Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

May 18, 2008: “Building the Beloved Community, New Member Recognition”

Native American wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount and walk.  However, in modern business, and maybe even a few churches, because of the heavy investment factors have to be taken into consideration, often other strategies of today’s business chiefs (and no doubt church chiefs) have to be tried with dead horses, including some of the following:

1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Changing riders.
3. Threatening the horse with termination.
4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
5. Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
6. Lowering the standards so that the dead horses can be included.
7. Reclassifying the dead horse as “living-impaired.”
8. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
9. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
10. Providing additional funding to increase the dead horse’s performance.
11. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.
12. Declaring that the dead horse carries lower overhead and therefore performs better than some other horses.
13. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.
14. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

        Bishop Melvin Wheatly was in his first church just out of seminary he wanted his first sermon to make a real impact on the new congregation. He preached what he thought was the best sermon on suffering and its meaning.  At the door after the service one little lady, who always had a compliment for the preacher, said, “Oh, Reverend Wheatly I never knew what it really meant to suffer until I heard you preach.”

        When Bill Elliot, author of the wonderful book, Tying Rocks to Clouds; Conversations with Wise and Spiritual People,  gave his multi-media presentation at the church I served in San  Antonio , he spoke with some humor about his time in Nepal, and how they are now trying to capitalize on all the Westerners who are coming for spiritual enlightenment and a good vacation while they’re at it. One of his slides was of a sign at an area being developed as a tourist attraction; the sign said, in both English and in the language of Nepal:  ” Garden of the Gods,” and then underneath:” Under Construction.”  
Aren’t we all “the Garden of the Gods, under construction?”

          Recently in our ministers chat line, someone asked who first used the term, beloved community for the church. We knew Martin Luther King had used it, but back in the early part of the 20th century, Idealist philosopher & teacher Josiah Royce probably was the first:: Through the long centuries of human history, there has been building a Beloved Community.  All souls that love, all souls that aspire, strengthen its bonds.  Precious unto us are the names of the true and the brave, who have toiled and suffered for the sake of the Beloved Community.  Precious unto us are the nameless and the lowly who have served it with single-hearted devotion.  Of them are the treasures of the common life. There are no strangers in the Beloved Community, none against whom doors are shut and harsh words spoken.  For they who belong to it are bound together in one living body, apart from which there is no life.

        So this church has become a beloved community for many of us, some who have put in decades and much love, sweat, tears and money! I want to speak a little of our history here, how we have built up this community which welcomes new members as well as new minister to its history which began in Feb. of 1956, though we might go back a far as 1836!  (Read Introduction and In The Beginning)

Lets start with Board Presidents, though I may have missed some. Charles Heltman
 Kirman Taylor
Dr. John Wotiz _Greystone dedicated
Frank A Baumgartel
Ross King
Norm Shure
Dede Loofbourow
Ishbel Shure
Cynthia Seman
Stan Kaufman
Bill Pastor
Ron Prosek
Margie Rittenhouse
Dan Bond
Rick Ferris
Dick Jackson
Dick Horowitz
Paul Groves
Roy Saenz
Cynthia Simmerly


 1. Emerson Schwenk 1959-62
2. Donovan White 1962-63
3. GRant Butler 63-64
4. Charles Wilson 1964-1966  First Settled minister)
5. BRa Greeley 1968=1078
6.Raymond Baughn Interim 78-79
7.Brad Mitchell 79-86
8.Beverly Bumbaugh Interim 86-87
9.Joan Kahn-Schneider 87-89
10.Craig Roshaven Interim 89-90
11.Bruce Cleary 91-96
12.Beth Miller Interim 96-97
13.Walter Moulton Interim 97-98
14.Nicole Kirk 98-2006
15.Sarah Zimmerman Interim 06-07
1985 Jan sellers Intern
Jane Rzepka Ordained-daughter of Ranneys
I am your 7th called minister

1956 Harriet Rhodes Chair RE Committee
57 Barbara Caseau
60 Cynthia Warner first DRE (stayed 6 months)
70 Clifford Thweatt Chair
71 Edward Ingersoll
Peggy Clayson DRE 79
73 Cair Gaye Wolfe
75 Pat Butler
77 Mary BEnder
79 Nancy Howard
81 Paul Jones
82 LucilleC lifford
84 Ron Prosek
85 Yvonne Allen
86 Jerie Green
88 Stan Kaufman
88 Peggy becomes Minister of RE

1992 Joy Rodgers , Part Time DRE

92 Linda Topp DRE
92 Ricky Beck
93 Cecilia Urnabnski
95 Sharon Waite
98 Jane Harkey Interim DRE
1999-06 Vernie Hill DRE
2000 Syd Freund
02 Sharon Waite
04 Jennifer Dodd
05 Matthew Dodd

Before writing this history, I thought about the goals that I hoped to accomplish:
1. To remember that the people in the congregation are the church!
2. To use the words of the people whenever possible.
3.To bring out the character of the community- their caring, not only for the well being of each other, the church as a whole, but  for  the community and society at large.
4. To recognize the hard work, over the years, the persistence, the stamina, the intellect and the problem solving ability of this congregation… Celeste Opfell with husband Jim,

Began as Fellowship in 1956, usually meant lay lead and rented space, yet within 3 years you had a part time minister named Emerson!, Schwenk, that is. Within 4 years, you had bought a mansion to house the fellowship and 4 years later voted to change the name from Fellowship to Church!
Your first budget was $1,345.50; your budget that you  will vote on today is over $200,000!

        In 1962 ,someone wrote in The Treasurers report :All too factually portrays our dire circumstances and was mournfully approved.
1964-137 members.

 But by 1967  in bold letters-Church is ending year in the BLACK!
1981 Under Brad Mitchell-225 members
1982 230 members
LAte 1980s Marj Hill becomes Choir Director
Oct. 1992 Current CHurch Secretary, Donna Van Boxell hired
1994 177 Members
1996 Current Custodian Richard Yukl hired
1996 Start Year round program
For years, you had been working on different ways to grow, but you went up and down as fortunes and sometimes conflict waxed and waned. After much discussion, it was decided it was time to leave Greystone and build a new building.
1997 Capital Campaign
Nov. 1997 groundbreaking
1998 New Building!
2000 208 members RE 107
2001 Pledge asked for 175,000 you got 177, 466 avg. pledge 1200.
2004 222 members pledges 197, 000 highest until today!

        In this thumbnail sketch of the history, I want to hold up a message of great hope and much accomplishment. How far weve come since Feb. of 1956! Yes, there has been great struggle, but what a sense of history does for giving us perspective on what we are still building, the beloved community.

According to some recent studies, we will be healthier if we belong to a church and, it’s important to note, attend regularly! Recently, the Ethics and Religion Editor, Mike McManus had an article called, “Religion seems to offer chance for healthier life.” He quotes  a study done by Dr. David Larson, a research Psychiatrist at the National Institute for Mental Health : “If you want to live longer, feel better, enjoy life more, and not have mental problems, you should go to church-not on an annual basis. That does nothing, but on a regular weekly basis.” OK, I will admit that Dr. Larson sometimes seems to interchange church with traditional belief in God and that he is coming from an admitted CHristian point of view, but with a little translation of terms, and using the word “religious” to include more than orthodox beliefs, it makes therapeutic sense corresponding to Callahan’s 5 motivational resources which I mentioned previously, which we seek from church: “Compassion, community, challenge, reasonability, and commitment.”

 In his insightful book, Four Spiritualities, my colleague, Peter T. Richardson writes:
        Unitarian Universalists have spent two centuries forming a new and distinctive religion for the planet. We can see our history from the Enlightenment to the present as the spinning of the cocoon of a new world faith. This faith has been gestating slowly in a small but vibrant minority. In the turmoil of emergence a synergy of five powerful offerings has been forged:
        * affirming individual religious freedom
        * affirming independence of communal life in congregations
        * affirming an active tolerance in a pluralistic context
        * affirming global citizenship, which considers all branches of human religious tradition to be our own inheritance
        * affirming an open and creative attitude in the practice of worship.
        He then speaks of four spiritualities or paths, like Buddhism or even Hindu yoga, : the Path of Unity, the Path of Devotion, the Path of Works, and the Path of Harmony. Each has its own characteristics for mind, heart, and hand. All are equally important as alternative journeys, and exist in creative tension with each other.

        So we gather  together, pilgrims all, pledging ourselves to help build up the beloved community, to search for spiritual meaning, social justice, relationships perhaps deeper than any we’ve experienced before, a sense of religious dimension, the sacred, the holy which some may call  God. We don’t pretend to have all the answers. Heck, we don’t even have all the questions! But we like a good discussion, God knows, and we believe in the Rule of Robert!  Let us remember to invite our friends to church, as well as remembering how many peoples dedication has gotten this far. After 20 years in ministry, I know how much work and how many people have truly dedicated themselves to this work. Love is the answer, that deeply religious love that transcends simple definition or creed, but calls us to higher purpose, to being better people than we ever thought we could be, as well as to forgiving those times when we make the inevitable mistakes. This morning, as well welcome new members, as we conduct our Annual Meeting to elect new leadership and approve a new budget, we begin  again- to build the beloved  community.

Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is SPanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con SU dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.    

Opening Words

Though we now live in a world that has shrunk due to internet and cell phone, we are no less lonely until we find where we feel we belong, until we find a religious purpose in our lives, a beloved community where we feel at home, balanced with a community that challenges us to live religiously, to explore many religious ideas, to     work for social justice, to welcome the stranger, to be part of an official welcoming Congregation where folk who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender know that they are truly welcome and will also probably find out folk like that as well. Oh we are still too white, but were working on that as well. Former President of AUA.,Frederick May Elliot, way back in 1939, during a  series of radio talks :Unitarians Believe from a talk: Does Religious (Humanity) Man Need a Church?
        Why isn’t it possible for a person to have a genuine and satisfactory religion without bothering with churches? He answered Why isn’t it possible for a person to get a first class education without schools or why isn’t it possible for a community to have an orderly and efficient communal life without bothering with forms of Government and all the tiresome details of administrative machinery?

The inspirational Quaker writer, Parker J. Palmer,  writes about  
experiencing what he describes as circles of trust  that he  
experienced at the retreat center, Pendle Hill as a unique type of community; he writes that those trusting circles/groups are –one that supports rather than supplants the individual quest for integrity-that is rooted in two basic beliefs. First, we all have an inner teacher whose guidance is more reliable than anything we can get from a doctrine, ideology, collective belief system, institution, or leader. Second, we all need other people to invite, amplify, and help us discern the inner teacher’s voice for at least three reasons:

# The journey toward inner truth is too taxing to be made solo: lacking support, the solitary traveler soon becomes weary or fearful and is likely to quit the road.

# The path is too deeply hidden to be traveled without company: finding our way involves clues that are subtle and sometimes misleading, requiring the kind of discernment that can happen only in dialogue.

# The destination is too daunting to be achieved alone: we need community to find the courage to venture into the alien lands to which the inner teacher may call us.
(Excerpted from “True Community” in ‘A Hidden Wholeness’ by Parker J. Palmer)

Let me share  an interesting scientific study using  a twelve-month-old infant who  sits on a glass table. At the opposite end, about ten feet away, is his mother.  Beside her is a beautiful toy ferris wheel. Directly beneath the glass is a red-and-white checkered cloth. The lighting is controlled so that the glass is invisible, thus giving the baby the feeling that the cloth is solid ground. Halfway between the mother’s end of the table and the baby’s end, the checkered cloth beneath the glass drops rather drastically–giving the impression of a cliff. (The glass surface on which the baby sits remains as it was. The cliff is an illusion.)
     As the baby crawls closer to the halfway point, enroute to mother and the ferris wheel, he comes to the edge of the cliff. He looks down. He is uncertain. On the one hand, he is scared, a natural fear of heights. On the other hand, he wants to get to mother and the pretty toy. Unable to resolve his ambivalence and uncertainty, the baby looks at mother’s face to see her emotional feeling about the situation. The Baby Watchers who did this experiment call this “social referencing.” When the baby doesn’t know what to do, he looks at mother and takes his cue from her. If mother has been instructed to show fear on her face, the baby will not cross the cliff and, in fact, will often retreat and become upset. But if the mother gives a nice smile, conveying the message “You’re doing fine, honey,” the baby will crawl toward her, over the “cliff.”
-Experiment by Dr. Mary Klinnert, Dr. Joseph Campos, and Dr. Robert Emde, University of Colorado at Denver — Cited in JEALOUSY. Nancy Friday. New York: Bantam Books, 1991, cited by King Duncan.

        I believe that we find that smile, that encouragement from one another ina special relationship I call the Beloved Community,the Relgious dimension, that we may find only in very special places, and that many of us have found in  this congregation.


In a recent Meditation Manual from our in-house UU press, Skinner House, by poet, Patrick Murfin one of the poems  resonated with me:

We Build Temples in the Heart

We have seen the great cathedrals,
      stone laid upon stone,
      carved and cared for
      by centuries of certain hands;
seen the slender minarets
      soar from dusty streets
      to raise the cry of faith
      to the One and Only God;
seen the placid pagodas
      where gilded Buddhas squat
      amid the temple bells and incense.

We have seen the tumbled temples
      half-buried in the sands,
      choked with verdant tangles,
      sunk in corralled seas
      old truths toppled and forgotten.
We have even seen the wattled huts,
      the sweat lodge hogans,
      the wheeled yurts,
      and the Ice Age caverns
      where unwritten worship
      raised its knowing voices.

But here we build temples in our hearts.
Side by side we gather.

Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Abrazos a Todos (Hugs all around),