The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us.
Barely a month has passed since the Board of Directors at my UU church welcomed me into my new role as the Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach. I could just as easily say they approved or endorsed or just plain voted. Yet none of those words capture the experience of stepping into this world of Unitarian Universalist leadership as much as “welcome.”
My family only began attending the local church in July 2015. Many of my fellow congregants carry much more history and knowledge about the workings of the community. I have to admit, when the Reverend suggested I consider lay ministry, I laughed out loud. Little old me? Newcomer? Someone who should rightfully still use a green mug during coffee hour?
After our conversation, I committed to bridging the gaps. In those first weeks, I arranged my schedule to attend all the meetings and retreats. The church blog, going back several years, gave me a glimpse into the history of our congregation. I plunged into the Turning Point essays and into Erik Walker Wikstrom’s Serving with Grace. Alongside all of this, I started packing in preparation for my first year of teaching Religious Exploration. With a 5th grader at home and a full-time job, my schedule started splitting its seams.
As did my sense of connection to the very purpose of the work.
Underneath all the scrambling to learn and master everything, eagerness and anxiety churn. The latter has a way of turning the former into an eagerness “to please” and “get it right.” While I certainly come to this work with a generous helping of self-doubt, the value many UU’s place on intellectual engagement can feed these insecurities. This along with the professional prestige so prevalent in our region turns leadership into a tall order indeed.
It wasn’t until the visitors’ reception on Labor Day weekend that all that frantic learning-doing-improving finally gave way. Thankfully, it wasn’t in an all-out collapse. Quite the opposite. Motivated by a vague sense that a lay minister should, you know, “minister,” I strolled over to that table at the back of the Commons and simply started greeting people.
One newcomer had questions about the Our Whole Lives sexuality education curriculum, so we walked together to find one of the instructors for a chat. Another visitor just moved here from overseas, so I introduced her to a recent arrival from a similar corner of the world. The reception volunteer was a member whom I’d seen but now was meeting for the first time. I watched as she moved with grace among the attendees, striking a fine balance between enthusiastic hospitality and gentle attention.
After we’d cleaned up and I left the Sanctuary, I noticed the shift. What accompanied me home that afternoon was not pride or fretfulness or a schedule full of meetings. Instead, something much lighter carried me. The “I” of “my” new role had dissipated ever so slightly. In its place, the first glint of a web, the shared strands of “we.”
Membership and outreach is not my work alone. Of course, it can’t be. It belongs to all of us. The people of the congregation together create the avenues through which our neighbors find their way in the door, and we who are already here find our way to each other.
At the beginning of every UU class, covenant group, service, RE planning session or administrative meeting, we light the chalice. This is one small way we cultivate welcome in our congregation. Someone shares a reading or reflection that returns us to the reasons we have shown up. The demands of our lives and the troubles of our world can fray us at the edges. Performing this small act of spirit re-ties those threads. It returns us to connection.
The months ahead call on me to find ways to enrich this spiritual home through our membership and outreach activities. The drive to master everything and make a meaningful contribution still operates. There are piles of things to learn and even more to start doing.
It is also true that the months ahead can bring “me” into stronger relationship with “us” – the us of the congregation as well as of the community beyond our walls. September invites us into relationship with welcome. With all of its beginnings and endings, this time of year opens us to what is new ahead as well as what lives – and sometimes hides – in us. We can accept both, and then choose what to carry forward.
As the community has done for me, I hope to embody the invitation for others to bring all of who they are. Beginning this work again each time, I pledge to light a chalice in a spirit of welcome in the hopes that its light (and lightness) will accompany me. That it will lead me to my neighbors. That it will help us meet and hear and welcome others as we move through the year together.
Image: “Glory Fire Chalice” fabric art by Peace Peg (Peg Green)