June 2017 – Reverend Michael’s Moment

 JUNE

On Covenant & Right Relationship

   Love is the doctrine of this church, The quest of truth is its sacrament, And service is its prayer.

           To dwell together in peace,

           To seek knowledge in freedom,

          To serve human need,

          To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine-

          Thus, do we covenant with each other and with God.

                        — Arranged by L. Griswold Williams

I am currently preparing several assessments of this church year: my Annual Report to the Congregation, the self-evaluation that I do every year, and the evaluation I make, along with the Committee of Ministry and the Board of Trustees, of the state of our shared ministry. Consequently, these appraisals have left me doing a lot of thinking about the important ideas of Covenant and Right Relationship. In all honesty, these two concepts are regular, perhaps even constant, areas of concern and contemplation for me; not only because they are central and unique to church life, but because their purpose and durability were challenged this year, as they are every year.

Now, one might think that these terms, Covenant & Right Relationship, are trite, or merely religious jargon. Perhaps others see them as partial, non-binding, even arbitrary guidelines—to celebrate and uphold when times are good.

Yet, as your minister, called by you to serve and to share in this covenant of ministry, and also provide “spiritual leadership and initiative, for assistance in setting and articulating …vision.” So, I need to be clear: I believe that as concerns church life, the living ideas of Covenant and Right Relationship are not simply sanctuary virtues; garments to be worn during “spiritual” moments and discarded at times of interpersonal challenge, during the conduct of business, or when dealing with outsiders and employees. Perhaps that is when they are most needed.

That being said, I do not mean that we need shirk any of our responsibilities to each other, or forget our obligations to keep the building and grounds safe and maintained. It does not mean that we should let vendors or renters or contractors violate agreements with us, or vandals destroy our property without seeking legal redress if they do. Right Relationship does not mean that, as supervisor of the staff, I can choose to ignore when someone is doing a good job or, conversely, excuse behavior that would require correction, or lead to termination. As your minister, I would not be honoring the covenant between us if I never challenged you to step up and live by your better angels, out of fear of the risk or a desire to protect the status quo. Church covenants tend to defy the status quo.

Nonetheless, to look at Covenant and Right Relationship as replacements rather than complements to more common instruments such as contracts, policies and the law, or to look upon them as signs of weakness, is to misunderstand what they represent, and how they must function, in a church. Covenant is our manner of being in relationship with each other; and, necessarily, it greatly affects how we must treat our neighbors, how we stand in service to the larger community and how we care for our earthly home. Right Relationship is not simply some goal that we are shooting for, but rather a guide, suggesting the means by which we can return to behaving as we would wish; a return to our covenant of mutuality; to respecting others and treating them with the same dignity as we would wish to be afforded. As a covenantal church, with a responsibility to reflect our shared principles, in whatever context that we are representing the KUUC, our standards must be higher than the way of the world, business as usual.

Think about how you go about living your commitment to our covenantal religion. How does it affect your contributions of time, treasure and talent to the KUUC? How has it deepened your personal values? What impact does it have upon your behavior; at work, in the marketplace and at home? How has it affected, or perhaps complemented, the causes you support or have chosen not to support? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions if you would be willing to share them.

Whatever your conclusions, I assure you that this a worthy exercise to try; especially when undertaken in the spirit of open-minded enquiry and self-care, rather than in judgment or self-reproach.

After all we aren’t the kind of religion that is full of judgment and immutable laws. Instead, we are a religion that makes covenants, that asks each of us to honor our conscience and each other, to arrive at our own beliefs, and freely walk the responsible path toward truth and meaning.

Yours in Faith and Fellowship,

Rev. Michael

 

MAY

After all, what are any of us after but the conviction of belonging?”      Wallace Stegner

One the great crises of our time is homelessness. Homelessness, we know, is more than simply not having a home, or the money to pay our bills, or the necessary social service support to negotiate reentry to a society to which those without a street address quickly lose their connection.

Yet there are greater problems, problems that affect the homeless but extend well beyond the fact of homelessness, connecting everyone; though moreso those on the margins of our society. Those problems are hopelessness and the feeling of alienation, spiritual maladies with real world symptoms.

It is easy to see hopelessness and alienation in our world, among rich and poor, black and white, learned and uneducated, political or not. Immigrants who have gained citizenship, who have lived and worked in America for years, feel insecure walking the streets and suspect they are not welcome where they go. Many young people feel hopeless as they look at their employment options and consider their college debt. Surely, you don’t have to be young or born in another country to feel alienated—the epidemic of drug abuse, reaching across the generations, income levels and color lines is an indicator of that. The fact is that many people do not feel like they belong in their own country, due to their ability to “compete” in an economic system based on winners and losers, because of color or gender, sexual expression, age or ability.

We, the KUUC, may want ask ourselves some questions as we clarify our values and conceive of a mission worthy of our people and principles:

  • What is the nature of our welcome to the world? Do we make people feel like they belong in our community?
  • What is the nature of our community? Do we treat each other kindly without avoiding difficult challenges or sweeping conflict under the rug?
  • What is the nature of our commitment? Do we work as individuals and as a community to understand and live our shared values and principles?
  • People are suffering. Many people feel shut out of “the system”; many feel demoralized and persecuted because of their skin color; many feel despised because of their difference from the status quo; many feel the unbearable pain of being alone in the world.

Is there anything we can do to help? Do we dare to change the world? If we help one person who walks in our doors, in some way we help all people. When others are welcome we too feel less alienated and more clearly see our place in the human family.

With heart and in hope,

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