Monday, December 20, 2021

Letter from Liza, Director of LSE re: Leave Time for Jan. and Feb.

Dear UCM,

I used to be a competitive cross-country runner in high school. Sometimes at the starting line of a big race I would yawn. At first that really scared me, “If I’m tired already, how can I run this race and help my team?” I learned from my coach, Mr. Burg, that some people yawn as a natural stress response to help calm the body. In August at the start of this new church year, despite having had most of July off, I found myself yawning often. I had that same worry about feeling exhausted when I was supposed to be feeling energized for the challenge ahead. That was one of the first signs of burnout.

In those cross country races, I would sometimes nudge myself to smile. Smiling, like the yawning, actually helped release tension during the race. It was also an important mind-body reminder that running through the woods is actually a form of play! I’ve been doing some of that since the start of this church year too–smiling despite the Zoom fatigue, smiling to try to embrace the creative challenges of how to stay connected when we’re not together. Don’t get me wrong–anytime I’m with all of you–whether telling a story during worship, leading a movement game in our Zoom Children’s Chapel, hanging out around the fire with the youth groups, or any other interactions, my smile is genuine. All the time with you, especially in-person, is very soul-filling. It’s just that there’s now an underlying layer of burnout.

This pandemic has asked extraordinary things of all of us. Over these 20 months, that has simply started to wear me down. One thing I admired about Coach Burg is that he always gave us the day after a race completely off from practice. He actually insisted we NOT run. He said the rest time–mental and physical– was as important as the training time.

I feel so grateful that when I recently reached out to my current “coaches” – Rev. Joan, the LSE Committee, members of the Executive Team and others in church leadership – I’ve was met with understanding and support. Just last week Rev. Joan and the Executive Team approved my request to use some of my accrued sick leave to take the months of January and February off for some deep rest and tending of my spiritual, mental, and physical wellness. I am already feeling an easing of my spirit! I am aware this is a huge privilege. I wish we all had a workplace culture like the one here at UCM, with supervisors as dedicated and supportive as Rev. Joan, the Executive Team and UCM Board.

I was not feeling this way last year. Work was really grounding me and sustaining me during all those unknowns. But this pandemic has gone from a sprint, to a middle distance race, to now an ultramarathon of unknown duration. I need a rest.

I want you all to know, this burnout is not your fault. I’m so thankful for all the precious amazing LSE volunteers without whom the LSE program would be nowhere right now. I’m thankful to all the children, youth, and adults who have kept participating and stayed connected in whatever way you can muster. I’m buoyed constantly by the small notes of gratitude in the chat, the precious and rare in-person connections, or the emails of encouragement you’ve all shared with me. I’m grateful to those who have had to bow out but say you’ll be back when we’re back! I know that my efforts are seen and appreciated by congregants and colleagues alike.

From now through Christmas Eve I will touch base with the LSE volunteer teams, to answer questions and make sure they have all they need to carry on for the first couple months of the new year. I am also looking forward to leading this Sunday’s pre-worship Children’s Chapel, Sunday afternoon’s Solstice Circles, and the first ever Outdoor No Rehearsal Christmas Pageant on Christmas Eve! The pageant will be my final program that I lead until my return in March.

The various teams of LSE volunteers will do their best to get announcements in the e-news or at least to the contact lists they work with. Remember – they are volunteers. You may not hear from them as soon as you’d like. They will have to make some decisions, or work through some problems, without me and they will need your support and encouragement and patience. Remember, they’re living through this same extended pandemic too. Rev. Joan has offered to be a support and sounding board when needed. Even with all this support, we may need to let some non-essential programs go for a while and that will be okay.

For now, the plan is that volunteer teams will keep offering the following:

  • Pre-worship Children’s Chapel–for children and their caregivers–via Zoom. 9:15-9:45am each Sunday (except for an occasional Sunday off, like Dec. 26th)
  • Middle School Youth Group – 1-3pm at the Old Shelter in Hubbard Park Jan. 9th and Feb. 6th.
  • High School Youth Group – monthly meetings – details via email and What’s App.
  • Chalice Circles (Queerality, Small Group Ministry, Seasoned Souls, and Soul Matters) will continue on their schedules as needed
  • John Poeton will be reaching out in the coming weeks to families / youth who might be interested in participating in Bridging (for h.s. seniors)
  • Mara Iverson will reach out to volunteers and families to see if there’s interest in a modified 7th-9th grade sexuality education program (a condensed version of Our Whole Lives).

We will be relocating the Lifespan Spiritual Exploration library (with some books from the Climate Action Team) from my front porch back to the church. Stay tuned to the e-news. If you have any books that have been out for over a month, please try to return them to my porch by Wed. Dec. 22nd. Rev. Joan is excited to find some set times during the week when the library will be “open” and people can come inside the church to borrow books. Stay tuned to the e-news for updates and hours.

I am taking this time to care for myself so that I can return energized to better care for our community. We are all still navigating the intense challenges of this drawn out pandemic. I find comfort knowing that all around us nature offers sanctuary. I hope to spend much of my time grounding and playing outside in nature–both by myself, with my family, and with friends. We live on a resilient planet, where ecosystems hold and support each other. I’m grateful for the space, within this community, that holds and supports me, and I hope our congregation continues to provide you that space as you need it, in the weeks and months and many years ahead.

Take care,

P.S. I know some of you may see yourself in this story. I will share some resources put together by a colleague, Rev. Lee Paczulla, from Wellsprings UU in Kimberton, PA. It was helpful for me and might help you too, in learning about burnout, and making a plan to ask for help and recover. You can find it here. I’m also playing this song “Joy Comes Back” by Ruthie Foster daily and hope it might lift any of you who are feeling a bit downhearted right now.


Sun. Dec. 19, 2021 ~ Winter Solstice Circles

 Many thanks to all who showed up for our Solstice Circles in the church yard.  We honored the age old tradition of many generations gathering around a fire to share in the delight of songs, stories, and food over the fire as a way to honor the longest night! Ironically, we were all especially savoring the sunshine in the church yard!  Special thanks to Sarah Hooker and Sarah Franklin, past / present members of the Worship and Arts team for their support and assistance.  

Above: Some kids opted to roast apples.    Below: Some kids opted to roast marshmallows for s'mores.  

​​Chalice lighting by Rev. Scott Tayler

In the soft light of this flame may our lives shimmer anew.

May we notice new possibility in those relationships that seem lost.

May the turning of year give birth to a dream.

May the emerging light pull a new story into view.

May what is, give way to what might be.

May we believe again in the world we imagine.

Help us to be the always hopeful

gardeners of the spirit

who know that without darkness

nothing comes to birth

as without light

nothing flowers.

– May Sarton

To Know the Dark by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,

and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,

and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.


H.S. Youth Group Holiday Party and Community Service Craft Project

UCM's High School Youth Back in the Building!!!

The folks receiving the free lunches from UCM's Community Lunch volunteers have an extra smile today because of the beautiful, homemade holidays cards made by the High School Youth Group. They had a holiday party in the vestry. While watching Olive, the Other Reindeer on the big screen, they crafted thoughtful cards.

I heard they also enjoyed a walk around the building, enjoying the sanctuary especially. Like all of us, they've missed it! And they exchanged some pre-made treats to enjoy at home later. Many thanks to all who participated! It was lovely to drive by the church on Friday evening, seeing the lights on in the building and know that YOUTH were inside doing some community building and community service! 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

December Middle School Youth Group


We had a fabulous showing on Sunday and gorgeous weather!  It was great to have extra firewood from the families of Esme, Leland, and Monroe!  And thank you to Anthony's family for extra hot dogs and GF buns!  We're feeling very supported by everyone! Here's a recap in both words and pictures.

Chalice lighting, ice breaker, and covenant: We lit our chalice, played a few rounds of Group Juggle and they ROCKED the challenge.  They were focused and creative in their problem solving.  They were motivated and full of positive enthusiasm. Afterwards, we reviewed the covenant that they created in November.  Though our notes were lost, we remembered the most important ones: 
  • Being kind, safe, respectful.  
  • Listen when it is time to listen. 
  • Ask for what you need.  
  • Be inclusive with others. 
Irina's going to ask one of the youth if they can make a weatherproof write-up so we can have it on hand and just flash it as a review each session, without need for much discussion! 

Nature art: We looked at some examples of Andy Goldsworthy art, talked about doing it sustainably and gave the options to work alone, in pairs, or small groups.  A couple kids opted to just hang out near the fire and that was totally fine.  Sometimes we all just need some quiet time by a fire.  With four adults, two could stay up near the fire. Those doing the art were REALLY into their projects!    

After about 25 mins. we visited each piece of art as a group and heard a bit from the artist(s).  Some nice pictures!  Then they naturally migrated to the fire, so we took turns roasting hot dogs.  They were pretty good about masking up in the shelter area, with just a few reminders needed.  One kid forgot a mask, one kid lost their mask and I forgot extras.  We'll have extras next time for sure!  

Tag: After hot dogs, we played a tag game in the woods called Coyote Deer. They got good and tired out and everyone felt great about it. Nice that we got in two rounds.  

Closing, book swap, and sun catchers: We closed with brief check-in--sharing a rose, a thorn, OR a bud.  Then they each got to take a book from our middle school youth group book swap.  Next month they can bring it back, share a recommendation if they want, and swap it out for another.  And Irina made a Sun Catcher as a Winter Solstice gift for each of them.  Thank you, Irina! 

  • Drop-off down below: There was a car off the road on the drive to the Old Shelter, so thanks to everyone who adapted by doing drop-off down below.  I imagine we'll want to stick with that going forward if the road is at all slick.  
  • Upcoming sessions: 1-3pm at the Old Shelter on Sun Jan. 9th.  More details coming soon.  I've gone ahead and reserved the shelter for Sun. Feb. 6th, Sun. March 6th as well.  Volunteers are busy with holiday happenings so we are not having an online hangout this month.  
  • Want to connect before Jan. 9th?  Join in the All Ages Solstice Circle on Sun. Dec. 19th 1-1:30pm (space limited, pre-register here) OR the Outdoor No Rehearsal Christmas Pageant on Christmas Eve (click here for details).     

Summer Events

  Thank you for your interest in connecting this summer. Below you'll find more details! Cookout for UCM Families & LSE Volunteers ...