Reflecting On My Thirty Years at UUCWC

Director of Music Ministry Caryl Tipton shares an excerpt of her homily from Sunday, October 24, 2021 where she reflected on the theme “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned at UUCWC.”

Thirty years is a long time.  A time filled with questions and searching, beautiful music and “meatballs of wisdom,” as a conducting teacher of mine always said.  Many of you have read or know about UU minister Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  Well, I’m going to share through my looking glass and talk about “All That I Really Needed to Know I learned at UUCWC.”  You see, Unitarian Universalism shined a light on all the hurtful and damaging dogma from my denominations from the past and shattered them with simple, true messages, especially the message of UUCWC’s mission to “Create Community, Celebrate Life and Change the World.”  It sounds very simple….in theory.

Some of Fulghum’s points that fall under “Create Community” include “Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody;  Don’t take things that aren’t yours; and Wash your hands before you eat and…. FLUSH.”

I’ve always been a loner.  I’m ok with solitude and having a few really good friends instead of a lot of acquaintances called friends.  I’ve never been a “joiner.”  Within the walls of UUCWC, I’ve been learning how to trust and to be trustworthy.  I’ve risked and shown myself to many … and … have been hurt by a few over the years, too.  That’s community … moving forward, pulling back, making a fool of yourself and rejoicing in life and love … all within the safety of a community of freedom, understanding and acceptance.

As a staff member and musician at UUCWC, I was able to be me. Not trying to sing or conduct like someone else or being someone I’m not, I was able to express myself through music, not striving for perfection or musical technique but, to be my whole self, wrong notes and all!  I gave the choir my all.  I gave you my all.  By singing, conducting, interacting and, at times, preaching, I learned how music is a way to share our lives together!  Some singers in Crossing Chorale have been with me all of these thirty years. They have taught me so much more than about just being their choir director.  They taught me about friendship and developing a fellowship and group ministry. What better can be said of creating community?

Next is, to “Celebrate Life.”  Fulghum suggests, “Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.  Live a balanced life and take a nap every afternoon.”

Our child dedications are an example of the way that I’ve learned to celebrate life.  I’ve shared from this pulpit before that I’ve been baptized in many ways through the denominations I’ve moved through.  I was baptized at birth in a United Church of Christ church; baptized by immersion as I served as choir director at a Christian Missionary Alliance Church; and baptized in the Catholic Church because I found the mystical wonder of the Mass.  I think none were as meaningful as if I had been dedicated in a UU church.  From our Dedication:  “May your thoughts be wise.  May your lips speak truth.  May your heart know love.   And may your hands do good works, all the days of your life.  We Bless you.  You are a blessing.”  It speaks of authenticity—not adhering to anyone else’s doctrine or teaching, but encouraging parents and sponsors to lead children towards their own true Self and uniqueness.  Baptism isn’t needed to wash away original sin that we were born with.  Dedication is needed to show people that they were not born with sin, but with inherent worth and dignity.

Our memorial services are another example of this.  They are celebratory of a person’s life; still grieving, crying and missing them, and sharing that person’s life through stories, songs and poems.

There are small group ministries that have grown into life-long friendships. My women – Graces – we give support, we laugh with each other, we cry with each other, we eat together and kvetch with each other.  They have gotten me through some really hard times in my life and we share laughs and good times too.  “Wellspring” is a movement to celebrate life and being human through spiritual growth and authenticity.  Our Auction is not only a fund raiser for the church but a way to have fun, sample different cultures and food, be silent, do crafts, sing, laugh, and to get to know people we might not have ever had the opportunity or nerve to meet.  A win, win, I’d say.

And, finally, to “Change the world.”  Back to Fulghum again:  “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.  Be aware of wonder.”  And one of the most important things we learned….remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all is – LOOK.”

Look around you and see what needs to be done.  Then, DO something.  Period.  We’ve seen the need for protesting, placing validating signs on the property, becoming a Welcoming Community, working through the Beloved Conversation to promote awareness of white privilege and systemic racism, memorial services for Transgender individuals who were killed for finally being their true selves, giving 50% of our plate to people in need, and how the Earth Mother needs us to protect and sustain her. Race, sexuality and injustices weren’t usually mentioned in sermons and songs in the churches where I worked.  I followed the liturgy, picked Christian hymns for the congregation and songs for the choir.  There was no sharing of societal ills through the music I’d choose for Sundays.  UUCWC forced me to see my whiteness and privilege, and because of that, to see the world and my community in a different way.  I chose music that would reflect our inspiring and self-reflecting services, to look within myself for prejudices and ideas taught by my family, my upbringing and society in general.

I’ve become a better person since I moved back to New Jersey from California and found UUCWC.  After retiring next year, oh, I’ll still be around and in my third act, as Jane Fonda calls it, I will continue to offer individual and group sessions with those grieving many different kinds of losses in their lives, as an Advanced Certified Grief Recovery Specialist.  I’ll be living all that I learned before and after being at UUCWC and see where life takes me now.  All I really needed to know, I really did learn at UUCWC.  And, I thank you with all my heart!