Paths, Destinations, and Crossroads
A sermon delivered by Myles Crowley
Anniversary Sunday, March 18, 2018
On Anniversary Sunday, we usually express gratitude to our spiritual ancestors who founded this congregation. But I don’t recall that we’ve ever acknowledged the people who built the ship that brought this church from England to these shores. –Or the people who stocked and sailed the ship. It’s important to remember all the labor that went into creating this great congregation.
When Reverend Tricia invited me to speak today, I did not hesitate. I couldn’t do this every week, but on an occasion like this—our 388th anniversary—I couldn’t resist!
I also didn’t hesitate to speak because my 15 minutes of fame are almost over! My two-years as Board chair will end in June and I have one more year of a three-year term as one of your Trustees. Then I will fall back and someone else will fly forward to serve. I know that my journey in leadership was made easier because my predecessors—most recently Jenn and Mary, and let’s acknowledge the crucial support of their spouses—Chuck and Ana—and I promise to help the next generation of leaders. So when the Nominating Committee reaches out to you this spring, please consider serving in an elected role!
This congregation is great because of the many remarkable individuals who give so much of themselves to this organization, but also to other groups in Dorchester and beyond. When individuals come together in common purpose, amazing things happen.
Thank you, Tricia for asking me to speak. I am grateful to all who are present this morning.
These past few years, we have been on a path that has not been easy. My grandfather would say: “Holy Christmas!” It’s been rough! Transitions are difficult. We agreed to do some internal work. –To grow from the inside out in areas of right relations, governance, and financial sustainability. Revising our by-laws was a huge accomplishment. And there’s more to do in each goal area including an objective appraisal on how our property assets can support our mission.
We are also entering a search process for our next settled minister that is expected to take until spring of 2019. It’s an exciting plan that will require attention and participation from all of us. If we commit to seeing this through together, I expect our relationships will be stronger and our congregation healthier and more cohesive.
One of the reasons that I came to First Parish in 2005 was to find a community that might transcend Dorchester’s boundaries and divisions. That’s our potential. And when you consider the past 15 years, First Parish has certainly been on a trajectory towards connection, openness, inclusion, diversity, relevance, and vibrancy. In the next 15 months, we will be mapping our future. I hope you will all join us on this adventure.
Now, please indulge me in some more global, more blue-sky thinking as I am now in this high pulpit! As we map our future, I hope that we look outward and consider what First Parish represents and what is it for?
Is First Parish a path, a destination or a crossroads?
What do we say is our over-riding purpose to people who don’t think they need this fellowship?
Certainly, years ago church was the center of most peoples’ lives. People went through all the phases of life from birth to death often in one church or one denomination and likely one geographic location. Dorchester is a complex, diverse, large and ever-changing neighborhood. It’s a place of constant motion. Many folks have choices about the route their lives will take and whether to belong to a church or not.
What was your entire path from birth to here today? Did you pass through other cities, other states or other countries? Did your spiritual journey involve other faith traditions, spiritual practices, personal quests of discovery or none at all? Where do you dream of travelling—geographically, intellectually and spiritually? Are you a wanderer, worshipper or lover of leaving?
In preparation for this day, I brought in a world map and I asked you to place different colored dots on the map to show:
-Where you were born, with a green dot.
-Where your parents were born, with blue dots.
-Where your ancestors are from, with yellow dots.
-And with red dots, 1 to 3 places you would like to visit outside the United States.
The map will be on the stage during fellowship hour if you would like to mark your journeys.
I should point out that this is a Peters Projection map. Most of us are familiar with the Mercator projection map that showed Europe or the U.S., in the center, and other countries in the northern hemisphere as larger than the southern hemisphere. The Mercator map was created during colonialism.
“On Peters’s projection, by contrast, areas of equal size on the globe are also equally sized on the map. The map was promoted as ‘fair to all peoples.’
About the map, one teacher said: “Don’t we want people to have more accurate understanding of the world and our relationships to others in the world?”
And as ‘Seekers of Truth’, we too need an accurate understanding of the world—past and present. We must recognize that our church was built on stolen land that was occupied by other people when our founders arrived in 1630.
Now to my second question: Is First Parish a destination?
My family did not go to church. My mother believed that children should choose their religion when they grow up. So far, I’m the only one out of five that has found a spiritual home. Statistics show that “Nones”—those with out any religious affiliation may out number church go-ers. And churches lose members each year. But if we are to believe The Reverend William J. Barber, and I want to, there is desperate need for a moral revival in this country.
Robert Reich, an academic and former government official similarly worries that “We are losing our sense of the common good.”
And as Emma González, a survivor of school shooting in Parkland, Florida said: “All I hear is mine, mine, mine, mine.” Are you tired of hearing: mine, mine, mine, mine? These are the words of two-year olds. Adults should be speaking about OURS, WE, ALL OF US, together.
Also from Reich: “Without binding notions about right and wrong, only the most unscrupulous get ahead. When it’s all about wining, only the most unprincipled succeed. This is not a society. It’s not even a civilization, because there’s no civility at its core.”
There are those “whose hearts can hear a different call.” Who want to live a new way. We need to find them and let them know that our fellowship is here for them and their children.
Last Sunday, as our worship service was ending, I received an unexpected text from my niece.
“Hi Uncle Myles! Quick question. Is your church a UU Church?
I texted back: “Yes.”
She replied: “Cool! I’m on my alternative spring break trip in Iowa and we visited a UU Church here and were part of the service.”
“That’s great. Was it a big congregation?”
“Yeah pretty big, they have a really modern building, it was really cool.”
My niece is a first-year student at an excellent college in Maine. She also went to a better Boston Public School. (She’s a smart kid.) In high school, she decided to become a vegan, which means she does not eat food made with animal products. Her research into veganism sparked an interest in U.S. food systems and environmental science, subjects of her alternative spring break near Iowa City. My niece and her classmates also participated in a worship service on “Food, Faith, and Community” at a UU church.
Over the years, my niece attended First Parish Dorchester events such as a Me and My Gal Dance, an Easter Egg hunt, a square dance. She was here for Steven’s and my wedding in 2007. A few other times, she came to church when I was babysitting her. As she sat patiently in the pew with me, I knew she was bored. I worried that our worship services and fellowship hours didn’t communicate who we really are.
What I often forget is that time together is the most important gift we can give each other and especially our kids. Being present with each other is what counts. If you find meaning and purpose as a Unitarian Universalist, your kids, your relatives, your friends, your neighbors will get the message. But it doesn’t hurt to tell them straight out that You [Heart] First Parish Dorchester! [Hold up button with these words.] Personal connections grow congregations.
And look, she’s here today! Welcome back, honey!
The UU congregation that my niece visited is so cool because it has a new, energy efficient, “green” building. A few years back, the congregation sold their historic urban church to a developer and bought a 6-acre lot in the suburbs for new church complex. One member told a news reporter: “It’s not about moving. It’s not about a building. It’s about being able to do what we’re called to do in the world.”
First Parish will not be building a new meetinghouse, any time soon! But we can build a new way. In the next 15 months, we will discern what our priorities will be when we begin our shared ministry with our new minister.
Is First Parish still a destination that attracts people? As a classic white meetinghouse on a town green it’s unique in Dorchester, but a common anchor in many New England towns. We’re even in a typical New England “square” that is really a triangle or a trapezoid or some other shape with many roads coming together at all angles and directions. Isn’t that a good representation of our congregation! (Unlike flat Iowa with all those right angles!)
And the spare, practical meetinghouse represents values of liberal religion, community, education and democracy that are much needed today. In many ways, being a prominent landmark is an asset—if people come inside. To me, our building is just a means to an end: of value as long as it supports our mission to be a spiritual home for all those who seek theological and cultural diversity, fellowship, justice and service.
And what about theological and cultural diversity?
We hear divisive, hateful words from our political leaders almost daily. The president calls other nations “Shithole Countries” and fuels racism and xenophobia. The words “A nation of immigrants” are being removed from government documents. US citizens are disinterested and ignorant of the rest of the world and it’s getting worse. With all this access to information you’d think we’d be smarter. We want our stuff cheap and we don’t care where it comes from and who gets hurt in the process. Our country has a long history of traumatizing people outside our borders, and we are doing it here more and more. Taking mothers from their babies! Arresting kids in classrooms1 Detaining immigrants in private prisons and forcing them to work with no pay! –And for what!
And what about me?
I have to call myself out: I didn’t want my niece’s parents to marry. I urged her mother, my sister, not to wed the man that she loved, a Guatemalan who came to the United States through Mexico. After the wedding, my new brother-in-law had to return to Guatemala and apply for official entry to the U.S.
I let my biases blind me. I didn’t see the ‘Spirit of God’ in this man who was on a path to a better life when he met my sister and fell in love. He just wanted a better life! I forgot my own family history: my Filipino grandfather who came to the US in 1928. When he met my Irish-American grandmother, there wasn’t really family to say don’t marry, but society shamed their union.
Where were you were born?
Where were your parents born?
Where are your ancestors are from?
Do answers to these questions REALLY matter?
These questions are wrong if they are used put people into categories of US and THEM. They’re wrong if they divide us and are used to diminish the humanity of any one or any group.
In 12 Step Programs, members go by first names only and share their experience, strength and hope. All other information detracts from the common purpose.
We could start asking each other: what is your experience, strength and hope from living in this interdependent world? That’s the kind of information we need today.
Here at First Parish Dorchester, we are on a path, but it’s not a fixed route. We are a destination, but much of our ministry could be outside these walls. We are SO welcoming, that if we were a tent, we would be open on all sides! Our next step could be deeper engagement with those who pass through this meetinghouse, even if they don’t stay. First Parish Dorchester is at a crossroads figuratively and literally. Maybe this is our strength. People meet at crossroads. Diverse stories are shared at crossroads. New ways are found at crossroads.
So what is our common purpose? What are we called to do in the world? I can’t say for sure. Let’s discover it together!
Thank you and blessed be.