Bringing the Dream into Focus

A vision, by member Amy Shannon

Andy asked me to write about my dreams for our community. My dream is simply for us to be a shining example of how to be a force for good, how easy it is to think outside of the box and how firm and strong you can be when it comes to social justice issues. I get excited by so much of what goes on here, but my priority in my professional and the church work is educating the next generation to be open minded, tolerant, giving and peaceful in their live. In fact, it is one of my greatest passions. 

Without wanting to sound too corny, I do have a dream for the programmes we offer to children, teenage and young adults. So if you would, please dream with me for a moment. Let’s fall fast asleep. 

Lets imagine we are a few years down the road. Imagine the scene; It’s 11.03am on Sunday 23rd February 2013. The service has just started. Our congregation is three times the size it is now and we are the most integrated, intergenerational, multicultural and multibelief community you have ever seen! This morning some of us are lucky enough to be sat on one of the many new chairs we have had to buy in order to seat all the new and much welcomed bottoms. 

Mums and Dads, Mums and Mums, Dads and Dads, Grandparents and any other modern day family you can imagine are amongst the congregation. They are trying to entertain their young children for the first few minutes of the service, but it’s hard. They are too excited about going to Bright Lights, and what the story and activity might be this week. Some of them wave and giggle at their friends – young and old. The youth group which consists of the older children and teenagers are sitting together, coolly as far away as possible from their parents and carers. They are trying to be quiet, but we can hear the excited rustles of newspapers as they compare the same picture of themselves in 2 local newspapers for their 2nd successful sponsored 12 hour sing song – Organised by the Navadia youth choir. The older ones are well on their way to completing their Unitarian Gold and Silver Chalice awards whilst supporting the younger members of the group on the first steps towards the Bronze. 2 new children who came last week sit amongst them, feeling at home as they are all already firm fiends! Their parents saw an advert for our weekly run Youth and Bright Lights groups, others heard about us from word of mouth or just by popping in on a Sunday morning. 

Now it’s time for the Bright lights and the Youth group to leave the service. As we leave we signal to yet another new family to join us, whilst doing so one of the smaller children runs up to me to ask if we have booked the family day out to London Zoo yet? Something I promised after a long project on environmental issues and animal rights. I reply we have, to a small squeal of delight. I make a mental note to myself to organise the release of that part of the budget for this trip together, now we have increased our “socioeconomic diversity” it is vital we can help parents and carers towards the cost of things. 

We say bye to the Youth group – 10 strong as they disappear off with one of the 2 Youth leaders we now have, to the office up stair. Apparently this week they are devising a performance that they will present together at the start of a service in a few weeks time. Last week they discussed how they might begin a small youth committee to work along side the adult committee. None of us know how they do such great work up there in that small room – I make another mental note that we need to look for a larger space to hire for them. Oh wait – did I mention yet how well the OWL sex education groups are going too? (Our Whole Live) I wonder how Andy’s article for the TES is going on that? 

Anyway - We begin Bright Lights in the small side room. Together we light our chalice, and settle down to a story about Ghandi, followed by a craft. The room is full and busy. We turn on the audio system that is linked up to the service and some of us even manage to sing along to “We’ll build a land”. The babies have fun with the good selection of baby toys we have, whilst the children enjoy their craft with a huge array of art equipment we have. Of course, we don’t always have a story and then a craft, sometimes we cook, sing songs with the instruments we own, go out to the local park to play games, sit around reading the many lovely fiction or information books we have in our children’s library – a discussion on many levels always follows, we play with toys, make models, create collages from things we’ve found on nature walks, write stories and do a lot of work on the allotment outside. Luckily we now have 4 Bright Light leaders, Myself, Deborah, …………….and ………. We work together well, and are inspired since the “Unitarian Educational Leaders” training we have just been on, and feel slightly more at ease since our first aid training. We also have full rota of parents and congregation members of all ages willing to volunteer and a paid child worker who joins Bright Lights every Sunday to give some consistency. Good job as the average number of children we now get is 25 plus. Some children have begun to moan, signalling the mid morning munches, a few of the adults get busy preparing healthy snacks in the new and much improved kitchen and the bottle warmer needs to be turned on again! I over hear 2 parents talking excitedly about the up and coming re- opening of the new community rooms we’ve built at the back of the Newington Green. Personally I will look forward to moving back into them – Mildmay club is a great space, but it costs to rent it every other week! We need to hurry as soon the doors will open and the grown ups will want copious amounts of tea, coffee and biscuits – that’s if the youth group don’t eat them all first. I can’t wait to hear how their performance is coming on. 

Now you can wake up.
 

A vision, by member Britt Doughty-Godchaux

bell hooks, the feminist thinker and writer, when considering an anti-racist beloved community, states that in order to achieve such an alternate reality, we must employ imagination. If we cannot imagine this future place, we cannot even begin the journey of creating it. 

When I consider the collective potential of this community’s ability to imagine a future for itself. I get excited. Our present is vital and loving and we are constantly challenging and growing each other. And the loveliness of it all includes watching our present ideas and projects morph and age and percolate and develop and cultivate new baby ideas that we cannot presently imagine, and respond and answer to the world as it changes and call out to it for still other changes. What I love is the ferment, the taking the old and cultivating the new, honouring it all along the way. 

Our future will only be more so. 

More book groups. Maybe different book groups. I am looking forward to the eventualities of the newly germinated idea of our film society. Our holidays and meals spreading out across the community. Engagement groups for various rites of passages and other groups to support ourselves and one another. Music and dance. Wellness. Courses and exploration. Creativity and flow. 

But we must also make sure we are providing the venue for this imagined place. A comfortable, well-cared for space where the bills are paid and the ceiling doesn’t leak. Where no one person does more than they want to or that they can. We must imagine and plan for this place. 

Now, we are told, is not the time for imagination. The media tells us we should be battening down the hatches and withdrawing into the fear of whatever the other shoe dropping means for us individually. I disagree. The people who did the best during the Depression or directly after World War II or at any other ebbing, hard time, looked after their resources and imagined what was possible with what they had. And that includes the communities and people around them. The government wants us to believe that we should be doing our community work and activism instead of paid workers and without government support. I also disagree. I think we can do the work we want to do and not let the government off the hook for supporting the collective wellness of the community. (Remember to come march on March 26th against ridiculous budget cuts!) 

Holding these tensions, the one thing that seems wise is to be able to use our resources, whether they be time or energy or tools or materials, well. Being able to plan and respond to our community’s needs with a central pot of money, some extra staff to organise and support our projects, and materials, donated or purchased in an organised way means less waste and more space for the things we really want to spend our time and energy on. Whatever that may be for you. 

For me, this shift looks like switching to direct debit instead of cobbling together the change from my pocket every week. For me and mine, this makes more sense because we can budget without contributions falling into that murky category of monkeys in and out that I cannot account for. 

It also means committing to coordinate. To take on that 3% more responsibility. Perhaps co-coordinating to ensure that the things we envisage and long for and plan for actually do happen in a manner others can depend on and participate in. 

For the congregation, it means the committees can plan. Got an idea? They could tell you what resources are available. What’s out there. 

We are getting ourselves from here to there, from the present to the our imagined future. We are growing and changing and continuing our traditions. This, I believe, is just the next step.

 

Sermon, by Rev. Andy Pakula

Thank you Amy. 

Thank you Britt. 

You have both offered inspiring visions of the future. Amy – I’m still working on that article. When do you need it by? 

I hope that all of you feel excited by those visions. Do you? 

I know that you will have other dreams for this community too. Sharing those with one another is a big piece of how we get our bearings toward a bright future, so please don’t be shy about that. 

But you will know also that visions don’t come about on their own – they are not made real simply by saying them, no matter how beautifully or persuasively that is done. 

Today, we are going to get a bit more serious about what we really need to do to make those visions become real. 

Buckle your seat belts (or pew belts) because we are going to talk today about what may be the last taboo in Unitarianism. 

No – not sex. We seem to be OK talking about that and we are justifiably proud of that openness. 

No – not politics. Even with a bit of discomfort, we manage to get on with that topic OK. 

Religion? – well, no. 

The last taboo is money. 

I know, I know… take a deep breath. 

Now this morning, I did a little experiment with you. Two of you had something special in your orders of service! 

Someone found a 10 pound note and someone found a 20 pound note. And I’ll bet that their reaction upon finding this unexpected surprised was mixed. 

Do I give it back? 

Should I say anything? 

Did anyone else get anything? 

It’s a nice surprise to be that lucky to get money when no one else did. In fact, this makes us a pretty accurate economic model of the world: two people out of 50 hold all the wealth. 

And you who didn’t get money - how do you feel? Envious? Unlucky? Cheated? Angry? 

And if you did get money, there may be a sense that the only proper thing to do is keep quiet about it. Holding on to it seems wrong somehow, but then giving it away draws attention to the fact that you have it in the first place. 

And if you do find the nerve to give it away, how will the recipient respond. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “We wish to be self-sustained. We do not quite forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten.” 

Get the picture? Having money is fraught with risk. Not having money is fraught with risk. Giving it away is fraught with risk! It’s better just to keep quiet about the whole thing!

There’s a problem with that strategy too, as I’m sure you recognize: We need to use money to get what we want. It’s the way it works in a capitalist society. There’s not much we can do to alter that reality. 

The compelling visions for this congregation that we’ve heard from Amy and from Britt – the compelling visions you have conceived as well – they all require money to make them real. 

What this means is that – just as we need to put our shoulder to the grindstone to work toward our goals – just as we need to carve out time to help make our vision a reality – so do we need to reach into our wallets to make it happen. 

And that will make us uncomfortable. 

So I hope that we can agree on an important theological point right now. 

Here’s the background: In Calvinism, the goodness of a person was typically measured by their wealth. The assumption was that God rewarded those that were chosen to be saved, so the sight of a big house was taken as the sign of a pure soul. 

Even today, some people will tell you that your faithfulness will determine your income – if you get tired of Unitarianism there are plenty of places where you can go and be told that prayer and the love of Jesus will make you rich. 

Theologically – practically – morally – we say a very emphatic “no.” You are not a better person because your have more or a better person because you have less. 

The fact that we are talking about money does not – except in the coarsest most materialistic way mean that one person is worth more than another. 

What it does mean, however, is that being a faithful person also means being deliberate about how you use everything you have: your money and your time and your energy and your skills. 

In the news recently, there was a story about an Essex woman who has eaten nothing but crisps for the past ten years. I kid you not. 

To be specific, they were beef-flavoured Monster Munch crisps. 

We often hear “you are what you eat”… 

In this society, where money translates almost directly into the ability to do and get things, it would be fairer to argue “you are what you buy.” Or at least you will be if you start thinking about it enough. 

Some of you won’t buy plastic carrier bags or fruit and veg shipped in from long distances. Those are people who care about the environment. 

Some of you won’t buy meat from animals that are not humanely raised. Those are people who care about animal welfare. 

Some of you won’t buy products that are produced by workers living under inhumane conditions. Those are people who truly care about justice and fair treatment of workers. 

No matter what someone says or what petitions they may sign, how they spend can be one of the truest indications of who they are and what they stand for. 

Today, we launch the first ever pledge campaign in this congregation. Until now, we have relied on a very understated means of asking for money without – to the greatest extent possible – actually… mentioning… money. 

We did this not because what we do here doesn’t matter, but because talking about money is awkward and uncomfortable. Because it tends to make some of us feel bad if we think we have too little or too much. 

And today, we have started to talk about money. Say it MONEY. It’s a reality that our values and our money are tied – as unfortunate as that may seem. 

If we love this community and if we want our dreams for this community to be realized, the leaders need to talk openly about money and they and everyone else needs to reach deeply into their hearts and ask what this particular spending means to them. 

My pledge has already been announced in the newsletter. I am paid £18,000 per year by New Unity and I am pledging £1,800 for this year – one tenth of my stipend. 

Our Committee chair, John Bates, has pledged to match that pledge pound for pound. Our campaign is already off to a sound start. 

We don’t ask you to give more than you can afford or more than the amount that feels right to you. 

We do ask you to give based on the values you hold, the potential we have, and the dreams we will – together – make real. 

Funding the dream begins today. 

May it be so