Benny's World

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Tennessee Valley UU Has Its First Service Since Shooting

The Tennessee Valley UU will have its first service to reclaim the church and to reinterate its principles of peace and love. Two stations are carrying the service live and (live stream via Net) at 9CT: WBIR (Windows Player)--this looks to be the best option. WATE (looks like Bright Cove)

Nice to see support for the church and its community to heal and celebrate an re-birth.

More l8tr as I will be watching...

Update: I just finished watching the service. It was totally amazing in many ways, but perhaps it's because I haven't been to UU service in awhile. Definitely very UU.

The order of service is here, and hopefully, I can embellish it by recounting my own experience watching it.

The service began with two songs, "Spirit of Life" and "May Nothing Evil Cross this Door." (Luckily, I have a UU hymnal to follow along on most of the readings and songs). Both very appropriate to the theme of forgiveness but reminding each other that we guard the sacredness of not only space but of spirits we carry in hearts and minds.

The Children's Story Moment was just that--not with a story today, but as the Lifespan Education director said, "The Children are the Story", an allusion to last Sunday's performance of Annie when the terrorist came in. Minister Chris Buice gave a personal homily. He said that when his children were scared of storms and they were seeking safety in the basement, often they wanted a toy of comfort, but it was upstairs in their rooms. He said to his children that if any of them wanted to go upstairs and bring down the toy, he would give them each a medal of bravery. He made them out of paper and crayons.

While Rev Buice's own children (now grown) handed out the medals of bravery to all of the children and their parents, 8 members of the congregation were acknowledged--I call them the "Let's Roll" team. I wrote their names down really fast, thus there will be misspellings for now (podcast to be posted later by the church, so you can hear them there when it becomes available):

John Bohstedt (who was the initial person who led the counter attack on the assailant and a precinct chair for the Democratic Party in Knoxville), Arthur Boddles, Michael Wilson, Robert Birdwell, Jamie Parkey, Terry Ulzleton, Amar Assef, and Jennifer Knowles. They were all given a celebratory standing "O". Then the minister asked for anyone in the Congregation to stand to keep the children safe. Everyone stood up---and were going to receive "medals of bravery".

A former congregation member who grew up in that church, attended Sunday School and services in his youth, and is now an associate pastor in a midtown Manhattan parish, read from I Corinthians 13: about love. (same one read at my wedding 7 years ago).

Reverend John Buehrens who was TVUUC's paster from 1973-81, and who later became a president of the UUA, talked about the meaning of "sanctuary". He quoted from a holocaust survivor, in which "sanctuary is often a small human gesture, not grandiose, but small towards alleviating human suffering".

In continuing his theme of sanctuary, Buehrens revealed some history of the TVUCC I was unaware of. Its congregation was the first in the area to set up racially integrated summer camps, long before Knoxville's schools were forced to do so. The camps had to be moved many times over the years because of harassment by the KKK. The Klan also blew up mailboxes at many of the congregations' homes, especially those who sat at lunch counters in solidarity for allowing blacks to be served with whites. In the 1970's, the church was one of the first to be a welcoming congregation to share its space with LGBT's who wanted a spiritual place to gather. Shortly after the first service, all of the church's sanctary's windows were shot out, while children and teens were downstairs. Thus, the latest terrorist who had problems with gays and liberals, was not the first to invoke violence in order to try to intimidate the UU's while children were in the building, and this congregation had set examples to rest of the UUA.

Annette Marquis of the District Office, read a letter from the UUA president, and said that a fund was available for any parish member who needed financial resources for extra counseling if needed. 300 contributions had come in the first 24 hours of the tragedy. Many congregations had been this week and would be doing special services today and many of those were taking up special collections for them. I noticed that some were continuing on after Labor Day to do benefit concerts for the Relief Fund.

Reve Lynn Thomas Strauss, minister of this parish from 1991-2000 during the time a new sanctuary was planned and built, used the theme of "Many Names" to express her love and solace. In 1998, the dedication and the blessing of the building took place. Following the meditation, the hymn, "Bring Many Names" was sung.

Building on Rev Strauss's theme of "Many names for healing", Rev Biuce gave a very rousing sermon, often times sprinkled with tears and his own emotions. He said a man came into their sanctuary:

"..believing that liberals were soft on terror. He had a rude discovery." (loud applause)

"A man came in to invoke violence and hate; he unleashed unspeakable amounts of love."

"A man tried to strike a blow and to divide the community; instead he brought people together."

Rev Buice was wearing a stole that some woman had given him that week. It was white with a gold Celtic cross, in which the foreground represents the sunrise of tomorrow. He explained the young woman's father wore it and was a good man; she wanted to give it to another good man. He removed the stole from around his neck and placed it on the pulpit to represent the goodness of the congregation, including Greg McKendry, who took a fatal bullet in keeping the children safe. The former minister who wore it was Presbyterian. This symbolism was not lost on the congregation because their neighbor Church, the Second Presbyterian Church, held a candlelight vigil for them that past Monday night.

Buice went on to say, "We are all Baptists [referring to an ecumenical service the First Baptist had to pray for peace on Tuesday], Jewish; we are young people of the Church of Christ who painted a rock at the UT campus." With a rising pitch reminiscent of MLK, "we are all liberals, we are conservatives".

He flashed a cap someone else had given him that read "Knoxville, TN" on it, and declared, "This cap reminds us that all its citizens are members of the cast of "Annie" and the sun will come out tomorrow."

He concluded his sermon with this powerful message:
We are all God's children, yellow, red, black, white, gay and straight. We are woven together. We are one.

The last hymn sung was "Circle of Song." Buice, in his final action, resanctified the space for peace, love and justice.

"Love is the spirit of this church," Rev. Buice said in unison with others in the congregation. "And service is its law. To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another – this is our great covenant."

The cast members of Annie led the congregation in singing "Tomorrow."

Indeed, justice, peace, and love have many names, faces, and symbols of hope. I will close my post with U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" video from The Joshua Tree.

Solidarity. Amen and Blessed Be.

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  • Benny,
    thanks for putting all the details together. It's an interesting story of heroism, that I think got underreported in favor of the yet another "nutcase" angle on the story.

    By Blogger Chancelucky, at 6:01 PM  

  • CL, it made the local news quite a bit, which is where I drew a few links. That's more important in some instances because Knoxville needed to come together and condemn the acts of this terrorist. Not easy to do considering it is a "liberal" church.

    By Blogger benny06, at 5:34 PM  

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