Updates from the Transitions Team
My Ideal Religious Community by Shobhi Kanal
As Charles wrote in the last Transition Team blog post, a primary task of the Transition Team is to help all of us at USG reflect together on who we’ve been as a faith community, who we are now, and who we want to be. We’ve facilitated many conversations during the past several months on the first two topics. In the past couple of weeks, the Ministerial Search Committee has conducted focus groups and cottage meetings to understand our congregation’s wishes and priorities for the future. As the Search Committee moves forward in recruiting our next minister, we can all help prepare ourselves for this transition by considering: What is our calling as a religious community? Who do we want to be as a congregation? To this end, the Transition Team suggests an exercise: Describe your ideal faith community.
My ideal faith community fosters joy.
At USG, I experience joy in worship: when we greet each other and converse in the sanctuary at the beginning of each Sunday service; when we sing hymns together; during sermons that challenge me to think hard about how to live well and love well; when a fellow congregant spontaneously says “Amen!” or snaps their fingers in response to inspiring words; whenever Baker plays and choir members sing. My heart lifts, and I can’t help smiling, whenever I see and hear our children participating in worship. My ideal religious community is full of lively human interaction, healthy multigenerational relationships, and moral education for people of all ages.
Each time I commit to making a meal for a fellow USGer who’s recovering from illness or grieving a loss, I feel joy along with the inevitable concern and sadness. USG is where I learned that accepting help, too, is a spiritual practice. When I said “yes” to offers of meals and visits from others after my hip surgery, and when I received thoughtful cards and even poems from fellow USG folks after my mother died, I felt such gratitude. And isn’t gratitude a variety of joy? In my ideal religious community, mutual aid flows freely.
I’ve tasted another flavor of joy while participating in social justice actions at USG: co-facilitating a group writing letters on gun safety legislation; joining a long assembly line of adults and kids making bag lunches for delivery on MLK Day; rallying with Rev. Kent and others outside McDonald’s in Germantown for a fair minimum wage; and occasionally joining the weekly vigils for Black lives and for Ukraine. These experiences remind me that even when we come together because our fellow humans are being victimized and justice is in short supply, it feels joyful to work with others on goals that align with our UU values. In my ideal religious community, lots of people participate at least occasionally in service activities, social justice actions, or both. We spread joy beyond our own walls.
Renowned Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote, “Spirit is not in the I, but between I and You.” As I reflect on what I’ve written here, I see that in each of these realms – worship, service, and justice work – what brings me joy is the same. It’s relationships, collaboration, community. Take a look at the new map of UU values proposed by the Article II Study Commission of the UUA, co-chaired by our interim minister, Rev. Cheryl M. Walker (https://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/committees/article-ii-study-commission). At the center, connecting all the other values, is Love.
My ideal religious community is radically inclusive and continually works to become more so. Participants of all ages, each of us with our unique mix of personality, identities, abilities and limitations, regard one another with curiosity, open-heartedness, and a desire to know the other. We recognize each person’s inherent worth and dignity; equally important, we seek to discover each person’s talents and skills, seeing each person as a contributor to our faith community.
So, what does YOUR ideal religious community look like?
My Ideal Religious Community by Charles Gabriel
posted June 27
One of the primary tasks of the Transitions Team is to help determine who we were, who we are, and who we want to be as a congregation. We have conducted many conversations about who we were and who we are, and it is approaching time to determine who we want to be. One of the exercises in this inquiry will be describing our – your – ideal religious community.
When I think of my ideal religious community (aka “church”) I am reminded of a quotation by Johann Sebastian Bach: “The aim and end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Well, at least the refreshment of the soul part. My ideal church will refresh my soul.
OK, what is it that will refresh my soul? First, my ideal church will preach and practice unconditional love and will teach and encourage me on both an intellectual and emotional level to make unconditional love the center of my being.
My ideal church will teach and practice caring and compassion for others, both in the church community and in the local and wide community. And this caring and compassion will be expressed in acts of kindness towards those in need and in works of social and civil justice for all people.
My ideal church will teach and practice joy through music, art, and the warmth and comfort of beloved community, a community which, like the TV show “Cheers,” is a place where everyone knows your name.
So that’s my ideal church, a religious community that will refresh my soul. What is your ideal religious community? Come September you will be afforded an opportunity to express your ideal.
Did You Know . . .? Nuggets from the USG History Wall
posted May 31, 2023
Our last Transition Team blog post described how USG members gathered to explore our congregational history after the service on Sunday, April 30. Participants used Post-It notes to write what they knew, remembered, or had been told about our history, and then affixed these to boards hung on the walls of the USG dining room. (These boards are still on display, and Post-Its are provided. Whether you’ve attended USG once or been a member for decades, please stop by and add your memories to our history wall!)
Some highlights from the history wall and the discussion facilitated by Rev. Cheryl:
- USG was founded in 1865, the year the Civil War ended, by members of First Unitarian Church who established a separate congregation in Germantown. A new church building — designed by architect Frank Furness, whose father was minister of First Unitarian – was constructed at Chelten Avenue and Greene Street in 1867. Our current church on Lincoln Drive was completed and opened in 1928.
- Social justice and service have been integral to USG since our beginnings. Just a few examples: helping to found the Nicetown Boys and Girls Club at the turn of the 20th century; hosting unhoused families in collaboration with the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network in the 21st century; marching on Washington in 1963; marching for fair wages in PA in 2019 and for sane gun laws in 2023; and now sharing the funds collected each and every Sunday with local social justice and human services organizations.
- Lifelong friendships have formed within our USG community. When members of our community have experienced illness or tragedy, fellow USG members have shown up to provide moral support and practical assistance.
- Wherever humans gather to collaborate on important things, things get complicated! We explored times of conflict, division, and inevitable human imperfection in our community. Members who were part of USG in the 1960s recalled how Rev. David Parke’s vocal support for the Black Panthers and opposition to the Vietnam War were met with dismay by some members, and he was ousted as minister. We are always growing and evolving; Rev. Parke returned to USG to preach several years ago, at the invitation of Rev. Kent.
After we explored the themes that emerged from the history wall, Rev. Cheryl invited us to share our reflections on the 20-year ministry of Rev. Kent. The discussion was rich with good memories, smiles and laughter as participants shared their experiences of Rev. Kent and his impact on them. Rev. Cheryl explained that taking time to reminisce and appreciate Rev. Kent together is an important part of grieving the loss of our former minister. Together, we are saying goodbye to one era as we move into the next phase of our life as a congregation.
The Best of Times; The Worst of Times
posted May 11, 2023
After service on Sunday April 30, the Transition Team gathered with members of the congregation to explore our decades of history together. We invited everyone to share what they knew and what they had heard about USG by putting their memories down on Post-it notes and adding them to boards around the dining room.
The thirty or so people who joined us explored everything: the great, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the uncomfortable. We confronted our missteps and celebrated our successes. And we all learned a thing or two.
Mostly what we learned is something perhaps we already knew: from the beginning of this congregation, we have centered social justice work and community as part of who we are. From fighting against blockbusting to fighting for a fair wage to standing in support of Ukraine, USG has been there. It is woven into the tapestry of our history. It is what we do. It is who we are. And we will continue to stand up for justice and our neighbors and our communities as we move forward.
The boards are still up in the dining room for everyone to see. Please join us and add your memories to our tapestry! There are Post-its and pens available. Tell us, what do you know and what have you heard?
Transition – The process or period of changing from one state or condition to another (New Oxford American Dictionary)
posted May 3, 2023
We at USG are in a state of transition, indeed, having said goodbye to our minister of 20+ years, and saying our goodbyes to our interim Director of Spiritual Development as she embarks on her new adventure in ministry. And at the same time we are getting to know our Interim Minister, Rev. Cheryl, we face having to say goodbye to her next year as we prepare to welcome a new settled minister.
We have a lot to do over these two years, friends.
This is a time to consider who we are as a community, where we’ve been, and where we want to go. It’s a time to consider and hold onto what we truly value and what makes USG a special place. And it’s a time to look to the future and imagine our place in and what we have to offer to this neighborhood, this city, and this world.
It might feel overwhelming, but fear not. The UUA has created guidance for us to help navigate this time, and Rev. Cheryl is leading a Transition Team who will walk us through every step of the process. The Team was introduced to the community earlier in the church year; we are: Rev. Cheryl, Maggie Birge-Caracappa, Charles Gabriel, Shobhi Kanal, and Jenn Leiby.
The Transition Team has been hard at work first facilitating a series of cottage chats, where we engaged in appreciative inquiry to find out how the community is feeling about USG. Our second project was talking about our history, not just the timeline and highlights over the last 150+ years, but the stories we tell each other about what we’ve experienced in our USG community.
The results of our chats so far have been turned into a word cloud hanging in the dining room and into chalices posted around the church highlighting common responses to our questions. Boards with our memories and stories are hanging in the dining room, and post-its are available for you to add your memories as well!
Watch this spot for all things Transition! We will update as we go along in this process, we will talk about things that come up in this journey, and we will keep you informed about next steps.
Come, come, whoever you are.