Abstract © Iveta Vaicule/iStock

By The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)

When my son was just 2 years old, I found him bringing all his stuffed animals into the shower. When I asked what he was up to, he answered, “It’s shower church.”

I smiled and asked, “Oh yeah, what’s happening at shower church?”

He told me he would be preaching. When I asked what he was preaching about he answered simply, “Love, mommy. It’s always love.”

There’s an old saying that even the best preachers only have one or two sermons—we just keep finding new ways to share them. In that moment, I thought my son clearly figured out mine.

Love is a core foundation of my religious understanding, but it is not a love that is simply an emotion, a feeling, or an expression of the bonds of loyalty felt within a group. In personal relationships, when we love someone, we wish for them the fullest unfolding and development of who they are. We wish for them freedom, safety, joy, and life. Love as a religious practice extends our compassion, solidarity, and care beyond the personal to seeking the liberation and wholeness of every person. It reminds us of our fundamental interdependence with all of life.

It is this understanding of love that formed one of the most precious gifts Unitarian Universalism has given me: the gift of a religion that teaches that the work of justice is inseparable from a faith rooted in love.

This understanding that love and justice are inseparable was nurtured by my UU atheist and activist mom, who told me as a young child she did not believe in god, but if she did, she would believe god is love.

It was reinforced by the stories and theology of Unitarian Universalism—that no one is outside the circle of love.

Each Sunday, reciting the covenant beginning with the words “Love is the doctrine of this congregation,” I was and am reminded that love is the core teaching and practice of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.

This is why it can be so painful, even faith-shaking, when our institutions or our leaders fall short of that love, where we reinforce domination, exclusion, or oppression, when we act as a mask instead of a mirror for our freest, fullest selves. To be a faith of action with love as our doctrine doesn’t mean we live it perfectly, but it does mean we are called again and again to learn, to make amends, to restore relationship, to choose love.

I am especially mindful of the inseparable relationship between love and justice in this time where we need to strengthen our work for justice and human rights. Too often, I hear people say, “we need more focus on spirituality, not justice” or “we need more focus on justice, less on the pastoral.” And yet, to divide the two is to weaken both.

In 2000, the black feminist writer and scholar bell hooks wrote:

I feel our nation’s turning away from love . . . moving into a wilderness of spirit so intense we may never find our way home again. I write of love to bear witness both to the danger in this movement, and to call for a return to love.

These words echo in my mind when I think of the challenges before us. I know amongst all the injustices, the issues are not just political, partisan, or economic. On a fundamental level, they are spiritual challenges and they reflect the way we have come as a society to denigrate the value of love and compassion as an essential spiritual and moral value.

In response, as we work more actively and effectively for justice, may we equally tend to the teachings and practices that nurture our very humanity, our capacity for love, because that is where our desire for justice emerges. And if our justice work does not emerge from the moral and spiritual value of love, in the end it will reinforce practices of domination and violence, just in new forms.

To be a Unitarian Universalist, in the context of a pained and unjust world, is to be moved by a love that recognizes and honors our interdependence. It is my hope we do not turn away from responding to these times with our faith, our worship, and our ways of nurturing community. May all of these offer us deeper spiritual practices that cultivate the sustenance we need to be a powerful, faithful force of love and justice.

Yours in love,



This article is reprinted from the summer 2019 issue of UU World.

Abstract © Iveta Vaicule/iStock

Chris & Loretta

The annual Jo Dawson Volunteer Award is the result of nominations from members, supporters and friends of the Fellowship. The honor signifies a person, couple or family who made significant contributions in time and talent to the Fellowship.

Chris Kelsey and Loretta Arnn, (2019 winners), joined the Fellowship in 2015. Our own Rev. Lisa Schwartz officiated at their wedding that year, which has been described as “a perfect celebration of love and family.” Chris and Loretta’s decades of togetherness, not only as partners, but as friends and colleagues in mental health organizations serving infants and toddlers with or at risk for developmental disabilities, came full circle as they came through the doors of the Fellowship. It was “home.”

In the four years of their activities at the Fellowship the myriad of service and projects they either initiated or have membership in is staggering. Together they launched the Small Group Ministry, they covered bulletin boards, their presence is evident on various committees and Loretta serves on the Board; Chris sings in the choir, the Clothes Closet thrived under their leadership and they are involved with W-S child care organizations. Loretta tends to the Fellowship grounds and weeds fear her presence!

It’s a long way from Florida and Dry Fork, Va. where Chris and Loretta grew up, but the joy of giving back to the Fellowship that gives them so much is unmistakable in their persona. The joy they have for what they call “an incredible group of people” makes perfect sense… for both of them never look at volunteering as anything but supporting the Fellowship.

You may have noticed the two colorful beehives at the edge of the woods as you drive onto the Fellowship campus. As part of the EcoSolutions Committee’s attempt to increase pollinators, Greg Mohler and Cynthia Braun installed the hives last March.

These beehives are not your ordinary hives, however. During a 2017 trip to Slovenia, Greg and Cynthia visited several apiaries and learned about traditional Slovenian beekeeping. Upon returning home, Greg built the two hives to replicate the Slovenian style.

Back of Bee Hives

Back of Bee Hives

Slovenian beehives house the bee frames in a “cabinet” type enclosure, where the frames are supported vertically on three metal bars. They are removed by sliding them out towards the rear of the hive. Each of the 30 frames can be inspected without disturbing the others. This greatly reduces disrupting the complex society in the hive and unintentional harming of the bees. This is in contrast to the typical American style “Langstroth” hive, where the chambers are stacked on top of each other, and the top chambers (weighing up to 60 pounds when filled with honey) must be lifted off to reach the lower ones. The brood chamber, that holds the Queen and all of her eggs, is at the bottom. It is extremely challenging to check on the well-being of the Queen in Langstroth hives without seriously disturbing the bees. The no heavy lifting and easy inspection are both significant benefits of the Slovenian hive.

In recent years, honey bee populations have seen a steep decline. According to most scientists, there is no single cause. Rather, it seems due to a combination of factors: parasites, pathogens, pesticides, poor nutrition and habitat loss. One of the greatest threats to honey bees is industrial agriculture’s widespread use of pesticides. It is estimated that one third of the food we eat relies on pollination mainly by bees, but also by other insects, birds and bats. EcoSolutions is responding to this need by adding beehives and increasingly planting pollinator-friendly vegetation on the Fellowship grounds.

Climate Reality Project

“Solutions to the climate crisis are within reach, but in order to capture them we must take urgent action today across every level of society,” declares Al Gore. And he has been sounding the alarm for decades now, one of the first politicians in the world to grasp the enormity of global warming.

Three members of the Fellowship were recently trained by Al Gore’s organization, Climate Reality Project:  Terri LeGrand, Jim Norris and Janet Loew (in addition to Gayle Tuch, who was trained in 2013). They spent three days in Atlanta, GA along with 2,000 other trainees from around the country and around the world. There were experts brought in to teach the latest science and most recent learning about the climate crisis, and to demonstrate how together we can solve it. Al Gore himself gave a stunning 3.5 hour powerpoint presentation, and was involved in the presentations throughout the three days.

The outcome of the training is that Climate Reality Leaders, who come from all walks of life–educators, community leaders, government officials, business leaders and other concerned citizens–are trained and then return to their communities to help spread the word. Trainees commit to do at least 10 acts of leadership in the following 12 months, but most do more. They all share the same desire to make a difference and help create a sustainable future for the Earth.

This upcoming decade will be the most pivotal in all of human history. If you think that sounds like hyperbole, they assure you it’s not. We have work to do! But the comforting news is that the solutions exist and there is a path to success. Buckle up and join us. To get involved at the Fellowship, email the EcoSolutions Co-chairs at eco@uufws.org and let us know you are interested.

For more information on Climate Reality Project, visit https://www.climaterealityproject.org/