“…we must pursue both knowledge and humility in order to encounter difference without colonizing it.” (Dr. Lisa Johnson-Marsala)

In January, our congregation welcomed Dr. Jason Hansen of Furman University to talk about the global refugee crisis, and how different Western societies have responded to people from different regions and cultures seeking asylum in their communities:

In February, we welcomed Dr. Caroline Caldwell-Richmond of New Mind Health & Care to speak about joy in the midst of struggle, speaking of her experience as a woman of color to assert the power of love to change ourselves and our world:

This Sunday, March 25, Dr. Lisa Johnson-Marsala will lead our service—and it will be extraordinary. For more than 10 years, Lisa has served as Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at USC-Upstate. A member of UUCS, she will challenge us to think about Women’s History through the question of “Whose History?” Lisa’s distinguished career has constantly sought to foreground the stories and voices of women across differences of class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ableism, and gender identity:

And the music will be unbelievable.

We live in a world of difference. These leaders of thought and action urge us to see ourselves as people of difference together, to become people of knowledge and humility, that we may value one another just as we are, that we may create a more livable world for us all.


I have spent this week on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, part of a team training a community in dialogue across very difficult racial and economic divisions.

And from a distance of over 700 miles, I have received messages throughout the week from members of UUCS, encouraging our team in this work.

And from a distance of over 700 miles, I have watched as members of UUCS have encircled one another in Spartanburg, caring for one another through a time of profound grief within our congregation.

At home and far away, your care for our world and all we who live in it

spreads across the earth, reaches across the sky,

a great forest of compassion

at home and far away.


In Buddhism, practitioners vow to “take refuge in the sangha,” the spiritual community—both to find haven from life’s difficulties and to build one another up to face life’s challenges. Those who take refuge create a space for each other, a place of mutual support, a place to strengthen one another along life’s way.

This week, the work of many people in the Spartanburg community has culminated in the report of an LGBTQ needs assessment ( Based on a survey of almost 400 people throughout our county, the assessment measures the lived experience of LGBTQ members of this community. 70% of respondents report that LGBTQ co-workers and clients experience a lack of family support. Accessing healthcare that meets the needs of an individual, in the fullness of their identity and being, is a major concern expressed in the survey, with a majority of respondents not feeling they can share their sexual orientation or gender identity with their doctors. 70% express frequent feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

As I have listened to presenters interpret this report, they have repeatedly named individuals and organizations who are doing the work of advocacy to create a more livable space for every person in Spartanburg. And over and over again I hear the names of members and friends of this congregation. I hear the name of this congregation itself. I am not surprised. But I am awed.

You do so much, individually and together. You have for so long. And in all of your work, in so many organizations and venues, and beyond the limits of any group or institution—you also have made this church a place that matters—a place of belonging and of strength—a place of refuge and of power—for every person who finds a place here—and for many, many, many more, far beyond these walls.

It matters.

Thank you.


Come to the Fellowship Hall, Saturday, March 31, 7:00 to 9:00 PM.

Feature Act: Bob and Amy Buckingham

Join us on Saturday, February 17, 2018 (8:00 pm) when the March Coffee House showcases Bob and Amy Buckingham.

Also, there is open mic time – come and share/hear music, poetry, readings, an interesting personal story, demonstrate a craft, or perform a skit. We welcome all forms of creative expression that are in good taste, children may be present. Please limit your act to about five minutes or two songs.

The suggested donation is $5, performers get in free.

Please bring donations of non-perishable food items for our TOTAL Ministries Food barrel, and if you can bring a treat to go along with the provided coffee, even better.

Come join in the fun! For questions, contact Fred Stoll or Cindy Freeman, 


This spring, April 9-11, USC-Upstate will host its 8th annual Bodies of Knowledge Conference, “a symposium about embodied knowledge of LGBTQ lives, a symposium that makes space for LGBTQ bodies, a symposium dedicated to increasing and improving the knowledge in circulation about LGBTQ people.”

The conference is led and organized by the Director of Women’s & Gender Studies at USC-Upstate, UUCS member Dr. Lisa Johnson-Marsala. Lisa will lead our Sunday service on March 25, drawing together a month-long celebration of Women’s History and our deep ecology as humans living in this particular time and place.

The theme of the Bodies of Knowledge conference this year is “Creating A Better World for LGBTQ People.” This extraordinary event offers us the opportunity to strengthen community in our region, in this our home; and to deepen our understanding of ourselves and one another as we strive to build a better world for every one of us. Bodies of Knowledge is open to the public. Please, come to any part that you are able to attend. Let us strengthen one another in this, our time and place:


Dear Members and Friends,

First I would like to thank you so much for your generous pledges to our 2018-2019 Annual Fund. Without your continued financial support, this religious community could not be possible. While your pledge will not start until July, your Finance Committee, your program committees, and your Board of Trustees will start work on preparing next year’s spending priorities. I would very much like to thank Linda Leible for agreeing to chair this committee along with Fred Stoll and Karen Mitchell. Your minister, Scott Neely, also provided strong support and guidance from the pulpit as well at our occasional planning sessions. Thanks again for all who pledged and for all who donated their time and energy to our Annual Fund.

If you pledged you received from me a thank-you note asking you to keep Sunday, May 20, open on your calendar for the ordination ceremony for Scott. What does that mean? Ordination is an act by which a person becomes an “official” minister. A strict rule suggests that no one be titled “The Reverend” until after an ordination. Ordaining Scott will allow him to perform the sacrament of marriage as per South Carolina state law, and gives him the opportunities and privileges that ordained ministers may enjoy. This will be a very special occasion for Scott and his family as well as the members and friends of this congregation. This will be the first time in our 64-year UUCS history that we have ever ordained a minister. I hope that you can attend this special event.

I would like to thank our Souper Bowl fundraiser volunteers, led by Joyce Harrison, for a really successful fundraiser. Joyce has written her own article in this Unison, and our volunteer soup chefs and those who helped set up and clean up have all been listed. Thank you so much. The soups were really tasty and it was nice to use Wilde Hall for this event.

Finally, you may have noticed that our Sunday Worship Services are back on Facebook. We have purchased a copyright license so that we can safely broadcast our programs. The Communications Committee has also recently purchased a new video recorder that should be installed soon. I would like to personally thank Alan Jenkins and Andrew Cooke for all their hard work in making these important changes possible.

Thanks again to everyone who pledged and contributed to our Annual Fund.

Peace and Love,


Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.

“Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.”

– Federico García Lorca, Romance Sonámbulo

What is our deep longing, the desire that presses up within us, the desire so strong it could break us open?

Spring has come, and all around us the earth is awakening in beauty and fecundity. Spring is a great opening, a reaching out, a bright current coursing through all things, shoots pressing up through the ground, green unfolding toward light. Spring is desire, the pressure of life to thrive, millions of beings risking an end to flourish in a beginning.

At Lea Sharpton’s rambunctious memorial this past week, her Dixieland jazz band trumpeted a swing version of “Happy Birthday” to celebrate Lea’s 90th. A birthday party at a memorial service: that is more than a celebration of life—that is desire, pressing to live, bursting to thrive, exploding with color and vitality. And did that band ever.

Lorca’s poem is the song of a man separated by death, longing to embrace his love once more.
Lea’s song shook the walls of our Sanctuary, bursting through all limits, pressing so strong that it would not be stopped.

For we who are here now, living this beginning again, this electric-bright Spring flowing through us, in this awakening moment—

What is the longing within us, surging, so strong it could break us open?

Like Lea’s song: no limits. Break open. Live. Thrive.

Adádo liźdi hiáno selugadu tsaiźgi.
“Bless this cornbread feast.”

On the back of a business card for a southern swing band, Lea Sharpton’s careful handwriting spells out the phonetic pronunciation of a blessing in Cherokee.

What a gift, to share together in this feast, a feast through many seasons, a feast of our own choosing, a feast that we help create—a feast of coffee, of bread, of music, of kindness, of time.

What a gift, the final word of the benediction Lea left on the pulpit at UUCS:

“Thank you.”

On Sunday, February 25 at 11:00 am, we welcome a very special guest speaker to lead our Sunday service. Dr. Caroline Caldwell-Richmond is a force of nature. Caroline is a catalyst, a person who energizes and inspires change in the most challenging situations.

Founder and Executive Director of New Mind Health & Care, she combats recidivism by offering a holistic approach to reentry after a person has experienced incarceration. Her TEDx presentation on this work may be found here: An expert facilitator, she serves as President of Speaking Down Barriers and on the board of Upstate Pride, where she leads a peer-to-peer mentoring and mental health initiative.

Caroline leads; she organizes; and she transforms. Come on February 25 for the culmination of our celebration of Black History Month—a month full of powerful moments at UUCS; a month with a finale you will not want to miss.


“together, there is a power—” (Marlanda Dekine)

This February in celebration of Black History Month, we are listening to the lives and teachings of three great leaders—Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali. We are learning from them strategies in the fight for justice, and asking what it is we are fighting for.

They each have much to teach us, not least about the power of team. Malcolm X declared, “I for one will join in with any one, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.” When we work together, across all of our disagreements and differences, we enhance our effectiveness.

This Sunday we will consider the tactic of non-violent resistance, practiced by Dr. King and thousands who stood with him. In its very nature, non-violence is an act of individuals who have resolved to walk together as a team no matter what comes.

On Saturday evening, February 17 from 7:00-9: 00 pm, community leader, and spoken word poet Marlanda Dekine will headline our monthly coffeehouse. Her singular voice will compel us to face ourselves and our country, as do the voices of Malcolm X, Dr. King, and Muhammad Ali. In her poem “we are never lone heroes”, she evokes the legacy of Dr. King to illustrate how vital teamwork is for us to build a liveable future. Hear the power of her call to work together:

and join us on February 17 to listen together more.


May we strive together as a team,

ever listening, ever building–