Answering the Call

The people of Selma will struggle on for the soul of the nation, but it is fitting that all Americans help to bear the burden. I call therefore on clergy of all faiths to join me in Selma. — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

On March 4, fifty years after he answered the Reverend King’s call to march from Selma to Montgomery , the Rev. Richard Leonard ‘79 will return to Alabama  to commemorate that event and attend a Unitarian Universalist  “Marching in the Arc of Justice” conference in Birmingham. Also traveling to Alabama for the commemoration are Assistant Minister Lissa Gundlach, Linda Rousseau ‘96, and Mary Geissman ‘07.

In connection with this trip, All Souls will honor Dick with its Spirit of Heart and Soul Award at two events—an auction for ticketed guests on March 3 and a much larger party in Reidy Friendship Hall on March 10.

Dick’s book Call to Selma: Eighteen Days of Witness, published by Skinner House, is the only account of the march and the eighteen days leading up to it written by one of the 300 people who marched the entire fifty-four miles. It was a dangerous undertaking: Jimmie Lee Jackson, an Alabama activist, was killed in Selma by a state trooper; and two Unitarian Universalists, the Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, died after an attack by white supremacists.

Dick thinks that every American should see the recent movie “Selma”, despite its faulty reference to Reeb as “a priest from Boston.”   “The Selma march is such a vital part of American history,” he adds. Dick attended the film with half a dozen All Souls members and friends and later spoke at adult education about it. He thinks the casting was excellent and the filmmakers did a great job of condensing nearly three weeks into a coherent narrative. But they left out, he says, the intense confrontation between police and protesters that wore on for 240 hours.

No doubt he’ll have more to say when he returns once again from Selma.

Rev. Dick Leonard

 

Donations Support Asylum Seekers

By Laura Manos-Hey ’12 and Julie Thommen ’14

Co-Leaders, Interweave-LGBT

Many members of All Souls feel called by their faith to advocate for greater peace and understanding both at home and across the globe. As members of Interweave, the church community’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service and fellowship group, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing this passion and hard work come alive in an exciting new project. Over the summer, Interweave-LGBT launched a series of monthly discussion socials, focused on creating opportunities for fellowship while engaging in lively conversations around LGBT issues and experiences. We also explored ways to connect with and support other organizations serving the LGBT community, and hosted several guest speakers from these organizations at these socials.

lgbt_asylumWe were thrilled when Bruce Knotts ‘08, Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, approached us about a possible collaboration with Housing Works to benefit LGBT asylum seekers. In the past, Housing Works teamed with members of All Souls in response to the AIDS crisis. More recently, they launched The Asylum Project – an initiative to provide housing, food, legal assistance, and other support to recently arrived individuals from other countries seeking asylum in the United States. With Bruce’s help, we connected with Housing Works and began to imagine how our congregation could support their mission.

At our September 28 discussion social, a diverse group of Interweave-LGBT members, social justice advocates, former AIDS crisis volunteers, and other interested All Souls members and friends gathered to learn more about the issues facing LGBT asylum seekers. We, along with other Interweave co-leaders Kelly Schaffer ’12 and Paul DiMauro ‘11, hosted Bruce and staff members from Housing Works as well as several young men from Nigeria who are in the United States seeking asylum. We learned that LGBT asylum seekers come to the U.S. from many countries including Russia, Uganda, and Nigeria. These are individuals who have left, in many cases fled, their home country due to its life-threatening laws against people who identify as or are assumed to be LGBT. They wanted us to understand that they are not here by choice. They miss their families, their cultures, and their homes. They are simply searching for the chance to live full and successful lives as LGBT people. At All Souls, we are lucky enough to have an inclusive and supportive community. These visitors were thrilled to find a place where they were treated as productive and active members of society, rather than individuals happy to live off the United States government as they have too often experienced elsewhere. For us, hearing their stories was both inspiring and humbling.

We spent a long time discussing what All Souls can offer The Asylum Project. The program is still a work in progress, and the asylum seekers’ needs range from winter clothing to legal advice. When the idea of raising funds to purchase unlimited MetroCards was introduced, it seemed to resonate with a lot of people in the group. The majority of New Yorkers use public transportation on a daily basis, and most of us are fortunate to be able to keep our MetroCards full. While waiting for their citizenship to be processed, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work legally and have limited ability to earn money. Housing Works does its best to provide resources, but their funds and manpower are limited.

Based on the ideas voiced in our discussion, Interweave-LGBT has launched a fundraising effort. All donations that we collect will be delivered to Housing Works and used to purchase MetroCards for LGBT asylum seekers who cannot afford them. We will be collecting money at coffee hour following the 11:15 AM service during the month of December, as well as at certain other church events. We are privileged to belong to a church and a country that allow us certain freedoms. With our help, Housing Works can bring other LGBT individuals a step closer to living their lives openly and proudly.

Remembering Margot Adler

by Maryah Converse, Membership Coordinator

I was deeply moved by the death in July of this year of Margot Adler: the noted author, radio journalist, Wiccan priestess, lover of vampires, and fellow member of the great family of All Souls Unitarian Church since 1992, as well as a member of its Women’s Alliance. In A Chosen Faith, the late Rev. Forrest Church recounted these words from Margot’s statement of faith:

I chose Unitarian Universalism because I need to live in balance. I can do all those wonderful, earth-centered spiritual things: sing under the stars, drum for hours, create moving ceremonies for the changes of seasons or the passage of time in the lives of men and women. But I also need to be a worldly, down-to-earth person in a complicated world—someone who believes oppression is real, that tragedies happen, that chaos happens, that not everything is for a purpose. Unitarian Universalism gives me a place to be at home with some of my closest friends: my doubts.

Margot Adler

photo from: http://www.npr.org/people/2100166/margot-adler

As a priestess in the modern earth-based Wiccan religion, Margot Adler wrote extensively. Her 1979 landmark book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America still instructs and inspires Wiccans around the world. I grew up in a Unitarian Universalist church among practicing pagans, and she is still the Wiccan priestess they most admire.  Her wisdom about human spiritual relationship to the earth was sought by Unitarian Universalists and many others around the country. She was a board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and in 1998, she preached at the General Assembly of the UUA in Rochester, NY. In 2012, she spoke at the International Convocation of Universalist Women and Progressive Women of Faith in Transylvania (now Romania) where the first Unitarian churches were established in the 16th century.

As a journalist, Margot Adler was a regular on National Public Radio, so I knew her name and voice long before I met her.  My father literally sets his watch by All Things Considered, and he always has his favorite reporters: Baxter Black the cowboy poet, Scott Simon, a few others— and Margot Adler. When their voices came on the air, the volume went up and we all stopped to listen. I am an NPR junkie myself now, with my own list of favorites, but Dad and I still have Margot in common.

Over the years, Margot had preached at All Souls, and, in October 2012, she was scheduled to do so again. I was newly employed at the church, and I was ecstatic at the news—and even more, when I was proofreading the Order of Service, I saw her sermon title, “Why We Love Vampires.” I am a lover of vampires, as was she. I was determined to get there extra early that morning in case I could help her with anything.

When I walked through the Wiggin House door, there she was: shorter and more stooped than I had pictured for such a giant of journalism, but with a radiant smile you would never see on the radio. The Rev. Lissa Gundlach, who was assisting in worship that day, wouldn’t arrive for almost an hour. In the interval, I took Margot upstairs and, standing at my desk, we chatted just as if we were old colleagues.

She had just read 260 vampire novels while researching her e-book Vampires Are Us, published shortly after her sermon at All Souls. Although I had loved vampires for at least a dozen years longer than Margot had, we had settled on most of the same favorites for most of the same reasons. From vampires, we turned quite naturally to witches in popular literature. Both Margot and I were impressed by their representation of witches in the bestselling works of the romance novelist Nora Roberts.

Our conversation was interrupted by Lissa’s arrival, but I made time to sit and listen to the sermon in both services. Two years later, chatting with Margot is still one of my best memories at All Souls.

I last heard her voice this past spring while walking through Central Park and listening to All Things Considered on my iPod. Suddenly Margot came on the air reporting a story about new super skyscrapers on the south side of Central Park that were stealing the sunlight from some of the park’s trees. I wish I had stopped right there in the park to email her about how I had enjoyed the story, but I didn’t, and now it’s too late. She died of cancer, far too young, at 68.

In her last sermon at All Souls, she said of death,

We are all part of the life cycle. Like a seed we are born, we sprout; we grow, mature and decay, making room for future generations who, like seedlings, are reborn through us. As for the persistence of consciousness, deep down I thought, ‘How can we know?’ Perhaps we simply return to the elements; we become earth and air and fire and water. That seemed all right to me.

I hope it was all right for her in the end.

Margot’s husband,  John Lowell Gliedman, died in 2010. They are survived by a son, Alex Dylan Gliedman-Adler. A memorial service will be held at All Souls at 3 p.m., Friday, October 31.

A version of this post previously appeared in Maryah Converse’s blog: http://swissbooks.blogspot.com/2014/07/honoring-margot-adler.html

Thoughts on the Chancel Sculpture

By Alex Demac 2014

From time to time the Beacon hopes to publish short, reflective essays about various aspects of All Souls. This one comes from someone who recently joined our congregation.

Rising above the pulpit in the All Souls sanctuary is a sculpture, beautifully woven of golden threads, in the form of a cross embedded in a huge oculus. The oculus opens into apparently endless, overlapping layers of dark threads whose gauzy, twisting shapes shimmer with light, and thus suggests an eye looking into infinity. The brightest patches of light coincide with the center of the cross.

Unlike a human eye, the oculus is oriented diagonally, rather than horizontally; nor is it a perfect, symmetrical, pointed ellipse. In fact, it is a spindle, shaped like a flame. As such, its brightly shining heart is the cruciform, with the frame of the sculpture becoming its huge, neoclassical chalice.

All Souls String ArtIt reminds me of a rocket, which is also spindle shaped, and I sometimes feel the sculpture like a flaming rocket pulling me, upward toward the heavens, as does the pointed arch of a cathedral.
The chancel sculpture was crafted by the American artist Sue Fuller (1914-2006) and its installation was shepherded by the late Rev. Forrest Church early in his tenure as senior minister at All Souls, which began in 1978. Fuller became well known for what she called her “string compositions,” and her works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and Guggenheim museums, and the Tate Gallery in London. In talking about her work, Fuller was once quoted as saying, “The path of a trajectory to the Moon or in orbit around Mars is a line drawing. Translucency, balance and precision are the aesthetics associated with such graphics. My work in terms of linear geometric progression is visual poetry of infinity in the space age.”

If you looks closely into the interwoven center of Fuller’s creation at All Souls, you may feel you’re being invited, perhaps even drawn, into a curvilinear, infinite void framed by what resemble saddle surfaces. A saddle surface, also called a hyperbolic paraboloid, is an infinite surface in three dimensions and can be used to represent the space-time continuum.

How is one to experience this sculpture, especially anyone who contemplates it while listening to an inspiring sermon and to beautiful music which, in the words of the Rev. Galen Guengerich, “connects our hearts to the rhythms of eternity”?
Perhaps you see this work of art as both a window into the infinite wonder and mystery of God, and as the bright burning light of life, of love, and of truth. Or you may feel it pulling you to higher hopes, aspirations, and efforts.

But what about the cross?

For some of us, a cross suggests the crucifixion of Christ and serves as a cue to ponder his life and teachings. Others may think of a cross as a sword planted in the ground as evincing an aspiration to peace.

I take the altar sculpture somewhat literally, as representing the crossings that occur in our lives in space and time. For example, those of us who attend All Souls have made a choice whereby on Sunday our lives cross – that is, insect with one another — in a meaningful, even transformational, way. Moreover, aren’t the crossings that occur in our lives, in time and space, both intentional and fortuitous, the basis of all that matters to us and, in fact, the stuff of our lives? Crossings with family, friends, teachers, students, and colleagues. Crossings with music, books, work, exercise, nature, and rest. Crossings with illness, health, birth, death, misfortune and prosperity.

Why ponder these crossings in space and time in a sacred space? Perhaps to help us truly appreciate the value to us of the people involved in these experiences. Perhaps both to recognize and feel grateful for those crossings that have made a real difference in our lives. Perhaps to appreciate that, while many of the crossings in life are beyond one’s control, one has the power to achieve many others.

Thus, sitting in the sanctuary of All Souls Church, at the perfect center of this crossing of kindred souls, we can look at the sculpture above the chancel and think of how, at any moment, each of us stands at the crossing point of past and possibility.

Racial Justice Initiative on the March

By Mary Dugan ‘09

The topic of excessive police force in minority communities has been on the agenda at All Souls Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) for some time. Initiative members have been attending Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) meetings since March in order to support beleaguered New York City communities in reforming unfair and oppressive police practices.

On August 2, Jon Giles ‘09, Kelly Schaffer, Brenda Murphy ‘11, Susan Emanuel, Jai Bird and I joined others at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village where we collected 125 signatures on petitions sponsored by PROP.  The response from the community to our efforts was really positive; everyone participating received a lot of encouragement and appreciation for the work we were doing.

While petitioning, group members talked with people about the perils of “broken windows” policing in which people are arrested for vanishingly small offenses such as drinking alcoholic beverages in public (“paper bag drinking”), “loitering” or “trespassing” in the vicinity of their own homes, having an expired vendor’s license, smoking marijuana, or taking up more than one seat even on an uncrowded subway car. These are actions that could be dealt with by warnings or administrative actions by various city agencies. This has been the policy of the New York Police Department since the administration of Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, and is thought to deter larger crimes–yet no research has shown this is valid.

RJI members also put forth their opinion that the Staten Island death of Eric Garner on July 17, while in an illegal police chokehold, was senseless and unacceptable. Garner had been selling loose cigarettes on the street.

In the wake of civil unrest after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we expect that this issue will continue to challenge Americans to think about police methods, especially in minority communities.

There is a march on  Saturday morning, August 23, to the District Attorney’s office on Staten Island and a rally to honor Garner and Brown afterwards. http://nationalactionnetwork.net/wewillnotgoback/ Anyone who would like to join the RJI either on the ferry at 9:45 a.m. or after taking a bus is urged to contact Jon Giles at joncgiles@gmail.com.

To see the petition and the detailed reports of the PROP, visit  www.policereformorganizingproject.org  Their report, “Broken Windows Policing: A True Tale of Two Cities,” is based on meticulous, real-time observations of arraignments across the five boroughs. Nearly 90 percent of those arraigned are black or Hispanic, and large numbers of charges are simply thrown out by the judges.

While we have had a great deal of trouble digesting daily bad news from Ferguson, MO, our home-grown RJI at All Souls reminds us that there are neighborhoods and populations right here in New York City that have for years suffered militarized or discriminatory policing that results in maltreatment, arrests or summonses.