Saturday, December 19, 2009

Changing ScrUUge

an image from Dickens' "The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,"
 on which Sunday's service/skit will be based!

There have been countless renditions and interpretations of  A Christmas Carol, Dickens' beloved tale of redemption and transformation. Just yesterday, I saw a Curious George  episode  in which the man with the yellow hat (George's owner) dreams that he has given his beloved naughty monkey away only to be visited by the proverbial three visions of past, present, and future, and to awake,  joyful that George is still with him.  Most UU s know that Dickens, who didn't think much of organized religion, was closely associated with the British Unitarians, and is believed to have first conceived A Christmas Carol  after attending a service at a Unitarian Church. However, although the story is set on a "Christian" (really pagan) holiday, there is not a single religious symbol or icon in the whole tale! So, it is universal and open to endless interpretations throughout time.

Eight or nine years ago, I wrote a version for a church service, called  A UUCL Christmas, with Carols. (Two women named Carol were in the readers' theatre type skit.)It stars out with a grumpy and penny-pinching Board President named Elouiza ScrUUge, who only wants to spend money to preserve the building and keep things just as they are. She decides to get rid of the Staff to save money, and falls asleep.

Best line: "We'll use the money to install permanent pews! We're tired of moving chairs around to suit the whims of 'creative' people like our former music director!"

Her first visitor is the Ghost of UUCL Past, a sixties-era hippie, with a tale featuring "the barn," a hugely symbolic sacred cow that we talked about but never acted upon year after year. The barn reminds them of the Crachitt family, who bring Tiny Tim to church only to be ignored by a greeter who is smoking and reading The Whole Earth Catalog  and who flicks a few ashes on their Bible and send them out to the "RE" program, which consists of "unsupervised Chaos." They grab Tiny and flee to the Episcopalians with their million dollar bequest.

Best line: (ScrUUge)"Past schmast! UUCL has no past" Ghost: "UUCL has no archives! But there is most assuredly a past!"

Next is Christmas Present, an over-worked, over-committed soccer mom. She has exactly 17 minutes per week to spend on the church, and is very stressed. She quickly reminds ScrUUge that the Crachitts returned when Tim was a teenager, looking for a youth group, but that the congregation was too busy with a squabble over a tree that had been accidentally cut down at a grounds clean-up (that really happened, the tree, not the squabble) to notice. The tree starts telling the story of the history of our property, a wonderful tale about an early Kentucky farmer, who broke with the Baptists to build a house for freedom of worship in the wilderness and whose property synchronistically ends up owned by the Unitarians 150 years later.. but the tree is interrupted by the soccer mom, who rushes off.

Best line: (ScrUUge) "They couldn't have been turned off by the smoking this time! Why, we've even done away with coffee during the services.. we've practically gone Presbyterian!"

Finally comes the ghost of UUCL Future, accompanied by none other than Tiny Tim, now a MacDonald's employee working at the McD that has been built... where the church used to be!ScrUUge is told that due to her policies, even the most loyal members have left, and finally the property was sold to make a huge shopping pavilion featuring all of the retailers that UUs claim to detest. ScrUUge, horrified, is transformed by these visions and returns from her dreams a new woman, ready to make the church more welcoming and to pay attention to every visitor, and of course, she and the church thrive.

Best line: (ScrUUge) "I know thw rest, Tiny Tim dies for lack of teenage socialization, the Crachitts go away mad, and you point your long bony finger to my........ FRENCH FRIES!@#$???"

I re-read the play this week, and considered staging it again. It  is VERY funny! But, heavy-handed as the message is, it doesn't really apply ten years on. We truly have become a church where everyone feels welcomed, and we have changed. We still have challenges, but they are different ones. Our church has become more Universalist, with lots of families, many more native Kentuckians, and fewer PhD and Yankee intellectuals! Because we are far less classist now, we have trouble with income. So, we're changing again. We are learning that a church that's not sustained by rich members will have to do lots of fundraising beyond the pledge campaign. This year, for the first time, we had a gift tree with items for a family who are members of our church. Were I to stage A UUCL Christmas today, my message-lightly-cloaked-in-humor would be one about egalitarianism and overcoming classist stereotypes.

I'm actually delighted that it would have to be written all over. Change is painful for people and for congregations, but it is the only way to grow, to evolve, to adapt, and to become whole.