I love ‘Ingathering’! In part this may be so because it involves a ritual and I find in the rituals that dot our calendar a certain sense of comfort, of peace, of confidence in the cycles of life. For some of you, ritual may not be as valuable a tool in the course of your days, a little too ‘high church’, but still you show up, some with water in hand today and some not, but you bear with me as I attempt to make meaning for us at what is technically the start of the church year. I say technically because we are a year-round church, this meeting house bustling with activity all summer, pandemic be damned, determined to return to some sense of normalcy. And I would say we have succeeded in that! The question then becomes, “How did that happen?”
I love this congregation because it believes in possibility and as I have said so many times, possibility and potential are close to my heart, inhabit it, are sacred concepts – that is, set apart and to be held out before us, lifted up for all to see, nurtured and revered. I have watched you now for a year or so making possible the impossible – zooming like pros, staying connected, contributing of your time and your treasure. This community means something to you; its courageous successes spurring you on; the bumps in the road just challenges to be mastered or lessons to learn from. You are a practical people; reasoned and creative.
The Rev. Theresa Soto writes that “all of us need all of us to make it.” I know I have shared the reading with you before. What she is saying in the litany she offered is that it takes all kinds of us to be successful, to complete the picture. She is lifting up race and gender and ability and power in her words and I certainly agree with them, but the underlying tenet is that we can’t do this alone and that it takes all the various gifts and talents, perspectives and ideas, foibles and strengths that we bring to this collective endeavor that is the UU Meeting House of Chatham; that is the ministry of this community of Unitarian Universalists. It is about shared ministry. That’s how it happens!
Over the summer Dave Van Wye suggested a fresh perspective about the work of our Thrift Shop and a consideration of it as a ministry of the meeting house, a ministry of thrift; a way that we serve our community and the larger world. We run a thrift shop because it raises money for us, for the work of the church in general; how we support the things we value. And it takes all kinds of people to make it go – physical bodies to lift and haul, creative spirits to display in enticing ways, gregarious folks to talk with strangers in search of a good deal, pragmatic persons adept at finances – all kinds! It is truly a shared work. But it is a ministry in another way also, as we encourage reuse, recycling, upcycling; practices that tend to the environment, a piece of our overall seeking of justice, a part of our mission. In this way it is a piece of the whole of what we are about here; how we carry out and make real in the world the beliefs we hold as important. It places the thrift shop among the many valuable ministries of our life together – think worship and music, our caring committee and how we invest responsibly, how we maintain our beautiful space. To talk about this work in this way – to name it or even proclaim it – is to let the rest of the community know the fullness from which our work springs forth.
Richard Rohr, in his reflections from the Center for Action and Contemplation, talks a bit about our dance with individualism and the collective. Practicing our faith as participation in something as opposed to a personal undertaking is actually a return to an age-old idea which humanity had turned away from for a time and appears now to be coming back around to. He reminds us that our Jewish siblings in faith came to a realization of their oneness as a people in relationship to their understanding of God. Participation became historical and social, he says. They shared in the journey. He asks us to recall that God was always saving Israel, not just Abraham. Do we think about our salvation – translated here as preservation – as something that happens as a result of one person or of the shared efforts of the whole of us? Do we believe that we each have a role to play in creating and sustaining the ministry of UUMH?
I asked you to share what you are bringing to the work of this UU community in the year ahead, be it tangible or spiritual or creative or something else, for that matter! And I want to acknowledge here that for some of you this is an overwhelming question. We are feeling on empty right now at this point in the trajectory of pandemic times and I want to say that that is perfectly okay. It’s more than okay. It is perfect! That’s what community is for! Our tanks don’t all run dry on the same cycle, and we are here for one another if we but let each other know that there is a need. That means dropping the rugged “I can do this on my own” mentality and being vulnerable enough to say, “I need some help, companionship, a listening ear or a ride, a meal, a phone call.”
So, here are some of the things you said you are bringing:
· Social Justice work with issues of guns, abortion, voting tights, refugees, disabilities and more.
· Enjoyment through my flower arrangements to church members, bring guests to services and hopefully
increase my pledge.
· Be more generous to charities.
· Spend more time and energy on the people inside the building rather than the building itself.
· Stressing social justice and climate change for the congregation and community.
· An interest in climate change and in Unitarian Universalism.
· Learning about the equipment needed to zoom our services and events.
· Volunteer in the thrift shop, singing and attending book club.
As for me, I bring my presence, my honesty and my creativity.
Howard Zinn, in our reading this morning talks about history in a relational way: cruelty, sacrifice, courage and compassion are real time ways in which we create the stories of our lives – today’s choices are tomorrow’s history. So, I am not just being foolishly romantic with this notion of shared ministry! It is the thing that will preserve us; that will save us in the longer term. The ways we behave magnificently as a body far outweigh those in which we falter. In this truth, he says, we find the energy to change our world for the better, one act at a time, each present moment a step along the path.
Today we gathered and blessed our mingled waters – the ones we poured into the common vessel and the ones that are our lives. Each of us represents a drop of water joined with others to create the pool that is our existence together. No one drop fills the vessel, but when mingled with others it adds to the fullness – full of life and hope, creativity and passion. The original water ceremony was created by Carolyn McDade and Lucille Schuck Longview in 1980 for the Women and Religion Continental Convocation of Unitarian Universalists. Then it was a reference to the elemental and primary nature of water and our reverence for it as a source of life and thus of empowerment. Over time we turned it into a travelogue of sorts, but the real value of it has always been in the coming together.
I am excited to spend the coming year with you as we think creatively about the ministry of the Meeting House, the shape it will take going forward; curious to see the many ways you bring your whole selves to this ministry, each in turn as you are able. May we find in this mingling of spirits and spirited folks, a sense of empowerment as a community sharing in ministry; in service to one another and to our world.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson, UUMH Chatham