The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero
I had the honor and the joy this past Saturday to work with our Coming of Age youth and their mentors to plan their Coming of Age Service, scheduled for May 19th. As part of that, I got a preview of the wonderful credos the youth have prepared. They are a wonderful group of spiritual thinkers, artists, musicians, singers, poets, filmmakers, thespians, Scouts, athletes and overall wonderful young people, embodying our Unitarian Universalist faith now and for the future. As wonderful are their mentors: a group of adults from this community who volunteered their time and their wisdom to walk with our youth in preparing their credos.
I will be traveling to Portland, Oregon May 7 through May 10 to attend a training for a curriculum called “The Soul of Aging”. It is offered through the Center for Courage and Renewal, and follows the same format as “The Geography of Grace” but with a specific focus on the spirituality involved with growing older (and maybe wiser). As I shared in a sermon several years ago, “Coming of Age” is not something that happens in our lives just once, when we move from childhood to adolescence or adolescence to adulthood. We are “coming of age” all the time—whenever something happens in our lives that shifts the relationship with who we understand ourselves to be in the world. Some of our “Comings of Age” can begin in joy: marriage, parenthood, graduations, vocational and career success. Others in heartbreak and loss: illness, death and divorce. And some can be a mix, like retiring or moving. Our learning and growing as spiritual, ethical and religious persons spans our lifetime, if we are attentive to our souls. I have long been aware of this and it has been one of the joys of working with Dolores to have her as a partner and a teacher in this work. She and I, along with interested leaders and facilitators in the congregation, have been working to offer life span (from our youngest to our elders) faith formation opportunities in a more intentional and organized way. This is a conversation I actually began with Sadie, when she was our DRE and I am excited to see how we have been taking steps toward it each year. Expanding Dolores’ job title and responsibilities this year to include “Life Span” with “Faith Formation” shows our growing awareness that “coming of age” is indeed the work of a lifetime, and not just for our children and youth.
And “Coming of Age” is not just for individuals either. I believe our congregation also has “come of age” in some significant ways, whenever we discern together how to walk more faithfully in our covenant. Certainly, becoming a Welcoming Congregation and renewing that commitment and committing to and completing the building accessibility project are two examples of our congregational comings of age. I realize that several of my sermons this year have revolved around the theme of why people join a religious community like ours and how we meet that why. It often comes down to these two things: finding a community where we are accepted authentically for who we are and have our real gifts affirmed AND where we can connect in a meaningful way with others and with a sacred understanding or presence larger than ourselves. Meaning from within us meeting meaning among and beyond us.
We have lots to celebrate as this church year comes to a close: the Open House for the accessibility project; another concert with Steve and the talented musicians from our congregation; the Coming of Age service, and in June, the Milestones Service, Bridging and Flower Communion. Lots of comings of age!
The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero
Spring is here! Allegedly, anyway. It feels as if it is having a hard time getting traction. We get glimpses, and then the colder weather returns. Hopefully, we are done with the snow.
Our worship theme for April is Possibility—very apropos for a season whose sacred stories revolve around new life, rebirth, liberation and resurrection. Possibility is part of all these things, as each begins in what Quaker folksinger Carrie Newcomer describes as “the almost but not yet.” Possibility invites us, like new life, rebirth, liberation, and resurrection, to be open to the truth that we do not know it all yet, and that the end of the story has not yet been written. Possibility invites us to be open to imagination, to discernment, to faithful risk taking. Possibility also reminds us that we are not in control of the universe. The world around us changes both rapidly and very slowly. There are things that we can’t keep up with and other things that we wish we could move swiftly through, but find we cannot. There are things we wish we could hang onto that leave too soon, and others that hang on despite our hard work to release them. This being human is a messy business. It is also a remarkable and beautiful one. It is what we have been given, along with this creation, and one another.
Hope is also an essential part of this season of Possibility, of new life, of rebirth, of liberation, of resurrection. Carrie Newcomer reminded me that hope is not a feeling, but a practice of faith. She offered a definition of hope by Parker Palmer--another Quaker teacher--as seeing what is and seeing what could, what might be and working to narrow the gap between them. Parker Palmer himself draws upon the words of a Unitarian Universalist, the Reverend Victoria Safford, for another definition of hope: Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges; nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right,” but a very different, sometimes very lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle — and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.
May we choose wisely the gate through which we enter into possibility.