Building Beloved Community in the Seasons of Life
Spring – Rebecca Kaye
Ah, Spring. The time of year when nature is bursting with energy and growth and disgusting yellow-green goo that turns up everywhere.
It’s a perfect metaphor for our smallest congregants, from birth to graduation. We call them munchkins, children, whipper-snappers, tweens, grasshoppers, teenyboppers, and youth.
This morning, consider a different term – SAGES.
There is a profound wisdom in childhood that we often don’t recapture until the end of life. A wisdom that is profoundly Unitarian Universalist.
All children are born UU. They haven’t read Walden yet… they don’t need to. Their hearts know that “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
Kids give us new eyes to experience wonder in the ordinary. They carry an intense sense of fairness and justice. They haven’t built up masks to protect themselves from vulnerability and shame.
In short, our children and youth are the most spiritually healthy people in this congregation. As Henry Ward Beecher once wrote, “Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven.”
Once, Elliott (now 7) said to me in the car, “Mama, was Jesus a superhero?” !!! “You know, buddy, Jesus WAS a superhero. But you know how there are different kinds of superheroes? Some people think that Jesus was like Superman, that his parents sent him to Earth from another place, and he had magical powers. I think that Jesus was more like Batman. He was a regular person who was really smart and worked hard to help people. And he risked his life because he helped everybody, even when it was against the rules.”
Another time he told me, as we drove away from my parents’ house, that he was sad to leave, but we would still be together because “we are connected. Everything is connected with invisible strings, Mama. You and me and those trees and everything. I don’t really know how it works, but it does.”
What a gift.
That brings me to what you can do for our sages:
Treat them like they belong here. Rev. Makar has talked about accepting the sounds of a growing congregation, but that’s not enough.
Belonging means you know their names and what’s important to them. This is not an exclusive job of RE volunteers. It also means keeping an eye out for them. Many of them are little, and life looks different when you’re three feet tall. Please do not step on them.
It takes a village, people.
Being that village is the most important thing way we can be a beloved community supporting our kids—it’s their PARENTS who need our help.
For those of you without recent experience, being a parent is really really hard. It comes with a lot of complicated emotions that feel bad because we are supposed to be deliriously happy with our delightful spawn at all times. My boys are delightful, and yet, there’s still the loss of a sense of self. Still the guilt of time spent on self-care and purpose outside of raising children. Still the shame of imperfection. As Anne Lamott put it, “…one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage.”
My lay ministry portfolio includes providing pastoral care to our families with children. I arrange meals when new babies come, and support folks dealing with pain and grief… and children. A lot of times this looks more like Facebook messages at midnight than a traditional call. So, first, I want all the parents here to know that I am here for you.
Next, I need to ask for the congregation’s help.
#1 – drink your coffee on the playground. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life there, but it can feel like the parent ghetto. Bonus points if you ensure my kids don’t hit anyone with sticks so I can go pee.
#2 – assume that parents should participate in most activities. That means being thoughtful about things like childcare and asking parents what would help.
#3 – volunteer in RE. Class guides, advisors, and first Sunday helpers are paths to collecting the spiritual gifts of our children. Most volunteers are parents themselves, and that is not ideal. Parents should not be selfishly keeping all the good stuff to ourselves. We also need a break to worship in spiritual community. And, most importantly, a lot of our parents found UUCA because they wanted to raise their children in a loving spiritual community, and they don’t know much about our faith. We need as many of our UU jedi as possible working with the padawans.
Take hold of heaven.
Summer – Meredith Milby
My college sociology professor said that young adults don’t attend religious institutions until they have kids. This struck me as odd, in part because was a childless young adult who he saw at him at church every Sunday, But also because the implication was that a faith community, a beloved community has no need of those in the summer of their lives and those in the summer of their lives don’t need beloved community.
I don’t believe that.
I am in the summer of my life and I am busy, I am excited and I need beloved community.
It is true that summer is a time of fun and fun is not always associated with a faith community. But, my second visit to UUCA was a 20s/30s game night. I came because it sounded like fun. And it was fun.
Since then, I’ve been to many more fun events here in both generational groups and in intergenerational activities. The activities of these groups ebb and flow, but from improv to coffee houses to food trucks to simply having lunch with a new face after the service, fun is a big part of this beloved community.
I hope as part of my tenure as a lay minister, I will be able to help grow some of the fun here, starting with the Supercharged Sundays, but if you want to get connected to some of the fun going on at UUCA right now, lay minister Barbara Begner can usually be found manning the connections kiosk in the social hall after the service to help you do just that.
Summer is also a time of self-expression and finding one’s voice.
This beloved community has many ways for you to express your voice.
In fact, having a voice is part of our faith’s founding principles.
From the City, to Community Conversations, to Marching in the Pride Parades or with the NAACP to say that Black Lives Matter, …. To just being welcomed here no matter how you dress or what your racial, sexual, gender or even spiritual identity you can exercise your voice in this beloved community…
Importantly, Summer can be a time of Service, this beloved community offers many ways in which those in the summer of their lives can and do get involved in service. From serving on the coffee team, to teaching RE, to serving on committees, to helping to guide the social justice work of the congregation.
I believe that Service here at UUCA is a way of helping to build my community home …and building a community home a very good thing to do in the summer of your life.
Summer also often involves the growth of a family,
From a June wedding to summer birthdays. Beloved Community and the lay ministers are here to celebrate the milestones in your family’s life.
But building your family isn’t just through literally building your family. It is also about making connections, planting roots, finding a faith home, and so much more.
From bonding with fellow singers in the choir, to our covenant groups which allow you to truly connect on a deep and personal level – connections are what UUCA’s beloved community is about.
If you’re looking to grow your spiritual family this way, speak to a lay minister. Bill Kramer can help connect you with a covenant group or Tony Stringer can connect you with the cultural mosaic group.
But, Summer isn’t always fun and games. They don’t call them the dog days of summer for nothing. The summer of your life can and often does include hard stuff.
You may struggle to find a job. You may struggle with disillusionment when you realize things aren’t as fair as you were led to believe in your childhood.
You may struggle with an estranged family, a strained partnership, an unexpected accident, an addiction or even an ailing or dead parent.
Beloved community is here for you when that happens, too.
You can post for networking connections on the city to help your job search and you can always share such things with your covenant group or even informally with friends you’ve met here at UUCA.
But lay ministers specialize in listening, we are not professional counselors or social workers- though if you need that we might be able to connect you, but we can always listen and we do care.
So if you’re in the summer of your life and it feels like the dog days will never end, please let us know.
In the meantime, I hope that the summer of your life is full of fun, self-expression, service, growth and UUCA’s beloved community.
Autumn – Dayna Wolhart
I am the autumn of life. You will sense my presence gradually, the way you’d notice fine lines forming around your eyes.
I am the autumn of life. I am IN the autumn of life. How can this be? How did summer slip away while I was busy working, raising children, working, going to school, raising children, volunteering, working.
What is this strange landscape in which I find myself? Where the red and golden leaves shine in glory, a last blaze before—well, best not think of that. Where was I all summer long? Why didn’t I slow down to look, to see? No, always facing forward, ahead—to the next meeting, the next school play, the next recital, the next job, the next raise, the next project, the next milestone, the next big expense, the next next next… Ah, and now, there are fewer days ahead than there are behind. I see that. And so at last I pause, and look around me, not just ahead.
In autumn is Equinox, Samhain, Halloween, All Souls Day, Dia de los Muertos – the celebration of thin places. Autumn holds its own special mystery where, ironically, certain realities begin to sink in. I speak to and for those here gathered, those who need a word today—we autumn dwellers who need comfort, solace, hope.
For those divorced after decades of marriage. For those with cancer, or whose spouse or beloved friend has cancer. For those who are running as fast as they can to balance the needs of children still at home with the needs of aging parents. For those diagnosed with a chronic or disabling illness, and those who see career prospects dwindle in an ageist workforce—whose savings are not ready for retirement. For those with an adult child who has a mental illness, an addiction, or simply failure to launch.
As lay ministers, we hear your stories—our stories. But whether you receive pastoral care directly from a lay minister, or you need a listening ear, or you find refuge in the support of beloved community, know deeply that you are loved. Our hearts hold you gently in compassion.
James Baldwin wrote that “art… has its roots in the lives of human beings: the weakness, the strength, the absurdity.” In the autumn of life, though parts of our bodies have begun to break down, we see the art—the cumulative passions, actions, absurdities, love—that living a life has wrought. As with the leaves of certain trees, deeper hues are revealed by what is stripped away.
For in autumn is harvest, cooler temperatures, and planting the winter crops. When the days grow shorter, the trees know that it’s time to prepare for winter. No longer needing food for an active growing season, the leaves stop converting sunlight into energy, and the pigments beneath the green shine forth. None of these colors can be seen when the tree is doing its summer work. It is only as the lifecycle slows that even greater beauty is revealed.
Autumn is more than Fall, more than what Maya Angelou calls “the tinny sound of little dyings.” Autumn is the art of living maturely. The art of seeing wisely that our hard-won independence really exists only within the web of community—through creative expression, through soul work in a covenant group, through meaningful projects, and being challenged and uplifted each week in worship. Through committing and re-committing to a larger struggle for justice. The art of autumn is love—agape, the unfolding, ever-widening universe active in our midst.
I am the autumn of life. I am in the autumn of life. I am many-colored, and still evolving. I press onward. Relentless winter awaits.
Winter – Nina West
When I was very young I thought that if I touched the skin of an old person it would feel rough.
To me at that age, old people looked scary and possibly mean.
The winter of life appeared bleak.
As a teen, my first real job was working in the dining room at Wesley Woods. I was asked to serve coffee to Mrs. So-and-so. When I asked what she looked like they said, “She has gray hair and glasses.” I looked out at what seemed to be a vast ocean of gray hair and glasses. Everyone looked alike to me at first.
Working at Wesley Woods, I found out I loved being around old people. I say that as if “old people” are all one thing, knowing perfectly well that “oldness” is made up of unique people.
I’ve spent a lot of my adulthood being with “old” people, in nursing homes and in their own homes; some of them my family, some of them friends, some of them people I met while visiting others.
At 59, I’m in the process of becoming old. To people 20 years older than I am, I look young. To people 20 years younger, I look old.
Aging is not a moral failing; it is the inevitable outward effect of living long enough.
As Eldercare Coordinator here at UUCA I arbitrarily decided that eldercare would include people 60 years old and up. Folks have questioned my definition of old jokingly but have been quick to say that old is someone else, not themselves.
If you are 60 years old and up and recoil from the notion that my idea of old includes you, I invite you to consider why. Does it bring to mind infirmity and dependence? That you no longer have beauty? Good looks? That you are irrelevant to others? Does it imply you have dementia? Do you remember what you thought of “old” people and wonder if that’s how others think of you?
For those of you who are not-yet old, I’ll let you in on a secret… when you get old, it is surprising how much on your insides you are still young. Or maybe a better way to put it is that you are still you and though you do, usually, mature as you get older, there is something essentially you whether you are 9 or 19 or 59.
Most older people aren’t in a big hurry. We are more and more ourselves, not trying to impress anyone. Older people have an abundance of love to give and appreciate receiving love and small kindnesses. Old people like to share stories from their lives. Those are our treasures. We have more understanding of the Big Picture based on years of lived experiences. Old people value who you are authentically. If you’re lucky, they may share something of their spiritual lives with you.
Old age often means learning to live with disability and limitations. Some people experience poverty in old age. If we were accustomed to power and privilege, we may find how it feels to be marginalized or vulnerable. Awareness of these changes affords us the opportunity to grow our compassion and understanding about others.
I think it is prudent and honest to be aware of the ways that old age may take things away. The challenge is not to be derailed by those losses.
There are a lot of us at UUCA who are getting older. So here is how You-who-are-not-yet-old can help… Strive to see us-who-are-aging as whole human beings with thoughts and memories and feelings, a perspective on life that is of value. Get to know older members, check on them, notice if they stop coming to services, and let the lay ministers know. Welcome ways that older people can still actively and meaningfully contribute to the life of this congregation. Cherish our graying hair, our wrinkles, our aging bodies.
And to those of us who are old, we can help by remembering what it is like to be young, by making room for their perspectives, enthusiasms, and ideas. That infusion of their gifts re-creates our beloved community. Cherish our younger people.
When I was young winter looked bleak to me. Now that I’m grown I see the beauty of winter. I know that roots grow deep, that dormant plants in winter are very much alive and when tended well, will give back abundantly.
When we cherish our older members we grow our capacity to love, deepen our compassion, and strengthen our Beloved Community.