Today and Tomorrow
Rev. Grace H. Simons
Rev. Joe Cherry
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A liberal religious voice in the Central Valley since 1953.
Reading: from the Sanskrit:
Look to this day, for it is the very life of life ... Today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.
As we prepare to say our farewells, we can't help but try to look into the future. This is always uncertain business. We have some models. There's wishing on stars and birthday candles. Or maybe you'd prefer to gaze into a crystal ball. The Hebrew Scriptures feature thundering prophets threatening doom if evil ways remain unchanged. Ancient words echo: "Without vision, the people perish." These days, we're more familiar with strategic planners and measurable objectives.
Maybe each of these approaches offers some help. Without dreams and wishes, life becomes dull and stale. Sometimes we need to be thundered out of old habits or ideas that aren't working. Without some idea of a goal, even a vague one, we can wander around in the desert for a long time. And anyone who has taken a road trip can tell you there are fewer wrong turns if you map out a route. We can use them all as we try to foresee what will come, to prepare for it and maybe try to control (or at least guide) it. But none come with a guarantee.
I think it's a good idea to heed the Sanskrit advice. Even as we look to the future, we must start with today. And Providence has been providing us with some outsider opinions lately, maybe giving us an outsider's view. At their August retreat, the Board heard Jeanelyse Doran Adams, from the District, say that she's been talking about us. I think we all held our breath for a moment. Apparently she tells other congregations the story of our Education Building, how we refused to give up in the face of setbacks and completed the building despite the worst economy since the 1930s. She said she loved working with our Board for several reasons - the most concrete being the way they say "we" and "our congregation" when they speak of the Fellowship. I guess in other places, she hears "they" and "the congregation." She also admired the way the Board interacts and their honesty about their own struggles and limitations. Music to our ears!
Then, a couple of weeks ago, a visitor from a UU church in the Southeast introduced herself and said, "I come from a big church, and you people can sing!" Now, being a singer myself, I like that. But it goes deeper than what proportion of our membership has a musical background. I know that some of you - somewhere along the line - were told that you can't sing. Maybe told to stand in back and "just mouth the words." It's hard to forget the embarrassment.. But here, it's ok to join in. You've often heard me say that we preach no-fault singing. When we take the risk of singing, we step more fully into the community, trusting it to accept us. We breathe together. We add our voice in more ways than one. We stretch our spirits, and grow - and we gradually sing better, too!
That same morning, the representative from the Salvation Army talked about the meals we prepare for folks at the Winter Shelters in Modesto. (We do them in Turlock, too.) He said that folks at the shelter talk about those dinners all through the "off months." They can't wait until our season starts again. No one else provides the abundance that we do. There's always plenty. Multiple courses. Fruit and water to take for the next day. We offer an experience of plenty to those who know scarcity on a daily basis.
Now lots of UU churches feed the homeless. But I know of no other that organizes the effort the way we do. Usually, a dedicated few prepare the meal and serve it. Here, it's all-congregation participation. I once calculated that upwards of 80% of our members get involved in some way. And last week's meeting received so much interest that folks who want to help prepare the meals this year - well they'll have to take turns. That's impressive!
In these and other ways, we look good! In fact, when you consider our size and the economic situation of our area, we are impossible! But here we are. Doin' our thing without realizing how impressive we really are. It seems to be a secret, even from ourselves!
So I hope you'll excuse me while I pat us on the back a bit more. You see, I think we get so focused on the next task, the next problem, that we don't realize how much we accomplish in the ordinary course of our days. So let me lift up some other extraordinary features.
There's the fostering of our satellite group, UU Merced. A few other UU congregations sponsor start-ups or support outlying UU groups. We got advice and guidelines from one in particular, the UUs of the Tennessee Valley. But all the other sponsoring congregations are at least triple our size. Conventional wisdom says we can't do this. But we're into our third year of helping the group and they've gone from scattered house meetings to regular services twice a month, with a children's program. Our size isn't holding us back!
Then there's our music program. Bernadette, the choir, Elizabeth, Kathryn and the Music Committee, now headed by April Gutierrez, provide us with wonderful music in our services and support for our congregational singing. You will not see this in other congregations our size. But we show it's possible.
And I can't help but mention our Children's Program. Growing into our new space, we have well organized curriculum sessions, connections with the wider community and special events that invite our families to share experiences like the pumpkin patch trip that's planned for this afternoon. We offer all levels of the UU sexuality education program, or OWL. Last year, we actually had more volunteer teachers than required. Other congregations will say these things never happen. But they happen here.
Last week, I told you that I believe our congregation is healthy but not satisfied. I stand by those words, and I think that's a very good place to be. It does not mean that we have no problems. Of course, we will always have challenges of different sorts. They are simply part of church life.
Our main area of concern right now is financial. We run mostly on volunteer power. We have an amazing proportion of our congregation helping with our work, both within our Fellowship and outside our walls. We are very grateful for these efforts. But we can't function on volunteers alone. We must also have money.
We've had very tight budgets for several years now, and if this was a normal program year and I was staying on, I would be furloughed for a full month. Committee budgets have been tightened, and our administrator's hours are still lower than before the recession began. Hopefully we will be growing again and with more members, our financial situation may ease. Still, we need stronger pledge commitments to sustain our Fellowship and its many programs and services. This congregation transforms our lives in ways large and small. Here, we are accepted and encouraged to deepen our spirits, to expand our understanding and to serve the world. Our grateful response needs to be generous support. Our culture makes us reluctant to ask for money, but we cannot escape our dependence on the generosity of our members and friends.
Now, all this talk of today is meant to provide a foundation as we gaze into the future. We've become accustomed to walking together, but now we're about to take separate paths. It's time for me to start saying "I" instead of "we," and "you" instead of "us." When you say "we," it won't include David or me; "our minister" will mean someone other than "Rev Grace.'
So here's what I predict for myself and for David in the coming months. Next Sunday will be my last day with you. In fact, David has a business trip the next day and I am going with him. I hope this helps me to internalize the end of my ministry with you more than I could manage if I woke up at home that Monday morning. The Board and I have entered into a covenant that describes our responsibilities and my interaction with the congregation, at least until a new covenant can be developed with your interim minister. It's in the latest newsletter. I hope you read it.
Many of you know that our adult children and our grandchildren live in the Seattle area. We expect to move near them, but the timing of those plans is uncertain. We will spend the Thanksgiving and Winter holidays with the family. We are looking forward to sharing holiday preparations with them - something we haven't been able to do for the past decade. David still works part time and we will be in and out of the area for a while. We have plans for a winter week in Hawaii - which I'm anticipating much more than the dental work I need to complete.
In the coming year, we hope to make our move, take a couple of "dream trips" and figure out what this next stage of our lives will be like. I may do some part time ministry, but that remains to be seen. David isn't sure how long he wants to continue his consulting work. Time will tell. Whatever is in store for us, we will carry many fond memories of our time here and great affection for you and for this congregation. I'm sure the UU grapevine will tell us of wonderful new things happening here.
And the future of the congregation? Well, in just over a week, you will be starting a new chapter in the UUFSC story. Having said that the future is always uncertain, I remind you that we have paid attention to our todays. The Fellowship has a good foundation and a good reputation. Plans have been laid for the two-to-three months until an interim arrives. Services are scheduled, you have a strong and pro-active Board, and Fellowship programs are humming along. Our church year has begun well.
News of the interim is expected any day. Once that person arrives, it will be time to get serious about developing a clear sense of who you are and what hopes you have for the Fellowship's future. Once that becomes clear, the way opens to find a settled minister who will work with you to make that vision become reality.
It's tempting to look at our situation and think, "Things are pretty good. Let's just stay the way we are." But we know it isn't possible. Change is part of being alive. It's a necessary corollary of having vision, of not being satisfied. There can't be too much love or justice, too much knowledge or compassion in the world, so we can always see things to do!
People change. Our lives and needs evolve as we go through life's journey. Some of us move and even the most firmly rooted eventually die. We call our congregations communities of memory and hope for good reasons.
Futurist author Hazel Henderson writes, "If we can recognize that change and uncertainty are basic principles, we can greet the future and the transformation we are undergoing with the understanding that we do not know enough to be pessimistic." I like her attitude.
So, let me peer into Lin's gazing ball and talk a bit about the future I'd like to see for you.
When I look into the future of UUFSC, I see a community that continues to companion one another through the celebrations and sorrows of life. I see a church that reaches out in both service and advocacy, easing the pain of the present day and working for better conditions in times to come. This does not mean that every one of today's efforts will continue indefinitely. It means that the Fellowship will respond to the needs of its community. The congregation I see pays attention to developing new leadership and makes room for the gifts of new members. I see a lively group, one that offers a warm welcome to newcomer and strong connections among the continuing members. I see the spirited atmosphere here as a magnet that draws people in and offers transforming support and challenge.
An old rule of thumb says that about 1/2 of 1% of the population is likely to be Unitarian Universalist. Well, there are about half a million people in Stanislaus County. 1% would be about 5,000; half a percent, 2500. Well, yeah, you say, but it's the Valley! So what factor should we use to adjust for the conservative milieu that surrounds us? Five times fewer? That would mean a congregation of 500. Ten times? Then, 250. If we settle for something in between, UUFSC is missing several hundred natural UUs! It's important to keep your doors - and your hearts - open for these folks: folks who are looking for a religion like ours but don't know we exist. It's not fair to keep this life-giving faith from others! Being visible matters. And every opportunity counts: conversations, invitations, publicity and press features like this week's piece on the wonderful water tank mural Helen and Kevin are completing. UUFSC should not be a secret! Fix that!
In my vision, you understand the importance of UU faith, and this Fellowship, to your lives and to others outside these doors. I see you working together to affirm and further the values and high aspirations held here. That means investing in this congregation and reaching beyond it. I see UUFSC becoming a beacon of love and justice and a center of spiritual growth and care for you and your children. I see growing community recognition that you have a voice in the public conversation. I see a Fellowship that remembers to celebrate, to play as well as work together; one that takes pride and delight in being a Unitarian Universalist community of faith.
And if I'm right, well, maybe things won't have changed all that much after all - just grown and strengthened! That's a future to celebrate!
October 23, 2011
[On the eve of her retirement from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County, Rev. Grace gave two sermons, one looking back, the other forward. This is the forward one. The other half of this set is Yesterday and Today.]
Copyright by Rev. Grace Simons. If you enjoyed it or would like to use part of it, please contact our web wizard,
Rev. Grace Simons left us a
collection of her sermons
when she retired in October, 2011.
We have a brief biography
of Rev. Grace, and the last edition of
a column she wrote for our newsletter.
2172 Kiernan Avenue
Modesto, California See a map
We have no mail service on Kiernan;
PO Box 1000
Salida, CA 95368
We are a liberal church and the only UU congregation in Stanislaus county. We serve Ceres, Denair, Escalon, Hickman, Hughson, Keyes, Manteca, Modesto, Oakdale, Patterson, Ripon, Riverbank, Salida, Turlock and Waterford. We welcome Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Deists, Free-thinkers, Humanists, Jews, Pagans, Theists, Wiccans, and those who seek their own spiritual path. We welcome people without regard to race, physical ability, ethnicity or sexual orientation.