AUGUST 2018 – SHARING MINISTRY with Rev. Michael Hall

Rev. Michael Hall

“If the vision seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay”

—Habakkuk 2:3b NRSV

 

Last night I was at a Swamp Bats game when, rather unexpectedly several troops of geese lifted in flight and, leaning into their common endeavor, angled over the diamond, gaining altitude as they flew away. Though the Canadas were probably only going from one grazing spot to another, or over to the watering holes and river banks on the other side of the ballfield, I don’t think that I was alone in seeing it as a sign that the end—of Summer—was near. There was a collective reaction to the slow assent of the low-flying birds, from spectators and ballplayers alike; not quite a gasp, but an acknowledgement, a tip of the cap to the advance of time despite our desire to sync it with our own plans and timetables. The stadium announcer paused in his duties, the catcher made as if he had a shotgun to hunt them down with while the ump checked his watch to make sure it wasn’t yet hunting season.

I have been encouraged by all the outstanding and timely work that so many of our members and friends have been doing to keep ahead of maintenance issues, prepare the Education Wing for its new tenants, ready contracts, weed garden spaces, reserve rooms to interview musicians. Thanks to all of you who have helped and found ways to get involved.

I have also been fired up by dedication of the staff, the various committees, task teams and your Board of Trustees, that have already been meeting, making plans and dreaming dreams. The Board has formally met three times in July—as the Executive Council, in their regular Board meeting and once again last Saturday on a full day retreat facilitated by Regional Staff member Joe Sullivan. Bravo to those groups who see that there is much day-to-day work to be done and a bigger picture to be painted. Even in a season when sunshine and family time, gardening and swimming and cookouts hold sway, there is always need, and perhaps a little more elbow room, to consider our congregational life and the impact of our mission in the many communities we are invested in beyond 69 Washington St.

I think that sabbatical will be remembered as a very important juncture in the life of our shared ministry. It provided us with intentional and structured time to think about where we have been, and what we have done, in the six years we have been together. We have had time to consider our actions on behalf of others, our responses to troubles in our world; we have been able to measure our impact in the region; we have remembered the cycles of worship, the joyful memories and the losses and sad times we have shared; we have thought deeply about the tasks to be done and the roles people play; and through lens of sabbatical thinking strengthened our grasp of the principles, values and loving ways that form the covenant that binds us together. This is important work.

I believe that the vision we seek is already building, by virtue of the values we identified in 2017 and the mission we created together and approved at Annual Meeting 2018. I would even say that the vision is already in motion, emerging in the many ways we gather to consider how each of us, and all of us, represent our principles, embody our values and demonstrates how our mission makes a positive and sustained change in homes, neighborhoods and world.

In the six weeks left between now and in gathering—which really is a lot of time if well spent—I ask you to do three things:

  1. Take a look at our new mission and ask yourself what you are already doing to live it. A good mission represents who we are as well as where we wish to be, so it shouldn’t be surprising that you have been already working to strengthen community, to be compassionate with yourself and others and to commit to living in a way that heals rather than harms the world. Own this work, note your findings and share what you have discovered with me and your Board of Trustees.
  2. Think about what our stated values and the other words within the Mission Statement (such as “creating”, “working” and “fair”) mean to you and envision ways that you think would bring our church closer to a shared vision combining our mission, ministry and activities. What ways do you see the mission being apparent in all our expressions of church life: justice, service, fellowship, generous giving and resourcing the mission? What skills do you have to help us share in the responsibilities, preserve the building and grounds, connect with other churches and support our denominational goals and growth? Own this work, note your findings and share what you have discovered with me and your Board of Trustees.
  3. Make sure your committee or task team is discussing their role in living the mission and creating a vision from that mission. It is easy for us to think about living by a mission and staking out a shared vision—or avoiding such work—alone, or in the times between meetings asking for “congregational input.” As some in our congregation have noted we are not there yet, we have a mission but no clear vision(s) of what living the mission would look like. We have a number of people working hard and others who aren’t sure how to get involved. We have individuals with splendid ideas and no place to bring them. Be certain, we have work to do to anchor this mission, and it begins not only with individual input but collective expressions of “what if.” Consider ways that your committee can center your work on the spiritual principles and mission of the church. Put the mission statement on your agendas, take time for worshipful moments in your meetings, discuss together how your committee or crew can integrate the mission into its work and see how that changes your priorities and progress. Own this work, note your findings and share what you have discovered with me and your Board of Trustees.

I look forward to seeing our vision emerge. Through our patient and yet steady application of the work we have already done, I believe that we will begin to see how the mission lives in us and the how the vision already begins to write itself.

Yours in Faith, Hope and Love,

Rev. Michael

 

Reverend Michael’s Moment — March 2016

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong.                                                                           —Ron Franscell

Whether it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, or vice versa, as is often the case here in New England, March always feels to me like the end of a long journey. At no other seasonal transition does it feel as though we have been through so much, that we have changed and been changed by the climate, changed by the astounding, rhythmic and comforting roundabout that Mother Nature dances with all of her children in tow.

Although the turn from winter’s frosty beginning in December to the advent of spring, and the brighter, milder days of March and April is no longer than the other turnings of nature’s wheel, somehow it feels different; more profound, more challenging and more draining too. Darkness lingers, the cold breath of both day and night chill our bones and split the ends of fingers. Yet we persevere and go about the business of life bundled up, spooning up soup around the fire and telling old shared stories by night. Slowly, as if started with damp wood, the light of the world eventually builds. Once again we find that spring is here and we have seen ourselves through another winter. Soon enough the trees will leaf again.

Hallelujah, we were never all alone!

It is easy to see our lives as a solitary quest marching, marching between our nursery and the rest home. However, the truth is that our lives are not as private as we sometimes convince ourselves, and, though we may feel lonely for significant stretches, we are not alone. We are on a journey together: friends and strangers, human beings and all that roots, sings, swims and sets all that flows over, through and beyond the limits of the Earth. Truth is, we cannot choose most of the particulars of our journey, such as where we are born and to whom, nor shape most of the great events of the day. However, we can choose many of the most important things that give our life meaning: our friends, our work, our church among them.

I am so very grateful that you have chosen the Keene Unitarian Universalist Church and never take your participation for granted. As minister, I hope to help create an environment that brings comfort, challenge and light into your life. I hope that your call to KUUC, to our chalice, covenanted community, and shared ministry will only strengthen over the years, bringing clarity and greater meaning to your life as we journey together.

See ya in Church!

Rev. Michael

Rev. Michael’s Moment – February 2016

You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand.    ― Edward O. Wilson

I have been doing a lot of thinking about church life—how could I otherwise, such reflection is central to my calling and my work. Congregational life, the joy of worshipping together on Sunday mornings, the larger ministry we share and my evolving relationships with you, the wonderful, welcoming and thoughtful people that comprise our KUUC community all bring me joy.

However, I also spend a fair amount of time in committee meetings which, though often cast as pointless time suckers, are vitally important part to a shared ministry such as ours. The various committees, the clusters and the Board of Trustees each provide support for our community; they can inspire us to new levels of individual and collective growth; they create vision, stimulate worthy dreams; they make important decisions about how we carry out our mission, preserve our beautiful sanctuary and maintain the common property that we have hold in trust. Participation in the process of church life, growth and government is both central and sacred to Unitarian Universalism, with historical connections stretching back to the earliest churches in America.

One thing I have noticed lately, which is also commonplace in the cyclical nature of congregational life is a lot of talk about the level of our commitment. We worry about the participation of membership, the need for more folks to volunteer, the hope that we can integrate newer people into the mix, and the of lack of people taking advantage of our wonderful programs and fellowship activities. Sometimes we express frustration over what seems like a few people trying to cover all the bases and do all the work that needs to be done around here—and these are perfectly natural concerns of caring people. I must say that from time to time I have contributed to these discussions and those equally important conversations that naturally go hand in hand with them: conversations about how so many of us are overworked and stressed out, or are busy dealing with illnesses and family issues, who feel they hardly have enough time for their children and grandchildren or that they have already done so much for KUUC.

So, I want to hold up some important themes that have risen to the top for me. I think that perhaps we are looking at all of these questions about community involvement and commitment level in a manner that probably isn’t as productive or successful as we would like. We need to make sure that we are enjoying ourselves even as we do the hard work of managing and promoting this congregation. We need to remember and share the deep satisfaction we get from doing our part. We need to share our own stories about how we made friendships and got to know people better while painting walls and planning rummage sales and helping out with RE.

Unitarian Universalism is an active faith tradition focused on service, community, curiosity and the democratic process. Without participating in the life of the church, we miss out on something vitally important about the religion we have freely chosen; things that no amount of pamphlet reading or listening to sermons can give us. Ours isn’t a path that believes in guilting people into doing something. The work, worship and society that are at the heart of congregational life should never be seen, promoted or lived as mere drudgery, as obligations, or “shoulds” and “musts.” We do ourselves a disservice when we do not aim high, making all of church work joyful as well as productive.

I hope that KUUC will bring you intellectual challenge and growth, opportunities to learn about yourself and live your values, that it will bring mutual support and fond fellowship to enrich your lives, and yes, work, that makes you feel part of something important and rewarding.

Yours in Faith and Fellowship,

Rev. Michael

Rev. Michael’s Moment – January 2016

“What was scattered gathers. What was gathered blows away.”               —Heraclitus

As January with her icy breath and dark, deep-rooted stillness, comes once again to this region, to our little society, it is right that we should take stock. With the advent of a new year, and the opportunity the holidays provide us for a little respite, comes precious time to consider the passing of the years, and to dream about what new things might lay in the distance. It is usually a time well spent but, as often as not, the product of those deliberations are soon left behind with the return of busy-ness as usual.

As I stand at the middle of my fourth year serving you, I have many joyful memories of times we have spent getting to know each other. There are also memories of major successes, the addition of new members and friends who have brought new energy to our old stone church and a few close calls when disaster was avoided. There have been losses too, miscommunications and ideas that shouldn’t have been left unexplored. Nonetheless, there are more reasons to expect a bright future. If we remain a church that welcomes all seekers, cultivates spiritual and intellectual fellowship, lives by principle, that serves and uplifts those in need and works to leave a strong and sustainable church behind for the next generations, how could the future be anything but bright?

So, in honor of the years behind and in preparation for those ahead, I offer the following list. It has 9 items: 3 joys and 3 concerns from my time here at KUUC and 3 things that I think are opportunities for change; the right kind of change, the kind that is necessary for us to face the future and grow as individuals and as a community. All of the items on the list concern our shared ministry, not mine or yours but ours.

 Joys:

  • Community Breakfast Explosion: When I was first told about the then one day a week program, I was impressed with the effort and generous spirit of the congregants behind it. Now the Community Breakfast program is interfaith effort serving hot breakfasts six days a week during the coldest four months of the year.
  • Multi-Generational Culture: In the years since I arrived we have placed an emphasis on what I have called “Multi-Generational Culture.” Necessary to our growth, and whatever “church” will look like in the future, Multi-Generational Culture is the simple idea that we approach the needs of all generations equally and make sure that those needs are met—for elders, children, all of us.
  • Month of Sundays: This program is special because of it’s out of the box approach. We have sought not simply to create themed worship but to transform—at least over a short span—how churches function, serve their communities and develop an identity. I love to hear people using it as a measuring stick: “We’ll probably learn more about that from Month of Sundays.”

Concerns:

  • Exhausted People: It is not lost on me that people are exhausted and are asked to do too much. When we are attending too much to “running the church”, and too little filling our desire for fellowship, “spiritual” nurture and challenge, some people opt to stay home. We may be boxing people in and wasting their valuable time in meetings, rather than offering assignments with clear time boundaries, goals and tangible results.
  • The Need for Building Investments: We are committed to this beautiful old building, or are we? Several long-standing projects have been simmering on the back burner for years, no decades—some of which we have sufficient funds for.
  • Lack of Definition for Shared Ministry: Shared ministry is a phrase easily tossed around, but not nearly as easily understood or defined. How do we define our shared ministry for 2016? Simply dividing up tasks and establishing lines of authority doesn’t seem like sharing ministry. If we share ministry than we all need to own KUUC’s past and try to understand it; we all need to assess KUUC’s present and see our place in it; we all need to peer into KUUC’s future and imagine a church transformed by our vision.

Opportunities:

  • Attraction and Promotion: Some of us are afraid to be thought of as proselytizers, and so chaff at the idea of talking up the church too much—yet this is the surest way to make sure no one is listening. We don’t need to knock on doors and shout from the rooftops to be effective promoters of our church community. If we believe that we have a good thing here it is only right that we should share it, comfortably—and effectively.
  • We Can Begin the Repairs: As a past president said on many occasions: “Isn’t this a rainy day?” Why don’t we take one of the larger, long-differed building projects out of the “maybe next year file,” and do something about it this year? It could be the windows, the entryway/vestibule—there are several of them—some more costly, some less.
  • Visioning: This year, let us invest some time on our shared vision for this church. If we would do more than dream together, but also eventually do something vital and valuable, it may take some time. But, if that time is focused and divided equally between imagination and action, it will yield fruit worthy of our appetite. Let us dedicate ourselves to envisioning the church we would like to be, with a mission we would all want to serve and a ministry we all would wish to share.

So that is my list, an attempt to take stock, to celebrate this singular community and our efforts to share and serve, to live our principles and try to see the road ahead. I would love to see what your lists would look like.

Yours in Faith and Fellowship,

Rev. Michael