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 541.291.2718. 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!