Sunday, May 02, 2010

Schwartz Center Rounds at United Hospital, St. Paul

I'm pleased to learn that United Hospital has launched Schwartz Center Rounds, and has had two successful rounds this spring. Schwartz Center Rounds help caregivers provide compassionate care by allowing them to reflect on difficult emotional and spiritual problems they encounter in their work. During my time as a chaplain resident at United Hospital, I had a small role in the initial promotion of this project, and am gratified that it is off to a successful start. Glad to see a shoutout for Verlyn Hemmen, a great CPE supervisor and key organizer for this project.

A posting on Bedside Manner, the Schwartz Center blog, describes the inaugural rounds at United Hospital:

Big Caregivers Don’t Cry

Originally uploaded by Joolz Perry
The hospital case was a difficult one: a dying mother with seven school-aged children, an angry husband, and the patient’s sister who constantly clashed with the husband over medical decisions once the patient could no longer make her own.

It was a perfect case for Schwartz Center Rounds, a program now taking place at 195 health care facilities across the country, where caregivers talk about cases like this one, challenging for emotional – not medical – reasons.

These were the inaugural Rounds for United Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota and hospital chaplain Verlyn D. Hemmen, who facilitated the session, told me that they were a huge success, with about 120 doctors, nurses, social workers, administrators and others in attendance. .... Continue reading...

Saturday, December 05, 2009

'Tis the Season!

My article in the First UU Youngstown monthly newsletter, Steel Chalice.

'Tis the Season! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Dongzhi or Yule, there is a civil holiday season that overarches all of these religious holidays. This civil holiday season seems to begin with Black Friday as its high holy day, launching a frenzy of consumption. Unless you live completely off the grid, you are finding yourself bombarded with messages to shop and spend, to decorate and illuminate, to entertain and party.

Many of us Unitarian Universalists find ourselves under stress at this time of year, and it is not just because of the frenetic level of activity of the season. We find ourselves consciously or unconsciously in conflict with the messages and values presented by the holiday season. Many of us find our desire to live sustainably on this earth in conflict with the hyper-consumption encouraged by the culture. We don't want our loved ones to think of us as Scrooges, but how do we show our love in non-material ways?

Others of us have discomfort with the Christmas story. We know "Christ's Mass" is a minor holiday with a long and complex history. It was not celebrated by our Puritan ancestors, as they saw it as theologically suspect. While we're no longer Puritans, many of us, as Pagans, or Humanists, or Mystics, find the Biblical story unsatisfying. Yet, we love much that surrounds Christmas: the carols, the tree, the candles, the child as a symbol of new life and hope.

Others of us have a hard time with the seasonal emphasis on celebration and joy. Maybe we are quiet by nature, contemplative, and all this extraverted exuberance is just draining for us. Or maybe we've suffered the loss of a loved one, and our grief wells up during this season. Whether the loss is recent, or this time of year is an anniversary of past loss, we find the celebration around us increases the intensity of our grief.

Others find the season amplifies family tensions, and we struggle to satisfy the conflicting desires of modern multi-nuclear families. Whose house do we go to on Christmas morning? How do we meld diverse traditions? Can we let go of our hopes for a Normal Rockwell image of the family gathering and accept our families as they are?

One of the things I love about Unitarian Universalism is that we can be intentional about how we practice our religion, as individuals and as a community. We can choose theology, teaching, tradition and ritual that makes sense for us. After all, we have been called heretics, which means 'able to choose'. Thus, I encourage each of us to make choosing a spiritual practice, especially around the holidays. Take time to contemplate what parts of the holiday season bring joy and satisfaction for you and your family, and choose how you celebrate. Pay attention to what brings you stress, and begin to change it. Ask those around you to help with these changes. Choose to make this holiday season one that makes you and yours more whole, more joyful, and more alive.

Photo by cherrypatter.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Installation at First UU Youngstown

I'm plugged in and powered up -- my installation at First UU of Youngstown was this morning.
The local paper ran an article announcing the appointment: (

The installation was part of our Ingathering and Water Ritual, an annual event at this time of the year. One of the church members was kind enough to take photos of the service, the installation, and the ritual.

First UU Matt Alspaugh Installation 9-13-09>

First UU Matt Alspaugh Installation 9-13-09

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Moving Day

For the third time in six years, Liz and I have 'packed out' to a new state. We're getting pretty good at the tactical aspects of this: we packed boxes by number, and hired professional loaders to load a 26-foot rental truck. Today we started our drive to Youngstown in the truck and a car, and have hired unloaders at the other end when we arrive. Maybe we're getting too good at this. We used exactly the number of boxes we had, and the truck was quite completely filled.

We may have our technique down well, but the larger emotional and psychic aspects of this uprooting are not easy. It's hard to leave the Cities, and Minnesota, a place we've come to love. It's hard to leave friends -- mostly new friends, and some old -- and begin again. The move recalls the losses and gains, fears and hopes of previous moves: how will this new situation work out, who will we befriend, what new possibilities might emerge, what old possibilities must finally be closed out.

It's been a stressful time. Yesterday, our little dog tore her ACL in her left hind leg, and she is hopping around on three legs. We took her to the vet, who could only offer her pain and inflammation relief before the move. We hope we can offer better care when we are settled. While Ceili's injury was certainly an accident, (she was racing out the back door), I wonder how much of our stress connected with her. Sometimes coincidences are just coincidences, and sometimes they're not.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Going to Youngstown

I've just accepted an offer to become the consulting minister at the First UU Church of Youngstown, Ohio. I"m excited about this culsulting ministry, as it combines some of the task oriented aspects of interim ministry with the relational aspects of more traditional settled ministry. UUYO is specifically asking for assistance in achieving goals of growth in size and diversity, organizational development and adult religious experience: all these are areas I'm enthusiastic about. I've really enjoyed the meeting members of the church during an interview visit, and received positive words about the congregatoin from others, so I look forward to a promising ministry. Exciting and busy and a bit scary -- times of change, now and ahead!

Monday, June 29, 2009

General Assembly 2009

I'm back from Salt Lake City, GA 2009, and only now am coming up for air. Along with many of my old friends, I was busy working for the Morales for UUA President campaign, and was overjoyed that Peter, the minister of my home congregation, was elected.
And the campaign was something. Peter noted (see this letter) that when he started this campaign, the team agreed to run a campaign they'd be proud of when they were done. I feel they've done this. While I was only involved in the periphery of the campaign, I saw many decisions made with this in mind even though tactics and expediency would have encouraged other choices.
The campaign also set a goal of having fun. And this was evident in so many ways. Our volunteer job titles included 'mindless clerical', 'schlepper', 'gopher with a car', 'gopher with shoes' among others. And who would have thunk up booth schwag like fake tattoos, a photo booth (see souvenir photo strip of me and Liz, above), and ice cream bars? All this was done creatively and at surprisingly low cost, within an overarching culture of permission and experimentation.
I loved being around these people. It was a joy to do this work. I hope that we may all carry these qualities forward in our larger work in congregations and the denomination: to always act with integrity, and to have fun.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More from my Ordination

So here's the evidence - pictures from my ordination:

A video of my ordination is posted here. I was unsuccessful at posting it (as flash) in Blogger.