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Closing Celebration

General Assembly 2002 Event 5066

As the sun set over Québec City, 2000 Unitarian Universalists (UUs) gathered for a fond Canadian farewell. There was poignancy to the occasion because in 2003, when the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) gathers for General Assembly (GA) in Boston, the UUA and the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) will be separate.

The Painchaud Family Trio, Québec folk musicians, opened the celebration with a rollicking, foot-stomping blaze of French Canadian fiddle music.

Next, we were welcomed by Dan Boyce and Sally Murphy, co-directors of the 180-person GA choir. Boyce and Murphy assured us that the UU Musicians' Network (UUMN) would continue to work together, a fact symbolized by their joint role in this closing celebration. Together, they guided the choir through a moving rendition of "Ev'ry Time I feel the Spirit," a traditional spiritual arranged by William L. Dawson. All the choral pieces were accompanied by Sandra Hunt, Music Director of the Unitarian Church of Montreal. Hunt had also acted as rehearsal pianist for the performance.

Sue Boyce told a story of transformation. At a musicians' gathering in England, water brought from many sources, mixed in a glass bowl, and then stirred every day. Although the water appeared clear at first, after a few days duckweed started to grow. As the people regarded the duckweed with awe, they were led to the realization that one can never be sure what one's contribution will bring about. The transformation of people is unpredictable, though working with others makes more likely and meaningful the transformations that will happen. Each may carry a spark that mingles with experiences of others to burst forth into green. When we mingle and share our beliefs publicly, we never know when the duckweed will be seen there on the surface, to be regarded with awe and gratitude.

The Rev. Fred Small led us in foot-stamping and hand-clapping enthusiasm as we all sang an American Spiritual, "I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom."

The GA choir rose to sing a French-Canadian folksong arranged by Donald Patriquin, "Ah, si mon moine voulait danser." A young lady dreams of what inducements she might offer her sober monk (her confessor) to get him to dance. The French text contains a double meaning as "moine" can mean either a monk or a spinning top.

The Painchaud brothers returned with more clogging-and-stomping fiddle music. "Don't worry about the words," the lead fiddler encouraged us, "It goes so fast many French speakers don't know what it says either." To the delight of the audience, after a few bars the fiddler switched hands. There followed a bewildering variety of unorthodox styles involving all four limbs in increasingly bizarre ways, all delivered with a wide grin and infectious vitality.

"That is indeed a hard act to follow," announced Sally Murphy as she directed the choir and soloist Kathy Rochon in a thoughtful song about the transforming power of love and connection, honoring the "Wood River" in Saskatchewan, and written by Canadian prairie musicians, Connie Kaldor and Willi Zwozdesky. "The little Wood River knows that it goes to nowhere, but that doesn't stop it going, or those willows growing, or all of the lovers showing their hearts to each other there. 'Cause the heart is bigger than trouble, and the heart is bigger than doubt, but the heart sometimes needs a little help to figure that out."

The Rev. Barbara Fast took up the themes of transformations and the dreams that are deep in the heart. She began from the lectern with a description of a visit to Israel, a land full of diversity where no one really wants to be transformed. When she quietly moved from the lectern to a spotlight at the front of the stage and donned a simple white shawl, the audience sat riveted as she wove a story of a woman like herself listening to a man named Jesus talking to a crowd on a hilltop. The story might almost have been of a miracle of loaves and fishes that fed thousands, but it was really about a greater miracle that transformed first her heart and then the crowd. She described how "He knew I was hiding the bread and he loved me anyway, and he gave me this piece of bread and asked nothing of me. And I believe it was a breath of God, not the breeze, as we each reached into our hiding places and shared with each other that which we keep in the hidden places. And the story will say there were seven baskets left over, but there was much more. It wasn't the miracle I expected but it was a miracle inside me anyway." Finally, Fast turned to us and asked "Have you been fed and have you fed others? As you gather your baggage and go home the question will go with you: what are you called to do in the days ahead for yourself and for each other, for the world and those who will follow?"

The choir, inspired by this moving story, responded with a song entitled "We Rise Again," by Leon Dubinsky and Lydia Adams: "We rise again in the faces of our children."

Matty Hartgering presented a youth perspective. We live by our connections, he told us.

We learn to love intensely for a weekend and then say goodbye, to live life unafraid, to be willing to go into the world seeking love, receiving love, and sharing love.

The choir sang quietly "You Are the New day" by John David and Peter Knight. "I will love you more than me and more than yesterday, if you can but prove to me you are the new day. When I lay me down at night knowing we must pay, thoughts occur that this night—might stay yesterday."

Small sang one of his own songs: "Everything Possible," with the congregation joining in on the chorus.

In the grand and dramatic style of the Academy Awards, Linda Lu Schulz announced the three finalists in the contest to choose a logo for the 2003 GA in Boston: Judy Wilburn, Douglas Morgan Strong, and Brent Mitchell. "Now, the envelope please! (It was safely stored overnight in the mini bar of my hotel room.) And the winner is: Brent Mitchell of First UU Society of Newburyport, MA, who cannot be here because he is busy chaperoning his children's dance."

UUA President the Rev. William Sinkford offered reflections and a benediction.

"Dream with me and let our dreams point the way. Dream with me. Dream of a UU in the center of the conversations in the public square. Dream with me. Dream with me of a faith where RE is a lifelong endeavor offered to thousands who are yearning for what we have found here; of a UU that knows it must combine spiritual development for individuals with a life of service for justice. Dream with me. Dream with me of becoming an antiracist multicultural community. Dream with me. Dream of the young children who will be able to say: I am proud this is my church."

The choral dismissal was by Rene Clausen. "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."

Small led us in a song of change, transformation, and challenge, by Ruth Pelham: "We will sing this song for the turning of the world, that we may turn as one. With every voice, with every song, we will move this world along. And our lives will feel the echo of the turning."

Finally, the Painchaud Family Trio led us out of the hall to the Closing Dance and our last evening in Québec. Au revoir.

Credits

  • Dan Boyce, minister of music emeritus of Birmingham MI Unitarian Church, Bloomfield Hills, and co-director
  • Sue Boyce, member of Birmingham MI Unitarian church, UUMN liaison for the heartland district
  • The Rev. Barbara Fast, association minister Unitarian church in Westport, CT
  • Matty Hartgering, from Unitarian Church of Evanston, IL
  • Sandra Hunt, accompanist for the GA choir and director of music of the Unitarian Church of Montréal where she is an active performer and teacher
  • Sally Braswell Murphy, music educator in Victoria BC, music director of the First Unitarian church of Victoria for nine years;
  • Painchaud Family Trio, renowned Québeçois folk musicians
  • Linda Lu Schulz is district coordinator for GA in Boston
  • The Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the UUA
  • The Rev. Fred Small, singer songwriter and minister First Church Unitarian, Littleton MA

Reported by Mike McNaughton.

Event Script

Music—Painchaud Family Trio

Visual—Fete nationale de Québec/Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day June 24, 2002

Welcome and join us in Canada—Sally Braswell Murphy and Dan Boyce

Sally: Bonsoir mesdames et messieurs et bienvenu. Je m'appele Sally Braswell Murphy et je viens du Canada et voici Dan Boyce qui vient des Étas Unis. Nous sommes les dirgeurs du "GA choir".

Dan: Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome. My name is Dan Boyce and I come from the United States and this is Sally Braswell Murphy who comes from Canada. We are the directors of the GA choir

Sally: Normalement, il n'y a qu'une seule personne qui dirige le GA Choir. Ce soir, il y en a deux, une de Canada et une des États Unis.

Dan: Normally, there is just one person directing the GA Choir, but this evening there are two, one from Canada and one from the United States.

Sally: Ce soir est une occasion historique. C'est la dernière fois que le "Canadian Unitarian Council" et le "Unitarian Universalist Association" se rencontrent sous l'organization unique du UUA. Les musicians, en choisisant deux personnes pour diriger le "GA Choir" voulaient montrer que malgré la sépération de CUC et de UUA, nous restons toujours unifiés dans notre but de répandre l'esprit et le feu de Unitarinanism et de Unitarianism Universalist. Nous vous invitons de sentir l'esprit et les bonnes nouvelles de notre mouvement si important à notre époque.

Dan: This evening is the last time the Canadian Unitarian Council and the Unitarian Universalist Association meet together as part of one single organization—the UUA. The Unitarian Universalist Musician's Network wanted to show that in spite of the separation of the CUC and the UUA, we remain firmly committed to spreading the spirit and fire of Unitarianism and Unitarianism Universalism. We invite you now to experience the spirit and share the good news of our movement that has so much to offer our current time.

Choir: Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit

Story: "Duckweed and Transformation"Sue Boyce

This is about duckweed and transformation. Transformation is something you may know about—in fact, meetings and gatherings such as those we've experienced the past few days can provide insight and renewal leading to personal transformation. You know duckweed too; it is that ubiquitous, bright green tiny round-leafed plant that floats atop ponds, at the edges of lakes, in slowly-moving water.

Last summer a group of Unitarians gathered in Great Hucklow, a tiny village in the Peak District of England, as they do every year for a week of community and religious education courses. For one workshop, participants were directed to bring small containers of water, which they had collected from water sources meaningful to them. It is a familiar ceremony, this mingling of water from disparate sources. There were samples of water from garden ponds, from someone's sports bottle, from the tap at Hucklow, and from a small lake in Michigan, brought by the one American in attendance.

The waters were poured into a glass urn-shaped container that looked as though it had once held a funeral arrangement. The mixture was relatively clear. Once stirred, the water and its container sat on a window sill. Each day the course members stirred the water before beginning their work. There was no visible change in the water from morning to night, and yet change there was. From a relatively clear liquid, the combination of waters, daylight, and regular agitation was gradually assuming the appearance of a primordial soup. By the fourth day, there was no doubtthere was LIFE in that glass urn. On the sixth day, the group was greeted by the sight of small islands of green in the urn. Duckweed, buoyant and triumphant afloat in the water.

A biologist would have a ready explanation for the duckweed. The seeds, the germ, of that weed was already in one or more of the water samples; the combination of waters was ideal for its flourishing; the daylight and aeration were just what was needed for its propagation. But the small group of Unitarians there were not biologists, and the duckweed was regarded with awe, a very tangible symbol of the coming together, the working with each other, and the sharing taking place over the space of a week.

So what does duckweed have to do with transformation? Only this, that one can never be sure what the result may be from one's contribution to a process. And that working with others makes more meaningful, and more likely, the transformations that occur. The transformation from water samples to a broth rich enough to sustain a vibrant weed took time and the contributions of multiple people.

For some people, for some processes, there is an "ah-ha !" moment. But most transformations take place like the growth of the duckweed; the seeds may have been present all along, and it takes time and the right conditions for the growth-the transformation-to occur. We don't know the precise combination of minds or hearts that leads to a leap in social justice. We cannot prescribe the proportions of exposure to the light of day and repeated stirring that will engender political and economic equality for a people. Science enables us to predict the outcome of many things; but, oh, the transformation of people, of organizations, of societies, is unpredictable. Each of us may carry in ourselves the spark-the "seed of duckweed" if you will-which mingled with the experiences of one other person, or under the right conditions, will burst forth into a defiant green flowering.

Given the right combination of ingredients and conditions, transformation will take place in the human heart, the human mind, in our congregations, communities, and, yes, even the world. As Unitarian-Universalists and other like-minded liberal religious people, it is vital for us to mingle together with others, to share our beliefs publicly and in the light of day, and to regularly stir the mixture. One never knows when the duckweed will emerge on the surface for all to see; there to be regarded with awe and with gratitude.

Song: "Woke Up This Morning"songleader Fred Small

Framing WordsSue Boyce

The next selection, " Ah! Si mon moine voulait danser", is an early Québecois folksong arranged by Québec native Donald Patriquin. It speaks of another type of transformation as the young girl who is singing the song ponders how to get her stolid and sober confessor, a monk, to loosen up and dance with her. I suspect that the clergy present here will not need bribes of clothing to get them to enjoy the dance later this evening, especially since our lively musical trio entertains us in the Québecois spirit during our celebration and continuing on to the dance at its conclusion.

Choir: "Ah, Si Mon Moine Voulait Danser"

The Painchaud Family Trio

Framing WordsSue Boyce
Framing for "Wood River":

The piece you are about to hear, "Wood River" by Connie Kaldor, is another example of the wonderful choral music being written in Canada in recent years. Connie was born in Saskatchewan and is a well-known figure in the Canadian music scene, having been nominated for and receiving several Juno awards. The text of "Wood River" pays homage to the river of that name that flows through Saskatchewan. In addition, Kaldor's words describe the transforming power of love and human connection.

Choir: "Wood River"

"No Less a Miracle"Barbara Fast

Six years ago, while I was preparing for the UU ministry I traveled to Israel with an interfaith group of ministry students, laity, professors and clergy. I stood on a hilltop overlooking the slate gray sea of Galilee and I stepped over the red anemones that our Orthodox Jewish guide from Brooklyn now living in Jerusalem told us grew this color red only in the Holy Land because, people said, of "all the blood in the soil."

I listened as a 70 year old Episcopal nun giggled while she whispered to me that she was wondered if our guide was a 'Christian' because of the respectful way in which he spoke about Jesus as we visited the holy sites. I assured her kindly that he was not.

I sat in a gender-segregated synagogue with a west bank settler and educator as she passionately affirmed her inherited faith and proudly described the girl's high school she had started there with internet and email capabilities. We wept together when she told me she would move from her home if it would bring peace.

I was there when Jewish school girls were gunned down by an insane Jordanian, and when the then King Hussein of Jordan traveled to settler's homes with his daughter to offer compassion, to "suffer with "the grieving families.

Personally, I know there are anti-semites growing their ranks in this world. I know they look on my sons as Jewish and therefore less an fully human because their father was born and raised Jewish. I know Christians see my sons as less than fully human because they are not baptized. I studied with Christians who would not feed me the crumbs that fall from their table because of my beliefs...but there are transforming truths contained with in each great religion that transcend destructive interpretations.

Whitman spoke about his "delicious burdens."

It is clear that many people on this earth, here and abroad, carry their religious burdens with them from century to century.

How do we transform human attitudes, hatreds and beliefs?

Truth is, no one really wants to be transformed. Transformation requires a change of heart...that often calls us to see that we must change our way of being in this world.

And what about us? UU's? What about our delicious religious burdens? How do we transform ourselves?

The story that follows was told thousands of years ago. It is now is the very well known story of Jesus transforming ten loaves of bread and two fish to feed four thousand spiritual seekers. As it has been told, it left someone out. Actually it left out thousands of women and children who gathered there.

The story you will hear today is told by an ordinary woman who started out on a journey with her two sons to that gathering of thousands.

She finds herself on a hillside that overlooks water...among thousands of others who have come from distant lands gathering together for the ancient world's version of an unconventional convention. Could it have been a General Assembly of the ancient world?

Truth be told, she isn't sure what she is seeking...but she is disappointed in herself, fearful of this new world, cynical about the intentions of world leaders, and uneasy about current religious leadership.

And she has not surrendered her hope. She is hopeful because she will not surrender her children's futures to despair.

So she comes, following the lead of her children.

She comes carrying her baggage: her disappointment, disease, fear, cynicism and hope.

She arrives believing that it is up to someone else to transform the world...a prophet, president, priest, rabbi, iman, guru.

She prepares to leave, carrying her baggage, still fearful, cynicism reinforced...and hope fading...

Then something in her calls her to turn around...and travel out of her familiar boundaries... Her love for her child calls her to to risk her own transformation...and something miraculous does indeed happen...

If she were to report to this GA as a faithful UU witness what would she tell us...?

(Fast transformed herself into the character of whom she spoke):

It was colder than I had expected. ..hoped...that early summer season.
I could make out the slate gray sea of Galilee below. The red of the anemones dominated the hillside.
The afternoon light is dimming. I try not to shiver.

It has been a difficult year.

So much learned, so many losses.

It never seems to be a good time of year to leave our work.

Each year we plant is an act of faith.
There is so much needing doing...still!
My family will manage to feed and clothe ourselves but not much more.

The crowds are large.
It is a good thing I came with my sons. A woman alone is not safe.
The young men are restless.
They want great things from this prophet.

I had heard about this teacher the Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum, I came to see for myself who he is.
When we got here, people were whispering that he is a Messiah.

Now they are grumbling that their stomachs are empty. Hunger is a powerful force for evil.
It has been three days and it looks like what little food people carried with them, they have eaten.
They are feeling that restlessness that comes with hunger.
Human beings need more than parables to feel filled.

I have kept a few loaves hidden for my children.
I work day and night to make sure they have food in their bellies. These loaves are for our trip home.
I do not talk much about the kind of effort I make to put our daily bread upon the table.

Thank God I can still work, huh.
We thank God at home. Although I am not always sure God has much to do with my putting a meal on the table.

Why is everyone murmuring?

Ben comes running up to me with Daniel fast behind him. Breathless he tells me that we are to leave and that this Jesus wants us to share the food that we still have with everyone there
Benjamin asks me: "Where is the bread, Mom?"
It was less a question than a demand. You have a teenager at home. You know the tone of voice?
He says it so loudly I am embarrassed. People turn in our direction with eyes like hungry dogs.
"What Food?", I reply.
"You know Mom, the bread you brought. You know!"
"Ben. BEN..." comes out from my lips like a hiss..
I give him that look. I feel small inside.
Well what am I supposed to do? If I give him the bread there will be none left for our trip home. He will give it away to that Jesus, and it will be gone. For the truly needy. Hah!

If I let on that I even have food, well, it would be gone as soon as I turn my back.
If I lie to him now, Oh God.

It is all so easy for this Jesus to—talk about loving your neighbor. My life is not like that..
Trust my neighbor. Well—it all depends on who and what for.
I do not lie to my son. I am a good mother and I am afraid. I feel cold inside of me.
I know how beggars are treated, and women who cannot support themselves. They are invisible ..Who here would share their meal with me then?

How did I come this far? Ben's enthusiastic smile has leaves his face.
Now, he carries my secret.
He leaves.

I wish he had not put me in this position.
I lose my son in the crowd. I will not lose my son.
Dan has my hand.. "I see him—Mom." He tugs. "Come on."
He drags me forward, toward Ben.
I hold tightly. He pulls me through the crowds.
He is like a rabbit in and out of bramble.
He leaps over the anemones. I leave them crushed under my sandals.
People say that these flowers grow this color red only here, because of all the blood that is in our soil.

The crowd is thinner here. Dan stops.
What am I doing here? With these good people. They are better than I.
They have the answers. No doubt they have given, shared their bread.

Dan hops up and down, begins to yell.
I make sure that I stare down at my feet hoping no man makes eye contact with me.
Daniel points to Ben across the hilltop. His face is aglow in the setting sun. I steal glances at him.

Standing before me, at a small distance, is this prophet.
I can hear his voice. I feel ashamed to be there and try to turn back or hide.
I'd give anything to be anywhere but here.
Daniel does not budge. He must have grown bigger last night.
Those around me were all looking toward him now.

How much bread have they collected from all these thousands of men, not counting the thousands of women and children.
I can see that he has received only a few loaves of bread and four, yes, my god!—only few fish. Pretty old ones at that.
No one had any food after all.
Yet, He does not, at least to me, he does not look as if he minds that he only has these few loaves and fishes.
He is not ashamed of what we have offered.
What can he be thinking?
Maybe he will perform a miracle after all!
That is what we all are waiting for.
Someone to perform the miracle.

I heard that he turned water into wine at his cousin's wedding.
Maybe he will make a feast out of these loaves and fish.

In my heart I quietly pray
Hosannasave me.
Before I can leave, he asks us all to sit down. We sit.
We grow quiet. He makes a blessing on the food.
He is blessing that food. He is offering thanks to God. I can feel his gratefulness.

Then I wait and watch.
And then...
I wait and watch for the miracle.
And then.
He takes a loaf.
He breaks the bread and gives it to those who came forward. No miracle after all. No feast.

And then
I don't know how to say this...
He walked over to us ...
He laid his hand on Daniel's head.
That's when I looked up and I met his eyes...
I saw myself through his eyes ...
I saw myself the way he saw me..
I don't know what else to tell you.
I just felt OK. I mean whole. Good enough ...
I felt like he loved me.

Anyway.
He knew I was hiding these loaves of bread.
He loved me anyway.
Then he gave me this large broken piece of bread, and invited me to eat it.
He didn't ask me to share that bread with anybody. He went on to the next man, sharing all that he had been given.
And he asked nothing of me.
I felt for the loaves inside my cloak. I reached in—
I gave Daniel two of them and sent him running to Ben so that he might give them to others.
Then I turned round and started to break another into pieces for those behind me.
And I met the eyes of one of them. I saw him in all his brokenness, weakness and hope.
Like me.

I thought he was pulling his hand out of his shirt to reach for a piece of my bread, out came two big rounds of flatbread he too had hidden away.
Like me.
He gestured that I should go on and share mine with others.
And I saw him turn round to break bread with those behind him.

It seemed that it was the breath of God and not a cool summer breeze that rustled over us
As we opened up our precious hiding places.

Maybe God smiled and wept that one heart could move thousands of hands to reach into their hidden places and share what sustains their lives and each others.

We sat silently at first and then with animation we ate and shared our stories where we each had come from...Where we had to journey, hoped to go.

Daniel came back to me with a basket filled with hunks of bread. I gave him my leftovers. Ben put his basket down in front of those close to the prophet and stood there, his back to me.
Now we knew that there was really enough to feed us all. That made sharing easier.

Why had we doubted that before?
In all, the story will say that seven baskets full were collected. At least that many. People ate and were filled.

Now, people prepared to find their way home. Ben turned around. It had grown dark, and a few fires were lit. He came over to me. Actually he stood well above me. Then, he knelt down before me, looked me in the eyes. We exchanged forgiveness.
He asked my forgiveness. And I asked his.
In my heart I prayed to keep his love.

This manthis Jesusdid me a mitzvah that day.
He blessed us all.
It was not the miracle I was looking of when I began my journey, but it is no less a miracle in my life.

You ask me: 'Was anyone truly transformed? Was there a miracle?'
I can't speak for anyone else. I will tell you this.
I pray that I will live out that miracle of the loaves and the fishes today, when I travel home and all the days to come, where ever I find myself.

(Fast leaves her character and resumes her comments, directed toward the audience):

And so it goes unto this day...We are transformed...one person at a time...heart by heart...hand to hand....life to life.
We are challenged and loved into transforming ourselves.

Rev. Dick Gilbert wrote that" life is our only chance to grow a soul and save the world." True changes of heart need to be lived out in our everyday lives. Hosea Ballou said ( more or less) if we "cannot reduce a religion to practice, have none of it."

So my question at the end of this GA is ...What is it we are called to do with what we have experienced here? In these times especially ...This is the challenge we face as we prepare to leave this gathering on the hill. How will we reduce our changes of heart to practice when we go home?

Choir: "We Rise Again"

Words about hopes for the future—Matty Hardgering

A member of the youth group will speak about how UU values might transform their lives.

Choir: "You Are the New Day"

Song: "Everything Possible"—Fred Small

Announcement of Winning Logo—Linda Lu Schulz

Winning Logo Design, Boston 2003 GA

Reflections, Benediction and Extinguishing the ChaliceBill Sinkford

Choir: SET ME AS A SEAL

Song: "This Little Light of Mine"—Fred Small

The Painchaud Family Trio will play as background for exit of the hall and to the dance where they will continue to entertain.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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