Let’s face it! Change is hard! It is hard work as we have witnessed here at the Meeting House, the ‘On the Cusp’ team working tirelessly to help us navigate change. And it is hard because it asks of us as persons and as a people – asks us to take a deep dive – to notice what lay beneath the surface – some of which is a joy to behold and some of it which we would rather not look at. That’s just reality – nothing unique to us and our circumstances.
Real change, according to my superhero, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, takes time. By real I take her to be saying meaningful change, lasting change. Not the superfluous change shifting right before our eyes, first this way, then – no – that way and – no - back again - but that which has deep roots and the strength to survive, dare I say, thrive even, drawing its life-giving power from a richness and a source of nourishment not visible from where we sit. Change that is given due time because it is important and worthy of our exploration – contemplation – reflection. And because we are worthy of that as well. Real change does not result from quick fixes. It is a process.
Now, for some of you, this idea of change is something you would rather not deal with at all! You are satisfied with how things are, and I get that. It has been a rough few years. Things feel stable. The building is standing and maintained. The Thrift Shop has done exceedingly well. We have a three-quarter time minister for a while to take care of our pastoral needs and maybe teach us a thing or two. Why mess with it!?! And to that I offer only one word – SUSTAINABILITY. Say it with me – SUSTAINABILITY. That’s right! Change is inevitable and
happening all around us. Not to rain on our parade, but there are some hard truths we have heard before in this process, although maybe not from me, so I want to name them here: we are aging and dying faster than we are enrolling new members. Our pledging is decreasing as a result of these fluctuating numbers. We are physically tired from excess levels of volunteerism centered around a small group who maintain things. And our minister is here on a short-term contract with a willingness to accept compensation below fair guidelines because she is in a fortunate enough position to do so. It is not likely something you will be able to replicate. It is not sustainable.
Let’s just stop and take a breath here. That was a lot of hard stuff!
I want to talk for a minute about our process here of late. I have been watching from the sidelines as best as I can, trying not to answer the oft asked question of what I think we need to do in response to the issues presented! And I want to say here that what I think doesn’t so much matter! In fact, it would be irresponsible of me to insert solutions into your process. This is your Meeting House – your organization – and you all will be here long after I have journeyed on. The changes you move toward need to suit you and there is a danger in someone in my position of authority lending too much to the process. In order for you to be accountable to
yourselves, that’s important, accountable to yourselves, you must do the work of exploring and deciding next steps. It would be unfair of me to push too hard in any one direction over another. My role is to accompany you on this journey, to point you down a path toward meaningful outcomes. I can’t tell you what to do! I can only say what I believe are good and healthy ways to navigate toward your destination. This open and transparent method is certainly one thing I have encouraged. And I continue to meet with the Board and the Cusp team to talk about those very things.
How then, can we come to a place of trust that allows us to engage in a full and wholesome process of change? A place for all of us - those reticent to change, those excited about change, and those who sit somewhere in between. A process that uses our minds, of course, but also our bodies and spirits, our emotions – our whole beings and the being that is this entity we call our faith home.
Karen Hering, in her book about Trusting Change, says that we are on a threshold. I believe we always are if we really look at our lives and our days, but let’s begin here, as she suggests. Picture us standing in a doorway between what was and what will be, between the inner safety we know and the outer world beyond the present. It can feel like a risky place, a vulnerable place. It often asks us to leave something or someone behind or even a part of ourselves for that matter. We stand on the precipice of possibility and transformation where we may be asked to do things we have never imagined or to face fears we have avoided for a long time or unearth both gifts and limitations.
The good news is that we don’t stand here alone. And we are not the only ones on thresholds currently. Many other congregations, locally and beyond, are doing similar work and our own UUA is exploring the concept as well. We have each other, most importantly though, all of us who have come to love and care for this place, this community, this tradition, its ancestors on the journey and the hopes long held by all of us, all of these good folks throughout time. We can look back to those who came before us and ask them to accompany us, ask them what they might do, what seems important to consider and why that might be. What that we encounter is of use to us now and what is no longer the case? Much has changed in our world in the ensuing years.
Thresholds ask us to pay attention, using all of our senses and wisdom. Maybe we find ourselves distracted by what I would call “the shiny things” and some may call the “low-hanging fruit” – those quick fixes I mentioned earlier. They serve as insulation against the deeper questions. The most important thing for us to not lose sight of is our interdependence. We do not walk this road alone. We make up a collective body of beings with a role to play in the act of breathing life into what will be, not just here, but in the wider community, too. One of the first things that change asks of us is to let go. Remember when you learned to walk – those first steps – letting go of what held you steady and encouraged on toward some unknown way of navigating? It’s a little like that. It takes courage. Hering shares an old Buddhist story about a novitiate who has studied long and hard and comes to a wise old monk just in case there is something they might have missed. The monk suggests they sit for tea together and fills the novitiates cup first – to overflowing – a mess spilling all over the place. The novitiate thinks the wise monk foolishly unaware. But the monk offers that the cup is like the seekers mind, full to overflowing, and suggests that the novitiate go home and empty their mind of opinions and convictions and that only then will they be able to return ready to find what they seek.
As I have watched our process, I see something of us in this tale. We have shown up full of ideas and suggestions, creative, nostalgic, historical with a smattering of rewritten history, offerings from our personal storehouses of success and comfort. We are sure of ourselves, these notions of possible fixes at the ready. We bring them because they are familiar. We bring them because they feel safe. We bring them because either in part or in combination, we believe them to be a solution to the problem. We bring them because we can’t imagine going forward without them. All of this is normal and good and shows the dedication we have to our beloved Meeting House. But I want to engage us in an exercise to help move us to a different place.
Let’s take a minute to look within ourselves – close your eyes if you are okay with that or cast your gaze downward – take a deep breath in and exhale - and see what is there that you can’t imagine going forward without. It might be something tangible here in this place. It might be a program or an ideal or a teaching from the past. It might be something personal – a feeling or emotion or a long-held way of being. It will likely be more than one of these things. Just notice them as they arise before your mind’s eye.
The invitation is to now pick just one that you are willing to let go of, to loosen your grasp on in order to move the whole of our endeavor here forward. Just one!
When you are ready, please come forward down the aisle to my left, write that thing you are letting go of on one of the little pieces of paper, share it if you wish with the rest of us or not if you’d rather just hold it yourself, and then drop the paper into the water. As we let go of what we no longer need we will watch it disappear beneath the surface. You can return to your seat up the opposite aisle when you are done. If you need help, Janet and I will assist you. And those of you on zoom can share in the chat and we will put those words on paper and into
the water for you as well.
A TIME OF SHARING AND LETTING GO.
May this act of letting go be blessed with all the love we pour out upon our path. Amen. As we let go of what is no longer of use or what we are willing to surrender, we make space for fresh understanding and ways of navigating to take hold. We fill our cup anew. My invitation today is for us to take a deep dive into the how and the why of the changes we are considering. Keep asking yourself, “Why?” until you get to the root of it. We will have more opportunities this year to explore and to process the changes we are endeavoring to make. And I will bring you navigation tools as I attempt to accompany you on this journey. For now, though, let us leave this place knowing that we are changing together in an ever-changing world, that we have one another to turn to and to journey alongside.
Blessed be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson, UUMH Chatham November 6, 2022