I spent most of the morning over my keyboard as my sermon muse arrived early. I have learned to never ignore her visits, and so dutifully attended until my July 3 piece was completed. I had a basic theme for this sermon in my head already, an important message since it will be my last visit to my home congregation, the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh. I welcome the opportunity to say goodbye to old friends and long-time acquaintances. This will also be for me a sort of pre-launch to my new called ministry position in Midland.
In the evening, the ministers gathered together to socialize, worship, and listen to the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Peter Morales. While I do not consider myself much of a social butterfly, these events reunite me with dear friends from seminary – fellow travellers on this crazy path to ministry. The food was great, the drinks pricey, and I could have done without having a glass of wine spilled on me by a senior colleague!
During President Morales’ talk, one theme struck me again and again. We are a denomination with an opportunity to grow, to reach out to millions of people in search of our message who no longer find solace in traditional religions. But, for the most part, congregations are on their own to address this opportunity. The root “grassroots” arose many times, indicating that we should not expect a lot of help from the UUA in terms of funding or extensive staff support in order to expand programs and reach out to our communities.
While I do not welcome the content of this message, I do accept its honesty. I very much want to see this religious movement grow in membership and influence on our society. As a minister, I will be a primary mover and shaker in my community. But, my principal task will be to encourage, harness, and support my congregants to become ambassadors of Unitarian Universalism.
In the search process, one observation appeared over and over again to me. Our churches are often fantastic places – if one actually manages to find us. It is natural that we build loving communities and then work to sustain them, even against perceived threats that new blood might visit upon us. But, we must shed our fears and address those thousands (I would argue millions) of people out there who need us. We must open our religious homes to the stranger out there desperately searching for spirituality, for comfort, and for the chance to make the world a better place.
Will reaching out to others change our congregations? I hope so! Will we lose what we love so much about our religious communities? Not if we work with intention, with love, and with commitment to sustain them. So, while I wish we had vast resources to fund innovative efforts and broad-reaching programs, I accept the challenge laid before us. The task of changing the world and offering the hand of fellowship to our friends and neighbors is ours to accept or to ignore. And I vote that we embrace that grassroots challenge.