Exciting Update!

It’s been quite a while since I posted here!

Congregational ministry was so all-encompassing that many other interests and pursuits were moved to the “back burner”.  Then, in 2015 I contracted Lyme disease and developed extremely debilitating symptoms.  I worked hard to manage those, but by 2017 it was clear to me that I could no longer serve my community full-time.  With a heavy heart, but with deep appreciation for the many accomplishments of those years of shared ministry with UUFRC, in 2017 I left in order to tend my health.

Going from such a highly structured schedule, with so many creative, collaborative activities on my mind, and so many people in heart, to no structure and no contact, felt awful.  I felt completely emptied out.  But it was the right thing to do – allowing me to rest deeply, seek out new treatments, and reconnect with who I am when I’m not “a minister”.  I call that year my “empty bowl year”, because I was very intentional in processing my grief and not trying to cover it up with new activities or identities.

As it turns out, I’m always a minister – even when I’m not functioning officially/recognizably in that capacity.  Those qualities and passions that led me to ministry in the first place are still with me.  The new challenge, now that I am recovering my health and vigor, is to re-envision the form that ministry takes.

This year I’ve found myself drawn to the deeply intimate sacred space of Spiritual Direction, incorporating creative arts, energy work, meditation, prayer and movement.  We live in such disruptive times, and great courage is needed to navigate life with integrity, with compassion, gratitude, and joyful purpose.  That’s certainly what I find myself needing, and, naturally encouraging in others.

Working with people one-on-one has always been a deep joy to me, and so I am delighted to be focusing on that through my new private practice:  TendingSpirit:  Spiritual Courage in a Disruptive World.   

I’ve just completed three additional certifications and now have time available to connect with a few new Spiritual Direction clients.  Might that be you or someone you know?  The first session is free, allowing us to get to know each other a bit and develop a sense of how I can best help you cultivate spiritual courage in this disruptive world!  Interested?  Email me at TendingSpirit@gmail.com

You might also want to follow TendingSpirit on FaceBook to see original artwork and inspirational messages.  They’re posted daily.

(A dedicated Spiritual Direction ministry website is currently under construction and is expected to go live mid-January 2019.  Look for it at TendingSpirit.com)



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Tears of Joy and Sorrow: The Work Is Not Yet Done

In the beloved community I serve time is set aside on most Sundays for something called “Joys and Sorrows”.  Valued as a time in which to plum the depths of our hearts, to affirm the complexity of grief and of joy, desperation and celebration, it is a time encouraging recommitment to courageous compassion for others on this human journey.  And, recommitment to our responsibility as agents of hope and healing for one another.

This Sunday I cannot help but tell you that I feel conflicted about the immense JOY in my heart this day. I feel conflicted about the “elation” I feel as a result of Friday’s ruling to finally grant equal rights and to recognize same sex marriage in all 50 states; and from the ruling to uphold health care benefits; from the Pope’s exhortation to tend climate justice as a moral obligation; and, in response to the recognition by ever more people in the public arena that “symbols” of racism (such as confederate flags) promote racist ideologies and behaviors. That they uphold “institutionalized white supremacy” and have NO place within a just nation.

FINALLY we’re not “just” talking about these things.  Finally, it’s not “just US” talking about these things.  The tide is turning and, if ever there was a time for celebration, this is it!

Yes.  And. As I shed tears of joy, I cannot help but be drawn to the awareness that this is not the whole story. It’s not all that’s going on. Even in my joy, I can’t help but shed a different kind of tear today. Because WHILE so many of us celebrate these long-awaited joys, three black churches smolder – having been set on fire. I cannot help but feel conflicted about my joy today, because this week members of another church, another “beloved community” (known as Mother Emanuel), an African American community of faith, were lowered, untimely, into the cold ground.

Today, I can’t help but be drawn to those faces, to those lives, for whom the struggle to be RECOGNIZED as “fully human” continues. Why? Because of their gender identity or skin color, because of their lack of “interest” in marriage as an institution, or because of their earning capacity, or because of their citizenship status or because of poverty, because of the disenfranchisement and discrimination that is ceaselessly denied by those in power.

I am truly elated for those NOW legally affirmed in their humanity.  Haven’t smiled or hugged so many strangers, since I don’t know when. AND I grieve for those for whom the struggle to be recognized as “fully human” CONTINUES.

I tell myself it is essential to celebrate what HAS been won. Go ahead, I tell myself, let the tears of joy flow. Celebrate. And know that it is essential ALSO to remember those for whom such joy is, as yet, “deferred”.

Joy and sorrow are “interwoven” in my heart, today. And in the beating heart of this nation.

This is my prayer today:

May all sufferings be eased, and strengths be claimed. May our hearts be ever lifted, in gratitude and celebration for the great gift of love, in ALL its guises. And for the courage that enlivens all those among us and in all ages, who offer hope, healing and wholeness to a suffering humanity.

May our hearts be lifted in gratitude. Within us, may faith hope and love abide. And may the greatest of these: LOVE, shine through our every word and deed. For the wok is not yet done.

Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. Trans lives matter. Immigrant lives matter. The list of those WAITING to celebrate their own affirmed lives is long.

The work is not yet done. It is just beginning.


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Celebrating Several Milestones

One year ago this Sunday, at 12:34 pm, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City shared with me the news that the congregation had voted (at 97%) to call me as their settled Minister. I was invited to take a few days to think about it. But, standing at the threshold of the building, I surprised myself by throwing my head back and shouting “YES!”, so that all inside could hear my answer to that call. It was as exhilarating a moment as any I have ever known. The weeks and months after that are a bit of a blur, defined as they were by leave-taking from my congregation, packing up the house, getting it ready for sale, having those “last visits” to the beach, the favorite restaurant, the gym, and by searching for a new home. The latter was the most frustrating part, as it resulted in several false starts and a house needing months of work (and we’re still not done). Never would I have imagined to have experienced so many changes in this past year. Transitions can be hard, even when desired. And yet here I am, preparing to announce the scheduling of the Installation Ceremony, and to finalize the renovation of the house down the street, into which my mother will be moving. Our youngest son is graduating from college in June, and our daughter is moving back to the United States after 3 years in Germany.  June is also the date of the 10 year anniversary of my having been ordained into Unitarian Universalist Ministry.  There is so much to celebrate – and I am so very grateful for all of it, and especially for the encouragement and support of my family and friends.

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A Poem Inspired by Holy Week

Much has been said of the brokenness
That brings us – to our knees

That causes us to lift our hands to the heavens
Twinkling with “indifference”.

Many tears are shed each and every day.
Songs of desperation sung.

What other stories might be told?
New stories.

Stories of shards reclaimed,
Pieced together with hope and vision. With courageous compassion.
And a healthy dose of

“Oh no you don’t! Not on MY watch!”
“I will show you what LOVE looks like!”

“I will show you what actually NEEDS to be broken.”

Because? You are worth it.

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Holy Reciprocity, Batman!

by Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale, copyright 2015

To open one’s heart to another
Is to risk having it shattered

Broken into pieces too scattered
Too jagged, to gather up alone.

To dream is to soar upon possibility.

And yet, unsupported?
Dreams easily plummet, shatter…
Hurling shards of regret in ALL directions.

We come to one another in community, each and every one us
Bearing the scars of our dreams and
Of our heart’s capacity
To love

We come to one another
Holding precious fragments
Of life lived.

Of life yet to be lived.

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A poem shared with UUFRC 01/04/15

By Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale
Life just bowls you over with –


Knocks you down,
So you have no choice
But to let those shimmering, soul-quenching waves of
“Undeserved” bliss
Seep into your deep parched places of
Fear and longing;
Grief and rage.


You hear life shouting:
“Ain’t it grand???!”

And it’s all you can do
To keep from laughing aloud,
And spinning around like in “playground days”!
Or, maybe you do – just that!

Sometimes (when you least expect it)
When you’ve almost forgotten the electrifying taste
Of unbidden confessions of love,
Impromptu offerings of forgiveness, and hope…
Life will take you in its arms and
Kiss away
All those tears.






Despite best-laid plans,
Good intentions and perseverance,
Life just

Drops you;

Leaves you lying on the side of some road,
Wondering how you got there.

Weak and wounded.
And there’s no sense to any of it.
And no one is there
To pick you up.

Life hands you a “bad bill of goods”;
Renigs on a promise you had every reason to trust,
Repays your faith, your fortitude, your patience and goodwill,
With mind-numbing


There. I said it.

Sometimes? It’s like that.
And it

And it’s all you can do
To keep it all

To find your way
To comfort.
To hope. And, back to life

Religious community
Is recognized as An ideal place
In which to “widen
Our vision”;
In which to renew our strength and
Be a source of strength for

One another!

Sometimes, we do recognize
That there is
A connectedness,
A relationship,
That binds each to all –

Inspiring us to seek
Mutual well-being:

May this be such a time.

And may it carry you through the day and week ahead,
With joyful purpose!

Posted in bliss, brokenness, comfort, community, fair, grace, grief, hope, unfair, unitarian universalism, worship resrouce | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Sometimes”


In preparation for Lent 2015 I’ve written the following poem, to be shared during the 02/15 Worship Service at the UU Fellowship of Redwood City. You are welcome to share it with attribution – and I’d love to hear from you, if you do!

by the Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale, January 3, 2015

The tales passed on of “love divine”
From every place and age,
Have helped to shape the lives of all:
the sinner, saint and sage!

Woven through the calendar,
As beacons through the year,
They bring attention annually
To all, that should be dear!

The miracles of life and hope,
Of purpose found and filled,
Of undeserv-ed grace and joy,
Fears, held, known and stilled!

Today we lift up for you all
The time revered by those,
For whom the Christian calendar
Points to an “end” of woes!

We do this ’cause there’s wisdom there
That cannot be denied,
For those who dip their hearts into
Love’s sources, deep and wide.

The story of the humble stable
in which a babe was born,
Gives way, in spring, to him – “a man”,
Mocked with a crone of thorns.

And in-between his life was lived
Beneath the same blue sky,
To which we still cast ponderings
Pained queries, and goodbyes.

What happened in his early years
No one can say for sure,
But stories of his last few weeks
Can captivate and lure!

The days of Lent now coming soon,
Encourage each to feel,
The power of his struggles then
And so, to make them – real!

To feel “within” just what it takes
To love with all your heart,
And willingly to sacrifice,
let something “better” start!

As years passed by, the custom rose
To grant a “final fling”,
Before austerity and discipline
The “conscience dark” could wring

With masks and costumes, feathers fine
With food and wine galore,
The people danced out in the streets
With song and raucous roar!

Such wild abandon you may think
Is “counter-intuitive”,
Yet oft’ it leads to thoughts refined
And spiritually lucrative!


In just a moment, here and now,
The children will appear,
To gather up donations brought
To help those, far and near!

Lift up your hands, then sing along
If you have brought good cheer!
You children, come, collect these goods
And bring them up, right here!

Join me then, as we explore
The things we love, and so adore!
Cause that’s what’s needed, yes it’s true,
To live up to our own world view!

Posted in carnival, current events, discpline, jesus, lent, love, love masks, mardi gras, sacrifice, unitarian universalism, worship resource | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on LOVE, LENT AND LETTING LOOSE


Christian story and ritual, including that relating to Christmas, evolved over centuries. (Given the growing influence of Santa and his reindeer, it continues to evolve.)

In the early years of Christianity, well after the crucifixion, much HOPE was invested in the promise of Jesus’ return. The annual celebration of the weeks leading up to his first appearance on earth, as a babe, on Christmas morning was called Advent.

Today that time is observed through the lighting, each of 4 Sundays up to Christmas, of a candle on a wreath. The wreath’s circular shape symbolizes God’s eternal love.  What is no longer stressed in this day and age, at least not among casual celebrants of this holidays, is that Christmas not only marks that anniversary but symbolically anticipates Jesus’ return and judgment of humanity.

Advent is not just about “that fantastic OLD story of birth”, but also about “a new one” that depends ever so much on our own willingness to open our hearts; to prepare ourselves, so that we may be “a just dwelling place for God” for all eternity.

Contrary to what most people believe, in the early years of Christianity Advent was a time of trepidation. It was a time of harsh self-examination. First and foremost it was a time of awe and fright for those with a conscience. The kind of fright that caused the faithful and the questioning to consider their need for a miracle: for a light to illuminate their steps through this world. A light, to make “all things new”.

Advent caused them to consider their entire lives within the context of eternity. There are lots of opportunities to do that, that don’t involve a divine birth or sacrifice.

But it seems to me that the Christmas season and observance is as good a time as any to shiver with both awe and rejoicing – at the miracle of our own existence; our capacity to illuminate one another’s steps. And to be a just dwelling place for that which most good.  And often named: God

Written by Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale and Copyrighted December 2014

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Black Lives Matter

As I write this, thousands are gathering in cities all over the country in protest of the systemic racism highlighted in the news in recent weeks. It is important to know that these acts of violence were not “new” or isolated events. They cannot be discounted as “simply a matter” of individual power-holders run amok.

The physical and psychological abuse of people of color was and remains a defining principle of this country. It allowed European settlers to justify the enslavement and slaughter, the degradation and dehumanization of multitudes. Just as it allows their fair-skinned descendents to do so today – turning a blind eye to the link between their own privilege, and the many expressions of suffering, grief and rage seen now on the nightly news.

Racism, in any form, is incompatible with Unitarian Universalist values. It is incompatible with commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and with a goal of world community, with peace, liberty and justice for all. It is incompatible with a values-driven commitment to justice, equity and compassion. It is a blight upon the land and upon the soul, that can no longer be denied, or defended.

As a fair-skinned Unitarian Universalist committed to justice-making and celebration of diversity, within a denomination that does not adequately reflect diversity, within a country that continues to marginalize and penalize people of color, I ask you to join me in renewal of that commitment.

Black lives matter! This is the time to open our eyes, hearts and minds – and to ask ourselves hard questions about privilege and responsibility, about guilt and fear, and what it takes to create the kind of world we proclaim to desire.

Racism is not an elective issue, secondary to the concerns of this religious community. It is central. It is not new or geographically isolated. It has to do with each and every one of us.

Let us pray, as we will, for justice to prevail. But let us, foremost, recognize ourselves as called to bring it to life.

– Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale, 12/13/14

Posted in ancestors, change, compassion, current events, ferguson, hope, justice, ministry, racism, religious authority, unitarian universalism, violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Black Lives Matter

Ordination Charge to the Minister, 12/07/14

The following charge was written in honor of the ordination of Reverend David Helfer, 12/07/14

Reverend Helfer: Shema. Listen!
Listen, as if your Soul depended upon it. Because it does!

Listen, as you travel forward along this ancient sacred road,
Listen, for and to that still small voice within.
The one insisting that, above all else, you are a beloved child of God
That you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and remade, each day.

Listen for and to it, when the world’s cries of grief and outrage
Threaten to deafen you to songs of courage and creativity.
Listen for and to it, when your own weary limbs ache
Because need is great, time is fleeting, and despair epidemic.

There is a voice inside you that calls out, “be still, and know that I Am”.

If your Spirit is to flourish and your Ministry to be effective,
Any truths you speak, must echo Its ballads!
Any comfort or insight you offer must arise from Its murmurings.
Your battle-cry, if it is to bring justice, must be sourced in that sigh.

David: Shema. Listen!

I say this, because I know your ear is already well tuned
To the yearnings of a thousand and one hearts.
I say this, because Ministry is “high decibel” work.
And it is all too easy, to be drawn into false rhythms, that will wear you out.
Who and what is served then?

Listen. Be still and know. Take the time to be still. To be.

Let that directive be at the top of every to-do list, written into your very flesh.
And you will ever look upon the twists and turns of this road with glad eyes.
And your steps will mark a true path for other seekers.

Do this. Listen! And the words and deeds that follow will be righteous,
Reuniting scattered fragments of holiness.

Reverend Helfer: Shema. Listen!
Listen, as if the Soul of the world depended upon it. Because it does.

By the Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale
December 7, 2014

Posted in beginnings, current events, friendship, hope, inner voice, listen, love, ministry, ordination, religious authority, truth, unitarian universalism, worship resource | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ordination Charge to the Minister, 12/07/14