“What’s in Your Box? Part One”
I stumbled into quite a rabbit hole this week when I was looking for the origins and meaning of the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While many attribute this to Aristotle, it turns out he said something like this – “Concerning the challenge we just faced about how to describe things in numbers and definitions, what is the reason for a unity/oneness? For however many things have a plurality of parts and are not merely a complete aggregate but instead some kind of a whole beyond its parts, there is some cause of it . . ..” - I could go on but suffice it to say enough others have given meaning to my original quandary that works for the moment! There are plenty of other catchy phrases along these lines. Regarding teams – the acronym, T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More and the saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team. Motivational speakers and inspirational posters abound with such admonitions. “We are better together” or, as the Unitarian Universalist minister and poet, the Rev. Teresa Soto wrote in her poem by the same name, “All of us need all of us to make it.” Her reference is to all of the various identities we hold, indicating that it takes the coming together of each of our unique beings to get beyond the present binaries that plague our world.
I want to talk again today about our shared ministry here at UUMH, something I have brought before you in the past and continue to talk about because I believe so strongly in the concept. What I believe is that the work of the church is an endeavor shared by its component parts – its members and friends, its different committees and task groups, the professional ministry, the work it does in the world and that which it carries out in our midst. What I believe is that each of us bears a certain responsibility to the whole and that when we fulfill that responsibility, the whole of UUMH is better off than any one act alone. It is in the combined acts that it comes to life.
Perhaps a word here about the meaning of the word minister. We often think of the person – the noun – and the work they perform as ministry. But there is also a part of the definition that is a verb which means to give service, care, or aid. When I think of the ministry, this is what I am talking about. It is service, plain and simple, to one another – to humanity and to all of creation. So, while some folks are called to “the ministry” as a vocation, all of us are called to serve each other and our world. Each of us has our own talents and gifts; skills we have trained for out of a desire to bring them to fruition; innate qualities perhaps that lend themselves to serving in some particular way. If we are lucky those two tracks have joined on our journey and we are fulfilled in ways we might not otherwise be. Maybe we have lacked nurturance in the gifts we have, and it has taken us longer to figure it out. But they are there, none the less. Everyone brings a part of themselves to the table where it is recognized and appreciated if we are paying attention enough. We are each called to examine our personal treasure trove of strengths and abilities and to allow them to be used for the common good. Even though I am “the minister” I am not the only one here who has a ministry. I am just a piece of the whole.
Shared ministry captures the idea that we are indeed better together and that when we work in concert with one another the ministry of this place has the potential to move beyond survival to thriving. We say each week that service is our foundation – we are grounded in ministry as a faith community, within these walls and beyond.
Our reading this morning suggests that it only takes a moment to carry out one of the many tasks that come under the heading of the work of the Meeting House. The simplest anyway and the more complex we devote a little more time to, although in the grand scheme of things it is still not long. And given the trajectory of our lifetimes and each of our individual lives and their contributions, we can reshape the world – the big wide world out there, but the smaller one right here also.
Care and connection are one of the obvious ways we minister to one another, but a creative look at what we bring – each of us – paints a much larger picture. Our meditation today reminds us that we wake each day with a set of skills in our pockets and a series of encounters in which to exercise those gifts. How we choose to use what we have makes a difference. And the choice not to use what we have matters, too. It says that usually there is a fairly even match between what is needed and the tools necessary to meet those needs. Ours is to figure out how to match those up. We can spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about how best to make things happen or analyzing cause and effect or we can just get down to business. We do not need to wait until it is perfect to take action. If we do that, we will never get anywhere because perfection is just a dream, one that creates a roadblock to our actual movement.
I have thought before that it would be useful to know what all our gifts are here. I know there are many and I want to engage us now in an exercise to illustrate my point today. It is summer and I could stand here for a long time talking or we can have a little fun! We all must have some sense of what our gifts – our talents and skills – must be by this time in our lives. I want to invite you now to open your box or get your paper and pencil and to spend a few minutes thinking about what your unique gifts are. There is no contribution too small, so let’s not waste any time being judgmental with ourselves. There is no such thing as an insignificant gift.
What do you love to do? What have you learned in your living that is of use? What are you good at? What does your personality lend itself to? Whatever the answers are to these questions and your own ponderings, I want you to write them down. We’ll listen to a little music while we work on this. When we are done, you can put your paper and pencil back in the box and I will come around with the basket to collect them and we will share them anonymously with one another. We’ll hear from the folks on zoom, too.
After a brief interlude, we collected the boxes and shared the contents with everyone.
May all of these gifts and those we have yet to discover be blessed and be a blessing in our midst.
So, here’s the thing. We are getting ready to think about the future of the Meeting House here in Chatham. A deeper dive into those ideas is forthcoming in August and into the fall. But I wanted us to have a sense of some of what we have here, and it never ceases to amaze me – the number and variety of gifts that exist in a space such as this. Maybe there are things we find we need and we’ll have to look for those as we move ahead.
And I wanted also to remind us that the future of the Meeting House belongs to all of us. Its success is not just the minister’s job. In fact, it is less the case than those who are members. Minister’s come and go, but you all remain. Together we can envision and build a future that is sustainable. That is what shared ministry is all about – all of us working together toward a common goal, aligned with our values and mission. What that looks like remains to be seen. But for now, we know some of what we have to work with, what tools we can count on as we make a plan.
We are in a unique and sacred relationship here by virtue of the values and principles that bind us. We share in service to one another and to our world. We share in ministry together.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, July 24, 2022