Sermon by Rev. Sue Browning
Last Sunday here at UUFE we held our first Teen Church service. As adult church happened here in the sanctuary, Patty Hamsher, Lauren Harton and I considered magic wands with the youth in the Archer-Shee room. What power would you want your wand to have? Several wanted to fly. Others preferred time travel. A few wanted to transform stuff. Make all clutter disappear, or make vegetables taste like chocolate.
What is possible? What might be possible? Are miracles possible? Is magic real?
We asked the teens these questions last week. Then we asked them to imagine it is the year 1800 in Easton, Md. You are at the market and a 747 jet flies about 5000 feet over your head. Magic or not? A miracle? An impossibility?
Maybe magic wands serve a key role by helping us imagine what might be.
Time travel back with me 56 years to 1959. Cars, planes, telephones, TV and early space travel all exist. But in 1959 there was no Unitarian church in Easton, Maryland. I imagine the Richard and Audrey Archer-Shee at their kitchen table, “Want to put that ad in the paper – grow a church to our liking? Start some Sunday school for the kids? Word is they’re trying this in Annapolis and all around the country. “Not tonight. Maybe after the holidays.”
Through some imagining and more conversations, in March 1960 an ad was placed in the paper. With a just a few members this religious community was launched.
We’re here 55 years late. Might be close to what our founders would have wished for had they had a magic wand handy? To survive f or 55 years, the torch has been passed and passed again. The community has been sustained, nurtured and expanded, with many lives touched.
I don’t believe we have anyone left who joined the fellowship in the 1960s. Nancy Orr, who lit the chalice this morning, came with her husband in the late 1970s, having been a part of All Souls in DC, might be our longest member. Are there others who first found the community in the 1970s (hands)? 1980s? 1990s? between 2000 and 2010? More recently?
Notice – those here today came in an almost steady stream over the years.
Another question, Who grew up Unitarian or Universalist, or had early roots of Unitarian or Universalism? Our congregational roots are deep. Our ties Unitarians and Universalists too go deep. As community we’ve weathered much. We all ‘own’ the history, and we all own the future.
We hear of the fabric of community. Fabric is durable and strong. Too, fabric is flexible – bending and even stretching. Fabric at times rips, needing mending, showing fine scars. Continual change. We’re ok with some change – the making ‘more’ community – the growth part. But when change means loss, not so much.
Today I share some reflection on the realities of a long time member leaving. As I’ve told Edie, her move to NJ is a bit of our excuse for today’s celebration, and at the core of this sermon. It is not a service just about Edie. It too honors the many who have been a part of this community – those no longer here. In honor of our founders who have died, and in honor of the many who have contributed. And it’s a celebration of the amazing energy present today.
In over 30 years, Edie has been in every position and function at the church. Edie stated offering hints that she would be leaving a year ago. She explored options, and eventually committed to a new place in New Jersey. Since she began sharing her plans to leave, I’ve heard two core questions.
First, ‘What are we going to do without Edie?’
An open ended question, rhetorical and sincere. A possible translation: Can we picture UUFE without Edie? Who is going to do all the work Edie does? Who will I ask those questions that no one else is available to answer?
The second question, “Do we have a list of everything Edie does?”
There is a bit more of an edge to this second question. Angst shared by those close enough to the pulse of this congregation who know how much Edie does. A list, a nice reassuring list. With a really good, detailed list covering it all, we’ll be ok, really we will…won’t we?
Yes, Edie has provided a list, met with teams, and revised the list many times. She’s taken charge and invited new volunteers to come forth. Some have, and there is room for more to help. (Posted the long list on the wall.)
Lists do matter in our lives. Our ‘to do’ lists, our lists of passwords, our lists of addresses, and our lists of medications. We keep lists of where we’ve travelled and what we’ve read. Our resumes – list of past jobs, lists of degrees earned.
Lists can help keep us focused and functioning in a complex world. Lists can help others understand our past. Sometimes lists are just fun – list of the states you have travelled too, or coves entered on the Chesapeake.
Our ‘to do’ lists are especially powerful if we keep on the list what matters to us the most – what aligns with our values. Lists help us make these choices, and help make life less overwhelming.
Edie has been preparing us for a while for her departure. When you care about a community at the depth she cares about UUFE – about us – you do that. Many who came before Edie loved and held UUFE as well, as do many in the congregation today.
And yet, we are not our lists. We are NOT our lists.
As humans – as individuals – we have the ability to make connections between stuff. We answer a phone call and a member shares their address has changed. In the conversation, the ‘whys’ of the address change might come forward, maybe now. Maybe in six months. Our lists don’t account for the stored information and the patience of connecting the dots. There is the time a member preparing for a service realizes our Xerox machine is not a color copier, and a work around using the colored printer in the back office is figured out, and in the figuring out the mention, “Did I tell you my mom isn’t doing too well?”
Sure in our post-Edie congregation somehow figure out what is needed, and undoubtedly the pie will be sliced and diced a little differently, new connections made. We will be ok. We’ll figure it out, adding new moments of connection as we work it through. We’ll get it, but just not from a list alone.
Beyond making connections, is the amazing trust we have for those few special souls in any community whose mission it has become not let things fall between the cracks. Individuals that make space for others to do their jobs, but also have a sixth sense when a ball is about to drop. These souls of grit ‘get’ that even if everyone does everything on their ‘to do’ lists creatively, and follow their job descriptions to a tee, not everything can be anticipated. These are the special ones in our lives who are both the glue and safety net of communities, organizations and families.
She or he never sign up for this exact role. They just care that much and time again, and find themselves caring for the whole. Seeing possible disconnects about to happen, they make the needed call, or bring two volunteers together. Once in a while they rattle a few cages. This care of the whole is beyond self, beyond ego. It is care offered with humility and grace.
Being the glue and safety net of our congregation is far from the only way to be a part of the community. It’s actually a pretty rare role. There are many ways to find a niche, to offer love to a fellow member, to do a job with gusto. Wonderful contributions.
We come together today to offer thanks for Edie and her ability to hold the big picture. It does matter that we are aware of those in our lives who have our backs in this special way – those that hold the whole. We need to offer thanks – in amazement for the ways they have been of use. It’s not just Edie, and I won’t name names. Look at the plaques around our halls. Who in your life draws the community or family together – worrying of the details and of the whole?
You won’t find these folks have magic wands. It only seems that way. They are the ones you’d create if you could wave a magic wand.
When it’s time to pass the torches, especially when the one leaving has balanced so much, it feels heavy. We wonder, will there enough hands and feet ready to pick up the torche? Do we have enough hands and hearts to pick up the torche, complete with flames? Torches carried and passed on for 55 years?
My guess is the founding members worried about a few of you too. They were grateful that just when the list of volunteers felt thin, which is always the case, new energy came forward. I imagine them grateful, and relieved, and excited when new passions took shape. Trust was passed on, to continue on the path, carrying the torch shakily to be sure.
There is a claim of faith in this passing on of trust. There is faith that the community will continue, and a knowing that the community will change. Faith that the community will be cared for and loved.
The passing of the torches doesn’t happen with the wave of a magic wand. We cannot replace the Edie. Ironically, while we are not our lists, the passing of the torches happens through lists… and by invitations to connect, and participate and learn…and in our patience with one another. We enter new seasons as we let go, and as we imagine the new. We imagine the improbable, blurry at first, until it comes into focus as a new possibility.
Held by the many who have touched this community in the past 55 years, including all here today, may we bolding imagine the future and may we move in the direction of possibility in love.
May It Be So