This morning I was checking the information our denomination posts on its website for people searching out UU churches in their neighborhood. Everything was looking OK for the church I serve until I scrolled down and saw my identification:
Pastor: Harvey Richards (non UU)
What?! My mind immediately filled with a slew of thoughts. Did they know something about me that I don't know? Have the last twenty years - including many spent in seminary and in preparation for UU ministry - meant nothing? Was my ministry a sham?
If the words inside the parentheses had said "not ordained" or "not fellowshipped" or even "not UUA credentialed" I would have been OK with it because each of those statements is true. But to say I was not a Unitarian Universalist just really rankled me.
Yet, the more I thought about it as the day progressed the more I thought, maybe they're right. Maybe I'm a single U nowadays - a Universalist. If so, it's quite a turn around since that first congregation I joined was a Unitarian Fellowship, and which, I now understand, was very Unitarian in culture and atmosphere.
But I've been the called minister for a 120-year-old Universalist church going on three years now, and I feel much more at home than I ever did in that Unitarian setting. That first experience with UUism exposed me to the "headiness" - the intellectual - aspect of our denomination. It was very much about the thought process, the build-your-own-theology path to enlightenment.
At Pullman Memorial, however, it is much, much more about the heart - feelings, spirituality that is experienced within rather than studied from without. As a Unitarian I was focused on taking in - absorbing as much as possible to understand myself and my place in the world. As a Universalist it is more about giving out, giving back, actively loving rather than being passively loved.
I feel no pressure to be ordained, but when the time comes, I think I would be very happy to be ordained simply as a Universalist pastor, rather than as a Unitarian Universalist minister.
Maybe the people in Boston do know me better than I thought. Maybe I'm a "non UU" after all.
But instead, I'm home in bed. I'm sick, which is very unusual for me. I can't remember exactly when I was last under the weather but it's been more than 3 years, and could be 4 or 5. Even though I spend a lot of time around very sick people at the hospital (when I'm on chaplain duty) I have managed to avoid being bedridden long enough to forget what it's like.
Now, of course, I still have a chronic headache that is with me constantly, and has been for over 10 years. Some days it is just a low annoyance and barely registers on my consciousness - I've developed a certain tolerance for it. Other days it grows in strength to the point I may need to lie down for awhile. But chronic pain is just simply part of who I am. I don't consider it - even when it knocks me off my feet for a few hours - as being sick.
No, I consider myself as a pretty healthy guy who happens to also have chronic pain. (There's a great little article in the current CLF newsletter Quest about what it means to be healthy.) Sickness, or illness, is an out-of-the-ordinary thing - here today (or for a few days) but, hopefully, eventually subsiding and then back to a normal metabolism.
So I've had my bought of fever and chills, congestion and body ache, and now I rest and recover my strength while ruing that the timing has kept me from being elsewhere, fulfilling other plans. Sure, I know I am lucky. Even if I'm "down" for a week it's not the same as contracting a serious illness or disease. Life-altering changes to one's health are a whole other category, and I'm thankful that this time I'm on the path to wellness and not a hospital ward.
I hope that if you are reading these ramblings that you are well. And if not, that you return to good health quickly.
Unlike most churches that aspire to great heights, Pullman Memorial Universalist hugs the ground, visually illustrating the Universalist focus on this life rather than the afterlife. The belltower never had, nor was intended to have, a spire. The stone exterior is expertly crafted pink Medina sandstone, which was complimented by a red Spanish tile roof, and because of its low and sprawling layout, there was a lot of roof.
Unlike the great European cathedrals, Pullman Memorial was mostly built in the short span of one year. Cathedrals take the labor of decades - some even centuries - to reach completion and then they immediately need to undertake repairs and upkeep maintenance. The great buildings are never truly done, and Pullman Memorial will forever need constant attention, too.
We take the long view. Most people in America nowadays are too impatient. They want immediate solutions, fast fixes, and want to be done with it. Interestingly, before George Pullman agreed to fund the construction of PMUC he insisted that the congregation assemble a modest endowment to care for the building. He wanted to ensure that his edifice - a memorial to his parents - would last for as long as it might take for the stone to erode back to sand.
We still have that endowment, and have added to it over the years, but it is not enough right now - at today's prices - to restore the roof. Undaunted, we persevere. We will raise the funds for the roof, and continue to inspire donors with our story so we can make other repairs as well. Caring for Pullman Memorial is a "forever project" which is not meant to imply a burden but a loving mission to protect our heritage.
Some naysayers say, "No. It can't be done. It'll cost too much, take too long, and nobody cares." I say, "Yes. It can be accomplished. Yes, it will never truly be done (there will always be a need for ongoing maintenance). And most of all, yes, there are people who care. I, for one, am a Universalist who believes in 'angels' and whether they contribute time or dollars, it all adds up."
In less than a month we will have a wine tasting event at PMUC. It's shaping up to be an amazing offering, with four local wineries, artisan foods, live music, a door prize, and more. We've kept the price of tickets reasonable so people may attend and see our beautiful building as much as raise money for restoration. It's a small but important step towards our "forever goal." I would encourage you, dear reader, to consider attending, or make a donation toward our cause. Info about Pullman Pourings can be found here.
Enough already! Stop the insanity. Cease with making "the big ask."
Last year I did my first "not a pledge sermon" and simply identified how wonderfully generous everyone had been during the preceding year. It was a thank you sermon, not a "beg you" sermon. I wanted people to know they have been, and are, great, and that their contributions (time, talent and treasure) were appreciated.*
This year I didn't even go there, didn't talk about money specifically at all. I simply set out to try and answer one of the big questions plaguing humanity - what makes us human? And in the process of discovery, I learned, and shared, that part of the answer lies in the evolutionary force of the "survival of the kindest" which has endowed us with a gene for generosity. I pointed out just a few ways of how that generosity gets expressed, and left it at that.
Knowing the inherited drive exists within each of us to be "givers of gifts" helps connect the feeling to the intellectual consciousness. We only need to be allowed to live into our full humanity (to feel the call of kindness) in order to make our own evaluations of worthiness and calculations of support levels.
So I urge other ministers to be kind to their congregations. No more dunning for dollars.
- - -
*The 2013 "not a pledge sermon" - Economics of Community - was part of my series on how to create great faith communities.
Do you want a church that doesn't tell you what to think?
Do you want to be in a place where it matters what you think?
Pullman Memorial Universalist Church - it's not what you think!
My first thought was, if you have to ask then it probably wasn't God. I would imagine if God spoke to someone it would be such an amazing experience that no one would need to ask if it was real or not.
That was my thought. What I actually said went more like this: We are beings both chemical and electrical. Our brains work with electrical charges, neurons firing and responding, sorting and filing information to find logic and patterns, to weigh both great ideas and small. We think, maybe sometimes over-think, solutions to problems. If one is asking about voices real or imagined then one is trying to determine what is truth through thought.
But we are also chemical beings - ruled by hormones and metabolism. We feel that something is right or wrong, good or bad - and those feelings may not always align with our intellectual parlays. For example, we are capable of major rationalizations to give ourselves permission to do things that we instinctively feel are wrong.
In matters of addressing God, and listening for his or her answer, it is wiser to listen with the heart than the brain.
I know several people right now who have lost young people from their lives. Whether it's a child, grandchild, or a nephew or niece, or even just a young person well known to you, it always seems extra tragic that they should not have the chance to live long and full lives.
The death of anyone close will leave a hole in the heart, but the death of a young person seems to just rip and shred that hole open, leaving our loving tears to flow forth unchecked. People in their clumsiness will offer platitudes like "God needed her for other things" or "he's in a better place now" yet these are not only empty and meaningless but are just downright demeaning, as if saying their life here on earth was without sufficient value.
I don't understand how anyone can ascribe some higher purpose or calling to a young person's death. While we may not have any promises of long life we do have the expectation of such, and dying earlier than expected just calls to mind so much lost opportunity for both the deceased and the survivors. Lost opportunities of time together to play and love, of work to be done, of families to be created and enjoyed.
Our grief is made precisely that much worse because we can imagine so much which could have been, and feel should have been. So if you find yourself being a "survivor" then know this - by every definition your loss is tragic. You have every right to feel angry in addition to your sadness. Your own life is now forever changed because someone you love is now a memory, unable to be with you except in the mind and heart.
So I entreat you to cherish the memories, however painful right now. Don't rush to forget, thinking that forgetting will somehow make the loss more bearable. It is through memories and stories that we can honor that young person's life - however short - and it is through those memories and stories that we will, at last, find some healing.