Unitarian Universalist Meeting House
September 16, 2018
In our current concern with membership and finance, the leadership of the congregation were glad to get some advice last week offered by Walter and Janis Foley. This couple are summer visitors to Chatham, and they winter in Naples Florida. Walter offered to tell us about his experiences being President of the Naples UU congregation at a time of financial crisis, and how they managed in one year of a very mindful process to run a pledge campaign that produced 30% more revenue than the previous year. The Board and Finance committee listened eagerly to them describe how that had happened.
Key to the change was a change in attitude, from what we used to call a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance, though Walter expressed it differently; he said it was moving from just trying to stretch every dollar to cover expenses to feeling the satisfaction of giving generously to a worthy institution.
This shift in attitudes was accompanied by a step-up in the social justice program; some people created a hands-on program to fill in a hunger gap. The local public school provided breakfasts five days a week for students who did not get food at home, but this left a gap for the weekend, and the church undertook to get food together for weekend meals.
At the same time in Naples, there was a lot of discussion about what he mission of the church was, and the process honed everyone’s understanding of the function of the church in the community. This started me thinking about our 1998 Vision statement, which I just read.
Let’s remember the context of this statement. The Chatham Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was founded in 1986 as a basically lay-led congregation planted from First Parish Brewster. It met in various locations in Chatham, principally the Creative Arts Center on Crowell Road. Peter Fleck, an assistant minister at First Parish, preached to the fellowship once a month and otherwise they speakers from within and from the community. In 1995, the year I entered seminary, Peter Fleck died, and his widow Ruth agreed to give the fellowship sufficient funds to hire a half-time minister for a year. They hired Ed Hardy, the student minister at Brewster. At the same time, the Christian Scientists were selling their building on Main St. because their Chatham congregation had dwindled to four members.
In telling our history, we call it the Miracle on Main Street, how the little group of 35 UUs managed, with a lot of help from First Parish, to raise the money to buy the building, how they paraded grandly down Crowell Road that clear morning in October, how the first Sunday they had 75 members and how that membership had swelled to 200 by the end of the year.
Two years after settling in to the building, in 1998, or twenty years ago, they somehow adopted this Vision statement. Perhaps some of you remember the process. It probably involved what are called cottage meetings, where small groups get together by neighborhoods to brainstorm, then report back to a larger group.
Typically, there are three kinds of statements a congregation may aim for to get a better understanding of itself: a Vision statement, a Mission Statement or a Covenant. The UUA website has a handy guide to all three, and this is how that guide expresses the difference among the three types of statement:
“Vision: A carefully defined picture of where the congregation wants to be in five or more years. It is the dream of what the congregation can become.
Mission: A concise statement of what the congregation wants to be known for, or known as, within the wider world; what the congregation wants to mean to the community.
Covenant: A statement of how members of the congregation will be with, and will behave toward, one another, as well as what is promised or vowed to one another and to the congregation as a whole.
That’s the UUA’s definition of the three types of statement. What the founding generation came up with here in 1998 they called a vision statement, but it feels more like it could be a mission statement or even a covenant. It does not explicitly state what that generation envisioned for the congregation in five years.
However, I should note here that there is a videotape called “Miracle on Main Street” put together at the five-year anniversary in 2001 at which many members were interviewed on camera and asked what they would like to see in another five years. This video is more directed towards a vision as defined by the UUA than is the vision statement generated in 1998. It’s been a while since I watched that video, but my memory of it was that people expressed many of the same sentiments that they expressed when I got here seven years later: they wanted the church to have more young families, more music and arts and social justice programs, more impact.
In a sense those who were interviewed in 2001 as well as those who interviewed me in 2008 wanted the same thing: they wanted to return to the congregation as it was. Let’s face it, each of us in almost any context would like to relive the glory days of the past, the bright spots which stick in our memory. Two weeks ago, I sang Bob Franke’s song Thanksgiving Eve which starts out with these lines: It’s so easy to dream of the days gone by, it’s so hard to think of times to come.
But in 1998, this congregation was only two years old as a church. The vision statement put together then does not dream of days gone by, and does not express how they see the congregation in five or ten years, but gives some real thought to how we wanted to be together. The key word linking all of the bullet points is “strive.” We will do our best to be this kind of congregation.
And in choosing to express themselves this way, the pioneers of 1998 may have just been trying to be realistic. After all, it is great to say you want 250 members in five years, but you set yourself up for disappointment unless you have a well thought-out plan to actually get there. The vision statement of 1998 does not ask for pie in the sky, but wisely sticks to what the congregation means to its members in our everyday life.
Not that there weren’t dreamers then. There is a preliminary set of sketches from about this time drawn up by architects Sharon and John Dasilva to expand this building towards Queen Ann Road by making a wing to house Religious Education classrooms, a full-service kitchen and an elevator. With the explosive growth of those first years, the new congregation was afraid it would run out of space for its programs.
How different things look twenty years later! Now our task is generating programs to fill the space we have.
The thrift shop does that in spades, so much so that while it is in operation, the rest of the programs are a little pinched for space. But that really doesn’t hurt, because we are also more pinched for volunteer time for other programs when the thrift shop is in operation. What would be great is if we could smoothly transfer the energy of the thrift shop to other programs in the fall.
But let’s get down to the vision. What did the pioneers of 1998 say they wanted this congregation to be? I want to go down through the vision statement and offer comments. If some of my comments are critical, it is as a lovers quarrel with this text. I greatly respect the fact that these founding fathers and mothers went through a process to craft these words. What did they say? First, these forefathers and mothers wanted to live by UU Principles, which I take to mean the seven principles, not just giving lip service to them but putting them into practice in our daily lives. This is challenging, folks, if we take this seriously. It is one thing to pronounce that we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It is another to handle an irate and unreasonable customer in the thrift shop with dignity and grace when she is not treating you with the same. And by and large, we do. I will skip the other six principles here in the interests of time, but they are all important and can be found for your further reflection inside the front of the hymnbook and on the order of service.
Next we say we will strive to maintain a safe community which encourages intellectual, spiritual and religious freedom. Freedom is a key value among us, and the congregation here identified three types of freedom, intellectual, spiritual and religious.
There is a bit of tension in this sentence. Safe community might be taken to mean not only that we would be safe here from physical harm, but that we would also be protected from disturbing ideas and challenges to our sensibilities. Yet some discomfort is inevitable if we really are encouraging intellectual and spiritual freedom. Freedom is not safety, freedom is risk. You may wonder whether the authors were asking for inconsistent things.
In those years there was a raging debate between those who felt they were “religious” and those who felt they were “spiritual.” Here our forefathers and foremothers were taking no chances, they put both types of freedom into this section.
Then onto the end of that sentence about freedom and community, they say they also want to celebrate all the passages of life. While its placement is a little awkward, you can’t argue with wanting celebrations. The foreparents would be happy with our anniversary celebration last week as well as the funerals we have had and the child dedication we did a few weeks ago. We’re on the money with celebrations.
Next the statement wants to strive to welcome diversity and pluralism as essential for our connection with all of humanity. As I see it, diversity is not the same as pluralism. They sort of sound similar but are actually quite different. In the ten years I have been here, we have had a modest smattering of adults and children of color. We have had gay and lesbian couples and singles. We have never had an out transgender person. We have had a precious few adults under 50. We have had almost no blue-collar workers and few whose education did not include college. I don’t think this uniformity, which is about the same as every other UU church with which I’m familiar, is a matter of overt hostility, but I wonder whether we have subtle, maybe subconscious ways of repelling people who aren’t like us. We can and should do better, though how to do so is a big and scary question.
Pluralism, on the other hand, is the inclusion of diverse points of view, not diverse identities. We can point with pride to the fact that we have a plurality of religious opinions among us, ranging from humanism to Christianity. But in terms of political and social values we seem, as Dorothy Parker once said about an actor’s emotional range, to “run the gamut from A to B.” The country is so polarized that it feels scary to reach out to “the other side” and invite them into the safety of our congregation. Yet I am left with the queasy feeling that to take the wall that is running through our families and our country and put it up around our congregation is to move backward in our spiritual progress.
So political pluralism is an area I’m thinking about and I don’t think what I just said about it is the last word. I solicit your wisdom on the subject.
But now it’s time for the section of the vision statement which furnishes the title of this sermon: “To provide fellowship, friendship, and fun, and to support a creative artistic and musical environment.”
For most of my ten summers here, I have walked down into the middle of the thrift shop and asked the question “are we having fun yet?” I know that if you are feeling cranky or rushed or harried, that question might not strike you as amusing. I know that people volunteer out of a sense of obligation to each other, to the congregation and to the public and there are plenty of other things that each of you does for fun. Yet still and all, I think it is fun at times. Most of the time I come through, people are batting the breeze with each other, often while they’re pricing or talking to customers or polishing the merchandise. And as in any enterprise, some jobs are more fun than others.
And it is definitely fun that the Thrift Shop has had a record year financially!
In the vision statement, fun is teamed up with fellowship and friendship. I don’t know what the foremothers and forefathers meant by teaming these three factors up this way, but they can be seen as a description of what we get out of hanging out here.
Most of us came for fellowship in the first place. We check out a church because we don’t want to live completely to ourselves, we want to get involved with others. If we get bold enough to sign the membership book, I will sing at you that we are all sharing the road awhile. It’s not like marriage or even like being a neighbor; in the first stages, you’re just learning to get along with different types of people, and realizing that when we work together towards a common purpose, we each have different approaches to the same tasks.
After we have been in fellowship for a while, some of the relationships may blossom into friendship. You get concerned with each others’ lives, you care about what is happening in each other’s families, you go to movies together.
So fellowship can blossom into friendship and either can blossom into fun. The great thing about including fun in a vision statement is that it’s an acknowledgment that this is a worthy thing to pursue. We don’t have to apologize to anyone for wanting to have fun. This is true to our Unitarian and Universalist roots, for both arose as reactions against Puritan Calvinism. Remember that H.L. Mencken described a puritan as a person who lives eternally in the suspicion that someone, somewhere is having fun.
One of the ways we have fun, of course, is creativity, and the rest of the sentence in the vision statement after “fellowship, friendship and fun” talks about supporting a creative artistic and musical environment. By coincidence, the Music Committee met yesterday morning and we started kicking around some ideas for expanding the music program here. I would like to ask you all to think about particular songs or compositions or artists you would like to hear in the Sunday services or in concert. I was very pleased with the quality of the performances in the Summer Concert series and yet disappointed in the attendance at most of them. I would love to have a committee working now to try to figure out better scheduling and publicity to get better attendance next summer. Or to take over production of the series altogether. If you’re interested, talk to me.
As far as visual art, we are blessed with an abundance of artists, and shortly some of our own creativity will be on display on the Fleck Room walls.
Lastly, our vision statement calls us to strive “to sustain and promote a vital religious
and spiritual lifespan education program.” Here again the drafters hedge their bets by using both religious and spiritual, but it is clear that they are talking about teaching both children and adults. Given the demographics of Chatham, it’s very hard to hold children in Sunday School, but we have been able to sustain a small group to this point. Our Learning for Life (adult education) is looking for a new chair person, and if you are curious about what it is, please talk to me. It is a real need to get some adult programming up and running this fall. It is a startling contrast to the bustling summer that in the other thee seasons of the year, this building stands idle 95% of the time.
There is the vision crafted by the founding generation of this Meeting House twenty years ago. How are we doing? What would we change if we were doing it today? Rather than having a talkback after the offertory, I am going to put this framed copy of the vision statement on the easel and invite you to come forward and put a sticky on any wording you’d like to change or comment on. Of if you have a proposal for a whole new statement, sketch out what it would look like. I’ll also keep this easel up during social hour. Many of you have been through visioning or missioning or covenanting processes in other UU congregations. It is a time-consuming process; by preaching on this today, I am not saying that we need to go through such a process here. But we are facing fundamental challenges, and I thought it would be good to remind ourselves of the vision that our founders put down on paper twenty years ago as a guide to where we go from here.
Reading 1998 vision statement of UU Meeting House:
We, the members and friends of the
To provide fellowship, friendship, and fun, and to support a creative artistic and musical environment;