As I've written, there was a shooting last week at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN. The shooter wrote in a letter that he wanted to get "liberals and gays" and specifically targeted this congregation.
Most UU churches do not hold services during the summer. Growing up we would joke that God went to the Cape for the summer (as in Cape Cod). When telling that story as we moved into our new town seven years ago, I was corrected that here God goes to Nantucket, a much more exclusive island off the coast.
Back in the spring our church decided to experiment with summer services organized and led by parishioners. Yesterday's service had been completely planned by a woman who then graciously put aside her efforts to help create one that responded to the Knoxville tragedy. But as often happens when you suggest an idea, you have to do it.
Which is why I ended up leading the service. Here is what happened:
I. Prelude - usually our music is performed on a huge organ by an incredibly talented woman. This summer our music is being played on a piano by an incredibly talented high school student. He is not Unitarian Universalist but still attended a candlelight vigil in the big city on behalf of the victims of the shooting. I encouraged him to chose the prelude and postlude. He picked several lovely songs, and kept playing until we had settled down a few minutes later than planned.
II. Chalice lighting - every UU service includes the lighting of a chalice. My daughter was the only child in attendance and I asked her to come and light the chalice in honor of the children who witnessed the violence last Sunday and our resolve to provide a safe, affirming space for all children.
III. Unison Affirmation - all UU churches have their own affirmation. Ours is:
Love is the spirit of this church
and Service is its law.
To dwell together in peace,
to seek the truth in freedom
to serve humanity with love
is our covenant with
each other and with God.
IV. Reading - Mark Twain in Innocents Abroad wrote a powerful piece about the universality of grief and loss based on a visit to Pisa.
V. Hymn - May Nothing Evil Cross This Door
VI. Reading - Annette Marquis of the Unitarian Universalist Association wrote her reflections on the days following the shooting and included a moving description of what the children who witnessed the shooting wanted. After practicing their show for months, they wanted a chance to perform. Her description of the song "Tomorrow" from Annie will bring tears to your eyes.
VII. Brief words - Last October I wrote about one of my son's first-hand experience with the death of a bee. Alex Elliot suggested I turn it into a sermon. I did and in it drew comparisons between my son's shock and dismay at death and my own shock and dismay at such blatant hatred against "liberals and gays" and yet if anything this man's actions have only strengthened my Unitarian Univeralist faith and to love all, even if they hate.
VIII. brief Quaker-style meeting - Quakers do not have minister-led services but sit in a circle in silence for the duration of the service (or meeting) and if someone is moved to share something, they tell a story or observation. After explaining the tradition, our UU congregation sat together in silence for about 15 minutes. One member got up an spoke of his shock and horror at the events of last week and the pride that the parishioners disarmed the man and saved so many. Another got up and spoke of being a proud UU.
IX. Closing hymn - We Shall Overcome
X. Postlude - Our high school student pianist picked yet another lovely song to end the service.
It seems appropriate is to end this post with part of the lyrics from the first hymn. There were many tears shed as we sang this...
May the roar and rain go by.
By faith made strong, the rafters will withstand the battering of the storm.
This hearth, though all the world grow chill, will keep you warm.
Peace shall walk softly through these rooms, touching our lips with holy wine,
Till every casual corner blooms into a shrine.
With laughter drown the raucous shout, and though these sheltering walls are thin,
May they be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.
May we all remember, in the face of hate, to hold love in.
Is there a song that provides you solace? Do share....