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!

(Sing)
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!

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