Leader Letter

Subscribing congregations should share this letter with congregational leaders.  Being oriented to the month’s theme, and equipped to help others in the congregation get aligned with it, builds the whole congregation’s engagement with the theme.  Which, of course, means unity and energy for the community.


Dear Friends,

One of the most sobering moments in ministry for me was when, for a week, my office was filled with people who had died, who I’d already buried.  This was during the time when our congregation had sold its building, and was relocating.  Part of the project was to relocate the memorial garden, from one site to the next.  Our memorial garden is plotted, gridded, and marked, so the ashes of people who’d been interred over the last twenty-five years were now exhumed and deposited into labeled cardboard boxes.  The safe place to put them, people thought, was the minister’s office.  So, in they went: stacked in threes and fours, in several rows, ringing my desk.  My grandfather and grandmother were there.  A woman I had recently helped lay to rest earlier that very spring.  A teenage girl.  An older man.  In all the upheaval of relocation, and the talk of signage—and all the small practical decisions that go into relocation—these boxes, labeled with the names of people I loved, brought some gravity to it all. 

As I reflected on those boxes, day after day, for the week they were there, I had the mundane thought that not all of their content were the remains of loved ones.  There was also dirt.  It would have been impossible, even with a comb or some archaeological tools, to sort out the ashes from the surrounding dirt of the garden.  The people I loved had become mingled with the garden itself.  And, although here they were, in labeled boxes, stacked neatly, their presence served to confirm their absence.  Never again would these souls be free-standing, separate, discrete individuals.  Instead, they were now part of the larger ecosystem. Part of the earth.  At a service of interment, I typically begin in traditional fashion, with the words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” confirming that eternal fact, of our common material origin and destination: as part of the earth.  It is a physical fact.  But it’s got spiritual resonance.  It is a reminder of our home, as part of creation.  Not separate from it, floating above it, standing apart from it, as we humans enjoy imagining ourselves.  Created from earth, and, ultimately, part of it, enriching it. 

In the Christian tradition, Unitarians were those with a radically incarnational theology—meaning that the divine was realized through the body, through the physical, not as some abstraction or ephemera.  And earth-based traditions now existing within Unitarian Universalism are anchored in this observation: that we are of the earth, from the earth, for the earth.  As we embrace our physical links to the earth, we also embrace our part in the process of evolution, of the ongoing development of life.  The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism affirms our interdependence with the web of all existence, of which we are a part.  And our life in the earth, of the earth, and as the earth, grounds our witness to it.  Let’s use this month to understand ourselves in that light.



Rev. Jake Morrill
Lead Minister ORUUC
Executive Director UUCF
Launchpad Partner