Here We Have Gathered

Sermon by Rev. Sue Browning, March 11, 2018

(Stewardship Sermon for 2018-19)

This congregation was founded in 1960. It is 58 years old. I’m in my fifth year serving this congregation and if someone updates the written history of the congregation I’ll get a mention, as will Ann Davis and Mark Peach your Co-Presidents. (They likely took on the role for the fame and glory!)

58 years of Sunday services and, in some form or another, 58 years of Stewardship Sundays. Yes, this is a Sunday with an ‘ask’ – a request to the Members and Friends of this congregation to financially re-commit, or commit for those making a first pledge, as ‘The Caretaking Team’ of the fellowship for the fiscal 2018-2019 year.

A bit of squirm? A “Let’s just get to the potluck” feeling? Really, a 20-minute pitch to give, again? Likely all of these feelings, and yes, that’s the plan.

And no, I don’t mind making the pitch. Over the years it is getting easier. I don’t feel a need to duck and sort of apologize. I’m honored to share the ‘amazingness’ of this religious community. I want to do my part to ensure this religious community continues to be a center of hope, and care, and sanctuary for those here ,and those yet to walk through the doors. And so, I invite you – I ask you – to hear this morning with an open heart, and then have that open heart lead your pen as you make a pledge today.

I’m a church history fan. When I read the old documents and clippings from the congregation (the scrapbooks are out on this table next to me), my imagination is restricted by what I see. For the first 30 years of the congregation’s existence, it was not on this property, nor in this building. The property was purchased in 1992 and as many know it had been a vet clinic. It was updated enough for the congregation to gather, and in time and with lots of care and planning this building was completed in its current form in 2007. I can’t really picture that the congregation formed without a building. I’m so glad others before us imagined, and purchased, and updated and upgraded to make this place of gathering possible.

The community that is the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton is not this building, but the building makes community possible. And the building does need care and feeding…cleaning services, new parts for furnaces, lawn mowing and more.

The community that is the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton is also not its founding members. While none of the original 12 members are still living, they were the group which gathered together and identified a possibility. They invited the American Unitarian Association (in 1960, the merger with the Universalists hadn’t happened) to come and explain how to start a fellowship. They basically got the ‘kit’ to start, followed the directions, and imagined, and did it again, and again – week after week. While this religious community is not its founding and early members, they were the original caretakers and they made today possible.

What draws you to this religious community? Asked with a bit more edge, why bother on a Sunday morning to come and gather together, again and again?

It’s in part the sense of connection, and feeling of kinship, and friendship we hear of in the hymn. Huge drivers to be sure. And yet I sense it’s more.

As a religious community, UUFE is an intentionally open community. Each week the community prepares for intentional inclusion, a welcome of the stranger. And you take time to explicitly offer commitment to one another each week, the covenant in your order of service, which ends:  “…we covenant to support each other in the spirit of compassion, respect, and love.” It’s not a creed. It’s not a required declaration to be a member of UUFE. It is the collective voice offering a path for how to gather.

In the days of old, religious community was one of a few ways for communities to gather. In addition to spiritual needs, social needs were met. It was a place of information sharing, at times of gossip, and lifting of concerns. For those here now using Facebook and other social media, we’ve got ‘Friends” and stimulation. We can see what our ‘Friends’ ate for dinner, know what they’ve read. We have pictures of weddings and travel. We have communities, albeit some virtual, to which we belong. Some are open, and some are closed groups. The internet provides advice on travel and home repair. And what about those cool cooking videos where the ingredients are ready to go and you can watch the dish be ‘created; and baked in 30 seconds.

Real live community is not the same. In particular, a real live religious community combines a unique mix of living, and connection, with lifting up what we value. As a mix of all ages together we ask

…spiritual questions…How is it with your soul? How are you doing? What are the hard questions you are struggling with? What is not making sense? Where are you experiencing ‘knock-your-socks-off joy”? Where can you not feel quite as alone?

And

…ethical questions…What is right? What is wrong? Is there an ‘in between’ of right and wrong? What does it take to hear other’s views? How is morality linked to ethics? What choices are we making? What do we want the next generation to know?

And

… community questions…How expansive is our understanding of community?  How am I building and strengthening personal relationships at the fellowship? Am I connecting with newer visitors? Beyond our walls, what other partnerships should UUFE nurture and build? What is our role to help an imperfect world to move toward justice?

We gather with purpose. What happens in the gathering from week to week, and year to year varies. UUFE is an agile community. We create opportunities for ‘all of the above’ as we build on this solid foundation. In real life – in real time – we laugh and cry together.

What was done together as a religious community in 2017-18? How were you changed?

Did you come to UUFE’s 4th Peace Camp (picture on back of stewardship program) where the kids made me my first tie dye shirt?

Did you attend the memorial service for Rev. Dan Higgins and his wife Jean…part of the story before us?

Were you here when Ellen led us in ‘I Choose Love’ after the Las Vegas shooting?

Did you sign up on Todd’s list and do a first shift at Talbot Interfaith shelter?

Did you meet Colleen’s newest granddaughter two weeks ago?

Did you hear sermons on bravery, and sacrifice, or Jean’s hymn-based service last summer?

Maybe you joined in the ‘I Believe’ class or were enriched by Pete Lesher talking on immigration?

Maybe you watched a PFLAG gathering in Easton be re-energized– now having met at UUFE for a year?

 

In religious community the spiritual, ethical and community experiences intertwine in ways we can’t always see and often don’t expect.

For example, you may volunteer for a shift at the ‘TIS’ (Talbot Interfaith Shelter) wanting to help.  For some, the shift may lead to attending hearings on zoning, as many of us did in 2015, or inspire you to go to Annapolis to help address the need to raise the minimum wage. Maybe you cover a TIS shift and find yourself with a fellow congregant you don’t know, and because it’s “a church friend” you find your three hours of conversation drifts from struggles with an aging parent, to wondering about a sermon (in my fantasy this happens), to a conversation on a local play or concert. The designation “church friend” often opens more avenues of conversation.

We’re not just any community, we’re not virtual, and we have a higher purpose in our gathering.

Those here now at UUFE are a part of a chain. Those who came before us created and sustained the community. Gradually religious communities pass responsibilities to the next group. There is not in a formal torch passing ceremony – no one moment, but gradually it happens. We are the caretakers how. In time, we will pass the role forward, having done our part to not only fund the necessities, but having contributed our creative energy – our love –  to the foundation of the community. The building reminds me in concrete ways (literally) of energy that came before.

Beyond the building, what (or better ‘who’) makes ‘stuff’ happen is our volunteers. You. UUFE runs on volunteers from the weekly emails, to the updated website, to the OOS created (this week in festive orange!), to financial records kept, and bills paid, and to the lay led services, and of course to choir and RE teachers, greeters and ushers and coffee servers, and to adult ed classes, and to leaders of workdays to weed, and to the leaders of Peace Camp and more.

UUFE Members, and Friends, and Children are a community of well over 150 souls – and more with visitors. While its theoretically possible for an all-volunteer group to cooperatively organize to meet spiritual, ethical and community goals, it’s hard, and UUFE has chosen to support the community with some paid staff.

You have me at half time serving as your minister, and Liz quarter time as your coordinator of religious education, and Ellen quarter time as your choir director. Together we have one full time position. We do our best to keep UUFE Sunday services and programs relevant, and to amplify the energy of volunteers through our professional contribution. Your religious community also is blessed to have an office administrator, Elizabeth, who works six hours a week, and playroom support by Gina and Ellie, who care for our youngest ones. The budget also includes funding accompanists, often Abby, and guest speakers.

UUFE is an organization with a purpose, and systems, and yes, with bylaws. The structure is there to create the capacity for times of connection, spontaneity, and new ideas. We’re not a no-need to-think-ahead place. We work hard to create such a place of renewal each week. We’re an organization with a mission, revisited time to time, we stay organized enough to imagine it moving forward for a long time.

As part of a chain – as a current caretaker – how can you help? More directly, today’s question is how much are you open to joyfully contributing?  For 2018-19 for the heat, and maintenance, and mortgage, and staff, and for the spiritual, and ethical and community possibilities we’ve yet to imagine together, what level of giving feels good to you?

This is a chance to live out your values as a part of a long chain. It’s a chance to share resources across generations who learn, and play, and grieve, and grow together. Ideally, we’ll collect $125K in pledges for this coming fiscal year, a stretch target.

Each of your financial circumstances vary, and decisions are personal. Giving, whatever you do should feel good. For everyone.

Let’s start big. Is there anyone out there who could double your pledge and pretty much have the next year, and the year after, and the year after, go pretty much the same? For some, life choices wouldn’t be that much different at that level. How cool would it feel to live in sense of abundance and just double your number? Could that be your part of the chain this year?

For others, who could feel good about a 10 o 20 % increase and really not be impacted too much in other life choices?  How good might that feel to share in this generous way?  I ask this knowing what we can each do in love, and this will vary. Circumstances vary. What feels right for you this year as a current caretaker. What feels right is the right number.

The Stewardship Team will be at the table in the back with the orange tablecloth, ready to receive your donation toward the caretaking of this holy and sacred religious community with love and appreciation.

In gratitude for all that has been, all that is now, and all that will be made possible by this religious community, your support is welcomed in love,

May It Be So

 

 

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