Today we observe our Celebration Sunday. Usually, when we have a Celebration Sunday, they are to mark the end of our annual pledge campaign. I can remember doing a Mexican Hat Dance once, with Jane Carpenter, during the social hour at one of them a few years ago. But as in so many things this Spring, it was not meant to be, in the way it was imagined to be. I suggest though that there is still much cause for celebration in regards to People’s Church, and what we do and how we do it. Some very good qualities about our church and our faith stand out amongst this pandemic. So despite the fact that on this Celebration Sunday 2020, we are not in attendance at the church, I think this Sunday is no less worthy of a celebration.
First of all, I must repeat that I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the people associated with this congregation. Let’s start by celebrating that—the spirit of generosity. And by generosity I do not mean just in the sense that we are meeting our campaign goals.
What I do mean by generosity is that everyone is right on top of it, offering whatever they can do, to help in every situation—time, talent, and treasure. It is demonstrated to me over and over again, that first and foremost, and especially during a difficult time, we are here for each other and the community. In fact, so much help is being offered, it cannot all be accepted. Driving people around, helping with shopping, cooking for people, cooking for homeless people, calling and checkin in, helping take care of homes, offering funds and time to the church and agencies that help people in need…and that’s just the start of it. And it’s not that it’s being organized by the church, it’s just happening. We are simply living out our principles and covenant. If a need arises, I know it can be met however it needs to be met, because of everyone’s generosity. First and foremost, let’s celebrate that today. As much as we can be, we are safe and secure in the sense that we know that we will be there for each other. We celebrate that we are with one another in our grief and concern and hardships, as well as our joys.
We are doing what it takes to make sure people are getting what they need. And we do this in the way that Unitarian Universalists, freethinkers, humanists, do it. Because we believe in each other, ourselves, and the future. We believe in human goodness and in helping our neighbors. We practice those virtues, that are their own reward. We all benefit by the actions that arise from the good character we seek to generate in ourselves and those around us. In asking for help, or responding to it, nothing unites us more. And it doesn’t depend on me as the minister, or the board, or a committee. It depends on our beliefs and practices, and in the inspiration we receive from our values.
And me being me, I see this as going back to the founding of Unitarianism in this country. In a couple of weeks, I hope to preach on William Ellery Channing, the person credited with establishing liberal religion as a source of inspiration in a modern world. He was alive and wrote and preached in the 1820s and 30s, and so his language and idiom arises from the sentiments of the New England of that time period. But from the inscription found on a dominant statue commemorating him in Boston, you can hear the thunder clap of juxtaposition and thought, from this otherwise meek and unpretentious person: “I see the marks of God in the heavens and the earth, but how much more [*underlining mine] in a liberal intellect, in magnanimity, in unconquerable rectitude, in a philanthropy which forgives every wrong, and which never despairs of the cause of Christ and human virtue. [*note that juxtaposition] I do and I must reverence human nature*… I thank God that my own lot is bound up with that of the human race.” To our ears and sensibilities, it may sound very old school religious. But that is because we at this church are the inheritors, a couple centuries on, of the landscape he and his contemporaries changed. We are the people who honor that which arises from the liberal intellect, human virtue, rectitude, and philanthropy. This conviction manifests itself in the generous spirit we celebrate today as associates of People’s Church.
And what is so edifying is that much of what we do is done without fanfare or a lot of attention. It is simply what we do. Not to mention that in small and great ways, there is some risk involved now. Those who work in the medical professions cannot receive enough thanks. If you are one of those workers, today we celebrate your commitment, your willingness, your sacrifices, and your preparedness. We also celebrate those doing their jobs and volunteering, working to makes sure we have groceries, food, navigable streets, and safe areas to be out and walking.
On this Celebration Sunday, we are being brought together in ways we could not have imagined a few months ago. We may be physically separated, but in some ways we have never been so close and recognized our interdependence. In an immediate way, everything continues to get done at the church due to the collaboration and thoughtfulness of those performing tasks. Because things are so fast moving, any list I try to make right now will come up short. But, the board continues to meet and make decisions, and new technology is sought, introduced, taught, and learned. Likewise, the office work is getting done; if one person isn’t able to do something, others, even though it may not be easy for them, come in and get it done. Of course there are some difficulties here and there, and some bumps along the way, but everything is working as efficiently as it ever has. When we are able to start meeting again, we will be up and running immediately. We do not want this to last long, but it looks like we would be able to weather it for as long as we need to. This is the result of that generous spirit we celebrate.
A weaker or divisive institution would not be able to stand these stresses. We will be as strong as we ever were, and perhaps stronger, and more relevant, and more unified. This is one of the strengths of a congregational governance—it does not depend on a single individual or a small group of people. Everyone’s contribution is needed, essential, and substantive.
I would also point out at this time, a little ironically, how we are remaining connected, maybe even drawing closer, to the UUA. Susan Frederick-Gray mentions how our spirit is one of individualism. She writes: “Interestingly, Unitarian Universalism lives with an inherent tension between individualism and interdependence. The values of freedom, liberty, and the right of conscience are a core part of our principles as are the values of equity, responsibility, and interdependence. Ideally, this represents a middle path that celebrates the beauty of individuality and the power of beloved community, recognizing the Universalist message that liberation and salvation are not individual but collective.” I appreciate the help, guidance, and inspiration coming from the “home office.”
Another thing we celebrate is our flexibility, and our evaluating how we do things. We need to prepare ourselves and understand that it may be a while before a group as large as our church will be able to meet safely. And even then, there is a strong possibility that group gatherings will be on-again, off-again, for the foreseeable future. As Governor Whitmer mentioned, we will need to stay nimble as we continue to deal with the pandemic. To this end, one of the more immediate concerns is the annual meeting scheduled for the end of June, where some pretty big decisions will be made. The board is looking at and considering ways this can be done in case we are not able to meet at the church.
Now, as to the original intention of Celebration Sunday, we want to celebrate a successful pledge drive—not quite completed though. We pull through this [pandemic] by pulling together, and that is what we celebrate today, and what the pledge campaign shows.
Six weeks ago, actually the first Sunday when we did not have a service in the church, we began our 2020 pledge campaign. It is interesting to note that, based on the science that was being presented, even before the governor took action, or even before we heard from the UUA, on March 12th the board decided to suspend the Sunday service and the activities at the church. It was a few hours after that decision, that word was received from the UUA suggesting and requesting that UU churches suspend meetings and services. And then, it was a few days later that the governor issued the stay at home order. Us UU’s, always a little ahead of the curve.
But we nonetheless went ahead with the campaign where, originally, every friend and member was to be met with in person, and canvassed about their views, and their input sought. And while for a week or so there was talk about making this person to person meeting an option, the governor relieved everyone of the burden of that decision. The canvassers were not able to do the person to person meeting as planned, however in phone calls they were able to still collect some views and ideas and get some feedback. And if anyone has anything else that anyone wants to add or say, do please call your canvasser. I hope the feedback will continue as the campaign continues, in whatever form that it can, under the circumstances.
Normally, it would be Dave Burt who would give a report today about how things stand with the pledge drive. Instead, I will be communicating what we know so far. There is a lot of good to report.
Two thirds of those canvassed have made pledges. Of those, 50% have increased their pledges, and we have added four more pledgers. This is very good in any circumstances, but even more so right now considering how turbulent the times are. With the economic situation, some people simply do not know what is going to be happening in their circumstances, and that is well understood and appreciated. From this, it may be a while before we can say the campaign is “over” as we traditionally would. But from what has been raised for the operating budget, we are in very good shape. Although, it is on the operating budget side of the campaign is where the uncertainty of the times most reflects.
As for the building campaign, the pledge drive proved very successful. It received about as close to 100% participation as could reasonably be expected—the number I was given was 99.9%. So, as far as the addition and any other major changes to the building are concerned, the architectural drawings are back, and the building committee is about to send those drawings to contractors for real-deal bids. By the Annual Meeting, there will be firm numbers to present to the congregation for consideration, and options about what to do to go forward.
By and large, at this point, taking the difficult circumstances and the changes that had to be made into consideration, the pledge campaign has been successful. So there is good cause to celebrate how fortunate we are to have each other and this church. Much of the feedback and comments that I know about are very positive, and the suggestions and ideas for improvement also show just how important this assembly is to people.
As I wrote at the end of my newsletter column, one of the things that keeps me going is the thought of what that first Sunday back is going to be like, when we are gathered together again in this space. That is going to be a Sunday service we will all remember. And it will come. There will be some ground to tread between now and then, and there will be moments of frustration and exasperation, and probably a few disappointments. But, we will pull through this by pulling together. And in the end, how we pull together is what Celebration Sunday is all about.