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Our Journey - GA Experiences

Service by Dawn Shilts

Opening Words

Come into this place of peace
And let its silence heal your spirit;
Come into this place of memory
And let its history warm your soul;
Come into this place of prophecy and power
And let its vision change your heart.

Prayer and Meditation

As we in unison look inward to our thoughts, hopes, dreams, concerns, and questions may we also feel the connection to one another in this place and know that all that we feel ourselves we are sharing with these others and we can feel and know the strength of the threads that connect us.

May we also know and feel the threads that go out from this place to all others that we are connected to. What we do here affects others outside of these walls because of these connections and we feel the affect of those outside of this place.

At times we feel the pulsations along the threads, at times the stillness of the threads, at times the tugging on the threads, at times the ripples along the threads….but always they are there…

May we take a few moments to consider and visualize the threads that surround and connect us and contemplate on what we give and gain from being part of such a web of life.

Responsive Reading

"Councils" by Marge Piercy

We must sit down and reason together.
Perhaps we should sit in the dark..
In the dark we could utter our feelings..
In the dark we could propose and describe and suggest..
In the dark we could not see who speaks.
And only the words would say what they say..
No one would speak more than twice..
No one would speak less than once..
Thus saying what we feel and what we want,.
What we fear for ourselves and each other into the dark,.
Perhaps we could begin to begin to listen..
The women must learn to dare to speak,.
The men must learn to bother to listen..
The women must learn to say I think this is so..
The men must learn to stop dancing solos on the ceiling..
After each speaks, she or he will say a ritual phrase:.
It is not I who speaks but the wind..
Wind blows through me..
Long after me is the wind..

First Reading

"The Bridge Builder" by Will Allen Dromgoole

An old man, going a lone highway,.
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,.
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide..
.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;.
The sullen stream had no fears for him;.
But he turned, when safe on the other side,.
And built a bridge to span the tide..
.
"Old man", said a fellow pilgrim, near,.
"You are wasting strength with building here;.
Your journey will end with the ending day;.
You never again must pass this way;.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide---.
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?".
.
The builder lifted his old gray head:.
"Good Friend, in the path I have come," he said,.
"There followeth after me today.
A youth, whose feet must pass this way..
This chasm, that has been naught to me,.
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be..
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;.
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.".

Second Reading

This second reading is an excerpt from a book by Orson Scott Card titled "Children of the Mind". Orson Scott Card happens to be my favorite author. A few years ago I read this book which is part of the Ender Wiggins series and when I was doing my research for today, Reed suggested that I consider a reading from one of Orson Scott Card’s books…I remembered that this particular book happened to bring out a theory concerning how life is connected even across the universe and I even found a passage that I had flagged for future consideration and thought…

This particular excerpt is a conversation between two brothers, Grego and Olhado, speaking of a possible pending disaster that may happen to their world…

"But what of us?" said Grego. "Will we be extinguished? What difference does it make then, the ones of us who had plans, What does it matter the work we've done? The children we've raised?" He looked pointedly at Olhado. "What will it matter then, that you have such a big happy family, if you're all erased in one instant by that…bomb?"

"Not one moment of my life with my family has been wasted," said Olhado quietly.

"But the point of it is to go on, isn't it? To connect with the future?"

"That's one part, yes," said Olhado. "But part of the purpose of it is now, is the moment. And part of it is the web of connections. Links from soul to soul. If the purpose of life was just to continue into the future, then none of it would have meaning, because it would be all anticipation and preparation. There's fruition, Grego. There's the happiness we've already 2nd Reading (cont.)

had. The happiness of each moment. The end of our lives, even if there's no forward continuation, no progeny at all, the end of our lives doesn't erase the beginning."

"But, it won't have amounted to anything", said Grego. "If your children die, then it was all a waste."

"No," said Olhado quietly. "You say that because you have no children, Greguinho. But none of it is wasted. The child you hold in your arms for only a day before he dies, that is not wasted, because that one day is enough of a purpose in itself. Entropy has been thrown back for an hour, a day, a week, a month. Just because we might all die here on this little world does not undo the lives before the deaths."

Grego shook his head. "Yes it does, Olhado. Death undoes everything."

Olhado shrugged. "Then why do you bother doing everything, Grego? Because someday you will die. Why should anyone ever have children? Someday they will die, their children will die, all children will die. Someday stars will wind down or blow up. Someday death will cover us all like the water of a lake and perhaps nothing will ever come to the surface to show that we were ever there. But we were there, and during the time we lived, we were alive. That's the truth---what is, what was, what will be---not what could be, what should have been, what never can be. If we die, then our death has meaning to the rest of the universe. Even if our lives are unknown, the fact that someone lived here, and died, that will have repercussions, that will shape the universe.

Sermon

I was very honored to have been asked to represent the First Parish Church in Billerica at the UUA General Assembly or GA 1997 in Phoenix in June. As a new UU and a new member of the church, I wasn’t sure if I could represent the church as well as the “long timers”, but I decided to give it my best effort. I prepared for the journey by perusing the multitude of possible seminars, workshops, and events as presented in the agenda. I chose items that I thought would be beneficial to the different committees and interests of our own church. Being the ISTJ that I am (my Myers Briggs personality type), I submitted my personal agenda to the members of the board of trustees and to the committee chairs. I wanted to include as many people in my preparation for my trip as possible.

Alice told me to expect to be overwhelmed by the numbers of people and continuous events…she was right! On the afternoon of the first day, I found a chair along the wall in the midst of the throngs of people and took a little nap. I awoke to the question of the person next to me of "Are you feeling refreshed now?" I laughed and said yes and got up and continued on to my next workshop.

I kept a journal while I was at GA and the following are some excerpts from my entry on the morning of the second day:

  • The opening ceremonies last night were wonderful – 3,000 people gathered and joining hands and singing was such a wonderful feeling – so warm – The technical conferences that I have attended in the past have been so different – so much competition – Here, the group is just as organized but such a warm feeling – friendly – can also feel the excitement – feel the warmth – the conversations around me are very similar to those that we have in Billerica…some of the same concerns, the same issues, the same joys.
  • The Banner Parade was wonderful – felt a little left out that we weren’t represented in this event. People clapped for far-away places – the creativeness of the banners was also really cool and then after the parade, the banners were hung all across the entire backstage wall and then when the curtains were opened, there was a “gasp” and then an “aaahhh” and then an immediate burst of applause.
  • The ceremonies of the blessings and songs were wonderful as well – sounds like the debates can get quite intense, but the beginning atmosphere of laughing ahead of time at what to expect and procedures to follow seemed to break the tension – looked like at least one fifth of the people are first time GA attendees!

Throughout the week that I was at GA, I attended as many business meetings, workshops, seminars, and worship services as I could. I was physically exhausted each day but yet also mentally energized which was a wonderful combination. I learned and absorbed so much in such a unique atmosphere for both myself as well as for the church. I’ve prepared a trip report and organized all of the brochures and handouts…these documents have been made available to the board, to the committees and are in the church library. Today they are available for your review on a table in the Parish Hall.

The poem about the bridge builder is symbolic to me of what GA, this church, and our own families are all about. As we continue on our own journey, we interact with others who affect our lives as we affect theirs and we also make a path for those that follow us.

I think the first ten times that I read the Bridge Builder during my preparation for today I was very taken with the concept of thinking about those that follow. However, as I tried to imagine myself as the different characters in the poem, something else came to mind.

I began to wonder about the interaction between the old man and the pilgrim because the old man did not specifically ask the pilgrim for help in building the bridge and the pilgrim did not specifically offer to help the old man build the bridge…Perhaps even as adults as we pass through life we must learn when to ask for help and when to offer to give our help….I hope that after their brief conversation the pilgrim paused in his own journey and helped complete the bridge and I hope that the old man gladly accepted the help.

I think that attending GA provides a means of continuing to learn these lessons. Pausing in our journey to reach out for information, for guidance and for consideration from others may make a difference in how we build our bridges here for those that follow us. We may be able to build stronger bridges with the information and resources available from events like GA.

We should also consider the journey from the youth’s perspective. He will come along to the chasm and will probably not know that someone built the bridge specifically for his safe passage…and he may not fully appreciate the fact that the bridge is even there. Perhaps, he won’t appreciate what has gone before him until the first time that he cares about who is following him. The cycle and the journey continues. During several of the workshops at GA, the participants actually contributed quite a bit, sharing some of the issues, concerns and in some cases the solutions from their own churches. Upon hearing some of the different aspects I thought about how churches may be on different cycles in their own journeys…that is, perhaps if we were to continue to experience GA on a yearly basis, we may find that what is a main concern or interest this year may in ten years not apply to us at all but may apply again in say twenty years. At times the church may be like the youth…experiencing the new adventures and growth but not realizing at first the need to ask for help. At other times like the pilgrim, questioning the circumstances and then deciding to help. At other times like the old man, traveling in his journey but ever aware of those that follow and accepting help gladly when he can't do it alone. Our own cycle and journey continues.

The conversation between the two brothers in Orson Scott Card’s book illustrates our ever present underlying individual concerns about the difference that we make in our journey.

I think the differences that we make in the individual moments of our journey affect our own overall journey as well as the journey of those that travel with us or are following us. An example of this occurred at GA over the course of a few days. I attended a workshop titled "Beyond the Ramp" which addressed the fact that barriers of attitude, communication, and architecture often restrict the participation of people with disabilities in the worship lives of congregations.

Those with disabilities attending the workshop felt that the attitudinal barriers were actually the most difficult to break through. In light of this, a woman who said that she has had a psychiatric disability all of her life was very concerned about the wording of the Business Resolution regarding Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities. The others in the workshop encouraged her to go to the amendment microphone the next day and present the wording that she thought was more appropriate. I could tell that the woman was a little frightened at the concept but she said she would think about it.

The next day during plenary when the time came for any amendments to the resolution, I heard the woman's voice from far away stating her amendment. She was very succinct and yet had a slight tremor of nervousness in her voice. The moderator absorbed what the woman had said and then looked out at all of us and said "Ok…I don't think we need any discussion on this one do we" and immediately every voting card (raise your card here) was raised in favor of the amendment. I had shivers down my spine and I was "warm" inside as I held up my card and thought about the difference that this woman made in that moment of her courage to follow through with what was important to her and ultimately to us.

Just a side note and a personal confession that I have to make: before the trip I never took the time to be involved in current events, social issues and I had only voted once in the past 20 years…so you see I probably wasn’t the best selection from the business and social issues perspective…but during the plenary sessions, I took the time to listen to the issues and to participate by holding up my voting card for the positions and resolutions that I thought felt right…it was a pretty cool experience…so the very first thing I did after returning was to go down to town hall to register to vote!

I have so many more experiences, information and thoughts that I would like to share with you all in the upcoming months. For today, if there’s only one message that I can convey, it’s that we’re not alone AND we don’t have to be alone…there are other churches out there facing the same kinds of issues, concerns, growth, changes that we face…and we have the means to allow us to reach out to those other churches and other resources. One last thought…I’ve been asked if I would go to GA again and before the person could even finish the sentence I gave a resounding YES!

Before we sing the last hymn, I wanted to tell you an interesting experience that I had while singing this song at GA. I attended a special ceremony to honor Carolyn McDade, the composer and author of this song and of the “Spirit of Life’ which we sang earlier. Carolyn sang many of her songs during the service and we all joined in.

Now, I can never sing “Come Sing a Song With Me” without ending up with some tears and sure enough they were streaming down my face. I happened to look over the person sitting next to me and found that this man was staring at me. I was a little embarrassed because I was so emotional, but I smiled anyway through my tears.

After the service though he turned to me and said he was sorry he was staring but he was just so amazed that there was a person from Billerica Massachusetts at GA! He had been staring at my badge. He introduced himself as Peter Fontneau and said that he had been a member here 11 years ago! We found a quiet place and talked for almost an hour. Yet another example of the connections of our lives.

Closing Words

Longfellow wrote in 1839: "Look not mournfully into the Past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the Present. It is thine. Go forth and meet the shadowy Future, without fear. . . ."