Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.
Today we celebrate our ability and privilege to come together in right relationship. As you may know, our way of doing “church” has its origins in the Protestant Reformation, although some parts of what many UUs have long held as “true” come from centuries before. The belief that there is one unitary God behind all manifestations of the holy is old, and was for centuries considered heretical. And the “good news” (the gospel), that God did all that was necessary to ensure that we are all are worthy of universal love, was also considered to be heretical. These were heretical beliefs held by a few, until the Unitarians and Universalists began to come into being as groups formed by right relationship during what would be known as the Radical Reformation. Early in the 1500s, when Martin Luther the great reformer was rejecting the tenets of Catholicism, other protesters (Protestants) were inspired to completely change the structure of church and the way small bodies of believers interacted with each other and with the “outside” world.
The radical reformers came to believe that nothing, no priest and no institutional hierarchy, no church, no state, no scripture should ever come between the body of believers and their living relationship with God, or what we might call the Spirit of Life. Those in the radical reformation sought to form the “free church,” bodies of the faithful who knew and loved each other and who governed themselves within the bonds of a covenant of their own making.
Their covenants were the promises they made to each other. They created those covenants by paying attention to how the spirit of love moved among them; what the spirit of love called them to do and to be together.
This was a radical reordering of what it meant to be a congregation, hearkening back to what they imagined happened during the small first century of gatherings of the early Christians. Two aspects that still define what is known as free church are governance and polity. Those two “markers” are: A free church has the power to call its own minister, and a free church may own its own property.
“Free” churches are those free from outside authority, bound only to each other and how they discern the Spirit of Love, free to make their own decisions and carry forth the implications of their decisions! Free and responsible.
So, it is that together members of UUCSH OWN this building and the property on which it stands (or for now, UUSCH is responsible for paying the mortgage, which will one day lead to ownership!). So, it is also that together UUCSH members decide together who will lead this congregation. All major decisions are made by the congregation as a whole, free from undue outside influence, responsible to each other, in right relationship.
The reason I am sharing this very simplified version of our origins and how those affect us now is to impress upon you that pledging in our living tradition is not just about collecting enough promises of incoming monies to pay the outgoing expenses. It is—in our view as a faith movement, both historically and now—a theological statement. How we do church answers the question Who are we and what are we to do? We are to discern the movement of the Spirit of Life and we are responsible enough to respond. We are not just “free” from undue outside influence; we are responsible for being in right relationship with each other.
You are owners. You are creators of this space, partners bonded together to be this church community in this present moment, to discern together how to be in loving and responsible relationship with each other and with the Spirit of Life, and with other free church communities with whom we chose to be associated, with staff including religious professionals who you choose to be in relationship with.
You are not subjects of a priest, pope, or bishop. No one from the outside rules over us, nor sends us cash! Once inside this church, we are not the subjects of an empire, but free to discern the movement of the Spirit among us. The tenets of the radical reformation are why we live in a free nation and democratic nation—or at least we helped create it to be so, because of our deeply held religious convictions. Together in this congregation, members are both free and responsible, together always becoming a faith community that discerns for itself how the spirit moves among us.
Making a pledge of your time, your talents, and your treasure (meaning your money) is acting out of a promise (a pledge) to each other that each and every member makes upon joining. It is the promise that you will act with both love and responsibility. That promise is both an obligation to the present and carries the potential of creating the future.
It has been the custom of this congregation to annually ask for your pledges. What can you promise to give this July through the end of next June? A pledge is simply a promise. It can be changed if you need to change it depending on changing circumstances. It is not a promise you are making to an institution; it is a promise you are making to each other.
Your board will propose a budget at the annual congregational meeting on Sunday, May 22. The proposed budget will be based on your pledges.
This congregation is supported not only by members who are expected to pledge. There are also some who give simply because they want to ensure the presence of UUism in this community. Those individuals or families for whatever reason have not chosen to be members, yet they support this congregation with their time, talent, and treasures. They pledge and they fulfill their pledges because they want UUism to exist here.
If you haven’t already, I hope you will declare your pledge today.
It is our heritage as a free faith to love each other in such a way that is responsible and of our own determination and discernment. It is our privilege to freely dream together about what we could do with our pooled resources, giving not because the institution needs to receive, BUT BECAUSE we need to give.
We come from a people who believed the need to be together as equals was stronger than the reality they had experienced as subjects of a cruel empire, or of a hierarchical religious institution. I ask that you make a promise of what you can and will give because you want to be a part—an equal and responsible part, regardless of the size of your pledge—of this group that is going in a direction that you also want to go. Give because you trust the leadership, give because you believe in the dream of what this church is and what it could be.
Give because you have been given to. Because your child loves coming here, loves the companionship of others here as do you. Give because you’ve been given to and you know you won’t be right until you give back.
Give because saving lives on the margins is what we do.
Give because you need to give. Give because giving is an act of faith, of dignity, of being the full measure of who you are. Peter Marshall, long time Chaplain of the US Senate, Presbyterian minister, said, “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”