February 22, 2008
From May through October our worship faces north, into the woods, but in the bright bareness of winter all the chairs face west. That north wall of the UU sanctuary in Muncie is all glass (at least for a third of the way up). The east wall of the room is brick with three spaces for doors and one half the brick is hidden behind a wooden set of screens on which we have displayed the early history of our church (1859 to ~1900). On Wednesday we took out several back rows of chairs and made a “U” of chairs on the south side that opened to a labyrinth. One of my talented lay-leaders took brown paper bags, added sand and tea-lights and arranged them in a meandering line that began in the south and ended in the center with a small “loop” of about seven luminaria. That night, when we turned off most of the overhead lights, the room was beautiful. After some readings, a song and a little homily (about how life looks like a maze when we begin, but more like a labyrinth when we look back on our journey) we walked through the dark and silence; always keeping the little lights on one’s left. Thus we walked on either side of the line, in and out again. It was simple and elegant. To the north we could see reflections of ourselves walking beyond the glass out in the woods, like ghosts walking where the near full moonlight illuminating the snow and tree trunks. I have walked labyrinths in Oregon and New Mexico, Colorado and Ohio, on a bright clear morning and at sunset. Sometimes it is a simple, uninspiring act. Other times such walks get me thinking, or they awaken in me a sense of harmony and peace. Sometimes they remind me of ancient earth-centered worship, other times of Christian pilgrimage to a Holy place, or the Sufi ‘journey to the beloved.’ Of my three favorite labyrinths all were temporary. The first I made in the dry grass of a West Texas winter with lines of corn-meal. The second was made of planters and lights on a high hill overlooking a river. The third was in the Muncie UU Church Sanctuary this past Wednesday night. The only sorrow for me was that there were so few people there to appreciate it.
February 14, 2008
I am not interested in appealing to Generation X, or any other generation for that matter. I am aware of the “Gen X” lable, but I don’t trust it. Instead we have several Young Adults in our congregation and I work to pay attention to them as individuals and keep them involved as long as possible. I pay attention to the most recent blips in popular culture and make references to them, but only because I find it interesting. In sermons I rarely introduce a name or event from more than ten years ago without briefly explaining who that person or event was not because 20 year old people will not remember, but because 40, 60 and 90 year old people might not remember. I tell stories as illustrations in my sermons about people of all ages and pay attention to how inclusive I am, sometimes changing gender or age or ethnicity of the characters if it adds something to the illustration. When I tell “Children’s stories” to the little ones who come up front I remember that I am speaking to every child within every person in the congregation. I don’t try to appeal to just young parents, or some generalized “Gen X” group or create a “UU Emergent” service. I and my leadership include young adults as best we can, and encourage them to create their own support groups, knowing that some will move away in a matter of months or years and might never return to any UU congregation, while others might end up living in Muncie town for the rest of forever. The current leaders of the church were attracted to the creativity of Rev. Drew Kennedy in the 60s and 70s, but they were not targeted as a ministry category and it was not just his ‘post-hippy style’ that kept them around all these years. Instead, Drew did good ministry, cared for the people in a time of many congregational deaths, and spoke lasting truths. I think ministry is best if it is not targeted to a labeled group but given to people in all their diversity.
February 7, 2008
Last night we held a Universalist Ash Wednesday service. Rev. Derek Parker led the service and included some interesting remarks on the history of Unitarian and Universalist ambivalence about the day. For example Main and New Hampshire sometime ago set aside the day as a holiday, but called it “The Day of Fasting,” rather than “Ash Wednesday.” He also noted that many Universalists would mark their hands rather than their foreheads with the ashes, because it fit more with Jesus’ advice that we not “disfigure our faces” like the hypocrites when they fast, and because it was a more visible to ourselves rather than to others as reminder of our mortality. Derek focused on the theme of mortality, which was all the more poignant because I had just read that afternoon the text of the sermon in which Rev. Forrester Church announced that his cancer had returned and he would likely not survive its ravages. It was a very fine service, especially the moment when Derek spoke to each person who participated by name, saying “… remember that from dust you have come and to dust you shall return,” or something like that, then he spontaneously asked me to mark his hand and I had to speak the words I had not memorized. It was a meaningful moment, sad and happy, more peaceful than anxious. But what impressed me most was the fact that out of a congregation of 250 only seven people attended this service. Despite all I have done to include Christianity clearly as a living part of our tradition, not just an ancient root, the congregation remains “post-Christian.”