Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Most Loving Thing...

The Most Loving Thing
Dr Gaye Ortiz
Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church
June 10 2012

“A man drove through an unfamiliar neighborhood that he considered shady. Its residents were of a different class and race than he.
And, sure enough, as soon as he drove down the first block – having carefully locked his doors – he noticed that people on the sidewalks were yelling and gesturing at him as he drove along. The further he drove, the more outraged and outrageous the angry communication sounded.
This behavior confirmed all that he had suspected and disliked about ‘these kinds of people’.
But then he realized he had been driving the wrong way down a one-way street! People were trying to draw his attention to his unsafe wrong-way driving! If only he had paid more attention to his own actions!”
[Arthur Paul Boers, Never Call Them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behaviors (1989), p.121]

Boers ends this story by saying we need to understand how we contribute to undesirable situations and how our behavior can be changed (122).

This is probably a sermon that not many people want to hear; some people may have voted with their feet when they saw the sermon topic…maybe some of those might be people who need to be here the most. Because it is hard to stay in right relation with people, especially people who we’re close to and with whom we have a covenant that ties us together.

Right Relation is a huge topic, and I have had to work hard to keep this sermon to just over an hour – only kidding! When we talk about right relations, we are really talking about the first UU principle, affirming the worth and dignity of every person, and the 2nd, affirming justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. And those are tough principles to attempt to affirm, let alone carry out!

Meg Barnhouse knows it’s hard; she wrote back in 2009, in an article for UU World, that “the UU Principles are demanding enough to make me whine.”
She says,The first one asks me to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, which means that I can no longer subscribe to the cheerful Calvinist doctrine of the total depravity of human nature. It sounds grim, but really, if you are in fact starting with a totally depraved nature, the opportunities for self-congratulation abound: 'Hey, I didn’t knock over a 7-Eleven this afternoon, even though money’s pretty tight. I’m doing well!'Now I have to struggle with the worth and dignity of people who do unspeakably awful things, whereas the doctrine of total depravity made that one a no-brainer.”
Barnhouse suggests that at the end of each principle we add the phrase, “beginning in our homes and congregations”; and she goes on to say:
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, beginning in our homes and congregations” is a sobering ideal. I don’t know about you, but I have sat in meetings about right relations and seen people get testy with one another. Some of the nastiest behavior I’ve seen was long ago at a community workshop for peace activists.”
Lao Tse, quoted in the back of our hymn book, says peace in the world begins with peace in the home, which begins with peace in the heart. If I start with my own heart, the demands of our Principles get even heavier. Peace and compassion in my heart? Justice too? Freedom as well? Affirming the worth of every person all the time, not only with my words and my behavior but in my secret heart? If we added “in the heart” to the Principles, they might as well just say “Be Jesus” and be done with it. I’m sorry I even brought it up.” (Meg Barnhouse, “Who says Unitarian Universalism's Principles are easy?” 11/23/09,
Well, if you are like Meg Barnhouse and secretly whine when you think of what is asked of us when we affirm the principles, then this sermon is for you. Because, even though we in this congregation may sincerely try to relate to each other in a positive and supportive way, we all know that there are bound to be times when we misunderstand each other, when we do not assume good intentions, when we approach a situation with perceptions and prejudices firmly in place, no matter if we are in fact driving the wrong way down a one-way street…

Over the years, misunderstandings, disagreements, and hurt feelings can cause a ripple effect of dis-ease and discontent moving outward from the people originally involved to an entire congregation. That the members can learn - on the whole - to try to respond in a healthy fashion, rather than leave in a huff or just never talk about the problem, is something to commend; I think this Aiken church has been fairly successful in this regard. 

Building the Beloved Community means taking our lumps and dealing with them: Tom Owen-Towle says, “Our chosen church is our principal tilling ground, sacred ground, battleground, common ground, and growing ground” (Tom Owen-Towle, Growing a Beloved Community, 2004, p.5). And although we may welcome people to explore their own individual spiritual paths, that doesn’t mean that they have no responsibilities to the congregation; this faith is built on a common enterprise over centuries.

I think that trust is one of the biggest issues that we might confront in our little community. We saw in our Time for All Ages that when we are not in control and we need to put our trust in another person, it can be a scary thing (a member was blindfolded and tasted something given to her by several people; she described what it was she thought she tasted, but also was asked what it is like to trust the person giving her these things and how it feels not to have control). And if we can’t do that in this congregation, then we are in trouble.

Because, when we trust another person, we know that when we fall short – or, using the original meaning of ‘sin’, when we miss the mark – that we can make it right again, we can forgive each other and forgive ourselves. Jesus is quoted in Matthew 7:4 as asking, “How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” It is an amusing image when you think about it, and I do believe Jesus had a sense of humor when he communicated to his disciples and followers. But it is so true that when we’re upset by someone, we often neglect to look at our part in the situation.

David Miller, a UU minister in California, drew up a list of questions that might help us to reflect on the extent to which we are in right relation with each other in this congregation. We will not go through the entire list, but I’ve selected seven of the questions he asks.

1.   Am I assuming the good intentions of the other? Consider practicing the philosophy of ‘namaste’, the Hindu salutation that literally means “I honor that which is sacred in you.” Can we think that in our minds each time we meet folks here every Sunday? Can you look at someone in the eyes fully, directly, and not think that? In order to stop privileging our own virtuousness while approaching others with suspicion, we have to give up our self-image of being right all the time. How many of us have had a negative encounter this week? How long did it take you to realize that you didn’t trust the other person? Where do the roots of that suspicion lie? If we assume good intentions many of our misunderstandings would never even happen.

2.   Am I communicating directly with the person with whom I’m having an issue? Avoiding that person is not going to solve the problem, but again, this is easier said than done. And that’s often because we have a lack of disclosure trust: if you speak to the person, will they interrupt you before you can finish what you need to say? Will your words be twisted and used against you? Our fragile sense of ego sometimes puts up defenses us before we even begin to speak to the person…and it may not even be a person, but a group or a committee.

For example, you may have the experience of being asked to provide input to a committee, only to find a decision that has already been made by an inside group. No wonder we hang back from speaking...but if we don’t, how will we ever change the dynamic of conflict? But take the story of an 18th century Quaker named John Woolman, at the height of the anti-slavery debate, who was upset that some Quakers were slave-owners. As Tom Owen-Towle tells the story:

To change that state of affairs, he didn’t censure the slaveholders. Instead, he traveled on horseback, visiting each slaveholder individually and sharing his moral concern. It took Woolman some thirty years to persuade all of them. But in the end, not one Quaker owned a slave. Passing laws would probably have brought about faster results but not without pain and lingering bitterness. As servant-leaders and as prophetic parishes, our job is to transform people, not merely to enforce rules, always remembering we won’t necessarily be as successful as Woolman. Therefore, we’re called to be conscientious, even when we fail. (Owen-Towle, 82)

3.   Am I reflecting on what personal wounds, issues, and tendencies of mine that are contributing to the issue? It’s the old story of the wife who makes her husband a cup of coffee in the morning, and when he tastes it he rips into her about how awful it is, and starts a full-blown fight. It ain’t about the coffee, you can bet! When I was in lay leadership in Augusta, there was one person who could push my buttons – it didn’t take much, maybe one sentence, before I was fuming. Until I figured out that this person reminded me of the way my father would speak to me when he was angry, I was reacting to the person very negatively. It helps to figure it out, and then the next step is to desensitize yourself to prevent future knee-jerk reactions.

In Pema Chodron’s book The Places That Scare You (2001), she explains that the formal practice of loving kindness has 7 stages, beginning with “engendering loving-kindness for ourselves, then expanding it at our own pace to include loved ones, friends, ‘neutral’ persons, those who irritate us… [and then gradually we broaden the circle to include] all beings through time and space” (Chodron, 43). She says that if we don’t question our feeling of irritation, it is easy to let emotions hook us in and shut us down.

4.   Am I actually trying to live the principles and values of Unitarian Universalism by acting with compassion, respect and  high value of our interdependence? The author Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 2004, p.277) says that we can lower our expectations of independence and raise our level of involvement in order to develop unity between people: “The more genuine the involvement, the more sincere and sustained the participation in analyzing and solving problems, the greater the release of everyone’s creativity” (Covey, 283)

In this excerpt from his book Savor, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that there is a human need for meaning, for purposeful connection, for community, and for real engagement in the world:

All of us have a great capacity for compassion. We want to help those who are really in need, who are suffering…But how do we begin? Transforming the world starts with oneself. It is through attending to our own well-being and staying in touch with what is happening in our own personal lives that we can have a greater capacity to understand and address the world’s suffering. We are then on a sturdier foundation to contribute to improving our world. (Thich Nhat Hanh, Savor, 2010, pp.224-5)

5.   Can I let go of my need to control the situation? Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about the Desert Monks, early Christians who lived apart from society but had a strong sense of community. Two elders decided that they should try to have a quarrel like ordinary men; but since they had never had one before they did not know where to start. Even after agreeing how to argue over ownership of a brick, one of them gave in almost immediately, and so they “failed to get into an argument at all” (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 2008, 89-90). Normally, we don’t have any problem getting into an argument! And we can tell when conflict escalates to become destructive because we feel we have no control and we begin to think and behave irrationally. We try to control a situation in order to avoid failure or losing face.

6.   Can I have disagreements with an individual or group, do so in love and respect, and continue to stay in community? The Native American activist Catherine Attla speaks of “the big law of respect.” A respectful church “is one where boundaries are kept, saboteurs are confronted, crises are faced” (Owen-Towle, 67). But how can we fight and still stay together? When we realize that conflict is normal and that the key to success is to find healthy ways of dealing with it, we can actually develop rules for fair fighting. Here are some ground rules that you may already use: (Boers, p.73)

·      Don’t label or name-call
·      Don’t attack or question motives
·      Propose positive changes, so not just offer negative complaints
·      Speak specifically, not generally
·      Speak up for yourself and not for others, using ‘I-language’
·      Consider and respect different perspectives; gather plenty of information
·      Be open about differences
·      Be responsible for your own feelings
·      Act accountable
·      Work for win-win situations
·      Value everyone
·      Be open to change and growth
·      Stick with the process
·      Take a break when things get too heated
·      Admit mistakes
·      When the group makes a decision, comply with it.

We need to stay connected through communication: listening and talking and being willing to be vulnerable without giving in to sabotage. When we feel defensive, we tend to want to withdraw, but if we can keep talking we can learn together through our experience.

7.   And finally, can I remember to ask the question, ‘What is the most loving thing I can do or say right now?’ The practice of loving your neighbor as yourself includes the responsibility to be mindful that how you treat another person, even in passing, can make all the difference. Barbara Brown Taylor calls this a spiritual practice, and she gives one example: “Next time you go to the grocery store, try engaging the cashier. Here is someone who exists even when she is not ringing up your groceries, as hard as that may be for you to imagine. It is enough to acknowledge her when she hands you your change. Just meet her eyes for a moment when you say, ‘Thanks’. Sometimes that is all another person needs to know that she has been seen – not the cashier but the person.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, 94-5).

How much more important is this question when we are in conflict with another person! Words can hurt or heal, gestures can comfort or ridicule. If we try to respect change, difference, and even conflict, we can avoid destroying - and may even salvage - relationships. How can we manage the conflict and manage to keep our relationship intact? Caroline Westerhoff makes an interesting point about the root word of manage:

The root of 'manage' is the Latin for hand – manus – and when I think of hands, I recall Michelangelo’s great work from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, The Creation of Adam… In my imagination, a spark fairly sizzles in the space between them as God sets it all in motion for the very first time: ‘Be different, Adam. But you will not be alone in that differentness. There will be other different ones. Create with them.’ God’s hand is open…It is not shaking Adam into life but is energizing him by invitation…
Perhaps Michelangelo’s genius has provided us with needed fresh perspective. Hands – management - can be perceived as instruments either for controlling, checking, holding, taking, restraining and even strangling or for guiding, pointing, stroking, kneading, giving away, letting go. To manage conflict then would be to allow it, not suppress it; to open our doors and windows to its fresh wind. (Westerhoff, “Conflict: The Birthing of the New” in David B. Lott, ed., Conflict Management in Congregations, 2001, p.57)

Maybe something you’ve heard this morning will come back to you when you are confronted with a situation where conflict may be about to erupt. You have a choice as to how you respond; be mindful about the power that entails. The relationship you save may be worth so much more than the momentary satisfaction of a sharp word, an insult, or an insult. And when someone tries to engage you in a disagreement or an argument, think about what may be going on in that person’s life; Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Change is inevitable, and often with it comes conflict. Tolerating difference, respecting diversity, practicing empathy and compassion, normalizing conflict, and fighting fair can help us, as Hosea Ballou says, “keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.” NAMASTE.

Gaye Ortiz

You Are Cordially Invited...

“You Are Cordially Invited…”
Gaye W. Ortiz
June 3 2012
Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church

I am sure if you try, you can recall an invitation that was very special to you; maybe it drew you into a new friendship, a new conversation, a new activity, sport, or hobby that had never caught your interest before.
This summer it will be 10 years since our entire family survived a massive move from the north of England; when my husband and I decided we would leave so he could retire – and take up a new job at Ft Gordon in our hometown, we told our grown daughters of our decision. We said, “You both have lives and relationships here; we’ll come visit you and you can come visit us’…and they said ‘No! We’re coming too!’ We didn’t invite them to join us – but we were thrilled to have them come with us, and it was no small feat to move them, their partners, children, and pets across the Atlantic the summer of 2002!
So Wil and I both had new jobs, our children and their families had settled into life in the South after more than 18 years in North Yorkshire…but we were without a spiritual home. Not long after I began to teach at Augusta State University I was invited to speak at the UU Church of Augusta. I had only a surface knowledge of Unitarian Universalism, but I was primed by several conversations with the church member who invited me, who was a fellow academic at ASU and on the worship committee at the church; she told me about the kind of church it was and I was excited. I was flattered to be asked to give a guest sermon on my academic area of expertise, theology and film. I prepared to give a dynamic talk, knowing that I would have to repeat it twice because at the time the church had 2 Sunday services.
I proceeded that Sunday morning to completely wreck the first service! When the minister, Dan King, invited me to come up to give my opening words I simply launched into 20 minutes worth of sermon. I didn’t realize just how big a boo-boo I’d made until I sat back down and Dan took the podium, and he said something about how he was sure I respected the order of service and that we would continue with the offertory. Then I looked at the order of service and saw that I had bushwhacked all the other parts of the service between the prelude and the offertory.
Dan then bravely invited me to share some closing words – and I did, off the cuff – and then we had a debrief and a good laugh before I took on – and totally respected – the order of service at 11am.
You would think that after flubbing an invitation so blatantly as a visiting speaker that I would have been too embarrassed to show my face again…but the next Sunday I was in the sanctuary again, as a visitor; the Sunday after that I approached the music director to ask if I could sing in the choir; the next Sunday I asked about the women’s group and how I could join in the upcoming croning ceremony. And so on, and the rest is history, and now I stand before you having created our order of service this morning as your minister!
What held me in that UU community since that first mortifying day is what I want to talk about this morning: the potential of a congregation to transform lives and make the world a better place. It transformed my life to find a welcoming, caring atmosphere within which I was free to ask questions, make mistakes, and be a seeker for my own spiritual path. It liberated me and I will be forever grateful.
My first year as your consulting minister – and as a ministry intern – is quickly drawing to a close. At the end of this month I will be away for two months until the second Sunday of September for our in-gathering service.
When I was invited to serve this congregation I really didn’t know what to expect, and neither did you, frankly! Some of you have been members since the initial formation of what would become the Aiken UU Church, and some of you walked in the door for the first time during this past year and decided to keep coming back.
In reflecting on what makes this Aiken community so special, I needed to consider what has made our members accept the invitation to join this congregation: what are your hopes and visions for belonging to a progressive religious community? What are you contributing in terms of your time and talent and treasure? And why is it that each of you feels empowered to keep on giving, feels encouraged to exercise your own unique ministry to keep the Aiken UU Church going?

Our Goals
In 1985, Latin American liberation theologian Leonardo Boff looked at the institution of the Roman Catholic Church and said that, as it was currently realized, it “ appears to have not much hope for survival” (Boff, Church: Charism and Power, 1985, p. 3). He was criticizing the reactionary model of the church that, after the brief era of promise of the Second Vatican Council, became concerned “with a narrow aspect of reality controlled by the hierarchy”. In other words, the power of the bishops was keeping the church from its true mission, that of “service for the good of the community”(164).
Fr Boff called for the Catholic church to be liberated so it could become a church ‘born of the people’s faith’, ‘rising to human challenges’ and called to be universal in achieving those goals.
Now, some of us in this sanctuary have very little knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church; and several of us may have quite a lot, by virtue, at some point, of having that faith as part of our personal religious journeys. But I would propose to you that those universal goals of Father Boff – being a universal church born of the people’s faith, rising to human challenges – are very close to what our goals have always been in Unitarian Universalism. We don’t have some of the handicaps, like a patriarchal hierarchy, that Fr Boff alludes to in regard to Catholicism; in fact, Unitarian Universalism prides itself on being a free church in which democracy guides its polity.
As James Luther Adams states in ‘I Call That Church Free’, his version of William Ellery Channing’s ‘The Free Mind’: “I Call that church free which brings individuals into a caring, trusting fellowship, that protects and nourishes their integrity and spiritual freedom; that yearns to belong to the church universal.”

“Being Religious Together”
I want to reflect upon that image of our church as a caring trusting fellowship of individuals – indeed, it’s worth noting that, as Rebecca Parker observes, “There is no life apart from life together” (“Life Together” in A House for Hope, Buehrens and Parker, Boston: Beacon Press, 2010, 33). The reason a religious community exists is so we can “be religious together” and not alone.
When we connect with others in an act of common worship we are attempting to nurture the relational aspect of our spiritual path. Many of us have a cherished private, personal spiritual discipline, be it praying, meditating, chanting, reading, drumming, singing, walking in nature. But something drives us to be here together; it may be, in part, because we have a vision of what we want this liberal religious community to be and become.
Rebecca Parker’s book with John Buehrens is called A House for Hope; in her chapter “Life Together”, she examines our drive as humans to be relational, and attempts to understand the challenge that is the contemporary religious community. Ecclesiology is the study of religious community, its Greek root is ekklesia, meaning ‘called together’ (34). Parker notes that the early Christian church drew upon the Pauline teaching of different people having different gifts in order for the church to function - just as a body continues to live because its different parts work together.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul said that if I am one part of the body, I should realize that my contribution is just as important as that of another part of the body. It sounds simple - but we all know, continuing with that metaphor, that sometimes being a little toe or a sweat gland doesn’t get a lot of respect as far as body parts go!
So it’s difficult to envision the unity of a religious community, and we have to look at another root word to give us help, that of the word ‘religion’: religio in Latin means to bind, to tie together.  So we come to this place to bind ourselves together, and the beauty of it is that we choose to be bound together; we accept the invitation held out to us. Some of us need that security of being bound together, tying ourselves metaphorically to other people in this congregation.
Rebecca Parker recognizes the attraction of being in a religious community when its walls give us shelter – shelter from our insecurities, and our fears, but we also seek shelter with like minds when we face persecution because of our difference to those outside these walls. But walls that close us in can sometimes be suffocating, as the Reformers found when they wanted to correct the abuses of Christendom.
Protestants fought for the right to have access to holy scriptures in their own language without priests reading it to and for them; they rejected the clerical abuse of the practice of granting indulgences, the hierarchical power to literally take money from the faithful for their salvation in the next life. Some of those who rebelled went overboard and did away completely with ritual and hierarchy, smashing statues, stained glass and other sacred art along the way. But we know that eventually the freedom they preached became a Protestant sacred cow; new ecclesial power structures were built, new obligations constrained church members, and new methods were created to punish members if they broke church laws.
Parker refers to the ‘perils of religious community’ that continue to exist today, which include shunning or excommunication, or even the threat of eternal damnation for those who don’t toe the ideological line of their religious leadership. The distrust of religious community, especially by religious liberals like us, may be because we have had disillusioning, or even traumatic, experiences in oppressive religious communities. We may have exacting standards, and judge religious communities as all too often failing to practice what they preach.
Rebecca Parker reminds us that we are in good company – for example, “The Hebrew prophets condemned religion when its priests soothed the privileged but neglected the poor” (35). But maybe we need to remember what the famous reformer John Calvin said about the church, that it is “a house always under reconstruction”(35)… maybe, because it’s a human creation, we can see that religion is necessarily flawed in practice if not in theory.
Parker urges us to ‘rebuild’ the walls of community so that we can continue to have “meaningful connection with one another” (37). She identifies two ways of being church for ‘liberal and progressive people of faith’: one is that congregations can “provide an embodied experience of covenant and commitment among people; they can foster freely chosen and life-sustaining interdependence” (37). This to me is another iteration of Leonardo Boff’s wish for a church ‘born of the people’s faith’.

The Covenant Tradition
For Unitarian Universalists the covenantal tradition is broad in human and historical terms; there is a lengthy strand of connection, grounded “in a 16th century Left-wing Reformation interpretation of Jewish and Christian covenantal scriptures… the scriptural interpretation of 16th century English Congregationalists is reflected in the Pilgrim Mayflower Compact of 1620 and the Puritan Salem Covenant (1629) among many others, and adapted by the Puritans to the American colonial circumstances in the Cambridge Platform of Church Discipline (1648). It has been influenced by the 18th century Enlightenment and by the 19th century Transcendentalists, …by Unitarians (and other religious associations) at the end of the 19th century, and by the 1961 consolidation of the AUA and UCA to form the UUA.” (James A. Hobart, A Prologomena: Regarding an Understanding of Our UU Ministers Covenant, October 2006, 2). Let’s unpack that timeline a bit:
Writing about the Covenant, William Johnson Everett says that we can see in the Bible the earliest form of religious covenantal agreement. (Everett, “Recovering the Covenant”,
Everett says there is a constant need to balance power and justice within human relationships because human beings are frail and because they aspire to be powerful: certainly if you’ve read the Bible you know it does not shy away from recognizing the full range of human faults, from Adam and Eve to King David. Everett says that the exercise of just power in biblical times needed to balance “the bonds of kinship with the freedom of consent”. When we’re trying to figure out how we behave with people who are not in our “family, tribe, ethnic group, and race” we need to build that relationship in a way that balances trust with diversity. This was one of the radical things that the new Christian communities did as they began to operate first in Jerusalem within the Jewish culture and then, as a separate but growing network of faith communities, began to welcome Gentiles into their midst.

Features of Covenant
By the time of the Protestant dissenters in England and New England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a covenant theory was revived, based upon an understanding of the primitive Christian church derived from the New Testament. Each member of a dissenting congregation had both right and responsibility in matters of decision-making, including shaping church policy. 
This was a revolutionary change from the practices of the established church, and it is still a feature of UU covenants today: “active participation in constituting the covenantal community” (Hobart, 3). Defining ourselves as Unitarian Universalists means that the individual, in balance with the institution, can enrich the common good.
Another UU thinker, Alice Blair Wesley, sees the spirit of love, at work in covenantal organization, as the transforming factor in a congregation (Wesley, Our Covenant, 2002, Chicago, Meadville Lombard Press, 7). She stresses that a church needs a doctrine that flows “from mutually shared loyalties of the members…seen at work in everything the members do together as church people” (16).
This idea brings us back to the goal of Fr Boff for the church to rise to human challenges. It is what characterizes Rebecca Parker’s second way of being church for liberal and progressive people of faith, that they can be “communities of resistance” (37). “Resisting and even transforming an unjust dominant culture” through membership in a group is often more effective than trying to do it alone: Parker gives one example: of African American churches that “functioned as countercultures to white supremacist culture” (38).
Another example is of Unitarian churches in Hungary. Boasting a continuous presence over 450 years, these Transylvanian communities offered dissidents and freethinkers refuge, especially when religion was persecuting science in Europe. The 20th-century threat of extinction by the Ceausescu regime was overcome by the spirit of dissent that had long been nurtured in these communities. And Parker observes that “such community is established less by a historic creed or by apostolic tradition than by covenantal relations among the members” (41). This is what Alice Blair Wesley means when she calls for a doctrine of love at work in everything the members do together as church people.
Is ours a community that can nurture itself through love and renewal? In the words of James Luther Adams, do we embody “the priesthood of all believers” that works for the ministry of healing? Are we a community that is - or can become - a community of resistance that is helping to transform our world? Again in the words of Adams, do we embody “the prophethood of all believers” that works for the liberty of prophesying?

Our Community
Let’s just think for a moment and consider how we nurture ourselves and work to change the world. Our children’s RE program, for a start, is how we renew our energies and ensure our future.  Our future generations will need the kind of nurturing and prophetic witness that our children are learning from us here. We invite them to follow us in building up our church.
Our affinity groups help to nurture our members – whether you enjoy the Sisterhood of the Spirit, the Buddhist meditation group or the men’s group, or even the new Adult RE Sharing Circles, you can agree that this congregation invites us all to share in the wealth of relational opportunities in smaller groups that foster bonds of friendship and common interest.
And when we look to the goal of becoming a community that resists the dominant cultural status quo and works to create a better world, we can see progress here too.
Our Share the Plate monthly collection comes out of a desire to reach out to the wider community with our resources, and its success is a sign of our members’ and friends’ generosity. It is, by extension, our work in the community, along with all the wonderful projects from the Service and Outreach Committee.
Our participation in the UUA advocacy project, Standing on the Side of Love, has brought us into contact with others in our wider community who want to work with us in affirming the human dignity of every person. We have begun the work this year of being designated a Welcoming Community, and that process will continue with a variety of workshops, service and other activities for all members and friends.
My enthusiasm for this congregation knows no bounds, and I could happily stand here and spout forth on more achievements, more projects, more goals…but in our Annual Meeting today you will hear the reports from committees that have been engaged in making this church a transforming and loving community. And you will hear about people who have stepped up and have accepted the invitation to leadership. This day, once a year, makes me proud to be a Unitarian Universalist who can have a real say in the governance of this church. Our shared ministry is something as a minister that I value.

Again I ask the question, why do the members of this church continue to accept the invitation to do this work? And those of you who are not members, who may have been coming for some time, I want to ask you “What is stopping you from accepting the invitation we hold out to you to help us do this work?” If being here with us is worth your time on Sunday mornings, then become a member and commit yourself to share fully in the transforming work we do. I can bring out our membership book right now, and you’ll be able to vote in the Annual Meeting after this service – instant exercise of your membership rights and responsibilities! And seriously, having been a member of a religious faith tradition that does not treat its members like grown-ups and does not give them any meaningful say in how their church makes decisions, I consider the polity of Unitarian Universalism a valued privilege of my membership.
The UUA president Peter Morales puts it this way: “When you and I focus on what we love and what we long to create, something almost miraculous happens. We are energized. We form lasting bonds. We become eager to commit ourselves and to work together. We become more generous. We come to care more about ‘us’ and less about ‘me’. In other words, when we focus on what we love we ‘get religion’ (‘Hand in Hand’, UU World Spring 2010, 7).
So…you are cordially invited again this morning to be an active part of our church family – and whether metaphorically you feel sometimes like a little toe or a sweat gland, remember that all of us are important in making this church body not only function but thrive. Together we can nurture this church and its members, its friends, and the wider community. Together we can rise to the challenges that the future holds; together we can create a vision that transforms our lives.
Gaye W. Ortiz
Boff, Leonardo (1985). Church: Charism and Power. New York: Crossroad.
Buehrens, John and Parker, Rebecca (2010). A House for Hope. Boston: Beacon Press.
Everett, William Johnson. “Recovering the Covenant”,
Hobart, James A. (October 2006) A Prologomena: Regarding an Understanding of Our UU Ministers Covenant,2.
Morales, Peter (Spring 2010). ‘Hand in Hand’, UU World, 7.
Wesley, Alice Blair (2002). Our Covenant. Chicago: Meadville Lombard Press.
Wright, Conrad (1989). Walking Together. Boston: Skinner House.