Introduction – by the Rev. Peter Connolly
When I assigned myself the task of asking church leaders and longtime members to speak about what the church means to them, the questions that arose were, “Where to begin?” and “Where to end?” There is quite a large number of people here for whom the church has played an important part in their lives. There are more than a handful who have done the work that has kept us going over the years, stretching back to our founding in 1961.
They have washed the floors, served the food, moved the chairs, tended the grounds. They have joined committees and led committees, provided care in time of need and led us in celebration when we’ve reached important milestones. They’ve provided the music that soothes us, centers us, inspires us, and helps to guide us. They’ve led our covenant groups and adult education courses. They’ve sat with infants in the nursery and filled in for teachers in the classrooms. They’ve served on our Board of Directors and led our efforts to make sure that we are a Welcoming Congregation to those who walk through our doors, sometimes after having been turned away from other places.
So, I’m aware that there are many more than the six who speak to you today who could also offer testimony to the faith that’s kept them going and kept us going. And I hope we’ll honor those in our hearts, named and unnamed, as well as those who speak to us today on the topic of “Why I Love My Church.”
Valerie Brown has been active in a number of ways, including leading our fundraisers. She currently serves as Chair of our Finance Committee and as an assistant to the Treasurer.
I have many reasons that I love this church and this unique group of Unitarian Universalists. It is my spiritual home–I met my husband, Ken, here; it is our spiritual home. I feel inspired to be a better person when leaving a Sunday service or a small covenant group meeting. I derive pleasure from helping with mundane tasks as well as tasks where I can offer my unique talents to our church; and I believe in the mission of the church and its seven principles.
The church is important to Ken and me, as we find it intellectually stimulating and refreshing to hear different ideas, perspectives and views from within the congregation and from outside speakers. This experience is unique because our members honor and respect those views and allow them to coexist with ours. We hold no “truth dogma” to challenge these views. We may not adhere to them, but our principles stand as a beacon to be respectful, kinder people and to build a better community through understanding.
We UUs are unique as well as fortunate to have a real guru in Peter Connolly, a REAL trained minister and guru, and if you have ever seen his library, you know that he is a religious scholar as well as a talented spiritual leader.
While Rev. Connolly is available for individual guidance and consult, because he has an overarching perspective and knowledge of religious beliefs and spirituality, he is sought out by the larger community to give his opinions. We are a congregation of only 100, but because of him, our stature in the larger community is highly regarded. We are always included in newspaper articles that have to do with religious issues. Here’s an article about the important religious happenings of 2015 in which Peter, once again, is quoted. We have a visibility and standing in this community that reaches well beyond the usual influence of a small congregation. Peter promotes the values of religion and our values to the larger community, and I appreciate his thoughtfulness and ability to speak for us.
Finally, our principles form a unique set of beliefs that accommodate the many viewpoints of truth-seekers. Our rewards come from the good works that we do in the here and now. We put our energy into developing a healthy environment, promoting social justice, seeking our own spiritual truths, and respecting others. Your help is needed to build our church community by assisting with hospitality, fund-raising, the Ecological Land Ministry projects, building maintenance projects– we dwell in the HERE and NOW.
So, NOW it is time for me to sit down. Thank you, dear friends, for allowing me to speak this morning.
Jan Garrett has served the church in many ways over many years. He is a former President of our Board of Directors and serves again now as a member of the Board. He is secretary for the Social Justice Action Committee, very active in the Sunday Services Committee, the contact person for our Ecological Land Ministry, has for years led or co-led our Sunday morning Adult Forum activities, and has served in many other ways, besides.
We’ve been asked to say why we support the church. One benefit we receive from our connection with Unitarian Universalism is frequent exposure to the Seven Principles, which provide guidelines for compassionate action and choice, and to the prophetic spiritual traditions among our sources that provoke us to think more deeply about who we are and what the universe calls us to do.
Our seventh principle tells us to respect the interdependent web of which we are a part. Churches are part of the social dimension of that web, which in turn is part of the larger web that includes ecological systems and material aspects of the universe on which they depend. Human well-being depends upon excellent interaction in the social network as much as in the more inclusive web. Respecting the interdependent web means trying to stop, and if possible healing, injuries to the web and the persons and other organisms inside it. It means using the value-language appropriate to religion and ethics to call attention to the challenges and needs that exist.
Our church is part of the network of religious, educational, and social justice and ecological advocacy groups in Kentucky as well as part of the Unitarian Universalist denomination, which in turn is part of a global interfaith network aiming to heal the planet. This church community may nourish each of us individually but at least as important is what the congregation contributes to global healing.
A UU congregation provides its members with a position in a larger grid from which each of us can take a stand on what really matters. Thus it provides an opportunity for being among the best allies of the interdependent web. Not that we cannot do better. Not that we don’t depend on many others, UUs and non-UUs, for whatever successes our efforts may have.
Aristotle explains the love parents feel for their children as like the love an artisan has for his or her more or less well-made product; the child is the product of the parent’s labors (along with other factors, of course). Similarly, when a person has actively worked in a congregation or denomination for more than two or more decades, the community is partly a product of his or her work. So of course one feels attachment toward it.
Judy Tabor serves the church as the Chair of our Buildings and Grounds Committee. She works with our Hospitality Committee and has contributed to the church in other ways too numerous to mention.
From the time I, shy and self-protective, attended my first service here, I loved the “small church” atmosphere. The services were intimate and nonjudgmental. The word “should” was never used. You can get to know anyone quickly, if you desire. There were small groups that studied and discussed various subjects which I was eager to learn. I formerly had been cut off from social interaction and very much wanted to learn a new way of thinking and behaving. I learned to trust my common sense and to practice balance and to accept my perceived shortcomings as strengths, to not rely on how others perceived me, but to rely on my newly forming self-confidence and independence of thought.
The small ministry groups brought me closer to many friends. We learned each others’ strengths and weaknesses. It taught me the great value of acceptance and appreciation of each one. My own weaknesses are forgiven and I am accepted and appreciated for what I am. I feel this appreciation acutely when I come here to do what little I can to uphold my church experience.
I cannot write a policy or plan a service, but I can weed, use a string trimmer, push a vacuum, spot a roof leak, wash a dish. Why do I hate to do those things at my house, but love to do them here? In our Buddhist study group, I have learned that to get out of my chattering mind is to create my own heaven. Well, from the time I enter the driveway until I leave, my negative self-talk does not raise its ugly head. I feel totally at peace, even when there are disagreements. I am happy and at peace, knowing I have done the best I can. The church has given me that opportunity and I am grateful.
Diane Lewis is a former President of the Board of Directors, former Chair of our Social Justice Action Committee, led our Welcoming Congregation effort, and is presently serving on three committees: Sunday Services, Social Justice Action, and Membership. She is also leading our major fundraising effort this church year.
For me, it is not a matter of “why I love this church,” it is a matter of the importance of this church here in this “Bible Belt.” When we began the welcoming program, I reached out to a number of moderate Christian churches to join us here for honest dialogue at a “Food for Thought” presentation. Taylor Chapel A.M.E. was the only church to send friends. One Methodist minister told me that there was no way he could put up a flyer as his congregation would not want this. Another Methodist church told me that they did not do anything with other churches, rather, just took care of their own… WWJD–“What would Jesus do?” How wonderful to belong to an inclusive community like ours.
A group of individuals some 50+ years ago gathered at a home to fill a void in this area, to begin a community of like-minded people, each seeking their own path, respecting each other in covenant, and agreeing to a set of principles which I refer to as “common sense and compassion.” Keeping that legacy of those individuals as well as the many friends who have come and gone should be important to all of us.
Realizing the effort necessary to keep this church running, to offer and improve our Sunday services, to impress our visitors, retain our members, and grow this church, and also to be the voice for the poor and the marginalized, to speak up for fairness and equality, I joined the Sunday Services Committee, the Membership Committee, and Social Justice Action Committee.
Effort alone will not suffice. We must be able to pay staff and keep the lights on.
Therefore, I am helping with fundraising, trying to think outside the box this year. Imagine five or six different members selling donated items through eBay and paying into the church’s PayPal account. Imagine a 5-day summer camp for 1st through 6th graders this June. These are ambitious undertakings. It will take a village and I will be asking for your help.
Matt Foraker is currently the Vice President of our Board of Directors. In our church, that means that he is also the “President-elect” and will assume the position as Board President in July. He has also chaired our Committee on Ministry and serves as the Chair of our Communications Committee and Board Secretary.
When I introduced myself to this room after becoming a member, I shared how at the age of five, when I was first told about Hell, it was traumatic experience. It was traumatic not because I was afraid of eternal torment or damnation, but because the people telling me were my parents, and I really had to wonder if they were completely crazy.
Over the years, none of the religions made sense. But, I couldn’t make sense of atheism. To live the life we live and become something truly deep and rich, only to become nothing? That art, music., and what we are as human beings came from rocks bouncing together? That’s just as crazy.
Unable to join the standard religions, unable to believe in nothing, I grew up spiritually lonely, as if were wondering in a desert with a thirst I could not quench. When I started learning about UU, it was like an oasis, a fountain in the desert. Things have to make sense? Really? As UUs, we understand interdependence and the dignity of the human spirit. We value the connectedness of life and respect the other creatures sharing the planet. Imagine that.
What I love about the church is its community and the opportunity to be a person in it. I enjoy the companionship and interactions with people who have this understanding. As UUs, in general we are only willing to believe what makes sense. Again, I gain deep value and a sense of personal vindication when I interact with others who understand what I feel I understand. But, seriously, at the end of the day, I love this church because of the people in it. As you might have noticed, I’m an introverted guy who tends to avoid the spotlight, so it’s likely you don’t realize how much I respect you and how grateful I am to know you, even if you think we don’t know each other very well.
Susan Webb is the President of our Board of Directors. She is also on the Sunday Services Committee, which she has chaired. She is also active with the Cleaning Crew and has helped the church in many other ways.
Being a member of Bowling Green Unitarian Universalist means being part of a community that expects and supports my being who I really am and sharing the truth of my experience without pretense or the need to fit it into a prescribed paradigm. It means being challenged to face what’s working and what’s not in my life, the life of our community, the wider world. It means mourning losses and learning from failures as well as celebrating gains and achievements.
Being a UUBGer means being affirmed in my commitment to acknowledging the limits of “what is,” while envisioning what could be. It means sharing the commitment to not just the vision of a more just, peaceful, and sustainable way of being, but the commitment to engaging in the struggle to make the vision real. Here and now, in how we treat ourselves, each other, and all of that web of interdependent life in which we are embedded.
It’s being part of the struggle to discern how and where our time and energy and talents can come together in ways that allow each one and all of us to manifest our fullest functioning, most beautiful selves. Being part of BGUU is a commitment to the demanding, frustrating, discouraging, awesome, meaningful, and worthwhile struggle that is ours to share. What I love about UUBG is sharing that struggle with all of you.
A Closing Statement by Peter Connolly
A true church is one that lives in a place of striving, a place between who we are (who we think we are) and who we want to be. A place of aspiration, as Susan has said, not a place of settled contentment. So, by definition, it’s a place of growth and of the growing pains that accompany growth.
Sometimes we grow in the direction we have named for ourselves; sometimes we grow in the direction that others have chosen for us; sometimes we grow blindly, groping for the light that we need to guide our way and the tools that we need to cut through the brambles and clear a path that will lead us towards our vision to the community we want to be.
Always, we do better by working together than alone. Always, we do better by pooling our resources rather than dividing our energies. In practical terms, it means the people who seek to build our membership and create a healthy community work together with those who provide care for us when we are in need. And those who help us raise funds work together with those who help us manage funds.
Those who help educate our children work together with those who help educate our adults. (And you know that our children are always on the path of growing to adulthood and our adults always hold inside them some part of what it means to be a child.) It means, I think, that we see the work of the church as ministry, ministry to one another and ministry to the world.
At the dog park on Friday, I ran into a gentleman I frequently see there. Though we’ve met before, I had to confess that I had forgotten his name. He told me once more and now, I hope I’ll remember it. And he said “You’re Peter, right? You’re at the Universalist Church? I remember because of ‘Your name is Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’.”
I laughed and said “Well, we can hope.”
The quote he’s referring to is Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
This church, of course, is not built upon any one person (though much of the credit can go to Jean Thomason and her band of stalwarts in 1961). Instead, it’s built on many rocks, including those church leaders who have spoken here today.
The objection that gets raised to this text says “How can you build a church on the back of the man who, when asked if he was a follower of Jesus, would deny three times that he even knew the man from Galilee, during the time of the trial of Jesus?” (Matthew 26:34).
The response that sticks with me from the time when we studied this text in theological school goes like this: The church is a human institution, built on the backs of fallible human beings. These people will lead and they will make mistakes and they will pick themselves up, dust themselves off, recommit to their mission, and carry on.
The rocks on which we have built this church have included many no longer with us. Some have died; some have moved away. All of them were instrumental in helping us build this institution that we love. And none of them were perfect.
The church will have times of triumph– the completion of a new building, feeling established enough to call a minister for the first time, even meeting the goal of having a budget that balances. And we will have times of trouble and suffering.
We are well advised to be humble in the times of our successes and in the times of our troubles. Suffering is expressed in many forms, including anger, sadness, withdrawal and depression. The prescription is the same in each case. Be gentle. Be kind. Even to those with whom you don’t agree. Even to those who are angry with you. Even to those you may be angry with. Be kind, be gentle, and walk in peace.
We have a closing reading. After that, we’ll hold hands and sing our ode to peace, and recommit ourselves to the vision that we share. “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”