29 Years ago, I began an association that has been with me all my adult life.
I joined a Unitarian Universalist church.
Rita and I had been married only a short time and I wanted to check out a place I had read about for years (F.U.C.-Houston). Every time the Houston Chronicle wrote something about that place, it involved interesting people doing very interesting things.
After several visits, I decided I wanted to become a member of the church. Apparently, there was an index card in the pew you filled out, turned in, and that was it.
But that wasn’t for me.
I wasn’t joining anything without knowing a lot more about it, so I asked for a private meeting with the minister, Webster Kitchell. I explained that as far as I was concerned, joining a church was a big deal, and that I had magazine subscriptions that asked more from me than their pew card.
After a lengthy conversation about UU in general, and much more about the church and its direction specifically, I asked: “I feel like I am a Unitarian, but how do I know I am a UU?” I’m going to ask you the same questions Dr. Webster Kitchell asked me that very Monday afternoon in 1980.
WK: Do you believe we are all born with a mountain to climb?
WK: Do you believe there is more than one path up that mountain?
Webster Kitchell then answered; “You may be a Unitarian Universalist.
About a year later, Rev. Kitchell left the church for another job in another state. He came back a couple of years after that and gave a sermon with the same title as the one I’m giving this morning. . . He waited until it was safe.
We speak of ourselves as a people searching. As Bono sings: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Well, if you’ve only been with us only a couple of years let me assure you, you will – eventually – find what you’re looking for. You’ve got to stay alert to know when you’ve found it.
I understand why Web Kitchell came back to deliver the message he did to the congregation at FUC, he left the job as minister full of frustration.
The church was broke
There was bickering among various factions
Things were not moving forward
And while there were plenty of people who cared for and about the church, the 80/20 rule was in full force:
20% of the people were doing the work (and by that I mean giving a real pledge AND leading the committees).
80% of the people were complaining they weren’t getting enough from the church.
Or that the church was being lead in the wrong direction.
Did I mention the church was broke?
So, two years after his departure, our beloved Dr. Kitchell returned to give us his perspective on The Church’s One True Foundation.
The place was packed,
pens were in hand,
notes ready to be taken…
But I’m not here to talk about what he said. I have my own views on that subject. And they involve this church in this period of it’s history, and most importantly, all of you.
If I had titled this morning; The Church Building’s One foundation. We could point at the concrete floor, all nod in wise agreement, sing the last hymn and be done with it.
But you knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. Not much in the UU church is easy.
This is the church that challenges you to seek your path, build your own theology, and to be a light unto the world.
(quick) As well as make coffee Sunday mornings, join 2 or 3 committees; and make it to the Saturday work parties as often as you can…please.
So, no being UU is never easy. What about being a member of Northwest Community Unitarian Universalist Church? (Or FUUNCO?)
(A name so long that even by calling it by it’s initials, there are still twice as many letters as most abbreviations).
I have a new slant of the name; I propose we shorten it even further, to a new 2 syllable word: NW-CUUC. Say it one time: Nwa-CuuC. Sounds Native American, and it may be. We’ll have the church’s research department look into it.
Where was I?
I remember years ago when I first transferred to this congregation. One Sunday I mentioned to another member that my family had been attending the district Summer Institute for several years. He, being new to our faith had not heard of SWUUSI.
I explained we got in our car every August and drove to Oklahoma to spend 5 days with UU’s from 6 states to share learning, worship, and fellowship.
He got the strangest look on his face and replied “wow, that is really some sacrifice - to give up your vacation to serve the church!”
Enjoying the reaction, I muttered something about it being held at a resort, and it’s not so much a sacrifice as you might think.
For the past several years, our church, NW-CuuC, has been the leading congregation in attendance at SWUUSI on a per-capita basis. In the new promotional video filmed last July, many of our people are featured. I think this says something about the difference between the self-proclaimed UU, and someone invested in the faith.
Being engaged in our faith is very much a part of the culture here.
• We have asked for and received assistance from our District Executive, THAT is being a part of the bigger picture.
• We retreat to U bar U retreat center in the hill country one or two times each year. Our church members have completed decks, designed and built 2 labyrinths assembled 50 bunk beds one weekend, and so on. / / / So that you newbies don’t get the impression that all we do is work, there is a picture of me in napping position with drool running down the corner of my mouth on the website.
Many of us have had an active hand in improving U-U, and look forward to the next visit.
I would like to see more of our members attending the spring and fall district conferences. One was held just last weekend, the next one is in April.
These weekends offer more grounding experiences in the larger fellowship of Unitarian Universalist culture, and leadership training; An opportunity to grow among folks like yourself, who thirst for more of what it means to walk the path of the UU.
Being Unitarian is never easy. Being a member of any small church in our consumer culture is not easy.
A small church now meets in the space that used to be my piano shop. Rev. Jimmie, when he heard that Rita and I are members of a small church, congratulated me for having the desire to put myself in service when, like so many others, I could just pay my pledge and let staff take care of me as a member of a big church.
Don’t think for a minute I haven’t fantasized about that.
In fact, don’t think for a minute that I have not been where every one of you are, at this moment in your relationship with the church.
This is, in fact the nature of all long term relationships.
So if your current feelings about NW-CUUC are:
Apathetic or jubilant,
Discouraged or hopeful,
Full of the UU spirit or wishing you could burn the place down
Congratulations to you, you’re on your journey.
The Church’s One True Foundation is YOU. The people who are here for the long run, who invest their heart, reap personal rewards, (but sometimes don’t).
The people who work so hard that naturally they burn out. But instead of leaving, they take a break, come back and resume their relationship with a more balanced approach.
The people who get their feelings hurt because some big issue didn’t go their way. Who went home, licked their wounds, and after a time of mourning, sucked it up, returned, and slowly renewed their commitment to our mission.
We have been in existence 15 years now. We have had 13 presidents 15 secretaries and treasurers, 14 or 15 Religious Education chairs and 8 or 9 Worship chairs; these are people who,
when asked to serve,
asked to leave their comfort zone –
saw the request for what it was: an honor.
If you have ever served on the board as President; please stand and remain standing.
• If you have served on the board as treasurer or secretary; please stand and remain standing.
• If you have held the position of RE chair, or Worship please stand.
• Everyone now on a committee or have ever been on a committee.
Our respect for you and your accomplishments has led us to honor you with a request for leadership. They replied: “Sure I will”.
We thank you YOU are the true Foundation of this church.
There are people who understand the importance and ultimate necessity of financially supporting this church and it’s mission. They understand their options, and elect to be here with us, sharing a percentage of their incomes, because generosity is a part of their personal spiritual walk. It is who they are. We thank you; YOU are part of the church’s one true foundation.
Let’s step back to 1983 because now I’m going to share with you Dr. Web Kitchell’s observation about the church’s one true foundation.
I mentioned the conditions by which he left his position… there were people who used the building for their own special interest groups that frankly may have never set foot in the sanctuary. People vying for more control over how the church was run, etc.
So his take was that the folks who simply came to church, sat quietly in the pews and enjoyed the sermon each week; these were the real foundation of the church. And I ask you; do we even have a church without them?
In UU practice, we say not “I have found the truth”, but “I have found a truth”. The church’s one true foundation is the strength of many, who put themselves out, who sometimes come up short, but instead of quitting, rest, regain strength, and return to join their friends to resume the walk together. Folks who could be doing any number of other things with other people, but have chosen to join with us each week, each month, year in, year out.
I leave you with this: this church is still a place of pure potential: The potential to become our grandest vision of our highest aspirations. The cradle of our dreams, a workshop for our ideals.
Just as each day is another opportunity for us to get out there and do the right thing in our lives, your UU faith is here with a great tradition waiting for you to take your place in it.
If this sounds like you, we all thank you.
Opening: Turn Turn Turn
Middle: Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Closing: I Just Called To Say I Love You
Prelude: Try to Remember
Special Music: What a Wonderful World
Postlude: In My Life (recording)