From the Board President – Sheryl Stuart, 3/1/2024

I’ve been reflecting on the beautiful work of our RE team over the past several years in helping us be more attentive to the needs of multiple generations within the Fellowship, recognizing that there are differences in experience, expectations and more between different generations. As we’ve been blessed with more, younger children being present, especially in our Sunday services, I wonder how we can best accommodate the diverse needs of people of all ages who experience hearing and attention challenges in the service. I suspect this is one of those perennial conversations that is worth contemplation now and again.

First, I thought about the ubiquitous cell phone ring tones and notifications that happen during service. No matter how often we remind people to silence their phones, it is a rare service that doesn’t have some type of electronic interruption. I easily fall into righteous indignation about these interruptions…until I remember the unfortunate time that it happened to me.

I recalled a time when I sat next to someone who had a nervous habit that caused them to crack their knuckles often and repeatedly during the service. It drove me crazy! I never said anything, but I vowed never to sit next to that person again. I’ve subsequently gotten to know them and am quite fond of them. I don’t know if they still crack their knuckles in service, but I suspect my tolerance would be much higher.

I recalled several years in which we had a member who used an oxygen generator that made a loud noise periodically during the service. This also was annoying, but I reminded myself that the device was allowing the person to live and that helped me stop focusing on the distraction.

A friend once told me that a technique for dealing with these kinds of distractions is to consciously grant permission. I’m not sure this has ever totally worked for me, but I continue to try. And this reminded me of another congregant sharing during joys and sorrows about their experience in a hospital room in Portland. Their roommate was very loud and distressed. They said that they helped themself by repeating a version of the Metta prayer: may I be well, may I be peaceful…may you be well, may you be peaceful…and so on.

I’m so glad to see, and hear, babies coming with parents on Sundays. I confess that my heart literally aches for these parents. I remember the exhaustion of parenting young children and I’m so impressed that not only have families made time to join us on Sunday mornings, at least two parents have made the effort to contribute to our Fellowship by joining the choir. My immediate reaction is “How can we help you?!? How can we make your time at the fellowship a little lighter, so that you will continue to participate?” Supporting children and youth has always been one of our main focuses, and without new families, what will the future UUFC be?

I know that for some adults, especially those seeking quiet or contemplative moments, distractions can be distressing. I also realize that distractions come from many sources, and I am left with questions. Might there be a technology fix associated with the sound system that would help some of us hear better over background noise? Can we look at distractions differently? Is it possible for us to try to honor each distraction and then set it aside?

Building on its continuing work, our RE department has prepared a set of guidelines to help us all navigate differences and distractions. It’s a good place to begin to imagine and live into good possibilities and new ways.