Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Cricket and I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.
Thank you for joining us.
[If guests] I’d like to welcome our guests. Thank you for taking a chance and taking the time to walk through our doors and join us for worship.
Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.
Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.
Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.
Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.
Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here.
Opening Words: Gathering in Our Own Spaces by Jeff May
Chalice Lighting: Ignite In Us Radical Love… by Rev. Rebekah Savage
Story for all Ages:
Offering Response: For the gifts which we have received — and the gifts which we, ourselves, are — may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.
Reading: The Grout by Marcus Hartlief
Lesson: The Cambridge Platform, Polity, and You, UU by Cricket Hall
This is a UU History service. We choose to look back at our history because it influences our present. We believe that as a living tradition we are ever growing and evolving and yet we often hear, “well that’s not really UU” or “that’s not how it has always been done” or any variation on those themes. This is why it is important to study our history and look at it within both the context of its time and our current context. Today we are going back a good way to the basis of our ideas on congregational polity which is The Cambridge Platform which was written in 1648. Today I am using two main sources: The Cambridge Platform: A Contemporary Reader’s Addition with an introduction by Alice Blair Weseley, and “Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity: A Report by the Commission on Appraisal”, Unitarian Universalist Association, June 1997. I chose this topic for two reasons. 1) Because our theme for October is Cultivating Relationships and I thought going back to how we decided to be in relationship with each other as individual churches and as a community of churches was a good idea. And 2) as with many of my sermons lately, the seeds were planted by fellow UU Seminarians on Facebook. In a discussion on where to find a UU Polity class for those of us not at a UU seminary, there was a thread about how many people don’t understand how polity works. Many people hold up the Cambridge Platform to say that we should be individual and not as grouped and communitized as maybe we want to be or should be.
The Cambridge Platform was written in 1648. It was written by Puritans. So this is something that we hold on to from our Puritan heritage and it was written in response to laws that kept people from meeting in small groups. Instead of meeting at big churches, they wanted to study scripture on their own in small groups of a covenantal nature. And thinking that saying that was not okay, in making those gatherings of dedicated people doing spiritual things illegal, the government sort of made a decision for the people. And the people decided that they needed to make a change and make new rules for how churches needed to be together and how churches needed to be separate. In the introduction of the book, Weseley says, “The Cambridge Platform explains and justifies how congregational churches work. It is heavily footnoted with references to passages from Scriptures illustrating the understanding that the substance of the congregational way is the same as that of the very first free church, the family of Sarah and Abraham. For the authors of the Platform, free churches are groups of people who have covenanted to ‘walk together,’ as they are called by God to do in the spirit of mutual love.”
The idea of the Cambridge Platform was that people should be at the center. It is full of rules. (I read it.) It is full of footnotes. There are numbers everywhere and all of them go to Bible verses, if you look in the back of the book. But what it comes down to is that we can take a source – For them, being Puritans in the 1600’s the only source was the Bible – But, we can take a source and we can look at it and we can know how to be with each other, and we can know how to worship together and we can know how to covenant with one another.
A lot of people talk about covenants and what that means. I just want to talk about covenant for a quick second. Because a lot of people are like “oh, it’s just a promise.” And yes, it is. But with a promise there is not necessarily a mutual expectation. The big difference between a promise and a covenant is that promises are made and can be kept or broken, but with a covenant there is mutual responsibility and mutual accountability. So, when we covenant together, we hold each other accountable, we hold each other responsible together to move forward.
From the report that I mentioned earlier, “However, the ideal existed before the actual: The vision of the Cambridge Platform of a devoted community of congregations came into being before many congregations were formed. It governed the aspirations of those who wrote the Platform and those who succeeded them, and it is still an ideal that Unitarian Universalism embraces.” This document was written full of hope. Yes, it’s wordy and lengthy and written in 1600’s language, but it is at its center about two things. It is about covenant, and it is about hope. Because it is about taking covenant and hope and creating something new. So, when we as Unitarians and Universalists and then as Unitarian Universalists came together, we looked at this document and said “Oh! This is a really good idea.”
The UUA’s “primary purpose” is described, namely “to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.” The UUA, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s job is to serve the member congregations. That’s its part of the covenant. But all too often when we think about congregational polity and the idea that congregations have the final say on many things from calling pastors to ordaining ministers to who is on the board to the by-laws they write – to when they have services, we don’t think about the congregation’s jobs. All of those things are decided by the congregation. The UUA is to serve the congregation. But that’s only part of it because a covenant is two-sided. We cannot just have the UUA with its jobs and not have the congregations with our jobs. Congregations are in covenant with the UUA. Congregations are in covenant with each other. It is our job to support the UUA. It is our job to support other congregations. It is our job to say “Hey, UUA you aren’t doing your job!” It is our job to go “ooh we have decided, all the congregations have gotten together and through our delegates at general assembly, this is something new that we have brought to the table and then we will institute it in our own congregations. Because all of us decided that this is what we need.” Because to quote Rev. Theresa Ines Soto, “All of us need all of us to make it.”
There is a section in the book that talks about the powers of the church itself. It goes through how they can set up the board and all of the things that are the responsibilities of an individual congregation and all of the things that are the rights of an individual congregation. I wanted to bring this particular section because this is about Mutual Accountability. This is point 2 in that section, “ii. In admission of their own members. And, therefore, there is great reason they should have power to remove any from their fellowship again. Hence, in case of offense, any one brother has power to convince and admonish an offending brother; and, in case of not hearing him, to take one or two more to set on the admonition; and, in case of not hearing them, to proceed to tell the church; and, as his offense may require, the whole church has power to proceed to the public censure of him, whether by admonition or excommunication;176 and, upon his repentance, to restore him again unto his former communion.177” There is a chain of accountability written in to the Cambridge Platform. If one person is injured they speak to the other person. If the injury is not resolved or if the injury continues, then the injured person can speak to friends within the church to help him. From there it goes up to the whole church and from there it can go to the whole association. This is not a punishment thing. This is an accountability thing. This is how we say that something is unacceptable, and we need to fix it. Censure is one of the ways we as congregations and as an association of congregations have the power to do that. But censure is not there to be permanent. It is the original “calling in.” It is asking someone in a public way to look at the harm they have caused, hold them accountable for it, and work toward reconciliation. In our story for all ages, one of the men broke another man’s long spoon. This caused injury. Because of the broken spoon the man could have easily not been fed. They could have said, “Well, he can’t feed anyone, so we should not feed him.” But he was the first one fed. The one who broke the spoon could have easily been cast out, “We don’t need someone who causes harm in our circle.” But there was reconciliation. There is mutual accountability in the story.
One of the sections in the report is titled “Comfort or Values: Which Do We Hold More Dear?” It heads a section in the Marginalized Groups section of the report. “Conrad Wright, one of the most recognized authorities on Unitarian Universalist congregational polity, asserts that when we consider diversity, congregational polity is an “inherent” and “insoluble problem”; that congregationalism “inevitably limits the range of people who worship together.” He states that “congregational polity is wedded to homogeneity”-that the more heterogeneous the group, the less likely it is that consensus will be reached on deeply held ideas.” Wright’s words here are a little daunting. They make it sound like we cannot survive and be diverse. But I think there is more to it than that. I think this is at the heart of being UU. We can cling to the past or we can make things work with our values. We can use our past to inform our present and our future. Congregational polity can change and grow just like the rest of our faith; it does not need to be set in stone. We are making a mosaic. Each church is working to make its own mosaic that coordinates with all of the others to make a very large mosaic together. This is where knowing our current context, our history, and our goals for the future are important. It is where they all come together in the living tradition of our faith.
I would like to share this quote with you from Arthur Chan. I found it important for us.
In an article from UU World by Liz James titled “How does someone become a UU Minister?” She says, We believe that the truth is not spoken until many voices—and many types of voices—are heard (and even then, it’s still a work in process). UUs will often refer to something someone does in the world as “a ministry,” even when it’s not being done by a minister. Sometimes, the phrase “ministry” means “important work you’re called to do,” and we believe everyone is called to do important work. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.”
We are working towards a covenantal belonging where we all share together in ministry, because that will honor all of us and our history.
Joys and Concerns
If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;
or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.
Meditation: Community Means Strength by Starhawk
We are all longing to go home to some place
we have never been—a place half-remembered and half-envisioned
we can only catch glimpses of from time to time.
Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion
without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands
will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter,
voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power.
Community means strength
that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter.
A circle of healing.
A circle of friends.
Someplace where we can be free.
Benediction: May You Be Filled by Eric Williams
Go Now in Peace