A Sermon by Rev. Carol Rosine
May 22, 2016
At The First Universalist Society in Franklin
Reading: from Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Perry
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.
Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the –moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life…. But once in a while, as I’m merrily swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swing toward me. It’s empty, and I know in that place in me that knows, that this “new trapeze bar” has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the last, well-known bar to move on to the new one.
Each time it happen to me, I hope (no, pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of knowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep on hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It is called transition….
On Thursday I went into Watertown for my Exit Interview with Regional Staff. This is routine for all ministers who are leaving a settlement, but because I have had a successful first settlement, the exit interview was also a first for me. It turned out to be a first for the minister interviewing me as well, because all of the other interviews he’s completed have been for short-term ministries, at least short-term in comparison to mine. The standard questions didn’t really fit a ministry as long as mine, so he finally just let me ramble on and on about my 29 years here.
I told him what it was like when I arrived here in the summer of 1987 and all the rapid changes that occurred in those first years, all stories that most of you have either lived through or at least have heard. I told him about the decades of homelessness for this congregation and the often frustrating process that took years as we were searching for land and trying to disentangle ourselves from a mortgage that we still held on a school that had once been our meetinghouse. If you don’t know the story, ask one of the old-timers about the headline in the paper that read “Church Forecloses on School for the Learning Disabled.” Contrary to what’s happening in the media today, we found that any PR is not necessarily great PR!
And yet we kept growing and eventually we were in a position to purchase this land. Capital Campaigns, Sacrificial Giving, volunteer work crews to renovate a house that stood over there (point) and other crews that cleared underbrush. Working groups to figure out what we wanted for a home of our own. Hiring an architect. Meeting in small groups to talk about our collective vision. And finally bulldozers to take down trees in order to create space for us to build on, and an endless line of dump trucks bringing dirt that would elevate our building site by 5-6 feet so that our pond back here would stop creeping onto our building site when it rained. Some of us remember driving onto the property in order to access our offices and sinking into ankle-deep, boot-sucking mud. There was such excitement during those years, so much pride as we watched this sanctuary take shape. We were doing it! We were actually doing it!
Until finally it was the spring of 2001, time to carry our sacred objects down the magnificent staircase at Dean Hall for the last time, objects like our chalice, our brass candle sticks, our hymnals, all those things that had helped to create worship space in Marvin Chapel over the years. Our intention had been to carry them into this space the next Sunday, but instead some of you will remember that our occupancy permit didn’t come through. So worship was held in the parking lot on asphalt that the day before had still been soft. Thank goodness the night before it had been dry and cold so none of us became permanent fixtures out there, mired in black sticky asphalt.
And then there was the grand dedication, two weeks after the events of 9/11, when we scrambled to get ready for all the dignitaries who would be arriving. A wall in the foyer had to be dismantled in order to lift the pulpit through the windows because it wouldn’t fit through the doors. (Yes, it is here to stay.) This wall had to be built and the windows installed. We had to figure out how to hang Judy Swaim’s chalice quilt. People worked late into that night before the dedication and finally we were ready. We had done it. God only knows how, but we had done it. And then there was the Miracle Sunday when we raised $250,000 in one day in order to put up the shell of the Religious Education wing, and a few years later, another smaller campaign to raise the money to put up walls and create classrooms and offices. All of these stories have become part of our collective story, a story that we need to keep sharing.
During the first 20 or so years of my ministry so much of our attention was on building a home of our own. We had such a desire to reclaim our position as a visible presence in the town of Franklin, a presence that had been securely hidden at the center of the Dean College Campus. We believed that our liberal religious spirit was needed in this town and the towns that surrounded us, because it was a spirit that had the potential to transform lives, save lives even. We knew that what we were building was not just for us and our families, but for the strangers who had yet to find us, for those who would be coming after us. Our congregation had been founded back in 1856 and it was up to us to be good stewards of the congregation right now, so that it would survive into the future.
In recent weeks I’ve been reading the sermons that I wrote during my early years and have been struck, not only by how good some of them were (!), but also by all the important things we were talking about and doing that had nothing to do with building a home of our own.
We started talking about becoming a Welcoming Congregation for gays and lesbians back in 1988, that’s 28 years ago. Some of you will recall that we went through a whole process of educating ourselves about homophobia and eventually we voted, as a congregation, to become an official Welcoming Congregation in the UUA. This was the period of time in which the AIDS epidemic was decimating the gay community and yet when an AIDS Counselor arrived in Franklin and opened an office he was told that his services weren’t needed here because Franklin didn’t have “those people” living here. This was about the time that Denise Noble led an attempt to start a FRANAGLY here in Franklin, a support group for gay and lesbian youth. We were told by the administration at Franklin High School that our FRANAGLY pamphlets could be put in the desk drawer of a school counselor, but would be given only to those students who explicitly asked. Just think how far we’ve come since then.
It was in March of 1989 that we observed our first Environmental Sabbath in which I preached on the poisoning of our air, water, and food, the dangers of our dependence on fossil fuels and the Greenhouse effect and Global Warming and we’ve been focused on environmental issues ever since. Some of you will recall the Recycling Caravan and our Trash Eating Dragon in Franklin’s 4th of July Parade when we handed out information on recycling. Yes, that was before recycling was happening here in Franklin.
It was in 1989 that the Berlin Wall came down, that the First Intifada happened in Palestine, that priests were murdered in El Salvador by those trained at the School of the Americas by the US military. We prayed for those living under apartheid in South Africa, for all the unrest in Poland, Columbia, Cambodia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, and Guatemala.
It was in 1988 & 89 that I began preaching about sexism, the use of inclusive language, and sexual stereotypes. I preached about racism and poverty, inadequate health care, and even death with dignity. By 1991 I was preaching about addiction and my serious concern about the Rise of the Radical Religious Right as well as the increasing proliferation of Hate Groups across our country. By 1992 it was about reproductive choice, family values, and the way in which world views were colliding. In 1994 we helped to bring The Clothes Line Project to Franklin where this visual representation of Domestic Violence was displayed on the lawn of the town library. We joined the Interfaith Council in challenging the display of the crèche on the Town Common and we demonstrated at the Franklin town hall in protest of skin head activity here in Franklin. We led an anti-racism march, an action that eventually led to Franklin being declared No Place for Hate. And we even sponsored a display of family diversity portraits entitled “Love Makes a Family”, a photo display picturing gay & lesbian families, single parent families, 3 generation families. That display was over there, where the art wall is now, on the day that we dedicated this meetinghouse, 15 years ago now.
And so, what I discovered in re-reading many years worth of sermons is that even if we were focused on a home of our own, we knew that other things were happening in our lives and in our world. Because most of you were new to Unitarian Universalism, I kept preaching about our history and beliefs as well as our understanding of God, the Bible, Evil, why bad things happen to good people, what happens when we die. I kept preaching about grief and loss and fear and joy and even the importance of laughter. We celebrated Christmas and Easter and the Jewish High Holy Days and Thanksgiving. We began each year with a water ritual and ended each year with a flower communion. But I also kept preaching about bigger issues happening in our society and in the world. So many of those isms that continue to plague us today.
At Ferry Beach last weekend, someone commented that my retirement was marking the end of an era. And so I guess it is. My mind is boggled by the enormity of this journey we’ve been on together. But now the time has come for a transition from the past into what the future will hold for those of you who will continue to be faithful stewards of this beloved congregation. I still have a firm grip on my trapeze bar although I know that an empty one with my name on it is heading my way.
As Danaan Perry said in our reading, that new trapeze bar is “my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the last, well-known bar to move on to the new one…. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar….” It’s a bit frightening to let go of what has been familiar for so long, and I admit that this is what I’m feeling right now, and yet I trust that I’ll grab hold of that new bar and go swinging off somewhere wonderful into the future.
And so it is for all of you, my dear dear ones. You, too, are letting go of what has been and will be swinging off into the future with your new ministers. But please, take the stories with you. Share them with those who are yet to come, because if they are to truly take their places among you, they need to know where this beloved congregation has come from. They need to be told Our Story.
(Response if there is time: last week during worship at FB reminisced about the 29 years we’d been going there on retreat)
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