So a Rabi, a Priest, and a UU Minister walk in to a bar. Why? They’ve been at a day long conference, they’re out of town, and it’s time to relax. After a couple of rounds, the UU minister pulls out a deck of cards and a little poker game starts up. Well, after about a half hour, the local constable in a fit of zealousness, busts them. All three spend the night in jail, all three are in front of the judge in the morning. This is embarrassing for everyone, including the judge, so he says, “just tell me you weren’t gambling, and I’ll let you go”.
So the Rabi starts first; “Well your honor, the money was only out to track who was winning, we were not actually...” judge says “fine, you can go”
The priest starts up about the concept of gambling within the devine governance of....” Judges cuts him off says, “fine, you can go”
The judge now turns to the Unitarian minister and says “were you gambling?”
The UU looks around shrugs his shoulders and says “with who?”
That has nothing to do with what we’re going to talk about this morning, I just thought it was a cute story. And it works for Pastor Osteen.
We have been meeting like this for nearly 15 years. Each ‘First Sunday’ of the new year has been a time for reflection on our beliefs, our practices; // what should stay, what should go. What we would plan individually in the coming year.
You might say that the yearly conversation amounts to a check in, as we walk together towards Spiritual Maturity.
That phrase, brilliant as it is, did not come from me, but from Church Consultant, Michael Durrell, author of the book The Almost Church Revitalized.
His book came to me at a time when I really needed something like it to confirm I was not crazy in thinking that this religion of ours was not living up to it’s potential. That not enough was being asked of our members or our churches:
Not enough inspiration,
not enough empowerment,
not enough meaning
was coming through to sustain the Unitarian Universalist Church. Now or in the future.
Do you remember the first valid criticism you had of your church? I do.
It was before I even joined! I asked for an appointment with the minister and we talked things over before I made the decision to be come a member. The way to membership was to fill out a blue index card with basic contact information and put it in the collection basket! I told him I had magazine subscriptions that demanded more than that!
So in our time together this morning, we are going to take a tour through the life of our church, to figure out; “where is NW Community Church in it’s walk toward Spiritual Maturity?”
OK, I know some of you right now are thinking? What does that MEAN?
If I ask you to name 3 people you know of that you would describe as Spiritually Mature, I think you could answer pretty quickly. (Cong. names) or:
I can. Nelson Mandela, Tich Nat Han, ML King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dali Lama, I’m just hitting the big names here, we all know there are really tens of thousands or more that could fill the bill.
Like a man I just learned about - a New York police officer John Feal that has championed the cause of taking care of the health problems of first responders of the 9/11 attacks. I heard him in an interview recently, and it all impressed me, but one particular portion especially. Amy Goodman asked him about donating his kidney. He dismissed the question with: “oh, that was a no-brainer, he needed one to live, I had an extra”. The “he” referred to was a complete stranger who had emailed him about listing his need on a website. / / / THAT folks, was the action (and reply) of a spiritually mature man.
So what does it mean to be spiritually mature?
I believe it means you are a daring risk taker, and your risks often involve helping others less fortunate. More importantly, the motivation of Oneness, is so strong, that NOT helping (when you see a need) would be the equivalent of NOT pulling your arm out of a flame. I think it includes an active spiritual practice; meditation, fasting, and worship, are among these.
I define Spiritual Maturity as being a participant in life and not just an observer - not just a consumer.
Mr Durrell describes it simply as “commitment to a defined way of life”.
I like that because he is talking about behavior, not beliefs.
But I think we all know where behavior comes from: our beliefs.
But that is just my view of it. I will readily admit I have my own take on what makes a fulfilling life, just as you do.;
Balance is high on my list,
integrity is also,
respect and gratitude for the relationships that give our lives meaning...
I could go on and on, but this is not about me.
This is about our church, and as it IS about our church, it is about US.
Much of this is about commitment. The church exists because committed members have worked hard to keep things going, ready to pitch in whatever the need. And God bless ‘em we would not be here this morning in this service without these folk.
Let’s look at the basics of good church stewardship:
These 5 starting points are taken from the book I mentioned earlier
“The Almost Church Revitalized”
1. We ask members to attend church regularly.
Pretty basic huh? Please join us as often as you can. When traveling, check out the Unitarian Church in the town you are in. It is always a rewarding experience.
Let’s talk about the church:
The attendance of our church in the larger realm of our denomination:
- participation with the Network of 8 local Houston UU churches, the 6 state SW District conferences,
- the yearly continental UUA General Assembly.
- That’s local, regional, and national participation.
Our representatives do attend monthly meetings here in Houston for strategic planning and sharing ideas and information with our sister congregations. HIGH MARKS
Our church has had the largest group in attendance the annual Southwest District Summer Institute in Oklahoma. . . If you don’t know what I am talking about ask a member about SWUUSI. NW Community has also sent members to Leadership school in North Texas for the last 2 years, and plans to do it again this year.
In the national General Assembly, we have had members in attendance nearly every year, but have not sent delegates in the last few years..
This portion NEEDS CONSISTENCY.
So under “ask members to attend regularly...” NW Community comes out pretty well as a church/body. Small miracles take place here every Sunday, and starting the week off in church just makes that week much better. Our name: NW COMMUNITY. . . ‘Says it all . . . you don’t build community if you only pop in every now and then..
2. Participate in ONE program each year that deepens your faith.
As people of faith, we should be exploring that faith. It may be to study a book of rich ideas and inspiration, or a program series on Personal Theology like we held here in Houston this past year.
FUUNCO as a church, has had some inroads in this area, but adult religious education has been mostly in the past. It is time for us to inspire one another to generate some new plans and programs to grow our souls in the coming year.
3. Participating in Outreach or a Mission Project each year.
We have had toy drives, food collection, walk for AIDS, marched in Gay Pride parades, but I sense a desire to do more. We ARE capable of more, much more in this area.
I see us increasing our involvement in the larger community in the future. Working with other UU churches on annual and semi-annual projects that give back to the community is something we have done in past years.
I believe it is time to bring back that spirit of co-operating and networking with our brothers and sisters for home repair or other projects where more hands are needed than we have ourselves.
Past: fair to good.
Future: I predict Much Better.
4. Reaching a 5 to 10 percent giving level as quickly as possible.
This sometimes shocks people - especially if your initial impression was that the Unitarian Universalist Church was a Discount house of worship. The truth is, generosity IS a key discipline of ANY religious life journey. In general, our Association encourages giving to the church in the 5% range, with an additional 5% to causes of your choice. And yes, several families here in this church live that way.
The associations our church belongs to have not been getting our financial support. The three I mentioned earlier, national, district, city-wide got no dues from us in 2010.
The good news is that the budget you passed last month will put us back in standing with the people that legitimize us as a Unitarian Universalist Church. Grade: 2010 P - Poor, 2011: Much Improved.
How about our church’s charitable giving? This one is easy to gage, just look at the church budget. Oops, that same budget has no money for community involvement.
I will give NW Community a temporary pass due to previous financial hardship.
BUT, now is the time to start becoming a force for giving back.
Just as my family (and several others in this room) began with a small pledge years ago, so can our church. Starting small, Rita and I built up and have been at the 7% level with the church for several years now, with another 2-3% giving to other causes we support.
Why? Because giving is core to walking in faith.
A start of 2-3% of our church budget can get us going down the road to being who we say we are. From that start, increase our commitment 1 - 2 % each year until we have a “Faith in Action” line item that produces community involvement we can all be proud ^to be a part of.
It takes money to make a difference. Grade: time to get started.
5. Telling Others About the Church
Is the church good at telling NW Houston we are here? How about showing NW Houston we are here? I suspect not.
I still meet UU’s from local churches that confuse us with Northwoods UU Church in the Woodlands. So the public in general? I suspect not.
Well, our church has a very cool website, but do the other churches in the area know us? I suspect not.
We have had a marketing committee in the past, but not lately. One step in the right direction would be to let the public know when we have a special event or when a small group meets that certain types of folks would want to check out. Like parents interested in parenting from a Spiritual side. Or individuals interested in spiritual movement. . . or meditation.
What I’m saying is there is more here than just what happens on Sunday mornings.
How does “Telling Others about the Church” work in our members lives? Many folk feel uncomfortable talking about their church to others; they feel they’re pushing their beliefs on people.
If something great happens here and you share it with a friend, you just shared a part of your life, that’s NOT pushing your beliefs on anyone.
We have had friends of ours that came to church because we shared our experiences. Some became life-long UU’s / others couldn’t relate. Either way it’s good.
Keeping our faith a secret; NOT GOOD.
So that is the 5 starting items proposed by me and Michael Durrell that can motivate us on the road to Spiritual Maturity.
They work for church bodies and the bodies that fill the seats each week. This is not something that happens overnight, but it is something that can begin anytime (like the start of a new year) and unfold over a period of years.
Let’s check in again next year at this time and talk about the scenery.
If it looks different, it means we are moving down the road...