Tag Archives: My FAV Word

My FAV Word: Rev. Cheryl Walker and the “Freedom from Fear”

Samantha Freda

WilmingtonFAVS news intern

Before meeting with the Rev. Cheryl Walker, I knew very little about Unitarian Universalists, beside a vague understanding of the belief system’s liberality and tolerance of many different forms of spirituality.

An image from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship foyer. Photo by Samantha Freda

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wilmington is a humble-looking building on Lake Avenue. In its foyer is the symbol of  the flaming chalice (the primary symbol of Unitarian Universalism) within two overlapping circles, signifying the union of different faiths and acceptance of nontraditional religious concepts or interpretations.

The organization of Unitarian Universalism was in the combining of both the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, which existed separately of one another until May 15, 1961, when the Unitarian Universalist Association was formed.

Universalists, whose belief in universal salvation—that a loving God would not eternally damn anything it created—came into conflict with some traditional Christian concepts. Unitarians exercised faith based in reason, living by a principle that one should not have to believe in something they can not reasonably find to be true. Both came out of the Christian faith, though their beliefs and teachings are drawn from many different sources.

Walker, spiritual leader of UUFW for the past three years, led me into her office where we quickly fell into a casual conversation on the nature of this fellowship.

“I didn’t always do this,” Walker said, speaking of her days working in applications development at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street.

“During the day I was helping to make people more money who had enough but wanted more. Then at night, I was volunteering to feed homeless people. I finally just realized that, these two things I did every day were opposing each other. It had to be one or the other,” she said.

The Rev. Cheryl Walker. Photo by Samantha Freda

Though she was raised as a Muslim and still values many aspects of Islam, Walker found both her logical side and her spiritual yearnings were satisfied by the Unitarian Universalist philosophy.

“We’re a model for how religious pluralism goes,” she told me as she read off some of the texts from which she writes sermons: the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Quran, the Upanishads, The Book of Mormon, even a text on aboriginal ideas.

Walker is currently teaching from a book called “Freedom From Fear: Finding the Courage to Act, Love, and Be” by Forrest Church. Church recognizes how guilt, worry, anxiety and dread are associated with the body, intellect, conscience, emotions and soul.

Besides the natural instinct inherent in physical fear, the book says the rest of the effects connected with fear cause distortions in perspective that limit our quality of life. Church attempts to encourage readers to realize their own strength and overcome their fears.

Walker has given sermons based on this book.

“We need not think alike to love alike,” Walker said, concluding our meeting with a quote from 16th century Unitarian preacher, Francis David. The simple phrase captures an essential aspect of Unitarian Universalism, a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, while maintaining a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.


My FAV Word: Praying for Strangers with Rev. Bob Bauman

By Samantha Freda
WilmingtonFAVS news intern

At Wrightsville United Methodist Church, a sort of spiritual project was taken on for this year’s Lenten Study—a five week course following a book by author River Jordan called “Praying For Strangers”.

This book was written by a woman who—after having two sons deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan—sought comfort in the act of praying for others.  Jordan’s book and accompanying blog are both a reflection of her experience and a guideline for how to engage in a daily practice of prayer for others, in fact, prayer for complete strangers.

Jordan wrote this book based off of this personal experience, a time during which she would pick a person she came across each day and pray for them. In “Praying for Strangers,” Jordan describes how she would often ask a person if they minded if she said a prayer for them, and more times than not that person would have something to share with her—a reason for needing prayer.

The Rev. Bob Bauman, senior pastor of WUMC, explained how 60-70 members of the church read the book and met once a week and share their experiences of participating in this practice themselves.

“I wanted to move the congregation toward an awareness of our daily journey, the people we look past and how that cuts us off from what is around us,” Bauman said. “As we begin to really recognize these people we come across, we realize that they have stories to tell just like we do.”

In these weekly meetings, Bauman opened with his own reflections, then they broke into small groups and went over the Twelve Keys, an aspect of Jordan’s website that provides discussion points for those reading the book together.

“Most people of faith struggle with prayer. Jordan’s method offers the liberation of something as simple as just giving another person a one sentence blessing as you pass them on the street,” Bauman said.

The course, which concluded a few weeks ago, resulted in many similar responses of feeling more connected with the world around them.

“It was powerful to watch that many people share a notion of integration, and sharing stories about being unexpectedly blessed while carrying out this exercise,” Bauman said.

Wrightsville United Methodist Church, which has Sunday services at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:15, consists of about 2000 members and is located on 4 Live Oak Drive in Wrightsville Beach. Phone: 910- 262-6409. Email: bob@wrightsvilleumc.com

My FAV Word: Rabbi Robert Waxman

Samantha Freda

WilmingtonFAVS intern

This week, I met with Rabbi Robert Waxman of B’nai Israel Synagogue, a conservative Jewish congregation tucked back on 26th and Chestnut in downtown Wilmington.

As I arrived, Rabbi Waxman was finishing a lesson in his office, a personal room with overflowing bookshelves and a round table where he meets daily with his bar/bat mitzvah students.

Rabbi Robert Waxman of B'nai Israel Synagogue

Originally from Akron, Ohio, Rabbi Waxman moved to Wilmington in 1981 with his wife, Barbara, who is now an English professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Soon after, he became the Rabbi at B’nai Israel, a congregation which he told me proudly is 110 years old.

He’s celebrating his 30th anniversary as spiritual leader there this year.

When I asked Rabbi Waxman what he has read lately, he showed me “Holy Beggars: A Journey from Haight Street to Jerusalem” by Aryae Coopersmith. It is a first-person account of the Jewish counter-culture  in the late sixties, in specific reference to San Francisco’s House of Love and Prayer, led by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Carlebach was a musician who traveled internationally, using simple songs to teach the Torah, Judaism and love to people who connected with his message. Young twenty-something’s would come to the house  Haight Ashbury for Shabbat or just to listen to Carlebach’s spiritually-focused music.

There is disagreement in the Jewish community concerning Carlebach’s credibility, as he was known to frequently date women much younger than himself, often in the “free love” style of that era.

“There is a lot of music that we use or could use from Shlomo, but the rather sensitive question comes up— how can you sing his compositions if he wasn’t a purist as a person?” Rabbi Waxman said, explaining the deeper issue to me. “In the secular world, we may not care when someone takes advantage of their popularity, but it is different with a man claiming to be a rabbi.”

However, Carlebach is widely considered the foremost Jewish songwriter of his time, with a 40-year career of teaching and storytelling. He promoted a “return to Judaism,” inspiring Jewish youth to embrace their heritage.

Personally, Rabbi Waxman has decided to look past surface actions toward a deeper sentiment.

“I think that it is okay to play his music,” Rabbi Waxman said. “I understand how people are troubled by his choices, and I think it’s not good when someone takes advantage of a powerful position—but no one said he was a saint. He was a man with simple songs. I think sometimes we have to separate the message from the messenger.”