January 2021

Communication is Key

One of the goals I held for this internship since it was only a glimmer in my eye is that we would find ways for all three of our Southern Oregon UU Partnership congregations to share in worship together, worship not as in bowing down before anything, but from the Old English root weorthscipe, which means lifting up what is of worth, “worth-ship” as the board chair at UU Fellowship of Klamath County (UUFKC) referred to it in our last service together. I’ve been so grateful to the people of Rogue Valley UU Fellowship (RVUUF), who have already stepped out of their usual Sunday morning routine to join me for Zoom worship with UUFKC as well as UUGP. Today, I am excited to provide details of a plan for three weeks of shared worship between our SOUUP congregations in February 2021, focusing on the theme of beloved community.

Like UUGP, UUFKC offers a Zoom worship service at 10:30am each Sunday. On Sunday, 2/14, all three SOUUP congregations will join UUFKC’s Zoom, and RVUUF and UUGP will have the opportunity to experience Sunday morning with UUFKC. The following week, 2/21, UUGP will open your Zoom to the people of RVUUF and UUFKC. Then, on 2/28, for something completely different, we’ll join RVUUF for their pre-recorded worship service (available to watch on YouTube at your convenience) followed by “Coffee Hour” fellowship time via Zoom at 11:30am, where we’ll be able to share together in small-group discussion and do the work of relationship building that is the foundation of beloved community.

So, for the last three weeks of February, two of your Sunday mornings will be different from what you’re used to. On the 14th, you’ll still log on to Zoom at 10:30am, though from a different link than usual. On the 28th, the whole flow of the morning will be different. I want to ask you to enter February with an open mind. In addition to building beloved community, my hope is that we will be able to learn from each other, to see what we appreciate most from the different worship styles our communities have, what we can bring back that will work in our individual congregations, or what we really appreciate about our own ways of doing things. I also hope that as we invest our time in small-group sharing with our SOUUP siblings across the region on the 28th, we’ll reinforce the connections that already exist between us.

One of the great joys I’ve found in my internship so far is making connections: connecting local organizers to folks doing similar work on a national scale; connecting individuals in one congregation to counterparts doing similar work in another SOUUP community; connecting Southern Oregon UUs with opportunities to learn, act or worship with our larger denomination and affiliated organizations. I see our coming together for these three Sunday mornings in February as one more piece of the work of “empowering connection,” as RVUUF says in their mission statement. I hope you will accept this invitation to experience new ways to worship and connect with our faith siblings in Southern Oregon next month.

December 2020

Communication is Key

Note: In the spirit of effective communication, I’ve learned that there was a typo in my initially publicized phone number. Reach me at 541.291.1718 –Alison Dure-Sutherland, Ministerial Intern

This month, I’ve found my ministry gravitating toward questions of communication. How do we talk to each other, within our UU and broader communities? How do we communicate across differences that feel insurmountable, with people whose policy positions seem in conflict with our deeply held principles, the inherent worth and dignity of every person? How do we communicate with people we care deeply about in our own families or congregations who see things very differently? How do we make sure that everyone is involved in the conversation who needs to be? Can we communicate across all that divides us?

In our recent Braver Angels post-election discussion, Georgia Moulton offered some tools to help us depolarize our communication, by challenging what Braver Angels calls the four horsemen of polarization (stereotyping, dismissal, ridicule, and contempt for those with whom we disagree) through listening, acknowledging the speaker’s feelings, pivoting away from polarization and offering an alternate perspective that holds more complexity than a polarized position. The Braver Angels project and our UU Principles call us to treat each other as though we have inherent worth and dignity, even when we cannot see it. But we are not absolved from communicating the injustice we see in the world in our attempts to bridge what divides us. The Braver Angels Principles for Productive Political Disagreement remind us that, “Good citizenship requires us to speak our mind fully, freely, and without fear.” Decreasing polarization never has to mean ignoring the call of our UU principles to build “world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.”

As we continue to consider the ways we can bridge the divides in our own lives and communities, I want to share with you a beautiful example of people doing just that right here in Oregon. The Ecumincal Ministries of Oregon (EMO) Collins Summit that took place in November included excerpts from a post-election conversation of interfaith clergy that arose from an EMO project known as Common Table. The excerpts included in the Summit were rich, and the entire conversation is a worthwhile time investment, even at 84 minutes. I especially appreciated the way Rev. Tara Wilkins addressed the question of how those with marginalized identities can come to the table with those who would deny their very right to exist.

I also want to share two opportunities for practicing communication within our own UUGP community. On the third Sundays of December and January, following Sunday service, I’ll stay on Zoom for an hour after the service ends to help facilitate a conversation around the hope shared by the majority of the Board and Social Action Team that we will soon hang a Side with Love/Black Lives Matter banner outside of our building. At the congregation’s annual meeting on January 31, 2021, UUGP members will have the opportunity to vote on the question of hanging this banner. Prior to that meeting, my intention on these two Sundays is to gather us together to see the proposed design, share our feelings about the banner, and give everyone an opportunity to be heard. This communication will lay the foundation for the congregational vote on January 31. Communication isn’t only something we have to work on in between different communities, but within our own community as well, so we continue to deepen our understanding of and connection to each other, through listening and acknowledging each other’s unique perspectives, “accept[ing] one another and encourag[ing] spiritual growth within our congregation.”

Finally, I want to thank those who joined me for my vision board workshop, where we created inspired collages reflecting on our paths forward in our lives. Creating art is one way of receiving communications from the Spirit of Life, as well as sharing our own unique vision with the world. I offer you my own vision board created at this workshop. As I reflect on what my vision board communicates, I find in it a celebration of the miracle of this internship that allows me to serve my Southern Oregon community in ways I had never imagined.

October 18, 2020

My ministry in October has been focused on trauma and healing. Our Southern Oregon UU Partnership community came together with the UU Trauma Response Ministry on October 10th to share our experience of the September wildfires. We learned that so many of the responses we may be experiencing — including irritability, lack of focus, headaches and insomnia — are normal, human responses to an abnormal event. We also learned that we are not alone. We share so much of our experiences of the fires in common, whether we live in Ashland, Klamath Falls, Grants Pass or somewhere in between. We saw that we can provide a community of support and care that stretches across Southern Oregon. At the event on the 10th, we began to discuss the possibility of a weekly, drop-in Zoom meeting for members and friends of all three SOUUP congregations. I was incredibly encouraged to see folks in attendance asking for something that I had been hoping we might one day create — a regular opportunity to experience the love, faith and community which, as Jackie Clement says, “if nurtured…can serve as the very bedrock of our lives.” Stay tuned or be in touch if you’d like to help with or participate in a drop-in community care Zoom with your siblings in faith across Southern Oregon. 

This month, I’ve also lifted up the intergenerational trauma that black folks carry as a result of living with white supremacist oppression in North America for 400 years, and that white folks carry as a result of accepting and perpetrating that oppression. Healing that trauma so we can move forward into something different and better is the focus of Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands, which is so much more than the taste I offered you with the help of my friend Kokayi Nosahere at our service on October 18th.  I want to encourage you to read Menakem’s book and use the tools he presents, not just for healing racialized trauma, but for healing any trauma you are holding in your body. Using our breath, our song, and the sway of our body to stay settled and not let our trauma get the best of us can help us process the trauma of wildfire as well as white supremacy. One of the most encouraging messages I took away from Menakem’s book is that healing myself isn’t something I do only for me, but rather contributes to healing our world as well.  

As 2020 winds down, many of us would describe this year as piling trauma upon trauma: COVID 19, so many deaths, living through climate catastrophe, and our deep political divides about to culminate in one of the most significant elections of at least my lifetime. Tools for staying grounded in these times are so essential, and that is a big part of why my ministry this month has been focused on trauma coping. In closing, I’d like to offer you two tools for the weeks ahead. The first is an embodied practice you can use any time, focused on healing trauma through the movements of Tai Chi. I was introduced to this practice in one of my seminary courses, and although it seemed a bit cheesy at first, I’ve returned to it again and again over the past year, along with my five year old daughter, who loves to do these 15 minutes of Tai Chi with me. Every time I revisit this video, I am amazed at how different I feel in my body, mind, and spirit when the 15 minutes are up. 

I also want to make you aware of an offering from UU clergy and congregations across the country to provide spiritual grounding on Election Day, November 3rd. Any time from 7am to 7pm Pacific, you can join the Zoom meeting here (meeting ID: 995 5323 1971, passcode: 954636, find your local dial-in number at https://uuma.zoom.us/u/aeHgtFP7Ry) for as long or short as you like, to find respite, positive energy, peace and spiritual practice on Election Day. As Unitarian Universalists, we understand the democractic process as key to the values and the practice of our faith. What better way to move through this election season than in the company of our siblings in faith? I know I plan to drop in on the 3rd, and I hope you will consider doing the same.  

Finally, please know that I am here to provide you with direct support as well. I am available Tuesday through Sunday to meet by Zoom or by phone, or even just for an email or text message exchange if that’s what you prefer. Email me at intern.minister@rvuuf.org or contact me by voice or text at 541.291.1718.  

–Alison Duren-Sutherland, Intern Minister, Southern Oregon UU Partnership

September 26, 2020

On my first Sunday morning leading worship as your Intern Minister, in the wake of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I heard our collective grief and fear for the future. I shared that, grounded in the 5th of our 7 Principles, I was preparing to exercise my right to vote, and writing letters to encourage others to do the same. And you asked me, in your words and in your silence, how can it be enough?  

The following Wednesday, the day that the sitting president refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and the day that no one was held legally accountable in the killing of Breonna Taylor, I joined UUA President Rev. Susan Fredrick Gray and UU the Vote for their Gather the Spirit online event, celebrating the work our faith has done together in 2020 to embody that 5th Principle. During the call, it was announced that the number of voters reached through the work of UU the Vote had already surpassed their goal of one million, by another 300,000 people – and the work continues! They’ve increased their goal to 2 million contacts, and we can be a part of it! Gather the Sprit ended with a call to action. Phone banks are ongoing, and their Week of Action is coming up in late October. (I’ll share more as the week gets closer.) Their partner organization, Vote Forward, makes it easy to mail out personalized letters to encourage folks to vote.  It is not too late to get involved, in fact the most important time is now. Vote Forward’s Big Send date is October 17th – plenty of time for you to get a few letters ready to mail out to encourage others to vote.

I’ve signed up for my first UU the Vote phone-banking session, calling voters in Florida, on Tuesday the 29th. I’d love to see some familiar faces there on the Zoom training with me before we start making our calls. Folks who shared about their participation in these phone banks during Gather the Spirit said that even as introverts who didn’t like to call strangers on the phone, they had felt well-prepared by the scripts and instructions (which I’ve already received in my confirmation email) as well as the training provided at the time of the phone bank via Zoom. People felt like they were having productive conversations with the voters they called. Make no mistake: these contacts will lead to more people voting. This is crucial, and not only from a UU perspective. The most important thing we can do to ensure a peaceful transfer of power is to make sure the outcome of the election is clear and resounding, impossible to deny. My UU faith assures me that the more people participate, the closer we will come to achieving justice. The arc of the moral universe is long, and it is ours to bend.

Starr King President Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt shared with me recently a teaching that she carries close to her heart these days: “It is too early to despair.” While there is work still to be done, it is too early to despair. While we are here to do the work, it is too early to despair. While the outcome is yet unknown, it is too early to despair.  So, my friends, let us not despair yet. Instead, let us #UUtheVote!

September 15, 2020

As I begin my third week of ministry as an intern with the three congregations of the Southern Oregon UU Partnership, I can hardly believe so little time has passed. So much has happened, in our work together, and in the wider Southern Oregon community. I began my first day with the Starr King School for the Ministry chalice lighting words


With the kindling of this flame,
We reaffirm our commitment
To accept life’s gifts with grace and gratitude,
And use them to bless the world
In the spirit of Love.


Friends, we are already working together to bless the world. As the fires were still burning in Medford, Talent, Phoenix and Ashland, your board offered space in our back parking lot to SO Equity, a community organization that has been instrumental in coordinating relief efforts, to collect donations for our Rogue Valley neighbors impacted by the fires. Even before this, members of your board had been meeting with and learning about SO Equity, a grass-roots organization led by young people of color, seeking to make our Southern Oregon communities safe for black and brown bodies. This community is considering joining our faith siblings at Rogue Valley UU Fellowship in solidarity with our neighbors of color, and raising a banner to proclaim the truth of our faith, that inherent worth and dignity belong to every human being, and thus, Black Lives Matter. With all that is already underway in this community, lifting up the things that matter on Sunday mornings and doing the work of our faith the other six days of the week, I can only imagine how much we will be able to accomplish together and with our Southern Oregon UU Partnership siblings over the next ten months. 

Already, we have an event planned for all members and friends of the SOUUP community to engage in the work together. On November 7th, Monica YellowOwl of the Klamath Tribal Nation, will offer a free training for our three congregations from 11am to 1:30pm on Zoom to help us learn more about the experience of some of the indigenous peoples who are our neighbors. This opportunity, which came thanks to the folks at UU Fellowship of Klamath County, offers a concrete way for our community to answer the call of the 2020 General Assembly’s Action of Immediate Witness statement, which asks us to “Research, identify, and acknowledge the Indigenous peoples historically and/or currently connected with the land occupied by congregations, and find ways to act in solidarity with or even partner with those Indigenous peoples.”  I hope you’ll join me at this training to bring this call to action from our faith into being in our community. 

In closing, I want to thank you for welcoming me warmly into your community. It was a joy to join you for worship on Sunday, September 6th, where I was able to sit in the Zoom pews (so to speak) and appreciate your service. I was inspired to create this image by your fellowship affirmation and the content of the service. There are many ways to practice our UU faith, and creativity is one important way that I practice. You can join me in that practice by winning a spot in my vision board workshop in the UUGP online auction! The auction is happening on October 24th, and the Vision Board Workshop will be held from 10am-noon on November 14th. I hope you bid on a spot so I can see you there! 

I’m looking to get to know as many of you as possible, so I hope you’ll consider signing up via Calendly for a one on one meeting, or stopping by Thursday’s 4pm Zoom Social Hour, where I’ve already met some of you in a small-group setting. Feel free to email me at intern.minister@rvuuf.org, and call or text me at 541.291.1718. My days off are Mondays, so unless there is a real emergency, I won’t likely get to messages between Sunday and Tuesday. 

This is the first post in an occasional blog I’m calling “Aspirations” because my official title is “Aspirant” to the Unitarian Universalist Ministry. I love being an Aspirant. Our aspirations — vision of what we hope will come to pass — move us to take action for the world we want to bring into being. What are YOUR wildest aspirations for how we might bless the world in the spirit of love? Let’s see how close we can get to making them come true. 

Merry Meet, Merry Part, Merry Meet Again!