harvesting the power.

10 Nov

Otherwise known as, Part 1.
By the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on November 6, 2011.

“After the digging, after the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”

Don’t you ever wish that you could just skip straight to it – skip straight to enjoying the fruits of your harvest? I know many of you like to garden, but still – don’t you sometimes wish that your garden didn’t take quite so much time, and work?

As I have shared several times, I had a garden for the first time this year. And it was a very positive experience on the whole. I am still getting tomatoes.

But I didn’t do the steps that Linette described in our moment for all ages. I had no plan. I just went to the store and picked out plants and stuck them in the ground. I had no idea what I was doing. And for a while, that worked just fine. Except then all the vines died – cucumber beetles that spread from one to the other like wildfire. And then I plucked my peppers before they were ripe. And then my poor Brussels sprout, which I thought I had saved, shriveled and turned black and my broccoli somehow bloomed before I thought it was even ready to pick.

I tried planting some cold weather greens, but despite my fence I think the squirrels dug them up. Or something. I really have no idea.

I ended up with some delicious green beans, a plethora of basil, 4 green peppers and an eatable amount of tomatoes. Worth it for a first try, perhaps, but definitely not anywhere near as much as I would have gotten if I had had a plan.

A plan that would have started by asking myself what I wanted to grow. Then I would have chosen seeds, prepared the soil, planted the seeds. I would have spent more time out there examining the plants for pests, nurturing them. If I had had a plan, and had followed it, my harvest would have been much more bountiful.

In a lot of ways, First Unitarian Church is like a garden. There have been some very successful things going on here! In the short amount of time I have been here, we have created a Worship Associates program, started up small group ministry with our Covenant Groups, reconstituted a Congregational Care Team. We have seen the Mission and Outreach ministry take off, the start of a Healthy Initiatives program, First Sunday lunches, a children’s choir, an orchestra, and so,so much more.

But we have not had a plan for a while, and so we have kinda started programs haphazardly. Sometimes we feel like doing the watering and weeding necessary to keep things going. Other times, not so much; like with having to stop Wednesday Chalice Night programs. And we seem to spend a lot of time in crisis mode, fighting little fires that flare up – fires that distract us from the important work of creating a plan.

As a result, I think that we are like my garden: we have some yield, and some great things going on. But without a plan, its sorta chaotic and haphazard. If we want to harvest the true power of this church, we need a plan.

That is why the Finding the Future team is embarking on helping the church to create a plan: to help us get a bountiful harvest, to help us figure out where we are going.

“Where are we going?”

But even before the plan, we have to do some foundational work. Where is the garden going to go? Does the area get enough light? And we have to figure out what kind of soil we have – what is the pH level? How much clay or sand is in it? So even before we have a plan, we have to look at what we have to work with.

Like in the song, “What are we?” must come before “Where are we going?”

The Finding the Future team knows this. And so before they can find our future, before they can help us to create a long range plan, they are engaging us, the congregation, in a dialogue around what we are. The answer begins with something like “We are a church that….”

Now, you might hear this “what are we?” conversation talked about as creating a mission statement. We are going to engage in a process of writing a mission. And for some of you, this might elicit some groans. Again? Well, yes. And no.

What we need to do is figure out the reason that this congregation exists. “We are a church that…” And this reason then must be phrased in such a way that we can measure things against it. That is the point of the mission: to have something to measure against. It is not just a tag line, though it might start off with one. It has to have some meat in it.

So, for example, if one of you has the idea to take our comprehensive sexuality program, OWL, into the community and make classes available, we need to be able to put that up against our mission statement and say “Hmm, is that a match?”

Or if someone wants to turn our social hall into a daytime community center for the homeless, we could put that up against our mission statement and say “Hmm, is that a match?” Is that what we are about as a church?

Without a mission statement to measure against, we are likely to become a mile wide and only an inch deep. The mission statement helps us focus our energy, to go deeper.

The finding the future team needs your input on November 20th after the service to engage in the first step in creating a new mission statement that tells us what we are, because figuring out what we are comes before figuring out where we are going.

But even before figuring out what we are, before figuring out our mission, comes something else: “Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going.”

Where do we come from? Where do you come from? Not what physical location, but what emotional or spiritual location. What is that you find here that brings you back, that feeds you, that nurtures you? What is it that makes you feel whole?

I hope that those of you who have been here for more than a few times have found something here that saves you. Something that, in a world that tells you that you are not enough, that you don’t have enough, that you don’t look good enough, something that allows you to be your hurting, wonderful, human self. Something that speaks to your spirit and tells you you are beautiful, that you are loved, that you are worthy. Something, maybe, that even calls to you – that tells you that you can help create the beloved community, that you can bless the world with your love.

And this is where it starts. Where do you come from?

And so we see, harvesting the power requires that we first know what makes us whole. Then we can figure out what we are about as a community. And only then can we begin to plan where we are going. It takes time. And quite a bit of effort. But we can’t just skip to the chase if we want to achieve a bountiful harvest.

“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”

Now, lest you think that I just used this cute song as a structure for my sermon, let me let you in on a little secret. Okay, its not really a little secret. But still, let me let you in on something.

There is a movement afoot. A movement to re-envision how we do church. Not as in “throw the baby out with the bathwater” but more as in “how does the church need to change to remain a viable institution today and into the future?” Because the church, as an institution, was established in a very, very different time.

Unitarian Universalist minister Tony Lorenzo has summarized the work of Doug Pagit on his blog “Sunflower Chalice.” Tony writes:

“The American Church was born in the Agrarian Age. This is the Church of our liberal, congregational ancestors, the Puritans. Everything was based on a parish church and parish was and is a geographic reference.

Denominations were inventions of the Industrial Age with its emphasis on order, being able to make reproducible copies and efficiency.

The megachurch is a product of the Information Age. It is the church of an age of television, shopping malls, shopping online, getting your music in one generation from a record, a CD, and an mp3. Content remains the same but delivery method changes….

Now we are entering the Inventive Age and Marshal McLuhan may have been correct after all, the medium is the message – in fact the medium itself is an essential core value.”

Now, there is a whole sermon in there about these different ages of our culture, about how the church has had to respond and adapt to them, and about where we might end up. A whole different sermon about where the church, as an institution comes from, what it is today, and where it is going. But that is not the sermon for today. The sermon for today is about how this applies to us, today, here at First Unitarian Church. And this is how:

First, those of us in the church need to figure out what makes us whole. What saves us. Or, in seminary terms, what is our soteriology?

This then leads us to reflect on how we want to be in the world: what we are. Or, again, in seminary terms, what is our missiology?

Which, finally, determines how a church organizes itself, what the plan is. What is our ecclisiology?

Soteriology, leads to missiology, which leads to ecclisiology.

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

This is how we harvest the power. This is how our separate fires will kindle one flame, the flame of First Unitarian Church. It all starts with each one of us, asking ourselves, what saves me? What makes me whole?

In preparation for the workshop on November 20, and, really, because it is a spiritually healthy thing to do anyway, let us take a moment to begin to consider the following questions. And to make it really handy for you, these are all printed on the insert in your order of service.

  • What is it that makes you whole? That saves you?
  • What brings you to First Unitarian Church? What keeps you coming back? If you are a visitor, what are you hoping to find here?
  • What is the role of the church in your life?
  • What does your faith, as a Unitarian Universalist, call you to do/be in the world?
  • How can First Unitarian Church best support that call?

Please continue to reflect on these questions in the coming days and weeks as we begin the process of figuing out where we each come from, what we are about as a church, and where we want to go. Soteriology, missiology, ecclisiology.

Gather the spirit, harvest the power. May our separate fires kindle one flame, and may that flame burn brightly, now….and far into the future. May it be so. May we make it so.



3 Responses to “harvesting the power.”

  1. revtony November 10, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    This is beautiful and eloquent prophetic call to action, Dawn. First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY is blessed to have you.

    • Rev. Dawn November 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

      Our conversation inspired me. Thank you so much! Part 2 will be coming on December 11, when I am combining the idea of missiology and incarnation.


  1. The First Step in Mission: Find Your Song | Sunflower Chalice - November 10, 2011

    […] and start to imagine what their medley might sound like.  Take a look at what’s happening at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY. Take a look at what’s happening at the Lucy Stone Cooperative and the UU Community Schools […]

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