Seeds Are the Harvest

Sarah Richards
February 26, 2017

Seeds Are the Harvest

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? These are some of the fundamental life questions we ask ourselves to discover, or uncover, or recover our identities. It’s no wonder that the song version is very popular, practically an anthem of UU youth. If you were here for the High School-led Sunday Service last week, you got to hear from four of our youth exploring different aspects of their identities (if you missed it, their reflections will be posted on our CUF webpage to read). Whether you were a UU youth or not, if you can remember those formative years, you can probably remember your internal – as well as external questioning of your roots, your unique place in your family, peer groups, the community, and contemplating what direction you would take within and beyond those groups. Quite likely, the answers to those questions have changed in the intervening years, but they remain part of your identity today. The questions, too, remain relevant. This morning, as we focus on our corporate identity as the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, I invite you to reflect on your identity as a Unitarian Universalist, and as a member of this covenanted community.

Where do we come from?

We come from free thinkers – our roots are mid-17th century puritans who came to New England to practice their beliefs free from the hierarchical authority of the Church of England. As one contemporary UU puts it, “our spiritual ancestors arrived here ready to embark on a new congregational experiment in which people attended by choice rather than decree, where freedom of thought and belief were paramount, where the way people treated each other became more important than whether or not they all believed the exact same things.” I’m going to repeat that last part, because it speaks to our own situation over four hundred years and over a thousand miles away:

“…where the way people treated each other became more important than whether or not they all believed the exact same things.” Because of this perspective, these Congregationalists were big into covenants – spelling out how they would treat each other being more important than spelling out what to believe. UU minister and historian Alice Blair Wesley gives us an example, put into modern English, I invite you to read it with me:

We pledge to walk together
in the ways of truth and affection,
as best we know them now
or may learn them in days to come,
that we and our children may be fulfilled
and that we may speak to the world
in words and actions of peace and goodwill[i].

This essential vision and practice of our faith, this seed of covenant, has been planted and harvested over the generations, and demands our utmost efforts – stewardship in its broadest sense – to keep it strong, healthy and alive. In the early 19th century, Unitarians reasoned that as God gave humans intelligence and inquisitiveness, the power of science should be applied to religion, and to scripture. Universalists reasoned that as God is loving, He would not doom his children to eternal suffering; all souls are saved. Both of these free thinking stances were branded as heresy, a label that didn’t hinder Unitarians, Universalists, and seems to only encourage Unitarian Universalists. The acceptance and value of learning, changing, and ever-evolving identity is why UUs refer to theirs as a “living tradition.”

Although we consider those early Congregationalists, and the later Unitarians and Universalists who branched off from them as our spiritual ancestors, our Carbondale congregation was not established by a pioneer minister from New England. Its founders were all lay people, and as far as I can tell, none had been born and raised Unitarian, though a few had been members of other Unitarian churches. These founders were part of the mid-20th century Fellowship Movement growth strategy of the American Unitarian Association. One description notes that:

“Many [fellowships] began in heartland towns where universities were located, reflecting a growing interest among well educated Americans in individualism, humanism, and social activism…. [sound familiar?]

They attracted people who were interested in a strong degree of participation in their local religious community. [The original strategy was] not to bring these groups under any form of denominational control, but to “facilitate their birth, (allow) them to find their own identity, develop their own style, and produce their own leadership.[ii]

In 1978, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fellowship’s founding, a “Bond of Union” was composed, which concludes with this pledge:

As one small family in the larger fellowship of religious freedom, dwelling also in the midst of the heavens, carried on our mother, the earth, encircling the great life-giving sun, attended everywhere by our humankind, who, whether friendly or alien, are brothers and sisters to us, we join in these pledges together:

To love our neighbors, to respect their rights, to search and serve their needs;

To love and preserve the earth, her fragile beauty and fostering strength;

To love that Fullness which has established us in life, which fulfills us in joy and truth, and will receive our deaths. There be the glory and the power and the praise, world without end!

So this is where we come from: free thinking Christians, free thinking humanists, free thinking earth-lovers, a people of diverse theologies, multiple sources of wisdom, and common principles.

Turning to the second question: What are we?

Well, like our congregational forebears, are a covenanted community – last spring, two covenants were drafted at our Congregational Retreat. I invite you to read the affirmational covenant along with me:

We are the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship

With compassion we honor our whole selves, each other and our beloved community.

With intention, we choose to walk together in fellowship.

We seek truth and growth together, nurturing each other’s spirit and sense of reverence.

We respect all individuals and strive to create a world where all are treated with love and dignity.

We believe all people have strengths and wisdom, and are able to contribute to our faith community.

We give action to our faith through service and the pursuit of justice in the wider world. Every act of service, lovingly performed, matters.

We value diversity in its many forms and welcome with open minds and hearts, all those who come among us.

So covenant is an important affirmation/declaration of identity, but the question what are we is really about what we do – we are a people of “deeds, not creeds” as the old saying goes.

I recently read through reflections from former members of the Fellowship who had been invited by our own Russ Trimble to send their memories on the occasion of the 40th anniversary in 1993. Here are a few excerpts – I wonder if you hear some similarities with your own experience:

When I moved to Carbondale with my 3-year-old son…in 1971 to start graduate school, I wanted a spiritual home, a church. …I’ve attended more churches than I can remember during my life, but Id only met one or two living, breathing Unitarians and I’d never been in the doors of a real Unitarian church. So one Sunday morning I put on my best graduate student clothes and approached that old church. Holding [my son’s] hand as much for my comfort as for his, I wondered what I’d find inside.

What I found was love. What I found was the only church I have ever been in that was full of unconditional love. It must have been an ordinary Sunday morning to everyone else, but to me it was extraordinary. People actually introduced themselves to me. Someone asked me to sit with them. By the end of the service I was nearly in tears…because I felt so unconditionally accepted.[iii]

And another wrote:

I remember how daring I felt in 1958 when I called Lenore Brooks and offered to teach a Sunday School class in response to an appeal in the bulletin. I remember wondering if I’d fit into this Carbondale group, having only attended church once or twice, and a potluck supper once. Lenore not only welcomed me, she invited both of us over for a dinner party. So did Mabelle Moore, and later, Joyce Bottje. These three became truest friends in no time! I was assigned a wonderful RE class….Then I was invited to a [Women’s] Alliance meeting! Laura Wieman and Claribel McDaniel gave me a ride and dropped Ann McDaniel off so she could baby-sit for me! I felt privileged to be included in such a warm, friendly and enlightened gathering….[iv]

Both of these experiences express part of our CUF identity as welcoming; modeling the love and acceptance, the attention to how we treat each other. In our behavioral covenant – adopted by the congregation last spring along with the affirmational covenant that we just read – we say,

“We welcome newcomers with warmth and kindness. We commit to building our relationships with each other, with patience and forgiveness, interacting with others as they are, not as we imagine them to be. We will lovingly support one another on our spiritual paths, as we continue becoming our best selves.”

To return to the reflections of 1993: the last excerpt I’ll share contains some advice still relevant nearly 25 years later:

A fortieth anniversary allows us to be retrospective. It allows us to congratulate ourselves on a job well done—and be assured, folks, this is a job well done!! You have much to be proud of. But it also allows you to dream of what can be. Now is the time to dream big and plan big and place markers in a future life line. Look around you and see who you are, see where you are, dream where you want to be.
Laugh at your mistakes—for there were undoubtedly a few. Cry for happy and cry for sad—for there [have] been both along the path. Listen to your life stories and build new ones[v].

The author digresses here to tell about lessons she’s learned from listening to Country and Western music, with a favorite line, “I could have missed the pain but I’d of had to miss the dance.” She concludes, “That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? Those of us who are UU—involved in a small religious denomination—who work to give birth to and nourish the life of a small (or large) church or fellowship understand about the pain—and the dance. None of us would have wanted to miss this dance just to miss the pain.[vi]

What is our dance now, in 2017? We are reaching out – growing – new members, new interfaith, community connections. Last night, many of us attended the Dialogue Dinner hosted by the Carbondale Moslem Center, yesterday morning, some of us attended a new member class. This morning, some of us met to talk about plans for our grounds, tonight, some will gather for the Awakening Heart Dharma Buddhist meditation. And those are just some of the many different steps in our dance inside and outside of this Fellowship building within 48 hours—each one, to shift the metaphor, plants seeds for our future.

Which gets us to the last question: where are we going? Seeds are the harvest – all those who came before us planted and harvested seeds. What we do now plants seeds for our future, future of CUF. Our youth who led us last week – they harvest the seeds planted in RE, and they are planting seeds for us, and this Fellowship’s future. We are now entering into stewardship, our theme this year is “Planting Seeds of Change” – making our financial pledges to carry out our mission – which is another way of expressing our identity as a covenanted community. Feel free to join me in reading our mission statement:

Create a spiritual home for our congregation to be:
A light to welcome the community
A space to amplify the value of all activity within
A center to celebrate life in all its diversity, richness and sorrows

Empower our congregation to:
Educate one another, both young and old
Enlighten and challenge one another to grow spiritually, intellectually and socially
Discover and create a caring, supportive and healing environment endowed with a sense of religious roots and wings

Encourage our congregation to:
Share our beliefs with others
Become an active presence in our community for the common good

Become an active presence in our community for the common good – that is the part of the mission that I feel must be privileged in these times that challenge each of our core principles, and that demand we step up and speak out. We’ve already begun this in earnest, even before we made the heart messages that led to our exchange with the Sufi community, and the Dialogue Dinner with the Muslim Center. Because I believe that our mission is critical to not only our own congregation’s thriving, but for our larger community,

I have decided to increase my pledge – my hickory nut of hope, to 7.5 % of my income. During the coming month of the stewardship campaign, I encourage all of us to think about what you have harvested as a part of this congregation, and what seeds you want to plant for its – for our – future.

Friends, where do we come from? – a line of generous heretics with loving hearts, whose successes we emulate and whose mistakes we learn from – if we pay attention. What are we? Flawed community that aspires – hopes to be better people, and make the world a better place. Where are we going? Well, to quote one of our previous planters, “Now is the time to dream big and plan big and place markers in a future life line. Look around you and see who you are, see where you are, dream where you want to be.[vii]” Let’s gather our dreams, our hopes, our financial seeds for planting.

Amen.

[i] Wesley, Alice Blair. Reading 223 in Lifting our Voices: Readings in the Living Tradition. Boston, UUA, 2015, p. 74

[ii] Cornish, Alison, and Jackie Stewart. “Faith Like a River” Tapestry of Faith curricula, 2010. http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/river/workshop16/178925.shtml accessed 2/23/17.

[iii] Ardinger, Barbara. “Unitarian Love” in 1993 Memories, unpublished collection of the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, collected by Russ Trimble.

[iv] Hoshiko, Rose. “For the Fortieth Anniversary Memory Book” in 1993 Memories, unpublished collection of the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, collected by Russ Trimble.

[v] Madden, Patsy Sherrill. “Words for the Carbondale Fellowship on the Occasion of their Fortieth Anniversary. March 28, 1993.” in 1993 Memories, unpublished collection of the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, collected by Russ Trimble.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.