John Porter 2006. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
July 23, 2006
Mission Peak is a hidden treasure with important gifts and talents including our religious education for children, the mental health ministry, the music that inspires us on Sunday mornings, our friendliness, a powerful interest in the environment, welcoming people of all sexual persuasions and our other progressive religious ideas. I'm sure that each of us could name a few more. Last fall the Board asked the Publicity and Social Concerns Committees to study ways in which Mission Peak could become better known in the local community. That is no small task. If we look at Fremont alone, it covers 77 square miles and has a population of 203,000. Mission Peak, with its 109 (or so) members is a small frog in a very big puddle. But remember the advice that naturalists give for people who might be confronted by a mountain lion: stand tall, wave your arms to look bigger, yell and throw rocks. Good advice if you want to be noticed.
In response to this request from the Board, the Publicity Chair (Pat Rodgers plus Doug) and Social Concerns Chair (Louise Lefkort), with Chris Schriner and a Board representative (me), met and asked ourselves this question: where is the fit between Mission Peaks' interests, history and expertise on the one hand, and the community's needs on the other. In effect, where do Mission Peak's deepest values and expertise, indeed, our passions, intersect with the hurts and injustices in the local community. For it is at these intersections - where our desire to work and witness matches the needs - where our love for one another, and for the world, will make a difference. And as we work in the community, it is at these intersections where we will find like-minded people who will be attracted to our small congregation with its important ideas of justice, equity and compassion.
To make a long story short, Publicity and Social Concerns generated some ideas that were discussed at length at a Program Council meeting. The Program Council, in turn, made recommendations which were adopted by the Board in the spring of 2006. The Board decided to ask the congregation to focus on three outreach areas: the Mental Health Ministry, Welcoming Congregation activities, and Environmental concerns. Two of these are already organized and underway, and for the third - Environmental Concerns - the Board authorized the establishment of a standing committee. I'd like to talk about each of these briefly.
But before I do that I want to make an important point. Mission Peak has long operated on the belief that we should let many flowers bloom. So we buy Christmas presents for Kidango kids, recycle print cartridges, bring supplies for Afghan women, help feed the homeless, march in the Pride Parade in San Francisco, and encourage many other activities. By focusing in these three areas, we want at the same time to continue to encourage these other things. So if it sings for you, go for it!
Now to the three focus efforts.
The Rev. Barbara Meyers leads a community ministry focused on mental health. This is a very extensive program and I will not try to discuss it in detail. For specifics please talk to Barbara. I would like to highlight a few things.
Barbara has developed a Caring Congregation Program for educating congregations on mental health matters. The curriculum is published by Will To Print Press with the title The Caring Congregation Program and Training Manual. She piloted the program here and has now trained people in four other congregations to present the program and one has done so. Other congregations are interested as well. She and Peggy Rahman presented this material at General Assembly in St. Louis and Barbara has taught it at the Starr King seminary in Berkeley. She also presented a program on mental health to our children.
Barbara works with Scotty Scott to lead a depression support group that meets twice monthly at Reaching Across in Fremont. In this program, people with emotional problems and illnesses help each other and help themselves by offering mutual support. Barbara's ministry has also strengthened a mental health family support group in Union City. Barbara was first involved with a depression support group that met here at Mission Peak beginning about 1998. Over the years it has served about 25 people.
The Mental Health Committee meets every other month. It recently planned participation in the National Alliance on Mental Illness walk - Mission Peakers raised $1,300 in the most recent effort - and will prepare care packages for mental patients.
This program has been instrumental in bringing mental illness out of the shadows here at Mission Peak. If anyone doubts the power of one person (assisted by many, of course) to make a difference, here is a good example. There are many opportunities to help in this important effort and to participate - just talk to Barbara.
Mission Peak has a history of environmental interests. Twice in the last two years, under the leadership of Justine Burt, a large group has purchased and planted trees - redwoods, oaks, bays, sycamores, and other natives - at Quarry Lakes Park, for a total of 270 trees. During the last year we have had 5 Sunday services focused on environmental matters: in April Chris spoke on the "Tree of Life" on Earth Day, and Ed Claassen spoke on the "Spirit of the Redwoods." In March Chris had a two-part series: "Graduates of Eden," speaking of global warming and other things. In August 2005 I spoke on moral and spiritual questions about the environment, using Jared Diamond's tour de force, Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I highly recommend this book. Many here have read it.
The Environmental Committee - or as they prefer to call it - the Environmental Team (more action oriented) is off and running. The team had its first meeting in June. Team members had a wide-ranging discussion of environmental issues from worldwide matters like global warming to local issues such as the Coyote Hills Initiative in Fremont. This initiative is intended to limit development of 520 acres east of the Coyote Hills Regional Park. The Team has started a blog.
The Team's first activity was a picnic at Ardenwood Park to hear a presentation about the Coyote Hills Initiative and to get a tour of the Patterson Ranch site. 24 people attended with about half of them riding their bikes from Mission Peak after a Sunday service (including a group of kids).
The group listened to the details of the proposed Patterson Ranch development to build about 1200 homes on the site and got a vivid picture of the loss that that would entail for the natural beauty of the area and the habitat for some 170 species that currently thrive there. Five members of the team recently attended a Fremont regional park planning meeting about the Vargas Plateau - which is on the hilltops above Mission Blvd between Niles Canyon and 680. They intend to stay engaged in that process.
The Environmental Team plans to meet monthly following a Sunday service with the next meeting on August 13, after church, here at Kidango (bring your own lunch). They will discuss further action on Coyote Hills, bike-to-town days (organizing retailers to give rewards when you come by bike to shop for groceries) and other initiatives/suggestions.
They expect to cooperate with another Mission Peak effort - providing volunteer opportunities for families with kids. This group will join the East Bay Regional Park coastal cleanup on September 16, and on October 1 the Team will host a Niles Community Park cleanup. This is a wonderful way to involve children and adults in local environmental projects.
The Environmental Team is looking for people who have a passion for protecting the environment and might want to organize an event. Right now they are seeking volunteers to help with the Niles park cleanup, candle-making on the beach, and promoting the Coyote Hills Initiative. In addition to these events, they will have discussions about larger subjects, such as global warming, our place and responsibility in the world and where to find leverage to initiate change.
For more information about the Environmental Team get in touch with Michael Joss or Ursel Bloxsom. To help with or participate in the family projects see Susanne Joss.
In the fall of 2001 - 5 years ago - the Welcoming Congregation Task Force held a series of six workshops on gay, lesbian, trans-gender, and bi-sexual topics. During the following six months several other educational events and discussions were presented to the congregation. This culminated on June 9 when the congregation voted unanimously to approve the following resolution.
Whereas Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, as a Unitarian Universalist society, affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and strives to achieve justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
Therefore, be it resolved that the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation declares itself to be a Welcoming Congregation, which welcomes people of varied sexual and gender orientations, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender, into all aspects of congregational life.
After this initial flurry of activity, formal Welcoming Congregation efforts declined, but individuals picked up the ball. Last winter Calista Ames-Gorgen volunteered to reactivate the Welcoming Congregation Committee. It sponsored a well-attended movie night to see Brokeback Mountain, the movie about 2 gay cowboys, with a discussion afterward. Calista has also sought out information on LGBT topics which she has published each month in the newsletter. Currently she is looking for a volunteer with a large living room to show the movie, Transamerica, a comedy / drama about a conservative transsexual woman working two jobs to save money for her final sexual reassignment surgery when she discovers that when she was a he, she fathered a son.
In the United States 516 Unitarian Universalist congregations have become Welcoming Congregations (over 50%!) with 24 in Canada. A statement in a brochure of the Unitarian Universalist Association says it very well: "Bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people belong here. Our religious movement belongs to a larger future, not to a constricting past. It doesn't belong to the outworn pronouncements of the bishops or the evangelists of the new right. Our movement has to do with the qualitative evolution of human consciousness."
Calista's vision is for the Welcoming Congregation Committee to act as an outreach arm of Mission Peak. There are opportunities to ally with local organizations such as PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays), Lavender Seniors, and Not In Our Town - Fremont. She would like to sponsor speakers for public events and perhaps dances or other social affairs.
Efforts to advance equal treatment for people with various sexual orientations is much in the news these days. The latest effort to amend the U. S. constitution to deny same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities of marriage failed in congress by a narrow margin. A number of states have adopted constitutional amendments or legislation restricting marriage to "one man and one woman."
So Calista and the Welcoming Congregation Committee need more people who are willing to lend a hand in this important effort.
All three of these programs - Welcoming Congregation, Environment, and mental health ministry -- will be featured in Mission Peak literature, including for new members, and on the website, once the programs are ready to do so.
There are other ways in which we can influence our local community. In preparing material for the Board, Doug Rodgers and I discussed the possibility of the Congregation taking public positions on matters which are deeply important to us. This would obviously have to be done with great care because of our respect for diversity in our ranks.
The Unitarian Universalist Association does this on a national level with a process for developing and voting on what are known as Statements of Conscience. These begin with suggestions from UU congregations and districts, and proceed through a process that results in a vote at General Assembly to select one issue for study and action for a two-year period. Congregations are encouraged to study these issues and to make their opinions known nationally. Finally, at the third General Assembly, if consensus seems possible, the issue is voted on.
At the General Assembly held this summer in St. Louis, delegates from the congregations voted on and adopted a Statement of Conscience on the Threat of Global Warming / Climate Change. It advocates specific actions by individuals, congregations, the UUA, and governments. More information about this Statement of Conscience will appear in the August newsletter. In 2005 delegates adopted a Statement of Conscience on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform. Topics in recent years include Civil Liberties (2004), Economic Globalization (2003), and Alternatives to the War on Drugs (2002). Mission Peak can work on these national issues and can, of course, develop positions on local issues.
I'm going to end with a quotation from the book Spiritual Literacy by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.
We recognize that whatever we do affects the world. Catholic social activist Dorothy Day points out that good deeds are like a pebble cast into a pond: they create ripples that spread in all directions. Our acts of service in our homes and communities become part of an ever-widening circle of compassion that eventually encompasses the entire creation. In this interconnected world, we live locally knowing that our actions have an impact globally.
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