This offering is taken from Rev. Shelly’s sermon Love Letters given on Sunday, June 12.
This spring, Jenna and I took some vacation time together to work on some house projects. One project took us through boxes of memories: photographs, movie & concert ticket stubs, and love letters. For six months, early in our relationship, Jenna and I nurtured our relationship at a distance. I took a job as a Resident Director at a small liberal arts college in New Hampshire while she stayed in Massachusetts to manage her family’s swimming pool business. The letters often shared the details of what was happening in our lives and the desire for the distance to be shortened. The letters often spoke of gratitude for the commitment to nurturing this new love at a distance, acknowledging the risk of love versus the years of friendship that we had, dreaming of the future what would come of this new relationship, where would this future bring us. While the love letters discovered in the spring cleaning were of a new romantic love, they also told a story of a love that was inviting each soul to risk being vulnerable to the mystery of Love.
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place” ~Zora Neal Hurston
Our story this morning, Somebody loves you, Mr. Hatch, tells us the story of transformative love: a love that is shared, trusted, and embodied. Somebody loved me, actually several somebodies, an entire church community, then several church communities. They planted the seeds of worth and dignity into a quiet, skeptical woman who had no idea she was traveling through the land of Love, a land complete with obstacles, varied terrain, barriers even. This land of Love invited discernment, cultivated trust to find my way around and through, and even befriend some of those obstacles.
In the Spring of 2001, I became a Unitarian Universalist. For twelve of these last fifteen years, I prepared for ordained ministry, celebrated entrance into preliminary fellowship, searched and settled into this beautiful ministry, and will be received into final fellowship in a couple weeks; and upon reflection, even those first few years of congregational life and the nurturing of relationships prepared me for the ministry I embody and practice today.
This morning, June 12, 2016, I celebrate my 5-year ordination anniversary. Traveling through the land of Love, I’ve discovered the importance of telling those who travel with you how much they are loved, how they are beautiful, and how together they can risk vulnerability and deepen trust of one another.
And so a letter to you, the spiritual community of the UU congregation of Fort Wayne.
It seems like yesterday, I was entering this sanctuary on a cold Friday afternoon in February 2012. I was immediately taken by the chairs, since I had come from the land of UU pews. The space was filled, despite no one being present except for myself, Jenna, and Toni Kring. I could almost hear the stories the walls wanted to tell me. I walked up the center aisle and rang the bell and listened. The sound was beautiful and I thought to myself, imagine the sounds created in this space. The interview the next day went well, we laughed, shared stories, invited vulnerability in the questions we asked each other. I remember on the driving tour of the city that Dennis pointed towards Gouty’s on Broadway and shared that would be the mechanic he would recommend. (I’m certain this was more for Jenna than for myself, for they had already shared car stories.) Dinner on Saturday evening invited an ease of conversation because how could it not with Larry Curtis hosting the dinner of Maggie’s delicious quiche! After I preached in Elkhart, I remember Larry saying, “You outdid yourself this morning; that certainly wouldn’t happen every Sunday.” I only wish he could be here to see and be a part of our creative, engaged, inspiring, multigenerational worship.
When I received the call from Evan that I was selected to be your candidate, I was overjoyed and a full week of preaching, listening, learning, and exploring ensued. And then another call came from Evan, on Sunday, May 6, with report of a unanimous vote which I had never heard of – because there is always at least one or two, for the principle of democratic process.
All of that was just a quick four years ago, and the song in my heart then is still the song in my heart now, along with deep gratitude for the work of your search committee and each of you who showed up then and continue to show up.
The creative transformative energy we called, accepted, and installed in the ministries we practice collaboratively within and beyond the walls of this church calls my soul out of its hiding place and I believe it has called your souls out of hiding as well. I believe you were looking for a minister to love you enough to remind you that you are loveable and that Unitarian Universalism is a force for good in your community.
Over these four years, we’ve had our obstacles and even retreated into our hiding places once in a while. We learned the importance of the fellowship renewal process instructions of cumulative responses and had HARD conversations that first year. Hard conversations are a part of congregational life and I love that you stay at the table to have these conversations. These conversations have included staffing patterns, social justice initiatives, finances, leadership styles. We continue to ask each other the questions: are we doing the right things? Are we doing things right? I want to let you know, you do the right thing – even when it’s HARD.
“The journey of love is a very long journey, but sometimes with a sigh you can cross the vast desert.” 1 A release of barriers, a sigh, an awareness of breath allows us to celebrate the results of our difficult conversations: hiring a Consulting DRE and then entering the search process for a DRE (and recognizing the gifts of religious education ministry in one among you), all staff paid within the UUA fair compensation guidelines, inviting small group ministry as adult faith formation, Rule of 5 to begin social justice initiatives beyond our community partnership with Wellspring. And not all of our conversations were HARD and Difficult; we also had conversations about the future, who we are, how we practice Unitarian Universalism in Fort Wayne. We have discovered and named a vision, mission, and a behavioral covenant all of which embodies the spirit of UUism here in NE Indiana.
I love Love. I love that you love Love; and together we continue to show up, listen, and deepen our trust. “Search and search again, without losing hope; you may find sometime a treasure on your way.” 2
Each of you, and the spiritual community that is nurtured in this place, is my treasure on my way.
“Great congregations and effective, dedicated ministers create one another.” (Jack Mendelson)
And the greatest news in this land of Love is that our adventure continues. You are a great congregation and I am an effective, dedicated minister – together we are creating a beautiful and wondrous ministry.
As I look to the future, I am aware that over the next few years, we will prepare and experience a 5-month sabbatical in 2018: using your talents to create an environment of discovery and rest for yourselves as well as for me. We will need to create a long-range plan, a map of this land of Love, that includes understanding how we make decisions: governance and ministry is a special relationship that guides growth; how we will continue to bring excellence to our worship experience with looking at accessibility of our space: hearing loop, audio/visual equipment, special musical offerings, guest speakers; understand how we are living our Welcoming Congregation status: gender-neutral bathrooms, inclusivity training, panel discussions to deepen our awareness of gender identities; and deepen our awareness of stewardship to the earth with the potential of solar panels and a labyrinth, in addition to stewardship of our UU faith through conversations about generosity and acknowledge the benefits of legacy giving.
More importantly, we continue to deepen the trust and care of each other’s souls, imagining the possibilities, so that in the wide variety of terrain in this land of Love, this long journey of Love, we do not retreat into our hiding places.
I often brag to my colleagues that the one thing I know for sure is that you are with me, that you will show up: when we are playing Jeopardy in worship – you are here; when we are mourning the death of a long-time member or their family – you are here; when we celebrated marriage equality in Indiana, you were here; when the grounds need weeding or the memorial garden needs some color – you are here; when I ask for facilitators for Sacred Seekers, you respond; when GA happens less than 3 hours away, you go.
The nourishment you provide invites Love to ripen new possibilities in our lives and in our world. It is my privilege to serve with you in this Land of Love, where we love Love and become a force for good in NE Indiana; where we continue to foster a relationship built on trust, love, challenge, growth, and celebration. For on this journey, in this ministry together for the first four years and for many years to come, faith, hope and love call us on and the greatest of these is Love.
With love and deep gratitude, your minister, Rev. Misty-Dawn
1 Responsive Reading #610 The Journey of Love, Singing the Living Tradition hymnal
2 Responsive Reading #610 The Journey of Love, Singing the Living Tradition hymnal