lost of unhoused people. We will participate with all those other people in lifting up the named and the unnamed in our community who have lost their lives for lack of services.

Let’s take a moment of silence to hold José Moisés and all others in our hearts for a moment.

Other pastoral concerns in our community to hold up.

Our hearts go out to Eileen Findlay, whose mother died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest this week. Let us hold Eileen, her children Lucas and Amaya, and their family in love and care.

We also send love to Shebbie Rice, whose cousins Deborah and Arthur both died of COVID recently. 

And this week Jose-Luis Sanchez learned that he has colon cancer. He will undergo treatment in January, so let us send prayers of healing support and solidarity to Jose Luis on this challenging journey. 

In the silence that follows, please say aloud the names of those you carry on your heart this morning. [Pause]

Litany of Letting Go (Rev. Keithan)

In lieu of a prayer during this special Solstice service, I invite you to join me in a litany of letting go. I will speak a sentence or two and pause, and I invite you to respond (with your mute button still on) by saying “There is power in letting go.”

In the lingering days of this challenging year, filled with so much struggle and loss, we say:

There is power in letting go.

So much was not as we had hoped. Jobs altered, or lost altogether. So many events, so many trips, delayed, or missed, of cancelled. 

There is power in letting go.

Amidst so much change, we can and must free ourselves from previous expectations. Our world is not the same, and we cannot be the same.

There is power in letting go.

The gift of this time is to understand more clearly what is important to us and what is not. What is worth our passion, and our attention, and what is not. 

There is power in letting go.

For things left undone, for things left unsaid, we can offer grace to ourselves, and to others. 

There is power in letting go.

Let us set aside that which we cannot change, and make room in our hearts, and minds and souls for new possibilities. 

There is power in letting go.

And one last time all together:

There is power in letting go.

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.

Offering (Jana Owens)

I am at a point in my life where I plan to retire by the spring of next year. So I have a big transition coming. And I’m so excited about it as there are a lot of things I want to get involved in – including church activities.

But one thing I cannot let go of is All Souls Church – even though I cannot attend services and many of our activities are paused. I ask that you consider how important our church community and the work we do are to you.

Please continue giving while our services are virtual so that we have the means to resume our activities – as soon as we can get vaccinated – and that is definitely on the horizon!

Anthem (Jen Hayman, Rochelle Rice, Amelia Peele, Alex Bodenham, and William Kenlon)

“Northern Lights” (Ola Gjeilo)

Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculos tuos a me
quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.

[Thou art beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thy eyes from me,
for they have made me flee away.]

Reflection (Jen Hayman)

“What Will You Let Go”

Four years ago, when my son Simon was born, I became a terrible housekeeper. When I moved to DC in 2013, I took great pride in my minimalist, simple style. Everything that I owned fit into the back of a pickup truck. Every cherished possession that made the journey with me had a story, and a special place in my small apartment. Fast forward three years, I was a married homeowner living in the almost suburbs with a newborn baby and more plastic than I’d ever owned in my life: diapers, temporary infant furniture, and noisemaking toys my parents and in-laws thought would be a good idea.

The first time my mom visited after Simon was born, she quietly cleaned, did laundry and doted on mama and baby hand and foot. I remember telling her that I was shocked at the amount of work it suddenly took to “keep a house,” recalling that my childhood home was always spic and span despite the fact that my mom was a single mother with two kids and a full time job. She reminded me that being a parent was work and that she didn’t just “wave her hands in the air and make magic happen.” At the time, I remember really struggling with this sentiment because the *other* love of my life, leading music with and for others, granted me the luxury of this magic on a regular basis. I wave my arms, and, on a good day, the ceilings seem to burst from their rafters with the true magic of collective, spirit-filled music making.

This year, the only walls that seem to be bursting are the walls of my living room with my frustration as I chuck my phone after the 40th take of this week’s virtual choir submission, foiled again by an urgent text message, phone call or gif of Robert Downey Jr. dancing in his Ironman costume.

It is undeniable that this pandemic has transformed the lives of so many individuals, but the ways it has impacted singers is truly astounding. The very notion that the act of singing has become a high-risk activity, seems almost comical. Heartbreaking, but comical. In our choir rehearsals, I often reiterate my awareness that singing in a choir, especially as an adult, is a choice: to do something for oneself that is not in service of work or family, because it brings a different kind of satisfaction, joy and sense of purpose. In the hustle and bustle and often cut-throat ambition that thrives in DC, it is hard to make space for a ritual such as singing. And yet, every week, after 8-plus hours at their day jobs, our choristers spend precious time searching for that ever-elusive parking spot, only to shove some calories into their faces in Reeb Lobby before two more hours of “work” in rehearsal. But the thing is: sometimes, or dare I say often, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels important, meaningful, affirming. It feels like we are all on a train, going the same direction, and it doesn’t even matter the destination. That, friends, is magic.

This year, our rituals look a bit different. Instead of singing Rachmaninoff Vespers in a candlelit sanctuary, we’ve been prepping Christmas music for the past 6 weeks by singing into the void of our cell phone cameras with headphones, click tracks, all served a hearty side of anxiety and self-deprecation. Instead of singing “Lean On Me” in worship the Sunday after Bill Withers died, we held a candlelight vigil for Withers, John Prine, and Ellis Marsalis, who all passed away in the same week in late March/early April, and choir members and friends serenaded one another via Zoom. Rather than hugs at the start of every rehearsal, we spend half of our weekly Zoom gathering checking and sharing joys and concerns with one another. Why? Because as much as it is our ritual to sing with one another, it is our ritual to care for one another. We still laugh together…mostly because of my inability to execute very simple functions on my computer. We still cry together, because that, too, is a part of our ritual, like it is for many of you who cry through the music during worship. And we still encounter the rare bird in the form of the virtual choir that comes together perfectly, a true testament that the sum of our music making is greater than its parts.

And the sum of this community? Pretty amazing. In fact, literally *every* email I receive from anyone in the music program begins or ends with “I cannot wait until we are able to sing together again.” But the other phrase included in every email?

“Thank you.”

THANK YOU? Thank you for inflicting another weekly Zoom meeting on me? Thank you for asking me to submit two more virtual choir videos this week? Thank you for telling me kindly to mute myself while we all “sing” together virtually? Sheesh. Most days, I don’t feel worthy of their gratitude. But I do share their hope that we emerge from this pandemic whole. And that requires work. It requires care. It requires letting go of some of the ways we thought this was all supposed to work. And it requires gratitude. Turns out my mom was right: it’s a lot more than waving your hands and hoping for magic.

I cry every time Joni Mitchell gets to the line “something’s lost but something’s gained in living everyday” in her iconic song, “Both Sides Now.” I always cry when someone sings the truth. Gathered community and singing and applause and hugs have all been a part of my loss this year. My diagnosis with an autoimmune disease this spring and my body’s lack of cooperation with all my mind has planned has been another chapter of loss. But there have also been gains: I’ve come to appreciate nature even more, especially on the days my body tolerates a hike or long bike ride. I’ve learned that I can use music apps and other technology that I had actively resisted up to this point in my career! I’ve learned that singing is still a balm for me, even when I feel overwhelmed with work or not very inspired. And I’ve come to trust that there are even deeper roots among this community than I ever imagined. This community loves one another, and that’s not something to be taken for granted, especially right now.

I’ve also had more time to watch my kiddo grow up. So much more time(!) to appreciate the art and clutter and stories that now fill my house, which is less Scandinavian minimalist and more hygge: a characteristic of Danish culture that means, in essence, creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cozying up with a loved one for a movie – that’s hygge, too. Friends, I hope that in this turning of the year, as you take stock of all you’ve had to let go, you remember what’s been gained. Find a little wonder, and maybe celebrate the stillness and the hygge that this slower season in our lives has allowed. Happy Solstice.

Hymn

“Dark of Winter”

Dark of winter, soft and still, your quiet calm surrounds me.
Let my thoughts go where they will, ease my mind profoundly.
And then my soul will sing a song, a blessed song of love eternal.
Gentle darkness, soft and still, bring your quiet to me.

Darkness, soothe my weary eyes, that I may see more clearly.
When my heart with sorrow cries, comfort and caress me.
And then my soul may hear a voice, a still, small voice of love eternal.
Darkness, when my fears arise, let your peace flow through me.

Reflection (Rev. Green)

“What Will You Let Go”

I so appreciate hearing from Jen, about her own deep connection to the ministry of music, and the many things that all those who create our worship have learned to navigate.  Jen brings her heart and soul to the collective work, which is a great gift to this congregation and to each of us.  Her speaking is emblematic of so much letting go we are all experiencing in this year of 2020.  

The waves of change are powerful and intense.  There has been falling apart, and devolving, as familiar forms disappear, and new ways of being and doing emerge.  We navigate pandemic loss, political and governmental change, uprising and accountability on racism in the core of our U.S. history. We all learn new ways of living, for all ages, in work, school, family, and home life.    

The Solstice marks our place of turning, a moment of balance between darkness and light.  We embrace the daytime and the night, and hold space for releasing what no longer serves us.  Today we invite you to let go, with intention and ritual, sorrow and joy, serious purpose and some joyful delight.

What is with you that needs to be released? What weight might you no longer carry? How might you embrace all that is today, with more humility and joy?

Many of us will be at All Souls DC congregational site today for our Solstice Stroll.  We will walk the labyrinth, write down what we want to release into the fires, hear beautiful music, and offer a blessing from the 16th St steps at 5:02 pm, 12 hours before Solstice on Monday morning, 5:02 am. 

This blessing will now be a memorial as well, remembering the life of our neighbor who died at the very entrance doors of our Sanctuary on Friday:  José Moisés Santos Hernandez.  We say his name. We offer condolences to his family and friends, our neighbors, in this area and El Salvador.

Whether you are at the All Souls site or another one, we are connected today and every day.  Your presence is valuable and your part is invited.  Is there a way that you might prepare for the Solstice? 

Design your own observance today.   Perhaps a walk in Nature, or five minutes looking out a window, tuning in to Earth, mindful of your surroundings.  Observing the night sky this evening, from wherever you are on the planet.  Writing your own list of release and placing it in your own fire.  Lighting a candle this evening, or joining the Yoga Nidra tonight on Zoom at 7:30 pm, in our Adult Spiritual Development offerings. 

We invite you to create your own retreat, observing a Sunday of reflection, mourning, joy, and release.  What will you let go?  What will you let go, in this dark of Winter in the Northern hemisphere, or Summer brilliance in the South, that more peace may flow?  Now is the time, the sacred time of Solstice, wherever you reside on Earth. 

Benediction (Rev. Keithan)

In this time of great beauty, there is also great loss. In the powerful, enveloping music that follows, we invite you to sink in to the depth and complexity of it all, and feel held.

Music (All Souls Choir; Jen Hayman, piano)

“Sure on This Shining Nights” (Morten Lauridsen; text by Robert Agee)

Sure on this shining night of star-made shadows round
Kindness must watch for me this side the ground
On this shining night

The late year lies down the north
All is healed
All is health
High summer holds the earth
Hearts all whole

Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars
On this shining night.