June/July Theme: Play
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest of truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
On Saturday, June 12, 2021, a group of First Unitarian congregants gather in a circle in front of our church building to launch our first Service Is Our Prayer Day in well over 18 months. Service Is Our Prayer Day, or SIOP for short, is what we call our quarterly clean-up-the-building workday—a name drawn from the Affirmation that we say in English and in Spanish at every Sunday service.
On this bright Saturday morning, we all wear masks, and we leave some distance between us, so that we can include everyone who wants to show up. The joy of being together in person is palpable. Despite the early hour, some people dance and wave as my phone’s video camera sweeps around the circle.
Still, I confess, y’all: housekeeping does not rank high on my list of fun things to do, and I’ve never really been a gardener. So we wouldn’t think that SIOP would draw on my particular gifts. But on this day, all I need is to be pointed in the right direction, handed a dust cloth and some biodegradable cleaning spray, and I’m happy as a clam to spend a couple of hours going over every carved curve and marbled wood grain of the upholstered chairs in the Lindi Ramsden Fireside Room. Sue Pelmulder cleans the dusty windows and windowsills, Ben West crawls around the edges of the room to wipe the grime off the baseboards, and Marnie Singer jostles the chairs from one side of the room to the other so that she can vacuum the rug. Oh, how the sun shines through, and the furniture gleams, and the rug looks almost like new when we are done!
Next door in Hattie Porter Hall another team of folx sand off the spiky ends of the chairs so the newly refinished floor of the social hall won’t get scratched. Outside a hardy group of gardeners are weeding and trimming and mulching around the rose bushes, and someone somewhere in the building is repairing something metal—door handles in the hallways or chair hinges in the sanctuary? I can’t keep track of all the necessary things the volunteers have found to do. And this was just a “starter” Service Is Our Prayer Day!
That Saturday morning feels both ordinary and extraordinary. We need one another on short notice to help with this work, because soon the 12-step programs that have struggled through the pandemic with online meetings will gather, with restrictions, in person again. So when the call comes, those of us who can show up, show up. We do the work—the simple tasks and the harder ones—to serve our larger community.
The words at the beginning of this essay are the first three lines in our Affirmation. A lot of Unitarian Universalist congregations use this Affirmation, each adapting it in their own way from a covenant that the Universalist circuit-riding minister, the Reverend L. Griswold Williams, put together in 1933. You can tell it’s Universalist because it mentions love first.
Our Affirmation is filled with old-fashioned words, but I love them for the way they spell out the identity—I call it the soul—of this congregation and of our Unitarian Universalist faith: We are loving, truth-seeking, always-learning people. Our primary spiritual practice is to show up and serve. This is a practice we all share, no matter what other centering, deepening, enlivening practices we’ve found that help us to grow. We show up and serve in many different ways: we offer our talents, our solidarity, our presence, our labor, our love, our fierce commitment, maybe our anger, and also our joy. Always, our service is for the good of something larger than ourselves—and it does us good, too!
Yes, service is our prayer. Ordinary and extraordinary, it’s a great way to live.
I can’t wait to see where our service takes us in the year to come!
In loving, seeking service,
Shout-Outs of Thanks and Joy to FUCSJ’s Volunteers for the June 12 Service Is Our Prayer Day
- Austa Falconer
- Patrick Canonge
- Jim Guffey
- Bruce Halen
- Kathryn Hedges
- Lindsey Holland
- Paul Milleson
- Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
- Ram Kakarala
- Madeline Morrow
- Bob Owen
- Sue Pelmulder
- Steve Saunders
- Brian Singer
- Marnie Singer
- Chris Skibo
- Robert Strong
- Ben West
- and Olivia!