Sunday, July 23, 2017

I Speak Slowly Now

I speak slowly now.
Or, at least I try to.
It is often awkward.

And I often need to forgive my mistakes.

When I am about to speak of the place where my religious community meets, I pause. I meditate on the history of the way the church has oppressed Jews and Pagans. I remember my internship on Long Island and the conversations I had with children of holocaust survivors and with students of history. I recall the way I used to lock down my protective boundaries when talking with a professed Christian. I reflect on my recent visit to the UU congregation in Salem, housed in the same place of worship that housed the puritans who oversaw the Salem witch trials. And I say "congregation."

Love calls me to speak more slowly, and I try to respond when love calls.
They say "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me" but as a child who was teased, a fat teenager who was ridiculed, a lesbian who was threatened, a woman who gets cat-called, a queer Pagan minister who can be the subject of curious gossip... I know different.
Learning to say congregation was fairly easy for me. But once I started listening to other people's stories I found more reasons to speak slowly.
Image result for friends familyI often speak publicly hoping to invite more love and justice so I talk a lot about how we are connected, how we are one human family. When I am asking people to notice their relationships with others I pause say an internal prayer for those whose gender assigned at birth does not fit, and I say siblings. This shows up a lot in songs. "Come on people now, you're my only sibling, try to love one another right now." If the song is in copyright it is an opportunity to talk about the word choice. Out of copyright? Easy to change a word or two! And when singing I invite low voices and higher voices, rather than men and women.
I find myself pausing when I speak about you in the third person. What pronoun do you prefer? She? He? They? Per? And then I meditate on the way you have been mis-gendered, not valued. How your family may not have accepted you or you may be unable to keep a job or the bladder damage you have incurred because you are afraid to enter a bathroom where you are not welcome. I remember the times you got pulled over for driving while gender-queer, the ritual you were not welcome at, the tension of having a brain that know you are a man and a body that telegraphs "I am a woman" and the millionth time someone said "sir, I mean ma'am, I mean sir, ... what are you?" Then, even though the pause in our conversation has gotten very awkward by now, and my sixth grade English teacher is yelling at me in the back of my head, I try to use a neutral pronoun, or if I know it, the one you prefer.
Related imageWhen I ask you to rise to sing together I mention that you may want to do so in spirit and not in body, or both, and it is your choice. And I remember the time you could not get in the door to join us at worship. I see the path to the outdoor ritual space that was impassable to your walker, and then I hear the person who insisted they didn't need the mike and you missed their words, or the time you overheard me say "that's crazy" to describe dumping toxic waste the day after your meds stabilized enough for you to try leaving the house.
I want to call upon others to act in solidarity with a movement for social or climate justice. And since I know that standing hurts, and you do your justice work from your chair or your bed...I slow down. Again. The word I want... May feel clumsy to find. May not flow or feel right at first. Or, it could be even better!

We are traveling together on the side of love. Let us rise to the invitation ... To BE more love. Let our dancing for justice be of heart, mind and soul. I pray that I can slow down enough to receive your story and to respond with care and compassion. And I pray that we will forgive each other, again, and ourselves, again. Let us begin, slowly, in love.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

From Camp Fire Girl to UU Minister

Greenwood Fire Circle at Camp Kilowan
Greenwood Fire Circle at Camp Kilowan
My earth & Deities-relating spirituality is rooted in my experience as a “Camp Fire Girl.” From grade 2 through high school I met weekly with a group of girls obsessed with the outdoors. We learned from the Camp Fire lore and our experiences together as “Earth Maidens in a Circle.” We sang together, we canoed and hiked together, we learned together and we fell in love with the Camp Fire camp in the Oregon rain forest.

Sacred Fire Circles and Sacred Singing!
WoHeLo badge
WoHeLo badge
Our watch-word was “Wo-He-Lo” - which stands for work-health-love. Our law was a sung pledge “Seek beauty, give service, and knowledge pursue. Be trustworthy ever in all that you do. Hold fast onto truth and your work glorify. You will be happy in the law of Camp Fire.” You can hear the Camp Fire Law here.
At our annual grand council fire we processed in with song, processed out with song, and sang many times during the ceremony. As a high school senior, at my final grand council fire, I was proud to receive the WoHeLo medallion: an award for completing a year of work, equivalent to the Eagle Scout rank. Listen, for instance, to the grand council fire processional (which mentions "Great Wokanda.)"

Camp Fire's link with Native American lore
Much of Camp Fire’s lore was written by a Sioux man (Ohiyesa/Dr. Charles Eastman) for his friends Luther and Charlotte Gulick, philanthropists involved with the YMCA and other authors, artists, and visionaries. (For more context on the history see Alice Beard's page.) They were interested in creating a character-building club for girls in America, based on relationship with the natural world, to complement the emerging group for boys: Boy Scouts.
Camp Fire logo circa 1975
Camp Fire logo circa 1975
I don't know what inspired Ohiyesa to share parts of his language, culture and spiritual practices with the girl children of the well-to-do. I do know I am grateful for the gift, even as my adult self recognizes the colonizing, marginalization, oppression and cultural appropriation interwoven in that process. I have received so many gifts from that heritage that I am still learning how to give back and be properly thankful. Here is one person's take on the complexity of Native American girls who had lost their heritage in boarding schools, learning fragments of their own heritage from participation in Camp Fire Girls.

From Camp Fire Roots to Earth-Relating Branches
Through Camp Fire, years before I encountered Greek Gods, I learned that there are other ways to experience God. I also learned that worship, ritual, and spiritual practice could look different from what I was taught at my childhood church. Circling around a campfire, processions with pageantry and song, communing with nature, collaboratively created rites and storytelling are still a part of my spiritual practice.
Camp Fire beads photo: Kathy Groner
Camp Fire beads
photo: Kathy Groner
Through Camp Fire’s reward system (earn a bead for each new skill, experience, or lesson accomplished) I was motivated to learn about ecological diversity, the civic process, orienteering, solar cooking, conservation and more. I gained a lifelong thirst for learning.
Through My Camp Fire group I learned that I could be friends with people who were not like me - who I might not ever talk to at school - and that the relationships we formed from showing up together each week allowed us to have each other's backs in the rest of our lives. I recognized this lesson when I heard the Unitarian Universalist phrase “we need not think alike to love alike”need not think alike to love alike

Unitarian Universalist Blossoms
For me, I think that my early training in ritual, spiritual connection, learning, and community still are my preferred default styles. Now I don't dress up in pseudo-Native American costume, nor do I call on “great Wokanda.” I grew up and learned some things about cultural appropriation, building your own spirituality, cultural roots, and respectful learning, and I'm still learning. I do continue to find campfires and singing sacred. I go to the rain forest and coast, and my own backyard garden to renew. I seek community with people who are different from me. For me, these are some of the earth & deities-relating branches that bloom as my UU Ministry.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Worship and How we do it

Every Sunday thousands of people gather together for what they call worship. Every holy day many more gather. Pagans circle, Christians may assemble in pews and sing, Buddhists may chant or tend shrines, Muslims kneel and bow, Sufis dance, Hindus may light candles... So many forms.

As a UU minister and a Pagan leader I have led worship of various forms for over 30 years. I have developed preferences for how I lead services.

People need ritual assistance in entering and leaving the worship state of mind
Beginning: Casting a Circle and calling the directions (Pagan) or A Call to Worship and Lighting the Chalice (UU)
Ending: Opening the circle and thanking the directions (Pagan) or Benediction and Extinguishing the Chalice (UU)

Ritual is more meaningful without distraction
Announcements and dialog need to be before or after the ritual start and end (call to worship and benediction)

Message or Purpose
Services exist for a reason, and the whole service needs to be in service to the reason or message
When I come to a congregation to provide worship I work with the music coordinator, the worship coordinator, the religious education person, and collaboratively build a service that is "of a whole." The readings, the time for all ages, the call to worship, the songs, the music for reflection, the sermon or "working" all are in service to a full exploration of the topic. That exploration needs to support those who are hurting and challenge those who are ready to grow, it needs to connect the community to one another and to the larger community of which we are a part.

The Time for All Ages is for all ages, not just the children
It is not an opportunity to show the children off or have them perform for the amusement of the congregation. It is not a time to read a book aloud like happens in a library. It IS an opportunity to include all the senses, to tells or convey stories, and to appeal to the multidimensional beings who we all are.

A Pastoral Moment can be off-putting or it can be a critical part of the service
Having a pastoral prayer can tie it together, even if you have individuals speaking their own joys and sorrows. Credit goes to Rev. Dana Worsnop for a truly lovely prayer practice: After hearing the various joys and sorrows, the worship leader summarizes with the phrase "We hold tenderly (the worry for ill family members, those who are saying goodbye, those who are struggling financially...). We hold joyfully (new born babies, marriages, etc.) We give thanks for ALL that is our lives."

The Homily/Sermon/"Working"
When I share a sermon or homily there are a few things that will usually appear. I will almost always speak about the divine, in language connected to relationship, nature, or, love. I will often refer to Jesus, or other great teachers like Buddha or Ghandi. I will often sing and will invite folks to engage physically (perhaps using a finger labryinth, perhaps writing something on a paper leaf...)

It is a joy and a privilege to create a worship experience and share with a community.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Time for All Ages, Backgrounds, Abilities...

Some of the congregations I've attended still call that period of the service near the beginning, after the call to worship and first hymn, while the younger congregants are still in the sanctuary "Children's time" or even "Children's Story."

I've been a proponent of calling that period "Time for All Ages" but the other day I was thinking. Why do we set that time out separately like that? Shouldn't more of the worship experience with our religious community be an experience that works for all ages?

And then I suddenly realized that the nearly sacrosanct tradition of the 20 minute spoken, uninterrupted, sermon, is probably barely a "time for all adults." It doesn't work for people of all spiritual types or all learning or communication styles. It doesn't work for people of all backgrounds or all abilities.

So I have two questions:
Do we WANT our service to be a time for all? And if not, who are we OK excluding? (and for how long?)

I think we do NOT want every element of a worship experience to work for every person there, simply because that would be impossible, or create communities of worship that were extremely small.

So, we need to be OK with some elements of the service not speaking to everyone there. But for how long is it OK to invite them to graciously wait while other's needs are being met? A full third of the hour, every week? That feels like too much.

I imagine each community will find a different set of proportions that they experience as OK. I do hope that each and every community will spend some prayerful time discerning what works for them, and revisit these questions frequently, playfully, and with commitment.

Meanwhile... I'm going to play with the options of switching the 20 minute sermon into a "double-homily" pattern, or perhaps, inviting the congregation into song, or verbal response, two or three times within the sermon, or, perhaps, another pattern altogether.
I'm going to try to remember ALL the people I'd like be in the community while I imagine a service.
And I'm going to try to make the whole service a time for everyone who shows up.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Hitch in Your Get-Along

I usually view life as a fabulous adventure, full of joy and many gifts. In fact, most of the time my enthusiasm for life leads me in a thousand directions at once. Joyfully leaping into commitments and excitedly embracing multiple visions for the future. I am test marketing a vision statement. I'm starting two Entrepreneurial Ministry Support groups. I am talking with Oregon's UU Voices for Justice about the plan for the next few months. I am researching crowdfunding and grant funding. I am preparing for a Sunday service next week... and so much more... And then there are the weeks where there is a hitch.
This last week I spent more time in bed than out of it. I was coping with and attempting to shorten an arthritis flare. You see, I have a type of arthritis that is an immune disorder, it flares up, and subsides, seemingly at random. Luckily, most of the time medication keeps it in check. During a flare, standing up, walking, getting out of a car, all hurt. It feels like someone has sewn my legs to my torso, my calves to my thighs, and I have to pull out stitches in order to straighten. I remember my grandmother climbing out of a car, then pausing to remind her joints how to bend. She would invariably comment, 'I've got a hitch in my get-along."
I just returned from a fabulous week at General Assembly, gathered with thousands of my co-religionists, walking 20 blocks a day, getting hugs around every corner, listening to inspiring words, and witnessing inspiring deeds. After a fabulous week at General Assembly celebrating the end of cancer treatment and my return to relative health, I was feeling joyful about my forward motion, a reinvigoration of my ministry, and freedom to develop a vision of the future. This arthritis flare was a major hitch in my get-along.
Last night a friend said "You usually seem so healthy." and I went through a dislocation, an identity shift. I do feel the need to be doing things, to present as healthy and happy and with a full life. But that isn't my whole reality. Sometimes I'm too tired to think. Sometimes my hands don't have enough strength to turn a door-knob or pull up the comforter on the bed. Sometimes I fall and smash my knee and can only walk with crutches and sometimes my toes scream at me "you shall not walk." I usually push through it.
One of the realities of an arthritis flare is tiredness, a need to sleep. And one of the ways to shorten a flare is to get plenty of rest and reduce stress. So I spent more time in bed than out of it. This gave me plenty of time to experience frustration as the irons I had in the fire cooled. Plenty of time to remind myself that I was OK, even when not in motion. I had to remind myself that I have value, even when there is a hitch in my get-along. I've heard it said that one of the ways we ministers write sermons is that we say the thing which we most need to hear. So here it is: Sometimes it is enough just to spend the day breathing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Amy is Returning to her Circuit-Riding Ministry!

Listen to our Heart-Song
I’m joyful to be returning to my “circuit-riding ministry” after a Spring where my health kept me close to home. I look forward to re-connecting with you and your community! Last year I travelled to Washington (almost into Canada!), California, Arizona, and all over Oregon.
In your religious community, does your heart-song yearn for a closer relationship with the sacred earth? Invite the President of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans to be with you! Or perhaps your heart-song is about building the world we dream about. Invite a representative from Oregon’s UU Voices for Justice! Still waiting and listening for your heart-song? Invite a Spiritual Director who can help you listen it into voice! Now booking workshop and Guest-in-the-Pulpit dates for Summer and Fall 2014.
Some popular workshop topics:
  • Green Chalice - Hildegard of Bingen and spirituality in nature
  • Diving Deep and Emerging (The Inanna Journey) - loss and recovery, through the mythical process
  • Faithful Conversations - how to connect, and transform, beyond difference
  • Your Spiritual Type - finding the religious and spiritual sources that best feed and challenge you
  • The Presence of Absence - mourning together, healing together
  • To Die Well - ways to improve the end-of-life experience for yourself or a loved one
  • Chalica - involving your whole, intergenerational, congregation in the UU principles
  • Sacred Rhythm - West African Drum-song
  • The Spiritual Journey - Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and Carl Jung’s Archetypes meet Tarot cards and Soul Collage as we explore the stages of faith
(let me know if you'd like to attend one of these and I can schedule it!)
Some popular Sunday Services:
  • The Sixth Source - Relating to our Earth-Based selves
  • Bring Many Names - The UU SuperPower of supporting many ways of experiencing the divine
  • Listen - The best gifts we have to give one-another I learned from spiritual direction
  • Divining the Body - Your body is good
  • We Hold These Truths - Unitarian and Universalist foundations of the USA (July 4th)
  • The Great Work - where your passion meets the need of the world (for Labor Day)
  • Harvest Home - Returning to our spiritual homes and finding balance in the transitions of Fall (Autumn Equinox)
  • Blankets for Land - Indigenous People’s Day observance (October 13)
  • Living Authentically- Teresa of Avila’s mystical joyful authentic life (Her feast day is Oct 14)
  • To Love What is Mortal - Embracing death and loss (good for Autumn, esp. end of October)
  • No Time Not to Love - Creating the world we dream about, through love (Election Day)
  • Just Peace - Exploring alternatives to ‘just war’ (Veterans day)
  • Transgender Day of Remembrance - working with your LGBTQIA community to create a UU-based service that honors transgender people’s experience
  • Giving Thanks - Time, Talent, and Treasure… How we give thanks - Stewardship (Thanksgiving)
  • Chalica - our uniquely UU celebration (first week of December)
  • Light Deep Within - A Winter Solstice meditation on transformation
(Tell your Worship Team/Sunday Services coordinator if you'd like to see me in your pulpit!)
See MORE in the catalog! (

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Listen Listen Listen to our Heart Song

Many years ago I learned the Pagan Chant "Listen listen listen to my heart song." That chant, and many others from the Earth-based community, have formed my theology, faith, and soul through the years. Songs are my source of deepening, healing, strength, and transformation.

Every human has inherent worth and dignity and deserves support in their search for truth and meaning.

I will be gentle with myself, I will love myself
I am a child of the universe, being born each moment.

We are a part of something larger - an interdependent web of all life.

I am opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the one.

In the last couple of years I've begun a community ministry. I'm called to ministry. I've completed the process to become an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, but it is not yet clear what that ministry looks like. One thing is clear... I will not be stepping into one of the cookie-cutter boxes out there... I'm apparently incapable of following a conventional path!

I'm serving congregations throughout Oregon and Washington (and occasionally Arizona) as a guest minister. I serve individuals through spiritual direction. I serve groups of seekers in the Portland, Oregon area through workshops. And I serve the cause of social justice through partnerships with organizations like UU Voices for Justice.

It is exciting to listen to my Heart Song and find it in these places. And trusting the unknown is scary!

Keep breathing, it's the most important part. You kick and then you glide. Kick and then you glide.
It's all in the rhythm of the heart.

As a community minister I find the Heart Song of ministry beyond congregational walls. Serving on the board of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans has been joyful. CUUPS is uniquely situated to give gifts to the UU movement. We are already connected beyond and across congregations. We have a tradition of being non-traditional and bringing new worship forms and ways of being together. Our sources of inspiration are incredibly varied and connect with people of diverse backgrounds. Those of us who draw on the Earth-Based paths are good at respecting individual searches for truth and meaning and celebrating all the many names for God that UUs find.

I'm excited about the coming year with CUUPs as we explore our future together, listen for our heart song and, together, create a world we dream about.

Listen Listen Listen to Our Heart Song.