A Religious Pilgrimage to Oregon

By Victor Fidel, Chair, All Souls Board of Trustees

Victor hoists the banner of All Souls

Victor hoists the banner of All Souls at General Assembly

Each year, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) meets for its General Assembly (GA). To me, it represents our Mecca journey. We Unitarian Universalists do not have a doctrinal test, nor a Rome, or a Salt Lake City; instead, our pilgrimages are fluid, wherever our spirit moves us to act for justice, compassion, peace. Our journeys are formed by the circumstances that drive meaning in our lives, within our Seven Principles.

This year our GA was held in Portland, Oregon. I was fortunate to be attending with 19 fellow members from All Souls, NYC. We were in a sea of 4,508 UUs from 580 congregations. GA is a time and place where we recharge our batteries, think about what we can do for our congregations, and, hopefully, for our world. It’s a time for inspiration, fellowship, laughter and tears, a way to reconnect with old friends and gain new ones.

Of special note, Union Theological Seminary Professor Cornel West delivered the Ware Lecture, given since the early twentieth century by prominent advocates of social justice including the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor West, an outspoken philosopher and critic of American racism, charged us to think beyond smartness and to promote wisdom. He said we need to have a moral renaissance where we put integrity, honesty, decency and virtue at the center. Our struggles with injustice must be met with a spiritual movement—politics are secondary. This is about what it means to be human, not a calculation of interest groups. And the fight will be hard, but, he reminded us, cowardice is more evil than violence. He said that he could feel the authenticity of our UU spirit, and I daresay I agree that among us are folks who can swing like Ella Fitzgerald and Muhammad Ali (for complete coverage, visit: http://www.uua.org/ga/virtual/2015).

All Souls NYC’s own daughter, the Rev. Alison Miller, a pastor in Morristown, NJ, delivered the sermon at Sunday’s worship service: “Restorying Hope.” She clarified that it’s with our brokenness and weakness we can heal those in need. As a young adult at All Souls, she battled a potentially fatal cancer in her arm, and in her sermon she thanked our congregation for its support and the donation of 1,000 pints of blood. Alison said she was taught that she had to address people with her “good” arm, but it was her weak arm that needed to touch people; it was the one that knew the suffering and could transform the lives of those whom she touched. By using your vulnerability, you can heal! Her sermon was most inspirational (to see it in its entirety, visit: http://www.uua.org/ga/virtual/2015).  Alison’s own mother, the late Inez Miller, was an active member of our congregation and frequent delegate to GA.

Joining me as delegates in Portland were Heli Blum, Membership Coordinator Maryah Converse, fellow Board member Robert Dottin, Aaron Hamburger, Sally Hamburger, Linnea Huston, Youth Ministries Coordinator Kamila Jacob, Erin Langus, Laura Manos-Hey, Jerry McCathern, Judith McCathern, Courtney McKee, James Moskin, Brenda Murphy, Marilynn Scott Murphy, Blanca Rodriguez (virtually), Linda Rousseau, Margaret Ruttenberg, and Deborah Taylor.

For more, please see my blog www.victorfidel.com



The Bronx is Up, and So is She

All Souls member Anna Purves ’13 may not be able to take home her 2015 New York Emmy for excellence in television, but that is not to say she isn’t proud of the award she shares with a group of people who produced ten public service announcements promoting cultural landmarks, “The Best of the Bronx.”

Anna PurvesThe spots were financed by the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and Anna was Head Script Writer and Writing Supervisor. The award was presented at Lehman College of the City University of New York, where they were produced and where Anna teaches creative nonfiction, creative writing, and honors composition.

Anna has a studio arts degree from Smith College and an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College, but she says poetry was the form she leaned on most when writing the prize-winning sixty-second spots.

“They had to be sayable and accurate,” says Anna, “and they had to tell a story. “ Fifteen seconds were set aside for introduction and closing, so the body of the announcement was only forty-five seconds. You can see these spots in the backs of taxis and on Channel 25 in New York. Two can also be found on Anna’s website Anna Purves Arts.

You can also watch Anna’s excellent six-minute film “Out from Plato’s Cave,” featuring some of her students, at Anna Purves Arts.

The multi-talented professor grew up “half UU and half Episcopalian” in Larchmont, but her dual religious experience ended when she was a high school senior. She came to All Souls four years ago with her husband,  Bill Neroulias, and sons  Jonathan Neroulias and Jeremy Neroulias at the invitation of Tracy and Bill Fitzpatrick ’11 when Jonathan was in ninth grade. (He’s now a college freshman, and Jeremy is entering ninth grade.) The two boys gave a team sermon when the youth group led a service in March 2014. She has high praise for All Souls religious education, and she also took part in a small group ministry.

Not long ago, Anna invited All Souls Senior Minister Galen Guengerich to attend a class in which students provided their own endings to a sermon Galen gave last February, “It’s Not What You Think,” which poses a question about what we see when we look in the mirror.  If you’re curious, you can look it up on the All Souls website. And maybe you’ll want to write your own ending.

Selma Revisited

by Mary Geissman ’07

Last summer I learned that Unitarian Universalists were organizing a conference around the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. I decided that I wanted to go because this was an event that I vividly remember seeing on television.  Also, I had never been to Alabama.  So, I registered for “Marching in the Arc of Justice: Re-Visiting Selma,” a conference on March 5-8 in Birmingham, which would include a Sunday trip to Selma.

Approaching the bridge: Rev. Lissa Gundlach in the background, and Mary Geissman

Approaching the bridge: Rev. Lissa Gundlach in the background, and Mary Geissman

Three other members of All Souls registered:  our Assistant Minister Lissa Anne Gundlach; Minister Emeritus Richard Leonard, and Linda Rousseau ’96, head of our Peace and Justice Task Force.  Rev. Leonard (Dick) had been in Selma for 18 days in 1965 and walked the entire 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery then; it was a great honor to be with him on this trip.

However, the New York winter intervened. Linda and I planned to fly to Birmingham on Thursday, March 5, but that day, we had another heavy snowstorm, and a plane skidded off the runway, shutting down LaGuardia Airport until evening.  Our flight was cancelled, and we could not get a rebooking until Saturday noon.  Linda decided not to go, but I thought that although I would miss much of the conference, I would still be able to go to Selma on Sunday for the march.  Lissa and Dick were already in Birmingham.

I arrived in Birmingham Saturday afternoon, met up with Lissa and Dick, and was able to attend the dinner that evening, as well as to socialize with some of the people who had come from around the country—more than 500 attendees in all.   On Sunday morning, we all boarded buses and headed first for Montgomery, where we had lunch and worship with music at the City of St. Jude.  The City of St. Jude, a Catholic complex, was the campsite for the final night of the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, and there was a huge concert with many well-known entertainers.

Then we left for Selma and were dropped off at the Unitarian Universalist gathering point in a park.  The day was beautiful and warm.  (A welcome change from New York!)  We started walking towards Brown’s Chapel, which was to be the starting point of the “official” march to be led by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others.  However, there were so many people in Selma at that point (an estimated 70-80,000) that the organizers gave up the idea of an official march, and we all joined the crowd and slowly made our way to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  It was a thrill to finally reach the bridge and stand where some real heroes walked before; I especially thought of U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

With Rev. Dick Leonard after crossing the bridge

With Rev. Dick Leonard after crossing the bridge

After crossing the bridge, I met up with Dick Leonard, who had not joined us for the march, but was able to go to the top of the bridge from the far side and see the crowds.   After a while, we re-boarded our buses and returned to Birmingham for dinner and a closing service with music.

Although this ended up being a very short trip, I’m glad that I went. It was a very rewarding and emotional experience.  It made me think about the sacrifices that many made 50 years ago for the fundamental right to vote, and that this right is under attack in many parts of the country today.  We must continue the fight until all of our citizens have this right.

Hudson River Retreat

When one conjures up the Unitarian Universalist experience, the monastic life would rarely register on most people’s imagination. Yet, on January 23-25, participants in the All Souls Winter Spiritual Retreat: Creating Space for Connection and Growth found themselves within the walls of the former Franciscan monastery above the Hudson River that is today the Garrison Institute. Now beautifully restored as a Buddhist center, the old monastery retains the cloistered atmosphere essential to the contemplative life: large communal spaces for worship and dining, tiny rooms for sleeping, shared bathrooms, separate hallways for participants and employees, floors that muffle footsteps, art inspired by religious impulses, and an atmosphere throughout of reflection and meditation.snowgate

Assistant Minister Lissa Gundlach, Religious Education Director Taryn Strauss and seminarian Stephanie Gannon led a group of seventeen women through a variety of meditative and communal activities with ample opportunity for input by participants. (The retreat was open to the entire All Souls community, but only women signed up. They ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s.)

Stephanie led yoga one morning, Sandra Fisher ’84 led Qi-Gong the next; Lissa introduced a number of UU hymns and songs at vespers; Community Choir member Leonora Morrison ‘96 spontaneously initiated group singing each night before candles were extinguished after worship. “It was a holy moment,” someone observed. The attendees, from a variety of backgrounds and interests, were respectful, open, and often humorous.  The wide age range contributed to enlivening the discussions and the spontaneous musical moments. “We don’t have to be earnest all the time,” one woman said, “We can have fun!”

Lifelong UU and seminarian Taryn, led a workshop on spiritual discernment based on the work of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola as interpreted by Elizabeth Liebert, author of  The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making.

“I got to contemplate and listen to my inner voice,” said one participant “This process started in one place and ended up somewhere else. I kept asking what I want to do about an issue, and it brought me deeply inside myself to figure this out.”

Stephanie conducted an introduction to spiritual practices—basic meditation and other contemplative practices—and how can they support ones life journey. Lissa’s workshop dealt with setting attentions for the coming year using collage and journaling. Each night the larger group met for dinner, vespers and fellowship afterwards.

There was ample opportunity to explore the institute’s large grounds. “I arrived mid-afternoon and walked the woods trail north which paralleled the Hudson River with its extraordinary presence as broken ice flowed south,” said Linda Rousseau ‘96, “I couldn’t think of a better entrée to the week-end of  renewal and spiritual practices.” Another woman said, “My discovery was loving fresh snow and being in Nature. I made a snow angel.” And yet a third said walking the institute’s labyrinth in the snow was a highlight of her experience.

Several participants remarked about the food, which was simple, vegetarian and delicious. As people who often prepare food for themselves and others, some women noted how pleasant it was to be nourished by others.

Perhaps the week-end was best summed up by Laura Manos-Hey,’12 when she said, “I didn’t realize how nice it would be to have time with myself but then also to have quiet, focused time with new friends. Without the pressures of everyday life, we could be in the moment together; just being together and sharing our thoughts, sharing meals, sharing worship and sharing music. There was a lot of joy in being together.

“I didn’t want to leave at the end of the weekend, and I came home feeling peaceful. Coming back to All Souls and having a bunch of new familiar faces in the crowd has been wonderful too, the chance to recreate the special community we had on the retreat.”

“I hope this becomes an All Souls tradition in the years to come,” said Erin Langus.

Back row: Rev. Lissa Gundlach, Jan Reynolds ‘96, Carolyn Jackson ’94, Leonora Morrison, ’96, Karen Johnson, Laura Blundo, Shannon Gair, Marion Wise, Mia Banner ’11, Laura Manos-Hey ’12, Middle Row: Erin Langus, Marilyn Mehr ‘07, Director of Religious Education Taryn Strauss, Linda Rousseau, ‘96, Sandra Fisher ’84. Front row: Brie Magar, Stephanie Gannon, Malinda Foy. (Not shown: Ann Barbul, Mary Geissman ’07)

Back row: Rev. Lissa Gundlach, Jan Reynolds ‘96, Carolyn Jackson ’94, Leonora Morrison, ’96, Karen Johnson, Laura Blundo, Shannon Gair, Marion Wise, Mia Banner ’11, Laura Manos-Hey ’12, Middle Row: Erin Langus, Marilyn Mehr ‘07, Director of Religious Education Taryn Strauss, Linda Rousseau, ‘96, Sandra Fisher ’84. Front row: Brie Magar, Stephanie Gannon, Malinda Foy. (Not shown: Ann Barbul, Mary Geissman ’07)

Heart and Soul(ful) Events

On March 3,  this year’s Heart and Soul Auction Gala, now sold out, will be the first event to pay tribute to the Rev. Richard Leonard’s sixty-two years in the Unitarian Universalist ministry. In these more than six decades, he has married hundreds of couples and worked for social justice.

The Heart and Soul Foundation has published The Rev. Dick Leonard Tribute Journal, which contains memories and photographs of Dick’s long career, as well as messages,  from members, friends and the more than 200 Japanese couples he married. (Those Japanese weddings and how they became Dick’s specialty are a story in themselves.) For many years, he and his wife, Polly, were generous contributors to the foundation. Now he has given one of the many stories he has written – drawn from his eighty-seven years on the planet — to each person who has donated $100 or more to Heart and Soul.

Rev Richard Leonard

Rev. Dick Leonard on the All Souls steps.

Proceeds from Heart and Soul help fund our outreach into the community through groups  not generally aided by large charities. This outreach includes serving more than 28,000 meals to adults each year and funding more than a dozen groups that work with youth and others in need.

On March 10, after Dick returns from Selma, a much larger party will focus on the Selma march. Expect to see memorabilia, such as the orange vest he wore as a marshal in the 1965 march. Peter Yarrow of the iconic sixties trio Peter, Paul and Mary will entertain.

The presentation of the Spirit of Heart and Soul Award to Dick harks back to its origins, when other members of the congregation were singled out for recognition. Among those honored members  were Anne Bradley ‘88, Deborah Buresh Jackson ’92 and Al Jackson ‘99, Ashley Garrett ’96 and Alan Jones 96, Sandy Reece ’97 and Tom Reece ‘97, and Stephen Lash ‘83. Lash was a founder of the auction along with Michele Jawin ‘85 and the late Francesca Thompson. This year’s gala will take place in the law firm of Shearman and Sterling where Heart and Soul held its first auction  twenty-six years ago.

On April 21, the presentation of The Forrest Church Award for Humanitarian Service, which has for several years been a part of the auction gala, will be a separate event  in the All Souls sanctuary.  This year’s recipients are the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife and co-author, Sheryl WuDunn. The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors will take part in a colloquium with the audience about  how to become an effective global citizen. Copies of their new book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives and Creating Opportunity will be on sale and the authors will sign them.

Jeffrey Friedlander ‘90 is chair of the Heart and Soul Board of Trustees, and Elizabeth Fairfax Brown is its executive director.