Spring Forward (Spring 2009 Canvass Sermon)
March 29, 2009
Rev. Jane Page
When my children were very small, they enjoyed being picked up and held by adults occasionally. You know how little toddlers will raise their hands and say, “up – up.”
And of course, I would pick them up and give them a big hug. Now they are both very tall men so they have to pick me up. But these little toddlers would also do the same with their other Mama – who was my mama. My mama – being older and wiser – knew that to bend over and pick up these little creatures might hurt her back. So she would give them some instructions. She would hold their hands and say – “squat and jump”. And they would SPRING into her arms. In fact, they made a spring out of their bodies by focusing and concentrating their leg muscles and energy all together then releasing them. I gave the same instructions the other night when Jean (Heather’s Kalb’s precious little girl) was at our campfire gathering. I was going to pick her up and told her to “squat and jump.” She must have heard that before because she knew just what I meant.
And that’s what I’m encouraging us to do with this theme of “Spring Forward” here on this fine Spring day in 2009. We are in a position where we are going to need to make a jump – a leap! And we need to focus and concentrate – squat and get ready (if you will) so that we can SPRING. Why do we need to leap?
Because we are in transition now between what experts refer to as a “family church” to a “pastoral church.” Arlin Rothauge identified four church size categories that are now frequently used by many of the church growth and development experts: The family church, the pastoral church, the program church, and the corporate church. He and others have found that transitioning from one size to another requires the clergy, the leadership, and membership to make shifts which can be difficult if they have become accustomed to working from one model for many years.
The family church usually has a matriarch and /or patriarch – sometimes there’s a little polyamory and there are more than a couple of folks trying to serve this role at one time. Now some of you can probably go back and tell you who served in these parental roles through the years. In a family church, there are fewer than 50 active congregants. These are often lay-led, and if there are clergy in the larger ones of these, the clergy often serve part time. The clergy members who serve these churches are not usually seen as leaders but as the folks that bring you the occasional Sunday sermon (when it’s their Sunday to preach) and perhaps visit you if you are in the hospital. There is usually a high turnover of clergy at this level as they either upset the real leadership in the church or they find full-time employment in a larger church. The successful family church (not necessarily one that grows but one that is fulfilling a family mission) provides nurturance for members similar to what one might find in an extended family structure. And the Moms and Pops can handle many of the big responsibilities of the family with the other family members pitching in with all the chores.
The pastoral church size is identified as one with from 51 to 150 active participants. The needs of a church this size moves beyond the family model. A leadership circle, made up of the pastor and a cadre of lay leaders, replaces the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Family Church.
And that is where our transition is – between the family church and the pastoral church. Now in other denominations with different structures for reimbursing clergy, a pastoral church would have a full-time pastor. But UU churches do not receive any assistance to pay a minister from some central funding location. Plus, while Unitarian Universalists are generally above average in their incomes, they are often way below average in what they give to their churches.
So folks – you’ve got a minister who serves “half-time” – or at least one who is paid at the bottom of the half-time scale for UU ministers. I’m not complaining. I love this ministry and obviously I’m not doing it for the money. But I’m just sharing how it is. And this half-time situation is probably the way it’s going to be for a while. But our ministry doesn’t have to be one that is fulfilled only by the person with a ministerial degree. At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, we have an opportunity – indeed a responsibility – to have a shared ministry. Now we’ve had that to some degree already of course – with folks pitching in to minister in many ways. But we’re growing and this idea of shared ministry needs to grow as well. So we’ve got to squat down, focus on what our capabilities are in terms of our treasure, time, talents and thoughts – and get ready to jump or “spring forward” to a level that can be nurturing and spiritually alive and meaningful for all of us – from the babe in arms to those nearing the end of life’s journey. And that can help us to make a positive difference in this community and, indeed, the world. YES WE CAN!
Some say that our covenants together as Unitarian Universalists necessitate shared ministry.
Beverly Shmra, a UU district consultant states:
“The congregational covenant that is central to our association as Unitarian Universalists is that we promise to one another our mutual trust and support. This promise recognizes the relationship of congregation to congregation and, within each congregation, from congregant to congregant.”
Yes, indeed, we are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keeper.
And listen to this quote from the chapter entitled, “Our Ministry” in the Unitarian Universalist pocket guide:
“As people of faith, our ministry involves taking care of one another, maintaining an emotional and spiritual connection throughout life's changes. As we engage in mutual ministry, we feed one another. And in so doing, we are able to turn to lend our succor to the world. Our pastoral presence, our religious education, and our social action are all grounded in the ministry we give to and receive from one another."
(Sing) “From you I receive. To you I give. Together we share – and from this we live.”
Of course one thing we give in our efforts to share in this ministry is our money – our Treasure. Money is a difficult subject to talk about – especially in uncertain economic times. But we are all realistic here. And we know that many aspects of our shared ministry need to be supported financially. Now fortunately, most of us can do this at some level. The question becomes – at what level?
So here’s my obligatory canvass joke:
A 100 dollar bill, a 20 dollar bill, and a one dollar bill meet up at the shredder at the end of their lives. The 100 says, "I've seen the whole world during my lifetime. Why, I've been on cruises in Caribbean, safaris in Africa, and vacations in Europe." The 20 says, "Well, I've not done quite as well, but I have been to Atlantic City, Disneyland, and Starbucks." They both turn to the one dollar bill and ask, "How about you?" The one, not wanting to be outdone, says, "I've seen the whole country as well. I've been from church to church to church..." Then the 100 asked, "What's a church?" (Author unknown)
Yes, we do mention money in our sermons about once a year – even in UU churches. UU folks sometimes jokingly call their minister’s canvass sermon, “The Sermon on the Amount.” But at least we are not selling indulgences. (And have you heard – indulgences are making a comeback in the Catholic church.) But no, you can’t buy your way into heaven here. In fact, we don’t want you to purchase or buy anything. Those are consumer terms. I go to Burger King and I buy a veggie burger. I consume it. It’s actually pretty good. Now I hope the Burger King doesn’t go out of business because it’s one of the few places I can go when I’m on the road and know I can get a pretty good veggie burger. But I’m not heavily invested in any way in Burger King. I’m just a consumer there.
Because our society is a consumer society, we sometimes think in those terms when we come to church. You say you paid $3 for a good cup of coffee at Starbucks, then $3 should cover that good cup of Fair Trade coffee you get after church here. You pay your babysitter $6 or $7 an hour – well then I guess you should throw some in for the excellent religious education your children are receiving. You paid $8 at the theater to watch a mediocre movie, well its worth something to see what Jane Page might just say or do on Sunday morning, and you know you’ll hear some good music from the fellowship singers. So throw some in for that as well. Heck, now that I’m adding this up – we might come out BETTER if folks treated us the same way they do a business. But folks we are not a business. And hopefully, you do not see yourselves as simply consumers. We want you to invest in our fellowship, in our vision and our dream.
How much should you give? I’m not one of those preachers who tell you to send your tithe (10%) as a seed that is going to be returned to you in great financial or heavenly rewards. Now some folks do tithe to their churches as a spiritual practice. And we honor that. But we also know that many of you give to other charities including our UU service committee and our association as well; and that some of you are not in a financial position to give that traditional percentage. Therefore, I appreciate that our association has provided the Giving Guide that you received in your canvass packet that gives some recommendations based on both your level of involvement and your ability to give financially. And this guide – which is just a guide to assist you – is progressive in terms of how the recommendations are computed. That generally means those who have greater income will find a bigger percentage recommended. I found this guide to be very helpful in my own determination. I consider myself in the Visionary category – that’s one who is committed to both the present and future growth of this fellowship. So I determine UUA’s recommendation by looking under that category to my level of income. Now for the current pledge, we all should divide our annual amount in half – because we are canvassing for just 6 months this time, as we transition our fiscal year to one that matches the calendar year. If you have questions concerning your pledge that you want to discuss with our treasurer, Cynthia Frost, or with me, please do. And please know that if anything changes in your financial situation in this unusual economic environment, you simply need to contact our treasurer and she will readjust your pledge and our budget accordingly. We are not the electric company. We will not “cut you off” if you are laid off and can not pay. In fact, we may provide money from our discretionary fund to help you keep the lights on. We are here to support each other.
We are also canvassing for your Time. And we’ve asked that you all serve on one of our major committees. Now the joke is that trying to organize a bunch of Unitarian Universalists is like herding cats – because we are all such independent thinkers. But we are also folks who are creative and who can share ideas, modify them with others, compromise, plan and organize. I’ve heard that some of you don’t like committees. Well folks, this is not a hierarchical church, with everything handed down and prescribed. We are a democratic body. And we are no longer that family church that can successfully function with a few folks managing everything. And the more folks who become involved through our committee structure with helping us reach those wonderful goals that we lift up in our principles, the more likely we are to succeed.
That great Unitarian James Luther Adams said:
“We live not by spirit alone. a purely spiritual religion is a purely spurious religion; it isone that exempts its believers from surrender to the sustaining, transforming reality that demands the community of justice and love.”… “(One) tenet of the free person’s faith is that the achievement of freedom in community requires the power of organization and the organization of power.”
In addition to sharing your time, we’ve asked you to identify particular talents you are willing to share on our volunteer form. We’ve listed lots of roles and responsibilities, but you may think of other possibilities you can offer. Write them in. We did not get this form from the mountaintop – carved in stone. Tell us what you can offer us and how you can help us to build this beloved community. We will listen.
In fact, this year, we really WILL listen and react soon to what you share. I’m suggesting and hoping the board approves that we have a committee night in May and invite all those who have volunteered to come and meet together and decide how YOU want to work as a committee. Do you want to elect a chair or co-chairs? Go for it. Do you want to subdivide into separate committees with the chairs of these meeting together occasionally – hey that’s fine too. Do you want to take turns with some of the responsibilities or have one person assigned? You decide. And the committees are to give guidance for how we all can participate in these areas. Just because Susie doesn’t sign up for the RE committee, doesn’t mean she’s not willing to teach that adult RE class in her area of interest or share some responsibilities for our Children’s RE? And just because Sam doesn’t join the Social Justice Committee, doesn’t mean he won’t help decorate the truck for the MLK parade or help with a special project for migrant workers. Your committee can provide the structure so that the rest of us will find it compelling to participate and grow our souls.
The final “T” in our canvass is our request for your THOUGHTS. And we really do want these and I promise you, they will be read and considered carefully by our board members and by me. Those things that have been meaningful to you in the past will hopefully not only continue but be enhanced. And your suggestions for the future will stimulate and motivate our planning.
I don’t know if you folks realize it, but next year will be the 25th anniversary of our charter with the Unitarian Universalist Association. I’m looking forward to planning some celebratory and commemorative activities with you. And those of you who have been here can be really proud of what you have done. But you know, those of you who have come more recently are very blessed as well to have arrived at this place in this time of transition and opportunity.
I arrived at this fellowship at just such a time. We were transitioning from rented space to this home of our own. What an opportunity to come into a fellowship at such an exciting time and invest my time, talents, treasure, and thoughts. And I must say, what I have gained from my relationship with this beloved community of Unitarian Universalists cannot be measured. It is too great.
If UU ministers gave altar calls, this is where I would say, “Brothers and sisters, close your eyes, raise your hands, and make a commitment to this faith and this fellowship.” (I guess that’s the recovering Baptist in me.) I won’t do that. Instead, I ask you to SQUAT – focus and concentrate on what you can invest for our future, then fill out the forms, drop them in the box, and leap up – “Spring Forward” with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.