Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To Reap the Harvest, Plant the Seed

Ric Masten’s song says: “To Reap the Harvest, Plant the Seed.”

My strongest memories related to the concepts of reaping and harvesting come from listening to the radio late at night when I was about 10 or 11. My parents gave me a pink radio for my pink room – and I would tune that radio in to WWNS every night and listen to the DJs play the latest songs. Of course WWNS was our local a.m. radio station here in Statesboro. Here’s some Statesboro Trivia: What do those letters stand for? It’s “Welcome – Where Nature Smiles.” That was the first part of the Statesboro Motto. The whole motto was: “Statesboro: Where Nature Smiles and Progress has the Right Away.” So I listened to WWNS – 12:40 on my radio dial till the clock neared 10 p.m. That was when the radio went off the air. Of course the national anthem was always played right before the static came on. But in Statesboro – right before the National Anthem – we heard the Sower – Michael Guido, from Metter Ga, “with a seed for the garden of our hearts.” The song that they played on that old radio program went something like this: (sing) “A seed from the sower, though small it may be – will bring joy and blessings – just try – and you’ll see.” Then Michael Guido would share some heartwarming story with us that taught us a life lesson. Now Michael Guido was a conservative Christian man – but his stories could be relevant for anyone of any religion. Later, he moved his Sower spots to television, of course. And he recorded these from Guido Gardens in Metter GA till shortly before his death in 2009. You can still see them on TV and watch them on the internet. I went to his site and clicked on the TV spot for the day – and low and behold – Michael Guido was sharing a message about a Unitarian – though he didn’t identify him as such. Actually – it was someone who identified as a Unitarian Agnostic. And this message – I thought was perfect for what we are trying to convey today. So I’ve brought it here for you.

(Play one minute Sower video)

Alexander Graham Bell wanted to help his sister who was nearly deaf – and in turn, he ended up inventing the telephone and helping us all to communicate more easily. This reminds me of our sermon discussion last week after Tina shared information about the Mabon celebration – or 2nd Harvest. Many folks discussed the idea that when we put forward good stuff, good stuff is returned. What you sow, you reap. You plant a seed and nurture it – and it will be returned many times over. At least that’s the way the farmers among us count on it working. The law of harvest is to reap more than you sow. And of course, this is true beyond the farm fields. James Allen’s famous quote is: “Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” And that’s what we hope is happening here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.

The first seeds of this congregation were planted 25 years ago – in 1985, when a handful of folks got together and decided that they would be the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro. They elected officers – and met monthly in their homes or places like the regional library to share and discuss matters of importance to them. Those few folks planted those seeds, and others weeded and watered and nurtured those plants – which are still bearing fruit – and WE are still reaping the harvest.

These and others worked to gain affiliation with the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1990 – and we have continued to nurture our membership in this association and our district association by paying our fair share dues and collaborating with other churches in many ways. Yes, these associational seeds planted in 1990 by wonderful folks – three who are still here – have born wonderful fruit, and WE are still reaping the harvest.

During the 1990’s the group met in a variety of rented spaces at Georgia Southern – carrying their materials in a boxes. But though they had no space of their own, they developed into a real congregation during that time – with worship services, and children’s religious education and music! They watered and weeded these programs for us – and WE are still reaping the harvest.

In 1998, they courageously decided to do what was necessary to have their own space – by meeting the president’s challenge to significantly increase their operating budget. That seed money – and the following money pledged to a capital campaign, and the many hours of dedicated work by these folks resulted in this wonderful home of our own which we moved into in fall of 1999 – and WE are still reaping the harvest.

And then in 2006 at its annual meeting, the fellowship voted to call me as their first settled minister to serve at least half time, beginning July 1 2006. The funds would come initially from our savings with the goal of increasing the operating budget within three years to fund this ministerial line. You, who were here, planted those seeds, watered and weeded, and nurtured that possibility --- and – you still have a minister, so We are still reaping the harvest.

And that all sounds great! But we find ourselves in this 25th year at an important time for making some crucial decisions. Here are seven factors to consider.
* We are growing and are attempting to make efficient use of our small space, knowing that we will need to change this space in the future if we are to continue to grow to meet the needs of our congregation.
* We are stretching “half-time” service of our minister far beyond the normal service of that label. We need to consider possibilities for moving toward 3/4 time in order to provide the many professional ministerial services we need.
* Some of our most faithful givers of time, talents, and treasures have moved away or plan to move soon. We will need to find ways to continue to do the good work that they have provided and supported.
* We have some exciting new programs for our children and youth and some faithful volunteers providing leadership. However, they will need our support and assistance to continue this good work and not face eventual burn-out. The addition of a part time professional director of religious education would provide strong leadership in this vital area.
* Our music ministry has great potential. Funding of part time leaders or musicians can make a vital difference.
* We are realizing what a strong liberal religious voice we can be for this community. We need to support those who “Stand on the Side of Love” with proper training for being leaders of this prophetic congregation.
* In association with other Unitarian Universalist congregations, we can make history – rather than just being pushed around by it. We believe that our principles are life-changing and world changing. We need to find ways to move this vision forward.

Here’s where we are! We have this wonderful garden – but the need for our fruit is great – both with those who are already here, and those who have not yet found this wonderful faith community. Are we going to be that old guy who builds a fence around his garden and says – “this is for me, my wife, my son John, his wife – us four and no more?” I hope not.

At our canvass time each year, we encourage you to consider providing a meaningful commitment for your time, talents, and treasure. As you do this, we remind you that our congregation is not some commercial enterprise where we come and consume our good fair trade coffee or consume by hearing a good message or consume by having our children taught our UU values. Yes, we do all those things. But there is something more than mere consumption going on here. This congregation is a faith community with a vision for changing ourselves and the world in positive, healing, energizing ways. And to do this, we all are going to need to move beyond a consumer mindset – and move to one in which we see ourselves INVESTING in this congregation and our vision for better selves, a better community and better world.

The Silver Anniversary Challenge
To honor the 25 years we have been together and to share in a commitment to our future, I suggested a challenge to our leadership and others who are in a position to make a significant increase in their pledge (fully realizing that some in our congregation are not in this position at this time). The challenge is to increase ones pledge by at least 25%.  Michael Durall (church consultant and author of Creating Congregations of Generous People as well as the Almost Church books we've been studying) says that the majority of Unitarian Universalists could double their pledges and not change the way they live significantly.  That may or may not be true -- but asking for a 25% increase should be doable for many of our folks. I am pleased to share that our all of our board members and finance committee members as well as your minister have met this challenge. We encourage you to consider joining us! And again, I fully know that this is a difficult time for some of you and you will not be able to do this. Whether or not you can join with this special challenge, we encourage you to give careful consideration to possibilities for sharing your time, talents, and treasures this year. So that our leaders can plan for 2011, we ask that you complete two forms for us.

The Pledge Card
In your packet is a UUFS Silver Anniversary Canvass Pledge Card. If you and other household members give as one pledge unit, you need to complete one card. Many do pledge separately, though, and will need to complete separate cards. You can email our administrator Shay Gibson if you need additional cards. Although the use of UUA’s guide (on the back) is optional, we do believe it is a fair way to determine your gift based on your level of involvement and your income level. If you are undergoing many hardships this year, you may not be able to give at the level that you would like to give. We encourage you to do what you can – and work toward that possibility in the future. While the giving guide is one way to determine an appropriate gift, there may be others. For example, one leadership consultant shares that he tells folks that their gift should be somewhere between their cable bill and their car payment! There is a blank on the card for you to share the total amount you plan to give in 2011. Please also let us know your planned giving increments (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.). And please know that if anything happens that would prevent you from meeting this commitment, you need simply to call the treasurer and share information regarding the needed adjustment. We look forward to many of our folks making meaningful, generous pledges in support of this faith community.

The Volunteer Form
This congregation is very dependent on our wonderful volunteers. We desire to truly have a shared ministry and invite you to participate with us. We ask that you select one of the committees to serve on in 2011 and place a check mark in front of it. If there are specific activities under ANY of the committees that you could fulfill, we ask you to check that as well. (Note: you do not have to be on a committee to be involved with these specific roles.) If you have talents or time to give in an area that we have not identified, write it in! We need you! Your gifts of time and talent will be greatly appreciated.

Returning your Card and Form
There are two possibilities for returning your cards and forms. You can put them in the envelope provided and drop them in the designated basket during a Sunday service, or you can mail them to our PO Box. For your convenience this year (and to save stamps), you can mail them back in the same envelope. We hope that you can return these within two weeks, so that we can use this information in preparing our budget for our Annual Meeting in November. I am SO enthusiastic about our future here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro and I hope you are as well! With your help, we can make a difference --- and dance together while we do it!

Let it be a dance we do,
May I have this dance with you!
In the good times and the bad times too,
Let it be a dance!

Oh, may it be so!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Learn to Follow; Learn to Lead

Note: This sermon was preached on September 14 and was the 2nd in the "Let it Be a Dance" series based on phrases from Ric Masten's song by that name.

It was the summer of 1963. Are you old enough to remember? That’s my cousin Ann with me in the bikini and her little sister Nancy in the picture on the wall. In addition to enjoying activities like swimming with my cousins at Cypress Lake, I was old enough to go to the dances held at the Pav-a-lon at the Recreation Center. No – I’m not mispronouncing “pavilion.” The name of this structure WAS “The Pav-a-lon” spelled P A V (dash) A (dash) L O N ” -- named, I suppose, by someone who could not pronounce pavilion – and it stuck. There was even a sign with the name at the entrance for a while – but it was stolen, I suppose, a while back. Anyway – back to the summer of ’63……

The dances were record hops, – with Ray Classens spinning the records LIVE on WWNS radio, 12:40 on your dial – while the teens danced the twist, or the mashed potato, as well as some slow dances. Tuesday night was for the younger teens and Friday night was for the older teens. So this was a Tuesday evening that I’m especially remembering. And I was very excited to be at the dance, sitting at one of the picnic tables with my gal friends, wondering if any of the boys would ask us to dance.

Then I saw that really cute guy who was in the class ahead of us. His name was Bill Hook – and he was so suave looking. I knew he probably would not want to dance with any of us “sub-freshmen” though – so I looked around to see if there were others – that I would at least approach if DJ Ray Classens gave us a “girls choice” dance.

Then it happened. The DJ put on a slow dance – and YES – Bill Hook came up and asked ME – “Plain Jane ME” to dance. I had seen Bill dancing earlier with another girl and he looked like he was a good dancer. And I knew I could dance because lots of the girls at the girls’ Happy Go Lucky club like to dance with me. So we should be good together.

We went out onto the dance floor and my heart beat rapidly. We started dancing and it seemed a little awkward – but I thought it was just my nerves, and maybe Bill just wasn’t that good of a dancer after all. Maybe he just LOOKED so good that I thought he could dance. Then he just stopped dancing – just stopped – right there on the dance floor and looked at me and said, “Jane – you are leading! I’m the boy – I’m supposed to lead! You are the girl. You are supposed to follow me.” Oh. OOPS! So I tried to follow Bill, I really did – but both of us were glad when the dance was over. And Bill Hook never asked me to dance again.

Now, I’m just going to put my feminist analysis of this situation (and all the possible sociological and cultural aspects that we could deconstruct) into an imaginary box here and tie that up and put it on a shelf – perhaps examining later. Because in reality – for that time and place – and with the rules in place for social dancing, Bill Hook was right! Yes, I had learned how to dance. And I had even learned how to lead, but I somehow had failed to learn to follow.

In Ric Masten’s song about life entitled, “Let it be a Dance,” he encourages us to “Learn to follow – Learn to Lead.” In the dance of life, it’s important to be able to do both.

There are situations in which I HAVE to follow – I can’t lead, because I don’t have the expertise or knowledge to do so. And most of us know what our limitations are – though we can work on those skills. For example, we are going to be painting the interior of our church soon, and our friend Gaby Howett, who is a professional painter extraordinaire, has volunteered to lead us in this venture. Now there are those of you who are skilled at this – and can more easily follow Gaby’s direction. And we will let you know when we need this help – so hopefully you can volunteer. I, myself, will probably offer the contribution of transporting people or materials – because I don’t know that I can even follow well enough in this arena to participate. But if I do try, I know that I will need to listen carefully, watch what she does, take it slowly till I gain confidence, and ask for help if I run into problems. Since that dance with Bill Hook, I’ve worked hard to learn to follow. And we do need good followers, don’t we?!

Now I know I need to follow Gaby’s leadership if I try to paint. But I also know that I need to step back and follow – even when I have some special knowledge or expertise. That’s hard for some of us who are extroverts, but it’s an important skill to learn.

But what about leading?

There have been mountains of research articles written on various paradigms or theories of leadership. And depending on who you are reading, these categories are given different names. This morning, I’m going to share some names for these categories that are commonly used across many fields and I’m going to be drawing and quoting from a 2008 article by Jing and Avery. I promise not to give you a long leadership lecture – this is just a little review of possibilities. (Note: Direct quotes are in italics.)

Classical leadership is probably the oldest paradigm with its origins in antiquity, and is still used in contemporary organizations…. According to Avery, classical leadership refers to dominance by a pre-eminent person or an ‘elite’ group of people. This leadership can either be coercive or benevolent or a mixture of both. In the religious world, the Pope is a good example of Classical leadership.

Under the transactional leadership paradigm, leaders adopt a consultative style for making decisions. They engage in different degrees of consultation with individual followers, but the leaders remain the final decision-makers. If you are in an academic department at Georgia Southern or some of job with a supervisor, your chair or supervisor hopefully consults with you on lots of matters – even if she has the authority to make the decision – or more than likely – the recommendation to the next level in the hierarchy.

Visionary (or transformational) Leadership has gotten much attention in the last few decades. Here, the leader (appears to have) high competence and a vision to achieve success. Followers… respond with enthusiasm and commitment…. The leader also consults with and empowers followers. A local Example that worked: Legendary Coach Erk Russell.

According to Avery, visionary leadership has limitations, even with the current literature’s overwhelmingly positive view of it…. The unrealistic expectations followers often place on visionary leaders can create disappointment if things do not work out. Also, followers can become dependent on visionary leaders, believing that the leader has everything under control.

Then there is Organic Leadership. Organic leadership allows for people with different degrees of expertise on current issues to emerge and be accepted by the group as leaders. In addition, under organic leadership, there may be no formal leaders and the interaction of all organizational members can act as a form of leadership, held together by a shared vision…. However, Kanter argued that the downside of organic leadership is that it… may result in loss of control and greatly increased uncertainty. A possible current example of this would be the Tea Party Movement.

So which of these works better? Well of course the research says: It depends!! One thing that it depends on for sure is the followers!

I was a department chair at Georgia Southern for 12 years. And for most of those years, I felt pretty good about what we were doing. The department started out with a small group of guys that were about to retire – so I had the opportunity to do lots of hiring as we replaced them and grew. My idea was to hire the smartest and best people that I could – then listen to them and advocate for them. And we were able to accomplish some great things. But the culture of Georgia Southern as a whole changed to one where that model didn’t fit too well. And eventually, I and some other chairs were called into the Provost’s office. We thought perhaps he wanted to hear out concerns. But no – he immediately let us know that was not the purpose of our visit with him. He told us that he brought us in so that he could explain to us what our job was. He told me that my job was – and I quote – “to take direction and give direction.” And just to make sure we got it – he said it two or three times. He added for good measure that we needed to learn that “the faculty is not always right.” Fortunately for me, I had already entered seminary and was on my way to preparing for the ministry. Because you see --- even if I COULD change my ways – and become that “overseer” and TAKE direction – then GIVE direction; I knew that with the faculty that we had hired in our department – there was NO WAY!!

Which of these leadership styles works best for our churches? UU churches with our governance of congregational polity -- go overboard with empowering folks – so it seems that no one can ever make any decision without some committee or board approving it. Growth Consultant Michael Durall warns us against following this path as he looks at the success of newly formed non-denominational churches and the decline of mainstream churches, including many Unitarian Universalist churches. In his book “The Almost Church,” Durall states:

Strong Leadership is the core issue that distinguishes newly formed independent congregations from established churches….. The question at hand is whether we limit the effectiveness of capable clergy, lay leaders, and church members via outdated practices, policies, and structures.

SO – though we don’t need the structure of the Pope – perhaps we don’t need the tea party either. Actually – one of the metaphors for leading and following that makes the most sense to me is the one that I often witness visiting and leaving our pond. The geese! Here are some facts and lessons from the geese compiled by former Baltimore Public School Superintendent, Robert McNeir. (

As each goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follow. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other's skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one's heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

I’m going to close this sermon by leading you in the chorus of a song by Amy Carol Webb. It can be our way of HONKING as we stand by each other, and lead and follow. The song is called “Stand.” And I invite you to stand in body or spirit. We can hum with Amy as she sings the verses and sing with her on the chorus.

I will stand with you! Will you stand with me?
And we will be the change that we hope to see,
in the name of love, in the name of peace,
Will you stand, will you stand with me?

When injustice raises up its fist,
and fights to stop us in our tracks.
We will rise, and as one resist.
No fear nor sorrow can turn us back!
(Repeat Chorus)

When pain and hatred churn up angry noise
and fight to drown out our freedom song,
we will rise, in one joyful voice
loud and clear and ever strong.
(Repeat Chorus)

When broken hearts come knocking on our doors,
lost and hungry, and so alone.
We will reach as we have reached before
for there is no stranger in this, our home.

I will stand with you! Will you stand with me?
And we will be the change that we hope to see,
in the name of love, in the name of peace,
Will you stand, will you stand with me?

Amen – and Blessed Be!