I would like to put out there the suggestion that Unitarian Universalist churches consider placing the last Sunday of July on their liturgical calendars as Re-dedication Sunday, in memory of the event on July 27, 2008 at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. We did this at our service last Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, resulting in a ritual that many in attendance found deeply moving.
I include much of non-sermon text below as the context for the service. The intent was to recognize that our sanctuaries are sacred spaces into which we bring much emotion throughout the year. The idea of Re-dedication Sunday is to cleanse our worship rooms of the past year’s accumulation of pain, anxiety, fear, and despair so that healing may begin anew.
Re-dedication of Worship Center Service Elements
Call to Worship
The first peace…is that which comes from within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Sacred, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men.
— Black Elk in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1953)
Let there be light!
Let it shine in dark places,
in moments of pain,
in times of grief,
in the darkness of hatred, violence, oppression,
where there is discouragement and despair.
Wherever darkness is to be put to flight,
Let there be light!
— Gordon McKeeman, Unitarian minister quoting Genesis 1:3 (from 1997 UUMA Worship Materials Collection)
Spirit of Life and Love that we know by many names, enter this space as we honor those whose lives were lost on Sunday, July 27, 2008. One year ago tomorrow, a man entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville with a shotgun. In a few short moments, the violent expression of his hate and frustration left two people dead, several wounded, and many shaken with trauma. We remember and honor those directly affected by the shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. We also remember and honor our own feelings we have experienced and will continue to experience related to this and other similar events.
We light a candle in memory of Gregory Joseph (Greg) McKendry Jr., of Knoxville, Tennessee. He was an usher and board member of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
We light a candle for Linda Kraeger. She was a member of the Westside Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Farragut, Tennessee.
We take time now to remember the joys and the pains that entered through these doors today. We reach out to those who have come in today with heavy hearts; those who are struggling; those among us who are grieving; those who are caring for a loved one; those who are anxiously waiting for an unknown future, and all who are living with illness. We remember those who are home bound or hospitalized or, for whatever reason, could not be present with us today. May their names and faces be brought to mind. May they be assured that they have not been forgotten, and by our reaching out may they know that their presence is missed. Let us also celebrate the accomplishments and successful passages of life events we share today.
Just like our tools of technology, we occasionally need to reboot our lives so that we can better respond to life’s challenges and welcome life’s happiness. We need to cleanse our minds of outworn thoughts of guilt or shame. We need to cleanse our souls of outworn ways of living and being. Throughout the past year, this worship center has been a receptacle for the emotions brought in by the highs and lows of our lives. Just as we need help recovering from the challenges and the excitement of life, we should periodically cleanse our sacred spaces. Today, let us set about the work of cleansing ourselves and our religious home for the busy work in the year to come.
You may have noticed these boxes to my right. Standing on the Side of Love is a public advocacy campaign, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association, promoting respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Standing on the Side of Love will confront exclusion, oppression, and violence based on identity. Based in the aspiration to create beloved community, the campaign will pursue social change through advocacy, public witness, and speaking out in solidarity with those whose lives are publicly demeaned. All people, not just Unitarian Universalists, are invited to stand, speak, worship, march, roll, and live on the side of the love. Now, in the spirit of remembrance and of unconditional love, I ask the ushers to come forward to collect our morning offering to support the work, the witness, and the wonder of this religious community.
Ritual of Re-Dedication
When I first heard of the events in Knoxville one year ago, I felt a sick dread in the pit of my stomach. Beyond the senselessness of the act, as a long-time religious education teacher and as a parent, I was particularly struck by the occurrence of the act during a children’s play. All that day, I read updates of the news, seeking more facts; seeking information; searching for some reason or explanation.
I talked with others about the event so that I could share my emotions and pain. For we know that by sharing our pain, we can work toward lessening its debilitating impact on us. We can imagine moving beyond these initial emotions toward response, toward action, toward reconciliation. That is the nature of resilience.
Sometimes, we come here on Sunday mornings to share our pain…our pain of anger, our pain of fear, our pain of frustration, our pain of sadness. By sharing in covenant our love for each other and for all of humankind, we build on the knowledge that a shared joy is doubled in the sharing and that a shared pain is half a pain.
I ask you now to rise and form a circle. In this circle of our congregation, let us today re-dedicate this worship room as sacred space. As the chalice, the symbol of our living tradition, is passed among you, hold it for a moment and place into this vessel the fire of your own commitment to this place. May the combined power of our thoughts and feelings cleanse this space of the past year’s accumulation of anxiety, fear, and despair, so that healing can begin anew.
As this flame consumes a year of pain, may this chalice represent the foundation of that joy that is our commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We remember not only the love we have for the victims of terrible events, but for anyone whose life is so bereft of compassion, that violence against others seems their only recourse. We remember to love and to forgive those who, either through mental illness, their own suffering from abuse or violence, or other challenges of life, must be held accountable for their own acts of violence perpetrated on others. Our commitment to justice, equity, and compassion in human relations calls on us to do this.
As we pass our chalice, let us join in singing the hymn Comfort Me.
Please join hands for our closing words. For centuries, Unitarian Universalists have offered to the world the promise of hope; the promise of a world without hate; the promise of a world with equity and justice; the promise of a world without violence. Together, we here present affirm to build hope, for a hope shared can become a vision for the world. Now, more than ever, let us challenge ourselves in the coming year to stand on the side of love, offering the world in this sacred space the promise of hope.
Blessed be, Amen, and Let it be so.