Starting in the 2020-2021 congregational year, AUUF will be using theme-based ministry as a way of exploring topics relevant to our lives and our spiritual journeys. Each month, a different theme to guide our consideration of important aspects of life. These themes are Touchstones* that we explore in selected Sunday services and in other ways, such as through covenant groups and religious exploration. The hope is that these themes will inform, challenge, and support our members and friends through our shared exploration.
Touchstones Journal, published monthly by Touchstones Consulting, is an in-depth exploration of that month’s theme and is sent out at the beginning of the month to our AUUF Connect listserv. Each eight-page issue of the journal offers:
- An introduction to the theme of the month;
- A Wisdom Story for All Ages;
- A Faith & Theology article that explores the theme in-depth;
- The Family Matters section for use by parents and religious educators with materials on the theme and 1 to 2 activities to explore the theme with children;
- A Small Group Discussion Guide for adults;
- Readings from the Common Bowl (a quotation on the theme for each day of the month); and three or four other articles on the theme.
Below are the monthly themes for the 2020-2021 program year.
- 2020-2021 Annual Theme: Deepening Connection.
- Deepening connections is an important, ongoing process in relationships and in community. The relationships that we value are subject to various challenges from within and without, as are the communities to which we belong. As connections are deepened, relationships and communities become stronger, more resilient, and more meaningful. Deepening requires imagination, skill, and commitment, yet the rewards are enormous.
- September 2020: Worth & Dignity
- Through much of history, the value of the individual has been negligible. This has led to disastrous outcomes. Our assertion of the inherent worth and dignity of every person leads to a very different calculus in how we treat each other, including those with whom we strongly disagree, the stranger, and even our enemy. This assertion can evoke mutual respect and compassion.
- October 2020: Emotional Intelligence
- While IQ has long been highly valued, intelligence alone is not sufficient for success. Equally important is EQ or emotional intelligence with its focus on self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. These emotional competencies are not innate, but they can be learned. Through them, thinking and feeling are employed in life-affirming ways that influence all of our interactions.
- November 2020: Spirituality
- Spirituality involves a heightened sense of connection with the deepest part of oneself,Spirituality involves a heightened sense of connection with the deepest part of oneself, with others, and with a transcendent reality, however that is understood. This relates to a desire for wholeness. It can be cultivated and deepened through a variety of spiritual practices. Spirituality has to do with the cultivation of the inner life that we might live with more authenticity, integrity, humility, and compassion. with others, and with a transcendent reality, however that is understood. This relates to a desire for wholeness. It can be cultivated and deepened through a variety of spiritual practices. Spirituality has to do with the cultivation of the inner life that we might live with more authenticity, integrity, humility, and compassion.
- December 2020: Kindness
- Ian MacLaren wrote, “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Kindness is considered a virtue, a moral obligation, the currency of compassion, an act of solidarity, radical hospitality, communion, a lifeline, a balm in Gilead, and much more. Human civilization would not long survive without it. In fact, it is kindness that civilizes us and those with whom we interact.
- January 2021: Consolation/Desolation
- Consolation and desolation are conditions of the human experience. Desolation arises out of loss, grief, failure, fear, sadness, loneliness, and more that have the capacity to destroy us. Some of these may be impersonal, but consolation is always personal. It comes as a profound gift from another: compassion, a willingness to listen without judgement, a kind word, a hug, and other acts of kindness and care.
- February 2021: Mercy
- The prophet Micah counseled us, “To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” These qualities are universal and transformative. Justice and humility are important, but it is the love of mercy that is crucial. To love mercy is to understand how very important it is in human relations. Mercy is a grace because it is not deserved. It allows a person to return to life with dignity.
- March 2021: Respect
- Respect is the way that we affirm another’s worth & dignity. UU minister Tom Owen-Towle has suggested that respect is more important than love. The word respect comes from a Latin root that means “to look back, to regard.” It reminds us that when we look with the hard eyes of judgment, we would be wise to look again with the soft eyes of respect that we might truly see beneath superficialities.
- April 2021: Mindfulness
- that we can experience wholeness. Mindfulness is the call to pay attention. M. Scott Peck said that, “The principal form of love is attention.” Being mindful is paying attention to our self, others, and the world. Mindfulness requires skill, but its practice is transformative of our self and our relationships.
- May 2021: Acceptance
- Acceptance is key to our third principle: acceptance of one another; not superficially, but in deep ways. The invitation of acceptance is mutual. It confers the gift of belonging in community. It communicates “you matter.” This capacity is based on the premise of self-acceptance, to love who you are. Self-acceptance, flaws and all, is the bridge to accepting another.
- June 2021: Care of the Soul
- Rev. Nancy Shaffer asked, “How shall we mend you, sweet Soul? …Come sit. Come tell me.” The soul is understood as our essence, as the core of our being. It is sturdy, but not invincible. Subject to the tragedies that touch our lives, the fabric of the soul can be torn. Shaffer concluded, “We will mend you with pieces of your own sweet self, sweet Soul.” The care of the soul is important work for it is self-care.
- July 2021: Journey
- Lynn Hough wrote, “life is a journey and not a destination.” Life is a series of waystations woven together by our journey. No straight line. A meander with dead-ends, amazing vistas, dense forests, cool waters, treasured companions, and mountains, always mountains. It is getting lost and being found again. It is the present moment and distant memory. We use the journey to discover our self.
- August 2021: Communion
- The Latin root of communion means “fellowship, mutual participation, or sharing.” The word implies a deep connection, which is the outcome of participating in community in meaningful ways. It is a process of giving and receiving, the work of heart and hands, an invitation to friend and stranger alike. No altar is required, just a welcome table with room for one more, always one more.
*In its original meaning, a touchstone was a stone that was used to test the purity of gold or silver. A touchstone has come to mean a quintessential feature. We explore these touchstone themes of our tradition to nurture us and inform our actions, to deepen our understanding and expand our vision, and to support us in leading lives of integrity and authenticity.