By Rev. Kathleen Owens, LeadMinister
Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith. This means we don't follow a fixed creed handed down from a religious authority; we create a covenant for how we want to be in relationship with each other in this faith community. In 2008, this congregation created a church-wide covenant. As I mentioned in my May 23, 2021 "Real Community: Messy, Imperfect and Needed," this covenant hangs in every room at both our Hillcrest and South Bay campuses. It's also on our website - under the About menu tab, click on Governance; under Guidelines, you?ll find our Covenant of Good Relations.
Dear Members and Friends, This month marks my 14th anniversary serving this congregation. I’ve always held the thought that when my gifts, skills and talents no longer meet the needs of the congregation, that would be the time for me to move on. A while back, before the pandemic hit, I began to feel and think that my ministry here may be coming to a close and then the pandemic hit. I knew I needed to continue on to see the congregation through the crisis. There is now a visible reality of the crisis coming to an end though we will continue to live with this virus. There have been several costs of this pandemic, especially the loss of life as well as the long-lasting health issues of those infected. And many of us, including myself, have experienced effects, though without being infected. I feel I am at less capacity than before and for a while now, have been struggling with my own mental and physical sense of well-being.
By Maureen McNair
For the ﬁrst time since the food pantry opened, Lead Minister Rev. Kathleen Owens had her Saturday morning schedule freed up enough that she visited a food distribution. Kathleen did more than visit, though, she worked helping unload a delivery of food donated by Starbucks. There is nothing quite like repeatedly carrying 30 pound boxes of food across the parking lot to put into the cars of our pantry guests to drive home how labor intensive and physically exhausting pantry work can be. Kathleen is deﬁnitely up to the task! Rev. Kathleen also got to talk with regular volunteer, retired Rev. Arvid Straube, and some pantry volunteers that she knows because they are congregants. She also got to meet some, not all, of our volunteers from the wider community.
Hello friends. It's Meditation Monday. Here to lead us today is Rev. Kathleen.
Remarks by Rev. Kathleen Owens on new church programming.
"Welcome to a new season and some changes in our congregation this year. We welcome Lara Korneychuk, our new Interim Music Coordinator for our Hillcrest campus and Chase Pado, our Interim Pianist/Organist. Lara will direct our Chalice and Youth choirs and work with our other choir directors (Tony Bianca, Lorelei Isidro-Garner, and Andrea Newall-Locket) to ensure our music ministry continues to thrive. Our worship theme this month is Brave, Honest Community. It’s a theme that speaks to the needs of our congregation right now – honest in who we are, what our needs, dreams, and resources are, and how we’re being called to serve in the greater San Diego region. Brave in engaging with the important work of a new strategic plan, grounded in our values and principles that will help shape our various conversations about the opportunities for our future."
Love knows no borders. Not only is this a truth in the reality of people’s lives and experience today – it has always been a truth – we’ve been loving beyond and across barriers and borders since we knew we could love. And earlier this month, Love Knows No Borders was also a campaign, organized by the American Friends Services Committee – a campaign to draw attention to what has been happening to migrant families, to people living in dangerous circumstances and crippling poverty who walked for weeks to our border, to seek asylum, to try for a better life for themselves and their present and future children. In spite of the horrible treatment our government has imposed on families already living in this country – separating families, taking children out of the arms of their parents (15,000 children currently living in temporary tent cities and shelters), the caravan of people from Latin America came in hope. And though I was recently back from part 1 of my sabbatical, I knew I needed to participate. I had to respond to the immoral and inhumane behavior of my government and how they were treating people who were coming to our border to ask for asylum.
Text of the speech delivered by Rev. Kathleen Owens at the San Diego Organizing Project's Border Wall Press Conference in San Ysidro.
"Good afternoon, I’m the Rev. Kathleen Owens, Lead Minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego answering the call of Love. We are here to speak the truth – that unless we are of Indigenous Native American or Mexican heritage, we are all immigrants on this land. We’re here to name the truth that immigrants have always made this country better…that we need bridges, not walls."
When times are their darkest, when the light of hope flickers as small as a tea light, when despair rules the day, we human beings turn to poetry and story for the hope we seek, for the reminder that we are not alone and that there is a reason for moving on, despite what is happening beyond our control. This is what columnist Roger Cohen did when writing his Op-Ed column that was printed in the New York Times yesterday. (Saturday.) He turned to Kipling’s poem ‘If’ and, using Kipling’s words for inspiration, told the truth of the state of our country today. He wrote this to remind us that, in fact, if we can keep our heads when all about us are losing theirs, that if we can hold on when there is nothing in us except the will to do so…if we can watch the things we have given our lives to, broken, and stoop and build again with worn-out tools…if we can do these things, he writes, then stoicism will prevail, decency will prevail, for it means we are fighting to win our country back.
Friends, many of you have heard or read about the changes happening at the Unitarian Universalist Association and the continuing conversation about hiring practices and issues of racism and privilege in our denomination. In short, the recent hiring of another white, male minister for the position of Regional Lead led many people of color in our denomination to share their anger and painful experiences of the ways in which our denomination has currently and historically systemically privileged white ministers in leadership over people of color and non-clergy people. This event provided us with an opportunity to examine a long and ongoing history. Whether an individual hiring situation can be said to follow this pattern is less important than seeing that the long-term cumulative pattern is clearly one which privileges white, male ministers over people of color -- a pattern that is a definition of a system build on white supremacy.
After the Union Tribune’s editorial regarding the recent news about the San Diego County Supervisors’ raise, Kathleen submitted the following letter to the Editor.
“Supervisors’ Pay – I am shocked that the Supervisors, who could not find any money in the County’s budget for Families of San Diego earlier this year, despite a large ‘rainy day fund’, could find money for their own raises. That this has happened without discussion and without public comment is disgraceful and immoral. 2018 elections can’t come soon enough!! One of the most frustrating things about this news is that outgoing Supervisor Dave Roberts was the only one to vote ‘no’ for this raise. It’s easy to get tired of such blatant greed and self-serving actions but I would rather be energized by it and at least voice my objection."
This prayer was offered by Rev. Kathleen Owens at an Interfaith Vigil honoring Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile, Friday, July 15, 2016
"Spirit of Life…God of many names and no names…we are here today in grief, in mourning for the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile – two African American men who are tragically representative of so many African Americans who have been killed by excessive police force…killed by questionable means…dead due to systemic racism, not only in our society but within the very structures and systems that are supposed to keep people safe…that are supposed to help and not harm. Dear God, we are angry; our hearts are broken, our heads ache trying to make any sense out of all of this and our spirits are weary of the constant stream of violence that divides the human family. With all of this, it is too easy to give in to despair, give in to apathy, to give in to hate and revenge…but God we know you call us to be better than that; Spirit of Love you lead us into another way; you call us into action, into solidarity with one another, so that we might demonstrate the truth that hate and racism will not divide us; that bigotry and violence will not stop us from living out the truth that we are all connected and that it is long-past time for us to see one another clearly, it is time for us to do the work of justice for all our neighbors and kin; it is time to find a way beyond stereotypes and fear and create meaningful change in our streets and in our neighborhoods…give us strength to do the hard work of real relationship building – give us patience to learn and listen to one another – give us courage to speak out against white privilege and systemic racism; give us the wisdom to work with leaders and officers that will ensure equal protection under the law for ALL of US; …help us oh God to continue the work for racial justice. This we ask in the name of all that is holy. Amen."
A Statement from our Ministers:
We are shocked – again – by the unprovoked killing of yet another African American man, most recently in Minneapolis, MN. Our hearts are broken for his family and his community. And we know many of us do not have the luxury of begin shocked by an event like this one. What some might see as series of isolated incidents or a system broken and in need of fixing is experienced as the reality of daily life by our neighbors and kin of color. We live in a world where people of color, immigrants, the poor, and the marginalized are stigmatized, criminalized, and feared. Where the systems of justice and finance are designed to serve the few at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of the many. Where we are taught to value white lives and bodies over the lives and bodies of people of color. This is not acceptable.
I had the privilege of being one of 31 speakers at Wednesday night's budget meeting...the first budget meeting County Supervisors have ever had in the evening. It was a meaningful experience and I was proud to stand in partnership with SDOP and others in the coalition of Invest in San Diego Families. The three minutes they gave me to speak went quickly so here are my full comments.
"Hello – I am Rev. Kathleen Owens, I live in District 4 and I am the Lead Minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego with two campuses…one in District 4 (San Diego) and the other in District 1 (Chula Vista) serving over 750 members and friends, and we are a member congregation of the San Diego Organizing project (SDOP). Thank you for this evening meeting on this important issue of the County budget. The church I serve is a partner with several of the groups that make up the Invest in San Diego Families coalition. As a lead minister with two campuses that includes multiple buildings and on-going maintenance needs and more, I very well understand the need to have reserve funds; I appreciate the strategic thinking of planning for unexpected needs; the need to have a rainy-day fund…our own church budget operates similarly. But I am also keenly aware of, as are members of my congregation, that we are not meant to be a savings bank while programs and services for people are kept at a minimum. What this coalition is saying is that the rainy day you are saving for…is happening right now."
One more time we publicly mourned gun violence in our country. As I prepared myself to participate in a vigil I wrote:
"Once again we stand on the side of Love with the victims of the shooting, with the families mourning their dead. We also stand on the side of Love with our Muslim kin and will not let one person's action define a whole group or religion. We stand on the side of Love because we refuse to give in to hate and fear...and we will not only stand but we will act in the name of Love for all who are oppressed, for all who live in fear. We will act in Love for justice and to end easy access to weapons of mass destruction. We will act so that all may be free from harm, from bigotry, from hate. We will act so that Love may prevail."
Come, come, whoever you are ..."
Each Sunday morning, a lay member of our congregation stands in our pulpit and says to visitor and member alike “Welcome. You are welcome here.” The words they use have varied over time. In the summer and fall of this year, our opening words offered specific welcome to a diverse group of people: trans folks, those serving in the military, those of non-dominant cultural groups. Some in our congregation felt that these words were a meaningful expression of our commitment to inclusion. And some felt that these words felt divisive and didn’t see how the naming of groups showed our deep connection to each other.
Gun Violence and a UU Response. On Thursday, Aug. 27th this year New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote “More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.” That is a huge statement and researchers, led by Louis Jacobson with politifact.com examined the evidence to support such a statement. After a thorough examination of the evidence and using the broadest figures possible, they find Kristof’s statement true. From the Revolutionary War and all the others, the total of deaths came to 1,396,733. The total of firearm related deaths from 1968-present total 1,516,863. “That’s a difference of 120,130 more gun deaths than war deaths - about 9 percent more.” This gun death total includes the following, “In 2013, according to the CDC data, 63% of gun-related deaths were from suicides, 33 % were from homicides, and roughly 1% each were from accidents, legal interventions and undetermined causes.” This is sobering to understand - and begs the question for me, why can’t we have a real dialogue about the easy access to guns in this country? Why can’t our elected officials have a sound debate about reasonable regulations around guns? Have we come to value life so little that we cannot demand and enforce background checks to those wanting to buy guns? When most of the deaths related to guns aid in suicide - what does that say about our mental health programs and the value of life itself?
Summer Worship Attendance Report.
This summer we experimented with having one worship service at 10:00 a.m. and then an engagement activity at 11:30 at our Hillcrest campus. Our South Bay campus continued its regularly scheduled worship service at 9:30 a.m. and then also had an engagement activity starting around 11:00 a.m. Regarding the experience at Hillcrest - it was great to see such a full Meeting House on Sunday mornings. There was certainly a lot of excitement and a sense of energy on the campus. People enjoyed seeing one another in the summer when they normally wouldn’t during the rest of the year because of our two services. Many people expressed appreciation for the one service. These were some of the benefits of going to one service this summer.
Dear Members and Friends,
I want to share with you that Abby Koch, our Executive Administrator and Office Manager is leaving her position with us to take up a position at another institution to become the Pool Manager for two pools in the San Diego area. Abby has been an important part of the staff for ten years and we will miss her a great deal. However, she will still be a member of First UU Church and looks forward to engaging in programs and events as a church member. Abby’s last day in the office will be July 30, 2015. The Ministers and Executive team are re-imagining the responsibilities of this position and will post a job description later this week with the hopes of hiring someone that Abby can train before July 30th.
This morning I had the privilege of being on a conference call with 400 clergy and faith leaders who are engaged in Standing Up for Racial Justice. As I understand it, just this week alone seven Black churches have been burned in seven days. This is an act of terror in our own country. As a people of faith we must stand up against targeted racial violence, and especially the burning of houses of worship. I am reaching out to our partners in San Diego, and specifically to Pastor White and the leadership of the Bethel AME Church in San Diego to gather information on what actions we can support with our presence. Now is the time to let our principles of dignity and worth, of justice, equity and compassion, of respect for the interdependent web of life of which we are a part, now is the time to let these principles guide us into actions that will challenge white supremacy and resist racism. We need to make ourselves available to our African American brothers and sisters and show up when they ask. Let us put our faith and principles into action so that San Diego can be a safe and just place for all to live and flourish. Please keep checking this blog for more specific actions and opportunities.
Staff Transitions are happening here at First and I want to ensure you as members and friends are kept informed about our process and what's happening. Kristen Kuriga is taking a sabbatical from her position as Social Justice Ministry Team Coordinator to complete her Clinical Pastoral Experience (CPE) through the summer and fall months. She will remain the part-time South Bay Ministry Team Coordinator, supporting worship services, lay leaders and outreach efforts. Alice King, our Young Adult and Campus Ministry Coordinator will be leaving her position after General Assembly. Her last day with us at First Church will be Sunday, June 21st. Rev. Jennifer and I will be meeting with our Young Adult groups and creating a process for the continuation of this important ministry and our campus outreach. More information regarding this process and the timing of this position will be posted here in the future.
I have been amazed at how travel can warp one’s sense of time. Because this is the first time I have ever been away from home or church for longer than a month, the last two months have both crawled and flown by. I say “crawled” because it seems like San Diego and September 4th feel so much longer ago than 8 weeks and yet I say “flown” because the time also feels like it has flown by and already, two out of three months (the first part of my five month sabbatical) are over. In this time-warp experience I have learned some things, including...
On October 1st, we left the relatively peaceful and relaxing Greek islands and spent a week in Athens…and then moved on to Rome…hence the title of this blog, Crowds, Museums and Ruins. And we often said to one another, “Oh my!” to the crowds, to the largess of these two incredible cities (Athens and Rome), to the crowds, to the rush and crush, to the museums, the crowds, the ruins, the crowds and, yes, all the people. In these cities we sometimes felt over-run, in the way and sometimes like we had to fight for a chance to see. And again I was reminded of a thought from Cousineau’s book, The Art of Pilgrimage when he wrote, “I don’t believe that the problem is in the sites as it is in the sighting, the way we see. …imagining is required of us.” And indeed, as excellent as most of the museums and ruin sites we visited are, the use of our imagination was extremely important in order to get beyond ourselves and the sun, the crowds and our fatigue and imagine a more complete society of people who lived, loved, worshipped, argued, and learned in the communities we were now seeing as ruins.
In the sermon before I left on sabbatical I quoted from Phil Cousineau’s book The Art of Pilgrimage regarding “5 Excellent Practices of Pilgrimages”. Given that Jan and I have just spent time on five Greek Islands, I thought it would be good to review the five practices against the five islands including Rhodes, Kos, Santorini, Mykonos and Delos.
Practice one: Practice the arts of attention and listening – while I hope to practice these everywhere, the islands of Rhodes and Delos came to the forefront when considering this practice. It was on Rhodes, the first island we visited that I found myself paying such close attention. It was all new to me…the sights of the beaches, the castle, the Old Town within the Wall, the sounds of many languages spoken, the church bells ringing. We stayed a week on this island – enjoying the hosts of our small hotel, letting ourselves sink into the Greek culture, taking many walks, a long bus trip to Lindos, absorbing the history of the land and people. After the whirlwind tour of Turkey, paying attention in Rhodes helped us slow down and take in what was around us.
What a gift of time this sabbatical is and again, I thank you, the Congregation for understanding the need for a sabbatical. The first few days were busy with final preparations for our three months abroad. We flew to New York and then to Istanbul on Tuesday, Sept. 4th. We arrived a day or so earlier than the tour group with which we would travel the country. We met the tour group (through SmarTours) on Thursday evening and began a two-week adventure. Our tour guide was a fabulous man with extensive knowledge and stories to share. His master’s degree in political science and his love of history and his country made his commentary most informative and entertaining. We traveled a little over 2,250 miles via bus as we made our way through central and western Turkey. We found the people friendly, the history very rich; and we found there are some similarities that Turkey and the United States share. The people love their land, their traditions and customs and in many ways want to be accepted by the West. Also like the United States, there are many cultures and traditions that make up the people and the country.
"Regarding Mr. Hall’s article 'Chick-fil-A stance feeds crowd’s zeal'. Just as Mr. Hall prefers his lunch “Hold the politics.” So I too, a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen would like the right to marry the person I love – hold the politics." - Kathleen Owens
This was a letter to the editor I submitted to the UT on Thursday evening, after reading Matthew Hall’s article on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. I was dismayed at the editorial decision to publish a full-color picture on the front page of section A, above the fold about a story that starts on page 1 of section B. I can’t believe there isn’t more important news for the front page of our only paper. Looking at the picture and the people standing in line to show their appreciation for this restaurant chain whose profits benefit discrimination and hate, I wondered how many of those who were in line are heterosexual and enjoy the right to marry anyone they love – without question or scrutiny; how many of them have experienced divorce, spousal abuse or violence?
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