“We have so little faith,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wisely writes, “we have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid that it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity…”
Who here doesn’t love the idea of certainty? Continuity? “On this I can rely…” How often do you insist on it! Maybe even go to any lengths to make sure of it!
We know that wisdom tells us that change, fluidity, impermanence, is the greatest lesson, the most certain of truths that we receive in life. And yet, despite knowing this, reading it, singing it, committing to it as a faith community week after week–where we affirm seeking and growing as core tenets to our ever-evolving, alive faith tradition–despite all this, how we humans struggle with ebb tides and disruptions. Unknowns and change. Do we ever.
And honestly, this is why I love church. And why I love being a minister. Because where else can you be invited into people’s ever-changing, completely unexpected, wondrous, messy lives and faiths and calls to heal this world? Where else do you get a front row seat to the one thing that we can say with certainty: that we are a part of something extraordinary here. We are partaking in something extraordinary, and wild and radical and ALIVE.
And this extraordinariness is not about being in lock step with one another. It’s not about 24/7 peace and harmony–continuity. That’s not what we are trying for here. Try as you might to maintain this, you know it’s folly. Being a part of a church community means cozying up to disappointment. Am I right? With me, with worship service, you might be feeling it right now with this sermon. Or the prayer offered earlier. Being a part of a church community means certain disappointment with one another. Or with a particular program. Or policy. Or response, or lack of response, to an injustice.
Doing church is not all flow.
It’s complicated! Because everything that we bear out and believe and make manifest at church and in the wider world, is based on the relationships we have with one another. And relationships are ridiculously complicated. You don’t need me to tell you that. Riddled with mistakes, hurts, disagreements, annoyances, disappointments, doubts, griefs, angers…oh friends, it’s all here. And with people you might never, ever choose in your walking around lives to do this with.
No. We Unitarian Universalists aren’t here to get along. We aren’t here to be with people who all want to sing the same music, or rally for the same cause, or attend the same retreat, or believe in the same God.
We are in church to learn how to bravely love better. Bravely love better. Because loving is hard. And requires bravery. And we get to practice that here. And that’s why we are a part of something extraordinary.
And you are these brave people. Trying to love better.
A little over a year ago we were meeting for the first time, in our little Zoom boxes, for candidating week. For anyone who is new to this church, this is when the trusted ministerial search committee, after a year of intentional process and deep discernment, presents their ministerial choice to the congregation. And this was a mutual call–for I chose you as well. But we Unitarian Universalists are Congregationalists, which means that everyone gets a say in this choice through vote–that happened at the end of candidating week, right? And for this to happen well, we needed to meet one another, and have rich and hard and big conversations.
I loved this week with you. We shared ideas and hopes with one another. We exchanged stories. Some of you asked hard questions like “what’s with the Rev. in front of your name?” Some of you told me about your heartfelt disappointments, hurts and concerns here.
I loved this week with you because you were yourselves. And that’s what made me say YES to you far before candidating week. You were yourselves. You didn’t try to be all flow–you bravely named the ebb as well. The trough of the wave. And you claimed it valid. It was in your congregational record and all the materials that you bravely blasted out to all of us ministers:
“We love this church and one another. We are proud of who we are and all that we do, and we have made mistakes! We aren’t sure where to go where it comes to certain things. This is a stuck place for us…”, you shared.
Can I tell you how few churches do this? Can you hear me when I tell you that this is what made you so desirable for so many ministers?
It was what I dreamed of as a match. A people who understood that we, me included, are imperfect and don’t love conflict or how disagreement feels, but we our doing our best to name it and grow and change and adapt and love a little bit bigger and better.
I mean, what else is there but this? Human beings learning about bravery. One of you recently said to me on a walk that having faith–faith in collective liberation, faith in one another, faith in peace, faith in beauty and goodness–that having faith means being brave. Yes it does. At such a time as this, I feel it acutely. Don’t you? I pray every morning for the bravery to have this kind of faith.
And many of my prayers this year have been answered through serving you. Because you show me what it is to be brave and faithful every day.
During candidating week, I asked some of this church’s longest members about your previous church building being demolished. Some of you might not know, but this is a really important story here at First Parish. So important that pictures of that stunning and massive 1842 gothic church which once stood where the Watertown Savings Bank now sits, being pulled to the ground are hung downstairs in the social hall. Many of you talk about it all the time. With pride! And I must tell you that when I found out that this tear-down happened in 1975 my first thought was about the congregants that might have been a part of that decision, and the congregants that watched it happen, that might still be among us.
Can you imagine? I mean, we UU’s could spend a whole year holding breakout listening circles, online surveys, votes to have votes to have votes over a change in paint color. Tear down the church? When I asked one of this church’s longest members about what it was like to watch that beautiful church come down, do you know what they said? They said they weren’t sad or horrified. They said that, “in that moment I knew this was the church for me because these were A Brave People.”
Taking down that building is a part of your survivor story. Being able to bend, adapt, face the trough with the wave, this is in the bones of this place. It’s in your bones.
This first year together you have bravely adapted to the ever-changing ebbs and flows of this pandemic. Contended with staff changes and a new ministry. You have wrestled with anti-oppression work, are about to vote to accept the 8th Principle next Sunday, and commit to embarking into the wondrous unknown that this work will lead us towards. You have bravely shared your lives with me and one another–you have wept with fear for your children, partners, shared in grief over the loss of beloved family members and friends. You have taken care of our building, and gardens, shared your music, and poetry and candles of joy and sorrow. Journeyed into the wildness that is multi-platform worship and church. Given each other rides. Sent each other cards. Signed membership books. Bravely said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to serving on committees. Volunteered week after week to care for our kids. Led one another on marches, set up community tables to welcome in those who might have none of this in their lives, welcome them home–“come here,” you have said, “we are trying to be a place of belonging.” “We are trying to not just say welcome, but BE welcome–we are trying.”
You are a brave people. Teaching me about faith every day.
There is a poem I love called Fault Line by Robert Walsh. I offer it to you as a closing prayer today. In part:
“…When the great plates slip
and the earth shivers and the flaw is seen
to lie in what you trusted most, look not
to more solidity, to weighty slabs
of concrete poured or strength of cantilevered
beam to save the fractured order. Trust
more the tensile strands of love that bend
and stretch to hold you in the web of life
that’s often torn but always healing. There’s
your strength… The shifting plates, the restive earth…
your precious life, they all proceed
from love, the ground on which we walk together.”
May you Brave People know this Wondrous Love. Know that YOU are this wondrous love. May you place your faith in it. Stay with it. Stay with it. It’s in your bones.
May you know this. I love you.
What Wondrous Love is this O My soul, O My soul…Let’s now rise in body or in spirit and sing our closing hymn together, #18.
Reverend Sophia Lyons
Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.