The reading we just heard from the late Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson was a meditation offered at GA’s 2013 Sunday worship service, this is, more or less, the culminating gathering at General Assembly. For those of you who aren’t familiar with GA, it’s what we refer to as the annual meeting of our Unitarian Universalist Association–which sounds so terribly dry right? It’s so much more than an annual meeting. In my mind, it’s as close to a revival as we UU’s can get. Four days of worship and inspiration and singing and dancing and calls to justice and faith so that we might affirm and reimagine who we are and where we are going.
Tie die for as far as the eye can see…It’s wonderful. I hope you will consider going this year. You can attend virtually now!
And that year they gathered in Louisville, KY and the theme they worked with was (all GA’s have themes) “From Promise to Commitment.” The description of it was this: “Promises call us into relationship. The experience of making, breaking and remaking promises is the reality of our lived faith. We gather in Louisville, KY, to examine and renew our covenant to our faith, one another, our congregations and the larger world.”
“Making, breaking and remaking promises is the reality of our lived faith”–and they need renewing.
Vows, promises, covenants–they are, in our faith, understood to be alive. Not stagnant. Not fixed. Our tradition is called a Living Tradition. And just like any live thing, our promises need tending to. Need regular examining. Need re-making. Need repair. Need renewing.
And I took some time with this 2013 assembly these past few days–did you know you can do this on the UUA’s website? You can watch services from past GA’s, or read the transcripts. It’s great. And something stood out to me this week. The preacher that Sunday, Rev. Dr. Bill Schulz, who is another titan in our faith–a previous president of the UUA, executive director of Amnesty International…the list goes on–he preached a sermon that followed Rev. Hope’s meditation, where he said: “We are, each one of us, held in the embrace of creation. Ponder this thing in your heart. Ponder with awe. This is the wonder of time. This is the marvel of space…And this is why we are in covenant with creation [that which is being created. That which is alive]…” And to be in covenant with this creating, this alive-ness,“you truly do need one another,” Rev. Bill preached. “You truly do need one another.”
And friends, this being in relationship with creation, this being and staying in relationship with each other is messy. Being a part of this world is messy. You know this.
So often when rituals have us take vows of promise, and the smell of flowers are in the air, and delicious food and cake are waiting for us, and we are all gussied up with stars in our eyes, it’s easy to say YES and AMEN. But what happens when the going gets tough?
To be kindred to one another in our personal relationships, in our community, in this our world is hard. Beautiful! But hard. But this is what we do as Unitarian Universalists. It’s as close to a creed as we can get–how we are in, and call ourselves and one another back into, relationship with one another. How we work to be kindred to each other, particularly, particularly when the band is gone, and the cake has been eaten, and we’ve got blisters on our feet and we are left with one another in all our rawness and need and hurt and hope and fallibility. And there we say, I need you. I choose to journey with you, as Rev. Hope writes. I choose to create Beloved Community with you, so that we can be it and bring it to the world. Together.
So, rituals and ceremonies like what we are about to partake in with our New Member Welcome are vital. Vital to us as a covenant-making, breaking, renewing people. Vital because welcome, messy as it can be, is at the heart of who we are, and vital because we need opportunities to make and renew promises to one another. And to our faith. This is for all of us today.
So let us bring ourselves to it. Let us bring ourselves to this day of celebration – a day when we draw the circle wider to make room for these kindred souls who have chosen to join us as members of the First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist Church. And have chosen to journey with us, as we have them.
New Member Covenant:
Members and Friends of First Parish, please say these words in unison:
Congregation: We welcome you as the newest members of our community.
We promise to make room for you as you explore and find your place here.
We want to hear your questions and your ideas, your hopes and your fears.
We will do our best to live up to your expectations of us, as individuals and as a community.
And we hope you will recognize that we are imperfect,
and that you will love us even when we disappoint you.
We celebrate your choice to join us and honor us with your presence and commitment.
Take your place among us with confidence – you are welcome here.
Minister: To our new members. You have heard this congregation’s pledge of welcome, their promise to you, and if you are ready to continue this journey please read your pledge aloud.
New Members: We join you today with open hearts.
We are new to this community, and there are many things we don’t yet know;
we hope you will reach out and help us learn.
We also come to you with a lifetime of experiences from other places;
we hope you will take the time to hear the wisdom and fresh ideas we bring.
We also recognize that this community is made up of imperfect human beings;
so we will practice compassion when our hearts are aching.
Today, we take our place among you with joy and confidence.
Minister: Having given and received promises, may the First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist Church be blessed in our ministry together. May we be faithful to our promises, and to each other, and may we forgive ourselves and each other when we falter.
And now some words of blessing.
May you know yourselves to be kindred here;
May your mind be on fire with wonder and wisdom;
May your heart be aflame with love for this life;
May your hands be ignited with purpose;
And may your spirit be aglow with courage and compassion.
Julie and Neil, Virginia and Julie, you are lights unto the world,
and you carry our steadfast love with you wherever you may go.
Amen and welcome!
You may now sign the membership book as an outward expression of this our covenant with one another, and accept the gifts we have for you today.
Minister: Please welcome the newest members of First Parish of Watertown!!
This hymn is as close as we can get to a UU anthem. It’s our to be kindred song. It’s our covenant song. It’s a renewing our faith song. May it be all of this to you this morning. Blue Boat Home.
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.