“What’s in Your Box? Part Two”



Recently I read an article 1 about the renewal of a crumbling New Jersey church that became a model for reinvestment in community life entitled, “Fix It and They Will Come.” It told the story of an Essex County UU church whose building was literally crumbling before their eyes and whose congregation had shrunk in size by half over the past ten years. They were seriously thinking about closing their doors. The policies that had shaped post-industrial cities like theirs had taken their toll on the working-class environment which had once thrived. The face of their

city had changed over time – racially and culturally and economically. But instead of shuttering

up, they partnered with others and created a strategy for their survival. They used crowdfunding to raise money for much needed repairs, let their minister go and hired a building manager, and opened their doors to their struggling neighborhood offering things like sewing classes, space for labor organizing, local music festivals, renting their space sometimes and at others just providing for the community at large. The list goes on. At the time of the article, they had decided that they needed to reincorporate worship into the mix and were holding

monthly services with interesting speakers and some of the elements that had been most meaningful to them.


While at General Assembly I participated in the Service of the Living Tradition and the woman who gave the sermon entitled, “Radicals Rise Up- Now Is a Moment” was the dynamic Pastor Jaqueline Duhart, Director of Spiritual Care at Starr King School for the Ministry. According to her bio, Pastor Jacqueline is a Queer feminist of African heritage, mother, prison abolitionist, beloved partner, daughter and sibling, Minister Emerita of First Unitarian Church of Oakland, NURTURER, and LOVER of everything that supports life to thrive in joy. What ended with a powerful call to action among the participants began with a story about her early years in a

poor southern community where folks took care of one another. She shared about gatherings at the family home for things like laundry day, because they happened to have the washing machine. People would come from all around and spend the day together doing laundry and caring for one another’s needs, sharing in meals, and making sure everyone left with more than what they came with. She called this “doing church” – this act of gathering and caring for each other – strangers and friends alike. And she called on us to think about ways of “doing church” beyond our typical Sunday mornings – more than think about actually – she called us into promised action! Because it is her belief that what we have to share is so much more than gathering for worship and the care and maintenance of our governance and buildings. For Unitarian Universalism to thrive she believes that we need to get out into the community – to draw the circle wide – as we sang upon our parting.


I participate with a collection of other colleagues in something called The Nourishing Network that was developed under the creative care of the Reverends Aisha Ansano and Emily Conger. We gather monthly on zoom for dinner church – a worship service where we all bring something of a simple repast with which we bless one another before we close, hear readings and music, and share in creative activities around a theme that nourishes those of us who are charged with nourishing others. Every month we receive a check in email with a thought-provoking question that we all respond to, sharing ideas and making meaning together. This,

too, is church.


I can hear you thinking there in the pews and at home – “What is she suggesting here?” “What is she thinking?” Well, not to worry! I am not suggesting that you let me go and turn UUMH into a social service organization or a center for the arts. I am not asking you to abandon our Sundays together in favor of meals and wash days. Nor am I implying that we could just meet online for some kind of personal deepening and strengthening experience. But I am suggesting that there are more ways to do church than we might be imagining; that what we receive from our times together can be found in a myriad of ways if we are open to them.


What I have heard from the Board and other committees and what you heard at our Annual Meeting in June was that we need to get creative here if we are to survive and thrive as a progressive faith community in Chatham. And I have no doubt that we have in our midst all that we need to do so. You are an amazing group of people!


What I am suggesting here is that we need to expand our understanding of what “church” is all about. Not only do we want to meet the needs of those who are already members. What I saw that UU church in New Jersey doing was looking outside of their walls to see what their community needed to thrive – what kinds of things would improve the lives of those around them – what were people hungry for? What are folks in Chatham thirsting after? We are a justice seeking people according to our mission statement. What does that mean for us as we plan programming, organize around important issues consistent with our values? And weaving those two threads together, where is there a need in our midst here on Cape Cod that calls out to us for action, for involvement, for the application of our way of responding as Unitarian Universalists? How can we nourish ourselves while also providing sustenance to the wider circle? Because in answering these kinds of questions we are building a way forward that can sustain this faith community in the longer term.


Now, I know that this sounds an awful lot like we are going to need to change, and change is scary and hard and something that our very human selves are generally resistant to. I hear you out there! In her recently published book, “Trusting Change: Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation,” Karen Hering talks about the act of letting go, saying that it begins with our very first steps as infants. We are encouraged and required to let go of what we no longer need and often those things we love the most: the people or circumstances that support our identity, our well-being, and our belonging. She likens it to a threshing process which is a forceful thing followed by a winnowing which allows us to separate what is nourishing from the chaff and carry it forward in time. She quotes the jazz musician, Benny Golson, who said that “the creative person always walks two steps into the darkness” insisting that anyone can see what is in the light that requires imitation or modification or reshaping. “The real heroes,” he says, “delve into the darkness of the unknown” where other things can be discovered. 2


This is what I hear for us – that we will need to be brave as we think about our future here on the hill, that we may need to let go of some things we have held dear and that there is also plenty here that will nourish us into the future that we can bring with us on this journey. A willingness to step into the unknown will take us places we had never imagined possible.


You’ve heard some talk about the working group established this summer called, “On the Cusp of the Future” and they are ramping up to engage us all – all of us - in a process of discernment in the coming months. They have already put together an incredible plan for us to step into to begin the process and you’ll hear more in the next few weeks about this. What I want us to do today is to take an initial imaginative step together. So, get out your boxes – like we did a few weeks ago – and take out the paper and pencil. Those at home can gather theirs together, too. Let’s spend a few minutes in personal brainstorming. What ideas come to mind for you about how we can thrive here? What do you know already about our wider community that would be helpful in this endeavor? What are you willing to let go of, perhaps, in order to further our sustenance and what can you offer that we can bring with us that will help? This is your opportunity to dream big or be your practical self or anything in between!


Jaiden will play some music for us to imagine by and then I will collect your thoughts and share them like we did with our gifts.


May all of these ideas be blessed, and may they be for us a starting point from which we build our future together.


We are on the threshold of something new and wonderful here at the UU Meeting House of Chatham. This is our opportunity to claim our place as the inclusive, justice seeking, thoughtful and free-spirited liberal religious community that we strive to be. Each of us brings something unique to the process of becoming. I invite you into this precious time of discernment in the life of this community, sacred and powerful work calling forth hearts and minds and spirits.


So may it be and Amen.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, August 14, 2022


1 “Fix It and They Will Come” by Laurie Mazur, December 1, 2019

2 “Trusting Change: Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation” by Karen Hering; Skinner

House Books, Boston, 2022.


So may it be and Amen.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, August 14, 2022


1 “Fix It and They Will Come” by Laurie Mazur, December 1, 2019

2 “Trusting Change: Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation” by Karen Hering; Skinner

House Books, Boston, 2022.

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​Unitarian Universalist

Meeting House of Chatham
Sunday Services  10:30 AM

819 Main Street
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Chatham, MA 02633
(508) 945-2075.

Serving our Cape Cod Community in Chatham since 1986