First, our thoughts and prayers go to our fellow Massachusetts residents in Springfield and Western Massachusetts, who were hit by terrible tornados. I had been in Springfield for a UUMA meeting the day of the storm and left about a half-hour before the storms started. I know that several of you have family and friends in that part of the state, and I hope that they are all safe and sound. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Monson did lose its steeple. I hope through various UU contacts to see if there are ways we can help with the rebuilding efforts down the road. Meanwhile, if you go to the Clara Barton/Mass Bay UUA website, you can find a link to make a donation for disaster relief.
The end of the regular church year always feels compressed, as we try to get everything in place before summer. The Canvass Committee is winding up and the Standing Committee will be preparing the proposal for next year's budget. We will have our annual meeting on June 19th, after our last regular morning service of the year. At that service, we will honor our high school seniors with a bridging ceremony, and we will have our flower communion. Please bring a flower to add to our common bouquet. Our last evening service will be this coming Sunday, June 12th. The Tervos will provide their usual, wonderful music for this service.
Beginning June 26th, worship will be at 9 am in the chapel. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide religious education classes or nursery care for these services at this time. Most of the services are lay-led, and offer quite a variety of perspectives and voices. I encourage you to attend. Lynne Cole of the Worship Committee is coordinating the summer services. If you are interested in leading one, I can help you get in touch with Lynne.
Although I will not be leading worship over the summer, I will not be gone. I will be attending committee meetings and the like, and will be available to talk or listen, if you need an ear or a shoulder.
In the next newsletter, I will relate all that everyone needs to know in terms of vacation coverage. My colleagues and I are still working on it. Meanwhile, know that I will be attending General Assembly from June 21-25 in Charlotte, N.C. and will be on vacation July 31-August 21.
Of course, I will be there for the Fourth of July Breakfast. I hope you will join in volunteering or stopping by to eat, if you are around. Caroline and Rosemary McMullin are once again chairing this important fundraiser and long-standing tradition.
As we enjoy this early summer time, with its special events and warm, sunny weather, keep in mind the words of Mary Oliver, from her poem, "Messenger":
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
This past week has felt very full to me: a funeral service for Lynda Bigl, an amazing Coming of Age Service planned and led by our COA youth and mentors, and a packed evening service where Carrie sang publicly for the first time after her double lung transplant. These very different but powerful services had me reflecting on the meaning of religion and religious community. What follows is the brief sermon I wrote for Sunday's evening service.
According to my colleague, the Rev. Fred Muir, human beings are "...question asking and problem-solving creatures. When we are asking questions and solving problems—and this is being done for a great deal of our time—we are creating meaning. In this sense, we are meaning-making creatures too. And that's what religion seems to be all about: making meaning. We humans thrive on meaning, and when it doesn't exist, we create it. And when we can't create it, when there is no meaning in our life, we get frustrated, shaken, angry, depressed, disillusioned and unhappy. Religion, then, is the response to the feeling—happy, glad, sad, or mad—that arises from the gap (or the lack of one) between expectation and experience: the expectation (or hope) of having meaning to life and the experience (or reality) of missing it." (p. 162 in Heretics Faith: Vocabulary for Religious Liberals).
The word religion comes from the same Latin root as do the words ligament, and rely. Religion then is a re-tying or re-connecting with what binds us together, or that with which we can trust to make meaning. Religion is what ties us across the gap between our reality and experience, versus our expectations and hope. Religion allows us to see the world as it is, to imagine the world as it can be, and to love them both the same.
Because we are a creedless religion, many people outside and within Unitarian Universalism don't see us as one. And if we understand religion only as the acceptance of a set of stated beliefs or as believing in a supernatural god, then we don't qualify. However, Unitarian Universalism is a religion, because we come together to create meaning, to build a bridge between experience and hope—to see the world as it is, to imagine the world as it can be, and to love them both the same. We rebind and reconnect ourselves to what matters, to what is worthy of our time, our talent, our treasure, and our trust. And we do it several ways.
First, we do it through the relationships we build here. We keep each other company in times of great joy and great sorrow, as well as through ordinary moments. We are a community that promises to care for you, and to ask you to care for others. We have seen much of this is recent days and weeks. And this care extends beyond our own walls to include the community around us: in Chelmsford and Lowell, in New Orleans, in our whole world.
Second, we reconnect through worship and ritual. We set aside time each week as holy, for the purpose of lifting up and naming what matters, what is sacred, what is worthy of our loyalty. Our individual spiritual paths may be different, but we lay claim to a shared theology grounded in reason, freedom, love, and hope. We gather to create meaning of our world and our lives through the lens of these religious ideals. We enact rituals that reconnect us as well: the simple act of lighting a chalice or speaking the words of our covenant; blessing a child, a marriage, a life that has ended; praying together, singing together, listening together are all ways to connect our bodies, minds, and souls with the meaning and purpose of our lives: to bear witness to what is happening and to hope for what can be.
Third, we reconnect too through our larger Unitarian Universalist faith: through our denominational covenant, known as our purposes and principles; through our stewardship and knowledge of our history and tradition; through constantly challenging ourselves to become the religion we claim we want to be. We are a religion as we tie and retie what binds us to one another, and to the larger Spirit of Life and Love, as we strive to make meaning in the midst of the hard realities that life and death throw at us, and in hoping and imagining ourselves, one another, and our world healed and whole.