Olympia Brown was the first woman officially ordained by the Universalists. Reading number 569 in our grey hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, begins, “Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it.”
I love this reading as it says so much about what congregational life is all about. The reasons we come into one of our congregations are varied but are often during times of tension or transition. We often come in because we have a need or desire. We may be hurting or broken in some way. We might feel that we are lacking in some of what life is demanding of us. So we take that courageous step and we come. We receive love, connection, friendship, care for ourselves and our family. This feels wonderful.
When talking about membership, Michael Piazza, a United Church of Christ minister, said to a group of us last year, that there comes a time when we must “take off the bib and put on the apron.” This is a critical time for us; we move from guest to host. One can only be a host once they consider the congregation to be their home. The language moves from talking about “y’all” and “them” to “we” and “us”.
Olympia goes on to say “Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message that you are strong enough to work for a great principle without counting the cost.”
WE are entrusted; all of us. This is where we put on the apron. The congregation is the curriculum by which we teach. We can best teach our children, those new to our tradition, and those outside looking in by being good stewards of our faith. We cherish our congregations not because they are perfect or meeting our every need but because we are mindful of others' needs. We aspire to create a community for all.
Our relationship with the congregation, and thereby the faith, can begin to sour if we leave the bib on too long. If we fail to move from the language of “me” to “we,” we can wander into “what have they done done for me lately?” territory.
Others learn about us by what we do and how we treat each other. This is the way to teach our true values. We live in community not because it is easy, but because we choose to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We believe that living in community is worth the work and the sacrifice. Our individual and family needs may not all be met, but we stay. We stay so that others can find a place when they need love, connection, friendship and care. We put on the apron.