Love Letter to East Liberty and Blessing

"Love Letter to East Liberty," delivered at the 06-03-2018 worship service:

This is not actually a sermon. It is a love letter.

Dear Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty,

I know it is hard right now to keep spirits up. I know some of you are mad at me for leaving, or worried about what will happen. I know it’s disheartening to not know yet who your next minister will be, and to learn that you’ll be having a part-time minister so that will leave even more work on the shoulder of volunteers.

But I have so much faith in you, because I know you and have loved you for so long. Here’s what I know.

I know that many churches out there in historic buildings have buildings that are crumbling. They are struggling to keep their building workable, and they can’t even imagine how to make their buildings accessible. And I know you, here, are keeping your building from becoming a historical museum, just an homage to the past, but moving it ever forward to what you need for your present and future. You’ve made it largely accessible, and even paved the parking lot in an effort to be easier for people with physical accessibility issues were kept away by the gravel situation.

In this way, maybe a small size has been a blessing. It has kept you nimble, able to act quickly and decisively on some of the biggest issues before you.

I know that many churches are inward-focused exclusively. They make themselves a haven for themselves, and then they don’t care if anybody else finds them. And I know that you’re a church that keeps trying to find ways to get yourselves known in the community, doing the forums for over ten years for that reason, among others. Despite the few numbers you have, you did work that built a place in the community for dialogue and learning that continues today.

Speaking of which, there’s the social justice work to do in the world that many churches find it easier to ignore, and yet you continue to engage in it, this year taking things even deeper with adding the idea of a social justice theme for the year, and planning activities and writing articles and doing teaching and preaching on the issue. You’ve engaged in the work of justice in this community, and that’s had a dramatic effect on making this community a better place. You were the first openly welcoming church in our entire county, and have been a welcoming home for LGBT people for just about 14 years officially, although you welcomed individuals before that. And you helped make Jackson a more welcoming place. Without this church, it might not have happened for even more years.

And you’re a church that cares for your members. People come to me to find ways for our church to reach out to members who are struggling financially. You bring casseroles to people who are struggling physically. You put loving arms around people who are struggling emotionally. Your small size means you know everyone, and you know when someone needs help, and you reach out.
So I know in my heart that this church is too vital, too caring, too engaged, and too forward-looking to not be successful in your future. You’ve been a blessing to me, and to so many people who have walked through these doors. And your next minister, which you will find and I think it will be soon, will see how caring and wonderful you are, and will love you too.

This church has been a blessing to me in more ways than I can count. You excel at taking ministers who are new, or who are hurting, and building them up and supporting them and growing them into the ministers they are capable of being. When I came here, I was starting a whole new phase of my life as a mother, and I was a new minister with only three years of ministry in churches that had been very difficult years. And you gave me a chance, and you helped me to shine. I say often to our board, that you understand that ministers can’t be everything to all people, that nobody is excellent in every single way, and that the work of the church has to be in part to let the minister shine in their areas of excellence and rather than critiquing the weak spots, to become the solution, to shore up those areas. Because we all minister together. And you have, here, allowed me to shine. And while I may not be the perfect pastor, you’ve supported the pastoral care through lay ministry. And you do this in so many areas, so that that we can shine together as a welcoming beacon of liberal religion in this area.

But if you were only a church that new how to support new or hurting ministers, that wouldn’t have been enough to keep me here for 14 years. But you’re more than that. This loving community, and leadership of amazing lay leaders has been a joy to be in. Our board has fun together. You’re a healthy church, and a happy one, and interested in new ideas and structures. When I suggested the social hour teams, you ran with that and made it work. When I asked for worship associates, you did that for several years to support the worship. When I talked about, this year, trying to hold another worship service in a second location, in Jackson, the board was willing to green-light that project. It’ll be a project for a future minister someday, I hope. When I talked with one of you about hosting individual adult religious education projects, that idea was embraced and run with and worked well for a year-long series. When I said to the board and finance crew that our paving project had to include ramping the schoolhouse, you saw that that was done. I’ve not only been listened to, and allowed to become a leader in this community, you’ve valued my input and given me your own. We did all these things together. And you’ll do even more with whoever comes next.

And this church gave me the freedom to spread my wings. The leadership of the church understood me and heard me when I said that ministry, to me, had to be more than within the four walls, it had to include being in the community, and it had to include service to our larger denomination, the larger faith. And so you allowed me to give back to our faith, and to be vital in our community, and understood it to be part of your ministry to the world.

And you allowed me to spread my wings in other ways, whether through teaching, or through art, or through participation in organizations like Girl Scouts or my study group, or whatever it was needed to both keep me afloat financially, and to keep me energized personally. You learned about sabbaticals for the first time in your history, and while they were controversial, you lived up to your commitments and promises that you had made with me when I began.

I’ve been blessed to be the minister here. And I hope you’ve been blessed by this amazing church, and that it has worked blessings in your life either by being there when you needed support, or by giving you a mission, a vision, when you had energy to spend it in the world, or by deepening your spirituality and connecting you deeper to this living tradition of Unitarian Universalism, or by growing new ideas, or helping your children grow into caring and spirit-filled people.

I’ve been blessed, and I hope you’ve been blessed, but I know for certain that this world, this community around us, has been blessed by this little church in the wildwood. And I know it will continue to be blessed by your presence, your ministry, to this community, to this world, and to each other, long after I have gone.

I believe that the world needs Unitarian Unversalism. Our history of a faith that not only has fought for justice from abolition and suffrage to LGBT equality and Black Lives Matter, but our faith that has proclaimed radical and vital theological messages, as well. This faith that says that God is Love, that all are Loved, that God loves all unconditionally, and that you are welcome here. This faith is a blessing to the world. This faith that says questions are holy, your bodies are holy, and wholly loved. 

This faith is a blessing to the world. This faith that says that radical hope means you keep striving, keep bending the arc toward justice, this faith is a blessing to the world. This faith that says this earth and we are interdependent, and all the people are part of one living breathing organism, that says science is completely compatible with our theology, and that we are stardust, this faith is a blessing to the world. This faith that says peace will prevail, this faith is a blessing to the world. This faith that says religious authority comes not just from scriptures, and not just from the ordained, but from the transforming sense of awe and wonder that you experience in your own lives, this faith is a blessing to the world. This faith that says there is no original sin, and that you are holy and good, this faith is a blessing to the world.

And you are this faith, this living tradition. Unitarian Universalism does not exist without its people, two more more gathered in its name. You are this living tradition in these walls, and in this community. You are the Unitarian Universalists here in East Liberty, which as we know is a state of mind, but you are the Unitarian Universalists bringing this living tradition to this entire county. And it needs you here, as much as you need this church here, this aching hurting world needs you here. The people who haven’t found you yet, including that minister who hasn’t found you yet, they need this beloved community, and you will be a blessing to them, as you were to me, as you are to each other, as you are to this world. Thank you for blessing me, for blessing each other, for blessing this community and world.

Love,
Cindy


"Blessing for the Congregation," delivered at the 06-10-2018 worship service:

For sharing your times of sadness and joy, work and play, rest and excitement, I offer you my thanks.
May your lives be blessed more peace and joy, and may you minister to each other through all sorrows.

For creating a welcoming home for stranger and friend, child and adult, I offer you my thanks.
May you ever open your doors ever more widely and welcome each stranger or friend.

For sharing the strength of your heritage and your present selves, I offer you my thanks.
May you continue to go boldly into the future, living a vision of a bold and dynamic faith.

For doing the work of justice, and your commitment to humanity and the earth, I offer you my thanks.
And may you ever bend the arc toward justice and live our religion.

For all that you have been in my life and to each other, I offer you my thanks.
May your future be bright with hope and faith, with justice, and, most of all, love.

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