Peace, Fellowship & Spiritual Growth
REFLECTION by Chris Montani, Service Leader, July 17, 2019
A number of years ago during my first time serving on the board of trustees we decided that we needed a sign to put on the fence. So I found a sign company, worked out the wording with the minister and other church leaders and had two signs made up. Being a former business student I thought we needed a “tag line” for the sign and added the words “Peace, Fellowship and Spiritual Growth” to the bottom of these signs.
I thought this summed up the reasons to be here at First Parish. Come find peace, friends and grow your immortal spirit. Or for those less inclined find quiet time, people to chat with over coffee and recover from your most recent emotional crisis.
Peace – Fellowship – Spiritual Growth
Truly we could say we are here for capital PEACE, a type of peace that comes from deep contemplation and detachment.
We could say we are hear for great FELLOWSHIP – as great as the fellowship depicted in Tolkien’s great epic that includes hobbits, elves, dwarves and men in the “Fellowship of the Ring”.
We could suggest that we are hear for subline SPIRITUAL GROWTH to attune to the divine as only each of us can know individually.
But as unitarian universalists it is more likely that we have far more reasons than these simple words. In fact I have often said – where 2 or 3 Unitarians gather, there are 4 or 5 opinions!
So why are you here?
Do you come out of guilt and shame? Is it a feeling of dread over some past sinful action that drives you to seek the face of God, or find forgiveness in the words of another member of this congregation?
Do you come out of sense of hopelessness? Do you worry that your life has no meaning and you seek consolation that being a member of First Parish will validate your existence and provide you a reason to be?
Do you come out of sense of obligation? Is there a lingering sense of ethical duty that crawls inside your psyche requiring that you show up and do you best?
- Now don’t go running for the doors quite yet. There are plenty of other reasons people are here….
Do you come as an expression of hope? Is this community a lifeline for yourself and the people you love?
Do you come as an expression of Joy? Are you surprised by feeling of deep contentment and explosive happiness when you reflect on your journey in life and its cross section in our humble space?
Do you come to be part of this family, this congregation, this broader community? Is it the unforeseen challenges and consolations of many intimate relationships that you build here:
in coffee hour deliberations,
in committee meetings,
in community events,
at social events, or
by just bringing a sick church member some flowers?
- Truly these are all good reasons for being here today and every other day of the year.
For my part I come here for many reasons. And honestly, those reasons have changed over time. When I was younger I missed going to a church and being part of a community that was in service to God. I was raised Catholic but could not reconcile my fragile identify as a gay man with a church that viewed me as inherently disordered, or more plainly – sinful. So I stopped participating in Catholic services except for family events. Eventually, I found Arlington Street Church. This UU community worked for me as an introduction to our denomination, but it never felt like home. One December my friend Gene Navias was scheduled to preach here at First Parish Dorchester. I came to hear him preach and basically never left. Soon after Victor Carpenter began his interim ministry and I was hooked, became a member and joined committee life! So I came here and it felt like home, and here I have remained.
I think I remained for the chance to reflect on life each week, for the friends I have made over the years, for the chance to be useful and help keep our congregation vital. So there is not one reason, but many reasons why I am here.
So I ask you… not for a single reason… for there are likely many reasons you are here… so if you like please call out your reasons in few words… let us be together and understand each other a little better by understanding these varied motivations.
PAUSE>>>> LOOK AROUND THE CONGREGATION… >>> acknowledge their words
Here we are, each on a journey that is both personal and public. We come together in community to share ourselves, our joys, our sorrows, our achievements and our failures… we are all here for our own reasons and somehow we find a reason to be together.
Ours is an interesting congregation. We don’t assemble in unity of voice. We don’t have a creed. We don’t enforce a particular ritual behavior. We don’t assent to a common hierarchy, cosmology, metaphysics, ethics or theology. Essentially we are an assembly of individuals seeking something more than our own opinion. We might be characterized as the misfit toys in some holiday cartoon or we might claim that it is our diversity that makes us great.
Let’s reflect on that line for a moment…
“our diversity makes us great”…
It’s not our unison that achieves greatness but our harmony, our cacophony, our joyful song and our joyful noise… we are many voices but we claim brotherhood and sisterhood as members of this very unique, particular congregation… right here in our own neighborhood. Our congregation is a microcosm, a proxy if you will for our greater society and while it sounds grandiose… it is a proxy for our world… in the words of the great urban planner…
Jane Jacobs “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”
(Article “Downtown is for People” from Fortune Magazine 1958)
We are that people.. we are the congregation, the parish, the Meetinghouse neighborhood, the Dorchester community, the City of Boston, …. And as such we are also the World…
Once again, let’s reflect on that line for a moment…
“diversity makes us great”… is this true?
What’s the point? If we can’t agree on anything why bother? We don’t have a creed to share with the world. We don’t claim to know an absolute truth. We don’t claim to have “God on our Side”, …well maybe some UUs do… but I think most UUs remain suspicious of churches and religious organizations that claim to have God on their side. After all, we are men, how can we be sure what is from the divine?
I have come to understand that we are not a community that judges, but we are a community that aspires. We aspire to be better people. We hope to heal ourselves, but more than that we aspire to help others. So we act on service, not creed. In fact, in helping others I believe we are healed. That is the nature of religious practice – by helping another we are bolstered, strengthened and helped.
So let’s focus on Diversity again. I say that diversity makes us great… and that is the point… despite our varied backgrounds, varied experiences, varied reasons for being here we find that there are things we do agree on… as a Unitarian Universalist Congregation we share common principles and purposes… perhaps we should take a moment and look at those – they are right in the front of your grey hymnals.
>>>>>> Let’s take a moment and open our Grey Hymnals and find the principles and purposes…
>>>>> Read any one of these… just one… there is no right one or wrong one… just read one
Do those words resonate with you in some way? Have you noticed that sometimes the principle or purpose that works best for you changes over time?…. Even our own reasons for being here changes over time… There in lies a signpost of our journey…
Our reasons for being here change over time. That is growth, perhaps, or that is living… we adapt and our needs, desires, motivations remain in flux as we live… as we love,… as we find our purpose or our shadow in how we live our lives… This place and this congregation becomes our sounding board.. it helps us hear what is true and identify what is hollow about our individual realities.
Deep thoughts for a Sunday to be sure….
So let’s remember… I started with a chat about Peace, Fellowship and Spiritual Growth.
We reflected on our reasons for being here
I asserted that it is our diversity of reasons for being here and our diversity of opinions that makes us great….
What do you think… is there something about your being here which call you on to greater being? What do you aspire to? Is there something you can offer that might spark a change or spontaneous joy?
One might look for sign posts on our journey. These sign posts are little bits of insight, traces of gratitude, kernals of hope that slip past our masks, our filters, our biases, and leads us forward to a new understanding. In my journey I have occasionally had a moment of transcendence where I felt an atonement with the divine… it was a sense that I was experiencing an external confirmation that I was doing the right thing for the right reason at the right time.
Atonement, At one with… It’s a wonderful feeling… I hope you have noticed these sign posts on your journey and that you can be reassured that you are learning and growing, achieving and just being… the person you can be…
While it is not mine to say what is right or what is wrong for you. I can’t even sort that our for myself all the time… but our closing hymn offers a simple guide in our journey… a guide post of LOVE.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me I value your fellowship, the peace we make in this place and the opportunity for spiritual growth.