Archive for September, 2009

Sep 29 2009

“Amen—I Love You”: The Power of Love

For thirty years, the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church ended every sermon he preached at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist congregation in New York City with the words “Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all.” These are good words with which to open the month of October, when we will be pondering “The Power of Love.”

Forrest’s words—and his life itself—are resounding in my mind and heart these days. As I write this column, it is less than a week since Forrest passed away, and I am feeling both sadness and gratitude. Forrest was my first Unitarian Universalist minister. He became my teacher, my mentor, the person who offered me the chance to discover my true self and thus find my way to ministry. He was the kind of minister who, despite his natural reserve, lived his life right out loud. All of us in the All Souls family watched Forrest soar, stumble, fall, pick himself up again with the help of friends, family, and congregation, and work his way toward a deeper, truer life. He lived his life out loud these past three years, too, as he journeyed from a terminal diagnosis of cancer toward his dying, testing his theology every step of the way and sharing the journey with all of us through his sermons, pastoral letters, and other writings.

            “Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all.”

That “Amen” was the final punctuation mark on yet another funny, thought-provoking sermon. It didn’t mean “And so the final word has been spoken,” but rather “That is what I have to say for now; that is my truth as I know it at this moment. Amen.”

Then, looking right out at the congregation, Forrest would add, “I love you.” The first time I heard him say it, in early March 1997 during a particularly hard time in my life, it took my breath away. It was so personal and specific, yet it was clearly intended to include the strangers in the crowd—strangers like me at that time—along with every single one of the other members, friends, visitors, and strangers who had shown up that morning to sit stiffly side by side in that spacious, formal, old sanctuary. Forrest seemed to be saying that he loved each of us, even if he didn’t know us. For some folks, it was the only time all week, all month, that they heard anyone say, “I love you”; I wonder how many of us came to church just to hear those words. And Forrest was also saying that he loved us as a group, even if we didn’t feel like a “group.” The words had a mysterious, marvelous effect: hearing them, we each felt more lovable and loving; we felt united into one large loving and lovable community. Forrest’s words were a statement of faith, a constantly renewed vow. I know they made Forrest himself a better person, and they invited us into renewed relationship with our best selves and with each other. They had power, those words of love.

 Finally, Forrest would say, “And may God bless us all.” As Forrest explained, “God is not God’s name. God is our name for that which is present in each and greater than all.” With this understanding of God, then “May God bless us all” means the same thing as “I love you,” doesn’t it? It means “May we know the love that we carry within ourselves, and may we share it. May we know the Love that surrounds us all, and may we live every day within it.”

“Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all.” Amen—this is what I know for now: I, too, love you, each of you and all of you, FUCSJ. May we, too, share the love we carry within ourselves and live in the Love that surrounds us. Come, let us explore the power of love together.

With my love and gratitude,


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Sep 14 2009

“Draw the Circle Wide!”

As We Build the Beloved Community



“Draw the circle wide, draw the circle wide. No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side. Draw the circle wide; draw it wider still. Let this be our song! No one stands alone. Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide!”

            These are the words to a wonderful song, with music by Mark Miller and words by Gordon Light, and I can’t get it out of my head. Sometimes that’s an annoying thing—if I mention “It’s a Small World After All” from the old ride at Disneyland, how many of you will be a little annoyed with me? But to have “Draw the Circle Wide” singing in my heart is a joyous experience. We’ll be sharing this song on Homecoming Sunday, September 13—but more importantly, we’ll be reflecting this year on how we can “draw the circle wide” in our lives.

            It’s not that easy, is it? We’ve got to have big hearts and open minds to keep drawing the circle of our community, and of our love, wider still. Each of us has reasons to draw the circle of our friends and the circle of our attention narrower or closer from time to time. Sometimes our healing happens in small ways, in private corners, slowly.

            And sometimes the power of love can burst our hearts and minds open all over again. Then the hard-won fruits of our love—compassion, that deep empathy for another’s feelings or situation; and forgiveness, that soul-searching acceptance that every one of us makes mistakes and can strive to set ourselves right again—can grow sweet once more, and our lives expand and deepen.

            As I write, some of us have just participated in a weeklong spiritual practice called “Here If You Need Me.” Drawing a name at random, we called or wrote to someone in this congregation to say, “I’m here if you need me. If you want to talk, I want to listen. I just want you to know that I care.” When I got my call this week from the person who had drawn my name, I was astonished at the power of these simple words: “I’m here if you need me”—astonished, even though I had proposed this spiritual practice in the first place! What courage it takes to reach out in this way to another person, and what a difference such kindness can make in the everyday ups and downs of our lives. “No one stands alone; we’ll stand side by side.” When we practice “Here If You Need Me” week after week after week, our lives deepen and expand.

            As I write, some of us will be answering a Call for Commitment by contacting our congresspeople to urge them to pass health care reform—another spiritual practice tht embodies our care for each other and for people whom we have never met. All of our work for justice, all of our work to build a beloved community of acceptance for all, are ways to “draw the circle wide,” to expand and deepen our lives.

Go to if you’d like to hear “Draw the Circle Wide” sung by the Young Person’s Justice Chorale in Washington, D.C. Better yet, join us at FUCSJ for Homecoming Sunday, September 13! You can join the Massed Choir for Homecoming by showing up for choir rehearsal on Wednesday, September 9, from 7 to 9 p.m.

“Let this be our song! No one stands alone. Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide!”


With much heart and hope,     Nancy

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