16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
Nourishing Our Spiritual Home
Presenter:Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date:Sun, 02/20/2011
I have fallen in love with the word “nourish”. But more on that in a minute.
You may already know that this Saturday we launch our annual pledge campaign, where the congregation collects the money it needs from the membership to keep itself running for another year. For those of you who are new, you should know that before we begin asking for money, we have a fun fellowship dinner where we eat, drink, talk about the church, and, if we’re lucky, see creative skits and musical performances from our fellow congregants. It’s fun and no money exchanges hands there – so I recommend coming and getting to know your community in what may be an entirely new way. That’s this Saturday night, so be sure to sign up.
But I digress. Before we talk more about the upcoming pledge drive, let me offer a glimpse into some of the workings of your illustrious Board of Trustees. Our esteemed Pledge Drive captain this year is T. W.– let’s hear it for T. - who is also a member of the Board, and as T. began planning the pledge drive before the New Year he came to the Board with the question of what our pledge’s theme should be this year.
What should our theme be?!?, the Board asked. Let the brainstorming begin!
Naturally, the brainstorming process brought out the humorous and the absurd, as well as the thoughtful and inspired. A couple of ideas:
A Good Cup of Coffee is Worth Paying For won points for pithiness, but wasn’t quite on target with regard to our how we want to represent ourselves as a religious community.
Fear the Loaf was equal parts funny and wrong.
When we grew more serious, the group latched on to the concept of “our spiritual home.” But what do we do with our spiritual home? Grow it? Nurture it? Connect with it? Observe it? What does our spiritual home need?
“Nourish it,” someone said. “Nourish our spiritual home.”
And we all pretty much immediately agreed. “Nourish Our Spiritual Home” is our pledge theme this year. And I felt then, after we chose this statement – and maybe others on the Board did too - that we had done a little bit more than identify a pledge drive theme. More than naming our pledge drive, I felt like we had named what Sugarloaf needs from us right now – and also, frankly, what many of us need from Sugarloaf right now as well.
Every single one of us comes to Sugarloaf looking to be fed by something. It’s obvious that this is the case, because there are so many other things we could be doing with our time. Back when I started attending church seriously, I went almost every Sunday. That was despite the fact that there are a bunch of other things that I really like to do on Sunday mornings, including sleeping, not showering, reading a giant newspaper, and having a long large breakfast with my family, especially if that breakfast includes bacon.
I love those things. But they didn’t feed me in the way that church feeds me – even the bacon. I’m sure that all of you here this morning engaged a similar calculus on this and probably every other Sunday you think about coming - and there is something, today and other days, that made you choose us. I would say that we choose to come here because we seek to be nourished.
And by nourish we partly mean to be fed, partly to be strengthened and sustained. Partly to be comforted, partly to be encouraged. To be provided for. To be supplied. The dictionary tells me that to nourish is to cherish. And that’s why I love this word so much, and particularly love it so much for Sugarloaf. I want people to be nourished – cherished, strengthened, encouraged, sustained - by this place.
And I see people being nourished here all the time. Of course there’s our worship services every Sunday. We also have chalice groups, and we have adult enrichment classes from time to time. We have liturgical drumming, and Oakley Circle rituals. We have parties and potlucks. All these things straight-out feed us, and it’s easy to imagine that these things are the best thing about Sugarloaf, the reason why we come here. It would be easy to think that we come here to get something, to obtain certain kinds of churchly programming, to be fed by them – and in some ways, that is in fact the case.
But being nourished by your spiritual community isn’t entirely about coming here and taking something away. There’s a whole mess of activities here that certainly nourish us, nourish our souls – but from the outside, these activities look more like work than anything else.
Nourishing work here at Sugarloaf includes singing in the choir or playing music for our services. Heck, it includes putting on these services to start with – incredibly nourishing work for me and for the others who do it. Nourishing work includes teaching our children in religious education, bringing up our next generation with our UU values. It includes caring for our land, here, which is a lot of work, but right up the alley of those who find the divine in the earth and the growth and the creatures, (even stink bugs).
Nourishing work certainly includes our outreach efforts to help and sustain our neighbors outside our walls – our routine work delivering emergency food with Germantown HELP, or our monthly charity offering that has been so generous to organizations doing good deeds. And as we heard, soon we’ll be offering comprehensive sexuality education to the youth of our community, which will be a lot of nourishing, worthy work. These are things that need our labor and our time but which feed us, too, immediately and fully, as we find ourselves growing in compassion and connection and living out our UU values. A church should be full of opportunities to nourish ourselves by helping others.
So we have those churchly events that feed us even better than bacon does, and we have those churchly tasks that nourish our souls even when they take a little bit from our bodies and our schedules, right? And then we have a third thing.
The third thing that we have is another sort of work, but a different sort than the kind I was describing before. This third kind of work is that which sustains our church, that makes it possible to come here and meet here and be nourished by this place, even though the work might not be immediately nourishing to us.
In this category we have financial management, and we have buildings and grounds maintenance, and we have the folks who look at our committee structures and try to run the place more efficiently. And we have the pledge drive, where we raise the money that keeps our church alive.
And, let’s face it, this third sort of church activity, this third sort of work that we do, can be kind of a drag. It’s not always immediately fulfilling. You need to be able to see long term to find it worthwhile.
You need to be enlightened enough to say to yourself, “I may not be personally nourished right now by wiping down this table – or cleaning this bathroom or changing this lightbulb or shoveling this snow or creating this budget – but I do this because it needs to be done so that I can do the things that do nourish me, and others can do them as well. And maybe,” you’re still saying to yourself, “just maybe, the fact that I’m doing this so that others can be nourished, and I can be nourished later on…maybe that is a little bit nourishing right now, after all.”
It’s sort of like the sunflower seed. Nothing’s going to happen with your seed if you don’t put a little effort in right now. But if you do, then the plant will grow, and get big enough to help to sustain itself, and will come to sustain you later too, and then it will regenerate itself even later on than that. So if you have the long view, the up-front work seems worth it, a great way to spend your time.
I would hazard a guess that on some level it is this third sort of work that is the most nourishing thing we can do for each other, even though it’s the least churchy. It may well be the thing that ends up being more important than good worship or a pretty garden or a meeting of friends or deep conversations or any of that.
Because it’s this third sort of work, the structuring and the fixing and the financing, that makes sure that this place survives so that those more obviously nourishing churchy things that we gather together to do have a place to occur, and our other plans for the future have a place to sprout and to bloom. At a basic level, the very most important thing that we can do is to exist, because it is the soil from which all the other, more ostensibly churchy things, come.
Let me tell you your story, almost too well known to some of you, and completely unknown to others.
Two years ago, in the winter of 2009, there was a time of tumultuous uncertainty in this church. It was disruptive enough that there was a significant congregational conflict going on, and that you were in the middle of a search for a new minister which seemed like it was going on too long. The fact that you also encountered a budget shortfall of 40% at the same time was just ridiculously over the top. And yet, that is what you faced that winter. What were you to do?
Your leadership presented you, the congregation, with a series of choices to pick from. Some of the choices were very realistic and reasonable, although a little discouraging, and some were pretty lofty and aspirational.
You had the choice to not hire a minister after all, and maybe stream in sermons from one of the other churches in the area.
You had the choice to sell this property and move back somewhere more affordable like where you were before this place, maybe back to the bank basement or the Mason’s Hall.
I suppose one unspoken option was simply to fold up shop and say that this little church experiment didn’t work.
And the last option was to keep the minister, and keep the beautiful place, and to make up the rest by pledging more of your hard earned money, enough to fill in the 40% budget gap. This option would take a lot of effort. You’d have to find this church very nourishing and worthwhile, if you were to accept a choice like this one. The church would have to be very nourishing and worthwhile, indeed.
Which option did you choose?
It was that last option, the option of promise and hope, that you all chose. You would make up the money yourselves. You decided that Sugarloaf is too important, too nourishing, to cease to exist. You chose to substantially nourish your community because of how it nourishes you.
You’ve noticed, I’m sure, that every once in a while I invite you to reflect on this decision that you made, the incredibly brave choice you made two years ago. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that faith could be defined as taking a first step even when you couldn’t see any of the rest of the stairs. If that is indeed the definition of faith, then you all here at Sugarloaf are the most faithful people around, no matter what your theological persuasion. You wanted to be sure that this place would survive, in more or less the same shape that you knew it to be. You did that hard, sustaining work in order to be able to nourish others in the future, even though it literally cost you.
So….the question for today is….
Did it work?
Two years ago you took your sunflower seed of a church and you pressed it into some soil and you put it into a sunny winter window and you hoped for the best.
Let us now cautiously approach that winter window, look into the cup, and see what happened in there. Did you feed the seed enough for it to sprout?
Financially speaking, as you may know, you did not end up really pulling in 40% more money that year. You pulled in something like 2/3 of that. Which is why the next year, last year, we asked that you increase your pledges again. And you did, a little bit. And which is why this year, again, we need 15% more money than we did last year in order to run the congregation. In order to be the place where nourishing can flourish, we need to directly feed the congregation with cash, even a little bit more than we did last year. We need to complete the work that you pledged to do in 2009.
In each of the years since 2009, we’ve gotten the budget a little more balanced, it’s true. But not all the way balanced. We are not paying for all of our obligations yet. We cannot sustain events such as a snowy winter or a burnt out water pump without a good deal of scrambling. We are still alive, it’s true, but our survival quite frankly depends on what you choose to do in this year’s pledge drive. That seed in the window, it needs a little bit more of your food if we want it to sprout for real.
Will you give as much as you can again this year, increasing your pledge by 15% if possible, so that Sugarloaf can continue to nourish you, the people around you, the people in your community? Will you finish the work that you started two winters ago, finishing feeding the seed, so that it can begin its journey towards the sunflower that we know it can be? Will you do the hard work of sustaining this place, so that you can be nourished, cherished, encouraged and sustained, in turn?
I hope you will. Better yet, I know you will. I know it because this is a place that we all deliberately chose. We chose it, whether at that meeting two years ago, or more recently than that when we stepped onto this property that others worked to sustain for us and something in our souls told us we had come home.
Let us nourish this place of our choosing, so that we can use it to nourish each other, and we can be nourished ourselves beyond our wildest hopes or expectations. Let us water and plant and tend until we are tall and glorious. Let us climb that ladder of faith one more step.
Let us thrive.