President’s Letter: October 2017

Dear Members of the UUCJ Congregation,

I’m Mark Dickens, your new President as of June 2017. This is my first monthly letter to you and I’d just like to give you a short update on a few of the things we’ve been working on.

For many months we’ve had separate Task Forces working on some far reaching issues:

  • Should we modify our Mission and Vision Statements? We’ve got four draft Mission Statements and two draft Vision Statements we’ll send you next month to ponder before the vote.
  •  Staffing Task Force has been analyzing who on our church staff does what, who SHOULD do what, who should we hire to do what isn’t being done, how much of that can we afford, how should the performance of our professional staff be evaluated, and what about pay?
  • We’ve conducted two surveys in the last few months to evaluate how you think we’re doing and what yourpriorities are for moving forward. Mike Plummer has analyzed what you said and the Board has developed plans to fix what is broken and to steer toward the goals you have given us. More on the survey results in another communication. Speaking of Communications, that’s a glaring need and we plan to hire a part time Communications Director in January as well as stand up a Communications Committee now – and yes we need to get the President to send out monthly letters…

Also:

  • The renewal of the Fleming Nature Walk begun just before Irma is nearing completion.
  • We’ve set aside $80,000 to have the roof on the South Wing REPLACED (instead of repaired yet again) the contract is almost signed and work will begin soon.
  • We want to expand opportunities for FUN and are establishing a new committee, maybe something like, “Fun Raising Cmte.”, to work on having more things we used to have like 8 person dinners; a Men’s Club; outings; etc. It will also focus on other internal social opportunities.
  • We haven’t found anyone willing to lead it but we plan to begin a 3-year Capital Campaign to grow our church facilities – we’re considering hiring professionals to help us with that.
  • Before the end of the year we want to improve the outside lighting in the parking lots and other spaces around the campus. It’ll be an interim solution but we need to do something.

Our congregation is growing almost weekly, and not just in size, our demographics are broadening and becoming even more inclusive (witness the many new children running around). To quote the Sheriff in that famous Shakespearean movie about the shark, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Thanks for your support and I look forward to serving you for another two months.

Sincerely,

Mark Dickens
Board President, UUCJ

A Vietnam Story

Following Phillip’s sermons on Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ, Phillip Scanlan (a member from our Fernandina branch) shared this touching story from his time in Vietnam:

I worked with a Catholic Vietnamese nun, Sister Imelda, in 1968. She seemed to me to be living the Thích principles.

In 1968 as a junior Army Communications Officer in Nha Trang, Vietnam, I had my company adopt Sister Imelda’s local Catholic orphanage. My company — young men — wrote letters and got donations from their churches back home. They donated every month from their paychecks, and some worked with me at the orphanage on their one day off-duty each week. I named my first daughter after Sister Imelda that ran the orphanage, who I considered a Saint.

That experience at age twenty-four, of working with Sister Imelda, affected my whole life in a very positive way. It is a surprise to most that I was affected in a positive way (Thanks to Sister Imelda) from a year in Vietnam where I was almost killed several times.

Coincidentally both Thích and I returned to Vietnam Nam in 2005, both with a religious connection to our trip. On my trip I resolved to find Sister Imelda — if possible. The only Catholic Sister named Imelda was in a Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) Convent. She had been made speechless from a heart attack and no one knew where she had come from or what she had done. The Communists after they won the war eliminated the ability of Catholics in the South to influence children, by eliminating Catholic schools and orphanages. The French brought Catholics to Vietnam and the Communists felt that The Catholic Religion was anti-communist and one cause of the North-South war that started with the the French occupation.

I visited the Sister Imelda in the Saigon Convent and when I arrived late morning she was still in bed asleep. They woke her up to meet me. I had trouble recognizing her — and her me — after 37 years. However, I had brought a photo album of photos taken of the children in the Nha Trang orphanage in 1968, including photos of both of us with the children. We turned the pages of the photo album for her and after a few pages she looked up at me and smiled — she was “my” Sister Imelda!

I was asked to come back the next day by Sister Jeanne who ran the Convent — so they could prepare for a good visit. The next day we had a celebration — tea, cookies, children singing, all the Convent members present, and we recognized Sister Imelda for her caring for the children at the Nha Trang orphanage during the war. Because the orphanage had been destroyed by the Communist after the war there was no other record of Sister Imelda’s good work and dedication to the orphan children than the photo album I had brought back — 37 years later. The album also included a very nice letter from my daughter, Maureen Imelda Scanlan, on how proud she was of her name and how thankful she was for the very positive influence Sister Imelda had on her father during a time of war. That letter was read aloud for all to hear at the recognition celebration for Sister Imelda.

After my visit I communicated by mail and email with Sister Jeanne and Sister Imelda. After the 2005 visit and recognition celebration Sister Imelda’s remaining “quality of life” was much improved by more supportive contacts with all who now recognized that she was a war time hero serving orphans.

I have tried during my life to live up to the example provided to me at age twenty-four by having the opportunity to work with Sister Imelda for a year at her orphanage in Vietnam — she seemed to be living the fourteen principles of Thích. A year working with someone living those principles, at a young age, has an impact.


95% of the lives lost in Vietnam were Vietnamese. The US lost 58,600 — each name on the Vietnam Memorial — of 1,313,000 total lives lost from 1964 to 1975.

 

Board Resignation

Dear UUCJ Board and Congregation:

As some of you may know, I have been struggling personally with my spiritual path over the last year. With a heavy heart, I hereby tender my resignation as the President and from the Board of UUCJ effective Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

I thank those who have supported me, and continue to support me, on this journey and wish nothing but the best for this beloved congregation.

Samantha Ledyard

Earth Day Celebration — The Seasons

Sharon Scholl assembled a lovely concert — The Seasons — in celebration of Earth Day. Our own UUCJ Choir performed beautifully, and we are honored to present the program and words that we enjoyed last Sunday:

 

THE SEASONS

For the Beauty of the Earth – John Rutter

“Summer Fence” – Diana Murrey-Settle

I Cannot Count the Stars –  Eugene Butler

“The Great Return” – Karen Smith-Scott

Autumn  – Andy Beck

“Cold” – Eli Wolf

In the Arms of Winter – Ruth Schramm, John Parker

“Puddles” – Almaas Bannister

I Believe in Springtime – John Rutter

Summer Fence
Fences now come in fat rolls of linked wire with hollow metal poles coating the land with an industrial appearance. Sometimes, as an urban home accent or around an old farm, you can find a rail fence zigzagging over lawn or field. Whether cut from cedar, chestnut or redwood, each fence has a history that stretches back to a place, a specific piece of earth. And in summer a rail fence is the highway for more forms of life than are most whole trees.

A rail fence, even in the city, is wild country that by August can bear a forest full of plants and creatures. Stout weeds wave majestically from its protective shadow while morning glory vines are thick enough to hide its essential form. Squirrels, weasels, mice and a host of mammals and insects pass along it. Many a Bob-white passes safely by squatting close to the bottom rail. Wrens thread its tangled maze searching for edibles. Sparrows mount the topmost stile and sing their presence. Even the tiny rectangular spaces where rails meet other rails are homes for mice and spiders.

Some rail fences were cut a century ago and bear their history in moss and fungus. They link us to times past and all the life that has drifted through those rails or stopped obediently at their boundary.

Beneath all the accretions ancient cedar retains its fragrance. Chestnut is close-grained and so straight that it must come from a main trunk. Huge white oaks also drifted down in remnants to become the humble rails our forefathers leaned on to discuss the weather.

Scarcely a known weed that hasn’t found a foothold here. Deer sail over the rails or nibble on the banquet growing up around them. In summer an old rail fence is the landscape in miniature, the ants’ expressway, a sun platform for snakes and lizards. A relic of the past, a rail fence of uncertain age seems timeless as a rock, as the summer skies hovering over it glittering with stars.

 

Autumn: The Great Return

In Alaska the hemlock and spruce forests are timeless and ancient. Mountain ridges tumble down to the Pacific Ocean whose waters reach far up into the many creeks that drain this land. Wind blows curtains of fine rain until the whole forest is green and dripping. There is an unearthly stillness except for the sound of life rushing through the creeks. The salmon have returned.

After a year of growth in the great Pacific waters they return to the same waters in which they were spawned. Nearly a yard long, weighing ten to twenty pounds, glistening with the power of full maturity, they have come home to die. But not before they will spawn the next generation and set the delicate eggs on a dangerous journey that only a few will survive.

For the ten percent or so which have survived the sea, this is the climax of their short lives. Despite their outward beauty, a close up view shows the damage they have endured. They are covered with brown fungus. Chunks of skin have been gouged off. Fish hooks hang from torn mouths. During spawning season both males and females turn red on their undersides and develop a snout. They wait in thick clusters for the incoming tides to lift them higher from one pool to another until they reach the pool of their own origin. Then males and females line up beside one another and together release their genetic material. The pool turns milky with the huge release, and smaller fish push in to devour the resulting eggs.

Pools turn into mad seas of churning bodies as salmon defend their eggs from thieves and bears dip in to snatch their meals.

Within a few days the salmon will die, their bodies becoming part of the passing centuries in this ancient place. The eggs will float out with the tides, and the very few that survive will make this same desperate journey as another autumn makes its way across the hemisphere. This great migration is testimony to the unkindness of nature and the power of instinct, the will to survive that brings these creatures here time out of mind at the time of falling leaves.

Cold
Many a conversation starts with “I remember the winter of ’88 when it got down to minus” (whatever). Someone is sure to offer a lower degree elsewhere. It’s a matter of civic pride. The Nation’s Icebox is a cherished title, often in contention between Minnesota and Alaska, an icicle for a winner’s symbol. On a day of 25 below zero one child informs another that if he steps out of the house naked, he’ll be dead in three minutes – and when he thaws out, he’ll be green. Cold inspires such flights of fancy.

In cold country people drift toward reading groups, choirs, card parties and memoir writing. Cold is the absence that works its way under shirts, doors, down chimneys, leaving fingers and toes like frozen twigs clinging to stiff branches. In its presence engines refuse to turn over while noses never stop running. Cold rates its own apparel from hats to snow boots with a whole padded array in between. The items are so bulky that rooms are set aside for them, each labeled with owner’s name. The smell of wet wool, polyester oil and scuffed rubber hangs between the walls.

When heat pumps lose the struggle, the family fireplace is still the circle of hospitality. S”mores and popcorn are worth singed eyebrows, an occasional finger blister. The memorable aroma of cedar, the trail of chimney smoke against gray skies lodge in our minds from childhood. Splotches of bright color mark sledders and skiers leaving white breath clouds on hillsides. Cold sends us hurrying, hearts pumping, on our daily rounds. A trip to the mailbox is a venture requiring preparation. All around us the tracks of deer, rabbit, and fox reveal their search for food. Birds that brave the cold cluster at backyard feeders. Nature is implacable and cares little for our comfort. Only our wits defend us from the ancient enemy that rules the killing season.

 

Puddles
When does Spring arrive? Some would say when the first crocus puts a leaf above the snow or the first daffodil blooms. For those who live in the Eastern United States there is a sign more certain than these.

After the spring rains have begun, walk out into any wooded area and look for a depression that has been in that place for many years. It will fill with water and drain very slowly as new rain falls and the sun gathers strength. Sit on a handy stump and listen. Out of the quiet you will hear the high cheeping of spring peepers, those half inch sized tree frogs who call that puddle home.

They have been during most of the year burrowed in the dried mud or in the woodland soil, the folds of trees, wherever shelter from heat and cold is available. When those brief puddles appear, the peepers rush to find mates, lay eggs, hatch tadpoles and grow new frogs that return to this same place. Nor are they alone in their use of puddles. A host of bugs, flying insects, beetles and worms depend on the seasonal appearance of temporary water safe from predators that haunt rivers and streams.

The puddlers are the foundation of the natural world. When mosquitoes rise on their gossamer wings, they are snatched up in banquet proportions by hungry birds returning from Mexico. The peepers lay thousands of eggs so that a few adults may evade the appetites of small forest creatures at the base of the food pyramid.

These temporary pools that warm faster than lakes and rivers are vital to the existence of bird populations as well as a host of small mammals.

Life in these pools is chancy. Creatures that live there must synchronize their life cycles to that of available water, often having to migrate between pools as they dry up. They must be able to sustain life over the year between the appearance of puddles and find new puddles when humans change the land. When we fill in drainage ditches, level land for building, drain wetlands we damage the shallow floor of nature’s food pyramid. We must learn to cherish puddles, the chirp of the tree frog, the coming of spring.

 

Exploring “White Supremacy” on May 21st

Dear UUCJ Family,

As many of you are aware, our UUA President, Rev. Peter Morales, resigned his position on April 1 in response to an unfolding controversy about alleged discriminatory hiring practices at the UUA during his administration. Details of the controversy and Rev. Morales’s resignation have been, and are being, covered extensively by our Association’s official magazine, The UU World. (http://www.uuworld.org/). Needless to say, this has been a difficult time for many in our faith. Sadness, anger, frustration, disappointment: These are but a few of the words that have been used by UUs across our Association to describe their reaction to these recent events. But challenging times can also serve as times of great opportunity. In this time, we have an opportunity, as a people of faith, to engage in deep introspection and reflection about our identity, our values, and how we express those values in our individual and collective lives. In response to these recent events, a call has been issued by BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism—an organizing collective that works to provide support, information, and resources for Black Unitarian Universalists) to UU congregations across the Association to dedicate a coming Sunday worship service to exploring the topic of “White Supremacy.” Our understanding of this term—how it is defined, to whom it is applied—is a central feature of the controversy currently facing the UUA and its member congregations. Dozens of UU ministers have already answered BLUU’s call by agreeing to address the topic in an upcoming Sunday service at their respective congregations. I plan to join these ministers by addressing the topic in our worship on Sunday, May 21. (BLUU specifically requested that UU churches address the topic on either April 30 or May 7; unfortunately, UUCJ’s calendar does not present a good opportunity to devote an entire service to this issue until May 21). In addition to a worship service dedicated to unpacking the concept of “White Supremacy,” I plan to help facilitate a listening circle for our community immediately after worship on May 21 to provide our congregants a safe and sacred space to share from the heart and hear each other’s voices. Confronting racism—in our nation, in our own church, and in our own lives—is hard, painful work. But it is the kind of work our faith calls us to do. I look forward to facing these challenges with all of you—together—as we strive to embody and incarnate the Beloved Community.

 

In Faith,

Phillip

President’s Letter

Dear Congregants of UUCJ,

I am honored to be writing my first monthly Presidents Letter to our beloved community. I am looking forward to keeping all of you informed about what the Board is doing and looks to do to continually push forward into 2017 with hope and prosperity.

I am aware that some of you might not be familiar with me so I thought I would start with a quick introduction. I am Samantha Ledyard and have been a member of UUCJ for going on 3 years now. I have served on many different committees in those three years, and am entering my 3rd year on the board. My husband, Eric, and I have been married for 15 years and have 3 children, who I’m sure you have seen, if not heard, on the UUCJ campus. All three are heavily involved in the youth programs UUCJ offers! Before deciding to stay home to raise our family, I worked as a Paralegal and Office Manager for most of my career in Chicago. We moved to the Jacksonville area around 6 years ago, and haven’t looked back!

I am very excited for what 2017 will bring to UUCJ. The Board is working diligently on the continued push for our Portfolio Committee structure to become even stronger. We will also be launching our Capital Campaign soon to help with the improvement and expansion plans that were designed by Bob Broward’s protégé, Cathy Duncan, and introduced at the 50th Anniversary celebration last September. We hope to catapult UUCJ into the future and to solidify our presence in Jacksonville for another 50 years!

There are many exciting and big changes on our agenda, along with attention to detail on our existing programs and day to day workings of the church.

I welcome all of you to join us in these exciting changes as well the amazing work UUCJ is already involved in. I pledge to work to the best of my ability to serve you all in the next year to maintain the momentum that my predecessor, Lois Hoeft, as well as those presidents before her, started.

Thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to all I know we will accomplish this year!

In Love,

Samantha Ledyard

Uncertainty, Heartbreak, and Hope: Post Election Thoughts

Since Wednesday morning, I have been providing unanticipated and impromptu pastoral care to several people in our community and to complete strangers who came seeking solace, comfort, and hope at our church.

I have watched tears fall; I have listened to stories of violence, threats of violence, and acts of terror perpetrated against people I know and love. I have felt the fear and rage from those who are at the highest risk, those who have the most to lose in the coming years.

Many of us here today have been traumatized by the events of this past week. As we, in this community, each grieve in our own way, at our own rate, via our own coping mechanisms… I offer this plea: Love one another. Be kind to one another. Hold space for one another. Be not quick to judge one another. Remember, we are in this together. And we need each other now, more than ever.

As we look to the future, there are things we know, and things we don’t know. As it relates to exactly what a Trump presidency is going to look like, I believe there is actually far more uncertainty than certainty at this point. And in that uncertainty there is at least some measure of hope.

Our President Elect has demonstrated over the past several decades that he is a… mercurial… and protean figure. That’s the nice and fancy way of saying he’s a bit of a flip-flopper. The path from campaign promises to actual policies is long and fraught. The President Elect, should he choose to follow through on certain campaign promises, will encounter substantial political and constitutional impediments. In other words, the Trump presidency may not be as bad as we fear.

However, I don’t want to paint the future as less dangerous than it really is. There are certain campaign promises that are very much within the President Elect’s power, and should those promises be kept, people within this community—along with people we know and love outside this community—will be in danger.

Uncertain days lie ahead. But we Unitarian Universalists—our theological foundation is built on uncertainty. We have no specific doctrine about the existence or non-existence of God. We have no specific doctrine about the existence or non-existence of an afterlife. We have no specific doctrine to tell us what to think about figures like Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed. What I’m saying is, our very faith has prepared us to face the challenges of this uncertainty. In this time, we UUs are uniquely positioned to lead with resiliency and courage and love. We were born for such a time as this.

But… there are also some certainties we are already facing and must not overlook. After last Tuesday, our world has certainly become a far more intolerant, and a far more dangerous place. Specifically for people of color—brown and black especially—immigrants—both documented and undocumented—Muslim Americans, Americans descended from predominantly Muslim countries, Jewish Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, and women who prefer not to be grabbed by strangers. Even if campaign promises do not become actual policy, the health and safety of these marginalized communities are already at greater risk. Many have already been threatened, and attacked, and terrorized by individuals and hate groups who have been emboldened by the Trump campaign. Across the country, we have seen a frightening spike in the number of hate crimes targeting the marginalized.

This week has shown all of us that this country is far more racist, far more homophobic, far more misogynistic, than many of us realized or were prepared to admit. Now, many Americans who voted for Trump did so not because of conscious or explicit racism or homophobia or sexism, but for other, more “legitimate” reasons…. But this is the heart-wrenching lamentation I have heard this week from those living at the margins: They feel betrayed by their fellow Americans, because those who supported Trump did not find the clear and present danger his presidency posed to the marginalized as automatically disqualifying. Perhaps they voted for Trump for economic reasons… or because Hillary was a flawed candidate… but in casting that vote for Trump, half of voting Americans demonstrated that they were willing to accept the immense collateral damage aimed directly at black, brown, gay, trans, Muslim and Jewish Americans. At immigrants and women.

The pain and the hurt from that betrayal has divided this nation, and the path to unity will be a long and hard one… and not one that we must run towards too quickly. As a nation, clearly, we have some issues that need to be addressed and resolved before real healing can begin.

As the Rev. Dr. King reminded us in his letter from the Birmingham jail… there are those in this nation more devoted to peace and harmony and “order” than they are to justice…. But there is no true peace without true justice, first. And there will not be true peace and harmony and order in this country, until all are treated with the equality and justice that is the birthright of every child of creation.

I affirm the recent sentiments of Secretary Clinton and President Obama who have called on Americans to come together in this time of great division… but NOT at the expense of denigrating the inherent worth and dignity of ANYONE.

As a church, we must stand together to bring an end to hate; and we must protect those within our community—and those outside of it—who are in the most danger. Beginning here and now: We are the resistance. Any governmental policy, any action of private citizens that threatens the health and safety and the basic human rights of our loved ones who live at the margins will be met with our fierce resistance.

Our pursuit of justice and equality means something very different now following the results of Tuesday’s election. The stakes are much higher for all of us. The risks are far greater. The danger is more real… as is the danger of failure.

But in this… we will not fail. It is still my fervent belief that in the end, Love wins. I am honored to serve with each of you in that pursuit.

Thank you, amen, and blessed be.

Church Cat Volunteers

The church cats are being well cared for by a group of dedicated volunteers. These cats have been with us for many years, and we support the cat colony by feeding them twice a day in such a way that raccoons are discouraged and the cats are kept healthy. All are neutered. We want to welcome new volunteers, Elena Rigg and Jennifer Kula. Pictured are Ann Eustace, Alice Ricker, Elena Rigg, Stuart Walling, Donna Janesky,and Nancy Ratnour. Missing are Martha Aiken, Barbara Whitehead, Briana Feinberg, and Jennifer Kula.

If you wish to participate we can always use additional volunteers and we can always use cat food. Take advantage of those BOGO’s and bring the extra bag to church. And say thanks to the volunteers who respect the inter-dependent web, of which we are a part.

Saying Good-Bye to Guilt-Driven Giving

UUCJ and my boys’ school are huge pillars in my community. Both require significant levels of individual time and money to keep them afloat. As a single mom, I’m usually running on empty. So much of my energy is being poured into raising my kids and doing my own healing work that it’s often unfathomable to give even one hour of my time in any week. I’ve quelled my guilt over not being able to give more by donating a modest amount of my income to church and gritting my way through a weekly bread-baking session with 18 kindergarteners.

 As UUCJ progresses through its annual mission funding drive, in our most recent covenant group meeting we were asked to answer the question: is the church worth your time, talent, and treasure? Instead of answering yes or no, I found myself probing one level deeper in response to other members’ confessed guilt over their current level of giving. I want to know if there’s a better way to give—a way that springs from authentic generosity rather than obligatory guilt and that has an innate cyclical, nourishing nature for both the community and the individual.

 Last week, out of pure guilt, I signed up to participate in a church bake sale to raise funds for hurricane victims in Haiti. Saturday morning rolled around, and I dutifully gathered my baking supplies to make ginger crinkle cookies. I sped my way through mixing the dough without the boys noticing my project. They love to “help,” and we had a school campout to prepare for as well that morning. When I got to the last step, it hit me.

“Boys, go wash your hands. I have something important for you to do,” I said.

 “Okay, mommy!” said my 5 year old, Cameron. His eyes lit up like he was about to be handed his life purpose.

 “Remember how we had to go to the house with our friends to stay safe from the hurricane?” I asked.

 Cameron nodded.

 “Well, there are people in another country called Haiti whose houses got knocked over by the hurricane. We’re going to make cookies so our church can sell them and give the money to the people in Haiti so that they can buy new houses.”

 “Wow! Can I see pictures?” said Cameron. 

 “After we make the cookies,” I said.

 Next I gave them each a pan of sugar and asked them to roll the dough balls through the sugar and place them on a cookie sheet. Cameron had a hard time coating his dough evenly and threw himself on the floor in frustration. He has some sensory integration issues he’s been working through for over a year now, and this is a common scene in our house. I coaxed him back to the table. He tried again and created his own method of completing the task. Instead of rolling the balls, he buried them in a mound of sugar one at a time and shook them off before plopping them on the tray. Leo, my 3 year old, couldn’t care less what his balls looked like and proudly tossed them half way across the table to land in the tray. I cleaned up the boys’ mess and placed the cookies in the oven. Then I sat down with Cameron to show him pictures of Haiti and the damage from hurricane Matthew. I think he really just wanted an excuse to watch a video on my phone, so it wasn’t long until I sent him on his way to play and let me prepare for our camping trip. But later he did ask, “mommy, what about the cookies for the people in the country?” YES, I thought. He listened, and it mattered to him.

 For about 30 minutes of my time, my boys had a positive sensory experience and an effective lesson in empathy and social justice, all while I participated in a volunteer activity. I realize this is small potatoes. But it’s the little things. I asked the Universe to show me a new way, and this is where it starts for me. I’m making it a point to be open to receiving more and bigger experiences like our ginger crinkle cookies for Haiti. I believe it’s vital in sustaining and further building the communities that matter most to us.