Getting to Know You

A major thrust of my efforts in the last few weeks has been to try to get to know you as a congregation and as individuals and to try to get to know Manhattan. As I’ve said before, the notebook full of summaries about members, friends, and children and youth has been a tremendous help. I also appreciate the willingness of people to meet with me when I’ve asked, or to invite me. I continue to try to get to know you in these simple, basic ways. Relationships form the basis of ministry, so I don’t think there can be too much of these individual, family, and small group meetings.

So, a few observations about the membership:

  • Radina’s has incredible popularity among UU members and friends, as does the Konza Prairie (which I have managed to visit and look forward to more).
  • Besides university professors and support staff, our congregation includes a number of health care providers, teachers, and social workers, and a scattering of other careers, including farming, art, law, accounting, dog grooming, and the military.
  • We include a surprising number of entomologists.
  • Many people identify as humanist or atheist, but a number who see themselves as spiritual, despite lack of belief in God.
  • There’s a pretty wide acquaintance with Eastern religions, and interest in Native American and Pagan paths.
  • We share lots of enthusiasm for outdoor activities and in music.
  • Members have a wide variety of commitments to organizations that do good work in the community.

In the meantime, I’m also learning about Manhattan. Again, a few things I’ve learned:

  • People are nice. Really, really nice. They stop for pedestrians, are patient in lines, talk calmly with their children, and seem sincere when they ask how you are.
  • It’s easy to get around. I’m really excited to be able to walk and bike a lot from my downtown apartment.
  • I was surprised to find out how much poverty and homelessness have increased in the last few years.
  • The university does dominate, but there are plenty of other opportunities around town, too.
  • The religious community is pretty overwhelmingly Christian, but if you look closely, some alternatives exist, so there may be potential for interfaith collaborations.

I’m looking forward to learning more!

See you on Sunday (if not before),

Jonalu

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Top Ten Reasons I Came to UUFM

There are so many things I want to share with you! I struggled to come up with what my first newsletter column should address. We have much to share to really get to know one another and to find the ways to work best together.

Upon reflection, it seems fitting to start with the Top Ten Reasons I wanted to come to UUFM:

10) The chance to return to my fellowship roots. My first UU membership (other than the Church of the Larger Fellowship — if you don’t know about it, check it out; it’s the UUA “church without walls”) was in the Bull Run UU’s, a lay-led start-up group that formed in Manassas, Virginia, in the 1980’s. Later, I joined the UU Fellowship of Greater Cumberland (Maryland), the congregation that ultimately ordained me in 1993. The first congregation I joined that had a full-time minister (James Reeb UU Congregation), I was the minister.

9) The demographic growth in Manhattan brings great opportunities for expansion.

8) The university provides a chance to offer vital campus ministry.

7) The Flint Hills. As I told a friend, “I’ll be living in the part of Kansas that isn’t flat.”

6) The beautiful building and grounds. I remembered the loveliness of the place, especially the circle chalice window and the walk up the hill, from preaching here once in 2011.

5) The very balanced age breakdown within the congregation, a good ratio of children to adults and a variety of adult generations in leadership.

4) The commitment to doing things well that shows in attitudes about process, in the new video, in the building, and in so many other ways.

3) The history of positive relationships with ministers and the overwhelming backing for the move to full-time ministry, including the willingness to support it financially.

2) The readiness to consider the role of spirituality in the life of the fellowship and of its members.

1) The focus on the minister’s role in outreach and justice work in the community.

 

These factors create a most opportune connection between the fellowship and me, between you and me. I am as pleased to be here as you seem to be to have me. Thanks to all for the wonderful welcome I have received. My hopes are high for our work together.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

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Words from our Chair and our new Minister…

WORDS FROM OUR CHAIR — KATIE KINGERY-PAGE

Dear Fellow UUs and Friends,

There is much to be somber about this summer, particularly the recent, racially and religiously motivated violence in our nation. The UU message of love is needed now more than ever.

I spent the past week at UU Mid-America Region’s Midwest Leadership School. Board Secretary Jessica Sievers, and Board Member-at-Large Mark Clarke, attended the school, also. We are grateful to this Fellowship whose generosity sponsored our tuition to the school. I entered the school with a question in my heart: What is UUFM’s role in growing the Unitarian Universalist movement for social justice? In our own institutional history, an early member described this mission as “deeds, not creeds.”

Mark, Jessica, and I spent the week at leadership school in community with 50 other people. Never before have I felt so strongly that the time is here for the UU movement. Leadership school is structured in three parts:

  • UU ROOTS AND THEOLOGY–an overview;
  • ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LEADERSHIP–which includes principles of right relations and effective decision making processes; and
  • WORSHIP–this is interpreted broadly, just as in our Fellowship.

I left the school with two new questions: What tools do we need in order to stretch as a community to embrace more people, who may or may not be like us, sticking with it, even in uncomfortable moments? And, how can we be an even more joyful community, feeding our stamina as we turn love into action? The answers will come from each of you, as we move forward with our new minister.

Our new minister, Rev Jonalu Johnstone, arrives in Manhattan this month. There are many opportunities to meet Rev Johnstone. Share the joy of her first service and sermon on Sunday, August 23, followed immediately by a potluck dessert and coffee reception. Please bring a dessert or pastry to share, as you are able. The very next weekend, come to our annual Welcome Back Potluck Picnic (August 29), followed by Angie Lynch’s Sunday program (August 30), which Rev Johnstone will convene.

Each of us has a role in creating this beloved community. There is more to look forward to in September: a whole congregation start-up workshop for all of us with Rev Johnstone. The workshop, facilitated by a staff member from the Mid-America Region, is a typical part of welcoming a new minister. The workshop will be held immediately after the Sunday Service on September 13.

I return to you full of energy to live out our vision to be a safe haven, a bold model of love, and a visible beacon of hope. I look forward to listening to your thoughts on how we can live the UUFM vision.

Love will guide us,

Katie

Talk to UUFM Board Chair Katie Kingery-Page after Sunday services, or contact Katie at 341-5650 or kingerypage@gmail.com with your inspirations and concerns, or chat with any Board member.

A NOTE FROM REV JONALU JOHNSTONE

Dear friends … and soon-to-be friends,

Transitions are never easy. I am still in the midst of saying good-bye in Oklahoma City and sorting through and packing in preparation for moving. At the same time, I am getting excited about joining you very soon. The goals that you have laid out as a congregation resonate with me deeply. My focus will be on establishing a collaborative relationship where we can become the community that we long to be. I look forward to meeting you this month. Once I am here, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I want to meet with and get to know as many members and friends as possible. I want to know what the Fellowship means to you, how you have been involved and the future you envision. I can’t wait for our adventure together to begin!

Jonalu

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Reverend Jonalu Johnstone has accepted our position…

I am pleased to announce that the Reverend Jonalu Johnstone has accepted our position for Developmental Minister. Rev Johnstone was matched through the Developmental Ministry program through the UUA. Our search committee, headed by Katie Kingery-Page, interviewed Johnstone May 7th. The committee unanimously recommended Rev Johnstone to the Board on May 12th. The Board accepted their recommendation and voted to extend Rev. Johnstone the position. She accepted and off we go!

I am excited as I believe all the goals put forth for Developmental Ministry will be achieved under Rev Johnstone’s guidance. She is committed to Social Justice and spreading the word of UU in our community and the larger community. She is experienced in growth of congregations as both a minister and a growth consultant. But what excites me even more is that she is someone looking to find a home and excited about the opportunity here in Manhattan, KS. I am looking forward to seeing where we can go under her guidance. She will start August 14th.

Please do all you can to welcome her, accept her and help her succeed at UUFM. Please feel free to talk with me, any member of the Board or the Search Committee with your questions.

UUFM Board members involved in process: Kathleen Tanona as Chair, Katie Kingery-Page as Chair-Elect, Tom Phillips as Past Chair, Betty Banner as Secretary, Mark Clarke as Member at Large, and Jane Pelletier as Member at Large

Search Committee: Katie Kingery-Page, Chair, Shirley Hobrock, Marisa Larson, Jessica Sievers, and Scott Tanona

In Faith,

 

Kathleen Tanona

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We shall not cease from exploration…

What we call a beginning is often the end

and to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

We shall not cease from exploration

and the end of all our exploring

will be to arrive where we started

and know the place for the first time.

I first heard these fragments pulled from T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, found in our hymnal, at the Oakland, California UU Church in 1983. The Rev Rob Eller-Isaacs closed a profoundly moving service with these lines. A few images flicker and these words remain from that morning 32 years ago. What remains, still touches deep.

The line With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling comes somewhere in between these two stanzas. I’m glad to have found them as my time with you ends. As I pull books from the shelves of my office at UUFM, clean out the desk, and purge my files, I come across pictures, notes from meetings, letters, the invitation to my installation as your first called minister, and all kinds of mementos that bring the past into focus– into the present.

I will draw on all the love I’ve shared with this congregation in the past ten and a half years as I begin again. I’ve learned so much from working and creating with all of you. For this, I’m so grateful. I hear the progressive voice calling and I know you will respond with gusto to Rev Jonalu Johnstone as you explore increasingly powerful ways to be a bold model of love, a beacon for liberal religion and builders of bridges across economic, racial, sexual, educational, theological … divides. Welcome her with your generous spirit and eager minds.

May good things happen as we draw upon all the love available and respond with intelligent compassion to all that calls.

Michael

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In the morning a four-foot black rat snake…

In the morning a four-foot black rat snake crossed the drive from the prairie. I thought there he goes–he’ll be in the chicken house soon. That afternoon I found him looped in a nesting box with an egg three inches down from his hinged jaw. I lifted him up and out with a pitchfork, and then hacked him with a spade.

We’ve tried snake repellent, mothballs, taking them miles from the hen house, but nothing except death works. Once one of them discovers the eggs it will return. I felt horrible about killing this beautiful creature, but these snakes makes the hens anxious and will eat as many eggs as they can.

I’ve seen rattlesnakes about a quarter mile from the house while walking with a friend who grew up on a farm. She claimed they should be killed. I said no. A black rat snake lives in the composter. I’ve left him there, hoping he’d catch the pack rats who wreak havoc on the winter garden, denuding evergreens for their nests.

Each spring we remove the eastern phoebe nest from above a light fixture on the front porch. I tell them to move under the protective eaves of the garage. One has taken up residence there. We love their superb nest, the hatchlings, but the Jackson Pollock painting at the front door becomes too much as we tire of tracking poop into the house.

While we live in a bit of paradise in the Flint Hills, life is not perfect. Animals have as much right to be here as we do, maybe even more. Idealism doesn’t always work well. After four years of dealing with the snakes in the hen house I will myself to kill them. The sadness over killing lingers and troubles my conscience. We hate taking the nest down. So much work goes into building it.

One summer a skunk family lived under the front porch. It was fun to watch Mergatroid and her kits come out at dusk and walk along the fence line down the hill and into the woods. They never sprayed but I was a bit anxious as they ambled within six feet of where we sat watching the setting sun do its magic.

We each make choices that others disapprove of. I’ve learned I must act whether if it’s for marriage equality or peace in the hen house. Some choices are clearer than others. I believe we can learn a lot from the choices which have ambiguous results. Refining our decision making skills is a lifelong practice. It’s in the nuances where truth lives. How do you balance hard choices?

Wishing each of you good balance …

Michael

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One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.

One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather. — Paul Valéry

Our culture often condemns us to heaviness. The news media can weigh on our psyches with such force that life becomes a burden. Last night I dreamt that I had a lead role in a modern dance company production. I moved through space with precision, lifting above the ground with an exhilarating agility and lightness. Every cell of my being knew what it meant to fly above all that has the power to pull me down.

The second and third floor of our barn is transformed into a space where we can look out over the hills from every direction, where I can paint and dance. After graduating from college I moved to Boston to study mime. Modern dance was an essential component of the curriculum. While I found that I didn’t like to fabricate the illusion of a wall with my hands, I grew to enjoy learning how to spin without getting dizzy or falling. Discovering where music and the body intersected illuminated the moment. I found that I needed this radiance that brought joy to my mind, body and spirit. This remains true.

When despair weighs me down I can raise myself from gloom by allowing the flow of music to lift me up. If I release to its pull, eventually and amazingly every bit of me feels liberated. On top of Flower Power Hill the wind, crows cawing, the rushing clouds and the sweep of the land elevates me up and out. The coyotes find my leaping amusing and sometimes lend their voice to the scene. Most men find this kind of expression unmanly. I would suggest such feelings trap one in a density that limits access to beauty and a living affinity with wind, fire, water and earth.

Life is too short to worry so much about what other people think. When I walk with Poppy over the hills, I often flap my arms like an osprey. It rushes me into childishness. Isadora Duncan, the great expressive dancer, believed that most people learn to tightly regulate their range of motion as they age. Adults forget the bliss of skipping, moving with the rhythmic power of the waves or breeze or flickering fire. The lack of fluidity in the body leads to a life that becomes unnecessarily rigid. While I might look ludicrous to many people, I value my freedom more than always projecting a stately image of a 61-year-old white man who happens to be a minister.

If the free expression of your body embarrasses you, find a private place and let loose!

Happy Springing,

Michael

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How are ordinary people persuaded to comply passively with injustice …

Taking the bus, which costs about a dime, after listening to Càntor, Ensamble de música antigua perform Vivaldi, Bach, Telemann, Handel and Hayden at the Gene Byron Museum, the woman in front of me turned around and we talked. We met at the reception after the concert in the courtyard of the magnificent hacienda. I recalled her from the Guanajuato monthly public reading series Chuck and I participate in. She read from the end of a play her husband, Thomas M Robinson, professor emeritus of Ancient Greek Philosophy at the University of Toronto, wrote. The scene reveals a deep and complex relationship between Socrates and Aspasia. She was a companion of Pericles, known for her intellectual prowess and for running the best whorehouse in Athens. Dr Robinson believes the conversations between Socrates and Aspasia influenced Socrates’ thinking a great deal. I did as well by the end of the scene.

We chatted away. I blithely asked, “What is your name?” She replied, “Erna Paris.” “What a wonderful name! Did you make it up?” Her glance made me wonder if I’d just bumbled a bit. She said, “No, my first husband from Paris, was also named Paris. I could give him up, but not that name.” I then asked if she wrote. She let me know that, actually, she wrote a lot. Her book, From Tolerance to Tyranny: A Cautionary Tale from Fifteenth-Century Spain, had just been released. We talked about how for 700 years Spain had been a very good example of how Muslims, Jews and Christians could live in productive peace with one another. She is intensely interested in understanding what promotes the kind of integration of diversity that goes beyond acceptance to a place where deep interconnection occurs and further, what destroys or prevents harmonious relations between diverse peoples.

Erna asked me what I did. “I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister.” She said, “We are on the same side.” I said, “Yes, we are.”

That evening, I Googled Erna and found that she has a distinguished international career as a historian, writer and political commentator. In an interview in the Ottawa Citizen, January 20, 2015, she said, “The most elusive question about tyranny is this: How are ordinary people persuaded to comply passively with injustice, or to take the next step and actively turn on neighbors with whom they may have lived in peace for decades, or even centuries? A devalued, marginalized minority seems to be the key. By being exposed to a continuum of propaganda, decent human beings are transformed and desensitized.”

We talked freely, in part because we share the same progressive aspirations and both enjoy a good chat; the kind that keeps you keen for those odd intersections that reveal life’s rich possibilities. It nudges me to let serendipity do its unexpected work and to value the lives of strangers.

Let the sun shine in,

Michael

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“Way up north in Marysville.” …

Guest column by Elizabeth Skinner

Michael Nelson suggested I write a piece about how the Fellowship and its progressive faith and voice make a difference “way up north in Marysville.” He may have been thinking of a UU effect on the larger community, but my thoughts on this matter focus more on the individual and personal.
I live in Marysville, 60 miles north of Manhattan. I moved here 20 years ago from the Washington, DC, area. I was ready for a change and my elderly mother needed a family member nearby. I have stayed because I feel a strong connection here in my home county with the land, the history, the many reminders of my forebears.

Back in the Washington suburbs, I had been an active UU, and took it for granted that I would continue. I joined the Manhattan Fellowship because it was the closest UU church to Marysville. I underestimated how important this connection would become.

It took a while to realize how deep religious conservatism runs in this corner of northeastern Kansas. My fellow citizens know that I go to church in Manhattan but rarely ask for details. Occasionally I attend services (when there’s special music) and funerals in Marysville churches, but I keep quiet about my own spiritual views. I don’t have the right personality for proselytizing (and that’s not a UU thing anyway). And there is little interest or curiosity on the other side. When it comes to my spiritual beliefs, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” pretty much sums up the situation. In 20 years, I have been asked only twice what Unitarians believe. In both instances the responses to my brief “elevator speech” narrowed in immediately on the afterlife. “But you do believe in heaven, don’t you?” “Well, it makes me sad to think that I won’t see you in heaven.”

UUFM’s recent discussions about growing its membership and playing a more important role in the Manhattan community are exciting and I support these goals. But on a more personal level, the very existence of UUFM–just as it is now, even 60 miles away, even when I don’t attend often– sustains me and helps me feel less spiritually isolated. The listserv, the website, the archives of services available for download, the occasional calls and visits from Michael and others–all are sustaining. They connect me with a community of people with wider views of the world–more open, more questioning, and more tolerant.

Elizabeth Skinner is a longtime member of UUFM, combining her special talents and contributions with those of other members and friends, to create a liberal, vibrant, supportive spiritual community for all in northeast Kansas.

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The wonder of seeing all the candles …

candles 2015The wonder of seeing all the candles shining in the darkness at our Christmas Eve service will lift me into this New Year with gratitude for the goodness that shines out from the life of our Fellowship. My mother felt that the service was “homey” and was pleased to feel at home–inspired and glad. She carries the glow of all the gathered candles in her heart. This helps her to feel less isolated from the human family. Her increasing frailty sometimes makes her less able to maintain and build new connections with society. Experiencing wonder links the old and the young.

The magic of fire, how it illuminates the primal, brings us inside the sun. Once inside, I can feel the warmth of love radiate out. This is what makes us go round and round. The orbit of our individual lives that from some magnificent perspective, becomes inseparable from all the other lives. Essential truth sparks and we can see the trajectory of human history. Here we are, each of us an integral part of the mystery and all those who seek specific, broad and profound understanding of what it means to be here. This is how magic works. It lets you see, without necessarily seeing all the dots, how the little connections are part of infinity. You feel it in these small and glorious moments.

In the New Year, may we have many visionary moments when the world makes sense and we can see how we are a part of the whole. May this coherence bring us the courage we need to build the bridges across the rivers of indifference; the indifference that makes oppression, violence, and racial injustice so prevalent in our society. May it also bring the laughter we need to keep our spirits fresh and vital. May there be many moments of play to help us remember what it means to be fully human.

May this be a daring and adventurous year for the Fellowship. May there be plenty of peace to help us to appreciate the quiet moments when awe has a chance to amaze. Let us amaze one another!

Happy New Year!

Michael

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