You are My People!
I have been using this phrase a lot lately. I am not sure what started it, but I am embracing it. This isn’t just a wonderful community, but it is made up of amazing people, and they are mine to care for, like they have and are willing to care for me.
I grabbed a couple old Fellowship sermons (along with what seemed like the rest of my office) to bring with me on sabbatical. I try to prepare! One of the sermons was by the Rev. Dottie Mathews, who was our Associate Minister from 2006-2011. The 2007 sermon is called “On Being Alone.” I am not sure if I grabbed it in prophesy of just how much time alone I would be spending this month, but it had these lines that speak so deeply to me:
“It is a very rare person, indeed, who doesn’t appreciate a sincere and warm hello from another being. I’m not proposing we all go around exuding fake smiles and glad-handling everyone we see. No, I’m proposing something far more radical than that. That we commit ourselves again to internalizing in a new and deeper way that this group of people, right here, in this room on this day, and even those not in this room but here in spirit—and even those who could care less about what we are doing here today. If we could just “get it” that you, me, them, us—that we are all in this thing we call life together. We truly need one another. And as you look around, recognize that wherever you are, these are our people. And just as Maya Angelou so unambiguously tells us, ‘ain’t nobody but NOBODY gonna make it here alone!’”*
I hope that when you walk in the Fellowship doors, that you are with your people. If you don’t, I hope to help you get to that point. I hope to be one of your people. Let’s talk.
*From the poem Alone by Maya Angelou
Everything is Sacred
“… I believe the Sufi poet Hafiz points to the heart of the matter when he says, ‘Everything is sacred.’ In other words, spiritual practice is what we do here and now with the intention of moving closer to what is most true and alive for us.” David Rynick
My ten year old son, Nate, loves the movie series, Kung Fu Panda. The third movie finds the title character, Po, learning about chi, and how to be a good teacher. Master Shifu explains to Po, “if you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are.” When Po whines that he doesn’t want to be anything more than who he is, and that he could never be a teacher like Master Shifu, the wise mentor explains, “I’m not trying to turn you into me, I’m trying to turn you into you.”*
I won’t give away any more of the story, as Nate thinks you should see the movie for yourself, but I think it goes well with helping us think about what is “most true and alive for us, ” as David Rynick suggests in the quote above. I believe that being part of a community like the Fellowship is different than most other environments. Here, we can try something completely new to discover a new passion or interest we have. Or, maybe, we find out about something we really don’t like. Or we find out how we react when we fail at something. These are all acceptable at the Fellowship. In fact, I think we need more opportunities to try new things and possibly fail at them.
When I first came to the Fellowship, I hadn’t had many leadership experiences. I was enthusiastic and excited to be part of a community like this, so I jumped into involvement with both feet. I showed an interest in social justice, and before I knew it, I was a chair of a social justice team. While I had passion for social justice, I didn’t have life experience or even a lot of knowledge of it, so it was not a surprise that I failed at being chair of this team quickly and completely.
In another setting, I might have run away and never looked back. Instead, it was a learning experience and I was able to move forward with love and care from my community. While I think we have a much better process for people who have passions to get involved and move into leadership, there will be times when you try something out and it isn’t the right fit, and the experience isn’t as successful as you had hoped. This is the perfect community to try something new at and move forward with new learnings. Let us help you find what is most true and alive for you. Let us help you turn into you. Let’s talk.
*See the video clip here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3wma28
Can Unitarian Universalists Believe in Anything?
You can google this, and many people have many ideas on whether you can belong to a Unitarian Universalist congregation and believe in anything. People also think we are a cult, so think carefully about what you find!
Many people outside of our faith scoff at the lack of creed that we have. Many people within the faith grew up memorizing creeds and faith statements and happily let go of, as one person put it, the “regurgitated” religion, in favor of Unitarian Unversalism, with one favorite hymn stating that “to question is truly the answer.” That message was even on our t-shirts for a while.
Without a creed, how do we know what is appropriate, and what isn’t? What’s acceptable? Rev. Roger Bertschausen, our prior Senior Minister, often talked about how Unitarian Universalism has boundaries, but they are just much bigger than most religious traditions. What falls outside of our welcoming boundaries? People with misogynist or xenophobic messages come immediately to mind. These “break” four of our seven principles, in my opinion. The seven principles that our congregation covenants and affirms are not creeds, but they are values we hold true. Some people come to the Fellowship with anxiety of being in faith traditions who exclude people with different belief systems.
Rev. Aaron White has a wonderful sermon series called UU101 and UU201. In the first, he says that we are “not a creedal church. We are a church in covenant, which means we don’t ask you to believe in one thing or another, we don’t care as much for what people say they believe, we care how you act in this life. What commitments you are going to make, what promises you make, what you love most, what drives and moves you.” I highly recommend you click on the links to watch these sermons. They are beautiful messages of Unitarian Universalism. The Fellowship’s Principles for a Healthy Congregation is the covenant we make to one another. This short video on what promises we make to one another is another I highly recommend.
And I must end with another favorite quote, by Unitarian Francis David: “We must not think alike to love alike.” If you aren’t convinced, or you want more information, let me know. Let’s talk.
One is the Loneliest Number
“Hospitality, true hospitality, is emotionally powerful. It touches something very deep in us—our profound human longing to feel accepted, to belong, to be loved, to feel safe, to be valued and respected. Hospitality is not something to be proclaimed; it must be lived. Hospitality is both a spiritual discipline and an expression of spiritual health…Hospitality is love in action.” -Peter Morales
During my sabbatical, I was able to visit some area churches. I have always wanted to be able to do this more, but it is hard to be away from Fellowship services, because it is my favorite part of my job! One of the churches I attended has a very good reputation in the community, and I looked forward to visiting. Walking in, a staff person greeted me warmly. I received a smile and a good morning from the Usher handing out the Order of Service and enjoyed the service. We were all invited to their social hall for treats. They had an assortment of handmade treats in a beautiful living room type space. I stood and waited for someone, ANYONE, to approach me, but no one did. Those were the longest four minutes of my life. I couldn’t bear another minute. I have never felt, at the same time, so incredibly lonely, and yet like I was sticking out like a sore thumb. It was like being an incredibly obvious invisible person! I wondered why they invited me to stay, if they weren’t going to approach me.
I implore all of you to help me make sure no one experiences this at the Fellowship. I charge each of you to be on the lookout for anyone alone, especially after the service. Greet them with my favorite line, “I don’t believe we have met yet.” They will likely tell you if they are new, or if they haven’t been there in a couple years or if you just haven’t had the opportunity to meet. If you can, introduce them to someone else.
It wouldn’t have taken much for me to feel comfortable at that area church. I was just looking for someone to acknowledge me. Being a newcomer is really hard. Let’s make it as good of an experience as we can.
Want more inspiration? One of my very favorite articles on hospitality is here: http://www.uuworld.org/articles/the-spiritual-practice-hospitality “Welcoming people to our congregations isn’t a duty; it’s a way to encounter the mystery and wonder of life.” If you are interested in helping welcome, let’s talk.
Do We Just Need More Volunteers?
Recently I have heard a similar statement from a few different people: people just aren’t stepping up to volunteer at the Fellowship like they used to. I was surprised to hear this, as I feel like we have a large number of people doing a whole lot of important jobs at the Fellowship! In fact, the Fellowship would not function if not for our volunteers. You build community every day by offering groups, events and activities that are open and free to anyone looking to belong. You shovel, rake, weed, unplug toilets, re-light pilot lights, clean, organize, make copies and whatever else is needed in the moment. You bring a meal to someone in need, hold a hand, have coffee with someone hurting, send a card, and make sure people are cared for. The list goes on and on.
I realized that they may be talking about the message that the leadership has been sending: that we are understaffed and that the staff has too much to do. In my mind, this is not an either/or problem. While we, just like any church or even nonprofit, can always use more volunteers, for the most part, the jobs that volunteers can do are being done. Let me qualify that statement clearly: We will always have to keep asking people to volunteer, as we need to give those who are currently doing the jobs a break. We will always need more Religious Education teachers, for example, as lives change and people’s schedules change. If you were about to call me and sign up to volunteer, I WILL find a job for you that you will (hopefully) love!
On the other hand, we still need more staff. Staff members are able to create and bring the depth to programming that is hard for volunteers to do, because they have their own jobs and lives. Staff members are able to have consistency that volunteers are not always able to provide. For example, we can make sure rooms are set up every single day, because that is how often they need to get done. Hiring a custodian will save significant time from Cyndi Polakowski and my schedule, as having someone who is paid to come in and do these tasks means they are done consistently.
Throughout my time at the Fellowship, this congregation steps up when there is work to be done. I am so grateful to the majority of you who volunteer in any capacity—big or small. If you haven’t been involved in this way, I encourage you to think about what you might like to offer, and talk to me about it. There is always more work to be done, and giving back to your community will help you make friends and grow deeper with your faith. Let’s talk.