Rev. Jennifer Brooks

Star of Wonder

Watch the YouTube video here


On this day before the beginning of Hannukah in the Jewish tradition (Dec. 3-10), and the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian tradition, we pause to contemplate the nature of miracles. Whether it’s the birth of a baby, the Fibonacci numbers that predict the spiral shape of our galaxy, or the ever-renewable light made possible through solar technology, there are miracles (and mysteries) aplenty. Join in the spirit of free inquiry, curiosity, and wonder as Rev. Jennifer Brooks shines a little light on the mysteries and miracles of the season.

Stone Soup

Watch the You Tube video here

The old story of Stone Soup tells of two weary travelers who arrive in a small village and unexpectedly bring a community together under the guise of making a delicious soup from stones.To make this story come to life, we’re encouraging everyone who can to bring pre-cut veggies to add to the pot (from which volunteers will make a veggie soup for delivery to home-bound members), as well as non-perishable food to support our children with their food drive to benefit families in need in the Des Moines community. This participatory service will engage young and old alike in this important tale and also offer food to the hungry.

Special music by the UU Singers – I See Colors by PinkZebra

We the People

9:15 & 11 am
Celebrant: Martha Sherick Shen

In this service, the first of the month when our theme is “Memory” and the Sunday before election day, we take time to remember the origins of our nation. There is a close connection between the development of our constitutional democracy and the engagement of Unitarians and Universalists in the public life after the American Revolution. The philosophy and principles underlying the US Constitution resonate with the later-developed UU principles, and it is no accident.

Special music by the Bell Ave. Ringers – Ash Grove

Wayfaring Strangers

9:15 & 11 am
Celebrant: Ben Spick

The sanctuary of our beloved community holds us in love as we learn and grow, seek and serve, and discover the wonder and mystery of life. The experience of community can give its members a sense of belonging. But not everyone has this experience. Everyone longs for community, for that sense of belonging, for sanctuary, yet have experienced rejection and isolation for who they are. In this Sunday following October 11 National Coming Out Day, we consider how to extend a genuine welcome, and sanctuary, to people marginalized in our society because of gender or sexual orientation. Rev. Jennifer and Ben Spick, who co-lead this service, will each offer a reflection.

Special music by Bell Ave Ringers

Listen for the Voices

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In this month when our theme is “Sanctuary,” we’re invited to consider the many ways in which a Unitarian Universalist congregation can be a sanctuary. The obvious connection is that we might host someone who is literally in sanctuary, yet the possible meaning of sanctuary is much broader. By our attitudes, actions, and compassion, we can create sanctuary here for many people in need of it, including ourselves. It begins with listening to all the voices that long for us to hear them.

Special music by UU Singers

Heart of the Church

9:15 & 11 am
Celebrant: Kellie Patterson

What is the “heart” of First Unitarian Church? How do individual values and aspirations combine to form the heart of this beloved community? These are the questions members have been answering over the last year through Visioning Circles and at the September 22nd Visioning Workshop—as well as at the September 9th ingathering service. Rev. Jennifer, inspired by your answers, shares her perceptions of this congregation’s heart.

Special music by UU Singers

Life Calls Us On

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Why are we here? What is our purpose? These are the questions that rise from the great underlying question, “What is the meaning of life?” In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, there is no single answer to these big questions. But there is one unifying message: each of us creates our own meaning and purpose. Life calls to us to use the gifts that are ours to shape a life that speaks.

Special music by the Bell Ringers

The Capable Heart

10 am
Celebrant: Susan Gross

The idea of a “capable” heart comes from 12th century Sufi Muslim mystic and philosopher Ibn Arabi. He championed the idea of a religion of love—a religion that does not balk at differences in theology or ritual but expands to embrace all. Did we think Unitarian Universalism had this idea first? What else can we learn from a poet born in 1160 in Murcia, a then-Islamic city in what is now Spain? And what will the world become if we encourage one another, and ourselves, to develop a “capable heart”?

Special music by Madeline Echternacht

The Importance of Loafing

10 am
Celebrant: Lyra Halsten

“Loafing” is the word offered up by the Chinese inventor and author Dr. Lin Yutang in his book The Importance of Living (1937). Dr. Lin, born in China in 1895, studied at Harvard University and spent many years in New York City. His observations on American and Chinese culture, written more than 80 years ago, resonate strongly with our lives today despite changes in both societies. Relax with Rev. Jennifer Brooks as she offers languid encouragement to appreciate one of summer’s greatest pleasures: loafing.

Special music by Kellie Patterson

Principles and Promises

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The approach of Independence Day reminds us of the principles that form the idea of America: all are created equal with inherent rights, and the government is created by the people to serve the people. These ideas resonate with our seven UU principles: the inherent worth of every person; the use of democratic process in our congregations and in the world. Shared principles, clearly stated, carry with them an implicit promise that we will act together to make them live vibrantly in our political and religious life. This Sunday, Rev. Jennifer Brooks offers an assessment: how have we lived into the principles and promises on which America was based, and in our life as Unitarian Universalists?

Special music by Quinn Emison Clair

The Blessings of Pride

10 a.m. only
Celebrant: Ben Spick

As the Des Moines community and most cities and states celebrate LGBTQ Pride, this Sunday we appreciate the blessings of Pride through the words and songs of Unitarian Universalist LGBTQ ministers and members. In February, we lifted up the voices of UUs of color. This service will follow a similar format, reminding us of our proud history of support for civil marriage as a civil right—and the challenges that remain. All in all, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the Blessings of Pride. All are invited to join fellow UUs in marching in the Des Moines Pride Parade after the service, beginning at the State Capital at noon.

Please bring a flower from your garden or florist to share in our annual Flower Communion. (Some flowers will also be available for those who forget)

Special music by Megan Irey & Auden Eaton

The Blessings of Community

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One of the blessings of congregational life is the community we create together. In American society today, people often struggle to balance work with family life—the demands of the job and the deep personal need to be in meaningful relationships. The congregational community helps individuals and families find that balance, deepen relationships, and grow personally and spiritually. This Sunday, the day of our Annual Congregational Meeting, we consider and celebrate the way that the First Unitarian community brings meaning and balance to our lives. We will also recognize our graduating high school seniors in a Bridging Ceremony. One service this week at 10 a.m., followed by the Congregational Meeting at 11:15 a.m.

Special music by Julie Murphy & Bruce Martin

Memory and Meaning

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On Memorial Day weekend, our thoughts inevitably turn to the causes and consequences of war. When we think of those who have died in service to our country, is our responsibility simply to remember them? Or do we have a larger responsibility to give their deaths meaning? If a family member died in active military service, you’re invited to wear a black armband in their memory.

Special music by Barb Martin

Life as Jazz

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Jazz has a quality of unpredictability even though it follows a recognizable pattern. What is it about the jazz musician that allows for the artistry of jazz? What attitudes and skills that make for good jazz might also make us better at the improvisation Life sometimes requires? Join Rev. Jennifer and pianist Bruce Martin as they creatively explore this jazzy metaphor.

Special music by Bell Ave. Ringers

Embracing the Millipede

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In our world, the wide diversity of religious tradition and practice too often is the basis for division. Unitarian Universalism encourages us to see religious diversity as an opportunity to be open and curious about other religious traditions. This month’s worship theme, “Emergence,” asks us to consider not only the ways in which our own beliefs define the immanent, but also how we can emerge from the cocoon of our assumptions and open to the full diversity of Life.

Body & Soul

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The emergence of buds and flowers after the cold of winter vividly reminds us of life’s ability to renew itself, body and soul. This Sunday is Easter in the Christian tradition—but the story of resurrection is more nuanced and complex than convention may suggest. The oldest traditions of Judaism and Christianity offer diverse ideas about the relationship between body and soul, ideas that resonate with the questions of today’s spiritual seekers.

Hearing with the Heart

9:15 & 11 am
Celebrant: Martha Shen

In every encounter with another human being, there’s an opportunity to listen — to go deep; to forge, even briefly, an authentic connection. To help illustrate the balance that’s necessary if we’re to hear with the heart, Bruce Martin and a small vocal group will contribute to Rev. Jen’s sermon with culturally distinct versions of the song, “The Sloop John B.“ The blend of prose, poetry, and music is, in itself, emblematic of balance.

A Tale of Tenacity

9:15 & 11 am

In this service for all ages, we share a tale of tenacity: the story of Esther. This true story is the centerpiece of the Jewish celebration of Purim, which this year begins on February 28. In many ways Esther was a true superhero: a seemingly ordinary person who saved many lives through her persistence and courage. Today we consider how our own narratives intersect with this tale of tenacity.

Let My People Go

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What does liberation require? How can we live fully, freely (and responsibly) in a way that brings meaning to our lives—in a way that encourages and supports others who also seek meaning and purpose? How can we persevere in dismantling the barriers that separate us from who we aspire to be? Whatever holds us back (theology? enculturated assumptions? sheer crankiness?) it’s time to let go—and claim our own liberation.

Promise and Practice

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What would it be like if our UU worship service centered entirely around the voices and the experiences of black Unitarian Universalists? What truths might we hear, however difficult? What might we learn? How might these UU leaders of color teach us to be better allies, better companions in our shared faith, and even better citizens in our community? As part of First Unitarian’s commitment to embrace the presence and leadership of people of color, during this Sunday service we speak and sing in the voices of UUs of color. Together we practice; together we live into the promise of a new way of being. Today’s offering will (with the knowledge and support of our regular Faith in Action partner Family Promise) help to fund Black Lives UU. If we meet the threshold of $10 per member, our contribution will be matched dollar-for-dollar.