Our lives travel over ups and downs. Sometimes we notice when our paths join with others or when they diverge, sometimes we don’t. The landscape shifts as we learn new skills, live through challenges, the world changes and we change; we don’t always notice when we’ve moved into new territory. Sometimes, though, we come to a place where we make a choice. It can be an obstacle, a crossroads, a mysterious gateway. That choice point could be a bridge, a pathway that takes us to a decidedly different place on the other side of a divide.
I remember one choice point in my first year of college. It was the day my theater class went up into the catwalks for the first time. In high school theater, I had been on the sound crew, which in our case meant sitting with the mixer in the orchestra pit; I never went higher than the top of a platform on the stage. So, despite my vast four years of experience, this was my first time on a catwalk above the stage.
I was confident that I, as an experienced volunteer and a generally brave person, climbing up and crossing above the stage would be no problem. When it was my turn, I realized that making a choice means letting go of something. In this case it meant letting go of the feeling of my feet on the floor. It meant letting go of what had become a familiar environment. Nevertheless, up I went.
Once we were up at the top, looking ahead at the pathways made of open metal grating, I realized a second thing about crossing bridges, which is that it helps to have some faith in the bridge itself. I couldn’t entirely rely on my own experience for that faith. It looked and felt different from being on solid ground. But I knew people who worked on that catwalk regularly, and I trusted the people who were in charge of safety, so even if confidence in the structure itself was a stretch, I had reason to believe that this next place could hold us.
Then we got the part of the tour we had come for. We saw how lights get hung and focused. We saw how scenery could fly in and out. We got a three-dimensional perspective on the possibilities for a team creating a performing arts experience. Looking forward to this experience was the third realization: Moving toward the future, moving toward something new and valuable, helps us gather the courage to cross a bridge.
The universe has very kindly helped me repeat this lesson. Whenever I start getting overconfident and attached to solid ground, an opportunity arises to cross a bridge. Most of these are not literal bridges, they are choice points. There are times in our lives when we can take the risk of investing, of trying something new, of making an extra effort. There are passages in the journey that feel suspended in midair, with no guarantees on the other side, yet whose secrets are worth rising to the occasion.
Today’s service coincides with the launch of the Annual Budget Drive, sometimes called the ABD for short around here. I also call it Stewardship Sunday. In Stewardship, we notice what we have received and we accept our responsibility to care for it, sustain it, grow it, and prepare to pass it onto the next generation. Stewardship means the mission and legacy are in the care of the congregation’s members. Now is the season when members make commitments about how they will help sustain and grow this congregation for the year to come.
This year, the congregation is poised to cross a bridge to the future. As your Interim Minister, I have been studying you and traveling with you for over a year and a half. I can say with confidence that you are on the cusp of a new chapter. Embracing all that you could be as a congregation, entering your next phase with celebration and confidence and a good start with your new minister, all of that is possible with your increased commitment. Great things are happening, and even better things will happen as members level up and make the choice to join together in this next part of your shared journey. What is ahead of you is worth rising to the occasion.
When we approach such a choice in our lives, the choice to go out on a bridge, to move over unfamiliar territory toward something different on the other side, there are a few good things to remember. Starting across the bridge means letting something go. It helps to have faith in the bridge itself. Moving toward the future helps us gather the courage to cross the bridge. These things are often true in our personal lives. Today, let’s talk about how that relates to you as one body, as a congregation preparing to enter a new part of your journey together.
First, moving into the future as a congregation is going to involve letting some things go. You have already been doing this. We’re trying new things with recycling. We’re navigating changes in leadership. The task force to consider revisions to the congregation’s constitution is revved up and excited to talk with you on March 1 and March 8. Accepting me as your Interim Minister, and looking forward to meeting whoever your Ministerial Candidate may be are examples of your willingness to let go of some things that are familiar. There might be some other things to consider.
This morning, we sang “Building Bridges,” with words from the women of the Greenham Common peace occupation. This was a long-term, ongoing and ever-changing community of women who were pressuring the government to prevent and then to remove cruise missiles from the Greenham Common airbase. The community faced some external challenges, such as police harassment and vigilante attacks. They also faced internal challenges, trying to get along with unfamiliar people, camping in all kinds of weather, feeling like the stakes were nothing short of life and death. The song, “Building Bridges,” came out of the activists’ hope for unity and cooperation among themselves as well as their goal for peace between the nations and with their neighbors on the other side of the fence inside the base. Creating a strong movement, trying something structurally and conceptually different, meant leaving behind resentments.
The members of this congregation have been through a lot. There are parts of your history that have created disagreements, some so deep that they are difficult to talk about. You have done incredibly well these past few years at gathering your strength, continuing your mission and ministry in the world, and making good things happen. For some members, the past is past and doesn’t carry any more weight. For other members, there continue to be feelings of hurt, and there is yearning for some reflection that would help with reconciliation and with understanding how past events fit into larger contexts of oppression. There is no one right way to feel. Part of what’s going on here is grief, and we know that grief is neither linear nor the same for every person. We can respect all of the ways of experiencing congregational history.
My wish for you as a congregation is that you can slowly work through reflection over the course of years, and that you can bring what you learn into the future without resentment. There may be things unresolved. Try to hold those things alongside hope and excitement for the future. There are unfinished conversations, as there always are between humans. Don’t let that stop you from fully investing and believing in what can be possible when the whole congregation works together. Be as generous as you can with your time, resources, and renewal of the spirit.
The next thing about crossing a bridge is that it helps when we have some trust in the bridge itself. There are things we can remember that give us confidence in this transition. This is a leader-ful congregation, a community that boasts abundant talent and commitment from its members. Think about how many total volunteer hours go into sustaining this congregation from week to week: committees meeting, Inreach and book group and creative aging leaders facilitating, volunteers showing up for clean-up days, Religious Education classes learning together, Sunday Support teams welcoming us with hospitality, musicians and choir members rehearsing and performing, and so many more. I have every confidence that the abundance of time and talent sustaining your shared ministries will continue throughout this transition.
If the bridge we’re talking about is the Annual Budget Drive, we can have confidence there as well. Your co-chairs and collectors and finance team have put together a campaign that is based in relationship and supported by facts. Dozens of people have stepped up to be visiting stewards, and I hope you will receive your visiting steward warmly when they contact you about meeting for a conversation. The core of human connection is vital, and in this congregation, it is strong enough to hold you as you cross the bridge.
Commitment and hope bring me to the third point, which is that moving toward the future helps us gather the courage to cross the bridge. Having something to move toward makes the prospect of temporarily leaving solid ground worth trying.
As Jean alluded to, there are several exciting things in the proposed budget for next year. One big piece is starting a good relationship with your next minister. Another priority in the budget is increased support for maintenance and repairs on your building and grounds. Investing more in this area will help you to save money in the long run, but more importantly, it will help you make the most of the opportunities to be together in your beautiful spiritual home. Then there are your programs. This budget makes it possible to build on what you already do well in areas like Music, Worship, Religious Education, and social justice ministries. Investing in this congregation will also help you to be more organized and effective at making a difference in the world: responding to climate change, feeding the hungry, dismantling white supremacy, ending voter disenfranchisement, advocating for legal protections for Transgender folks, and generally going out there and living UU values.
You’ll hear more from your visiting steward about the details of the budget and what you might accomplish together as a congregation. The plan that is in front of you is aspirational. It will require a 10% increase in the amount that the congregation receives from pledges. I know that is a lot to ask, and I know that you have accomplished this before. Increasing your household’s pledge by 10% will be out of reach for some of our members and friends, so those who are able to do more, I hope you will. I invite you to give in an amount that is meaningful to you, that makes a difference in your life, and is also consistent with your well being. Please know that all of your gifts of time, talent, financial support, attention, thoughts, and prayers make a difference.
There is one more bridge that I want to talk about and that is the bridge this congregation creates for people as they go through the great passages of their lives. When families are changing, when we mourn, when members welcome new children and new partners into their lives, this congregation is here to help people cross that threshold. Your generosity, your energy, your commitment to this congregation makes that possible. I have faith that you will continue to be here to support each other and to bless the world.
This congregation is poised on the cusp of a new part of your journey together. Crossing into that new place will take extra effort and commitment. You will find yourselves leaving some things behind; things like resentment, fear, and scarcity. The bridge of this community is strong and can hold you through the transition. The future you are headed toward is worth the risk of moving forward into the unknown. So be it. Blessed be. Amen.