"Making Change"

Worship Script 5


 

Worship Script (5 of 5)

 

 

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 it 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.