Four people with taper candles light chalice framed by two rings

“Tending the Flame” – April 30th, 2023

May 1, 2023


From “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulgham.

“All of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

 – Share everything.
 – Play fair.
 – Don’t hit people.
 – Put things back where you found them.
– Clean up your own mess.
 – Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
 – Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
 – Wash your hands before you eat.
  – Flush.
 – Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
 – Take a nap every afternoon.
 – When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
 – Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.”



I was raised un-churched. This is something I’ve said a lot in my life: “I was raised un-churched.” Followed by a little something about my first generation Italian American father who was raised Roman Catholic, and my mother who was brought up Christian Scientist and how, upon their leaving home, vowed to never go to church again.

Funnily enough, it was my mother who, only recently, called me out when she heard me say that I was raised “un-churched.” “That’s not true, Sophia,” she said. And then she reminded me of the countless weekends that I spent with my grandmother, this is her mother–the Christian Scientist–Grandma Norah, and the full month that I spent with her every summer. And that during every one of those visits, Grandma Norah and I went to church. And not just on Sundays. Grandma Norah had the keys. Some of you do too, so I know that you know what I mean by this.

We were in and out of the First Church of Christ, Scientist on the island of Coronado, off the coast of San Diego, every day.  Dropping things off, picking things up. Prepping for worship. Cleaning up after it. Planting flowers. Doing bookkeeping. Taking out trash. My grandma was the sexton, the worship, fellowship, finance, RE committees all folded into one human. Small, small churches are like this. Her church had about 20 members.

And then my mom said: “I wasn’t surprised at all that you became a minister. You loved church. Oh, you were churched.”

So, this begs the question: what is it to be churched?

For myself, I never owned or read a bible as a young person, nor did I have Christian Scientist’s Key to the Scriptures. I only remember one, maybe two, Sunday School classes–so clearly nothing much in there stuck. I don’t remember one hymn.

Here’s what I do remember. Vividly. The smell and feel of the sanctuary and how much I loved being in there when no one else was. Off hours, you know? The stone walls, creaking wood pews and standing at that strange, old thing called…a pulpit. I loved the hymn board and the scraped up wooden box of numbers that Grandma Norah let me stick in the slots for worship–hoisting me up so I could reach.

And my most loved memory? Getting to sit in the reading room with a big stack of Science and Health study books, these are the sacred texts of Christian Scientists, where my job was to wipe away the blue chalk markings on the pages. This is a big part of Christian Scientists’ spiritual practice: taking notes, making annotations, and marking key pages in blue chalk, that need to be wiped away for the next study group.

I didn’t know what any of this meant, or why they did this. Honestly, it didn’t interest me at all.

What makes me “churched” has nothing to do with adhering to that doctrine, or understanding it, and everything to do with feeling so incredibly at home there. My grandma and I with master keys doing the most important work of the church. Clearly, as my mom pointed out, it had an impact. That is what makes me churched–it had an impact.

Today we spoke beautiful words to our young ones. And we made promises to them.

And most of us will deem these words and promises successful if these kids stay in our midst and learn all the wonderful UU things and partake in all the rituals and rites of passages; go out into the world with UU identities that have been nurtured and formed here, in this church. And this is a wonderful aspiration. It should be our hope and dream as a religious community. And there are so many ways to be shaped and formed; there are so many ways to be churched and to feel at home. So many ways to have our flames tended to.

It might be the programming. It might be this ritual today. It might also be being asked to light the chalice–yes, that could change the course of one of their lives. Or a soft, fluffy carpet at the front of the sanctuary to lay on during worship.

It might be your love and patience when they just can’t keep it together–that could be more powerful than anything else we do or offer here. Yes, tending their flame comes in so many forms.

This is all CHURCH. And we cannot possibly know what they will do with any of this. Isn’t that wonderful? This isn’t to devalue carefully planned religious exploration for young ones. This is about each of us taking responsibility for making this church a home for them. I know that this is all you want for them. I know that about you–that our young ones feel at home here. I know this is your prayer.

What I love about Robert Fulgham’s passage from “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” is that it reminds me about Wisdom coming from unexpected places: like the sandpile at Sunday School, or from wiping blue chalk notes out of a Christian Science text. How unexpected. It teaches us that not one piece of church life is insignificant.

To be a part of this, we must slow down. We must all commit ourselves to being patient and present–handle all that we do here, every interaction, with care. Take care in the sandpile. That is my message to you today. To take care in the sandpile. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Take care in the sandpile.

Amen. May it be so.

Won’t you sing with me now: Wake Now My Senses #298

Reverend Sophia Lyons
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Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.

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