Our community on the cusp

Today is the last Sunday of June. For the past month, our theme has been “on the cusp.” We have talked about various aspects of the idea of being in between two states. We’ve explored the idea of liminal space, the line between sanity and insanity, and considered the leap it sometimes takes to cross from here to there. 

Today, with our Annual General Meetings scheduled for just after this service, it seems a good time to talk about our own community and how its growth and development relate to being on the cusp. 

What is a cusp, anyway? It is a word with number of different uses, but most of them relate to a boundary and nearly all of them refer to a kind of a point – the end of a crescent moon, the cusp on a tooth, a pointed place where curves interest architecturally, or the pointed end of a plant leaf. 

As we think about these pointy places, we start to recognise that – actually – being on a cusp is not a place we really want to be! 

I’m going to go off in a bit of a different direction now. We will come back. Promise. 

As most of you know, before I became a minister, I was a scientist. Somehow, my knowledge of chemical reactions and molecular biology does not come in all that handy in ministry. If you every need someone to tell you how to mutagenise a gene, do some DNA sequencing, or even about how to make solvated electrons, please do come an ask me! 

But every once in a while, I get the opportunity to draw upon that old knowledge, and today is one of those days. 

I want to tell you a bit about chemical reactions. Imagine two molecules floating around in a test tube. These molecules are pretty happy on their own, but they are also open to some change. If they connect in a particular way, they can create something new – something quite different. 

The transition between the original state and the new though is not all smooth sailing. What happens in between is literally unstable. It’s called the ‘transition state’ and it’s an arrangement of the molecules that is so incredibly strained, it can’t exist for more than an instant. 

Think of it like rolling a boulder uphill. As you go up, that boulder is inclined to roll right back down to the bottom. It’s only when you finally manage to push it all the way to the top – to the very cusp of the hill – that it can now tumble down to the other side. Transition accomplished. 

On top of that cusp – in the transition state – there is tremendous instability. The boulder or the molecules are ready to go anywhere else but not to stay there. They don’t care whether they go forward or backward – anywhere but the cusp! 

I believe that we too – as a congregation – are on a cusp. 

When I arrived here, this congregation had already grown from about six people to thirty-five members. At that size, I – as your full-time minister – could do nearly everything that needed to be done. Of course, the committee and other volunteers did their share – especially the treasurers. But we didn’t need large number of volunteers. We didn’t need to have systems in place to do things. Perhaps more importantly, I could be in relationship with everyone in the congregation. I could interact regularly with each one of the thirty-five members. 

Fast forward five and a half years. We are now about 108 members. There is much more needing to be done. A larger congregation means more pastoral needs, more interest in different programmes, and a lot more administration. I can no longer interact regularly with everyone. 

We have attempted to adapt to these changes and we’ve done that just about as well as anyone could. And yet, it feels to me like we’re on a cusp. 

The cusp is about needing more volunteers to do what we want to do well. 

The cusp is about needing more income to pay for programmes, equipment, maintaining and improving our buildings. 

The cusp is about our goals becoming larger and more courageous and generous and loving while our ability to meet those goals has not increased as quickly. 

The cusp is about being at an awkward size where the minister can’t do it all and there are not enough volunteers to create the systems we need. 

Our congregation is in an unstable state – a transition state – we are like the boulder at the top of the hill. We are unlikely to stay at in that position – at our current size – for very long. Two things could happen now. We could get exhausted and fall back to the next smaller stable size. Or we could do what it takes to grow to the next larger stable size. We can roll back or roll forward. 

If we fall back to having lower goals and about 2-fold fewer people, we can manage comfortably. If we go forward and continue to grow, we will reach a new stable state. I think that we’ll reach that state when we are about 200 members – a two-fold increase. 

So, a two-fold decrease or a two-fold increase. Either will bring us to a more stable place than where we currently are. 

As a community, we need to ask ourselves which path is more true to us. There is something very intimate and friendly about a smaller congregation. You more easily know everyone. You have more direct access to your minister. The costs are lower and fewer volunteers are needed. If we think only of how it would affect those of us already here, it might feel quite attractive to some of you to fall back. 

And then we think about what it is that we consider to be our purpose in this community. 

Love is the spirit of this community

Acceptance is its sacrament

and service is its prayer

This is our great purpose: 

To seek wholeness for all beings

To strive for justice and equality

And to join our hands in pursuit of unity and peace

Throughout the years, we have all been very clear and very resolute that we are not here only for ourselves. Yes, of course we care about ourselves. We care about support and comfort. We care about our own growth as people. We care about each other. 

But our vision is so much larger. Love, acceptance, service, wholeness for all beings, justice, unity, peace... 

Moving forward is the only way to follow our vision – to live our purpose as a congregation. Falling back – while comfortable – would be a betrayal of what we ourselves hold dear. 

Moving forward will not be easy. It will not be without stresses and strains. It will mean investing time and money in reaching out and while also reaching in – it will mean working to better understand our neighbours and their needs – it will mean accommodating what we do to larger numbers – it will mean further opening our doors and our hearts to those who are strangers to us – it will mean ensuring that everything we do is done mindful of those who are not. 

It will also be a joyful and exciting adventure, full of heart and spirit, love and fire, faith and service. 

The future for New Unity can be one of greater service to the world. It can be a future where we have a greater ability to offer healing and wholeness, to move the world toward justice, and to teach acceptance in a world of hurt. 

Through our passion, through our commitment, through our faith, may it be so.