A New Unity Sunday Gathering
We come together today from different lives, with our very different experiences, and our different ways of being
Some of us arrive with power and privilege. Others do not.
Some of us speak in perfect native English. Others have accents that reveal more exotic origins.
Some are satisfied with where they are in their lives and others yearn for something very different - even if they cannot put a name to it.
Some have strong, able bodies at this time in their lives. For others, disability or illness is a constant reality.
And yet, we - this diverse people - gather together here in all our variety. We gather because we long for something more than we can find in places of homogeneity - more than we will find in the office or in the shops - more than we will find on the hundreds of channels of television or the vastness of the World Wide Web.
We come because we know that in community - in the loving encounter with difference and the safety of a place where we can be ourselves - there can be something more. In such a place, we learn and stretch and grow
Our hearts become more open. Our minds become more understanding. In such a place, we learn to love the world and to work for its betterment.
Whoever you are, come and be loved. Come and create love together.
Whoever you are, come join together in the work of justice that helps to heal the world around us.
Whoever you are, come and raise a generation of strong, confident individuals who will live lives of understanding, generosity, and acceptance and whose hearts beat with a passion for justice.
If this world survives, by Malvina Reynolds
If this world survives
And every other day I think it might
In good part it will be
Because of the great souls in our community.
There are a lot of them
I’ve seen them walk
In lonely thousands down a city’s streets
Or hand out leaflets in the rain
Or turn the handle of a print machine
Or empty their pockets as the plate comes by
Or gaze into the camera’s eye.
And answer the question:
“Will the world survive?”
And they have said
“We’ll try. We’ll try. We’ll try.”
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.
When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities, and so on. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace. And there are ways in which we can consciously work to develop feelings of love and kindness. For some of us, the most effective way to do so is through religious practice. For others it may be non-religious practices. What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment we live in seriously.
Message, by Andy Pakula
Since the beginning of January, we’ve been talking about justice. Last Sunday was our commemoration of International Women’s Day and a group of New Unity women shared their perspectives and their personal experiences of how women have still not achieved full equality with men. As they powerfully reminded us, full justice for women is still far off.
The week before that, Nick Lewis superbly explained the relationship of justice and the justice system. The two are often far apart.
And we’ve discussed justice in a whole variety of other circumstances. All too often, the reality is that the just situations we dream of are far off. Perhaps it’s partly because societal and our own attitudes continue to become more enlightened and so we move the goalposts of that vision further down the field. But there is also enough inequality and oppression to be sure that we have not come close to eliminating what has been known and understood as injustice for thousands of years. The widows and orphans are still hungry and cold.
We know this and we continue to aim high and to dream and work for that better world. It is out of our control, but not out of our influence. Every day we can take actions that make a small difference and millions of those actions do indeed make a difference.
More in our own control though is this community - this New Unity congregation. One of our aims to shape New Unity into a truly just and justice-seeking place - a microcosm of the world of our vision.
It’s hard work and it’s not without its frustrations and setbacks, but if we cannot do it here in this peaceful laboratory of society, then what hope is there for the larger vision?
So, today, I want to turn the lens toward us - toward how New Unity is doing in the quest toward being a just and justice-seeking community. It is especially appropriate today because today we will begin the annual pledge campaign asking each of us to commit our own resources to support the present and future of this community.
So, how are we doing?
I wanted to get some more views for today so I sent out a questionnaire at the beginning of the month. There were 15 replies. It’s certainly not a representative sample and it’s not statistically valid, but it’s still informative.
The responses came from every age range in the congregation except the over 70s and the children. The people who responded have been in the congregation for short times and long.
All but one very new respondent has been involved in more than Sunday Gatherings; they’ve been in small groups, and they’ve engaged in social justice work or in helping in the congregation in some way.
As a congregation, we aim to be both just and justice seeking. Being a just community means that we want to treat one another justly, organise ourselves justly, lead justly, and welcome others justly.
And being justice-seeking means that we aim to help the world become more just. And that work means both the internal work of preparing ourselves through learning, through building our resolve and our strength along with the more obvious external work of organising, campaigning, speaking out, and showing up for just causes.
In the questionnaire, we asked about all of these aspects of justice at New Unity.
To begin, we asked how New Unity is doing at being just and at being a just community.
First, how just are we? How well have we progressed toward being a microcosm of the just world we long for?
For the most part, we are doing well. The responses said that we display the openness and compassion we must to be be a just community and that our community exercises leadership in a just way.
There was a very strong feeling though, that we are doing worst in diversity. A microcosm of the world that we want to see would be more diverse and representative of the different sorts of people that live within an easy trip of this place. I know from talking to many of you that being a more diverse community is an important goal amongst you.
And commitment to change is there as well: building a more diverse community was one of the three areas that people said they were most keen to work on.
We asked how well New Unity is doing at helping to prepare you internally to do the work of social justice. The responses said we were doing pretty well. Sunday Gatherings and other programmes especially helped, and our history was especially inspirational to strengthen people for the work of justice. When we recognise oppression and injustice, we only have to look over to pew 19 and ask “what would Mary Wollstonecraft have done?” With her influence, we can’t help but be emboldened. Of course, we have room to improve. In particular, we could do much more with small groups to help prepare us to do justice work.
And we asked how New Unity is doing in our commitment to work at building justice externally. The people who responded felt very good about our charitable giving. In every other way, though, they recognised that we have not yet got to a place where we are making a strong representation in speaking out, showing up, organising or campaigning for justice. These are areas where we are increasingly focusing, especially in our work with Citizens UK.
When it comes to justice, then, our community is doing pretty well.
Most responses said that we are quite just in how we operate and treat one another.
They said that we are doing the internal work - the work developing greater understanding and strength - the work of getting ourselves ready to act.
And the responses show something of the path ahead. To be a just community, we must be more diverse - more representative of all the people who can grow in and be supported by a community such as this one.
And we are still growing in our journey toward greater external influence toward justice in the world.
I hope you are proud of who we are as a congregation. We have done so much together and can do so much more in the future.
The questionnaire also showed that - as in the words of the Holly Near song we sang just recently - you are a gentle angry people. You are passionate about justice here and in the larger world.
We asked about passion for specific social justice issues and about what people would be interested in working on. Three issues particularly stood out, although others came close. At the top were women’s rights, strengthening the social safety net, and equal access to education. Challenging racism and the stigma of mental illness came in close behind those leading social justice issues.
We also asked about what you are prepared to do with others at New Unity. There are two that stand out above all the others: The first is Countering the stigma of mental illness. The second was listed in questionnaire as countering hatred and fear with love and compassion. I put that in rather than the name because I didn’t want to bias the question but this is our “Standing on the Side of Love” work.
You are angry about injustice and you are prepared to act in the world with love. The future is bright and you can be among those that bring the light that makes this vision reality.
You are among the people that Malvina Reynolds describes when she says what gives her hope that this world will survive.
You are the people who promise
“We’ll try. We’ll try. We’ll try.”
May it be so