Monday, August 26, 2019

Naming Our Journey preached by Reverend Tom Capo on 8/18/2019

Prior to the sermon I shared the questions I asked many of the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami in the past couple weeks and some of their responses.  
inherent worth and dignity of everyone;
 Justice, equity and compassion;
 Acceptance of one another
 Encouragement to spiritual growth;
 Respect for the interdependent web
 peace, liberty and justice for all
 All of them
Which of the UU Sources fills your spirit so that you can cope with the chaotic world we live in?
 Experiencing transcendent mystery and wonder
 the world's religions;
 Jewish and Christian teachings;
 Humanist teachings;
 Earth-centered traditions.
 Multiple Sources are profound and enlightening
 The whole set together.
 None, yet.
What social justice issue most calls to your heart? 
 Noticing people are more than default humans
 Our democracy
 treating other beings as equals
 Social Justice is a state of being
 Just Economic Community
 Climate change
 Women’s rights
 Reducing gun violence
 Helping people get a job
 Helping people with basic needs
 Racial inequity
 Voting rights
How does being a member of this church impact your daily life?
People here share similar values to mine;
 My friends
 my family
 my tribe are here
 Helping others here
 Being helped to develop a healthier moral compass
 Nurtured a more open and understanding world view in me.
 Being supported
 being cared for
 by members of this congregation
 It hasn’t affected my life, yet.
 Holding members of the congregation in my heart with love
 Their positive effect on my children
What was your most moving moment here at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami? 
Praying with people of color
 Little moments and memories
 Certain speakers
 The Memorial brick dedications.
 Celebrating life’s transitions here,
 child dedications,
 celebrations of life,
 renewing vows,
 Helping me grow as a person
Christin: Having Indivisible meet here, 350 people in this sanctuary
Imagine coming to this church five years from now.  Tell me about what you hope to see.
More people,
 younger people,
 diverse people,
 people of color,
 More families
 We are more cohesive and cooperative
 More welcoming
 More compassionate
 More contemporary music
 More involved in Miami-Dade community
 Being a liberal religious hub for the larger community
 Better use of our property
 More deep and soulful communicating
Imagine a Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami superhero. 
An open loving person
 Those who keep this congregation going
 A bubble of white light around the whole grounds
 Humble non-grandstanders who give more than they take.
 She would be Hispanic and tri-lingual
 Quiet effective people, making a difference in the world
 Their name would be friend because they are all of us
 The many unsung heroes here
 A Unitarian Universalist Miami avatar of our best selves.
 Someone who is
 and enthusiastic.

Some of you have asked what I think about this congregation and are ready for me to mirror back what I see here, and I will, gradually, over time because there’s lot to see, and a lot to understand.  However, I would suggest that those of you who feel overworked, disengaged, or burned-out take time for healing, rest, and reflection.  You are the heroines and heroes who have kept this congregation going, and maintained these facilities and resources under responsible care.   I call you heroines and heroes because that is what others in this congregation have called you.  Take time to rest and reflect.  I am here to take some of the load now.
          Some of you might know that I grew up Catholic.  I was very involved in the church.  I was an altar boy, went to CCE—Catholic Religious Education, completed all the sacraments asked of me: confession, communion, confirmation.  I was active in the CYO, a youth officer in the Diocese, and led retreats for Youth.  When I was in Junior High, I decided I wanted to be a priest.  I wanted to share the experience of feeling connected to something greater than myself with others.  I told my mother about my desire, and she said “I would prefer you didn’t; I want to have grandchildren.” 
And so being a good son, I put away that dream.  It went out of my consciousness, but not our of my heart.
          From then on I floundered in my choice of vocation.  I started down the path to computer science, but wasn’t really sure that was for me.  I changed my major 5 times in college and eventually chose psychology because my friends thought I would be good at it.  I was the one people came to talk to in order to reflect on their problems. 
          While a psychotherapist, I went many different directions.  Teaching, leading seminars, counseling, consulting, managing employees, designing inpatient and outpatient mental health programs.  All these were fulfilling experiences, but didn’t quite fill my soul.  In my late thirties, I experienced my call to ministry.  I could have approached this call with disappointment or regret, dwelling on how much time I hadn’t been able to live my call. 
Instead I reflected back on all the diverse experiences my work life and church life, and realized how much those experiences would underpin, inform, and enrich my ministry.
          In the weeks before I joined you, I centered my reflections around the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, and realized how many things we had in common, you as a congregation and I as second-career minister.  75 years members of this congregation set themselves on a journey.  A journey that at times may have not resulted in the most direct path toward a goal.  40 years ago, I too, set myself upon a journey that did not always result in the most direct path toward my goal.  And yet I walked in faith with purpose and intent.  I journeyed from the path, in hope that someday I would set my feel on it again.  You, too, as a congregation, have been walking with purpose, and intent, and in hope and in faith, and as a congregation you have come to the proverbial fork in the road.  And now you are ready to name your path. 
          I believe that once you name that path—
that road you are going to consciously choosing to take—you will find your past experiences, your connections, and resources will underpin, inform, and enrich your congregation. 
                   You heard some of the responses to the questions I put the congregation earlier in the service.  To say this is a diverse congregation would be an understatement.  But I did notice a few common themes.
          It is clear that you each feel very connected to this congregation and to Unitarian Universalism.  Many of you were able share stories of your connection to other people here, people who helped you and people you helped.  Also I was pleasantly surprised how many of you knew the Principles and Sources of Unitarian Universalism.  For those of you who are new, you heard many of the Principles and Sources when I was asking questions earlier in the service.  You will also find the Principles on the back of your order of service.  Most of you very clearly affirm and promote Unitarian Universalism.
The members of this congregation that I talked to so far find that the Unitarian Universalist Principles
help provide some moral guidance.  And some of you find that by living the Principles in this community, you have a more open and understanding world view in your everyday lives. 
Many of you stated that the most important, most foundational Principle of our faith is affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Think about that for a moment.  The people around you hold that their personal and your personal worth and dignity should be reflected in how we share our lives with one another.   And based on what I have seen and heard, affirming and promoting inherent worth and dignity forms a basis for the work that many people in this congregation do in the world to make it a better place. 
Every person I talked with had thoughts about the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, and most of you are acting on those thoughts—going down to Homestead to fight the incarceration of immigrant children, teaching English as a Second Language, teaching our children in religious education so that they will be grounded ethical and spiritual beings. 
Another common theme I want to reflect back to you is that many, if not most of you, have personal spiritual practices.  This is so important to the members of this congregation that you hired a person to lead a yoga group three times a week, you invited a person to provide a monthly sitar meditation, and you have had meditation and mindfulness groups for years.   You, my friends, are taking care of yourselves, in the face of the stress that affects you personally and communally.
Also, many of you are also taking the Principle of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning to heart.  Most of the people I talked with spoke easily about their beliefs, where they derived them from, and how they live those beliefs in their lives.  Many people here are embracing earth-centered traditions and nature to provide spiritual substance in their daily lives
          Many of you have had very personal, uplifting, inspiring moments in this congregation.  You heard the list of some of them.  You value your connections with each other.  You’re quick to offer help where it’s needed, and able to receive help when it’s offered.  You’ve had deep affirming, inspiring, spiritual moments that still sparkle in your hearts, years after they occurred.
          So here’s the last question.  How do we pool all these diverse experiences, thoughts, and feelings to help you name a path forward? How do we distill moments of success, moments of connection, moments of spiritual nourishment to discern a path forward?  For me the path led to the vocation of ministry.  For this congregation, the path you name to guide you forward will be grounded in your beliefs, experiences, values, resources, and connection with one another, your past and present, with an eye toward the future. 
Reflecting on the answers to the questions I asked can help you focus.  For what we focus on becomes our reality, becomes how we share our lives with one another, becomes our impact on the larger community and becomes our future.

          What I am inviting you into as a congregation is a deep engagement with the answers to the questions. I asked these questions so that you might begin envisioning possibilities.  But here’s the thing, this process of naming a path will take you, as many of the people of this congregation as possible, to talk and to listen to one another.  These discussions will lead into something--a provocative proposal/a vision/goals/dreams.  I will help facilitate these discussions and mirror back some of the provocative proposals, visions, goals and dreams, until a path is named. 
 “The point [of this process] is to involve as many congregants as possible in remembering the power of the blessings of the church, [reflecting on what these blessings] have brought them, and from their hearts, to project those blessings on to who will come after them.”  (In the Interim: Strategies for Interim Ministers and Congregations by Barbara Child and Keith Kron)
          Questions might arise throughout this discernment process like: “How is what we name consistent with our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources?”  “How can our past be remembered and honored as we move into the future?”  “How will this new journey, vision, dream become a reality in this congregation?”  “What will we need to let go of to move forward?” “ What new ways of being together will we need to try on, then live? “
Bart Frost (5 Things I Learned in (almost) 5 Years) who served as the UUA Youth and Young Adult Ministries wrote: “Of course, there’s a balance of tradition and innovation…Traditions for traditions’ sake isn’t useful pedagogy, especially when no one knows the stories. We can carry our ancestors while still dreaming up new rituals and new traditions that meet our needs and are meaningful to us today.” 
I don’t know the stories of this congregation and I would guess there are many here who don’t know them either.  So how will you decide which stories and traditions to carry forward?  I encourage you to look to the heroines and heroes of the congregation and share their stories with new people who join us.  I encourage you to look at the traditions and ways of governing this congregation and ask what purpose have they served? Are they still serving that purpose?  Are there new ways to serve that purpose?  With the people we have here now today, is our governance model still effective?
Change can be scary.  It can feel overwhelming.  But I tell you today, you all have all you need to name a new path forward.  You already have all you need to walk that path successfully.  This community has the resources, connections, and experiences needed for the journey ahead.  And you have a minister who will walk with you, encourage you, inspire you, and remind you of the path you have named.  I will hold the safe space you need as you innovate.  I will reflect back to you the stories of those who came before you and the traditions and governance that has held this congregation together, even as you create new and different ways to embrace the journey that calls you forward. 
Naming your journey is the first step.  You “are called to be sailors; for many worlds exist waiting to be discovered. And not the least of these worlds are within ourselves [and within this congregation]. It takes as much persistence, courage, and curiosity to look into our own depths, … to see ourselves in new and larger ways without being dishonest about our limitations…” ("It’s Not Easy Being a Unitarian Universalist" by Charles Magistro) Let us continue the naming process, and let’s take these first steps together, arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder.

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