The Future Waits
March 4, 2018
You may have noticed that on this Sunday, and last Sunday, and as will be the case for the next two Sundays, seven of our more active members are not with us here. They each and all have an excused absence in that they are out looking for your next settled minister; which is to say that they are out there representing you here. They hopefully will have some good news for us about a month from now. I have a lot confidence that they will.
As for my role in this whole process, as an interim minister, there are certain things I can—and cannot—do. I may not offer the Search Team my personal opinion about any of the ministers they are considering, when it comes to who I might think would be a good settled minister for you. That would be a breach of professional ethics when it comes to my relationships with my ministerial colleagues.
What I can do is meet with those being considered for serving as your next minister to share with them my impressions of this congregation, the things they can expect to find should they come here, and to answers any questions they may have for me about you. I’ve had some very fruitful conversations along this line already, and have one more to go when it comes to the four persons your Search Team has narrowed their search to.
What I want to do this morning is to share with you some of the discussions I’ve been having with prospective ministers for FCU, and tie those discussions to the Stewardship Campaign that is now underway for your 2018-19 church year. We kicked it off with a very fun and delightful dinner here last night.
To get to the conversations with prospective ministers: I stress that yours is a closely knit and caring congregation without being insular about it. You love and care for one another while keeping your doors open. The minister who comes to serve this congregation will have a very good Lay Pastoral Ministry Team to work with when it comes to identifying and attending to some of the needs for pastoral care and outreach among its members and friends.
To this I add that you have a well-crafted Covenant of Right Relations that helps to set a standard as to how you will be with one another, and how you maintain the quality of your interactions with one another. It is more than words on paper or on a poster, but a living document that reflects well the nature of your congregational life.
I point out that there is a very vibrant worship life here that they will tie into; that our Sunday services, by and large, have a wholistic and integrated quality to them. I note that whoever comes here will have a very good Worship Associates Team to work with in attending to the overall flow of the services; and they’ll have a very fine Music Director who makes the music a very integral part of the whole worship experience.
You will find a congregation with a strong social conscience and social justice commitment to which a settled minister can bring his or her own concerns, commitments, and passions. A settled minister will find here, as I have found myself, a very dedicated Multi-Cultural Ministries Committee that offers a variety of community wide forums on a range of social justice issues, and that on occasion offers a Sunday service as well.
A question I’m almost always asked is about the church staff: How do you feel I’ll be able to work with them, and what are the expectations of me as minister in this respect? My response to that is that you will enjoy the support of a very competent four-member staff. You’ll have a Music Director, as already noted, whose efforts greatly enhance the overall quality of worship life. The day to day administrative tasks are in the hands of a well experienced and dedicated Office Manager. The membership in our Religious Education program is comparatively small while being run by, again, a very experienced and qualified individual who cares deeply about the children and young people involved—and they know that she does. The facility itself is very well cared for as a matter of family tradition—the Sexton of eighteen years followed in the footsteps of his father whose tenure was for more years than I know.
Your role, I say to a prospective minister, will be to offer your support, direction, and guidance as Staff Supervisor, to conduct an annual review of each staff member, and keep the personnel policies up to date. These are practices I’ve put in place during this interim ministry period.
A more broad-based question I get has to do with the overall mood, tone, and general feel of the congregation as they anticipate their next settled minister. Here I do say a bit about the Healing Conversations we put in place in our first interim year to air out some of the highly mixed feelings that were among you following the conclusion of your previous settled ministry. I’ve feel I am now able to say quite honestly that the next settled minister here will find a unified congregation ready to move forward with his or her leadership.
And sooner or later the conversation gets around to money. A settled minister knows, as I have found out myself here, that she or he will be a beneficiary of the many and varied gifts so many of you bring to the life of this congregation; while also knowing the importance of the gift of financial support. I point out that you do maintain a good balance of your sources of income: Your pledge base, what you can prudently take from your investment portfolio, your year-to-year fundraiser, and what you receive from community groups for the use of this building. It is, of course, that pledge base that needs ongoing care, attention, and prodding in order that that balance can be maintained. This is why it is important that you pledge to the very highest of your ability to do so.
Along this line, let’s do a calendar check: Your annual Stewardship Campaign starts this weekend. You will meet your ministerial candidate—in the week leading up to your congregational vote—from April 22-29. By then this Stewardship Campaign will be at, or near, completion. How wonderful it will be if you can, at that time, say to your prospective minister: “In our Stewardship Campaign for this year we met a pledge goal that will allow us to fund our programs, pay our staff, attend to the needs of our facility, support our denominational body, and do all the other things we need to do to assure a strong and vital congregational life as you begin your ministry with us. THAT—is the message you want to give when the time comes around some 7-8 weeks from today. How well that message gets delivered is in your hands.
I have one more place to do before we finish up for today. As important as this Stewardship drive is to the health and well being of this congregation, it is much more than that. While our financial numbers here have to do with maintaining and growing this particular liberal religious institution, the bigger picture is about the place of this particular religious community in the larger social and cultural landscape in which we find ourselves at this time in our country’s history.
I don’t need to spell out the details. We have seen certain forces of bigotry, fear, racism, and—yes—hatred find renewed energy over the past year and more. These are forces that have been given at least some measure of sanction at some of the highest levels of governance.
Across our social and cultural landscape right now—including but going well beyond our Unitarian Universalist communion—is the need for strong and vibrant and dedicated communities of conscience, communities of justice, communities that stand on the side of love, communities that will continue to hold up the vision of safer, saner, and more just and loving society for us all—and who will work diligently towards that end. May we be in that number.
I took the title for my remarks for today from a line in our closing hymn: “Prophetic church, the future waits, your liberating ministry. Go forward in the power of love. Proclaim the truth that makes us free.” These words were sung by a large gathering of Unitarians and Universalists on May 23, 1960 at Boston’s Symphony Hall to officially and ceremonially mark the birth of our Unitarian Universalist Association with the joining of our parent Unitarian and Universalist denominations. Those words rang true in 1960. They are even more compelling and more demanding of us right here and now.
“The future waits.” Indeed it does. It waits for you as a liberal religious community in Littleton, Massachusetts. It waits for all you can bring to the larger life in which we all share.
March 4, 2018
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