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When Two or More Are Gathered

By Dawn Shilts

The following represents the "sermon" that I presented on May 31, 1998. I wanted to share it with you in this forum because I would urge us all to "think" about the promises we make and keep in our community of faith.

The reading represented excerpts from a sermon by Reverend David Bumbaugh who serves the Unitarian Church in Summit, New Jersey. The sermon was posted on the internet and is titled "The Promises We Make, the Promises We Keep".

When two or more are gathered, a community exists. Our lives are intertwined with many different communities…our family, our work, our school, our town, our church…the promises that we make to ourselves and to each other in this community of faith extend to the other aspects of our lives.

Our covenant is a powerful and important one that we make as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I invite you to close your eyes and to "listen" and to "feel" the words of our seven principles:

We affirm and promote…

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

When we read, say or hear these words, every proclaimed believer in these principles is promising to EVERY creature that we are making a consistent commitment to make the world a better place.

How each of us believes and lives out these words reflects on our overall community of faith (being the UUA), on this church, on ourselves, and most importantly upon the children.

Just by saying the words certainly doesn't mean that each of us follows each principle in the same way. Sometimes extra effort is needed to fully believe in a particular principle and sometimes all the effort in the world may not be enough for us to act on that principle in every situation in which we find ourselves.

They are promises though…and if we SAY them, we SHOULD still make every attempt to live up to each principle. For example, I must get past the reflex to squash an ant as it crawls along my kitchen counter if I am to truly have respect for the interdependent web of all existence. At the other extreme, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive the two men and my cousin who destroyed my family when they killed my grandparents, but as I shared recently here with you, I think I can at least accept that those individuals are also part of the interdependent web of all existence.

We should also consider the question that Rev. Bumbaugh raised… Do individuals, supported by the deep spiritual rootings of the Unitarian-Universalist traditions, go out and do things, or does the Congregation look at something together?

How can we as the community of First Parish in Billerica join together to adhere to the principles that we hold up for the world to see and respect?

How do we even proceed to answer and consider this question? When do we take the time to define options that are possible and meaningful?

Let's consider our mission statement that was presented and accepted by this congregation last year…again, I invite you to close your eyes and listen, feel the words that we promise to the members of the surrounding communities outside of these walls…

The mission of the First Parish Church is to open its doors to all people who seek a religious home where the Unitarian Universalist Principles are upheld. We respect our diversity of views, as we encourage full participation in all aspects of our parish life.

Our goal is to nurture:

An Intergenerational Sense Of Community

Individual Responsibility

Spiritual Inquiry

Moral Reflection

Sensitivity To Others

Personal Growth

Social Outreach And Public Service

A Just World

Thus do we honor the gathering of this Church in 1658 by those who sought to walk with God.

Our individual contributions to our mission definitely help to attain the goals and some are specifically geared towards ensuring that the individual is well cared for in our community. The work that each of us does in the day to day functioning of this place helps to nurture our individual responsibility to the community.

Convening on Sunday mornings to join in worship nurtures several of the promises of our mission: spiritual inquiry, moral reflection, personal growth, and sensitivity to others.

Just as Reverend Bumbaugh suggested, individually we perform our own social outreach and public service in the forms of time and monetary contributions to organizations or events such as the: League of Women Voters; VA Hospital; Lion's Club; Masons; Volunteering at Libraries; Reading with School Children; Roll for Rett's Syndrome; Walk for Hunger; Planned Parenthood; Greyhound Adoption; Various Animal Rescue Shelters; Girl Scouts; Boy Scouts; Home Schooling; Exchange Students; Children's Sports; Flower Clubs; and Town Meetings

I'm sure there are many other works that we do as individuals … I think it would be interesting to compile a list sometime so we can hold it up to the light and say…this is good…this is who we are….

The question of our hour together today, though, is how can we as the community of First Parish in Billerica join together to meet the challenge to live up to our mission? How do we even proceed to answer and consider this question fully? When do we take the time to define options that are possible and meaningful?

We have taken a small step this year as a small contingency of our parishioners periodically provide a meal at the Community Table in Lowell. We could do a little better as a congregation though to consider more funding for this effort by either contributions of monetary funds or of time and shared effort.

We've also taken another small step by promising to be a partner church to a community in Transylvania. However, on this one as a congregation we have not stepped forward to carry out the promise. With a group effort, the challenge would be light as well as enlightening. But when only a few individuals are trying to assume the responsibility then the enlightening challenge does not exist, instead a heavy and cumbersome burden must be carried and perhaps eventually laid down with regret.

Our final consideration for today, is our affirmation of faith …I invite you to close your eyes once again and hear the words that we shared earlier:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

the quest of truth is its sacrament and service is its prayer…

to dwell together in peace,

to seek knowledge in freedom,

to serve humanity in friendship,

Thus do we covenant with each other and with God

When you take and share your breaths each Sunday to say these words, you are saying them not only for yourself, but you are saying them to the person next to you, the person behind you, to the person in front of you…we are promising to each other how we will act with each other. How we will work together to fulfill our mission and how we will join together in faith with other Unitarian Universalist communities.

Think of how many times we say these words and how many echoes of these promises travel from wall to wall, from ear to ear.

We still must return to the questions: how can we as individuals truly live up to these promises that we are making to each other in this community. How can we be assured that the promises that we hear from the others around us will be kept? How do we even proceed to answer and consider these question fully? When do we take the time to define options that are possible and meaningful?

When I close my eyes and think about the spirit of the words of Jesus, "Where two or more are gathered in My Name, there am I in their midst"…. I think of the spirit of community…the life of a community…the body of a community…and the care and attention that it deserves from each of its unique and equal parts. That spirit flows through and builds up the community and provides the strength that the individual parts seek and need.

What does it mean to our community when we speak and make the promises but do not consciously strive to keep these promises or even remember the responsibility to keep the promises?…the promises that we make in our faith's principles, or our church mission statement, or in our covenant with one another?

When two or more are gathered in faith, love, body, spirit, a community exists…this community exists…How will we be judged? Not how will I be judged or each of you be judged, but how will this religious community be judged? As Reverend Bumbaugh so eloquently stated….Not by our agreements or by our disagreements, but by the promises we make and above all, by the promises we keep.