A few weeks ago I talked about Transcendentalism in our Sunday morning service. One of the things I mentioned was an important sermon called “The Transient and Permanent in Christianity.” It was delivered in 1841 by Rev. Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister who questioned business as usual in the Unitarian Church. It was a call to tradition and a call for change at the same time. He said that Jesus’ message was always true and that it hadn’t changed, but the church and its doctrine had. He went on to say that those doctrines tend to get set in stone and people start to confuse them with the original, unchanging message, so we need to reevaluate things from time to time, and we need to be called back to the source–the original mission and message. The reason that sermon was so important was that it paved the way for the open and inclusive faith that we are part of today. I think it’s probably safe to say that, if Unitarianism hadn’t changed over time, most of us wouldn’t be part of it now.
Our congregation has been pretty stable for some time and in a lot of ways that’s great. But if we’re not careful, over time we can start to get the impression that FUUFHC is a couple of buildings, a certain group of people, a set calendar of events, etc. In some ways it is, just as a person’s character is defined by things like the sum of their actions, their relationships and their various roles. But people change over time. And a person may be a precocious child and then a passionate young adult, a parent, an elder… but all along they have an essence, a foundational part of themselves that they can hold on to as everything else about them changes–what some people call a soul. It’s important not to lose touch with your soul as you change throughout life, and sometimes it’s actually necessary to make a change in order to stay true to your soul.
Of course, the soul of FUUFHC is not buildings, staff, programs or any particular minister or member. The soul of FUUFHC is being a welcoming spiritual home with UU values, not just for ourselves, but for people in the larger community around us. As it says in our vision statement, FUUFHC is a fellowship that will “…welcome the stranger into beloved community…” and “…bring people together and change lives.” That’s who we are. But it’s been a long time since our community has grown and since we’ve made a deliberate effort to reach out and welcome new people into our community–people who need us as much as we need them. There have been some reasons for that. For one, we spent a large part of the past few years figuring out what to do about our building. After a lot of study, discussion, and deliberation, we voted last year to “stay and adapt” and to use “…existing buildings while attempting to increase capacity.” In answer to that decision, the Board has created a committee made up of representatives from the Sunday Services Committee, Music Committee, Religious Exploration Committee, Hospitality Committee and others who are putting together a plan for having two full services on Sunday mornings so that we can invite more people into our fellowship. In order to have the best chance of success, the plan will be developed in collaboration with the whole congregation through a survey and a series of feedback sessions, so that we can be sure that we’re taking the needs of the whole congregation into account. Once the plan is solidified and approved of by the fellowship, we can put it into action and welcome more people into our congregation, knowing that we have the room for them.
So we’re looking ahead to some important changes–changes in how we are so that we can stay who we are, and that almost always causes a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Think of the first day of school, a first date, or the first day at a new job. You might remember being a little nervous and scared at the time, but you’re probably also glad it happened. Better yet, think of the first time you came to FUUFHC. Think of how you felt, and when you first became a part of this community. Even better yet, think of the way you want the next visitor to feel… That’s what we’re about. That’s the soul of FUUFHC. That’s who we are and that’s also who we continue to become.