We have now raised $9,589.82, 48% of our $20,000 goal!
A Holiday Request from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden
Dear Friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden,
We are approaching the end of yet another year. I hope it has been a good one for you and for those you love. If you have been having a difficult time, I hope things will be brighter in the coming year.
Most of our lives contain a mixture of joy and pain, and so it is in congregational life.
Many things at UUCO are going very well. You know this if you come to our Sunday services. There is energy, enthusiasm, and connection. There are a lot of new people, including families with children. Worship is just rocking with excellent music every Sunday as well. A few other things of special note:
The Navigators group is going strong, providing young people an inclusive alternative to the Boy Scouts who are still discriminating against both atheists and GLBT leaders.
Our sermons are now posted on Youtube. We have our own channel athttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-4wsU7MeI14NgbOSsMcOjQ
This is not only a good place to catch a sermon you might have missed; it is also an incredible way to reach out to others who might be looking for a spiritual home such as ours. Facebook and twitter both help in this as well.
Our Religious Exploration Classes are going strong and we are again offering comprehensive sexuality education to our youth with the OWL program.
One area is causing quite a bit of stress, however, and that is our finances. Since the recession hit, we have been consistently bringing in less than we need to cover expenses. Because of this, and because of some needed repairs to our aging building, we have been using up our cash reserves, which are now nearly down to the $30,000 limit we agreed to establish as a minimum to cover any emergencies. As a result, the board and our committees have needed to be in “penny pinching mode.” One example is that we cut our advertising budget and our Sunday services are now no longer listed in the Standard Examiner. We have also deferred some needed building repairs until we are sure that we will have enough money to do them.
We have several fundraisers planned that should help see us through the rest of this fiscal year without needing to make any really drastic cuts in staff or in programming. But even with successful fundraisers, we will still have a very tight budget.
Financial prudence is a good thing, but too much penny pinching can be, as the saying goes, “penny wise and pound foolish.” UUCO is a vibrant, growing congregation that has an impact in the wider community that is much greater than our size would suggest. We need to have the ability to respond to opportunities to serve without having to worry if we have the hundred or so dollars that would be needed. We need to keep our building in good repair. Deferred maintenance is often more expensive in the long run.
We ask you every year to make an extra donation to UUCO, above and beyond your regular pledge. This year, we are asking you to dig deeper. We would like to raise $20,000 in this end of year appeal.
If four of you gave $5000 each, we would meet that goal. If 20 of you could give $1000 each, we would meet that goal. If you can write a check in one of those amounts, or somewhere in between, please do so today.
Many of us do not have enough resources to do that, however, I know that, we all know that. Some of us struggle just to put food on the table, but most of us are somewhere in the middle. If you can’t contribute $1000, then could you give UUCO $500? What about $100? If even $100 is too much, $50 would help too.
Together we can do this. Let’s raise the $20,000 quickly so we can stop limiting ourselves because of a lack of sufficient resources. Let’s create an atmosphere of abundance, where our spirits all can grow and flourish and where our doors are always open wide to welcome whoever and whatever may come.
Consider what the existence of UUCO means to you and to Ogden and write a check that is as generous as you are able. You might also consider asking some of friends and family members to make a donation to UUCO in your name instead of buying you a gift.
If you would like more detail on UUCO’s financial situation, please feel free to contact our church treasurer, Jeff Lensman.
Thank you, and may you and yours have a wonderful Holiday Season,
PS. This year, we are again saving the postage costs by sending this via email. You may mail your holiday gift check to:
Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden
705 23rd Street
Ogden, UT 84401
You may also drop it in the offering basket on Sunday.
In both cases please note “end of year gift” in the remarks section of your check.
If it is easier for you, you may make a donation online. To do so, please go to the following web address:
https://www.wepay.com/donations/uu-church-of-ogden-2013-year-end-appeal (Donations received or postmarked by December 31st will be tax deductible for 2013.)
Video of this sermon is posted (here)
The religious right has been going on for years about how there is a war against Christmas. If you make the mistake of saying “Happy Holidays” to one of them, you might get blasted. Heaven forbid you say something like Happy Hanukkah, Merry Solstice, or good Kwanza. It is rather bizarre really; because it is in fact corporations that are waging the real war against Christmas. They urge you to spend way more than you can afford and to get in fistfights over parking spots at the mall.
As Unitarian Universalists, we tend to believe that all religious traditions contain some truth, and that we can learn from them. We think it is a rather good thing to recognize and try to appreciate the various holidays of this season. So yeah, I say happy holidays quite a bit.
And I love Christmas, the real Christmas, and the one that came after the first war against Christmas. That first war was also about social justice, something that is also dear to my heart.
This mornings reading from Dicken’s Christmas Carol raised some social justice issues, didn’t it? The two children were called “Ignorance” and “Want.” Doom was written on the boy’s forehead, for ignorance was even more frightening than want, than poverty. The ghost mocked Scrooge with his own words – “Are there no jails, are there no workhouses?”
It reminds me of the modern day war against the poor. Except for the pope, few of the leaders of conservative religions are saying much about predatory capitalism. That was the complaint Dickens had about his society.
Did I mention that Dicken’s was a Unitarian? At the end of the story, Scrooge is saved from himself, by his change of heart and by his actions of generosity. The story ends as follows:
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him. ….and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
Dicken’s Christmas Carol is a classic. I have always loved it, and I am sure many of you do as well. It really is pure Unitarian Universalist propaganda. God Bless us every One, indeed. The story teaches generosity, kindness, repentance and forgiveness. Scrooge is also saved in this world, not the hereafter.
In a very real way, the Christmas celebrations we know today in the United States would not be happening quite the way they are without the efforts of Unitarians and Universalists. We saved Christmas, yes we did! It is very fitting for a faith that maintains that all are saved. Can I hear a hallelujah?
Now some of you may not know that Christmas ever needed saving. Our pilgrim fathers (along with the Native Americans who fed the starving strangers) may have been responsible for promoting the Thanksgiving holiday, but they were not fond of Christmas. They even went so far as to try and outlaw it. In 1659, a law was passed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that imposed a fine of five shillings on anyone found to be celebrating Christmas. They were opposed to Christmas for several reasons. It isn’t biblical of course. No one knows when Jesus was born and the puritans knew that. A Puritan minister at the time wrote:
It can never be proved that Christ was born on December 25. Had it been the will of Christ that the Anniversary of his Nativity should have been celebrated; he would at least have let us known the day.
The second reason is that they were well – Puritans – and they didn’t like the wild Christmas celebrations that were common in Europe, which included lots of drinking and well – rather shall we say rowdy behavior that was a very far cry from “puritanical.” They also rejected Christmas as a pagan celebration, which of course it was.
They were actually pretty successful for a time in outlawing it. Most people today don’t realize that Christmas Day did not become a federal holiday until 1870.
Unitarian Universalists were largely responsible for that act of Congress. I am indebted to the Reverend Richard Nugent, a Unitarian Universalist minister who a few years ago pulled together much of the history that I will share with you this morning. Some of this may sound familiar to some of you. I gave a version of this here back in 2007.
The Universalist community in Boston held a special Christmas Day service in 1789, much to the chagrin of the surrounding clergy. The Unitarians began promoting Christmas in the early 1800’s. They didn’t believe that Christmas was the actual birthday of Jesus either, but they liked the idea of a family centered holiday and thought a special season with a tradition of helping the poor and less fortunate was a pretty fine idea.
The celebration of Christmas was the most controversial subject, second only to slavery, within churches at that time. Liberal clergy like the Unitarians and Universalists denounced slavery and promoted Christmas while their conservative colleagues did the exact opposite.
The issue with Christmas tied into both theology and politics. The conservative religion of the time believed in original sin, believed that only some were saved, and even worse, believed that the state of your soul was directly related to your material wealth. No need for charity. The poor were damned by their own sin anyway. Dickens Christmas Carol with his bald statement that ignorance and want were the real evils was in direct contrast to the theology and social policies of his day. The solution to poverty was to punish those who were poor, to put them in workhouses or debtors prisons.
Christmas was the only time of the year when the poor could expect, even demand, some charity from the wealthy. The carol, “We wish you a Merry Christmas” references those times with the figgy pudding verse Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer: We won’t go until we get some; We won’t go until we get some.” The wealthy did not like this tradition of the unwashed masses gathering at their doors demanding both food and drink.
Unitarians were also responsible for creating or at least spreading several of our most popular Christmas traditions. Dutch and German immigrants first brought the custom of Christmas trees to the United States, but in 1832 Rev. Charles Follen, a Unitarian minister and a professor at Harvard College, put up a tree in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts and decorated it. Follen remembered the German Christmases of his youth, and wanted to recreate that magic for his son. He cut a small tree and decorated it with candles, eggshells, and other ornaments. Two women visited his house that year, both authors and Unitarians. One was Harriet Martineau who was visiting from England and she wrote of the tree and of the gifts given to the Follen children. The other woman was Catherine Sedgwick. She wrote a short story about a Christmas tree that was published in 1836. Their writings helped spread the tradition of bringing a tree indoors and decorating it.
Another Unitarian minister, Alfred Shurtleff, is supposed to have been the first to put lights in his windows at Christmas. I wonder what he would say about the elaborate displays we now see – not only windows, but also every tree and shrub in the yard seems to have lights. Even if it is only an historical rumor, I love the idea of a Unitarian starting the whole Christmas light thing. As the religion of love instead of fear, it seems very appropriate to have offered the joy of multicolored lights to this season. It even speaks to the beauty of diversity, doesn’t it? How dull it would be if all the Christmas lights were of one color only, and how sad if none of them twinkled off and on in the night.
Edward Sears, a Unitarian minister, wrote “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” We will sing it at the end of the service. Please pay particular attention to the third verse. Sears lived through the civil war. His phrase “beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong,” is a clear call for peace and justice in this life, in this world.
In case anyone is starting to wonder, no, the 12 days of Christmas was NOT written by a UU – at least as far as I know.
But back to the antiwar message,
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a contemporary of Edward Sears and also, yes, a Unitarian, wrote the poem about Christmas Bells, which is in our hymnal #240 and which the choir just sang. It was written about the civil war.
I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Peace on earth, good will to men. The Christmas spirit in the words of these men, good Unitarians that they were, is something that should lead us to change our lives, to change the world for the better. And in keeping with our long standing Unitarian Universalist tradition of changing with the times, and with new understandings, the hymnal words read ‘to all good will” rather than good will to men. Yes, being willing to change CAN be traditional!
Christmas really didn’t become popular, however, until one really important thing happened. Historian Stephen Nissenbaum, in his book, The Battle for Christmas, says that ‘a new faith (began) to sweep over American society.
It was the religion of domesticity, which would be represented at Christmas-time not by Jesus of Nazareth but a newer and more worldly deity- Santa Claus.”
Santa Claus. A favorite character of adults and children was really created when a famous poem was written and published. You know the poem, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. It was read to me as a child. I have read it to my own children. I am sure most of you have read it many times.
Originally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, it may have instead been the work of Henry Livingston. The poem with its Jolly Old Elf, the sleigh with 8 tiny reindeer, all of it contains the defining cultural creation of Santa Claus.
Now, Moore and Livingston were not Unitarians, BUT the book was illustrated by the political cartoonist Thomas Nast, who was. Nast created the pictures that are how we see Santa Claus today. His engravings, 76 in all, were published in Harper’s Weekly beginning in 1862. He used many images from the poem, but also added his own ideas – he was responsible for placing Santa’s home at the North Pole, for instance. A nice idea that was, as takes Santa beyond the boundaries of any one country. He also created Santa’s elf helpers, and he introduced the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe to the United States.
Christmas imagery was furthered enhanced when another Unitarian, Nathaniel Currier, and his partner, Jims Ives, began making their famous Christmas lithographs
And last but not least in this litany of Unitarians and Christmas cheer, James Pierpont, son of a Unitarian minister and a church musician wrote the popular “Jingle Bells”.
So Unitarians had a really big role in creating Christmas, as we know it. But did they really save it? Can a holiday be saved?
Let’s listen to Dicken’s Scrooge again,
“Merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in them through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?
If I could work my will,’ said Scrooge indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!’
His nephew replied, ‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’
Christmas is a time to think of other people, regardless of their station in life, as fellow passengers in life. I think that is salvation. We may have to save the holiday again because many seem to have forgotten that it is not about greed, about plenty for some, salvation for some, about over-spending, or about arguing about whose holiday it is. It belongs to all of us. And even though, as Unitarians and Universalists, we helped create this holiday, we are with full hearts more than willing to share it with everyone, in the spirit of the season. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Ah, Utah, your mountains are beautiful but your politics are truly bizarre.
In arguing the current challenge to amendment 3 which bans same sex marriage, the state attorneys said case law requires that the judge use a rational-basis standard to determine if Utah’s law promotes a legitimate government interest in supporting responsible procreation and the “gold standard” of two biological parents for child rearing, which they said was the primary purpose behind the ban on same-sex marriages.
Gold standard? Utah is a state that says it values families and children. It also has terribly underfunded and poorly performing schools and one of the highest suicide rates in the country for teens and young adults. I won’t even talk about STD’s and teenage pregnancies, porn addiction rates, drug addiction rates, or the high profile and horrible cases of child abuse and neglect that keep surfacing.
Is the gold standard really about straight couples marrying very young and having lots of kids? The LDS culture here encourages that. Families with eight or even ten children are not uncommon. Women are defined by being mothers and more is clearly seen as better. That doesn’t seem like “responsible procreation” to me. Almost every week, a young child is run over in their driveway and killed , often by a relative. Unsupervised children find the family guns and shoot each other or themselves. Realistically, no one can watch ten kids and keep them safe, not these days. No one can really care for ten children and do justice to the difficult job of being a parent.
If Utah families are the gold standard for raising children, it is a pretty tarnished one.
Responsible procreation is having children that you really want. It is having the resources and abilities to be able to care for them so that they can grow up to be healthy, happy, responsible people who will contribute something positive to the world.
Same gender couples who have decided to have children are much more likely than straight couples to have given parenting a lot of thought before they create a family. It also takes a lot of effort and expense for a gay couple to have a child, most commonly through artificial insemination, surrogacy, or adoption. Accidental pregnancies just don’t happen. Home studies are also required for adoption. The gay parents I know are, in fact, some of the best around. I also know some awesome single parents as well as straight couples who have adopted children. Kids in those families suffer not because of their family structure but because people tell them their family is somehow not “real” or “not as good .”
The state attorneys and those they represent should take a long hike in those lovely mountains. They can look for gold, but they just might see a rainbow instead.
We could then adopt a rainbow standard of children being raised by a parent or parents who will love and care for them.
Sometimes when a tree falls
We are surprised
Even though we knew
It could not stand forever
Even giants need to sleep
Even heroes need to cry
Everyone must pray.
The seeds you planted
In the heart of our despair
Will surely flourish
A forest of hope
A canopy of love.
To tell their children
To be grateful.
To keep your dream
A video of this sermon can be seen by clicking (here)
Call to Worship: click (here)
What gifts can we bring?
We welcomed nine new members to this religious community this morning. We gave them gifts: a book and a rose, a little something for their minds and a little something for their souls. These are mere tokens of the richness that I hope they will each find here.
What they may not have realized when they signed our membership book, is that they were giving us something in return. Oh, they knew they had to pledge some amount of financial support for the church, but did they understand that their very presence among us is also a gift?
Presence is a present. Showing up, participating, being a part of the worship experience, going to social events, contributing energy, serving the church, and promoting our social justice work are some of the gifts we give to each other. They are gifts we give to our larger community as well. Ogden is a better place because we are here. Don’t ever doubt that, because it is true.
Each person who joins with us makes us better. Each new person increases our diversity and enlarges our perspective.
They come bringing gifts. Since Thanksgiving is over and it suddenly is almost Christmas, I guess it is time to mention a carol. One that has been going through my head as I was thinking about today is that old, rather grim,
“We three Kings of Orient are”. It always seemed grim to me because of the stanza about line about Myrrh.
“Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume Breaths a life of gathering gloom. Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”
It is kind of creepy. It makes me think, however, about some of the reasons that many of us come looking for a religious community. It is often in times of grief, sorrow, or pain that we feel drawn to religion, to spirituality, to community. When we are lost or afraid, it does help to gather in worship with others. A religious community can hold an individual’s pain in a way that can help ease suffering. It helps us know that we are not alone.
It does that because we are all human here. We all have struggles and challenges. We have all known loss and pain. So bring your full self here. The hurting parts of you are also a gift you can bring. In the tender places in all of our hearts, there is a longing for gentle understanding and of recognition. The bitter perfume, the Myrrh if you will, wafts through this room. When you sense someone else’s distress, it is so natural to reach out with a helping hand. Asking for help can be a gift, because it creates an opportunity for someone to serve. Helping others feels good, so share your sorrows and your fears. All of our burdens grow lighter when we share.
Another of the wise men brought frankincense, which is a type of rare and strong incense.
Maybe it is even spicy. I like to think of this as our own unique talents and passions. Our lives are a wonderful mixture that contains so much that we can share. What we love matters, perhaps most of all. What puts spice in your life? Is it something you can bring to church?
Our junior high group has a covenant for when we meet together. It is a simple one. (Ask youth).
Yes, they promise to “be awesome. ” Here in this space, we get to share our awesomeness, just like we can share what makes us cry. What makes you awesome? Something does. If you can’t think about what that might be, ask someone to tell you. Other people know you are awesome, even if you don’t. We all of us have the ability to inspire awe in others. It can be a special talent. We certainly have amazing musicians and artists among us. We also have people who are really good friends, who can bake amazingly delicious cookies, who can unclog a sink, or smile at a stranger. Find your awesomeness and share it. That is an important gift you can bring. It is another reason people join a church; they want to make a difference in the world. When we share full selves, when we put our energy all together we can change the world. We have already changed Ogden Utah, yes we have.
Now we are going to get to the gold, the gift the last wise man brought. You know I was going to get there, didn’t you?
How many of you have read the letter I sent out via email on Friday? If you didn’t get it, please let me know.
If you read the letter, you know that we are asking for an additional financial gift this year, in addition to what you already pledge. Why? It is very simple.
Since the recession hit, we have been consistently bringing in less each year than we need to cover all of our expenses. Our treasurer can share the details with you, but basically the income we receive from both pledges and the collection plate just isn’t enough. We have some fundraisers planned, which should help make up some of the difference.
(Next Sunday is the holiday boutique – please come and bring your family, friends, and neighbors. On February 15th we will have another Chocolate Affair, a goods and services auction. Bring everyone you know to that one too.)
But even with the fundraisers, our cash reserves will still be dwindling. We are now very close to the $30,000 that we all agreed awhile back was a prudent amount to hold in reserve in case of emergencies.
Water, electricity, heating bills, staff salaries, printing costs for the order of service, and routine maintenance on our aging building all have to be paid for, but they do not qualify as emergencies. They are ongoing expenses. Spending our emergency reserve on these ongoing expenses would be financially irresponsible.
In case anyone is starting to panic, let me say clearly that we still have this reserve. We are in no way broke. We are not thinking about selling the building or laying off staff. Right now, we are just paying close attention to all of our spending and deferring a number of things that aren’t critical to our mission.
But speaking of the building, about eight years ago, this congregation purchased this building. A lot of you were here then. You sold some land for part of the money and took out a $40,000 mortgage. How long did it take you to pay off that mortgage? Do you remember? Less than a year it was. It took less than a year for the 80 or so members we had then to raise $40,000. Keep that in mind.
So we aren’t broke. At least we aren’t broke yet. But we are worried about the direction we are going. It is causing stress. Jeff, our treasurer, isn’t bald yet, but he will be if this keeps on. It is depressing and tedious to be worried about every little thing we need to spend money on. I hate it. You should hate it too. We gave the new members carnations today rather than roses to save $20.
And I know that some of you have to do that everyday in your own lives. You don’t have enough to pay all your bills every month. You juggle and save, and feel guilty if you splurge on a cup of coffee. I know that some of you use our food shelf so that you and your family will have enough to eat. I know too, that some of you have come to me for financial help. We have, in our budget, a small fund of only $500 called the ministers discretionary fund, which I can use to help our members when they are in need. Because it is small, I can only offer $50-100 at a time, but it can keep someone’s heat from being shut off. It would break my heart to have that fund eliminated because we just couldn’t afford it.
So what are we going to do? We are going to “go for the gold”.
We usually raise around $2000 in our end of year appeal. This year we have a goal of $20,000. If we can raise that amount it will us some breathing room. We’ll still be careful with the finances, but we won’t have to pinch every single penny. We won’t have to defer needed repairs and small building improvements such as painting. We can better focus on our mission if we can reduce the stress of our shrinking income by raising enough to carry us through until the recession is really over.
What is our mission? It is on the front of the order of service. Read it with me.
The Mission of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden is to create a Caring, Inclusive Community that encourages Freedom in the Quest for Spiritual and Intellectual growth and the Advancement of Social Justice in our World.
It is a worthwhile mission, yes? Is it worth going for the gold? I think so and I hope all of you do too.
$20,000 is very doable. Remember that you raised $40,000 to pay off the mortgage in a very short time. In my letter, I suggested that 4 people could write checks for $5000 each and we would be there. I do believe we have 3 or 4 people who might be able to do that. Are you one of them?
If 20 of you gave $1000, that would also do it. We have roughly 100 members. If all of you could give $200 each, we would meet that goal as well. I really hope this math is right.
Some of you may only be able to give $50 or $100 dollars.
Some of you, as I said, really can’t do anything, but try, if you can, to put a dollar or two into it, just to participate, just so you can be part of this effort.
If you want to write a check, make a note that it is for the end of year appeal. If you want to donate cash, put it in an envelope and write your name and end of year appeal on the outside of the envelope.
Let’s create an atmosphere of abundance here, where our spirits all can grow and flourish and where our doors are always open wide to welcome whoever and whatever may come.
Yes, we need some of your gold. We also need your bitter perfume and your spicy incense. We need your imperfections because that is the only way the light shows through. We need your hearts warm and beating, doing the work of love and justice making.
You are part of this church no matter what type of gifts you bring. You are the best gift because all of you have hearts of gold.