“Swimming to the Other Side”
On May 21st, the congregation explored the question, “It’s important to me that my faith community is ______________ because ___________________.
Here is a link to your responses:
Back in the mid-1900’s the number of whooping cranes fell to forty-seven, all in one flock. A group of creative conservationists and ultralight pilots got together and formed a group called Operation Migration. Their purpose was to increase the birds’ chances of survival by establishing another migratory flock. For over ten years they dressed up as giant cranes and taught a new clutch of fledglings in Wisconsin to follow them in flight to a preserve in Florida where they joined a growing number of adults from previous years and followed them back in the spring. Mimicking the wild born whoopers they taught them first to fly in increasingly widening circles and return home each day. The first time they headed south without returning home, passing over noise and traffic, the young cranes quickly peeled off and headed home on their own. They realized that the habit of circling back had to be broken slowly. 1
Maybe you have heard this story before, but I read it in Karen Hering’s book, “Trusting Change” from which I have been sharing this year as we navigate change here at UUMH. Change is hard and returning to the comfort of home, to the familiar is necessary as we set out. It may feel like the changes here are happening at a snail’s pace – I get a lot of questions about what’s up, what’s in the works, where are we headed. But I would venture to guess that if our leadership just dumped a sudden change on us, we would head home to the familiar pretty fast! We need to become incrementally attuned to the direction we are heading if it is going to be successful. Our Board has taken great care and given significant attention to this process, not much unlike the ultralight pilots. We recognize that without such care we will get stuck in circular patterns and never move on to what is next.
We have risked the opportunity to make something new of ourselves here and we have slowly let down our defenses. We are able to do so because we feel safe here in this community. A little discomfort is tolerable when we know we are held in the love and care of our siblings in faith. We have come to trust the process. Part of this is due to the pace at which we have been moving, allowing time to grow into next steps and necessary changes. Moving on is sometimes less about propelling ourselves forward at breakneck speed and more about letting go of our resistance to the movement of change occurring around us.
This is the time of the year when our Jewish siblings in faith read the Torah portion about the Israelites journey from the wilderness of Sinai. The lands through which they travel are specifically noted in the book of Numbers in Hebrew scripture. Moses was charged with chronicling the stages of their journey so that there would be a record of all they had come through and a way to encourage their faith in the future. It speaks of the value of each step no matter how big or small, all a part of the process. There is something to be learned, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the moment. It is important to pay attention to all our travels no matter how striking they may be. The revelation comes in the totality of the journey. 2
I was re-reading the other day the program booklet from your 20/30-year celebration. That was a big milestone and it spoke of others as well – your founding, calling a minister, buying this building. And I began to think about all the milestones that we have come through together. Just this year we have installed solar panels and an AED, our Thrift Shop has supported the work of the church beyond expectations, we have fewer pledging units but have managed to receive sufficient commitment to carry us through another year. And I would guess that if each of you were to think about it, you would come up with more of these smaller steps along the path, some material, some spiritual, all of them important and worthy of recognition. I hope you are chronicling all of this so that in years to come those who inhabit this place will be able to look back and see the whole trajectory of it all, look upon it with gratitude and amazement and be encouraged in the faith they need to turn toward the future, one step at a time.
Every story has three parts! A before, a during and an after. All the tiny movements in a story and all the grand transformations pivot from before to after. The history and the expectations set the stage for what is to come and ask what is at stake. The actual moment of change is where the action is. A story’s significance – the answer to the “So what?” question – rests in the consequences of the change. A transformation is played out in events, thoughts, beliefs, and relationships. Movement is the key, not so much the resulting answer. 3
Last fall we talked about letting go and named some things we’d be okay with setting down for the good of the whole. Earlier this spring nestled into the liminal space between the before and the after, a place of stillness that is, in actuality alive with so many little steps and events, creative movement that we have made space for. We are at the point in the journey for moving on. We acknowledge that we are not yet at a new destination, but we are moving into wider and wider circles of exploration and change. We touch down to home each week as we gather in community, but we make our way farther and farther on our journey in the days that pass from Sunday to Sunday.
Our larger Association has been on a similar path as they have recognized shortcomings that called for attention and change, and while they have sought to engage in required processes thoughtfully, mindful of the need to keep us relevant to our times, to clearly articulate the heart of Unitarian Universalism. Structures and language that govern who we are as an overarching organization are being reimagined. In a way we are on a parallel path with the UUA!
I’d like to engage us in a little imagining exercise this morning. If I asked you, “What should a UU community be like?” - to imagine a UU community that already is just the way you think it should be, what is a word that you would use to describe it? Go ahead and shout them out. I will repeat them from here.
Great! Now let’s take this a step further. Get your pad and pencil ready. Joe? will put the next question on the screens. It’s a “fill in the blanks!” It reads, “It’s important to me that my faith community is ______________ because ______________________. So, write your answers on your paper – maybe peaceful or fair or whatever you think and then say why. I will give you a couple of minutes.
Now I want you to turn to someone you didn’t arrive with this morning and share what you wrote.
Later we will collect these up in the basket they came from and use them for future exploration, so don’t lose them! How was that? Did you hear things that resonated? That made you think? Or wonder? I hope all three and more!
Our ego’s first response is to resist change, but moving into harmonious action with our surroundings, creatively participating with our circumstances and those with whom we are in relationship has the power to rechannel energy and discover larger and larger options. Our survival instincts make us one with old patterns and definitions that keep us from exploring our capacity for relationships and participation in a wider web of existence. It is a choice to step out in faith, moving through unknown territory into a sustainable future.
This work of reimagining at the congregational level and at the Association level comes at a time when we are moving into a new normal in our world. This in and of itself is a journey within the expanse of our larger journeys. What we know is that we have these communities that bind us together – here on the hill in Chatham, our sibling congregations on the Cape, those that make up our Northeast Region and the whole of the UUA. Our faith encourages us to ongoing learning and personal growth which inevitably leads to change. We are people of change as Unitarian Universalists. As we take up this mantle of ensuring our sustainability here in Chatham, we do so acknowledging that some things will stay the same and some will be different. We do so in oneness as a community bound by love and care, trusting the story of our past even as we write the next chapters. And as we widen the lens to include our Association and its potential changes we do so with open minds and hearts. We know the journey intimately because we are on one of our own, traveling alongside, empathy giving way to compassion and hope for the days ahead.
May we take heart in the thoughtful leading of our Association and the good souls to which we have entrusted our care here in Chatham. May the arc of our stories – the before, during and after – constantly leapfrogging their way through time be one’s of blessing and encouragement. May we always know that we can return home for respite and strengthening as we expand our circle of being wider and wider. May we join our spirits in oneness as we navigate our way to the next and the next and the next step on our path.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, May 21, 2023
1 From “Moving On” in Trusting Change: Finding Our Way through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering; Skinner House Books, 2022.
2 From “The Rising of the Cloud” in The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons by Jill Hammer; Ben
Yehuda Press, 2018/5778.
3 From “Strengthening Movement” in Living Revision: A Write’s Craft as Spiritual Practice by Elizabeth Jarrett
Andrew; Skinner House Books, 2018.