Minister’s Newsletters – Rev. Springberry
December 2, 2017
I love Christmas. I love the secular holiday of gift giving, food, parties, and Santa Claus. I love the religious holiday, and the retelling of the story about a baby born to refugees in a barn, and how the world comes to see that baby as hope. I love the Solstice and the celebration of the return of the sun and the lengthening of the days.
I am listening to the book Sapiens by Yoval Noah Harari. He says what makes Homo Sapiens who we are is our ability to create stories that make it possible to create civilizations.
The stories of religious traditions are such fictions, but so are nations, corporations, and financial systems. These fictions are not good or bad. We create them because they make societies possible. Our financial system would be impossible without the story that ownership of corporations that can be divided into “shares” which can be traded. Corporations, shares and stock markets are not real in the way that a tree is real. They are fictions we all agree to act as if were real, so our economic system can work as it does.
The story of the baby Jesus, born destitute, honored by Magi and shepherds, and wanted dead by King Herod is a story that has lasted for two millennia, much longer than the fiction of limited liability corporations. It is a story told and sung each year even by those who do not believe in the divinity of Christ or any other aspects of the Christian faith.
I imagine that the story of Jesus, or a similar story, is necessary in any culture that includes inequality and injustice. It is a story that shows a way out. The baby Jesus is born into severe difficulty – homelessness, few resources, and a death threat. Still he grows into a strong man who preaches and acts in love, taking on the hypocrisy of Pharisees and domination of the money changers and Romans.
This is a story for our times. Especially, the Unitarian Universalist version of the story, where Jesus is fully human, as we are. The story tells us our lives can be difficult, complex and confusing, but we too can speak and act from love.
May this be so for us all during the winter holiday season.
I have been thinking about loss lately.
I have been shaken by the natural and human disasters of the last two months and the human suffering they have caused. I have listened to the stories of loss – of homes, of the belongings of a lifetime, of neighborhoods and communities, and of beloved people. The loss of people is the most wrenching, of course. Those sudden losses feel unreal, dramatic and painful.
I have been becoming more aware of the many losses that UUFM has experienced over the last 3 to 3 ½ y years. Several beloved members have died: Vern Halcro, Otis Woodard, Trish Crawford and Larry Holler. Other treasured members have moved: Pam Bergen, Bob Applegate, Debbie Gorham, and David Harvey.
Just over a year ago, an active group of teens left for college. At the same time, Mary Gear, your first minister, whom you had invested deeply in, decided she could not stay. Your DRE of two years resigned, and this year another DRE is leaving. This follows a regular turn over in DREs and teachers.
Then last year, illness kept Genevieve Woodard, Phil and Phoebe Newman, Madeline Bishop, Nakota Ashstarte and sometimes Bernie McGinnis away. Harold and Louise Jacobs left because UUFM has not been able to provide hearing assists. Wendell Kringen left because he wanted to focus his attention elsewhere. In just the last two months, the husbands of three members died.
I, undoubtedly, do not have a full accounting of all losses in the fellowship. There are many people on UUFM’s membership list I have never met. Even with the losses I do know, in the last three years, UUFM has lost or has been missing almost 1/3 of its membership to death, illness, old age, and moving. This is a significant amount of loss.
At the same time, other changes happened. You hired two ministers. Many new people joined. Communication no longer worked well. People have had different assumptions about decision-making and other issues, some that mattered very much. All changes, even if we really want them, come with the loss of something.
In the pagan traditions, the transition from October into November represents a descent into the dark. Sometimes this dark represents pain and loss. Other times it represents a dark where we can rest and renew. It can mean the things we cannot see. Sometimes the dark symbolizes all these things, such as in the celebrations of Day of the Dead and Samhain.
My blessing for all of us at UUFM is grounded in those traditions.
May we remember and honor what we have lost.
May we find rest and comfort with each other.
May we be open to love in all its forms and all the other things we cannot yet see.
September 15, 2017
I am delighted to be back with all of you this year.
I had a wonderful summer of study, rest, and play and feel energized for the coming church year. During my time away, I was able to remind myself why I am a minister. It is sometimes easy during the ups and downs of our lives to forget what grounds us, who we strive to be, and the world that we hope to build. My ministry is grounded in a conviction that it is through relationships, particularly relationships with those different than ourselves that we find what we need to transform into more compassionate and loving people.
As the world struggles with monster storms, drought, and polarization, we need more communities of people who work together to transform themselves and their communities to be more compassionate and just. What we need is good congregations.
Good congregations celebrate when life is wonderful and offer a helping hand when life is hard. Members ask us to march downtown and feed the homeless. They remind us to keep up our spiritual practice, be generous, and practice kindness. They listen as we seek meaning and hope in our lives.
Good congregations also have capacity to withstand the challenges of discomfort and conflict. Transformation can be as simple as refocusing our thinking or priorities, but it often means confronting old patterns and ways of being and letting them go. My experience is that this can be hard and painful. We need congregations that tell us with love when our actions are not helpful or are hurtful and stand closely with us while we work to be different.
The founders of UUFM built this congregation on a foundation of meaningful relationships. You have more than once found your way through discomfort and conflict. You are a good congregation. I am happy to be with you for another year while we continue to transform into the people we most want to be and build the world we most want to live in.
Rev. Tracy Springberry
June 18, 2017
Dear UUFM Members and Friends,
Summer is here, or maybe it is here. It is 55 degrees and raining yet again. Still the days are long and the world is lush and green and there is much to be joyful about.
Unitarian Universalist ministers typically divide their summer between study leave and vacation. I will not be available for routine meetings or worship during this time, but will continue to be available for pastoral emergencies. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I board a plane very early on June 19th for Ministry Days and General Assembly in New Orleans. I expect both to be intense and challenging because of the difficulties at the UUA and among the UU leadership as everyone confronts the effects of a culture that continues to hire mostly white men as leaders. I am hoping this time will help people to heal from a contentious three months and move forward so Unitarian Universalism can be held up as a model for building Beloved Community.
When I return I will be researching and thinking about next year at UUFM. We will be establishing new communication practices and clarifying decision-making. We will be considering the impact of growth on what it means for the UUFM. We are hoping to begin Chalice Circles in the fall as well. My study time will focus on these areas.
For vacation, my daughter and I are planning to spend time getting to know Portland better as well as spending time with family and friends in the Spokane area. I also am hoping to read a couple of good novels, spend time quietly next to water, and deepen my spiritual practices.
One of the things I love about ministry is that what I do each day is varied, and that it is focused on relationship and intellectual and spiritual exploration. This, however, takes a great deal of energy, and it is easy by the end of the church year to have lost one’s spiritual and intellectual grounding in the rush of each day. I am grateful that I serve a tradition that allows me the time to reground and reenergize so that I can serve deeply and authentically.
I will return to my regular duties on August 15th, and will lead my favorite service, “Chocolate and Fruit Communion” on August 20th.
Blessings for your summers and journeys.
Rev. Tracy Springberry
May 5, 2017
I have read thoughtfully all the comments from the congregation on the recent survey. I appreciate all who shared their perspectives. Some were very courageous.
There were two significant themes throughout the comments. The first was the need for us to have shared goals. The second was better communication about your needs and wishes.
The Board and I have been talking about the importance of creating a mission statement and from that a strategic plan with goals and action plans. It is hard to know the success of my ministry to you and your ministry to each other and the world, if we are unclear about a shared purpose. A mission articulates that shared purpose.
I also believe better communication is essential. For every congregation I serve, my goal is to create a congregation that flourishes and helps us be the people we most want to be. We have agreed to shared ministry so we need better ways of sharing with each other how we want to share that ministry.
I am always available to talk. I want to know more about who each of you is and your views about life and the fellowship. I enjoy listening to and learning from all perspectives. That is how I change and grow. Please talk to me after services on Sunday. I nearly always stay until most people are gone. I typically come to McMinnville two full days a month and am happy to set up appointments to talk to you. My email is email@example.com.
My hope is that in the coming year we can grow together and bring out the best in each other.
March 29, 2017
I moved to Portland from Spokane, WA, where I lived most of my life. One thing we do not get much of in Spokane is rain.
I knew it rained a lot more in Portland before I moved. If you live in the Northwest, of course, you know this. And it is a lot more. Spokane gets 16” a year on average, compared 44” in Portland. Spokane has 51 days of precipitation; Portland has 100.
I knew these things, but I wasn’t prepared for the endless gray days. Someone said to me, “it’s like living in a black and white TV show.” Yes! I thought. Yes. That is exactly right. The world is served up in gray tones for weeks.
Spokane does get snow though. The city get 45” of snow on average, while Portland gets just 3”. The nice thing about snow is snow is bright. I served briefly the UU congregation in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was there in December, and yes, the sun did rise at 10 am and set at 2 pm and it was 30 below. But those four hours were simply dazzling. Every where you looked the light sparkled on the snow, sending out unexpected rays so bright you had to squint. People rushed out into it, soaking in the sun in those few hours before dark descended again.
In Portland, there is no such relief from the gray and dark. So, when the sun has peaked around the clouds, briefly flirting, in the last weeks, I have experienced it as pure joy. The bright yellow rays cascade through my body like a happy, frolicking tune. I open to the beauty of life, no matter my mood before.
This is the source, I believe, of human hope. That winter always turns to spring. This is the truth of the year, and it is the truth of our lives. Suffering, pain, despair, depression will come. But so will joy, happiness, contentment, and laughter. No matter how many weeks we live in the gray and the dark, the sun will come. It will sparkle in the raindrops left on the leaves, and we will smile and laugh and remember how good it is to be alive.
Rev. Tracy Springberry
March 5, 2017
I was not able to attend the congregational meeting regarding budget priorities on February 19. I do know at the meeting you grappled with the next steps for the congregation. Should you move to a half-time minister or get your own space? Would an administrator free up volunteer time for other ministry?
I believe any of those steps would benefit the congregation. A half-time minister would allow for more pastoral care, classes, worship services, and a presence in the wider community. A building would allow an easier venue for gathering outside of Sunday and offer a space to share with community. It would also eliminate the rigor of setting and cleaning up on Sunday. An administrator would allow more ease of communication and information and free up much needed volunteer time.
However, in the short-term, I believe there are two more important steps necessary for UUFM to grow and flourish.
The first step is saying good-bye to the beloved past and turning toward an uncertain future. Very small congregations are like families. Everyone knows each other. The work of the congregation is a conversation among friends who trust each other and enjoy working together. It is easy for leaders to have control and understanding of almost all aspects of the congregation.
Growth can be exciting, but it also comes with loss. Everyone is not as close as they were. New people don’t know the old ways. They want to try new things. Leaders can no longer know everything that is happening. For long-time members, the congregation sometimes no longer feels like “home.” It is important to acknowledge and grieve these changes. When a congregation is larger, it no longer feels like a family. However it does offer community, diversity, and creativity. It serves more people who find meaning in Unitarian Universalism. The truth is, growth is both sad and exciting.
The second step to grow and flourish is to develop a clearer understanding of UUFM’s purpose. The purpose is the “why” that brings you together each Sunday and keeps you coming together during the week to conduct the business of the congregation. It helps guide the congregation in the activities it prioritizes and draws people in who are inspired by the purpose.
UUFM has a beautiful vision. “We are joyous, open-hearted, spiritual explorers courageously loving all life. Led by the collective wisdom of our fellowship, we are building an inviting and compassionate home filled with music, laughter and wonder.” The vision is a wonderful image of congregational life, but is less clear on the “why” of creating such an inviting home. Is it to learn to love courageously? To grow spiritually? To serve the world?
These two steps will help UUFM grow and flourish, and the decisions about whether to have more ministry or a different space will more easily be resolved.
Rev. Tracy Springberry
January 29, 2017
After my sermon on January 29, someone came to me to express their concern that I had potentially offended Republicans and Trump voters who were members or guests. I realized I had not addressed this important concern within my sermon.
Typically, Democrats and Republicans have different ideas about the purpose of government particularly the roles of providing a safety net for people, checks on capitalistic power, and issues such as abortion. People can have different perspectives on these issues while still upholding the inherent worth and dignity of each person, believing in the responsible search for truth and meaning, justice for all, and care for our planet. Both Democrats and Republicans can be Unitarian Universalists. We do not need to think alike to love alike.
I am not disturbed by the Trump administration because it is a Republican administration. Trump is not a typical Republican. My distress at the Trump presidency is that the foundational values that he and others in his administration profess are antithetical to Unitarian Universalist values. He has articulated and has acted on values that violate the worth and dignity of many people, are unjust, and hurt the planet. He is uninterested in the responsible search for truth and meaning, but instead insists on “truths” that forward his agenda.
Some Unitarian Universalists voted for Trump. My understanding is that they disagree with my analysis that his positions violate UU values. For example, not everyone agrees that Trump is racist or a misogynist. This is part of what it means that we do not need to think alike to love alike. I am always happy to have respectful conversations with people who disagree with me. However, so far both the rhetoric Trump administration and the actions of the first week are not compatible with the Beloved Community envisioned by Unitarian Universalism. As UUs we are asked to build a Beloved Community where diversity and compassion abound and where people do not have to think alike to love alike. It is my hope that we will.
Happy New Year!
I want to offer you warm greetings as we begin this New Year together. It has been a pleasure to walk with you these past few months. You are a warm loving people who clearly love and care for your fellowship.
In my first months, I have spent my time learning who you are and how you do things. Every congregation is different in culture, expectations, and how things get done, so this has taken some time. I have tried different ways of being your quarter-time minister. Some have worked better than others.
I have been able, however, to meet with almost every committee and many individuals and have seen you in action.
Here are some things I love about you:
• UUFM is filled with interesting and kind people. I have loved getting to know those I have spent time with.
• You care about each other. I hear often stories of the extraordinary compassion you have extended to one another. I admire the way you can embrace each other’s uniqueness and be gentle with each other’s brokenness.
• You have a very large group of committed, hard working, thoughtful leaders. Many people put their best selves forward to ensure UUMF is successful. I don’t want you to underestimate how truly remarkable that is.
• Your worship services are lovingly and carefully constructed.
• You have the most elegant and beautiful congregational covenant I have ever read. If you live it, you will truly be a congregation that shines the light of love on each other and the world.
In my first months, I have felt a yearning to spend more time with you and a sadness at how hard that can be. There are many I have not gotten to know. I love children and feel I barely know the children of the congregation. I’m hoping to find ways to make my overall schedule work differently so I can spend more time with you.
I also want to know more about who you most want to be and how I can help you be that. Our world has never needed the vision and values of Unitarian Universalism more desperately. I have no doubt that UUFM has the strength and brightness to bring these to life in our community.