Looking up the other day, I saw that the scaffolding is off the steeple! So, while it is not quite done, we are in the home stretch. It does look lovely.
Our building is one of our ministries. We might not think of our building that way, but let me explain, for ministry is service, and our building serves both our own and our larger communities. First, it is a ministry of stewardship. Our meetinghouse is a prominent symbol of the town of Chelmsford and its history. The banners around the common that say, “Welcome to Chelmsford” have pictures of our church. Our congregation’s beginnings and the town’s beginnings are linked all the way back to 1655. And we do take seriously our stewardship of this historic place.
Our building also ministers to the community. We rent or provide space to all kinds of groups that in turn serve others: the Open Door Nursery, the Girl Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous, Table of Plenty, 4-H, the Middlesex Singers, the Buddhist Meditation Group to name a few. In the past, we have housed a Muslim community that met here until they were able to build a mosque of their own. Our parking lot serves as a significant part of the annual July 4th Town Fair, the Chelmsford Farmers Market, visitors to the cemetery, and other events on the common.
And our building ministers to us. It gives us a space to gather, to worship, to bear witness to the child namings, weddings, and memorial services, the joys and sorrows, the hopes and struggles we share with one another. It gives us the space to encounter the sacred, to give voice to our Unitarian Universalist faith and values, to find comfort in our times of need and challenge in our times of spiritual growth.
Many of the conversations we have had about our building center on its physical aspects: how to make more space, how to increase parking, how to add office. We have hired architects to look at our building and present us with plans based on our dreams of what we would like our building to be, inside anyway. The steeple has pulled us away from this focus for awhile, but that project is finishing up.
If we do return to conversations about our building, I would like us to consider our building as a ministry. We have been around the block so many times on the technical issues: how to increase parking; putting up dividers on the stage to create another classroom; converting a closet into office space; etc., etc. But what are the ministries of our building? And as currently constituted, how does our building serve us and our larger community effectively and ineffectively? Its history, its location, its beauty and simplicity are all strengths. Its inaccessibility, not just to people with handicaps, but in general, create barriers to welcoming and hospitality. If our building is part of our ministry, what are we and it called to do and be, as Unitarian Universalists? Perhaps this approach can help us discern what questions to ask and how best to answer them in ways that help our building express our ministries more effectively and more faithfully.