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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Children's Chapel:  10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
 

With Open Arms

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, March 6, 2005


Seasons change. Churches change. Our reasons for coming to church change. The reasons we have for sticking with this church are different for each of us, as this year’s canvass theme reminds us: We each have walked a different path to get here to this, the home of our spirits.

But what doesn’t change—and what isn’t different-- is our need to support our church as generously as we do any of the other important aspects of our lives. What doesn’t change is our need to commit ourselves to our church to the fullness of our ability and our means.

In my opinion, the greatest threat that this church faces at this season of its existence is the lack of depth of commitment of its members. Our financial commitment to our church is a critical aspect of this overall commitment. We can’t rely on a few blessed war horses to keep on bearing the brunt of the burden and doing the brunt of the work. We can’t rely on the generosity of a few blessed souls to bear the majority of our church’s financial needs.

If we do that, then soon enough we will be in real trouble. Soon enough, those who have done all the work in the past will not be able (or, perhaps, willing) to do it all any longer. Soon enough, the fiscal needs of this church will far outstrip the ability of most generous givers to subsidize them. If we rely upon our present levels of commitment alone, then I am afraid that before too long this church of ours will run out of gas, and we will have to scale down severely our ability to mount the kinds of programs we do now; to provide the kind of full-time ministry we now have; to meet as well as we do now the spiritual and religious needs of our own congregation and the wider community.

For a church to struggle over its finances is nothing new. I’ve never been in a church, either as a minister or as a layperson, which didn’t struggle over the issue of how it was going to balance the next year’s budget.

Sounds sort of like a family, doesn’t it? Like churches, families struggle (very often) over how they’re going to pay all their bills. But in our homes, we don’t have the option of saying, “Well, I’m too busy for this family this year, so maybe I’ll let someone else take up the slack, and I’ll give a little less…” No—we give whatever it takes for our families to thrive, and for its needs to be met.

Being part of an open-armed, free-spirited church family like ours—what a blessing that truly is, in these tempestuous, troubled, confusing, chaotic times in which we live! Being part of a church family requires an attitude of commitment, even an attitude of sacrifice.

We want our church family to thrive, and so, we give to our own fullest ability (how much that is is something we each have to ponder in our homes and in our hearts). With open arms, we give out of our abundance, so that our church might prosper and thrive. We give until it feels good. Give until it helps. We give from the fullness of our beings; from our sense of generosity and not of scarcity; to give enough so that we feel as though we’ve given something that is significantly part of us. We give so that the standard of living of this church will not just be stuck on “survive”, but so that it can thrive and grow and expand, and meet some of its deepest potential.

Our religion is our spirituality with flesh and bones and buildings and paper clips and paper and books for the Sunday school and music for the choir and everything else that goes into running a church attached. “It is the place of religion to build castles in the air,” Peter Raible once said. “It is the place of churches to build foundations under them.”

Committing to a church is about putting our selves—our beings—our families—where our spiritual values are. Pledging to a church is about putting our dollars where our hearts are. By opening our arms, and opening our hearts, to the needs of this church, we stretch our souls. By pledging generously to that in which we believe, we take a tremendous step on our own journeys toward wholeness, and we enter a new season of spiritual maturity. Generosity deepens our souls. Our generous giving to our church deepens our church’s soul and empowers it to grow into all it can become.

If you’re looking for a reason to give generously, then, by all means, consider all the things this church means to you, all the reasons you and your families come to this church: consider the first-rate religious education it provides for your children; think about our worship experiences, unlike any other you will find in this community; remember those caring and compassionate souls with which you can share the spiritual journey; think about those opportunities for enlightenment and education—chances to stretch your mind—that you can take part in here, in this church, at a fraction of what they would cost you elsewhere; cherish in your hearts this community—this church family—this home for your spirit which is here to greet you, and take you in, and accept you, and cherish you, wherever you are along the road of life, whoever you are in the living of your life.

Look even deeper. Look toward the deep ideals and values which this church dares to represent in this community—ideals and values which would probably not be represented, if you did not support this church: ideals which rescue spirituality from dogma; which affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people, not just those whom fortune or society has favored; which dares to stand for something in this hard world; which dares to embrace an ethic as big as the whole world and which seeks to reconnect us with the earth and with one another. These are what we value here, and so much more: honesty, compassion, freedom, responsibility, justice, equity, idealism, interdependence—and yes, generosity—a generosity of spirit, which we all seek to reflect in the lives we lead.

And we believe in life,
And in the strength of love.

And we have found this sacred place, this holy church, where we can be together, and become all that we can become, together.

Through own deepening commitment, may we embrace this vision fully, and help it to become real and true in the life of our world.

 


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