ORDER OF SERVCE
“Spirit of Life” #123
Board Announcements – Jane Terebey
Prelude “Trust in the Room” John Thornburg and Mark A. Miller
Welcome and Chalice Lighting Rev. Sue Browning
Opening Hymn “Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire” #34
Covenant of Our Fellowship (in unison)
“At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton, we seek to nurture spiritual and intellectual growth for all ages, and to be actively involved in community outreach and service. Cherishing diversity, and celebrating our oneness with all humanity, we covenant to support each other in the spirit of compassion, respect, and love.”
Thoughts for All Ages – Rev. Browning and Liz Hausburg
Joys and Sorrows
Anthem “Let Peace and Love Shine Through” Rollo Dilworth
Sermon “Share the Warmth of Community” – Rev. Browning
Closing Hymn “Draw the Circle Wide” Insert
Closing Words and Extinguishing Our Chalice
Sermon – Rev. Sue Browning, February 12, 2023
“Share the Warmth of Community”
February 12, 2023
When I first heard about the earthquake in Turkey and Syria this past Monday, I thought, “Wow, earthquakes in ‘that region’ seem frequent.” Hearing the 1,100 had died was sad. Another tough headline in a place far away.
As we’re painfully aware, the death toll climbed – it is at over 30,000 this morning. Scores are injured. Thousands of structures are destroyed or damaged. After a week of many pictures, the world feels smaller.
This is not my first natural disaster. I’ve learned what is needed most is money. I gave $108 to the International Rescue Committee, a reputable group. The donate button took me to a page that said $108 covers temporary shelter for 8 families. I then shared this giving opportunity with you in our newsletter. Maybe my invitation was something you considered, or will consider.
Somehow making a donation helps me feel a bit more connected to the victims; it reminds me to consider their humanity. A box checked – what I could do for now, and I moved on.
Yesterday I saw on Facebook that the 10 year-old son of a minister couple I know launched a fundraiser to support Turkey and Syria. His parents shared their son really wanted to do something to help. He’d set a goal of $500. He asked for $5, $10, any amount.
So I gave $50 to the fund he’d chosen. A bit more support for the victims, and a chance to help this youngster live out his UU values. In part, I wanted him to see when you set a goal and ask directly, people will seriously consider your ‘ask’ and respond with a generous spirit. I wanted him to know I was paying attention. My donation helped me feel connected to this child who is just learning to process the grave losses and damage in the world. It was also a small shout out to his parents.
Today is stewardship Sunday, and to be sure today is about financial generosity.
It’s about more. It’s about sensing the ways connections emerge and deepen when we intentionally live as generous spirits.
Social worker Judith Connor says this on generosity of spirit: “An openness and willingness to share our material, emotional, spiritual and intellectual gifts with others regardless of our own circumstances is at the core of what is meant by generosity of spirit. Beyond charitable giving and volunteerism, generosity of spirit can be defined as a way of authentically being in and engaging with the world, free from fear, envy, and small-mindedness. It requires one to go beyond mere tolerance to a genuine embracing of the “other,” to risk knowing and being known, and to stand ready to sacrifice for what matters most. (https://www.samaritancounseling.net/post/the-core-of-a-generous-spirit)
Living as a generous spirit is a lot about showing up and asking, ‘Here I am, how might I help?’ and doing so with a true openness to the answer.
Living as a generous spirit is a risky stance. It might lead to an uncharted adventure or added task. It might mean having to say a heartfelt ‘No, not now’ to a sincere request. Showing up with generous mindset is a way to engage the world with curiosity, and a readiness to connect and listen.
A few weeks ago I presented the working draft of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s updated statement of purpose. The draft explicitly lifts up the value of generosity and defines it this way: “Generosity. We cultivate a spirit of gratitude and hope. We covenant to freely and compassionately share our faith, presence, and resources. Our generosity connects us to one another in relationships of interdependence and mutuality.”
Generosity is about sharing freely – not out of guilt. Generosity is intricately tied to gratitude. Generosity is a value steeped in connection.
I’ve been considering what it might mean to live in a spirit of generosity as I’ve reflected on this year’s stewardship theme at UUFE: ‘Share the Warmth of Community.’
What might sharing the warmth of community look like? A few images come to mind.
One is a ‘Currier and Ives’ scene – a painting of a modest home, set in the snow, back from the road a ways, with the front picture window offering a glimpse inside where there’s a perfect fire in a tidy room, maybe with a guest or two arriving with goodies. There is a cat sleeping by the fire. It’s a cozy image of a space protected from the elements. It feels safe and predictable.
Another image is an outdoor bonfire hosted by UUFE in a big park in town. I picture here a big open fire – one where it is wise to have the fire department is standing by. I’m imagining stars, and clouds. I picture music breaking out spontaneously as the warmth is shared. I’m imagining people from all walks of life drawn to the warmth. I picture these folks leaving the park clearly renewed and invigorated, sensing some fresh hope.
In this version we’re taking our warmth to where people are. In the first, we’re waiting for a few to show up.
Make no mistake, the ‘sharing the warmth’ this second big bonfire way would take work. Flyers to be created and distributed. Wood, kindling, and matches brought to the site. Someone would need the courage to start the first song. Maybe a collection is taken to support a local need, with the option to text the contribution all ready to go just-in-case. We’d need a few to stay until the end to assure that the fire is out – got to love the clean-up crew.
Imagine how that bonfire in the park might offer just the warmth needed by folks in the community.
Many here know I resist thinking of a congregation as family. I don’t think of our primary purpose as being a cozy, intimate group, who all know each other well, and who love and support one another. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we don’t need to take care of those here well. Doing so matters tremendously. We need the personal touch as we live out our values together – adults and children alike. It’s beautiful that we get to know one another well.
And I value that we are a community of generous spirits sharing our warmth by keeping our community wide open – – drawing the circle wide and wider still.
This community has been intentionally created to NOT block out what is uncomfortable or messy, but rather to offer a place for all to bravely come together to make sense of and live in a world that is complex, and confusing.
Our premise for existing as a community – inside these walls, and in the wider world – is that we will come together as an open religious community of generous spirits. It’s an amazing premise.
Where have you had the experience of being among generous spirits? What did that feel like? Fluid, needs anticipated…responsive…loving. Where are groups of generous spirits in your life today?
A congregation is an ever-changing group of generous spirits with a mission to offer belonging to someone we’ve not yet met. It’s about figuring out tech for a film series open to the public that we’ve never quite tried. It’s about adjusting programs and services for pastoral needs, and doing so with love and care. We do all of this with a rotating set of leaders.
The path of ‘doing church’ is not crisp and clear.
It works when we come together with the generous mindset of teacher and learner.
The warmth of this community – its bold patterns of acceptance, inclusion, and care – are sorely needed in our world. We need to share the warmth.
—For those looking for belonging and a spiritual home we need wide clear paths into this community of generous spirits which make it easy for them to find their way.
—For those of you here – in person or virtually – we need to assure the paths toward your next level of engagement are brightly lit. Part of our purpose it to make this congregation a consistent source of renewal in your lives, and for you to feel supported and connected when you take on a new role, or explore a spiritual path, or need a caring embrace. It depends on you being a part of providing support and connection to fellow members and friends – helping light the paths.
—We need open paths into the world. which emanate from this core group of generous spirits. We need support as we attempt to live out our values of love, compassion and equity. I imagine us walking these paths out as we build partnerships, listen, speak up courageously, and are of service. And then we circle back, knowing there is a path of return and we come back to reflect and grow.
All these paths need to be well tended. Stewardship is our care for this community. Stewardship is about tending these many paths.
During Thoughts for All Ages (TFAA) we heard about the ways some paths are tended in Britain.
(Summary of TFAA – We talked about Robert MacFarlane, and author (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) who has spent lots of time walking across well-worn paths in Britain. He sees paths connect us literally and to one another. He also reflects that for paths to stay usable – they need to be used and tended. He tells of a place in England where there used to be small hooks called sickles that were hung on posts of certain well-used paths. A walker would pick up a hook and lop off branches that were starting to impede passage. The hook would then be left at the other end of the path for the walker coming the opposite direction. Paths were kept usable for those known to the community and those passing through. I imagine maybe now and then an ambitious walker would widen the path some – making room for a few more to travel, or the transport of goods.)
Which paths at UUFE need attention if we are to share the warmth of community now and in the years to come? How might we each do our part? It matters that we approach stewardship as a community of generous spirits.
I’ve heard, ‘We’ll lose folks if we keep talking about money, it’s a turn-off’ – ‘People have decided before they come to this stewardship kick-off how much they’ll give’ – I’ve heard, ‘Others need to give more’ – ‘Covid changed things’… I’ve heard, ‘I come for spiritual renewal, and new ideas. I need this place.’ – ‘We should make a difference in the world’ – ‘We want to return to Circle Dinners’ – ‘I come for the people’ I’ve heard, ‘I don’t come for confusion – if you want me to volunteer, I need a smooth path…’
What I love about all of these conversations – the resistance, the dreams, and the engagement, even the complaints – is the passion about collective commitments. The conversations are about the long-term health of this community. We’re an imperfect community that has warmth to share – and warmth to be received. We are a congregation that has had a presence on the eastern shore for 63 years.
No, it’s not just about money. It is just all about the ongoing process to learn and live as a community of generous spirits. It’s about seeing generosity as a path to connection…about generosity as connected to joy.
One with a generous mindset is one who trusts in the abundance in life. With a generous mindset we trust that there is enough to go around – enough care, enough ingenuity, enough resources – enough love.
A community of generous spirits leans into the connections, giving as we are moved and are able – we give care, we give ideas, and yes, we give money. A community infused with a spirit of generosity also invites us to also receive – to receive bounty, to receive care, to receive new perspectives.
In a community of generous spirits, it’s not transactional. It’s sharing based on deep values and walking next paths in community together.
Our annual pledge drive is a chance invest in our values. Our pledges help assure this amazing community of generous spirits continues to have its doors open to all, and has the resources to host bonfires in community.
Earlier you heard from Jane how we make this real. There are forms. There is online support. There is information on the budget.
Whatever you choose to give, I invite you to pay attention to what it is that keeps this community a force which matters in the world. Please share your gratitude with those who have said ‘yes’ to leadership roles. Take time to understand the proposed budget and the generosity needed to help us live into our values.
Thank you for reflecting deeply on all that is the spirit of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton as you fill out your form in the spirit of generosity and love.
Be bold. Together we make dreams real. Together we can share the warmth of community.
May It Be So