It’s testimonial season at First Parish and we testifiers have a prompt: What keeps you involved and coming back?
There’s a simple explanation. First Parish is part of where I live, it’s my neighborhood. I just show up. I just show up and it’s just good to see you. If not for here, we likely would not know each other.
The more complex explanation is that church confuses the hell out of me. And for me, that confusion is interesting and useful.
This is what the UUA says we offer: “Live your values aloud, not alone. Our open-minded, open-hearted spiritual communities help people live lives of justice, love, learning , and hope”. As an organization, then, we operate a “spiritual community service”. We’re both customers and service providers.
As a customer, I am like: What do I get? What do I experience? How am I served? As a customer, these are natural questions. The consumer choice to engage, or not, at First Parish is one of: among everything else, what do I give my attention to? What do I do next? We’re competing here with TikTok, with team sports, getting work done, and with simply tuning out for relief.
Unlike some alternatives, our faith is centered on love – not performance, not conformance. The core experience of our faith is receiving through giving, also known as “loving”. The giving is showing up for each other – Serving. Serving is not about me, it’s about you. It is tuning in for love. When I show up for you, and I lead with love, I show up for me too.
“Easy” showing up is giving a hug. There’s nothing better. But, if church was just showing up at 10 AM every Sunday to hug each other – would that happen?
“Stretchy” showing up is, for example, that I volunteered to facilitate small group discussion and that there is some vulnerability there for me with doing that. But I did it and it’s OK. Overall our experience with Small Groups has been that these groups work. People are connecting. We have impact.
As for “complicated” showing up… Well, it’s easy to complicate leadership here. “Complicated” can surface anywhere where one is trying to get something done. When I engage with that “get it right” energy and do catch myself, I ask myself “Do I need to be dragging that intention around?” or can I let that go?
The question is “What really matters here?” Focusing on just what we are trying to be together always simplifies showing up.
One of my best moments recently was showing up for the Covenant workshop and feeling a room full of hope. The message to me was that I am not alone.
The other was absorbing Anderson Manuel’s recent testimony from the pulpit. He sent me to the words of Dr King. And they clarified for me the understanding that beyond serving my family, the most important thing I can do with my life is to advance the cause of justice.
Do I get these moments every time I do something at First Parish? No. Maybe that’s the idea. Our community is more than a performance, it is a relationship. I am here to be human, to be fully myself, and to learn to love unconditionally.
And yet, we live in this world. As a community, for us to thrive, we need to keep showing up for each other. How do we make showing up less complicated? How do we make “the service we provide” easy to appreciate? How do we stay vital in a distracted world that lags in love? These “how” questions are what engage me.
I want to leave you with an image of the water, the vessel, and the hands.
We are the water. By ourselves, we are puddles, evaporating. The vessel of our congregation holds the water and shapes our activities together. Our mixture manifests love and hope. Our staff are the hands that shape and hold the vessel. They are hearts, and minds, and hands, working to serve.
To pledge is to show up for each other, to serve our congregation, to serve our staff, and ultimately ourselves. Your giving makes our community possible. Please bring a generous intention to your pledge.