“Endings and Beginnings”.

“Endings and Beginnings”.

As we change our calendars to a new year, we often reflect on what the past year has brought and what we hope for the coming year.  Join us for a ceremony of letting go of what we do not want to bring into the new year and what we hope to bring or accomplish in the new year.

Here is the text of the service:

Endings and Beginnings  – Rev. Emily Burr, KUUF, Dec.30, 2018

(With gratitude to Rev. Mary Giles Edes, and those who preceded me in the development of this service.)

It is good to be here, with you again, as we mark our trip around the sun once more.  This is a time of year when I feel especially grateful for the opportunity to come together in religious community, so I can be conscious of the passage of time and make note of events of the last 365 days.  It is important to take the opportunity to reflect on a year just finishedand to look ahead to the hopes and plans we have for a coming year.

Before we know it, we will fall back into our non-holiday routines.  Events will blend one into another and, as they are happening, they will lack the perspective we have when we reflect at year’s end or imagine at the year’s beginning.

For me, this past year was different from all the years that came before it. Maybe it was the same for you.  Perhaps that is always the case.  Every year is as unique and different as a fingerprint, and yet . . . there are universal themes as we mark the turning of each year.  It seems only at this time of year, when we buy new calendars or begin new journals, as we enter into that time of year when we consciously acknowledge the passing of time, that we reflect on all that has come to pass in our lives over the past twelve months.

Some of us will reflect on a year of continuity that had few life changing events.  Others will look back on 2018 as a turning point in their lives.  Most of us will see a year that we lived with as much attention and intension as we could possibly manage.

When I reflected on 2017 at this time last year, I spoke of the birth of my granddaughter, Minerva Emily Haaga, as the seminal even of my year.  She has continued to be a big part of who I am in 2018.  I am Min’s Gramma, among other roles in life.She has brought to my attention how important “now” is.

I’d like to play you a song written and performed by UU musician Peter Meyer.  It speaks exactly to how spending time with Minerva has brought me to a new awareness.

(Lyrics to song)


Brand New by Peter Mayer

She traveled here not long ago
Straight from the great unknown
And being from that land of dreams
She seems to glow

She has a lovely two-tooth smile
She’s just barely two feet high
And words are still beyound her reach
She can’t speak, but everyday

She’ll say to you
The world, the world is new
And you’ll look and you’ll see it’s true
The world is all brand new

She points at birdies in the sky
Waves at people passing by
And nearly everything she sees
She tries to eat
She makes you want sing a silly tune
And dance a jig around the room
And when she giggles in your ear
You hear your heart laugh too

She’ll say to you
The world, the world is new
And you’ll look and you’ll see it’s true
The world is all brand new

So proclaim the news that the world
The world is new
Every day, every day it’s true
The world is all brand new

That song and being with my granddaughter are not unrelated to the other transition I found myself in over the course of 2018.  Partly because of her helping me see the importance of now and that every day it’s all brand new, I had a realization that regardless of what I have done before, each day I can decide what next – never mind what was.  In 2018, I discovered that I am being called to a community ministry of value based legislative action and other forms of social justice witness.

This will be my final year of parish ministry.  At first, I was sad thinking I wouldn’t be a UU minister anymore but then I realized I will always be a UU minister.  I am just switching from a ¼-time parish minister to an unpaid community minister.  I am grateful to this congregation for trusting me as your minister in my first church.  As much as I think small congregations are vital to a healthy UUA and my love of the congregation I currently serve, I find I cannot sit by while my country goes to hell in a handbasket and I still believe change is possible within our system of democracy.

I imagine many of you have also had a year of transition.  It’s a little bit scary when your world shifts in ways you didn’t see coming.  I am looking forward to 2019 with anticipation and curiosity.  What will the new year bring to me?  For every incident I can share with you of my life this past year, there are, from your lives, examples as poignant and powerful, moments large and small, which have led you into places you never expected to go, quiet times and crazy times, changes in your family – memories of fond times with good friends.

Here at the KUUFF, I’m sure that 2018 was a year that the congregation experienced many challenges and successes.

Thinking back over 2018, what were some of those?       Successes???    Challenges???

As a member of KUUF looking forward, what do you hope for this community in 2019?

Hellos and Good-byes – Beginnings and endings and beginnings again.

I now share with you a service that originated in the Portsmouth UU church while Rev. Bob Karnan was their minister.  As with a well loved recipe, it has been adapted and modified by each minister as it was handed down.  I change it just a bit each time I lead this service.  Variations of it take place in many of our churches at different times of year.  It includes a ritual that recognizes beginnings and endings.

Over the next fifteen minutes or so we will share moments of silence and reflection.  We may lift our voices if we wish to.  Some of you will want to rise to the invitation of sharing the name of a person who has importance to you who died this past year, or even to remember the loss of a beloved pet.  Others will want to share the welcoming of a new life, a new love or a new pet.

Some of us will come forward and burn a bit of paper that has on it words that acknowledge something we do not wish to carry into the new year – an unresolved pain, a previously unforgiven event or issue, a raw place that has yet to heal well or sufficiently. Perhaps some of us will wish to symbolically let go of a grief not yet complete, a relationship broken, or time that has grown too short.

We will also write down something we want to bring with us from this year into the next –a newly found determination, a way of seeing something we hadn’t noticed before or a wish and dream we will carry from this year into the next – a hope for more joy an expectation of unknown adventures and learnings

For as long as this religious community has existed, people have shared the important times and events of their lives.  Week after week, in formal and informal ways, you have made room in your hearts for one another’s joy and sorrow, and by doing that you have found even more room for the love and compassion and forgiveness that are so important to the building and sustaining of community.  In the lighting of candles and stories shared in social hour there have been tears shed and there has been laughter, warm, smiling, self awareness and recognition, hugs and knowing glances.  In this universal experience of sharing and connection, there is not much difference between any of us.  Our love makes each of us vulnerable.

To love is to know a beginning.  To love is to know an ending.   It is to be a part of a universal community that experiences profound loss.  Living arrangements dissolve, families separate, those we hold close die.  Love given and accepted honestly finds the indulgent and the ugly and the uncaring in ourselves and each other.  It touches tender places and receives the best and the worst of our humanity.  It asks us to face these daily and to seek their healing, as we can, with one another.  It makes it necessary and possible for us to celebrate the beauty in a life, to overlook the imperfections of others and to forgive those we carry ourselves.

The person who cannot understand or feel or see love and caring and loyal closeness, will probably not be broken by loss.  The person who does not live in vulnerability and sometime heartache and recovery and transformation; who does not open him or herself up to the possibility of loss and wild joy and warm gentle trusting and the losing of it, will not know the deep down center of things, will not know the peace that passes understanding, the gift of awareness of presence and light within which we live and also die.

This loving and losing, this sharing and touching of the truth of our humanity, in its brokenness and healing, this is why we start over.  This is why we begin again and again and why we mark the time.  It is to recognize the heart of things, the most important things.  Our endings and beginnings; the doors through which we pass with every transformative gift of life, lived authentically, in love, together.

Candles of Memory and Farewell

How many millions have died this past year we cannot say, nor do we have any but the most ordinary of suppositions about the manner of their endings.  I can imagine that some died quite unaware and satisfied in their years and their deeds, loved and mourned by family and friends.   Others died far too young, and some died hard and sure, and some soft and full of fear.  Still others were swept along by the winds of passion or patriotism.  Some died in a frenzied hope of new freedom and others in a quiet and determined act of peace.

We know many died in acts of war, some as participants and many as bystanders, some even by our own military.  An appalling number were victims of terrorism and its shattering bombs and blind firestorms.  Too many were held prisoners of conscience or of politics and died tortured and frightened.

Hundreds of thousands died in catastrophic hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and fires.  More died because of drought, famine, and disease.  Our world contains forces both human and natural that are semi-understood, erratic and uncontrollable.  They cause death without regard to how well or meanly a person lived their life.  Friends and families are left to wonder why.

There are some, we know, who cried for help or screamed in anger and could not live any longer without dignity or sanity and who took their own lives in desperation.  Most of us have known one or more of those who chose their own time to die.  What can we say now to them, or to ourselves?

For all those who have died this year and who lived fully and well, however briefly or however long, we honor you and give thanks that you were present with us and shared yourself and your love.

To those who lived empty or meanly, by some mixture of their own or other¹s choices, we recognize you in sorrow.  May you, the perpetrators and the victims, rest now – in peace -forever.

To those whose deaths were the tragedy of a humanity that cannot yet bestir itself to embrace its whole being, we honor you in repentance.  We must try again and yet again to make this a gentler, wiser and more courageous world.  Until we do, we cannot rest – and the memory of so many will not let us.

In the gospel of John it is written: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  There has never yet been a darkness powerful enough to diminish the light of even a single candle.  To pierce the darkness that is found in all our lives, we light these candles today.  May their flames serve to honor those whose gave this life a goodness it would not otherwise have had.  May their spirits live in this light and in the warmth we share in its name.

There are four candles here that represent those who have died: one for members and friends of this congregation; a second for family members who are no longer here among us; a third for all in the family of humanity; and the fourth for the beloved and departed pets who shared their lives with us.


FIRST CANDLE:  We light the first candle for the members and friends of this church

who died this past year.  Last year we lit this candle for _____________.  Today we light this candle for ______________

If there are any other members, past members or friends of KUUF who have died during 2017, please name them now.

SECOND CANDLE: We light this candle for relatives and close friends who have died this past year.  I ask that you speak the name you wish to share.

THIRD CANDLE: We light this candle for our sisters and brothers in the vast human family who have died this past year.  If there is one person in the larger circle of humanity, that is especially important to you please share that name.

FOURTHCANDLE: We light this candle for a beloved pet who has died this past year. The animals we share our homes with are part of our lives, our family and our love.  If you have name to share please share it now.

Let us remember these loved ones no longer with us as we sing

Hymn # 96                        “I Cannot Think of Them as Dead”


Candles of Greeting and Welcome

In the past twelve months millions of children have been born into this life. Whether they were born in love or not, whatever the lands of their births, whatever the tongues of their parents, the hues of their skins, or the length of time they will have on this earth, the fact of their coming is both an amazingly sacred miracle and our greatest hope and joy and responsibility.

In these little ones our life is renewed.  In them is the possibility of wisdom and love and courage, peace and justice.  May they learn from both our accomplishments and our failings.  May they startle and probe us with sharp judgment and stringent questioning.  May they take seriously, in ways we still have not grasped, the shared responsibility of caring for our world.  May they gift us with humor and forgiveness, and also with their strength and enthusiasm.  In joy and thanksgiving and in the presence of love reborn, we make a welcome and announce that those born in 2017 are our children.

FIRST CANDLE: As an older congregation, there were no babies born into the KUUF family this year.  We light this candle for the very young children who have been part of our community this past year – visitors, or grandchildren.

SECONDCANDLE: We light this candle for the children born into our larger families and to our dear and close friends. I would not be surprised to learn that a few grandchildren have been born to members of this congregation during 2018 or to friends of yours. I invite you to share the names of any new babies of family or friends.

THIRD CANDLE: We light this candle for all the children born into our human family.  As they grow may the flame of freedom, and the warmth of love, and the light of truth grow also with them, that they may know the deepest peace and be a blessing to the generations yet to come.

FOURTH CANDLE: We light this candle for the delight and love and companionship of a pet, a presence, a comfort and a friend.  If you brought a new two or four or more legged being into your family this year, please speak your new pet’s name.

These candles will not burn for very long.  In a little while we will leave this sanctuary and go our separate ways, but in another sense the flame and warmth of these candles need never go out, for by lighting them we have committed to our loving memories the love and hope they symbolize, which no winds can extinguish and no darkness defeat.

Hymn: 322      Thanks Be For These

Fire Communion  A Ritual for the New Year

Take a few minutes to reflect on all the things you will be bringing along with you by choice, or because you have to into the new year that begins tomorrow… Try to welcome them as best you can… If there is something you must carry, even if you would rather put it down … see if you can not wish it away …maybe wonder what gift might come from it in 2019…and reflect, as well, on those things you would like to leave behind… that you will be leaving behind …

Maybe what you will leave behind is something you have been holding ever so gently for fear that it might break or depart from you if you hold it too close.  Maybe it’s something or someone you have clung to with all the ferocity you could muster because you simply didn’t know what else to do … and to let go felt like drowning?  It may be a fear or a relationship,… a pattern of behavior,… an illness.  It may be something that you have carried for a lifetime and though you cannot let it go just yet, the awareness of its place in your heart and in your life can lead you to new clarity in the coming year…

If you would like, please write on one of the slips of paper a word or phrase, a picture, …

or you may simply invest that small scrap of paper with the energy of what you feel and hope for in this letting go…

When you are ready, you may come forward, if you wish, and with gratitude for the lessons it has given you, commit it to the flame, and let it go.

Now think about the coming year.  There are strengths, new relationships, and new ways of seeing and being in the world that you have found this year that you want to bring with you into 2019.  On the second piece of paper write a word, phrase or draw a picture of what you wish to bring with you.  Put his in your pocket or your purse or wallet.  Look at it every once in a while and remember it so you can be reminded of your hope for the new year.

May we find gentleness and strength for the coming year: strong backs and strong hearts for the work of life that lies ahead, a ready laugh, steady and warm hands for holding on to those who need our care and comfort, a sigh, a tear, some rest, some renewal and courage for the turning of every new day …every new beginning that is a gift to us.

May we find it’s true that every day is brand new.  During this next year, may we remember to give thanks for all that is this life.  May we live it fully and in love.

So may it be.

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