I am so glad to be here in Maryland near my family and longtime friends. I am so glad to be moved into our new home in Olney on what has got to be one of the streets with the most kids on it in the USA. I am so glad to be your new minister, to be connecting with you by phone and Zoom and email, enjoying the generosity of those who have welcomed my family and me in different ways. I am so glad, and yet, this isn’t how I imagined my first day in the pulpit with all of you. But today sure is different than I imagined it would be.
I think many of us were hoping that the need for physical distancing – and the people and experiences and jobs and relationships this virus has taken from us, and the disruption to so many parts of our lives – would all be over by now. This is a reality so far outside of anything most people alive have ever experienced before. And without federal leadership to protect public health, the crisis has gotten worse instead of better. Scientists, doctors, and researchers don’t know how long this will last. So here we all are, trying to retrofit what were supposed to be temporary emergency measures into long-term ways of life.
Friends of mine have called this time we’re in a holding pattern, and for some of us that’s probably pretty accurate. Another way to think about our reality right now is that it is a liminal space. Liminal spaces or times are those uncertain, transitional periods in our lives. In liminal spaces, we are on the threshold between the old and the new, between the known and the unknown. It is a time of waiting, of ripening, and of unpredictability. Some people say that liminal space is like the space a trapeze artist is in when they’ve let go of one trapeze but haven’t caught the next one yet.
Twilight is another liminal time. It’s a hard time to define, twilight. It isn’t quite daytime anymore, but it’s not really nighttime either. It’s in between. And yet, it’s part of the earth’s rhythm. The darkness holds its own blessings of rest and quiet. And on the other side of even the darkest night will come the dawning of a new day.
But liminal space isn’t necessarily something just to get through. It can serve an important purpose. The ancient Celts, among other ancient peoples, believed that during liminal times the boundaries between this world and the supernatural realm are reduced. During these in-between times, things are revealed that cannot be seen or perceived at other times. Things are possible that are impossible at other times.
And this liminal space we find ourselves in is revealing a whole lot. The truth of just how broken our systems are is being laid bare. We are confronted every day with just how fragile human life, and all life on this planet, really is. During this pandemic many of us have realized in new ways just how interwoven our lives and well-being are. And this time has shown us just how much we need each other.
There are also many things possible now that were impossible, or less possible, before. Practically overnight people of all ages learned how to use technology to stay connected. People are drawing together in creative ways to care for one another in ways that probably wouldn’t have even occurred to them before. People are becoming more aware of the needs and struggles of friends in different stages of life. And people whose life experience has not equipped them to deal with our current reality are opening up to the wisdom of those who have survive all manner of threat and oppression through the generations.
It’s probably nothing like we imagined it would be, but this is our reality right now. And it is into this reality, this unique set of challenges and opportunities, here and now, that my ministry together with all of you, our shared ministry, is beginning. It is into this reality that truth, love, and justice call us to act, both individually and together. Because come what may, the work of the church continues, in good times and in bad, in days of plenty and days when we have no idea what pledging will look like next year. Because, as Gordon McKeeman writes, “Ministry is all that we do – Together… It is that quality of community that affirms human dignity.”
Community that affirms human dignity. I’m not sure I can think of anything that is more desperately needed right here and now. Community that affirms human dignity is desperately needed in a reality where government and business are willing to sacrifice the health and lives of restaurant and retail workers, schoolchildren and college students for the sake of short term quarterly gains. Community that affirms human dignity is desperately needed in a community where hundreds of cars stretch down church and mosque and community center driveways and blocks where free food is being given out. Our work as a congregation, to offer all who need it a community where the lost can be found, where fragments are reunited, where wounds can heal, and joy can be shared, that work is needed now more than ever, right here, right now.
So, rather than think of this pandemic as a distraction from our mission, our work as a church, our strategic planning, what if it could be for us a clarifying event, a reality that brings into sharper focus what we are being called to do, where our community needs us to go with it?
My friends, how are truth, justice, and love calling you?
What are truth, justice, and love calling the UU Church of Silver Spring to do together with our partners in community, here and now?
These aren’t questions I can answer. They are questions we can discern only for ourselves as individuals and together as a community. And in this uncertain and liminal time, when so many have so much deep need, I believe they are the questions that will help us to lead with love.
I am honored and grateful to begin my work as your minister, to companion you and lead this wonderful community as we continue the liberating ministry you have done together over many generations.
In these challenging days
as we put one foot in front of the other,
may we lead with Love in all we do,