“CONGRATULATIONS!” “HAPPY ANNVERSARY!” Twenty-five years. The silver anniversary. One quarter of a century. This is quite a milestone and I want you to soak it in. Can we do that for a minute? Just breathe and look around you at the people and the architecture and the accoutrements. What does it mean to you to have been meeting in this beautiful space for such an amount of time? What does it say to you about this congregation? I’ve been reading up on the big move from Crowell Road to this building on the hill with gratitude to those who have made written recollections available. And I have been talking to some of you who remember the decision and the day itself. I appreciate your candor and your memories; precious both.
What I know as I reflect on it all is that there was enormous pride and amazement in the fact that this purchase could even be accomplished in relatively short order. I know that there was a collective commitment to the idea – members and friends, your UU siblings at First Parish Brewster and, of course, a little help from the bank! All of these conspiring to ensure that the Unitarian Universalist voice in Chatham would become even more visible and recognizable for its value in our world. I know that there was great joy that day you marched down the road with the pulpit before you – a sight to behold for the folks awaiting its arrival on the steps and for the wider community as well. Some of you talked about the importance of dreaming big, of this building being a real welcome sign to the downtown area, about the importance of a spiritual home and a place of your own where our great traditions could be shared. I read about timing and moving step by step with gratitude acknowledging this body of faithful UU’s, ignited by love as the foundation for all that arises here. I heard talk of plans for a choir and read about how we use this space to showcase who we are as individuals and a community; about intellectual curiosity and the informal way we gather and connect. And I can see that you did all these things and more. The list is long detailing the many justice-oriented events that have happened here, the social and spiritual connections that have been made, the youth who have passed through these doors and the influence our tradition has made in their lives.
There was an alignment – a “congruence of intention” as philosopher and Buddhist priest Yasuhiko Kimura writes. There may have been many varied opinions floating around, but that is something different. I read about your long discussions over what to call your new space – opinions, likely based in the familiar for each of those involved and ideas you had heard or read about, because we are nothing if we aren’t good researchers! And you eventually settled on the use of the term ‘meeting house’ which was awkward to some but seemed to fit the bill. The intention though was clear across the board – to find a way to refer to ourselves that was inclusive, that attribute being a cornerstone of our faith. One of our New England Regional Leaders, Meck Groot, wrote recently that alignment-based congregations may have disagreements, but quotes Kimura in expressing his idea of "the spirit of quest." He says,
“The spirit of quest generates open and evolving dialogue-in-action. Participants of a quest bring in diverse points of view while remaining united in the same quest. When they jointly choose a course of action, they know that the choice is a tentative mutual agreement, to be modified, altered, or even discarded along the way. The question is not "who is right" but "what is best" for the fulfillment of the intention.”
Anniversaries are a time to look back and a time to look forward. A year or so ago when Chuck and I renewed our wedding vows on the occasion of our 25th anniversary, we shared memories and made new promises based in who we are now and where we expect to be headed individually and as a couple moving into the latter third of our lives. In the presence of that moment we recognized ourselves as crossing through a doorway fed by what had been and open to what is yet to come.
When I titled this sermon, “Honoring Home,” as is often the case I am not exactly sure where it will lead! What I end up sharing evolves from that spark, taking shape over the ensuing month as I gather ideas and insights and information, making connections and piecing together a tapestry possessed, with any luck at all, of meaning making for us. I began by thinking that we needed to honor the decision to create a physical home for this community – a place where it would find shelter and nurture its inhabitants; to honor those who took that brave step and believed in the possibility of it all. When I look at the bronze plaque embossed with the names of our founders, I see only a few who I have known and who remain with us. And yet, we owe them our gratitude for the foresight to envision a UU Meeting House in Chatham. We honor them today by remembering their faces and their contributions.
This idea of honoring, though, has another facet that I want to explore. We honor something also by carrying forward the kernel of truth at its center. At the outset, I found, there was a desire to carry the message of Unitarian Universalism more broadly across the Cape; to locate it in a place that was accessible to more local people; to provide a style of gathering both unique to its members and encompassing of our larger faith. We honor them by considering the intention, and in a “spirit of quest” bring it into the present moment, pass it amongst us and let it evolve into that which suits the next. We honor them by not holding so tightly to what may have been true, but instead pass the fabric of those truths through our hands and minds and hearts, letting it touch all of our senses, and allowing it the space to take shape in ways that represent the newness of this life 25 years hence and beyond into the next.
With that in mind I want to encourage us to think about our intentions for the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House of Chatham. Not so much our ideas about what to do with our building or our time. And not so much our opinions which can easily be elevated to the status of rightly held conclusions, according to Groot, to the exclusion of all others. I want to invite us to go deeper in our searching and uncover the underlying aims and intentions of the whole as opposed to the personal preferences of each of the component parts. We did some of this work last year when we thought about a statement that reflected our mission – the why of our existence here on the hill in Chatham. And certainly, this statement can inform our intentions. When we say we are about nurturing inclusion, what is that a reflection of? That we are seeking justice and equity, what does that say about the intentions of the whole? What does ‘encouraging free minds and spirits’ mean for the why of our existence? The key for us at this juncture seems to be rooted in the action words – nurturing – seeking – encouraging. The invitation is to explore the values beneath those words in order to shape our intentions.
In our meditation this morning we called upon ourselves to imagine and dream of a future built on the past but not confined to it. In our reading, Wendell Berry suggests that the lives we live now are preparing a place for the lives that follow to thrive, just as those who came before us did for us. We do so by enriching and renewing; by welcoming all the seasons of our days, giving to them what we can and gleaning from them what we will so that the cycle continues to unfold. “Its hardship is its possibility,” he says. The hard work of discernment. The hard work of humility. The hard work of love.
Honoring home – this religious home – means lifting up all that has been, pouring it into the cauldron of the present and folding in our intentions so as to create a way into the next 25 years that is meaningful for us and for our wider community, meaningful to our faith tradition and the larger world we live in. I invite you in the coming months into the kind of sacred conversations that unearth all the potential that is this Meeting House. I invite you to share what bubbles up, that we may know one another and this home more fully. May it be so.
Blessed be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
October 3, 2021