It was good to be together as a community celebrating Advent. In the candlelit sanctuary, the members of Sunday Fellowship sang and prayed, shared the Annunciation story, made ornaments and enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies.
To remind us of God’s loving embrace when we are sad or afraid, we practiced wrapping baby dolls in blue swaddling clothes. Then we wrote our fears and sadnesses on blue and purple ribbons and put them inside ornaments. The outside of the ornaments were decorated with golden stars symbolizing God’s light surrounding us despite our fears. After losing several members of our community this fall, it felt especially important to acknowledge the bittersweet feelings this season can evoke. Enjoy the photos!
I felt pretty strange describing my sabbatical before I left. I’ve always enjoyed nature but camping and environmentalism were hardly defining interests. These are just some of the things people said: “Why are you so interested in trees all of the sudden? And why Ireland? Didn’t you go there a few years ago? You say, you’re planning to do yard work during some of the time? That’s the last thing I would do during vacation time.”
I can understand why people responded this way. I didn’t know why I craved green things so much. I just did. My body and soul seemed to want green in an almost visceral way. It didn’t seem to matter whether I was gardening in my backyard, devouring books about the science of forests, or biking though the green hills of Ireland.
I’ve returned from my time away with a deep appreciation for green things; not just because of their physical beauty or usefulness, but because of what they teach us about the nature of life. I never realized that forests are comprised of complex networks of organisms which together have an essential role in the climate. For example, did you know that the size, shape and type of trees growing in a given area can determine the temperature and water level? And apparently, huge trees depend on the tiny threads of an underground network of fungi to send and receive information from one another. Different species of trees will actually warn each other about approaching pests and diseases! And some trees work together for years to keep their parent trees alive if they’re damaged. There’s so much more I could say about how incredible forests are. If you want to learn more, check out “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben or “To Speak For the Trees” by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
You know the old saying: “You can’t see the forest for the trees?” It means not being able to see the big picture because of being overwhelmed by the immediate concerns that surround us and block our view. I’d say that’s a pretty good description of my mental state before the sabbatical. In our chaotic world, with its 24 hour news cycle, it’s been difficult to hold on to hope while tragedy after tragedy arises to demand our attention until we feel utterly surrounded by suffering. It has felt like unbridled self-interest, violence and bigotry have gained the upper hand, especially over the last several years.
Little did I know that the trees could help me find the forest and see the big picture again. Like Hildegard of Bingen, I heard God calling me recognize her in the greenness all around me regardless of what else was happening in the world and to notice that my soul was already returning to its green and life-filled state, like a plant greening up after long-delayed rain.
What inspires me so much about green things is that they clearly demonstrate the benefits of valuing diversity and interdependence over competition and artificial homogeneity. I don’t think it’s an accident that some of the oldest, most natural systems on earth resemble the spiritual values of most world religions: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, Matthew 7:21, 19:19, 22:39, Luke 10). “None of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 72). Sounds like a blueprint for diversity and interdependence to me.
In 2019, with the support of the Dennis Lin Fund, I attended the Institute of Theology and Disability for the first time. I went with high hopes that learning from world-class scholars in the theology of disability and meeting my fellow practitioners of inclusive ministry would transform my thinking and my ministry. My expectations were more than met and I have spent the past three years integrating the knowledge, relationships, resources into my work. All of this is to say that the bar was set pretty high when I had the opportunity to attend the 2022 Institute in early June.
My experience this time was quite different but equally transformative. There were fewer people attending on-site but the speakers and worship leaders were more diverse this year. One of my favorite lectures was “Not Your Ritual Object: A Disabled Perspective in Inclusive Liturgy, Ritual and Spiritual Arts”, a talk by Rabbi Ruti Regan on the challenges of creating successful inclusive rituals. By describing common pitfalls like modifying received religious rituals so much that they lose their emotional impact for the community and become something to merely tolerate, Rabbi Ruti showed how some attempts at inclusive ritual can actually subvert the goal of integration and inclusion of people with disabilities. She underscored the importance creating liturgy that does not define people with disabilities solely by their needs or use disability as a spiritual metaphor but recognizes the experiences of people with disabilities as meaningful in and of themselves. Rabbi Ruti encouraged us to look carefully at the stories and practices that already exist within our religious traditions to find the places that lend themselves to inclusion such as the Jewish practice of repeated prayer bows and readings or the emphasis on divine embodiment during Advent in the Christian tradition. I could go on about the many insightful points made by Rabbi Ruti but I won’t for now.
Another thought-provoking lecture was “COVID-19 is Not Like the Measles: The Hidden Impacts of the Pandemic on the Lives of People with Disabilities” by John Swinton. His described the scarcity mindset many people and governments fell victim to during the pandemic, including those of us whose worldview is supposedly shaped by faith in a God who breaks down barriers and encourages love of neighbor. He pointed to hoarding behavior, the unequal distribution of vaccinations and the inflammation of xenophobic prejudice. At the same time, he also pointed to a heightened awareness of the human need for companionship and community and the increased access online platforms have provided for people with disabilities. He charged communities of faith to lead the way in prophetically reimagining the world helping communities to develop practices that encourage greater relational consciousness and remembering the marginalized.
That’s probably enough detail for now! If you’re interested other incredibly meaningful lectures and talks I attended were:
Beyond Saints and Superheroes: A Phenomenological Study of Spiritual Care Needs of Parents Raising Children with Disabilities by Laura MacGregor, Allen Jorgenson, Kayko Dreidger Hesslein and Roz Vincent Haven
Disability Ethics and Theology: A Symposium by Rosemaries Garland-Thompson, Brian Brock, Devan Stahl and Bill Gaventa
Grief, Loss and End of Life Issues with People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities by Bill Gaventa
LGBTQ Inclusion in Disability Work: A Conversation for Community and Allies by Allison Connelly Vetter and Rebekah Dyer
Rejoicing Through a Communion of Vulnerabilities by Adanna James
The Intersections of Black Liberation Theology and Disability Justice by Rev. Harold “Russell” Ewell II
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Continued Faith Engagement of People with I/DD After COVID-19 by Jasmine Duckworth and Chantal Hardwick
Thanks to the Dennis Lin Fund, Sunday Fellowship was able to celebrate forty years of ministry in style. Gorgeous outfits, elaborate decorations (complete with a red carpet), enthusiastic dancing, a photo booth, karaoke and delicious food under a tent in the Garden made the SF Prom a day to remember. A toast to the members and friends of Sunday Fellowship throughout the years on whose shoulders we now stand. Dennis, we know you would have loved it!
Sunday Fellowship enjoyed our first Advent gathering as one large group since 2019 and it was wonderful. Bathed in candlelight, we sang, prayed and explored the many names of Jesus through scrolls and word searches. Check out our photos and try one of the word searches. Have a blessed Advent!
“All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir” has been one of Sunday Fellowship’s favorite songs for years. But last week’s animal blessing was the first time SF has ever gotten to sing it with live animals in attendance! Over thirty people gathered at Thoreau School to celebrate and bless animals large and small with a little help from naturalist, Peter Alden and therapy dog team, Carolyn Zagami and Oakley. Enjoy the photos and see how many different pets you can count!
Team WCUC had great day at the Minute Man March! It started with a team photo and blessing, followed by a crew of all ages doing the March together. Together, we raised $2025, gave out 50 flowers of appreciation to MMArc staff, and prepared 40 postcards to send to our senators in support of the Better Care, Better Jobs Act! Thank you to all of our marchers and supporters. God Bless Every Body!
Check out the pictures of our kids having a blast together in outdoor play on the Thoreau School field last Sunday! After getting all sweaty and tired, we joined Sunday Fellowship under the tent to learn about the upcoming Minute Man March on September 25th and to make posters supporting Team WCUC. It was a joy to be together and get excited about this very special event! Read on to learn how you can support the Minute Man March and Team WCUC as well!
TEAM WCUC NEEDS YOU! Join Team WCUC by supporting the Minute Man March – a beloved community event that helps bring life-changing services to 850 children and adults with disabilities in our community. Now, more than ever, Minute Man Arc needs our support to continue its vital work. Click HERE for general information about the March.
TEAM WCUC NEEDS FEET! Join us on September 25th for a spirited one-mile walk through Concord Center, followed by an outdoor party with music, games, prizes and food. Email Melissa Tustin at firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to join Team WCUC and walk with us!
TEAM WCUC NEEDS FUNDS! Even if you can’t march with us, you can still be a part of Team WCUC by making a donation. Please visit our TEAM WCUC FUNDRAISING PAGE and share the link with friends and family, or check out the brand new MMArc Silent Auction and place a bid!
Thank you for your support, and God Bless Every Body!