I grew up here in Concord, on Elm St, across from Trinity Episcopal Church. My family was staunchly atheist. So I would watch with curiosity as my neighbors filed into church every Sunday morning and I wondered what the heck they did in there.
I left Concord when I was 18 and moved to the UK. Shortly after that, I started to ask people about why they were religious. And I would say, “I’d like to maybe be part of a religious community, but since I don’t believe in god, I wouldn’t be comfortable being part of a religion that required me to believe a particular doctrine. I’d like to explore lots of religions and I’d like to be in a church community without an expectation that we all believe the same thing.” And people would look at me like I had two heads, and they would say, “I don’t know what that is, but it’s not a church. It’s certainly not my church. I think you’re looking for some kind of social club.” And I would say, “I don’t think I am, but…well…ok…thank you.”
And I had many conversations like this over the course of about 20 years, until one day, I was visiting an old friend of mine – her name is Patty Popov – and I described this thing that I had in mind, and she said, “Oh, you’re a Unitarian Universalist. You should come to my church.” So I did, and I listened to Pam’s children’s message and I listened to the choir and I listened to Gary’s sermon, and tears began to stream down my face. This thing that I had invented in my head and looked for for nearly two decades was real, and it was right here in my hometown, a mile from where I grew up. It was quite the Dorothy moment.
So I convinced my family to move here and I jumped in full force. I joined everything: choirs, shows, women’s retreats; I joined just about every committee that would have me. I organized potlucks, and square dances and story telling nights. And what I’ve come to realize over the past 8 years is that what feeds me is connection. The work that I am most drawn to do as a volunteer is invariably about connecting to others and helping others to connect to each other, striving to create a place where each of us can say, “I belong.” Taking part in building community has come to be a spiritual practice for me.
So why do I pledge? I pledge not as an indicator of how much or how little I agree with the choices made by our church leaders – sometimes I spectacularly disagree with how things come to happen here, but that has no impact on how I personally choose to pledge. My perspective may not be a popular one, but I share it with you from my heart, and you can do with it what you will. I see pledging as my duty as a citizen of this congregation. Like paying taxes. If I don’t like how Congress operates, I may shout at my radio a lot, but I still pay my taxes, because I like having roads and schools and a police force. It’s what I signed up for when I chose to move back to this country. I chose to increase my pledge by 18% this year because my church called upon me to do so; because the work that we do here – work that I value and respect and want to be part of and want my children to emulate – costs actual money. I looked for this place for half my life and I intend to treasure it for the rest of my life. I honor the work of this community by simply paying my share.
When I signed the membership book, I felt as if I had linked arms with every person who had ever lived and died in this parish, and every person who will walk through those doors after I am gone. A chain of human lives, each link connected.
I close by co-opting a little bit of a Pete Seeger song we sang last week:
Guard well our human chain. Watch well you keep it strong…For now, I’m yours. And you are also mine.