Personally Significant Commitments

a sermon by the Rev. Paul Oakley
10:30 AM, Sunday, August 1, 2021

Recently, I’ve been in a bit of a genealogical mode, looking back at as many of the branches of my ancestry as I can. None of my ancestors were rich, as far as I can tell. So none of them were building little empires to hand off to their children, giving them the leg up of wealth that would give the next generation an advantage in the world. Most of them had little to pass on other than an upbringing itself, giving their children the tools they would need to make their way in the world – at least for that time and place and station in life.

My paternal grandfather grew up in a farm family with fifteen children. He was the last child in the first brood of seven. When his mother died, his father remarried and produced another group of half-siblings after him. The only way his father could invest in the future was by producing a horde of progeny, teaching them how to farm, and then casting out into the world to continue the family name. Some of them continued as farmers while others went into a variety of career paths that they learned as they went. My grandfather went through sixth grade in the rural neighborhood’s one-room schoolhouse and, by the time he was 13, was making his own way, using the skills his father had passed on, working as a farm laborer, living in whatever small and sometimes substandard housing his employer provided him.

I am thinking about my ancestors this morning because today’s sermon is another in the long sermon series on this congregation’s documents and decisions that state explicitly what we named as the purpose, the reason for being, the mission or duty of this Fellowship. We looked at what the bylaws say our purpose is and at our vision and mission statements. This is the ninth in the series, with two more to go. Today we’re looking at the last bullet point in our mission statement, which reads:

It is the mission of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waynesboro to invest in the future of our Fellowship through personally significant commitments of our time, talents, and resources.

Investing in the future, that is, doing whatever we can to ensure that the name continues, that our line continues, preparing next generations for the world that lies ahead, and where possible to accumulate whatever resources the situation requires for the future of this fellowship. That is what at the core and is the reason for the final point in our mission.

The other four points are about building now what we need or are committed to now. But this one is about the future. The first one is mostly internally focused, the second, third, and fourth are outwardly focused. And this one is all about sustainability and the future.

The next logical question is how. How might we lay groundwork for future generations of this Fellowship to flourish and our line continue in the world? And this part of our mission statement, like the second, third, and fourth points, gives the basic method forward, as we saw it in 2017 when we crafted and approved our mission statement. That method? Through personally significant commitments of our time, talent, and resources.

It is common to hear those three words as we prepare our annual operations budget and have our pledge drive, when the primary focus is gathering the resources needed to get through another year – paying our bills and spending as needed to do the things we see as defining us to ourselves and in the community. Time, talent, and money we say, acknowledging that we live in a money economy and, so, some things can only happen when there is sufficient money. And alongside this need, we recognize all the ways people contribute to the life of the congregation by giving of ourselves, not just of our money.

Using just our Sunday services as a model, our online services during the pandemic shutdown of our buildings showed us something revealing. At the end of each video service, Megan Nolde, who was our video editor, added a list of credits for that one service. Sometimes the list was quite long. And every Sunday it included plenty of people whose faces we did not see in the video. The contribution of time and talent needed for a single service is a whole lot more than most would guess from simply being present for a service. And the contributions represented in that list often included many who were not part of this Fellowship but whose words and photography we used, for example.

And that, again, has most to do with a given year’s operations. Doing the stuff of our Fellowship so that it can accomplish its mission for this point in time. But what are we thinking about when we think about time, talent and resources in a future oriented way? What do you think are uses of our time, talent, and resources that are aimed at preserving our ability to continue the mission of this congregation into the future? Our future focused commitments, contributions, and participation. Here are a few examples:

In the Our Whole Lives sexuality curriculum, we train and certify background-checked facilitators to offer a program that gives our youth a scientifically sound values-based education about sex, sexuality, and gender that far surpasses what is available even in the best public school programs. It is a preparation for a sexually, psychologically, socially, and relationally healthy life that sees our bodies and ourselves as positive and pleasurable while being responsible and safe. Our Whole Lives is a future oriented program of our denomination and our congregation. And it requires significant commitments of time, talent, and resources. Every child who has the resources for a healthy sexual life after participating in this class is part of our participation in changing the world into a safer, more equitable version of itself.

Building relationships of trust and cooperation with justice organizations around us prepares us for a more positive future in the community around us, a future in which we are participants in the spiritual and material development of our area, rather than a sequestration of people of like mind.

An expansive effort is underway right now in our Membership Team that is looking to our future: It begins with our Water Service Sunday, which they are approaching as a homecoming, with a welcome home outreach to people who have been active in our Fellowship in the past and are still in the area but who are not currently active. They are planning an open house service in the fall, a service where special care is taken to engage with people in the community who may not know who we are or what we are about. And they have a younger adult focus group planned, aimed at getting feedback from younger people about what works and what is less engaging for them in our Fellowship. It is a significant effort that is underway.

And yes, the nearly completed list of projects funded by our capital campaign were all about the future, all about sustainability, from a physical plant perspective. Insulation, air conditioning, repair of brickwork, replacing old windows that leaked air, foundation drainage work, and other projects aimed at the long-term usability of and comfort in our buildings has some impact now, for sure, but is also about preserving our facilities for use long into the future. The anonymous gift of our solar panel array on the Fellowship Hall frees up money into the future for other uses and allows us to participate in long-term solutions of the larger community to build capacity in renewable energies.

And these are just a few examples. In some ways, most everything we do has a future-oriented component. But there are yet other aspects of our congregational life that prepare people and our facilities more specifically for a future influenced by our values. A future in which we are prepared and equipped to live out all of the points of our mission statement.

What will we do to strengthen our commitment to a future in which we are part of the flourishing of our own life as a congregation and the just development of our larger community? We all are able to participate through our personally significant commitments of our time, talent, and resources.

Amen and Blessed Be.