I thought I would be feeling excited as we approached the end of 2020. I thought that turning into this new year would feel like a fresh start. But I find that I am not happy hearted just yet. Yes, our hard work has paid off and we have a new administration set to enter the White House. And yes, we have a vaccine–actually two so far!-for the Covid-19 virus. And the days are starting to get longer, which is a glad thing indeed.
And yet…there is still a long road ahead with this pandemic, and I find myself deeply weary. It will be a very long time before children are vaccinated, and for me that means my own life will still be mostly limited to my home. I miss my loved ones who live far away: my grown children, my mother and siblings and their families. I have missed out on the first half of my little nephew’s first year, and will miss out on the rest. I want to hug my friends when I see them. And I am so eager to be in our building again, sharing worship with you all.
From the time I was very small, I have been a churchgoer. This past Christmas Eve was one of perhaps only two or three in my lifetime that I was not in church. I have spent most of the Sunday mornings of my life in Sunday services and Sunday School, as a lay person and then as a minister. Something feels off-kilter, deeply so, about going so long without worshipping together.
It’s interesting to think about this word, “worship.” When I was growing up, in a Baptist and Presbyterian family, the word “worship” was clearly understood to mean something directed toward God. And yes, THAT God, the personified older white man who holds our fates in his hands. But if we look at the word worship, at its root it means to give worth to something. In Unitarian Universalist worship services, we are not offering obeisance to an omnipotent Being. Instead, we are asking questions about those things that are of ultimate worth. Love. Justice. Wisdom. These are some of the worthy values which we ponder, and teach, and elevate in our hearts and spirits, week after week.
And, even in this pandemic, we are still having this kind of worship. We are pondering hard questions about love, justice, wisdom, and more, week after week. We set our hearts, each Sunday, on the things we consider to be of ultimate worth. And so, though I miss our time together in the sanctuary, I know that we are still doing that most essential function of a religious community, which is sharing worship.
Another essential function of our religious community is the teaching of those values–to children, to newcomers, and to all of us, even longtime UUs, for spiritual growth is a lifelong endeavor. In these pandemic days, teaching looks a little different than it did in the before times. We have adult classes on Zoom now. Our Membership Committee is teaching our classes for prospective members, our Adult Enrichment and Faith Development Committee is providing a slew of good learning options each quarter, and some of our Social Justice teams are offering classes and book groups too. Our Youth Group for 7th-12th graders is meeting each week on Zoom, with a team of committed adult Youth Advisors. Our Family Ministry Team is providing activities for families with younger children to grow our UU values and stay connected with our community. And each week in our Sunday Services we offer a Time for All Ages so that our youngest children continue to receive some teaching in our tradition and our values.
The church exists to change not just us, but our world as well. And so we continue to work for justice in these stay at home days. Our Social Justice Committees are as busy as they have ever been, and there are so many ways to get involved in creating a more just and caring world, here at home and in our wider nation and world. One opportunity for creating more justice within Unitarian Universalism is to join your ministers in reading Widening the Circle of Concern, a report by our Unitarian Universalist Association’s Commission on Institutional Change. This report analyzes structural and systemic racism and white supremacy culture within Unitarian Universalism. It is a powerful and important document for all of us to review and consider as we seek to make our faith tradition a truly anti-racist, multi-cultural religion. You can find out more about this report and read or listen to it at this link: https://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/committees/cic.
Worshipping, learning, and acting for justice. This is what it means to be a religious community, even during a pandemic. At the very beginning of the stay at home orders, I told my family that our goal was to “stay alive and stay together.” That is my goal as your minister, too. As hard as it is for me to continue to “do church” from my home office, looking into my computer screen–I would rather do that for another full year than to lose anyone. So let’s keep our eyes on the essential work of a faith community: let’s worship and teach and make justice right here on our Zoom screens, and in our homes. After all, one of the most essential teachings of all religious traditions is the practice of being present to each moment. When I stop resisting this teaching, I welcome the chance to live–not in the past, in what was life before, nor in the future, in what life might be like one day–but right here, in the present. I’m glad to be in this moment with you.
Reverend Cecilia Kingman, Minister for Faith and Justice