The beginning of the second section
of the UUA Congregational Handbook contains the evocative sentence,
"A congregation has a ministry." I have mulled this over for
years. On 7/26/98, during the search for new professional ministry for
TPUUF, I gave this brief sermon, as an introduction to a program during
which members and friends spoke of how they had ministered and been
ministered to through pastoral care, religious education, vocal music
and other activities.
"A congregation has a ministry." -- What does this mean?
I have been asking you, "What brings
you here and what keeps you here" - but what is here and why is
And, as others have remarked, here is not a public utility to service your individual needs.
Here is a congregation, a church:
Conrad Wright, writing of church (including churches, fellowships, synagogues, mosques, anywhere groups of people gather in worship)*:
"A covenanted body of religiously concerned men and women."
Let's work backwards through his definition:
Men and women: not the faithful; not the elect, not predestined, not anointed, but just people - each with inherent worth and dignity.
Concerned: not baptized, not saved, not bar or bas mitzvahed, not confirmed, not ordained but merely thoughtful, alert, searching for truth and meaning.
Religiously: not concerned for the moment about work or about jobs or about money but about matters of the spirit and the higher life of humans and the human community.
Covenanted: not shackled by blind adherence to creed but bound together by principled agreement in intentional community.
A church is not the building or the property or the investments or the staff or even the programs - but the people, the gathered intentional community.
Community is an idea as old as mankind. When the first mated pair opened the circle around the fire to include aunts and uncles, grandparents, orphans, widows and the traveler, then community began. Community led inevitably to clan; to tribe; to village; to canton; to city state; to county; to province; to republics; to democratic nations; to the European Community; to the United Nations. This social evolution was inevitable, given the nature and fundamental goodness of human beings.
And when the first people looked up at the moon and wondered where they came from and how it all began or were terrified by lightening and wondered what would befall them and when it would end, and, then, in spiritual need, turned to their companions, community became congregation.
We are a community, and a community becomes a congregation when, in Wright's words, it is religiously concerned.
What happens here?
* We help each other to find and get what we need; what is missing from our lives.
* We raise up our children in love, and compassion and with moral intuition, as we wish we had been raised ourselves.
* We each call and are recalled to our better selves; to consideration of matters of the spirit and of the human condition and of human destiny which we ignore in the day to day hustle and bustle.
Think of here, this place, as a trading post on the edge of the wilderness: from here we will go out into the undiscovered country of the future.
What do we each bring and what do we each need to take away?
In this question, and its myriad personal answers, are the roots of community and of congregation. From those answers spring our ministry to each other.
A congregation has a ministry.
Our congregation has a ministry.