Worship Leader: Stewardship Team + Rev. Carter Smith
From “Blessing for a New Beginning” by John O’Donohue
And out you stepped, onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
I have been waiting for this moment, this chance to be with you all. And that moment is here. Happy Sunday, and happy daylight savings time. I’m glad you made it.
And this is what I was waiting for. To look out and see so many new faces, knowing that they will soon become familiar, and beloved. To know that there are many more faces I can’t even see, of those of you joining this service online, know that your energy is here in this room, and can be felt.
It really is such an honor that you have hired me as your new minister. I am deeply humbled to be entering the stream of tradition and memory that this community carries. Thank you, for trusting me to carry it with you.
It has now been a few months that I’ve been learning about Westside, getting to know a few of you, hearing a few of your stories. And, I know that there is so much learning to come, and there are so many more stories to listen to.
Yet, I think I am already beginning to feel into the spirit of this community. And it feels like we might be good fit for one another. Time will tell.
And, for many of you, we haven’t met yet on a one-on-one basis. As I visit with different committees and teams, and begin to be available for pastoral care appointments, I hope you’ll share yourselves with me. Next week’s meet & greet will be a chance for this as well.
For now, I figured it was only fair to share a bit about myself so you might have a sense of who this person is that is standing up in front of you. So, I’ll spend a minute talking about where I come from and my ministry and then we can get to talking about abundance. Does that work?
Ok. So, Unitarian Universalism was given to me by my parents, as a community to grow up in. My mom and dad found a faith home, and each other, in a UU church as young adults who were disillusioned with their own Protestant upbringings. My home church, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, nurtured that seed that my parents gave me. The church I grew up in taught me that this faith is one that can help us to lead better lives, to experience relationship with one another in reverence of spirit, and in openness to growth and discovery on our paths in life.
In addition to being a Unitarian Universalist, I am also a southerner, with all the complexity that that brings. I was raised within the beautiful and robust traditions of protest and resistance necessitated by life under southern government. Being southern also means I love down-home cooking and taking a slower pace in life. And I come alive in the heat, and in wet & lush overgrown green spaces.
But, my sense of home has been shifting. Since I met my husband, Baptiste, France, his terre natale, has now become a place of home and family for me as well. And, we have both fallen in love with the evergreen and wild spaces of the Pacific Northwest since we moved here about two years ago.
You should also know how much I value creative expression. Throughout my life, I’ve dabbled in many art forms. Cooking as a creative practice has been a staple through it all. And, in the past couple of years, wheel-thrown pottery has been my favorite medium to learn and grow into.
If you attend the auction this year, you may even get a chance to bid on a few hand-made chalices I’ll be donating!
Beyond creativity, my personal spiritual practices include journaling, yoga, intentional time in nature, and meditation. There is a Zen Buddhist community I practice with frequently in Portland, and I’m really excited to learn about the meditation groups here at Westside! I also find gathering with people to share a meal to be one of the most fulfilling spiritual experiences in this life.
As is probably true for many of you as well, my theology has had many outside influences. I find that an earth-centered understanding of Spirit most reflects my experience with the divine. And contemplative practices are the ones that most help me connect with that great Spirit. This is a topic I look forward to talking more about with you all.
But what I most want you to know about me is that my calling to ministry is a calling to co-create and live within communities of love and care for one another. I believe, above all else, that we become who we are in our relationships with one another, and community is a place that can nurture and hold these relationships. I believe, that when we show up faithfully for one another in our communities, there is so much potential.
When we show up in community, we are opening ourselves up, to be loved and supported, and also challenged and changed. There are gifts others have that we need, that can help us to grow, even if it is sometimes uncomfortable. And, there are gifts we have that others need. How wonderful it is to find a community to share our gifts with.
My calling is to help communities lean into their values, face discomfort, and become better at knowing and loving one another. I look forward to living into this calling here at Westside.
From what I’ve seen so far, I can sense a strong spirit of commitment, and love that many of you carry for this congregation. Many of you have raised families here, have served in leadership roles of all kinds, have shown up for each other, time and time again. Learning from you, I understand that there is something special in this community that is worth pouring of ourselves into, is worth showing up for.
And, I also know that for many, this deep love has not come without its fair share of heartache. As I learn your stories, I am also listening to the tender places, the truth that many of you hold grief from your experiences here in recent years. There are some who have left. And there are some among us still, who doubt if this community is still worth showing up for.
Let me say to you in particular, I have faced times in my life where I’ve wondered the same about communities I’ve been in. Is all the time and energy worth it? Will the wounds ever truly heal? Will I ever feel at home in this community again?
I cannot answer these questions for you, but I can say that I’ve been there, and I trust each of you to show up in the way that you need.
And, I am grateful that you’re here.
In this community, as in life, there is love, and there is loss, and if we seek it, there is also healing.
As your new minister, I’m sorry to say, I don’t know exactly what this path to healing looks like. While at seminary, I was trained in communication skills, conflict management, organizational change. Yet, I was not taught any foolproof program for community healing.
Instead, I come, ready and willing, to accompany you in this journey.
The Right Relations work at Westside, I am told, is invigorating and exciting. People are showing up to share their tender spaces with one another, to listen deeply to others, and to learn new skills for being in community. The fact is: this community is willing to go through and grow through what probably feels like a messy process for the sake of an incredibly uncertain future. A community that will do that is a community I am ready to join.
We are in this time of crossing a threshold together. I am not only talking about the threshold of me beginning a new ministry here, but also the threshold of all of us crafting this community anew for the future, creating a bright and clear vision for where Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation is going.
It feels so fitting that the theme of this year’s stewardship campaign is “cultivating abundance.” We are crafting a shared life together, and I think the only way to do that is to commit to honoring the abundance that may be yet unseen, but that we believe is possible anyway.
In my personal experience, the past few years have been a time of great loss, including some loss of who we understand ourselves to be, how we understand the world around us. Much has been unveiled, and we have been forced to reconsider everything: from our day-to-day lives to our highest aspirations. I have learned that little is guaranteed in this life, but that we have the power to imagine better futures and to work with the conditions we are faced with to live meaningfully, and love one another despite the obstacles.
Abundance is real, and its spirit is here, in this community. I have read the notes from the community conversations you held back in September, and those notes hold big dreams. In those conversations, you all dreamed up a beautiful vision for what this community could be:
A community that is actively welcoming and truly inclusive of people with many different identities and backgrounds. A community that builds meaningful relationships throughout West Seattle, and works for justice, and the wellbeing of others in the spirit of solidarity. A community that strives for spiritual depth, and facilitates opportunities for learning and practice together. A community that shows up for one another, faces conflict with openheartedness, and helps each person who is a part of that community to know that they are beloved.
Try and tell me that the people who created that vision don’t believe in abundance! Is this not a dream worth investing in?
And yes, this is Stewardship Sunday, not the easiest first Sunday for a preacher. Whether we like it or not, we do live in a world where it takes money to support the work of this congregation. I do hope that you will give generously within your means, because it makes it possible to pay our bills, to fund our staff, and to run our programs.
As a bonus, generosity is a beautiful spiritual practice too! I’ve heard many a minister cite studies that demonstrate that people who generously give of their financial resources are happier than people who don’t.
I’m trying to say that there are lots of very good and normal reasons to pledge what you can to sustain the ministry of this church, and I trust you have considered those reasons.
But, here is my real pitch:
I have been part of this community for a very short time, and I have complete conviction that Westside UU is a congregation that believes in abundance. You take your covenants with one another seriously, and show up at the table again and again. This is what abundant love looks like in practice.
My ask is that you keep showing up, and with your whole selves. As long as this community is holding you in love, please commit to it with your time, your talent, your money, and your spirits. And, work to hold others in love as we pass through this threshold time.
If you believe in abundance, which I hope you do, please express your own abundant gifts outwardly here. That is the only way our dreams for this community can be realized.
And what do I know? I’m new here, and I’m no magician. Alone, I cannot bring back what has been lost, or heal old wounds, or create a vibrant welcoming community from scratch. No, This is work that we must share.
To get to that Beloved Community we dream of, we must share from our hearts, abundantly, here and now, with each other. To dream abundance is not enough, we must live it out loud, in our words and deeds.
We must show up tenderly, boldly, and know that we have each other as companions for the journey.
Shall we begin?