"Making Change"

Worship Script 5


 

Worship Script (5 of 5)

"Change and Loss"

 

OPENING WORDS

Lucky Streak, by Angela Herrera, “Becoming: A Spiritual Guide for Navigating Adulthood”

 

Who cast a spell over my world?

Who opened the doors,

stirred the crowd of possibilities,

put gold dust in my dreams

causing my life to turn?

 

O Fate, O Love, O Spirit, O God:

is it true

that all good things must end?

 

Or have you set me on a path of meaning

    Not luck

Of clarity

    Not magic

 

And this grace

that brought me to the mountaintop

is also assigned to carry me through dark forests of

    loss,

          the ones that await us all,

          that disturb our peaceful sleep.

 

The same grace that guides the seasons:

cracking the ice,

pushing up saplings,

scattering the earth with their first dramatic leaves.

 

HYMN #349 We Gather Together

 

FIRST READING
Quote from Howard Thurman

Look well to the growing edge! All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!


SECOND READING
Excerpt from the blog post, Room to Grow, from Ordinary Days by Rev. Christana Wille McKnight, talking about church growth.


But let’s be honest.  Growth does not happen magically.  There was thought put into our growth, and a decision made on the part of the church that we had both a theological and moral responsibility to grow.  Our spiritual community has changed a lot in the past few months, and will continue to change as we develop, becoming an ever-more vibrant and relevant home for more and more people.  It’s a tremendous thing to be part of – so tremendous that I’m even having a hard time putting the joy and excitement into words! – but it is something that we know we cannot do alone.
 

HYMN #192 Nay, Do Not Grieve

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
By Sarah E. Skwire; used with permission. This story appears in What If Nobody Forgave? and Other Stories edited by Colleen M. McDonald (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2003).

For a dramatic storytelling, make signs that say "The Answer Is No," "The Answer Is Yes" and "The Answer Is under Construction." Show each sign when it is mentioned in the story, or engage three participants to each hold up their sign at the appropriate time.

Long ago and far away, or yesterday and just around the corner, or maybe somewhere halfway in between, there was a town that sat, quiet and content, tucked into the shadow of a mountain. And carved on the side of that mountain, big and tall so no one could miss them, were the words, "THE ANSWER IS NO."

No one knew where the words came from or why they were there. They'd just always been there.

But, oh my goodness, the people who lived in that town cuddled into that mountain were glad to have those words there. Because whenever the townspeople had a question, all they had to do was to look up the mountain and read it. The answer was always NO.

Making decisions was very simple, and life went on smoothly and easily in the town cuddled into the mountain . . . until one day. Now, on that particular day, Ma Custus was about to make dinner for her family. And she just couldn't decide — because sometimes you can't — whether to make stew or steak, pasta or potatoes, dumplings or doughnuts, so she went out into the yard.

"Should I make liver for dinner tonight?" she asked, and looked up at the mountain. And the mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS NO."

"All right. I knew that, really. Nobody is crazy about liver. But should I maybe make steak for dinner? "

And the mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS NO."

"Should I make chicken? "

And the mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS NO."

"Should I make tacos or tofu? Baked beans or broccoli? Pork chops or popcorn? "

The mountain said nothing but "THE ANSWER IS NO."

Ma Custus asked more questions until the sun disappeared behind the mountain. She kept on asking questions until the sun came up around the other way. And all the mountain ever said was "THE ANSWER IS NO." Because Ma couldn't get an answer that was any kind of answer, she and her family went all night and all the next day and all the next night without dinner.

Finally, Ma just gave up and made liver anyway — even though the mountain said no, and even though everyone hated liver — because liver was the first thing she'd thought of. But Ma Custus had had enough. She glared at the mountain, stamped her foot, and shook her fist. "Why is the answer always 'NO?' Why can't you just say 'YES' for once?"

Ma turned around and stomped away to ring the town bell and call a town meeting. Well, when that bell rang, the whole town came running. From the oldest man with the longest beard to the youngest kids who still needed carrying, no one would miss a town meeting. They all came, and they all listened carefully as Ma Custus told her story.

"Seems to me," she said, "that we've got a problem. That mountain just isn't helping us like it should. Seems to me it would be nice if it would say 'YES' for a while."

The townsfolk knew Ma Custus had a point, but they didn't much like this idea — changing something that had been the same for so long. But after they thought and then thought some more, they finally nodded solemnly. The mountain would have to be re-carved.

Mason Sharp, the stone carver, nodded along with the rest of them. He scratched his nose, adjusted his cap, and slowly gazed up the length of the mountain.

Then he cleared his throat and said, in his gravelly voice, "Looks to me like I could do the carving, if that's all right with all of you."

And so it was. Mason spent the next two weeks up on the side of the mountain, chiseling and chipping and carving away, and coming down only when it got too dark to see. And when he was done, the mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS YES."

Mason rang the bell to call the town together, and once again they all came running. From the oldest woman with the whitest hair to the youngest kids who still needed carrying, they all wanted to see the new sign, and they all wanted to cheer for the stone carver and all his hard work.

Ma Custus, who had started all of this, came right up to the front of the crowd. She figured she ought to be the person to ask the first question of this new and different mountain, since she'd discovered the problem with the old one. She stepped right up to the foot of the mountain, looked way up to the top, and asked, "Should I make liver for dinner tonight?"

And the mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS YES." Well, now, Ma Custus almost fell over with surprise. "But Pa Custus told me he'd never forgive me if I served liver again, and all my kids threatened to hide in the barn for a week. Should I really serve liver?"

And the mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS YES."

The townspeople began to grumble. They didn't like the sound of this. Ma Custus's family grumbled the loudest.

"But, well, I can't," Ma said. "I mean, I just can't serve liver again. I promised I wouldn't!

"Are you telling me I should break my promise?"

The mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS YES."

The grumbling got louder. And Ma Custus, well, she glared at the mountain again, stamped her foot and shook her fist, and she turned to the townspeople and said, "This just isn't right! This just can't be right! What are we going to do?"

Once again, the townsfolk put on their thinking caps. Everyone thought: Ma Custus, Pa Custus, and all the Custus kids (who probably thought the hardest of all, because they were worried about the liver — very worried). Finally, the smallest but one of the Custus kids piped up.

"Why does there have to be just one answer? Can't we have more?"

The townspeople gasped. No one had ever thought of such a thing before. They mumbled and grumbled and talked among themselves. Finally they decided that the mountain ought to say, "THE ANSWER IS SOMETIMES YES AND SOMETIMES NO AND SOMETIMES WAIT AND SEE AND SOMETIMES I JUST DON'T KNOW."

Mason the stone carver, who had been listening to all of this talk, cleared his throat, scratched his nose, adjusted his cap, and said, "I think I can do it. I don't mind — not really — even if I did just finish carving in the new change. But, well, it's going to take a lot of time, and I can't work all day long like I did the last time. How about if I work on it when I can, and we'll hang us up some kind of sign on the mountain that lets people know that the answer is coming?"

And so it was.

The funny thing was that, for a little while, Mason worked on the mountain every day. And for a little while, everyone in town waited eagerly to see the new answer. But soon, the stonemason got tired of climbing the mountain every day and everyone else got tired of waiting, and they all started asking each other questions and helping everyone else find answers that seemed to fit. The townspeople realized that different questions usually had different answers, that sometimes the same question had more than one answer, and that there were many more answers than they had imagined. And all of that was fine with them.

After a while they thought that maybe the answer the mountain was giving them right then, just as it was, was better and more sensible than any other answer it had given. And so they left it as it was.

And the mountain said, "THE ANSWER IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION."
 

MEDITATION
Let It Be Done by Monica Cummings, adapted by Emily DeTar Birt

 

Dear Unknown, Unknowable, Yet Known by Many Names.

 

Keep us mindful that we are all related. That when one of us is ignored and treated with dis-ease, we all suffer.

Today let each of us commit to welcome the stranger.

Let us move beyond our comfort zones and connect with people labeled different and pushed to the edges of society.

We can make a difference.

We can transform lives.

We can bring harmony and healing to the places and spaces we live, work and play.

Let us keep our hearts and minds open and receptive to the still, small voice that calls us to be a witness for those who cannot,

To speak the truth for justice for those without a voice,

And to lead the way on the journey toward wholeness for those without the vision.

In the spirit of love, compassion and community, let it be done.

Blessed be.

 

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

HOW TO LIVE WITH CHANGE Offered By Rev. Tim Kutzmark

June 10, 2018 Unitarian Universalist Church Of Fresno

I am not a fan of change. In fact, I kinda resist change. It’s not so much that I love the “same-old/same old,” but I like the security and assurance that consistency brings. Just ask my friends from seminary. My aversion to change was a big source of amusement to them. In Divinity School, most of our big lecture classes were held in a large room called Sperry Hall. For the four years I was in school there back in the late 90’s, I sat on the left side of Sperry Hall, 4th row from the front, 6 seats in. Every day.  Every class. Every  year. That was my seat and that wasn’t going to change. Except for the one time I moved over the right side of Sperry Hall. 4th row from the front, 6 seats in. I couldn’t cope with that drastic a change…and during the break I quickly snuck back to my correct seat on the left side, 4th row from the front, 6 seats in.

There is an irony to my aversion to change. I’ve served 3 congregations as minister, and each one called me with the specific charge to be a kind of change agent, to help lead the congregation through some big desired changes.

Which is why I totally relate to the following dialog between the cartoon characters Calvin and Hobbes:

 

Calvin:  “I thrive on change!”

 

Hobbes:  “You?!!”

 

Hobbes:  “You threw a fit this morning because your Mom put less jelly on your toast than yesterday.”

 

Calvin:  “I thrive on making other people change.”

 

The congregation I previously served was in a sleepy suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. When they were in search for a minister, they told me they wanted someone who had experience helping a congregation to grow, someone who could create Sunday worship the would attract younger families and kids (because that congregation was predominately older), and someone who had been through a major construction project because they wanted to expand the sanctuary and build a new multi-million dollar social hall. In short, they wanted a minister to help them change. Change—in theory—sounds good. But change—in reality—is hard.

 

A few years after I arrived as their new minister, things were beginning to feel somewhat different at the church. We had 120 new and active members, many of whom were young families with kids. We added new rituals to our Sunday service, such as a Candle of Community, and then, most radically, a candle-lighting table in the front where (during the service) people could come and silently light a personal candle of joy, sorrow or remembrance. People really seemed to like that. We added a second Sunday service to make space for everyone who wanted to be with us each week. Our newly built Community Hall was full of new faces. In a short number of years, things had begun to change, just as the congregation had said they wanted.

 

About that time, a long-time member and leader of the church sat me down and said, “Tim, I need to tell you something. Back when we asked you to be our minister, I really wanted us to grow. I really wanted us to make changes in the way we were doing things. I wanted to shake things up. At least I thought I did. The idea of new members, more kids, and a bigger church campus all sounded good. But now that we are getting all that, it doesn’t all feel so good. Nothing feels the same.” She teared up as she continued, “In theory, the idea of change was good. In practice, the reality of change is hard. Growth is hard. It’s hard that when I sit in the sanctuary I don’t know everyone anymore like I did when we were smaller…but the real pain come from realizing that not everyone in the sanctuary knows who I am… I feel invisible in my own church.”

 

The hard truth about change is that it creates loss. Even if change brings something good, it still always brings a loss. It is important to name that loss, to feel that loss, and to honor that loss.

 

Three years ago, when you called me to become your minister, the congregation asked me to help the church begin to make some changes. You looked at the demographics of the congregation and said you wanted to grow and welcome new faces, new families and new children and become a truly multigenerational congregation. You said you hoped to better reflect the racial and cultural diversity of our city…you said you wanted to become a congregation that was truly committed to becoming multi-racial and multicultural. You said that you wanted to take the Social Justice that was enacted by a few members and spread that involvement around so that Social Justice—activism that shakes up unjust systems of oppression and exclusion—became a commitment carried by the entire congregation. Three years ago, you said you wanted to begin making some changes.

 

Three weeks ago, the congregation voted to affirm a new five-year Vision Plan, to help us live more fully into our new mission:

 

La misión de la iglesia Unitaria Universalista de Fresno es:

 

Amar inclusivamente

 

Crecer espiritualmente

 

Servir con gratitud y

 

Trabajar por la justicia

 

 

 

The Mission of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno is to:

 

Love Inclusively

 

Grow Spiritually

 

Serve Gratefully And

 

Work for Justice

 

Prior to approving the five-year Vision Plan three weeks ago, we had many listening sessions where we all were invited to come and talk and respond to the ideas that could change us and help us grow into the future. The vast majority of the feedback was enthusiastic. And I want to repeat that. The vast majority of the feedback was enthusiastic.

 

But some of it revealed loss, such as the honest elder who said that the congregation felt like a speeding train that had left him and some other long-time members behind at the station. Someone else shared that, “Although I love seeing new and younger people helping to lead services, it is hard, because I don’t know who anyone up there is anymore. I don’t know who my church is anymore.” Several others shared with some vehemence that it felt like the church now only cared about families and children. A few said we were putting too much emphasis on welcoming new people. Someone else quietly shared with me (and then gave me permission to share with you) that they got angry every time I said that the most important person in the sanctuary is “the person who is walking through the door for the first time.” “I want to feel important,” they said, “because I’ve been here a long time.” Someone shared that they don’t like all the images projected on the walls. They found them distracting. Someone else felt the hymns were too clappy and contemporary. Several other people shared that the inclusion of Spanish in the services was hard for them because they didn’t speak the language. They worried that by mispronouncing something they would offend someone. “I understand why we are being more inclusive in our language, I just feel uncomfortable, and I don’t come to church to be uncomfortable,” said another.

 

Change—in theory—sounds good. But change—in reality—is hard. It is hard because it brings loss.

 

Decentering whiteness and becoming more racially and culturally diverse—in theory— sounds good. But decentering whiteness and becoming more racially and culturally diverse is hard. It is hard because no matter how much we gain it also creates loss.

 

Even if change brings so much good, and it will continue to do so, it still brings loss.

 

Rev. Christana Wille McKnight, a Unitarian Universalist minister, speaks about loss and gain and the complexities of change, change that is occurring in the congregation she is serving as a minister. Rev. McKnight writes:

 

About three years ago, one visitor told me affirmatively how much we have changed. She said to me, ‘Your church is loud.’ I responded, ‘I’m  sorry? Were the speakers up too loud? I can talk to our sound tech about it.’ She replied, ‘No, it’s not the speakers. This church is loud. People talked before worship. They clapped during the songs and after the solo. There are so many children. The only silence is during prayer. When I came here years ago, we were quiet during church. That was what church was about. We were quiet and respectful and behaved. People knew what to do.’

I spoke slowly, to make sure I was saying what I intended to say. ‘You’re right, it is different. This church doesn’t look like it used to, and I imagine it must be hard to come and see it looking so different from what you expected. What’s happening here though is that our church is living. Those noises you talk about probably are loud, but they are part of who we are. If people didn’t feel comfortable talking here before worship, they wouldn’t have a chance to visit with their friends or make new ones. That’s what our community looks like today.’ She looked at me for a moment and then asked, ‘Is this what all churches are doing now? I mean, are there any quiet ones or is this just what church looks like?’ I laughed warmly, and she smiled at me. I said, ‘There are many kinds of churches, both Unitarian Universalist and otherwise. You’re right that this one is louder than some. We have more kids, and they are part of our worship. We encourage connection, both on Sunday mornings and other times. We want to be a growing community, so that will probably be different than places that aren’t working with that as a specific goal.’ The visitor looked for a long time at the light from the Tiffany stained-glass window shining on the pews around us, and then over to the electronic drum set we use most Sunday mornings. ‘This church is old and new at the same time,’ she said flatly. ‘I don’t know what to think about that.’

Rev. Christana Wille McKnight continues:

The world looks different today than it did fifty, thirty, or even ten years ago. The way we experience community has changed, and in order to fulfill our potential as [spiritual centers] of faith, hope and reflection, we too must change. This does not mean that we lose our values or who we are theologically. [We are proudly progressive and Unitarian Universalist.] But it does mean that the world will develop, and we have the choice of developing with it or not. Our congregations can keep exemplifying the values that were highlighted in churches years ago—the values of being quiet, and the traditions of separating children from worship, the idea that the church of the poor and the church of the rich were not the same places. We could do that. But, today, our values are different. What I hear from my congregation is that we value authenticity. We value the ability to connect with new people because we don’t know all that many and want to meet more. We value being with people who 5 understand why the plight of the homeless make us sad, and in a place where we can work every day to make the world a better place.

Rev. McKnight concludes, saying:

Of course, it looks and feels different than it used to. And there is still . . . much more work to do. But today . . . our church, along with so many others, is creating a new kind of hope, a new kind of Unitarian Universalism. Built on where we have come from, we are finding new ways to meet the needs of our hungry world. This mission can guide us to new ways to matter, to transform, and to connect. Our church [is] not a community away from the world but, rather, a community rooted in the [place and time] that we live in, with the people who are there with us.

As I said at the start of the sermon, I am not a fan of change, because change is hard and it brings loss. But I am a big fan of what ultimately happens when change does come and—despite the loss—we open our hearts to it.

May we welcome all the good things that change is waiting to offer us. May we welcome all the good things change is waiting to offer to those not yet here who will need this church and this Unitarian Universalist faith just as much as we need it today.

 

May it be so. Blessed Be. Amen.

 

HYMN #157 Step by Step the Longest March

 

BENEDICTION
To Do Is To Be by Anyonomous

 

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk exposing our true self.

To place our ideas—our dreams—before the crowd is to risk loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try is to risk failure.

To live is to risk dying.