Archive for September, 2016

Sep 26 2016

Frequently Asked Questions About Rev. Nancy’s Sabbatical!

Published by under Minister's Musings

When can we talk with Rev. Nancy about this sabbatical?
Please join Rev. Nancy for a free-flowing conversation about her sabbatical, following worship on Sunday, October 9, at 12:30 p.m. in the Ramsden Fireside Room. In worship that morning, Rev. Nancy will offer her wishes for the congregation during this time apart. Come to the Fireside Room after worship with your questions, curiosities, and good wishes!
Bonus: At this gathering, you will also get an update from our Treasurer about First Unitarian’s financial health so far this year. What a team!
Here are Rev. Nancy’s answers to frequently asked questions about sabbaticals in general, and about this sabbatical in particular.
When is this sabbatical again?
My sabbatical begins on Saturday, October 15, 2016, and I return five months later, on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.
Who’s “in charge” while Rev. Nancy is away?
Rev. Geoff Rimositis will serve as Lead Sabbatical Minister. Over his 25 years in the ministry, Rev. Geoff has taken on this role many times, but is especially excited about this one. Just back from his own sabbatical, he brings renewed energy and vision, and a passion for all the growth and opportunity afoot at First Unitarian right now! Intern Minister Rodney Lemery joins our ministerial team, learning and growing alongside us. Our Office Manager Sharmeen Enayat can answer questions about space use and events. And our volunteer leaders will actually run the congregation and all our programs—as they are already called to do!           
            Before I leave, we will produce a list of “whom to call” (or email) for different aspects of our congregational life while I am away. In fact, even when I am not away, often you should reach out to these lay leaders or other staff members for answers to your questions and help with your needs, rather than turning to the Senior Minister each time. This is a chance for us to establish some new and healthier habits that will sustain us all over the long haul!
How does a congregation benefit from a minister’s sabbatical?
A minister’s sabbatical—especially the Senior Minister’s sabbatical—gives the congregation a chance to remember and experience how amazing YOU are. Without one individual serving as the symbolic focal point of congregational life—as my role often does—long-time members and brand-new visitors alike see how lively and shared our ministries really are. The imaginative, heartfelt, consistent work that our volunteers are already doing—to run the congregation; to present special events; to keep worship vital, meaningful, and creative; to offer deep and loving care to all in need; and more—all of these things become visible, and grow stronger, when the Senior Minister is away.
          In the next five months, you will hear new voices in worship—and I urge you to SHOW UP on Sundays to honor these very special guests; truly they are all-stars in the firmament of San José’s faith communities! You will celebrate our 150th Anniversary of Making Love Visible with the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the President’s Council (Sunday, November 13)! You will weather the storms of this election season, participate in Voter Engagement, and show up for our ministries in the public square, setting a tone for what we need to be and do as a faith community in the difficult months and years to come. For our work is ever evolving; we don’t want to lose any momentum now.
          When I return, we will meet each other with renewed strength and commitment! I can’t wait … But first, we all need this sabbatical.
How do ministers earn their sabbaticals, and how long are they usually?
For every year of service, a minister earns one month of sabbatical, up to six months total. The sabbatical “clock” restarts when the minister returns from a sabbatical. The time away can include that year’s month of vacation time, as long as the total does not exceed six months. My first sabbatical took place January to June 2011, so this sabbatical arrives right on time.
What’s the difference among “sabbaticals,” “study breaks,” and “vacations”?
It’s confusing, right? My Letter of Agreement with you (our “contract”) follows the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association guidelines. Every year I get one month of study break and one month of vacation. This plan recognizes ministers’ need for ongoing study as well as rest and refreshment. Each year, I usually break up these benefits into chunks, taking shorter breaks during the main part of our “church year,” and a bigger chunk during the summer. In the last two years, all of this time away has been spent researching my book project.
          A sabbatical offers an extended period of time away. Everything goes deeper with this extra time: completing a major project (see “book project”!), learning new skills, deepening my spiritual life, exploring new practices in ministry, “thinking outside the box,” establishing a renewed balance between personal and professional life, returning with fresh energy …
Why do ministers get sabbaticals?
In a just world, EVERYONE would get a sabbatical! Ministerial life also presents special challenges. Here are just a few of the things I am called to do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis: preach, teach, offer spiritual guidance and pastoral care, inspire (suggest?) a vision for our work together, manage some of the programs that bring this vision to life, speak for our faith in the public square, engage in community organizing and transformational change, study, write, tell stories, answer emails, make calls, rally the staff, coach congregational leaders … Well, you get the picture!
          Congregational ministry is often a 24/7 job, despite our combined best efforts to bring it down to 24/6 or better. It wakes us ministers up at night; it occupies 90-95% of our waking thoughts; it both lifts and burdens our hearts; it stretches us to be better people than we could have imagined being. It is challenging, exhausting, sometimes hard on friends and family—yet filled on a daily basis with unexpected grace and beauty. I love it. I am grateful for it.
          So: ministers really need sabbatical time to step away from the “tyranny of the urgent”  and rest, reflect, reconnect with friends and family, get the “big picture” of where we’re going together—and complete major projects! For instance …
How will Rev. Nancy spend this sabbatical?
I will complete my major book-writing project, which has been in the works for two years! During this sabbatical, co-author Karin Lin and I will actually write the book we have been researching for Skinner House Books: “The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism” (working title, forthcoming fall 2017). I am the primary writer, with Karin editing and consulting every step of the way. So I will be visiting lots of libraries and coffee shops on my travels, where I will be getting all those words on the page. Over the course of this project, Karin and I have grown into a transformative relationship, learned so much about ourselves and the congregations we have studied, and we have finally reached the point where we are ready to risk sharing our truths and observations, our hopes and dreams for our faith in this timely journey toward a multicultural, antiracist, 21st-century Unitarian Universalism.
You have my heartfelt thanks and love for the wise and generous practice of offering your ministers sabbaticals! Please do join me for a free-flowing conversation following worship on Sunday, October 9, at 12:30 p.m. in the Ramsden Fireside Room. Come to worship at 11:00 where I will offer my wishes for the congregation; then come to the Fireside Room after worship with your questions, curiosities, and good wishes!
With all my love,
Rev. Nancy

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Sep 23 2016

October Theme: Living with Our Fears

Published by under Minister's Musings

flower for October essay

“I Need You to Survive”

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

As I write on September 23, it has been an especially hard week for all of us committed to the Movement for Black Lives. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a police officer shoots and kills Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African-American man seeking help because his car has broken down. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Keith Lamont Scott, also African American, dies after being shot by police under unclear circumstances, and the community’s decades-long—no, centuries-long frustrations erupt in protests. Our Unitarian Universalist colleagues in these towns issue powerful statements of grief and solidarity. My heart is heavy.

At the same time, my commitment to our own work here in San José and Santa Clara County grows fiercer. We are building multiracial, multifaith, multigenerational, justice-seeking community here through the Beloved Community Movement, which brings law enforcement, elected officials, faith leaders, and community together to create transparency, trust, mutual respect, and even—dare I say it?—affection across all our relationships and our practices. A movement for justice and the recognition of the sacred value of life—I am so grateful that we at First Unitarian are part of it. You can join in through the Voter Engagement Campaign—never has it been more important to show up, beloveds!

It is also poignant that in this week of tragic loss and unrest, we could watch our Unitarian ancestors, the Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp, “defying the Nazis” (the title of Ken Burns’s documentary). During World War II, the Sharps go behind enemy lines again and again to rescue those most at risk of extermination. Such models of courage, of putting our faith into action! Please watch for a showing of this documentary at FUCSJ in the months to come. Today, I ask myself: Would I have been that courageous then? Can I be that courageous now?

In times such as these, when sorrows combine with so many other traumas and uncertainties, I keep repeating: We not only need to act in solidarity with each other and with those most at risk, but we also need to double-down on the spiritual practices that ground our actions in faith, hope, and love. Our capacity to Make Love Visible in all that we do and say is only as strong and wide as our foundation in our faith, in our connection to our deepest selves and to that Something More within us and beyond us.

So yesterday, I set out on one of my Morning Walks. These Morning Walks are my prime urban spiritual practice, but they have been in short supply lately, as I race to accomplish all that must be done before I leave on sabbatical on October 15. With a heavy, hungry heart yesterday, I go looking for some shout of abundant Life from the earth, and some link to centuries of human good.

Sure enough, within a block, this multicolored daisy-like creature reaches out over the sidewalk on her slender stem, casting a filigreed shadow on the cement. She lifts her head, directly in my path, and says, as clearly as if she really does speak English: “STOP!”

“Oh, you beauty,” I breathe. I pause to take a photo. And as I walk on, David Frazier’s gospel song begins to thrum over and over inside until it rings out: “I need you, you need me, we’re all a part of God’s body … I pray for you, you pray for me, I need you to survive, I won’t harm you with words from my mouth, I love you, I need you to survive …”

Friends, though we may be physically apart during my book-writing sabbatical (October 15-March 13), we need not fear that we are ever truly separated. We are, each and every one of us, part of one Sangha body, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, working together for the good of all. “I need you, you need me”—yes! And oh, how I love you! We need each other to survive, and equally, we need each other to fulfill our call: to further the abundance of Life on this earth and to carry forward centuries of human good! I can’t wait to share what wonders we discover, what hope we create, and what community we build during the time that I am away!

Now: please go watch and hear Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout (director of music and worship at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor) lead the General Assembly 2016 Choir in David Frazier’s gorgeous song, “I Need You to Survive”:


with all my love,


Rev. Nancy


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