Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Busman’s Holiday/Minister’s Vacation #2– Sunday worship, July 15

While my pal Bruce was bringing his prophetic and heartfelt message to the flock at home (“Who Gets What:  Economic Inequality in America), I went to church at the smaller congregation in rural New England where I had done my seminary internship about 17 years ago.

Linda and Ed picked me up in the city; we got there early so they showed me the “new” building the congregation had bought a few years back and renovated.  It’s a former convent or monastery, with a lovely rectangular chapel and a decent-sized and bright fellowship hall next to a kitchen that’s too small to cook a meal for 150 adults (but not too small to heat up or refrigerate some of the potluck dishes).  Their capital campaign had a goal of over $300,000 and raised about $800,000.  The main level includes a library/meeting room, nice administrative office, and minister’s corner office; one of her windows looks out on a nearby pond!  The RE rooms were downstairs, but they opened onto a ground level since the facility is on a hill.  There is a long hallway with floor-ceiling windows outside all the classrooms, whose windows let in a lot of that light. Right outside is a playground, and you can see the pond.

Of course, a congregation is not a building, no matter how nice it is.  Linda told me on the ride there about the major losses by death of some beloved elders:  Joan and Elsa, both of whose husbands were there.  I was very choked up to think that they are not here anymore.  Linda also reminded me that her youngest is now 32 and a tattoo artist on the West Coast–how could that be:  he was only 16 just a couple of years ago, wasn’t he?  Here’s a bit of UU diversity for us to ponder:  Another kid from the church recently got married; she’s in her 30s.  Again:  How could that be; she was just a teenager.   Her mom told me she owns and runs a gallery for local artists in another town and makes jewelry.  Her husband is in marketing for an adult video (etc.) store, and they attend a nearby UU congregation.  The mom (his mother in law) works as an advocate/social worker for women who have been abused sexually or physically, so this is a challenging juxtaposition in the family.  Another mother told me about her four grown kids, one of whom is a son on his Mormon mission in another country.   The others are UUs or nearly UUs, but this one didn’t feel enough at home in our religious culture, and became a Mormon (while attending college at a major progressive university founded by Universalists).

The sermon was given by a lay leader in the church, a  young mother of two-year-old twins, a preschool teacher and permaculture farmer.  It was about mindfulness, the practice of noticing, thinking without words, observing what is and being gentle with ourselves.  Very nicely done.  This church has the practice I don’t like of–early in the service– inviting visitors to rise and introduce themselves.  I did so, since Linda would have done it for me if I had not.  I said it was good to see some familiar faces again.

I had noticed on arriving that a young heterosexual couple and two little children were there for the first time.

Though they had gotten name tags for all four, they did not rise to introduce themselves.  (And, nicely, the service leader said that all those feeling shy about standing up were welcome to stay after service for some ice water and conversation so the congregation could get to know them.)  I was disappointed to learn that there was no RE class or nursery care on summer Sundays, though a family could leave the service and go down and tend their own kids in the nursery).  One of the kids couldn’t handle much of the service, and mom left with him.  Dad stayed with the other, occasionally trying to get him to be still.  I felt uncomfortable knowing that they had made the effort to check out a spiritual community as a family but were not having an easy time of it.  I wanted to talk to them after service, but it seemed strange for me–another visitor–to say “thank you for being here today,” or “we’re glad you came.”  But after the benediction I did introduce myself to the dad and told him I was a family minister at another UU church.

“Is this your first time here?”  Yes, he said.  I responded:  “It’s a major undertaking for a family with kids to get out of the house to be at services and visit a church, and I admire you for making the effort.”  He said thanks and “We’re glad we came.”  They didn’t rush off, the mom and other kid came upstairs, and the lay preacher’s two twins came in and added to the mix of toddlers.

I was surprised to realize how much I care what kind of welcome families receive when they visit our congregations.  Whatever the reasons they decide to make the effort, the reasons are significant ones and their visits to check us out are a precious gift.

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2 Comments so far
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What is the major university founded by Universalists?

Comment by Marypat Stadtherr

Hi, Marypat. Tufts University was founded by Universalists, and it had a Universalist theological school (Crane Theological School) until the mid-20th century. On my trip I visited St. Lawrence University, in Canton, NY. It’s thriving and has a multi-faith chaplaincy and religious life programs for students. It was founded by a Universalist minister and also had a Universalist seminary. It’s now non-denominational. Read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crane_Theological_School

Comment by Pastor Cranky




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