Finding Our Way Back

Welcome! Welcome! While we won’t yet be gathering in person, at this virtual service we’ll be finding our way back to one another. Join us as we ‘kick-off’ the year with song, story, reflection, a message from Rev. Sue, and an adapted version of our Water Communion service. The service will be a chance to explore the blessing of connection as a renewing force in our lives, especially in these unique times.

If you’d like to participate in our virtual Water Communion, please submit a picture related to water by email to Rev. Sue.

Curious about Unitarian Universalism or our congregations and Easton and Chestertown? This would be a wonderful virtual service to “attend”! Questions about how to ‘attend’ a virtual service? Check out instructions in the newsletters and on the websites.

Find all our recorded services online here.

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Service, September 13, 2020

Welcome

I’m Rev. Sue Browning, and I have the privilege of serving the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River in Chestertown Maryland, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Easton, Maryland. My partner in leading the service this morning is Annie Lavin.

We come to welcome in a new church year; this is our return from summer.

For those who have been a part of our congregations for a while, the service will feel familiar….Familiar in the ritual of chalice lighting, a hymn, time for reflection, a message, and our Water Communion.

It’s even become familiar to ‘click’ to this service through YouTube, and to join on your computer, or phone, or TV screen. We’ve got 6 months of practice, and our current plan is virtual services through December. Like wearing masks, and rubbing our hands raw, for now this is how we’ll gather.

It’s also familiar that Easton and Chestertown are partnering for this service today, and will partner for quite a few of our fall services. The teams leading worship have made new friends, and are finding blessings as we work together on a service which melds our gifts – from music, to tech support, and too our caring, our shared vision of a better world.

While our service is familiar for many, we hope there are those who are visiting this morning. Welcome. We are glad you are with us today, and we look forward to getting to know you. If you’d like to learn more about our congregations or the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, please be in touch by phone or email.

I invite you now, wherever you are watching, to take a deep breath…let it out…and another…let it out. Find that place of centering you need for our service; find that place of centering that you need for today; you need for this week; you need for these times – these unprecedented times.

We are a faith tradition that lives out our values of inclusion; that has not changed.

We are a faith tradition that welcomes your questions; that has not changed.

We are a faith tradition that invites you to bring your full identity, your joys and sorrows, and your openness to what is around you into our community each week; that has not changed.

The form of gathering is different, our needs for connection remain.

It is during Sunday service that we take a break from the day-to-day to stand back and reflect on life; to reflect on the ways we adapt; to stand back and make sense of it all, especially in confusing times.

Come, let us worship.

Chalice Lighting – Annie

Opening Words – Annie (Describes water communion)

Hymn – Ampersand – Enter, Rejoice and Come In #361

Thoughts for All Ages (Liz, mixing water, colors merge)

Meditation

I invite us now into a time of reflection.

We come together this morning for a deep pause; We come in return, we come for renewal; we come looking for shared hope.

We come in honesty, not quite sure if we are ready for return, or for renewal. Not quite sure we can trust in shared hope.

In our gathering today, we invite all to lay down what is feeling heavy to you in this space. We invite you to bring your experiences of living with the pandemic, here today.

We invite you to lay down your worries for our community, our country.

Bring your joy, and your learning.

Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love we come laying down much; we come in witness of one another’s challenges. Through our connections to one another, and to a greater sense of the divine, our load may be lightened.

As we witness the joys around us – new births, new marriages, new experiences, may we be reminded of possibilities.

In our sharing of all that is our lives, help us make space for the new; help us make space for return to community; remind us of the ways we strengthen our connections.

As we look to one another – as we look to the beauty of creation – to water; to the cycles of water; to the images of water, may we have the courage to imagine shared hope.

Amen

Acknowledgments of the Heart (Joys and Concerns)  – Led by Annie

 

Sermon, Rev. Browning

Finding Our Way Back

Almost six months ago to the day we were warned of a virus. (It wasn’t yet ‘the virus’ – not yet our personal nemesis.)

Last March we went from ‘normal’ to shut down in days. We’ve lived in some form of this out of body experience through spring, and summer, and now we enter fall, and we’re still well, wobbly.

Back on March 22, with our YouTube channels freshly registered, I looked back and found I shared these words with you at our first virtual service:

“We are faced with being creative in how we stay connected; the goals for Sunday worship haven’t changed, but will take on many forms and formats over these next weeks.”

I was warning you this virtual ‘thing’- this odd way of meeting – might actually last beyond one service. I was gearing us up for “weeks.” I recall a conversation with Christina, the president of the Easton congregation and a physician where we braced ourselves; in our conversation admitted this might be a change for as much as 8 weeks.

Parts of life with the corona virus are now familiar. It for sure is ‘the virus.’

It’s become our reality – the water we swim in.

Over the last month the phrase ‘We can only begin where we are’ keeps circling through my head. We can only ‘begin where we are.’ Good advice always, as especially in these times.

Here are a few observations about where we are.

First, these past months have come with isolation.

For some, alone in a home, or with one or two others. For some, larger families dealing with the reality of sharing space. Isolated as a small crowd, often in tight wpace. We’ve stared at walls, and done errands alone. Social activities have been curtailed. School, church, family events all modified. Less social, more isolation.

Second, we now filter choices through a lens of, ‘Is this safe?’ … ‘Is this safe for me?’ … ‘Is this choice safe for others?’

All of us have a mask. Some of us have stores of masks in our cars, and on the countertops, and masks in the laundry. We still forget to bring a mask, and head back to the car, at least I do.

We wonder of others’ behaviors regarding what we’ve decided is safe – sometimes with snark, or with worry. We read statistics and look at graphs. We ask what do state and local numbers mean? What is my right, safe choice for today?

Third, we’ve been witness to local and national leaders as they’ve given advice, and made policies, and enforced decisions about something unforeseen, and unpredictable. There are elected officials, and too researchers, superintendents, and many more. We want each to act with moral clarity, and efficiency in decisions and implementation. We’ve done our share of second guessing them and ourselves.

I used to think being a school superintendent at 5 a.m. having to make the ‘snow day call’ was the worst role in the world. Weather is innately unpredictable, and you’d know everyone later in the day would be pointing fingers – as the conditions deteriorate quickly and buses were skidding around for an early release, or all kids home and the sun was out by 9 am. Turns out that is not the hardest of choices!

We’ve created new patterns in our isolation. Both simplicity, and retreat.

We’ve tested our trust in others as we assess safety; we’ve been aware of our age, and vulnerability. We find we see safety differently than friends, neighbors.

We’ve learned about government and roles, leadership and shifting information.

Across all of these dimensions, we are deepening our understanding of connection. We know better what we miss (or don’t), what we trust (and don’t).

We have heightened sense of mutual destiny around our shared fate.

While in some ways we’ve appreciated the slower pace, and less chaotic calendars, I’ll take the risk of saying virtually everyone has missed valued connections in our lives and the ways these connections are lived out, from the simple lunch out with a friend, to the celebration of graduations, to the day-to-day interactions of the workplace, or volunteer setting.

So, we start where we are.

We ‘return back’ to our congregations, our faith home, with limitations.

We hear ‘Enter, Rejoice and Come In’ – with the invitation to ‘come in’ and know it won’t mean coming to a full sanctuary. As we invite folks to come and re-connect, we’re kidding ourselves to claim it will feel the same.

And yet, we’ve never needed connection more than we do right now. And it is possible to worship together, and have coffee together in the new ways using technology.

So this morning we invite all to return, yet it is not a ‘turn the key’/play the hymn moment.

To return to whole-hearted return – especially to return in ways that are still unfamiliar and still resisted – will involve some honesty around our new ‘pandemic ways’ of being.

Connection takes effort, and commitment. Belonging isn’t automatic. We need to create to opportunities and commit to the connections; commit to relationships.

While not a perfect metaphor, in many ways last March we were thrust into a shared experience of wilderness. While not a literal woods/mountains/snakes and bears wilderness, we have experienced the solitude of wilderness.  –distractions peeled away, offering some clarity to what we value, while at the same time a loneliness.

Wilderness is by definition a place to journey through, and not a place to land. Time in the wilderness can pass quickly or slowly; in virtually all cases time feels somehow different. We travel through the wilderness. It is not a destination for settling down. And in time, we come out.

In his recent book, “The Second Mountain” author David Brooks considers the journeys we all take in the wilderness, and shares his view that, “When you get down to the core of yourself, you find a deep yearning to care and connect.

I sense he’s right, and that these yearnings take on different and personal forms over the years.

So here is a challenge: How do we as a congregation help answer this call to care and connect?

I sense many of us are ready to leave the wilderness, even when it means returning to the unfamiliar; ready to leave even though it is impossible to go back to the familiar behaviors.

When we are limited in travel and physical gatherings can we still leave the wilderness?

Part of the answer may be in thinking carefully about the ‘why’ we want return, before we ask ‘how’?

Why is it we return back each year?

Why is it there are words of welcome every week; at every service?

Why do we stress a value of inclusion?

We come back to renew our souls, and re-energize.

Yet, we do so not for ourselves.

We come create our communities with the intent of being intentional loving and open spaces.  Intentional community (Beloved Community) is about a community that is ready with open doors – virtual doors for now – because we are needed by others.

It matters that as a community of connection is ready each week for a member needing some extra care – that doesn’t happen if we are not all here; we create a community of connection to welcome the stranger, who is looking for a place to belong; a community ready to see them in their wholeness; a community ready to change with each new face.

In ‘Widening the Circle of Concern’ – a recent UUA publication, a group (Commission on Institutional Change) who studied barriers in our own faith (to inclusion reminded us of this aspect of our Unitarian Universalist theology: “.. since the consolidation of Unitarians and Universalists in 1961, there has been an overemphasis on individual exploration and experience as the primary, if not sole center of religious experience… This centering of the individual decenters the communal as a locus of theological exploration.”

Our challenge, while in the pandemic, and for years to follow, is to nurture the communal aspects of our faith communities. We need to remind one another we are not just gatherings to meet personal needs for renewal, but to know that at our core we exist for the care and connection with one another. We all need each other.

It is a response to why it is we ‘show up’ for one another.

It’s not transactional; it’s about living in a mode of sharing. It’s about connections deep enough that you are willing to be changed by the presence of another in the widening circle. It’s about asking deep questions, and articulating what matters to you; it’s about a sense of shared destiny, and a story bigger than your own.

The ‘why’ of our return and ‘why’ certain connections and communities in your lives matter.

Ask your ‘why’ first, and from there figure out the ‘how.’

Yes, it will be mean some (or many) Zoom meetings. It will mean clicking onto YouTube services, where you hear of Joys and Sorrows and outreach opportunities.

The ‘how’ may be more.

You may ‘return’ by asking where you might help. Maybe make calls to others, or weed a garden, or say yes to a request to help with worship, or governance. And in your generous ways of being – of giving. Check in with me or the leaders, about your interest and willingness to help.

The ‘how’ might include a commitment to read the newsletters, and to respond to ideas and requests.

How are you called to make others’ journeys possible as you find your path? In our faith these are not separate events?

As we continue with the Water Communion, I invite you to consider where you are ready for fresh connections – to imagine the ways all of the water in the images is somehow connected – in a cycle – as a live giving force.

These congregations are here.

For the many ways we return again, and again, and show up for one another, may we be grateful. Above all, may we trust in one another’s love.

May It Be So

 

Water Communion Words, slide show…

 

Closing Words

We close in gratitude for these images. …

Extinguish chalice.

Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.

 

 

 

 

 

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