Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

05 September 2019

Last week I faced the U.S. flag, pledged allegiance to it, and sang the national anthem, all while placing my right hand over my heart. I had only a fleeting impulse to take a knee, or not cross my heart, or not even stand. But I proceeded with these patriotic exercises nonetheless, and felt proud.

I was in Fairfax, VA, witnessing my son-in-law take the oath in becoming a U.S. citizen. He’s from Bangladesh, married my daughter almost seven years ago, but still faced relentless scrutiny while traveling. With a middle name of Mohammed, it sure ain’t easy entering the U.S. But he likes to say he only travels with his lawyer (my daughter). When you string together the number of hours they have been detained, it would equal a month worth of humiliating searches and intimidating cross-examinations. 

But there we were, the three of us in a crowded room, following the protocol for all the rituals on the road to becoming a citizen. Everyone was instructed several times about crossing one’s heart when saying the pledge, as though noncompliance could possibly nullify the mountain of paperwork and endless anxiety in dealing with immigration bureaucrats. Nobody was going to take that chance.

But despite feeling like one was being processed on an assembly line, a mood of joy mingled with relief and pride. My son-in-law’s ceremony included sixty-six people representing thirty-nine different nations from around the world. There was one from Germany, England, Canada, and Ukraine. Everyone else was dark-skinned or Asian, lifted by a spirit of new beginnings/new life. 

We sat through a video of Donald Trump reminding us how great it was to be an American, and a video of Madeleine Albright, an immigrant herself, addressing the unlimited possibilities in America for immigrants. We all pledged, and sang, and waved little American flags, and finally, one-by-one, each immigrant was called by name to receive her or his naturalization papers. Each immigrant took the certificate as though receiving an Oscar. Smiles and tears and love and laughter filled the room. 

I felt enormous delight that my dear son-in-law could travel now with a U.S. passport, eliminating the duress of going through customs. But the contradictions ricocheted around my mind: Immigrants are not welcome in our country; endless opportunities do not exist for people of color; Democratic principles are on the chopping block. And yet…there is still an ideal of America we seem to carry in our hearts. It’s like a blueprint for a country that strives for equality and justice, even when it stumbles along the path to freedom. I realized that despite my criticism of our nation’s hard right turn, I was not about to forsake my U.S. citizenship. Hope for this country is unfailing and all enduring. My son-in-law can now join the rest of us Americans in turning this country around

We went to dinner that night at their favorite restaurant in Alexandria. When my daughter made the reservation she was asked if it was a special occasion. She explained the circumstances, thinking nothing of it. The whole restaurant staff must have been alerted. When we arrived, the African American bartender fixed us free drinks. When moving to the dining room, our table was draped with the American flag. Our Korean waiter told us he had become a citizen just the year before. Then a guy from the kitchen crew came out to greet us. He was from Bangladesh. They babbled on in Bangla as though they were brothers. 

It was a slice of America that filled me with warm sentiments. Not the free drinks, but the international tapestry of immigrants, still counting on making their dreams come true in this country. They each have a story to tell. And all their stories together comprise the threads of American greatness, making it incumbent upon us all to realize our nation’s potential. TRG

New Church Administrator(s)…

It has not been easy filling the church administrator position following 15 years of Hal’s dedication. The church has grown both in numbers and complexity over that span of time. Although painful for everyone involved, we have learned some important lessons along the way. The UUA has actually broken down the administrator position into three levels: church administrator, business administrator, and financial executive. We were unclear about these distinctions because we’ve been coasting with the same person for many years. 

A year ago we hired Carol who was (easily) one of the more beloved staff persons ever. We found out the hard way that while she served as the perfect administrator, she agreed that the position actually required further skills. We then hired Philippe who has an MBA and tremendous international experience in accounting. A financial executive fell unwittingly into our laps, but we could not afford the salary for that level. Although Philippe was delighted to work here (we do have a very congenial staff), he was tapped for another position that could pay him what his high level of expertise deserved. 

In searching for a new “business administrator,” we were very pleased to receive 13 applications.  From this unexpected large pool of applicants we are pleased to announce that we have selected Margaret Kosorok to serve the church as our new Church Administrator.  Please welcome her warmly as our newest staff member.

Among ourselves…

It was a summer of many losses in our congregation. Earlier this summer, we held services for Pete Peterson and Marion Nelson. Recently we suffered the losses of Julie Swaner and Rawlins Young. Their respective celebrations of life will be held much later: For Julie it will probably be in March. We will make announcements beforehand so everyone knows. For Rawlins, please note there will be a viewing on September 5thfrom 6:00 -8:00 p.m. at Holbrook Mortuary on 3251 South 2300 East; a graveside service on September 6that 1:00 at the Salt Lake Cemetery; and a celebration of Rawlins’ life at First Unitarian on September 29that 4:00.

As a congregation, we all grieve the loss and extend our love and sympathy to the families. We are grateful for a community in which we can come together to share joys and sorrows with the wonderful people who comprise this church community.