Radical Hospitality

Prelude: Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Melissa Niedermeyer

Good morning! I am Melissa Niedermeyer, a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia. 

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.

We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today. I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour… from the comfort of your own homes. You can just stay right here when the service ends.There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to grab whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be part of your worship experience today.

As always, kindly set your phones to worship mode; we won’t know, but I think you might enjoy the hour free from distractions. And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news. 

And although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.  

And now let us prepare for worship with the song, “Morning Has Come” by Philip Rogers, our Director of Music.

Music: “Morning Has Come” Philip Rogers, soloist

Call to Worship:  Rev. Misha Sanders

Come, Come Whoever You Are
By Ian W. Riddell

Come, come, whoever you are.

Do you hear that voice calling you, calling us?

That voice which calls us together here today in this room made holy by our presence and by the sacred breath we share in our singing and speaking and silence.

That voice which calls us to remember that we are not alone and that we are inextricably linked to all other life—woven into a vast tapestry of existence of which we are a powerful, integral, and holy part.

And just as we have been called together here today, we act as the voice—the heart—the hands of another call:

The call to:

Walk with the wanderers

Sing and dance with the worshipers

Proclaim the memory of those who have taken their leave

Wrap the despairing and the broken in the arms of love and community

And hold the hands of all of us who have broken our vows and call us back—again and again—to the covenant and work of justice, humility, and steadfast faithfulness.

For this we are here together today. So, my friends, come, yet again; come let us worship together.

Good morning, friends. I am the Rev. Misha Sanders, your senior minister here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia.   And I am so happy to turn the camera over to our own Josie Miller, who will light our chalice today.

Lighting of the Chalice: Josie Miller

Chalice Lighting

By Oberlin UU Fellowship, Oberlin, OH

We light this chalice to find inner peace,
love for each other, and faith in ourselves.
Also, to be welcoming to whomever we meet with radical hospitality
and kind to all living creatures. So gather around this light of hope
as we share this time together.

Story Wisdom: Adia Fields-Udofia “The Day You Begin

Reading: Melissa Niedermeyer

Today’s reading is from the introduction to the book, Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love,  by Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Homan.  

“If we take seriously the call to radical hospitality, we will discover the true meaning of ministry,” the pastor said to his congregation. It was Sunday morning in Dayton. “The birth of the radical hospitality movement in our congregation can be traced to one guy reading a book a few years ago. This isn’t some new spiritual fad, though. We have been awakened to our indifference by the Holy Spirit, and in the process of learning to welcome and care for those who are unlike us, we are on the gospel road. I know, I know, it sounds like a song our grandparents might have sung at camp-meeting doesn’t it?”

The phrase radical hospitality refers to the activities and desires that inspire individuals and communities to welcome those who are unlike themselves. Rather than viewing any person in terms of how they benefit us, radical hospitality means accepting the person with no thought of personal benefit. Instead of seeking persons who will support the congregation, actively seek persons who need the support of the congregation. To become hospitable means finding ways to welcome the marginalized, forgotten, and misunderstood among us.

Our world feels no safer than it did when the first edition of this book, Radical Hospitality, was originally published. Back then, we were still staggering after September 11, 2001. The falling towers were still in our minds. Fear and an awareness of our vulnerability had taken up residence. In addition to our fears, we have become a culture with more disdain and indifference than before. Today, human kindness often seems under siege. In the midst of this, some of us are looking for ways to grow more hospitable. Regardless of where our search may take us, it must begin, for all, with a turning inside and ruthless self-evaluation. An examination of conscience that scorches away the excuses we grant ourselves is not just needed; our lives and our society may depend upon it.

For example, it is our nature to seek out persons who are like us for mutual support and affirmation. And it is typical of religious groups to reach out to persons who have something to bring to their congregation, a contribution to make. Most often when you join a church you’re asked to pledge your abilities, time, and resources to support the faith community. As a church, we have become accustomed to viewing our membership in terms of what others can give the local congregation. We actively seek out productive, contributing members of our community.

But radical hospitality calls us to search for the lost ones, those who have nothing to give us, but who, instead, need something from us. They may or may not be aware of what they have to give in return. Radical hospitality does not keep a ledger of what is given and what is received.

Not too long ago, I was watching an episode of the Andy Griffith Show with my granddaughter Gina. Gina is thirteen and she adores Mayberry. She is not old enough to have seen the original classic television show starring Andy Griffith as the wise and cheerful sheriff of a little southern town named Mayberry, but the show exists in reruns and on DVDs. Gina has enthusiastically discovered both. The particular episode we happened to watch together was about Sheriff Andy, Deputy Barney, and a troop of boys going into the woods on a rustic camping trip. Barney is, of course, making a lot of noise about how he knows the wilderness, can live off the land, and never gets lost, blah, blah, blah. Predictably, Barney and some of the boys, when they are off on their own, become lost.

The boys say, “Hey, Deputy Fife, we’ll be okay because you can catch our dinner and start a fire.” Barney would be challenged to start a fire with straw and matches. But, there he is, trapped in his big-man talk, about to look like a fool to a group of small boys.

Except, he has one thing going for him—he has the best friend of all time—Andy. When the little group doesn’t return, Andy goes searching and finds them, but doesn’t reveal himself right away. Remaining hidden, he figures out Barney has gotten himself into a heap of trouble, so while no one is looking, Sheriff Andy starts the cooking fire and places over it the roasted chicken Aunt Bea sent out for his dinner. Barney ends up a hero.

When the show finished, Gina looked at me, clearly baffled. She said, “The boys never know that Barney was bragging? That he didn’t know what he was talking about?”

I shook my head, “They never know.”

“It would be funny. He made a fool of himself. They could all laugh at him. They’d learn not to act that way.”

“Which, you know, is how it would go on the Disney channel,” I said. “It would be another chance to laugh at the little awkward guy who tries too hard.”

“It. Would. Be. Funny.” She replied slowly and clearly.

Don’t we all wish for a friend who will cover our self-delusional silliness? Sometimes it seems that we’ve moved so far from such an idea that the notion of a friend like Sheriff Andy is just . . . foreign. These days, we often pull away and let people sink. We call it tough love to leave people choking on their mistakes. Why do we do that?

How do you press against darkness? How do you remain or become an agent of change or transformation? Every now and then a good reason to strive for the countercultural comes along—this is one of those times.

Radical hospitality must uncompromisingly remain fundamental to its revolutionary nature. This is not to say that the word radical necessarily means “extremist”—it doesn’t. Radical refers to what is fundamental, or the root of something. You may remember from high school science that the term radical also describes an atom that doesn’t lose its identity during change. 

Our identity as people of faith and communities of faith will be gained, not lost, in the changes required to become radically hospitable.

Joys and Sorrows Prelude: “No Coming, No Going”

Joys and Sorrows: Rev. Joan Davis

Good Morning. I’m the Rev. Joan Davis, Northwest’s Affiliated Community Minister, and I am here to bring you the Joys and Sorrows this morning. And I invite you all now, those of you with Joys and Sorrows to share with our congregation here gathered virtually, to open the chat box at the bottom of your screen and enter your Joys and Sorrows.

Joys and Sorrows is our time in this space to honor these sacred moments and milestones. For our Ritual, we have water and we have river stones. Smooth and heavy in our hands, these river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease and life’s burdens and times of heaviness. The water in our bowl is a precious natural resource. We use it sparingly, reminding us of the preciousness of each life and its unique journey.

Ryan Wilson update.

Pam Zenner retirement

John Weinert

Appreciation for those who came out to lay pavers

Prayer and Meditation: Rev. Joan Davis

That Which Is Holy and Loving and True, hear our prayers: prayers for healing, indness, resiliency, and courage. Prayers that our bodies and our spirits will survive our losses. Thank you for giving us each other that we may share those losses as well as our joys with each other. And thank you for giving us hope. Amen.

Music Interlude: “Come Come Whoever You Are”, Sarah Jebian & Laura Weiss of UU Congregation – Rockville, Maryland

Sermon: Rev. Misha Sanders

Yesterday so many of you came to the grounds of the church to help build a new patio, and the experience of seeing each other face to face was a first for most of us since we last gathered in March. I have not stopped thinking about how good it was to be together.   

For those alarmed by this news of a gathering, it was outside, we were all masked, and we kept our distance from each other as we could, but it wasn’t perfect, because nothing can be. Seven months into this new way of living, and we are all learning to balance our risks with our needs. And those are hard decisions to make. Some of you contacted some of us and said, “I’m sorry, but it’s just not safe for me to show up.” And for those that made that decision, thank you for honoring yourself and your commitment to the rest of us by staying home.      

There was a small hired cleaning crew working in the sanctuary and in our brand new beautiful Subramanian Hall while we were there. 

While I was helping out with the patio work between my breaks, I was shoveling some gravel into a bucket in the parking lot, when one of the folks from the cleaning crew walked by and said to me, in heavily-accented Spanglish I had to concentrate to clearly understand, “It is so beautiful to see everybody working together! And everybody is so nice!  And thank you for inviting us to have some food! Wow! This place feels safe!”  

I don’t know about you but I don’t know of very many places that feel safe these days, and I am a privileged white woman who doesn’t have nearly as many targets on my body as some of our neighbors do. 

I came home and wept, remembering the gift of that man’s words to me, to you, to this beloved community. It is a big deal. It is a big deal that, in the middle of a deadly health pandemic, a man who may be an immigrant and certainly in our world is other-ed by the color of his skin and the language he speaks and the job he does so well, showed up for a day of work which he probably assumed would just include himself and the two others in the crew, and he showed up to find the grounds just crawling with boisterously laughing white people, and something about what we…YOU…have created in the loving of our space and our people and our mission…compelled this man to stop what he was doing and say to me, “This place feels safe.”  

That’s enough. That’s enough of a vision, enough of a mission right there. 

That is what Radical Hospitality feels like.  

Since the time their family became Unitarian Universalists when E was in the fourth grade, Elandria Williams strived to help grow our faith into a place that feels like safety to the marginalized. Elandria WIlliams knew a thing or twelve about being marginalized, and she spent her whole life believing that her faith…our faith…could do better in helping to bring the margins closer to the center. E themself was a queer, disabled, black non-binary woman who didn’t always see themselves represented in our faith, and wasn’t about to just sit still and be okay with that. Because E believed that we have a saving faith, a faith that can represent safety, a faith that is capable of living into our claim of Radical Hospitality.  

I’m going to read you an essay that Elandria wrote, with the introduction from the UU World Magazine editors.  Here’s that introduction: 

From the editors: Elandria Williams wrote this essay in 2014 for the anthology Becoming: A Spiritual Guide for Navigating Adulthood, ed. by Kayla Parker (Skinner House Books, 2014). We are republishing it to honor Elandria’s life and dedication to Unitarian Universalism; Williams died unexpectedly on September 23, 2020, at the age of 41.

Elandria’s words:

The history and legacy of Unitarian Universalism are shaped as much by Emerson, Fahs, and Channing as it is by the ancestors in our congregations. We come to it through different avenues: the Internet, an invitation, reading the Transcendentalists, or as babies or little kids.

I came as a fourth grader to my congregation, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee (TVUUC). This community helped bring me into social justice struggles in the world around me and inside the UUA. They brought me as a child to the place where I now work, the Highlander Center. My church opened so many doors because they held young people in high esteem and encouraged our leadership in the church and community. I will never forget going to our district’s Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Team meeting (the UUA’s antiracism program) and realizing that I was the youngest person there by nearly fifteen years.

We wear our faith as tattoos on our bodies and in our hearts as testaments to the blood, tears, dreams, and inspirations of our community ancestors and elders.

My religious education teachers, friends’ parents, and spirit aunts and uncles were and still are community leaders in everything from nuclear disarmament to antiracism/anti-oppression issues. They protested U.S. military involvement in Central America and stood behind the parent of a classmate as she transitioned from male to female in the early nineties. They have been my inspiration as I work to support others who are called by their faith to change hearts, minds, and communities.

My church changed forever on July 27, 2008, when an armed man came into the sanctuary and killed two UU leaders, one a member of TVUUC and the other a member of Westside Church. This rocked our church to its core. When I first heard about it, I didn’t know who had been killed—my mom, my friends and their parents, or others who had nurtured me my entire life. I realized something that day that has stayed with me ever since: No matter what issues I have with other Unitarian Universalists regarding our visions of God/Spirit, justice, race, and age—at the root of everything is community, love, and faith. That day, something larger than our individual beliefs rose up in my mind. I thought of the principles, values, and family that are the connective tissue of our faith community and that held us weeks after the shooting, six months later on our sixtieth anniversary, and still today.

We are part of the connective tissue that holds the legacy and future of our faith. We are Church Across the Street, AYS, YRUU, youth cons, Journey Toward Wholeness, GROUNDWORK, C*UUYAN, the Mountain, and GA Youth and Young Adult Caucus.

We are the children of freedom fighters, visionaries, and radical liberal theologians.

We are the phoenix rising out of the ashes of the McCarthy era and the civil rights, women’s, and queer liberation movements.

We are the survivors and beneficiaries of youth-led and youth-focused beliefs and programming that encouraged us to be change makers, boundary pushers, and institutionalists at the same time.

We are and will be the ministers, religious educators, congregational presidents, organizers, and social change leaders our faith has led us to be.

We wear our faith as tattoos on our bodies and in our hearts as testaments to the blood, tears, dreams, and inspirations of our community ancestors and elders.”

Thus ends Elandria’s essay.  

I want to be the church of which Elandria dreamed and for which she fought and worked and loved with every breath. 

To that end, beloveds, let me tell you that I will not be able to join you all for coffee hour today, because a call to Radical Hospitality in our wider world is taking me into a different Zoom gathering.  

First Unitarian Church in Louisville, Kentucky needs help, and their minister, my friend and colleague, Rev. Dawn Cooley, has requested clergy reinforcements at their worship this morning, which begins at 11. 

The Louisville UU congregation has been a literal sanctuary for Black Lives Matter demonstrators for the past few days, following the injustice served to the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor. The church itself, and Unitarian Universalism in general, is under strong media attack by people whose actions demonstrate they do not believe that Black Lives Matter, who do not believe in science, and who believe mostly in Q-anon conspiracy theories. Their physical building has provided sanctuary while militarized police and National Guard surround the property and refuse to grand safe passage home to these weary, heartbroken, citizens. 

But today’s worship will not feel safe nor anything like Radical Hospitality without a lot of assistance in keeping the doors open while making sure the dangers from which people seek sanctuary do not get in. So, I will be serving as an usher and then, in their coffee hour, as a breakout room chaplain.

You see, Radical Hospitality does not mean we let in all people with any old behaviorjust because we all have the freedom of our own conscience and the freedom of speech and belief.   

Radical Hospitality means being fierce about boundaries that protect us all, and especially those who in our society are most often left unprotected. 

Radical Hospitality is being enthusiastic with our YES and emphatic with our NO. 

And so today, I know I will have your support and your love as I virtually travel to Louisville to be an emphatic NO to hate, and an enthusiastic YES to love and safety. 

When I consider the kind of  Radical Hospitality described by Father Daniel in the reading Melissa shared with us today, it’s clear that his reflection was written in a time of face-to-face gatherings in which our interpersonal connections are more tangible, less ephemeral, and more easily defined than they are in a time when we see and hear each other through screens.  

Times are weird.  There will be time before we can safely gather again in-person for worship to talk more together about what our Radical Hospitality is going to look like going forward from here.  

For now, sometimes it comes in surprising ways. For now, accessibility is in some ways BETTER for some of you than before we were live online. We’re going to keep on being live online even when we get back together, so folks who are far away or ill or have no transportation will not be left behind.  And we’ll keep getting better at this technology thing as we go.  

And you’ll keep volunteering to usher, to produce, to do closed captioning…yes, stay tuned very soon for that!  

Radical Hospitality means finding a way. That’s it. It’s just that simple. It means we are committed to find a way to not only be inclusive, but to build and rebuild and rebuild again the kind of community that every honest, good-hearted seeker can come into and feel like it was created with you in mind.  Not just that we accept you here. That’s great, but that’s not radical. Radical Hospitality says OF COURSE we can accommodate that particular need you have, because we always meant for you to be here, so we planned this with you in our minds and hearts! 

This sermon ends with that wondering concept. 

How can we do exactly what I just described. I’ll say it all again, and as I do, I invite us to take a deep breath and envision the kind of community we will need to be, for all of this to be true. And remember…if my new friend from the cleaning crew yesterday is any indication, we’re already well on our way. 

Radical Hospitality means finding a way. That’s it.  It’s just that simple. It means we are committed to find a way to not only be inclusive, but to build and rebuild and rebuild again the kind of community that every honest, good-hearted seeker can come into and feel like it was created with you in mind.  Not just that we accept you here. That’s great, but that’s not radical. Radical Hospitality says OF COURSE we can accommodate that particular need you have, because we always meant for you to be here, so we planned this with YOU in our minds and our hearts!

Give each other great, extra love in coffee hour today. I will not be the only one missing. Please be extra gentle with each other as you acknowledge that not seeing our beloved John Weinert in coffee hour will be sad and hard. I am sad that I will not be there to hold that empty space with you. And I know that your hearts and your love will go with me to Louisville, where the need is urgent and bigger than all of us.  

I love you.  

And I am committed to learning how to love you better.  Radically. Hospitably. I love you.

Offering: Introduction by Melissa Niedermeyer

The offering that we take each Sunday isn’t just a stale habit: it’s an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people. Our offering is an affirmation—a “yes.” 

When we give, we say yes to something we value. With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. Our offering will now be given and gratefully received.

Dedication of the Offering: 

“To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, 

we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.” 

Music: “Rainbow Connection” by Robert Niedermeyer

Benediction: Rev. Misha Sanders

“When You Have More Than You Need, 
Build A Longer Table 
Not A Higher Wall.”
-author unknown

Postlude: Jim Pearce