24 April, 2013

Earth Day Service

Flag hung over the dais for our Earth Day service.
Hello, dear Readers!

As you all know, this past Monday was Earth Day, and the day prior was our Earth Day service at my UU church, which the Green Sanctuary committee planned and executed. We've been planning the service for about a month, and I'm happy to say it came together well! I was very nervous beforehand, but once it got going, things calmed down a lot. This is not to say it was not without bumps, but I think everyone understood this was not something we were able to have everyone together to rehearse over and over. Someone forgot to get up to read something so we had to nudge them, some transitions took too long, and our play was read more slowly than we had rehearsed it. But overall, I heard from people that lay services (services planned by lay members rather than the acting minister) do tend to run long, and that it was worth it. I counted when we were about to start and we had just about 50 people in attendance--not counting the students and teachers down the hall, but actually in the sanctuary for the service--and by mid-way through I noticed that some stragglers had joined us later. I think 50-60 is pretty usual for a general service, so that was good.

You may be able to find links to the songs and readings online. I'll include the numbers as they relate to the UU hymnal, just in case you can find them. Here is a page where you can listen to recordings of hymns from the supplemental hymnal for educational purposes (as in, learning how the songs go!). In doing a quick Google search on UU hymns to find out if you could find them, I actually came across a few pages saying things like "I hate the words to UU hymns," "I feel sorry for UUs who have to sing those songs, Catholic songs are so beautiful," and so on. There is even an article entitled "WHY I AM NOT A UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST" and the first words showing in the search result reveal that this person is not a UU because they think the hymnal "is a disaster." As though the hymnal were the only reason to be a UU! I really enjoy the UU hymns, not only because there are plenty which do not mention the Christian God, but also because I think they touch on something a lot more. AND I like that they're easy melodies that everyone can sing, even people who don't feel comfortable singing or reading music. Besides, UU hymnals do contain Christian and Catholic hymns, as well as Jewish ones, Buddhist and Hindu chants, Native American music, Pagan music, and more. But I digress!

Marianne's Gaia
One of the women from the choir brought in this lovely statue of Gaia which she hand-crafted. She set it up with the flowers. Our Opening Words reading (#417) addressed Gaia as our home and our mother, and also mentioned the Earth as a "blue green" orb. I picked the reading mainly for that reference, since the play I wrote for the service was inspired by one of our members' devotion to the water and the idea that Earth should be called Planet Ocean and the environmental movement should be called BlueGreen instead of just Green.

Our Call to Worship reading (#502) was more about activism, and the fact that now is the proper time for change and work. We have to plant today to reap in the future. Then we all sang a song called Mother Earth, Beloved Garden (#1067) which is one of the first UU hymns I ever sang, during a meeting of my college's UU club. The song has five verses, each one ending with a calling of a direction/element: North, East, South, West, and finally, Center/Spirit.

Then came the Chalice Lighting, which I wrote instead of using one from the hymnal. Chalice Lightings are the words we say while lighting the Flaming Chalice, which comes near the beginning of each service and usually at the very beginning of other types of meetings. Usually someone reads and someone else does the lighting.
We light this chalice as the sun lights the Earth--with warmth, and with a desire for growth. As the sun's light filters down to aid us, so may our work spread its light to others. We must only lend our breath to help it grow. -C-
Candles in sand.
After this, the minister shared any Joys and Cares (people can write in a book any joy or concern that they wish the minister to read aloud during service--we had more that day than ever, including the victims of the Boston bombings and their families, and those affected by the Texas plant explosion). Then we share a moment of silence, after which people can light a candle for the joys and cares held within their own heart. This is a practice with which I became familiar being raised as a Catholic, though it was never part of service, you could just light candles before or after service for a donation of one dollar. And while those candles were usually set in a beautiful, black, wrought-iron candle stand, the candles at my UU church are seated in a round bowl full of sand.

The choir sang some beautiful songs not from the hymnal, about nature and the Earth in general. They were going to sing a piece called Gaia, but not everyone showed up to their mid-week rehearsal so they didn't have enough time to learn it all. Instead, they sang Touch the Earth Lightly by Shirley Erena Murray, Farewell to the Forest by Felix Mendelssohn, and lead the congregation in a "Singing Meditation" made up of two hymns with the same beat. They used Ancient Mother (#1069) and The Earth is Our Mother (#1073), and each was sung by half the congregation/choir, so we sang both songs together. Both are Native American pieces, very short, and chant-like. As such, it is very easy to teach them and sing them together or in a round. One of the women lead a Responsive Reading (#550) called We Belong to the Earth.

Me as BLUE in Blue!Green!
Then it was time for my short play! It is called Blue!Green! and we used four actors, but I envision it as being appropriate for up to a twenty-person cast. The idea is just to have a large group mind presence, made up of two groups: Blue and Green, representing the Water and Land, or Oceans and Earth. So the whole cast is the entire planet. The play was about 4-5 minutes (should have been 4 but I think we read so slowly, it may have been 5), and is made up of the two sides arguing over who is better. Some members of the groups start to realize that they share some things, and eventually they convince their leaders (BLUE was played by me, and GREEN by another member of the committee) to stop arguing and work together. As you can see in the photo, we even had a blue-green colored candle in the chalice! I don't know if that was planned.

Next, we showed a ten-minute clip from the Bill Moyers & Co. episode on Climate Change, where they talk about the Six Americas in relation to climage change, or six different groups of people that tend to exist. The six are the Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive. This ranges from those people who know climate change is happening and that people have something to do with it, through those who really don't know either way, all the way to those individuals who do not believe climate change is happening at all and it may actually be made up. Our minister's homily went along with this, and encouraged people to talk about their views and opinions, so that we can all engage in dialogue about these issues and find out what those of us who want to help can do, and what information we can provide those who need more.

For the offertory music, we played a recording of My Rainbow Race by Pete Seeger, then we all sang a favorite hymn of the congregation's, Blue Boat Home by Peter Mayer (#1064), which you can absolutely find on YouTube and listen! After the usual Bond of Union (what UUs hold hands and say at the close of each service: "We join hands in Unitarian Universalist fellowship, pledging ourselves to an individual religious freedom which transcends all creeds, not to think alike, but to walk together."), three of us went up to read the Benediction. I chose a poem by Jim Scott called "A Benediction," which I think is just brilliant because it acknowledges that many people will come and listen to our words but not do a damn thing to change their lives, yet also challenges people not to alter their complete existence immediately, but to take one step at a time toward a better tomorrow. Our minister began the poem, followed by me, and then a third woman from the committee, and some lines I had us all read in unison, for emphasis.

After this we broke for Coffee Hour, as usual, but this time we had poster paper hung up all over with different environmental topics. Each member of the Green Sanctuary committee had a topic or two to handle, so that people could talk and ask questions and learn more right there, as well as sign their name on the papers saying they either 1) had more information on the topic to share with others, and/or 2) wanted to learn more from others about the subject. I was supposed to discuss trees and their role in the ecosystem with the kids, but it turns out they hadn't watched the corresponding video or been told about it at all, so I guess the DRE just forgot, but that was okay. The kids like running around and seeing their friends once a week, anyway, so I was free to talk about other things. We also gave everyone a sticker to place on a continuum poster, to show where they are personally on the subject of climate change, and these were the results:

Most people placed their stickers near the "Alarmed" section of the continuum, saying that they believe climate change is happening and that humans had something to do with the issues the Earth is facing, but maybe they don't know exactly what to do about it yet. A few people placed their stickers between "Concerned" and "Cautious," saying they are basically on the side that it's happening, but maybe they believe it's not happening HERE or NOW, or they're not sure if we can do anything about it.

One person placed their sticker all the way at the other end, extending the line and writing "OTHER!" and then placing their panda bear sticker upside down over it. I don't really know what they could mean by "Other," since the six categories really cover a lot. I wish they had explained. I know for a fact that there are members of my church who don't believe in Climate Change, so they should have been under "Dismissive," but maybe they weren't there, or maybe they didn't want to be seen putting up their stickers. Either way, we really just wanted to get an idea of where we lie so we can move forward.

To close this entry, I will leave you with the two quotes that were on the front of the order of service:

"There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad
to pretend that it's not really there." -Bill McKibben

"There is still time for you to take a different path."
-Chinese fortune cookie
(A cookie that one of the women from the committee actually got a few weeks before,
on a day we had a planning meeting!)

Thanks for reading,


  1. I'm getting more and more into my UU church. A long time ago, I asked about joining CUUPS, and a woman came to talk to me about it. She said the church was against CUUPS and pagans in general and tried to "keep us quiet". This caused me to stop going for a while, and now I'm back, that woman is gone, and I don't feel like what she said was true at all. I think she was one of those with a persecution complex. I'm still not one to go every Sunday. I still go to Lakewood often, and I actually posted a question about it in the pagan perspective. (About Lakewood). I have to be in "the church mood" to go, and I have two churches, so that's how often I go- not often.

    1. I have heard that the UU churches in the northeastern US (where most of them seem to be) have had issues with CUUPS in the past, so many of them still don't have CUUPS chapters now. A lot of the UU ministers had bad experiences with the group, or personal bad experiences, and all of that together lead to a time when the pagan groups were not openly encouraged (I don't know about unwelcome, that seems a strong word, but people felt weird about it). I heard about that from my church's current members, and past members. So that could very well be why. My church doesn't have a CUUPS chapter right now, and we don't really mind that. We're welcome in the congregation, and we can do our own thing.