Winner, 2019 Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation Sermon Award

Twenty years ago at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York – long before I heard my call to ministry – a woman named Elizabeth Schell read a difficult story in the Old Testament. As Elizabeth describes it, this story from the Book of Judges is “the horrific tale of the unnamed woman who is raped and dismembered into twelve pieces, and whose violation then leads to the violation of countless other women and children as the tribes take revenge upon one another. A text not included in lectionaries; a text to be avoided in worship.”

Big Woman, as displayed at SUUSI 2018

She was consumed by the story, but more, was compelled to make something of it. And so, she created this twelve-foot-long doll, in twelve pieces. When first presented at Union in 1999, her parts were strewn around the chapel, and during the service, people gathered her and put her back together.

Over the ensuing years, Elizabeth has occasionally used her in workshops, retreats, and worship services along the eastern seaboard, leaning into messages of healing. She is covered not only in her original art, but with the names of those seeking their own healing, written as prayers and affirmations.

Big Woman, as she came to be called, became famous at Union for the depth of creativity and healing she represented. A year ago, I met her in person at the Southeast UU Summer Institute, and Elizabeth loaned her to me, so I might continue her journey.

Here she is – today – sitting among us, her pieces together, wearing names like scars, representing the hundreds of battles fought against harassment, abuse, and violence.

Her story, though, isn’t just the story of women. It’s the story of all of us, battle worn, scarred, broken, exhausted. And today, she is here – to hold our brokenness, and call us to healing.

Now I want to clarify some terminology that I’ll be using. It would be easy to rely on “men” and “women” as my terms, as we are in a culture that’s comfortable with the gender binary. But the truth is, many of the things experienced by cisgender women in this culture of misogyny are also experienced by non-binary folx and transfolk. Thus, I am leaning into the delineation as used by the site – “dude” – meaning cismen and some trans men, and “not-a-dude” – meaning everyone else. I won’t alter quotations that use the terms men and women, but if it’s me – it’s “dude,” and “not-a-dude.”   

It would be easy to get and stay angry – and entirely reasonable, too – given the sheer volume of explicit misogyny and sexual violence we see, and the overwhelming statistics about reported and unreported rapes, harassment in the workplace and online, and the almost belligerent show of ‘manhood’ from celebrities and heads of state. And I doubt there’s a dude here who isn’t as angry about these things as the not-a-dudes are. We should be angry. But what happens when we turn our attention from the statistics and look at the systems that feed those statistics?

A system that’s millenias, old, by the way, which I could offer a few thousand words on but won’t. But if I did, I would take us to the Code of Hammurabi, include an examination of Old and New Testament texts. It would examine the early Church and the shift to a male-dominated hierarchy that would permeate even the most egalitarian of Celtic cultures. It would explore dude-dominated cultures that commit female genital mutilation and footbinding. It would trace the history of bridal dowries and arranged marriages. It would include the commodification of black bodies – particularly black women’s bodies. It would lift up the struggle over the first English queen, and the rights of women to own property, get the vote, get a credit card, get equal pay.

You know from the good, hard work we have been doing around anti-racism and black lives matter that an important step for allies is to acknowledge that we swim in a culture of white supremacy, a culture that says if you’re white, the color of your skin is not complicating your life. This ancient way of understanding not dudes as a “suspect class” means that we all swim in this culture that says if you’re a dude, your gender is not complicating your life. Yes, other things may be – of course. Class, sexual identity, age, ability, health. Of course. But for we who are not dudes, our gender makes us a minority.

This spring, economist and feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez, OBE, released her new book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. In this book, she examines the ways in which everything in our culture is designed for men – from life jackets and military armor, to chemical testing, to pharmaceuticals, to workplace environments, to snow removal, to bathrooms, to public transportation, to academics, to Hollywood scripts,  to iPhones.

Perez argues that by setting standards for the average human based on a model called Reference Man – Caucasian, aged 25-30, weighing 154.3 pounds – we ignore crucial differences in endocrine and immune systems, pain, physical stature, breasts and genitals, body strength, pelvis size – and thus, body armor doesn’t protect everyone, not-dudes’ bodies are more easily injured, medications don’t work, and the unpaid labor of child care and household chores take their toll.

Sometimes the exclusions are purposeful – as Perez notes over and over, data on women is often tossed out as “complicating factors.” But often, designers of systems and product safety and medicines and equipment just don’t think about anyone who isn’t Reference Man; “they just don’t think to consider if women’s needs might be different.”

This breaks us.

There are hundreds of examples – backed up by research – in her book, but the thing that struck me most, and made me realize how deeply imbedded this culture of male-unless-otherwise-indicated is, were the studies Perez highlighted showing that while the word “man” is used to include all people – what is called the generic masculine – is in fact NOT read generically. It is read overwhelmingly as male.

We live in a culture that assumes ‘dude’ is normal, and not-a-dude is a notable exception. This is hard, because for millennia – maybe since Esther – not-dudes have doing everything they can to measure up. As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted, “when you’re only seeing white dudes just like, running the world, you think you need to act like a white dude to run the world. The problem is that mold wasn’t made for you. And so even if you try the hardest at being that, you will not be as good as someone who is just that already.”

And yet we try to fit the mold. We try to put ourselves together in the ways our culture says we should. We who are not dudes even learn to judge other not dudes the way dudes are supposed to. It so permeates our culture, it’s almost comic – as we see in parodies from Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, That Mitchell and Webb Look, and Saturday Night Live.

But it is deadly serious, especially when you factor in sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Those who are not dudes are taught from the time they are kindergartners how to protect themselves, how to avoid the male gaze, how to dress, how to behave not too assertively but not too coyly, how to temper their behavior and speech so as not to break the system.

We put ourselves together in ways that, well, just don’t work. And dudes wonder what’s wrong with those who are not dudes – why are they sick, why are they complaining, why are they not seeing the world as it really is, why does everything have to be about feminism, why do they take up so much space now, why did they have to try to invade our superheroes and our computer games and our military and our legislatures and our White House?

As those who are not dudes begin to see how they are broken and begin to do something about it, the truth becomes even clearer: This isn’t just about those who are not dudes. This breaks all of us.

Actor Robert Webb talks about this in his book, How Not to Be a Boy. While the book is on one hand a celebrity memoir, it goes deeper than that, as Webb explores how the rules for how to be a boy were taught by his father and older brothers, as well as in school and university – rules that teach boys to play sports, be rough, dominate, become king of the hill, and for gods sake, don’t be emotional. As Webb describes, “We tell them to man up, get up, don’t cry, be tough, don’t acknowledge your own emotions; and if you keep being told to not express these emotions, it eventually starts sounding like ‘don’t have these feelings – don’t feel these feelings.’”

Without emotional validation, dudes wind up turning only to their romantic partners for emotional support. Dudes aren’t taught to bond emotionally, they’re taught to bond over sports or games or work, free of emotional support – and romantic partners are the only ones where feelings can happen. Thus, when a not-dude says to a dude, I just want to be friends, that can be interpreted as “there goes my one emotional support person” – and the not-dudes are upset because someone they thought of as a friend really just wanted to have sex with them. At its worst, it causes deep emotional trauma for dudes, who sometimes turn to substance abuse and depression, and rage – which leads to the kind of toxic masculinity that looks like mass shootings and rape.

Now this isn’t to say masculinity itself is toxic – no, dudes. It’s perfectly okay, and in fact appropriate, for dudes to be strong, as long as you’re using that strength in a positive, non-abusive manner. We want you to be strong, as portrayed in a recent commercial from Gillette.

The ad used research from surveys asking about qualities of good masculinity – and yet it received a backlash – from dudes – saying it was just feminist propaganda.

That healthy masculinity is attacked is a sign that we are all being tricked into us into thinking that it is the way it is supposed to be. Webb calls it The Trick with his family, to name “the incoming tide of gender BS that [his] daughters and their friends (including the boys) will spend their lives wading through.” He points it out to his children, and to his readers, “because it is difficult to resist, because it hides in plain sight. It’s everywhere: a system of thought and a set of invented and discriminatory practices in our laws, culture and economy that feminists call the patriarchy. Feminists aren’t out to get men,” he writes, “they’re out to get the patriarchy. They don’t hate men, the hate The Man…. This thing, The Trick, is dangerous for girls. And it’s dangerous for boys, too. Feminism is not about men versus women,’ he concludes, “it’s about men and women versus the Trick.”

The Trick gaslights us. It fools us. It not only hurts those who aren’t dudes, it hurts dudes too.

As Webb notes, “there are probably lots of men who haven’t had their lives marred or pointlessly complicated by the expectations of gender, but I’ve yet to meet one. You had to bury your pain; you had to conform to the tribe; you had to grow up faster than you wanted; you had to have sex as early as possible and with as many people as possible, even if that made you a liar; you weren’t romantic enough and you felt bad you failed to do manly tasks with competence and you felt bad; you made promises you couldn’t keep.”

Human history never told you the system is the problem. This system broke us long before we ever had a chance.

We are broken. All of us, broken by this. #MeToo, and before that, #TimesUp and #NotAllWomen, are pulling back the curtain and revealing our brokenness, revealing how hard it is to be a human being in a culture that tricks us all.

And there’s nothing we can do about what has been done. But there is healing.

Some of you are familiar with the Japanese practice of Kinsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery with veins of gold, copper, and silver. In this art form, the bowl is never not broken, and is even more beautiful in its brokenness.

There’s a Hindu goddess – named Akhilandashvari – her name means the Always Broken goddess. She is a goddess of destruction, but of carefully curated destruction; as writer Julie Peters notes, “Akhilanda derives her power from being broken: in flux, pulling herself apart, living in different, constant selves at the same time, from never becoming a whole that has limitations.”

In some ways, Big Woman is Akhilanda – never not broken. She invites us to make a choice in how to go forward. We always have the incredible opportunity to decide how we want to put the pieces back together. Despite the messages our culture sends, no matter how hard it can be to be our whole selves in a culture that isn’t made for us to be whole, we are whole anyway, and we can put ourselves aright, wearing the scars and the cracks as evidence of our broken wholeness.

And this is our theology: Universalism teaches us that our very humanness means we have inherent worth and dignity, and that there is always a place for us, even in our brokenness. In other words, we’re always whole, always loved, always fully human. Like a cracked pot, lovingly repaired. Like a goddess, daring to put herself together in new ways. Like a young child, noticing the trick. Like a congresswoman, daring to lead authentically. Like all of us, full of holes, yet whole, and holy.

So what now?

Now that we’ve seen The Trick, we can’t unsee it. And we cannot keep quiet – to ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities.

We hear the stories old and new, and we acknowledge the pain of generations.

We can’t keep quiet.

We hear our own stories of brokenness, deep pain, and we acknowledge the complexity of these wounds.

We can’t keep quiet.

We seek wholeness and healing, being willing to unbecome what we have been told to be and become anew that which we are.

We can’t keep quiet.

We commit to reaching out in compassion and kindness, to be a haven of welcome and acceptance, to believe the survivors and work for their protection.

We can’t keep quiet.

We commit to speaking out when we notice harm is being done, whether through words, or assumptions, or attitudes, or erasure, or actual physical harm.

We can’t keep quiet.

We commit to celebrating healthy and inclusive ways of being and model these for our children.

We can’t keep quiet.

We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, of every gender, and welcome each other on this journey to wholeness.

We can’t keep quiet.

We turn the tables with Michael Tino interviewing me for the final episode of this podcast season! We talked about my ministry, the influence of theater on my theology of worship, and trust. We began by noting that Michael and I spent many years actively avoiding meeting each other for years in North Carolina.


My Bio: 

Rev. Kimberley Debus is a community minister based in New York’s Capital Region, where she works to inspire Unitarian Universalists throughout the denomination to be more artful and art-filled in their worship, congregational life, leadership, stewardship, and public witness.

Ordained in May 2017, Kimberley has served One Island Family UU Congregation in Key West, Florida, and the First Universalist Church of Southold, New York. She also serves as chair of the board of directors for the UU Wellspring Spiritual Deepening Program. Kimberley was raised by Unitarian parents and returned Unitarian Universalism in the 1990s during her years as an activist in North Carolina’s LGBTQ community. As both lay leader and minister, she has presented workshops on generational theory, the worship arts, and stewardship. She has been known to burst out in song (particularly show tunes and standards); will wax poetic about British panel shows, mysteries, and The West Wing; and is staff to two tabby cats named Huck and Molly (they didn’t come with hats).

At the heart of Kimberley’s ministry is a call to foster creative, collaborative, and spiritually grounded approaches to the challenges and blessings of our faith, which inspire all of us draw the circle of love ever wider.

I had an amazing time talking with Rev. Aaron White – we share a background in theatre and a love of preaching and worship. We talked about aesthetics, ensembles, protecting white boards, and preaching without a net.



Rev. Aaron White has served for 10 years as the Associate Minister at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX. He received a degree in religion and theater from Austin College before attending Harvard Divinity School for seminary, with an academic focus in Sanskrit and Indian studies, comparative religious ethics, and aesthetics. Aaron is a gardener, science geek, and amateur UU historian. He blogs each week at and is the host of the upcoming podcast, Possibility Conspiracy, which will launch soon.

Another fascinating conversation, this time with one of our up and coming ministers, theresa rohlck, whose experience in music and dance informs a beautiful understanding of the work we do in worship. We talked about music school, what we can learn from Indonesian art forms, and the challenges of finding balance.


Lots of links for you today:

Yogyanese style gamelan and dance from central Java (the city of Yogyakarta)

John Cage’s 4’33

The Singing Neanderthals by Stephen Mithen

What Wondrous Love” as performed by Chelsea Moon

Yes” by Shekina Glory

In the Beginning  Was the Meal by Hal Taussig



theresa rohlck is a third year seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School; she expects to receive her MDiv in May 2019. She will do a one-year chaplain residency in her hometown of Ann Arbor Michigan after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, where, as a violist, she had extensive orchestral and chamber music ensemble experience. However, it was during that time she first heard a Javanese Gamelan and began learning how to play many of the instruments in the ensemble. This led to further musical studies in Indonesia after graduating. A Fulbright grant supported her study there, and she spent three and a half years becoming an accomplished gamelan musician and dancer. Returning to the U.S. she began work at the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute, which led to a Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Currently theresa conducts the Handbell Choir at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor, where she is also a member of the choir, and has served as a worship associate. She is a member of the Association for Unitarian Universalist Music Ministries (AUUMM) and Handbell Musicians of America.

Delivered April 15, 2019 at First Parish UU Church of Kennebunk, ME


Matthew 21:1-11 (NRSV)

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
   humble, and mounted on a donkey,
     and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’  


To me, the perfect party is a tabletop gaming party – lots of friends gathered around with some tables groaning with delicious food and other tables groaning, and laughing, and planning, and shouting in triumph and despair as we gather around games of Ticket to Ride, and Mysterium, and Clank, and Pandemic, and even throwbacks like Clue, and Yahtzee, and Monopoly. My gaming life started as soon as I was able to hold more than one card in my hand – my family spent hours playing games, and I even learned American literature and art history from games like Authors and Masterpiece. On any typical day, you’ll open the trunk of my car and find at least a few games, or tucked into my purse a small deck of cards, because the way my mother raise me, sometimes a game just has to happen.

And I love them. Card collecting games, goal oriented games, cooperative games, mystery solving games, even silly games. Pretty much, if you’re playing a game, I want in.

Unless it’s chess.

You see, I know how to play chess; along with other classics like Bridge, Spades, poker, and backgammon, Mom made sure I knew how to play chess. I understand the mechanics, but I am just terrible at it. Any time I sit down at a chess board, I sit down with the best of intentions – to pay attention to not just my own move but also my opponent’s, to think several moves ahead, and not just my own future moves but also my opponent’s, to strategize how I will capture their king while not losing my own. To know every step, to anticipate every eventuality. To see the whole board.

I try, but it’s hard. I know the how, but it’s hard to risk your bishop if you are afraid of what will happen to your queen. It’s hard to say yes when you don’t know what exactly will happen. Well – I do know what will happen in chess: I’ll lose. But you know what I mean…

How do we say yes when we don’t know if we’ve considered all the options, assessed all the risks?

And yet risk is exactly what Jesus was taking in the text we heard, in that moment when he decided they should observe Passover in Jerusalem.

Let’s set the stage: here’s this man, from a faithful Jewish family, who’s got an incredibly radical and inspirational message. He has gathered people around him to learn, and to help him preach his message and share his story. He reveals in what some call miracles the healing power of love, compassion, and hope. He’s teaching people how to care for one another, be present to one another, how to see everyone as worthy of love and dignity. But because he’s telling the establishment – which is simultaneously church and state – that they’re missing the point of their own faith, and because this radical spiritual message is a radical political message too, his ministry is becoming a bit of a problem for the establishment.

Who live, work, and rule in Jerusalem.

So here’s this guy, with all these pieces in play – a message and a call he can’t deny, all of these lives he’s changed, all of these people following him, this sense of destiny, an angry government breathing down his neck, an angry group of Temple priests wanting to silence him, and he’s probably wondering why he didn’t just stay quiet and do whatever it was he was doing before he met John the Baptist.

Now while the gospels paint Jesus as this all-knowing deity, what I think is more likely true is that he arrived at this moment, with all these pieces, AND having this vision of bringing truth, hope, healing, and love to all of the people he comes in contact with. And so, he put these pieces in motion, and played the game out in his head a bit.

In the pages before our reading picked up, we see Jesus calculating. He’s still teaching, to be sure, and we are getting some of the more political parables, like the workers in the vineyard who all get equal payment because God’s love is available to all, like the rich man who is told it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. And we also get hints from Jesus that he is seeing the costs of his ministry, that he might be jailed, or tortured, or even die, that it could be hard for him and for his closest followers.

He sees the whole board – how the moving of one piece will cause another piece to move, and another, and another.

He may not know exactly what will happen next, or what piece will react more aggressively, or what the surprise moves might be.

He may not know exactly how, but he knows he must say yes – and make a move.

In this case, it’s saying “let’s observe Passover in Jerusalem.”

On its own, that’s not such a radical thing – at this time in history, major religious observances were just starting to happen in communities outside Jerusalem, but most people still traveled to the temple in Jerusalem for sacrifices and the observance of Passover.

But this was somehow different, for a group of people who had grown a ministry on the outskirts of Israel and Judea.

And some might argue the whole ‘riding in on a donkey’ thing was a storytelling device, to connect Jesus to the prophesy of Zachariah. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus was schooled enough as a faithful Jewish man to know that the iconic image of his riding in on a donkey would make some people cheer and others uncomfortable.

And so he does, riding in with people in celebration mobbing the streets to see him and laying palms like an ancient red carpet, playing the crowd a bit, moving aggressively to provoke a move by his opponent. Jesus sees the whole board but clearly engages the details of each move, each piece.

But he had to start by saying yes to this risk.

In his book The Answer to How Is Yes, author Peter Block suggests that we often get stuck asking how a vision will be accomplished and never get past the trees to see the forest. He writes,

“What’s really interesting about ‘how’ is that we are asking a question to which we already have the answer. In fact, we have a large group of answers because we’ve been asking how for a long time. We have been collecting answers for years, and yet we still keep asking the question. We are on a treadmill, because although we keep asking how, we have to wonder what to do with the answers we are getting. No matter how many answers we get, we often decide not to act on them, and when we do act on an answer, what have we got? The fault is in the nature of the question.”

Instead of the how’s, Block advises, we should be asking different questions that will help us focus our commitment to the vision, from which the pieces will start to make sense and the how’s will emerge – from the financial and material resources to the talent and expertise, to buy in and commitment.

In other words, we can’t get caught up in how the bishop moves and its risk to the queen; we have to say yes, the bishop has to move and expose the queen because that’s the only way we’re going to win the game eight moves later.

Jesus can’t get caught up in where the donkey comes from or the risk to his own life; he had to say yes, the ride into Jerusalem will provoke reaction because that’s the only way this message will live on.

We can’t get caught up in the what if’s and fear of risks to our financial and physical security; we have to say yes to possibility, even if it means some possible setbacks because that’s the only way we will accomplish our personal goals, like going back to school, or moving to a new community, or starting a new business, or investing in a new relationship.

We can’t get caught up in processing and reprocessing the how of this congregation’s vision, the vision that you speak every Sunday, to inspire compassion, welcoming everyone, growing and celebrating, building a just and peace filled world. We have to say yes even if that means having to rethink processes, or fundraising, or understanding how we are seen in the community.

Now I’m not gonna lie – this isn’t easy. We are constantly balancing contrary positions – be an individual, take big risks, be independent, self-reliant, make your own path, don’t let the bastards get you down…. And conform, do as everyone else does, invest wisely, tread carefully, do as you should, behave.

Nope, this isn’t easy. I suspect some of you are on the brink of some huge decisions, big, risky steps. And there’s a lot more at risk than a chess piece, often our entire livelihood, or career, or relationships, or an organization’s health, or a congregation’s future is at risk. But if we care about these things enough to have a vision of what that future looks like, then we HAVE to say yes, even if this means some struggles and sacrifice on the path to something new.

Now I want to be clear: When I talk about sacrificing the bishop or security or finances or reputation, I am not talking about people or anything that would harm, oppress, or invalidate the inherent worth and dignity of anyone. I am not talking about ignoring the incredibly important personal stories and experiences that might not look like our own. Too often we think about who are the players and who are the pawns, as though the pawns don’t matter. And we tend to relegate the pawns en masse, as ‘those people’, as though they are expendable.

That is not this. In fact, seeing the whole board recognizes that each piece, each player, each idea, each moment, each process, each story, is important to the whole. You want to see the whole board of humanity? Then understand that, as Frederic Buechner wrote, ‘there can be no peace and joy for me unless there is peace and joy for you also.’

Understand that the story of Marisol, whose family’s roots far predate any Spanish settlement in the American southwest, is the story of conquest and suddenly being told she is an outsider on her own land.

Understand that the story of Terry, who spent the first half of her life identified as male, is the story of a trans woman who still gets harassed and fears for her safety even though she is finally comfortable in her female skin.

Understand that the story of Daniel, whose family came to the US from Haiti in the 1970s, is the story of a black man who still experiences racism borne of American slavery and Jim Crow, even though his family wasn’t ever part of that system.

Each player on the board – each person who makes up humanity – each story and idea and goal that makes up a vision – is valuable and important. Without the particularities of the individual experiences, we could not say yes to the true vision of beloved community.

Saying yes to our individual goals – and the vision of this congregation – is saying yes to the complexities of wholeness, to vision, to value, to healing.

You see, yes is how the entire universe works. There’s just a little more matter than anti-matter, a little more creation than destruction, a little more growth than death. A little more yes, than no. And if that’s how the rest of the universe works, then well, if we’re part of the universe – and we are – then it should be how we work.

(palms are passed out to the congregation)

As Jesus approached the gates of Jerusalem on that donkey (or not, but let’s say he was because it’s a good image), those who were willing to say yes to his vision of how we are to be with one another and how we are to understand Love and embrace Mystery, all acknowledged the risk and the steps it takes by laying down palms.

Palms that affirmed this path as the one worth taking.

Palms that said Yes to taking these first steps.

As you receive a palm frond, hold it carefully as you consider the thing you want to do – individually, as a family, as a religious community. You don’t have to know how it’s all going to play out, but think about what it takes to say yes, to make that first move, to take that first step.

And when you are ready, put the palm you’ve been given on the floor – and put your feet on it – maybe stand on it if you’re so moved – and say – whisper – sing – “yes.”

What a delight it was to talk to DeReau Farrar, the Director of Music at First Unitarian Portland! I have admired him since I first heard his new arrangement of a popular hymn (no spoilers!), and it seems we just got started when we had to wrap up our engaging conversation. Among other things, we talked about urban congregations, musical whiplash, musical diversity, and the Association for UU Music Ministries (AUUMM).



Association for UU Music Ministries

Come Ye Disconsolate (Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway)


The theramin:

Grégoire Blanc, playing Debussy

Theme from Midsomer Murders (Celia Sheen)



DeReau K. Farrar is Director of Music at First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, which houses the denomination’s largest music program. He is also President-elect of the Association for Unitarian Universalist Music Ministries and a member of that organization’s Conference Planning Committee. He has previously served Unitarian Universalist congregations in Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles, California, as well as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Commission on Institutional Change. DeReau is also a regular contributor for WorshipWeb’s Braver/Wiser publication and has written for UUWorld Magazine. Prior to leaving Los Angeles for Portland in 2016, DeReau worked as a freelance music director and vocal contractor for the theater/opera, film, recording, and touring industries. His last films were HBO’s All the Way (2016) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017).

Programming Note: If you were expecting this last week, you weren’t wrong… I had some non-technical issues that caused a delay. But with this episode, we’ll be back on track for alternate Thursdays through May. Yes, I’ll be taking a summer break – be warned – but the Worship Whisperer will come back for Season Two in late August.


In this episode, I chat with Beth Norton, music director at First Parish UU in Concord, Massachusetts. We had a wonderful time talking, about singing congregations, the Association for UU Music Ministries, things they don’t teach you in music school, and the Concord Music Book.



Beth Norton has been Music Director at First Parish since 1994. Beth believes in the power of music to express what is beyond words, to deepen our spiritual experience and to build community. As a singer, conductor, violinist and folk musician, Beth enjoys making music in a wide variety of styles with people of all ages and abilities. She received her BA in Music from Smith College and her MM in Choral Conducting from the Hartt School of Music. Beth has served as the president of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (now the Association for UU Music Ministries), the professional organization for UU musicians and remains an active member.

Matt Meyer has quickly become a household name, with a busy worship and workshop schedule, frequent appearances at General Assembly and other UU gatherings, and his role as Director of Community Life at Sanctuary Boston. Mat sat down with me to talk about that unique community, songleading, the act of singing together, and how we create context for singing together. 



Sanctuary Boston

AUUMM Main Conference

UU Songleaders Convergence



Matt Meyer works professionally as an itinerant UU musician and preacher, having led hundreds of services for UU congregations around the country. He is a founding member and Director of Community Life at the Sanctuary Boston. Matt is also a founding member of the Lucy Stone Cooperative and is a dedicated knitter.