Feb. 18, 2019.

By Lay Minister for Membership & Outreach Shannon Williams.

The night of “The Vagina Monologues,” the UUCF campus thrummed with energy. A full house, songs by the unstoppable Nikki Ames to get our engines going, then one voice after another telling the shared story. The show satisfied, troubled, expanded, inspired. We all could have walked out afterward fulfilled by the experience. But most of us didn’t walk out. We paused, lingering by the snack table and makeshift bar. I watched in awe as our Commons, packed with members, friends and neighbors, bloomed to life.

The sight thrilled my heart. The space transformed from a room with folding tables to a swirling, buzzing, breathing body. Members of our congregation engaged in vibrant conversation with people who had just stepped into our Sanctuary for the first time. Performers with shining faces received hugs from friends and praise from audience members. Our congregational home became a living organism embodying celebration, art and welcome.

While a good party livens things up, something more fundamental than a festive atmosphere is at work here. The essential, life-giving moment can take on different shapes. Last week, our campus embodied welcome in one of its other forms. The Hypothermia Prevention Program, coordinated by the unstoppable Jeff Snyder alongside FACETS and other area churches, sheltered guests from around Northern Virginia. The skies have been rough on our region lately, and the vulnerable in our community feel it most. Over 40 guests per night stayed in the Program Building. Although we hope every year will be the last we have to do this, it is good that UUCF is able to fill this need.

Projects like “The Vagina Monologues” and Hypothermia Prevention are immense. They have a dizzying array of moving parts that require skilled oversight. Because of this, it’s easy for many of us to feel like a contribution of any significance is out of reach. Maybe we believe our part in it, so immeasurably tiny, doesn’t really matter. That we are interchangeable, replaceable. As motivation runs dry, we may tell ourselves that socializing feels tedious, small talk superficial and the volunteerism Sisyphean. We may convince ourselves that attending or streaming Sunday services is all of UUCF we can handle, and even that is a stretch.

Of course, it is necessary to take time to rest and create comfort in these stretched lives. I hope you know that you are held and loved even when you need to draw the blankets around yourself and stay in. I also hope you’ll remember that you feed the spirit and fulfill UUCF’s mission simply by showing up.

What has really struck me these past couple of weeks is that while the grand endeavors get top billing, the little gestures live at the heart of what we do. Volunteers that helped turn the post-performance Commons into a place of vibrant energy share spirit and heart with those who help shelter our homeless neighbors. When a UUCF congregant crosses the Commons to greet a new face, the spirit awakens. When a UUCFer warmly invites a hypothermia guest into the shelter store to track down a decent blazer for a job interview, the spirit grows stronger.

This is all spiritual work.

I am immensely grateful to my fellow congregants for every small act. For turning toward the person who looks uncertain, for helping sign in guests or making a tray of sandwiches or inviting a friend to join you for a special worship service. For using the Realm database to send a note to someone you haven’t seen in a while. For simply showing up. Each of these “small acts” helps transform UUCF into the place it is meant to be. You help us all grow and flourish. You expand our reach and clear the way for others who need this place, who need us and who need you.

Please remember: To serve, you don’t need to know everything going on in our bustling congregation. In fact, you don’t need to know even a fraction of it. We have Spiritual Docents who are trained to help folks find their way. The docent program connects congregants with informal guidance around their spiritual journey, sense of belonging and service. You may come across people who are trying to articulate their questions and interests (or you may be seeking your next steps in the congregation!). Keep the Spiritual Docents in mind, and take the risk of opening toward connection even if you – like so many of us – still feel new here yourself.

In the coming weeks, all kinds of activities populate the UUCF calendar. We have opportunities to invite neighbors from communities beyond our campus to connect and celebrate with us. LoveFEST on Sat., Feb. 23; the annual Auction on Sat., Mar. 2; and the ReelAbilities Film Festival on Wed., Mar. 13. (just to name a few). I encourage you to find a way to participate. This can mean volunteering, spreading the word to friends or bringing a neighbor with you. Or it can mean simply arriving, exactly as you are.

In all the tiny and marvelous ways, let’s keep coming together. Let’s keep creating a faith community where welcome takes on many forms and the spirit grows bright among us.