Cultivating Community

© by Rev. Alison Wilbur Eskildsen

Centering Thoughts:

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others. Albert Schweitzer

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. Coretta Scott King

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world it is best to hold hands and stick together. Robert Fulghum

Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued. Brené Brown

Reflection:

Where you sit is holy ground.

Holy means set aside from profane activity, reserved for great purpose, separated from common use, and sacred to people or to some divine image.

We set aside this sanctuary for our gatherings and our worship, and I call it holy because you bring your whole selves to this place. You bring your hopes and dreams. You bring your struggles and fears. You bring your joys and sorrows. You bring your halos and your warts.

Although you arrive here as individuals, once you enter and sit down you become something more. You become part of a community. And by participating in a community, you lose some of your individualism, but gain meaningful connections.

In this sense it is not unlike getting married or becoming a parent. In marriage you make promises to care for another. Wedding couples commonly promise to be present “in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad”. You don’t lose all your individuality, but for the good of the partnership you make occasional sacrifices and compromises. And, as we witnessed this morning during our Child Dedication, when you become a parent you promise to care for a new life, and more than occasionally you make sacrifices for a good beyond yourself.

Holidays like Mother’s or Father’s Day are valuable because they’re opportunities for us to show gratitude to those who gave us life or cared for us during childhood. For most people, these are happy holidays because most parents do an adequate job raising us.

But for some, mothers or fathers are not alive, and their absence may cause sadness. For some, mothers or fathers were never present in their lives, and that causes sadness, too. Even as we celebrate the best mothers or fathers, we must acknowledge the complexity of parental relationships.

So rather than lifting up motherly virtues this morning, I want to look at how one of the roles typically carried out by a mother or father—that of caregiver—is reflected within our Fellowship family.

Like new parents, once you become a member of the Fellowship, we promise to take care of you to the best of our ability. We do this through the individual connections you make with others here, as well as through our Pastoral Care program. Pastoral Care encompasses personal, emotional, and spiritual support.

Our Fellowship covenant, located on the back of your Order of Service, calls for this care. Specifically, we promise to know you, to listen deeply to you, to be respectful and kind to you. This includes hospital and home visitation, limited counseling, occasional meals or rides, and even some bedside singing by choir members.

In addition to me, Pastoral Care is provided by the Rev. Dr. Don Randall, Pastoral Care Coordinator Susan Ponsoldt, Fun & Fellowship Lay Minister Carol-Lee Baker, plus Team members Wendy Lamb, Kathy Mason, and Dennis Rice. We meet monthly to share notes about who is receiving care and who needs care. In addition to those on the Pastoral Care Team, we have geographically-based Care Rings with Coordinators who help organize our response to some of these needs. Care Ring members also socialize during the year so that you know one another. Loving your neighbor is easier when you know your neighbor. Because of our Fellowship’s size, it’s critical that so many volunteer. Since I can’t possibly meet every person’s needs by myself, I am truly grateful, as are those who receive your care and attention.

Before becoming a Minister, I received some of my home congregation’s pastoral care. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer several people stepped up. They didn’t take me to doctor or chemotherapy appointments, they did something better. The night before I was scheduled for chemo, we gathered for a party. We called ourselves the Wild Women and a certain amount of wine flowed during our gatherings. Rather than focus with dread on my upcoming chemo session, these parties gave me something positive to look forward to. My UU friends helped me feel alive and cared for at a time when death’s shadow loomed. Happily, that shadow disappeared, but the experience motivates me to be present when others struggle with life’s challenges.

I’ve noticed though, that sometimes people slip away from their community when they face personal challenges such as the death of a spouse, loss of a job, or when a marriage ends in divorce. Sometimes we’re not even aware of your challenge. At a time when supportive community might be most helpful, when pain shared might be pain lessened, some choose to suffer or deal with the challenge alone. Retreating for a time may be necessary, but sometimes being away makes returning difficult. Please know you need not be alone.

I hope a fear of being judged doesn’t keep you away. I hope our concern doesn’t reopen wounds you’re trying to ignore. I hope you don’t feel compelled to wear a happy face and act as if life is perfect when it’s not. I hope our halos aren’t so shiny that you can’t see the warts we all have. No one is perfect. No one is without challenges.

Bringing all of who you are here allows the rest of us to be who we are, too. By seeing people’s vulnerability, and that we hold such vulnerability with love and care, encourages others to risk being their own authentic selves.

If we are to be a community, a family, we must be willing to share our struggles and ask for help when we need it. The flip side of that, of course, is that others must be willing to respond to that need. And true to our interdependence, at any moment we may become the one in need of care.

Again, I am grateful that many of you do respond. Over time, I hope you all respond. Because if we come just to receive, I think we miss an important opportunity. I think we need to feel needed. It feels good to give. The Tibetan Dalai Lama rightly advises, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

One way we learn what’s going on in people’s lives is through the time we set aside for Sharing Our Joys, Sorrows, and Milestones.  Unfortunately, this opportunity is not evenly shared. Some frequently share. Others never. For this reason, we added the Centering time for those who wish to keep their hopes or prayers private, yet wanted a ritual action to silently express them. It also gives children something to participate in equally with adults.

Recently I met with our youth while they planned next Sunday’s service. Several mentioned that when they were younger dropping a pebble in water was just something fun to do. But now they offer up a prayer or hope for themselves and the world. I was quite impressed. I hope you come next Sunday to hear more from our youth.

In late summer, we hope to experiment with a new way of doing Joys & Sorrows. To better balance participation and information sharing, we’ll introduce Joy & Sorrow cards. Full details are still being worked out. But please share your thoughts about Joys & Sorrows by sending me an email or dropping a note in my office mailbox. I’ll share them with the Worship Arts Committee—a name we’re also reconsidering. We welcome your ideas on that, too.

Like a garden or a family, a community needs regular cultivation and attention. Our young seedlings need love and care. Our elder plantings need love and care. And everyone in between needs love and care. Through all the joys and sorrows that life brings our way, may we be the community that loves and cares for you.

May your presence here continue to make this holy ground and may it welcome you for many years to come.

Questions for Reflection or Discussion:

  1. Have you given significant care to someone you are not related to, or received it? How did that make you feel? What prompted you to offer or accept the care?
  2. How have you created a sense of community or connection to the Fellowship and its members?
  3. Has there been a time you needed attention or care, but stayed silent? Do you regret that? Share.