Recording of our March 15 Facebook Live worship experience with Rev. Mandy
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), unless otherwise attributed.
We worship this morning from our separate homes, but we join with a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
Spirit of our Lives, move through us and among us. In our time of uncertainty, be our Rock of Ages. In our time of fear, be the Eternal One, Ruler of the Cosmos, who has kept us alive and brought us to this moment. In our time of hoping for single answers, be the One of 99 names: the merciful, the compassionate, the guide. In our time of doubt, be that which cannot be named. In our time of overwrought emotions, be the steady hand of reason and science. May our chalice flame be a beacon of hope and comfort in a world turned upside down.
“Forged in the Fire of Coming Together,” Gretchen Haley
What's going to happen?
Will everything be ok?
What can I do?
In these days we find ourselves, too often,
Stuck with these questions on repeat:
What's going to happen? / Will everything be ok? /What can I do?
We grasp at signs and markers, articles of news and analysis,
Facebook memes and forwarded emails, as if the new zodiac
Capable of forecasting all that life may yet bring our way
As if we could prepare
As if life had ever made any promises of making sense,
or turning out the way we'd thought
As if we are not also actors in this still unfolding story
For this hour we gather
To surrender to the mystery
To release ourselves from the needing to know
The yearning to have it all already figured out
And also the burden of believing we either have all the control, or none
Here in our song and our silence
Our stories and our sharing
We make space for a new breath, a new healing, a new possibility to take root
That is courage
forged in the fire of our coming together
and felt in the spirit that comes alive in this act of faith:
that we believe still, a new world is possible
That we are creating it, already, here, and now
Come, let us worship together.
An excerpt from Peter Jackson’s version of “The Return of the King,” last movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is Sam talking to Frodo towards the end of their long and brutal journey.
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”
"What were they holding onto, Sam?"
"That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for."
Here we are, having church online due to a global pandemic. I don’t think any of us expected to be in this situation. But here we are, doing our best to cope with it and trying church in a radically new way. It can be uncomfortable to do things for the first time, but I’m proud of us for giving it a shot.
Having church as a livestream is kind of exciting. It feels like we’re the “church of the future.” We are so lucky to live in a time when we are able to connect remotely; to still be a part of each others’ lives, even if we can’t physically be together. It’s kind of fun to try new things and be creative. Fitting the traditional parts of a worship service into a radically new format is kind of like a puzzle.
But also, I kind of hate puzzles, especially those giant jigsaw puzzles. If I focus on those little pieces, I get frustrated about how nothing fits. If I think about the big picture, I get overwhelmed. I like a challenge in life, but some puzzles are just ridiculous; like, come on, man!
Doing things in mostly the same way is comforting. Humans are creatures of habit and we like a predictable schedule. We like our routine of waking up at the same time, getting ready in the same way, and going to the same place week after week. We rely on these rituals to give our lives order and structure. It gives us the illusion of control that we need to stay sane.
We are not going to fit all of those little pieces of church into this new format. And I can’t tell you how things are going to turn out or how long we’ll have worship online or even what format we’ll decide is the best for online worship. It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle. And we have to stay sane while figuring it out.
Church consultant Dan Hotchkiss has said that organized religion is an oxymoron. The task of any church is to provide structure and the comfort of tradition. However, the other task of church is to cause us to grow, learn, and change our way of being in the world. Church holds and comforts us while also molding us into something new. As Unitarian Universalists are so fond of saying, this is a both/and.
Nothing could be more true of church in the year 2020. As I was leaving our campus on Thursday, I stopped to check the signage we’ve posted to let everyone know that all BUC activities are canceled. As I stood looking at the door, I felt indescribably sad. Our doors now have two signs: one declaring that no guns are allowed on our campus, and the other stating that all of our events and activities are cancelled until further notice. All I could think was this is not the church experience that I had growing up. It was not the church experience that I had imagined for my future.
As I stood there letting these thoughts and feelings sink in, I moved from a space of grief to one of peace. This isn’t what any of us expected or hoped to deal with. Yet here we are. There is no sense pushing back against things that we can’t control. There is a peace in accepting that this is our current situation. And this situation, really every situation, challenge, struggle, fear, etc., is temporary. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing can. Everything changes, including this. We cannot control what happens in life; we can only control how we react.
After I processed through this reminder of an ultimate truth, I felt a real sense of pride. BUC has done the right thing. We have protected our congregants as best we can. We have refused to be lost in denial or succumb to fear. We have reacted quickly and made smart choices, knowing that there will be some challenges ahead. This could be very hard on our finances, our programming, and the social interactions that we’ve all come to rely on. Knowing full well about those concerns, we did the right thing anyway. We adapted and cared for each other in a tough situation. And I am proud of that.
All of us have had experiences in our lives that have taught us to grow, change, adapt, and cope with ambiguity. We can draw on that now. And, honestly, that’s kind of the basis of our religious tradition. Nothing about Unitarian Universalism is set out for us. We have a few principles to navigate by, but it’s up to us to find our own path. As a church, we’re finding our path to online worship and fellowship. This is going to be a journey for us all. Some of our ideas will not work out, but a lot of them will. I ask for your patience and support on this journey.
Take care of yourselves, take care of each other. Remind one another that you are not alone, that you are valued, and we are still connected, even if we are apart. Beloved, there is so much good in this world. We are a part of that good. And we’re worth fighting for.
May it be so, amen, and blessed be.