How Do You Spell Change?

Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 06/14/2015

There’s a story that someone named Pierce Vincent Eckhart told about an exercise he did as a youth. He wrote, “When I was a Boy Scout, we played a game when new scouts joined the troop. We lined up chairs in a pattern, creating an obstacle course through which the new scouts, blindfolded, were supposed to maneuver. The scoutmaster gave them a few moments to study the pattern before our adventure began. But as soon as the victims were blindfolded, the rest of us quietly removed the chairs.”

“I think life is like this game,” he concludes. I can’t help but agree.

I can’t help but note that it is sometimes just when you think you’ve seen the way, and have set out to meet it, that circumstances get all changed and you find yourself in an unforeseen place, blindfolded and not knowing what’s going on. I imagine you might be feeling a bit like that now. I know I am.

In the middle of last week, I accepted a job with the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Congregational Life Consultant, which means that I’ll be leaving Sugarloaf at the end of July.

Before I say anything else, let me pause and tell you that you are going to be fine. I’m going to be saying this a lot, because it really is true. Rev. David Pyle, Sugarloaf’s Congregational Life Consultant, is already working with the Board of Trustees to plan Sugarloaf’s next steps into its future.

You will hire an interim minister for next year, and this minister will fulfill the same functions that I would have had it been me. You will be supported through the next one to two years by someone not only trained in ministry, but also particularly trained to help congregations through this exact process of ministerial transition, which is, of course, a process that congregations go through regularly. The interim minister will help you ask questions about yourselves and your future that will ensure that your next minister is a good fit and the next chapter of the church is secured.

So please don’t spend too much time worrying about whether or not Sugarloaf will be okay. It will be okay. Sugarloaf will be fine. Different. But fine.

More on that in a minute. First, let me talk about how we got here.

Discerning whether to apply for this UUA job, and choosing whether to accept it, was both a very difficult and fairly straightforward process for me, and you deserve to know what my thinking was.

It was difficult, so difficult, because of how much I love Sugarloaf as a congregation, and especially because of how much I have come to respect, admire, and appreciate each of you as we’ve worked and lived together for at least some of these past six years. I’m so fond of and proud of you individually. And I’m so fond of and proud of this institution, this congregation. Nothing about my leaving is a reflection on you.

When you called me to ministry here six years ago, I preached a sermon about a picture I had gotten as a present for my recent ordination. It’s a sign that’s hung in my office for six years, and it says,
“Heal the Past.
Live the Present.
Dream the Future.”
I told you six years ago that if you were to call me to ministry here that this is what we would do together. And here is a quote from that sermon:

This afternoon you have another choice to make, whether or not to call me as your next minister.

Whether you choose to do so or not, know that you have already pointed this congregation down a road of promise, down a road that will take you on to a future that no one can predict for sure, but one that holds great potential.

SCUU is living the present right now, through your attentiveness, through your hard work, through your financial commitment, through your refusal to give up even when times are tough and the way uncertain. You are living the present, all right, with all its blessings and its difficulties.

And in the future, if I am your minister, we will continue to face our realities, joyful or difficult, with a strong mix of pragmatism and starry eyed hopeful optimism. I know we will do that, not because I’ll be bringing that with me, but because that is the sort of people that you already are. You have demonstrated that time and time again, and you have shown that to me this week. You are a can-do people.

That’s what I said in 2009.

All the good work we’ve done together – everything from healing from the sexual misconduct of a former member, to working through financial struggles, to changes in staffing, to learning how to relate to each other more peacefully, to choosing to stay here again and again, to finding a mission – all the good work we’ve done together was predicted by the me that you hired all those years ago. I knew it would happen. I knew this congregation would do good work because it is a good place filled with good people, and you continue to be a good place filled with good people who will dream your next future just as well as you dreamed the last one. I have no doubt that the strong mix of pragmatism and starry eyed optimism that continues to flourish here will take you through whatever comes next for you. You are a people of promise and potential, and now is the time for guts and glory, as much as it ever was.

I was called to Sugarloaf as minister a month after being ordained, so almost all of what I currently am as a minister I learned here with you. Thank you for being so generous with me as I learned. Here at Sugarloaf I learned how to do work that I never thought I’d be able to do. And here at Sugarloaf I learned what kind of ministry really calls to me and what I’m really good at.

I’ve said many times from this pulpit that to me, the wonder of life is that we don’t ever, by ourselves, have to be all things. That is why we come together, because I might shine at one thing and you might shine at the next and you at a third thing, and you at a fourth thing I never even thought of being important before, and all together, we can do anything that needs to be done. Not singly, but all together.

I think churches work together in the same way. Sugarloaf is great at interpersonal stuff, and being welcoming, and being flexible and innovative. Sugarloaf is not so instinctively great at more basic institutional stuff, or being consistently financially stable, and a couple of other things – although we’re getting better and better. To my mind, that’s perfectly fine, because we have found our little niche, our little genius way of doing church, and we’ll just partner up with another church down the way that’s got skills and inclinations we don’t have – and in the sharing, we are all the things we need to be.

This is my theology of people and of congregations, and also of ministers. I, like nearly all of my colleagues, am a lopsided minister. I have gained competency in pretty much all the areas of ministry in which I am called to perform, but I shine in just a few.

You’ve heard my theology of life and of congregations and of ministry. Each of us needs to know and develop the way in which we really uniquely shine so that we can partner with others to make a whole.

Well, for me, what really makes me shine, the work that really calls me, is to see and equip talented people to do the work they are called to do, and to help systems better serve the people they are designed to serve. And if I can do some preaching in there, so much the better.

In my new job, I’ll be on call to 25 area congregations to help them grapple with challenges that they face, in the same way that David Pyle is on call to Sugarloaf. And, I’ll be working with the fine folks at the UUA to imagine what Unitarian Universalism will look like in the future.

And do you know how I learned to do any of that? I learned it here, with you. The reason why I looked like a good fit for this new job is because of you and the work we’ve done together.

You might not really appreciate hearing this now, but I hope that it can eventually help you feel proud. Because of Sugarloaf, I know I can help a congregation to function better and feel better. Because of the remarkable ways we’ve learned to do church here, I have ideas to bring to the whole UUA about what our denomination might be like in the future. All those fruits were planted and watered here. You are amazing. Don’t forget that.

Think of those new boy scouts we were talking about earlier. There aren’t many people who like it when they thought a room was all organized a certain way, but once they get started on their blindfolded journey they found out that nothing is what it seems. I know I don’t like it when plans change out from under me, even when the change is good. That’s why they have the expression that most people spell change L-O-S-S. It can feel like a loss when the room has been all reorganized without your knowledge or permission. And when you all and I won’t be together in the future, it not only feels like a loss, but it is a loss. I will miss you very, very much.

So maybe change is spelled L-O-S-S. But it’s also just spelled C-H-A-N-G-E. Change is an opportunity. Change wants to amuse you. It’s energizing, if you let it be. Remember, the chairs in the room didn’t get moved, so you’ll trip and fall. They got taken away. There is no maze anymore, no path forward you need to remember. It’s open. There is just freedom now, freedom to shine more, freedom to be more, to make a better path, to grow in an even more appealing way. To shine brighter.

There’s a quote I’ve used before, from Jim Kelsey who was the tenth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan:

"This is something I have found to be true without exception: that when we, any of us, focus on things in our lives that are passing away, we get scared, we get anxious, we get depressed, we lose hope; and when we focus on things that are being birthed and are coming newly into creation, we get excited, we get imaginative, we get optimistic, we feel drawn closer to one another, we feel as if we have meaning and purpose in this life, and we have joy. . . .
We are given change as an ingredient in life. We can be frightened and anxious and resistant to it or we can embrace it as a tool to transform us."

We are given change as an ingredient in life. Maybe we don’t like it, but it is a gift of grace to us, like having fertile soil and a seed. Yeah, it’s messy and we don’t know exactly what’s coming. That’s the way life is. You can be frightened and anxious and resistant, and sometimes you will be, in the weeks ahead. But change is still a tool that can transform you. Let’s embrace it. Plant the seed, water it with all the good stuff you already have, and see what happens. You are amazing, and you can do anything. Don’t forget that.

I've run out of words to say for right now, but I have a song to play about how I feel, so I’m going to do that. It’s called I Give Thanks.