Guest At Your Table

Guest At Your Table, the Unitarian Unviersalist Service Committee.  A sermon by Rev. David M Bryce. 

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court which said that the state must allow same-sex marriage. I am very glad that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts did that.  It is a day to celebrate.

International Transgender Day of Remembrance is this coming Wednesday, November 20.  Around the world people are attacked, beaten and in some cases killed for no other reason than being transgendered.  This should not be.  I hope that we will each pause for a moment on Wednesday to reflect or pray for those who have been killed, and to commit ourselves to building a world of justice for all.

I am very happy that the United States Senate included transgendered people in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which it approved.  I have small hope but genuine hope that someday the House of Representatives will do the same.

There are many terrible things happening in the world.  We see natural disasters like typhoons and hurricanes, and we see humanly created disasters like wars and civil wars which create terrible sufferings and sometimes massive numbers of refugees.  And sometimes we see combinations of these, as when a tsunami hits a nuclear power plant.

We can have on of several reactions to this.  We can ignore what is happening around the world because, after all, it does not affect us and so we can turn our backs upon human suffering.

But that callousness is not the Unitarian Universalist response, not the religious response, not the human response; at least, not the response of healthy human beings.

On the other hand, we can see and feel the suffering of others and be overwhelmed by all of the pain.  There is too much, how can anyone do anything.  Let me turn away.

That is a response of compassion, but it is also a response that leaves people without help and that therefore is little different from the willful ignorance of those who lack compassion.

But there is another response, the response that looks beyond the suffering and pain and sees all of the good work being done to alleviate that pain.  And there is much being done.  So, first, we should take heart.  And for those of us who are able to do so, supporting that good work is a joyful act.

There are many people involved in good works throughout the world.  The United Nations does vast amounts of it through its various agencies.  And non-governmental organizations like CARE, the International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and so many others are working very hard all  around the world.

This morning I am going to focus on just one organization, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.  I am going to do so in part because it exists to promote our values, because we are connected to it through our broader Unitarian Universalist tradition, and because—as Jim has pointed out—we are the home congregation of that good organization.  All of the good works that it is doing today are the result of some small acts by people who were sitting in these pews just a few decades ago.  Their efforts have resulted in huge consequences—happy consequences—for the world.

He Service Committee partners with local organizations, listens to the needs of local people and supports actions that meet those needs with small grants and technical support.

        The UUSC works following natural disasters, like the earth quake in Haiti.  It supports the creation of tire gardens in Haiti, especially in urban areas where there is little available farm space.  With tire gardens you turn the tires inside out and fill them wit soil.  The UUSC helps to bring soil and compost from the countryside.  Five tires are enough to feed a family of four for a year.

The Service Committee acts following war and conflict:

In 2008, much of the rural population of northern Uganda — over 1.8 million Acholi people — had been living in camps for up to 20 years as a result of civil war.  The war destroyed homes, roads, and services, and inflicted terror on the region.

Who UUSC supports 

  • Acholi families displaced from their villages and torn from their traditions by the war

What UUSC does together with grassroots partners

Working with Caritas Gulu in Paderover the past five years, UUSC has helped over 20,000 people return home.

By first listening to people’s needs, UUSC and Caritas provided concrete assistance that communities needed to rebuild:

  • Supported ceremonies to lay the dead to rest
  • Helped youth build homes for the elderly
  • Fostered a revival of Acholi cultural traditions by offering musical instruments and dance costumes for youth in exchange for building houses for the elderly
  • Supplied oxen teams to families to build community cohesion while planting food
  • Supported literacy training for women
  • Distributed goats to widows and widowers
  • Linked communities to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology development and design lab focused on food processing, water, and tools
  • Helped design and build bicycle ambulances
  • Supported savings and loan programs for women
  • Enabled the music groups to perform in radio shows, encouraging people to return home


The Service Committee also works before violence begins with a focus on preventing violence:

Preparing Youth for Peace in Kenya

During the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya there was much rioting about both the process and the results of the election. There was another election this past spring and before hand the UU Service Committee worked with a partner organization training youth to become agents for peace and for conflict resolution.  While the Service Committee cannot be given all of the credit, this time there was much less violence in Kenya.

 The Service Committee does not just work in what used to be called “third world” nations.  They are also active in Japan.  Japan is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake.

One of the approaches of the UUSC is to search out the marginalized: who is not getting services form the government, who is being excluded during the recovery?

  • Immigrants (largely from Brazil, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines) — including immigrant workers and immigrant women who have married Japanese men — whose legal status and lack of Japanese language skills isolate them from aid
  • Women, who face particular obstacles to accessing assistance in the wake of this disaster

 And here at home the service committee is working to raise the minimum wage both nationally and in Massachusetts.

And it has partnered with the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ JusticeCenter which seeks to improve the wages, benefits, and working conditions of low-wage and immigrant workers. The grassroots workers’ center achieves this through rights education, local and regional partnerships, and to train workers as effective advocates.

        The Service Committee provides education to congregations so that its members can learn about Compassionate Consumption, which is a multilayered ad multifaceted idea

In today’s world we have a global supply chain of goods and services.  The Service Committee helps us to purchase products in ways that protect:

Animal welfare

Minimum wage

The Environment

Workers rights – migrant workers, food chain (including processing plants) and restaurant workers

Small farmers

What is a just economy?  Meat requires more land that vegetables do, and some kinds of meat require more land than others; have people been thrown off their land so that I can have meat?  Have people lost their food supply so that I can eat pineapples?

        The service Committee also supports small businesses around the world.

I thank the divine or evolution or both for the compassion that fills the human heart.  And I am so glad that we live in a time where I can have a positive influence on events all around the globe. And while there are those who disparage the giving of money to charities and aid organizations, as if that is somehow a bad thing, somehow a lesser act; the truth is that money is usually the most effective means available for helping people and changing lives. 

And I am so grateful that it was people within this congregation who created the Unitarian Universalist service Committee.  They could not have known when they began planning those many decades ago, all that would be done as part of the legacy of their actions.  They took small steps, but what they created lives on; and what they created now gives us multiple opportunities to help others—to feed the hungry; to clothe the naked; to help the refugee, that stranger in a strange land; to support human rights and human dignity all across the planet. 

I am so grateful for the opportunity to support UUSC today; and just as its founders could not foresee all of the god things that their actions would result in, so we cannot foresee all that will be done in the next seven or eight decades as a result of what we do today.  Our small steps today, our giving of financial support to the Service Committee, the signing of petitions, the actions we take, can have great consequences.

May we take pride in, and take action to support, this wonderful organization and its good works; for they are really our good works.   They are our good works in several ways.  They are our good works when we support what they do, but they are also our good works because more than any other congregation we are responsible for the very existence of the Service Committee.