What to say at the end of this year? Except for thank goodness it’s almost over. Though the reasonable part of me knows all that happened this year was really not a result of the year itself, and things will not magically clear up after January 31, it still feels good to be bidding this year goodbye. I originally began this talk and letter with a short summary of what the year brought us, both the huge tragedies and bright lights. But that is really a different subject. So instead I focused on “where does our little fellowship fit into this big picture?” What are some things we have managed to do with this wild and precious year? 

Well, when Covid first impacted us and we had to shut down all in-person meetings, we learned, along with the rest of the world, how to Zoom. Gretchen Ohmann donated to our first paid Zoom accounts so that we could get the most out of our virtual times together. Jim McConnell, Lisa Fuller, the Sunday services committee, and the three music directors (Gretchen Ohmann, Nan Lundeen, and Candace Onweller) worked hard from the very beginning to create meaningful, engaging virtual services. Spirituality through a computer screen was a new concept and a tough thing to achieve but I feel we have had success. Joanne Krettek makes sure we all get the Zoom links and orders of service every Saturday and keeps us connected through this weekly Announce. Katharine Lion has kept up a Zoom Mindfulness series that is attended by people from BUUF but also others from around the country, and also several engaging racial justice book reads and discussions. Lisa Fuller, Joan Guilfoyle, Glen Smith, Nico Rojas, and Gretchen Ohmann all took turns running tech for several hours each Sunday to present a streamlined service. Dave Sarra set up the sanctuary for safe viewing for some who did not have access at home. And just this past month, thanks to a very generous donation from a BUUF member, we have been able to hire a new video editor and tech assistant for the remainder of the fiscal year. His name is Martin Hutchison and while he lives in New England and works with a UU congregation there, you should soon be seeing and hearing from him as part of our fellowship as well. 

We all miss meeting together I know, but as Jim said recently too, I feel that our Zoom services are only improving with age. The board several times this year had to make the decision whether to continue with Zoom or attempt some form of in-person hybrid or outdoor service. It was never an easy discussion but taking into account local and state guidelines, health organization recommendations, and the advice of the UUA we chose to prioritize the health and safety of our fellowship. Going forward into the new year, we will continue this discussion about when to resume in-person and we will continue to keep your safety and health forefront. Thankfully we were able to host a few in-person outdoor events such as gatherings at the Klawiter, Johnson, and Krettek/Sundstrom homes, gardening workshops, and a very fun Trunk or Treat. 

We have cared for each other this year. We have continued to share our Joys and Sorrows. We have called, texted, emailed, and showed up, masked, on each other’s porches. Our kids have played together safely; outside or through video game consoles. We have made and delivered meals and gifts to each other. We have shopped and run errands for each other. We have helped each other get to doctor’s appointments. We established a caring fund for members and friends with financial emergencies. It has been generously funded by fellowship donations, and while it has been utilized at times in the past months, it still has funds that can be given (upon approval) with a simple call or request to Jim McConnell or Lisa Fuller. I’m sure each of you can also think of a way that the BUUF community has helped you or your family in the past year. 

We have continued our community engagement and commitment to social and environmental justice as well. We have partnered with new and old social justice partners. We continued to work with the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen, adjusting to Covid by preparing sack lunches for 100-150 people. We weeded and built at the Benton Harbor Children’s Garden. Our members have participated in local peaceful Black Lives Matter protests and connected to a new community organization – Stronger Together – looking for greater connection and support between St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Our members have participated in political protests as well, even starting up new weekly protests in towns that lacked them. We have collected food and clothes and funds for multiple organizations.   

We have grown. We have higher membership numbers than any time in recent history. We had several individuals and families join us shortly before the shut down, and while we barely have had time to really get to know you, many of you have contributed your time and talents and money to BUUF this year and we are so appreciative and look forward to getting to know everyone better in the coming year! I love this quote from our UUA President, Rev. Susan Frederick Gray, Now is the time to lean in more to relationships of care and compassion, to lean in more to our interdependence. 

This brings me to the final part  of my end of the year letter. With what we have seen and learned this year, what do we look to do in 2021 and beyond? At the annual meeting in June I told you all how we had reached the end of a 5-year planning period that had begun in 2015 and that we had met the goals that were set. We are now beginning a new period of 5-year planning and we are putting together a group to draft and present a new 5-year plan for BUUF. This group will begin meeting in January and I’d ask anyone with an interest in participating to please contact me. We will be looking for input from the entire fellowship in the months ahead, but we could also use some more heads in the planning group. In the next year as well, the fellowship will be looking at adding the 8th principle to our core principles and finding more ways to actively pursue it. This principle states that “we covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” 

We have learned this year that “normal” is an illusion and we need to take the lessons of the year and attempt to grow and create lives better than “normal” for all people. I want to end with the words of our Fellowship’s mission, because I really believe that even in this difficult year, we have excelled at living it out…

“For every person searching for spiritual meaning, BUUF provides a welcoming and caring religious community dedicated to diversity of thought, social and environmental justice, and peace for all.”