Seeds Planted

This worship services explores the transformative power of relationships and invites the gathered community to re-experience God’s grace as it known and felt through human action and interaction. This service was  part my summer sabbatical ministry in Wales, UK. The address invites the listener to cultivate relationships in the global community through the mission and vision of Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council.  

Opening Words/Geiriau Agoriadol gan
by Albert Camus, Translated by Justin O’Brien, adapted

Great ideas, it has been said,
come into the world as gently as doves.

Perhaps then, if we listen attentively,
we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations,
a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope.

Some will say that this hope lies in a nation;
others in a human being.

I believe rather that it is awakened, revived,
nourished by millions of solitary individuals
whose deeds and works every day negate
frontiers and the crudest implications of history.

As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth
that each person, on the foundation of their own suffering and joys,
builds them all.

Translated by Melda Grantham, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Welsh Department Secretary

Syniadau gwych, mae wedi cael ei ddweud,
dod i’r byd mor ysgafn fel colomennod.

Efallai wedyn, os byddwn yn gwrando’n astud,
byddwn yn clywed yng nghanol y cynnwrf o ymerodraethau a chenhedloedd,
betio gwan o adenydd, y cynhyrfus ysgafn o fywyd a gobaith.

Bydd rhai yn dweud bod gobaith hwn yn gorwedd mewn cenedl;
eraill mewn bod dynol.

Credaf yn hytrach ei fod yn cael deffro, adfywio,
meithrin gan filiynau o unigolion unig
y mae eu gweithredoedd ac yn gweithio negyddu bob dydd
ffiniau a goblygiadau crudest o hanes.

O ganlyniad, mae disgleirio allan ddiflanedig y gwir byth-dan fygythiad
bod pob person, ar sylfaen eu dioddefaint a llawenydd eu hunain,
nhw i gyd yn adeiladu.
Chalice lighting/Geirlau Cynnau Caregl

These chalice lighting words are used every Sunday at the Undodiaid Caerdydd (Cardiff Unitarian). Translated by Melda Grantham, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Welsh Department Secretary

‘Welcome, as we come together to celebrate who we are
and what we can become,
may you find comfort and friendship
here in this loving community.

May the flame of our chalice,
the symbol of our faith,
renew in us an endless search for all that is right and true,
an abiding love of life and an unending dedication
to follow the path of peace and justice.

Croeso, fel yr ymunwn i ddathlu pwy ‘rydym
a beth medrwn fod,
boed i chi brofi cysur a chyfeillgarwch yn y gymuned gariadus yma.

Boed i fflam ein canhwyllbren,
arwydd ein ffydd,
adnewyddu ynom yr awydd i chwilio’n ddi-ddiwedd am bopeth sy’n wir a chywir, cariad parhaus tuag at fywyd,
ac ymroddiad di-derfyn i ddilyn llwybr heddwch a chyfiawnder.


Consider for a moment a time in your life when meeting someone changed who you are and how you walk in the World.
Consider maybe a transformational moment when the course of your life was radically altered.

Or maybe a more subtle yet poignant moment when a simple interaction with a stranger opened your mind and heart to new possibilities.

Consider quietly for a moment how a chance encounter inspired, transformed or touched your being.

We could all likely name our children, a spouse or partner, a loved one who inspired us.
I could name all of you, your land, your stories, your culture, your faith.

This may have been a chance encounter, one of those unexpected joys.

It may have been a planned encounter that brought you more than you could have ever anticipated.

It may have happened in your home, a local gathering or half way across the World.

Maybe you were touched with kindness.
Someone saw you and understood your circumstances.
Someone shared your joy or struggle.
Someone changed your thinking with new insights or revelations.
Someone inspired you to take action.
Someone mended your broken heart, sparked forgiveness or helped to widen your view.

Hold this relationship in your mind’s eye… as you once again bear witness to and re-experience God’s grace working in your life through relationships; human action or interaction.

I’m going to light a candle in a minute to represent the people who changed our lives. As I light the candle, I invite you to bring each of them and your story into this space made sacred by your presence. As I light the candle, I invite you to say aloud their name or in the quiet of your mind.

{If time allows and people seem willing, you can invite members of the gathered congregation to come forward and light a candle as they are willing and feel called to do so.}

Let us be together for a time of musical meditation then silence as we remember the people we meet along the way, those who change who we are and how we walk in this World.

{Close the silence with the prayer or blessing.}

O’Spirit of Life, Love and all that is Holy in this space made sacred by our presence and the stories of our days, we celebrate all that is our life.

For the people we meet along the way who inspire us to right living, may we be forever reminded to return the riches with those we meet along the way.

For the moments that touch the depths of our being with God’s ever-present love and joy, may the light of the Divine shine brightly through our words and deeds.

For the wisdom that arrives in the curiosity of a child and the mysteries forever unfolding, may we look for that which we can’t see and see that which we can’t find.

For the times when life feels overwhelming, the heart aches and hope is fragile,
may we find peace and comfort in the eyes of a stranger and tea with a friend.

For the joy and love and gift of life that is only a breath away, may we be grateful for yet another glorious day.

O’ Spirit of Life, Love and all that is Holy, hear this our prayer of affirmation for all that is our lives. Amen and blessed be.


Sermon/Address:  “Seeds Planted,” by Rev. Carie Johnsen

“The most radical thing we can do is connect people to one another.”
~ UUPCC bumpersticker

As some of you already know, I arrived in Wales last January on a pilgrimage to be still in the land of my ancestors, to listen to the stories, to meet the people, and to spend Sundays with the Unitarians of Wales.

That sabbatical journey was intended to be a time to replenish and reflect.  What happened was no less than transformational. As some of you know this land captured my heart, the people touched my spirit and forever changed my ministry turning me ever so slightly in an expanded embrace toward UU Partner Church work.

During my last trip a few of you had made random suggestions toward ongoing relationships between congregations and children.  With this seed planted, I left Wales on February 21st with one lingering question, “How would I stay in relationship with this country, new friends and colleagues, and our shared faith?”

We Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists are passionate about our freethinking faith. Whether a small congregation or large, whether theologically Christian or Humanist or Buddhist or Earth Centered, we share a guiding commitment to the individual discernment of what matters most.  Every week around the World, we light our Flaming Chalice as a symbol of diversity, love, truth, hope and justice.

When I left here last, I told the story of my time with the Welsh Unitarians and this beautiful country to anyone who would listen.  I went to England and took a service in Surrey at Godalming Unitarian Chapel where I shared my experience of being inspired by the story of Protestant dissenters in Wales. When I returned to the States and began to share my stories with colleagues, families and friends, I began to hear back from people who had connections to Cymru/Wales. I will come back to a few of them in a moment and share their stories.

This simple act of telling my story of being inspired and more deeply connected to our nonconformist history of Arianism and Socinianism and Welsh Unitarianism wove threads of connection far beyond our socially constructed borders, far beyond me and you, far beyond anything I could have planned eight months ago.  What has become clear to me is my first trip was the beginning of a long-standing relationship; I had already, unknowingly, begun the work of Partner Church ministries.

UUPCC is all about reaching beyond boarders to grow, connect, deepen, expand and sustain our faith and our common commitment to liberal religion through person-to-person, congregation-to-congregation relationships.

For over twenty years almost 200 congregations have been partnering to walk together in this free religious faith. As the work expands to build partnerships between congregations and people in the United States and United Kingdom the opportunity to pair small congregations and aspiring congregations of similar size together brings new possibilities for pilgrimages and hospitality, new opportunity to be transformed by our theological and cultural diversity and the friendships we make along the way.

This past year, I have found a deeper appreciation for small congregations. My son who is 25 years old returned to church where he lives.  When he arrived, a bit shy and unsure, he was met by a small congregation, less then 10 in the pews, and a minister who welcomed him into the fold.  His connection to the community was strong as his minister and he were theologically aligned in the Wiccan tradition. In his conversations with Inanna, he learned she spoke a bit of Welsh and in fact had taken four years of Welsh while at seminary.  A few weeks later I attended service with Justin, met Inanna and shared my hope to facilitate small congregation partnerships. She was, of course, enthusiastic about the possibility of partnering with a congregation in Wales and immediately approached her Board who responded with a vote to go forward.

About that same time Bruce Taylor from Massachusetts had been watching via facebook my travels to Wales. He had traveled to Wales the year before and came upon the LLwybr Ffydd Undodiaid (Unitarian Faith Trail) brochure in a store.  Inspired by the stories he read, he toured the villages and visited the chapels but was unable to attend any services.  He returned to the US and wrote a sermon about “yn Smotyn Du” (the Black Spot). He too is a small congregational minister with interests in partner church opportunities.  He currently serves two congregations but due to financial constraints one church will not be renewing his contract at the end of this year.  He too wonders about the future of Unitarian Universalism in small rural towns where the closure of mills a few decades ago has changed the social, economic and religious landscape of the communities he serves.  Bruce sends you greetings. He writes,

I was raised as a Baptist and came to Unitarian Universalism in my twenties. After working with computers for many years, I went to seminary, and I was ordained to ministry in 2009. I now serve a small congregation in Ashby, Massachusetts, 50 miles northwest of Boston. My favorite pastimes include hiking and skiing the mountains of New Hampshire and playing the flute. In 2014, my wife, Loretta, and I traveled to Wales for the first time. We were delighted to encounter the “Black Spot” region, and visited several of the chapels there. Back at home, I have been learning more about the Welsh roots of Unitarianism. I consider this an important connection, and a story that should be more widely known.

And then there is my colleague, Deane, who serves a new church founded just twenty years ago in Belfast Maine.  Aspiring to change the way they do church so as to remain relevant in these dramatically changing times, he sees partner church work with Wales as an opportunity for his congregation to expand their global faith connections and inspire communities to creatively go forward together.  He is quite familiar with the custom of pilgrimages and leads his youth yearly on service learning trips locally, nationally and internationally.  Deanne also sends greetings. He writes,

My name is Deane Perkins, and I serve as the full-time minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, located about an hour east of Carie’s church in Maine.  My congregation is only 20 years old, and we do not have the history that you do, so I would be eager to learn more about Unitarianism in Wales and how we are similar and different with regard to theology, liturgy, and so on.  I want to tell you up front that I can trace my ancestry to Scotland and England, but, as yet, have not found descendants in Wales.  Meanwhile, I look forward to establishing a relationship between our churches and us.  My best wishes to you!–Deane

So it seems, the wise women and men who spoke of their hopes for connection had planted the seeds mid-winter in Wales.

Back at home in the States, I learned my very first UU Minister, the Rev. Jim Robinson had also planted a seed.  Upon his return to the US following a five-year ministry in England, he encouraged the UUPCC to extend partnerships beyond India, Africa, Transylvania and the Philippines.

During my past trip, while sitting still and listening, I kept saying, Spirit was leading me.  Well it seems God, working through the people, dropped a seed in my pocket and it was carried across the pond. And I have returned to join with all of you to tend to our garden.

A garden watered with the gift of love, hope, truth and justice and nurtured in relationship with each other, within community, beyond cultural comforts and across ponds. A garden diverse in texture, color, scent and size to represent all that is our faith – an expansive global community of people inspired by those oh so familiar words of David Francis, “We do not need to think alike to love alike.”

Partner church ministry is about settling into intentional, sometimes awkward, more often rewarding, relationships for the long haul.

It is about walking side by side through the triumphs and the challenges. It is about the little moments shared over a cuppa te and the big moments found in meeting our larger faith family through pilgrimages.

In slowing down and taking the time to know each other and share our common and divergent experiences, we affirm the worth and dignity of each person’s remarkable faith journey.

In bearing witness to our common faith journeys, in blessing the religious milestones and historical markers, we celebrate the past, present and future story of Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism globally.

In exploring together the joy and sorrow of our lives, we find insight, hope, strength, possibility and companionship.

In it all, we are changed, our faith trajectories both personal and institutional are altered ever so slightly, yet felt ever so profoundly. It then becomes the gift that lives, generation by generation, flame by flame across the nations.

Ours is an uncommon faith rooted in our common humanity.
May we be blessed by all that we know, all that we have been, and all that is yet to unfold.
So may it be, Amen..