Apr. 8, 2019.
By Lay Minister for Membership & Outreach Shannon Williams.
“We cannot be everything at once. Instead, when you are with me, and I am with you – when we are part of this community grounded in Love – we are enough … we are whole.”
– Alexis Engelbrecht, Soul Matters Family Ministry Coordinator
In spring 2017, I had the pleasure of participating in the UUCF Membership Committee’s Anniversary Dinner. One year later, as a new lay minister, I assisted the committee in planning this lovely event, which recognizes congregants who are celebrating membership anniversaries. Both years, I enjoyed what appeared to be a seamless, masterful orchestration. Every piece fell into place.
The 2019 dinner was sure to be a breeze, right? Our team had all the systems in good working order. It was just a matter of putting them into motion.
You may have heard the Yiddish proverb “Mann traoch, Gott Lauch.” Rough translation: We make plans. God laughs.
The event machinery hit rougher terrain than it had encountered before. Expecting the usual last-minute cancellations, we were unprepared for so many walk-ins. We had more people than chairs. The absence of long-term UUCF volunteers due to health and other circumstances and the tragic death of Flori Diaz the week before had many in our congregation reeling emotionally. Those losses added uncertainty about how to manage the setup and cleanup demands.
While those attending the dinner told us they had a great time and appreciated the celebration of their membership, those of us planning it left feeling a bit wrung out.
When I went home that night, I wrestled with the urge to give up. My mind kept wanting to interpret the challenges as confirmation that I’m not cut out for this work. Throughout my life, a notion that dogs me is that if something comes easily, I must have a talent in that area. Ease equals proof of capacity and acumen. While this notion might appear sound on the surface, it leads to a dangerous inversion: If something is hard, then maybe I’m not good at it. Maybe I never will be. Fumbling becomes a sign of some fundamental absence of talent and, as a result, I should steer clear of activities that I don’t master right away.
This mindset functions a little too perfectly in Northern Virginia, a region that prizes professional competency and achievement. In our work lives and communities, many of us find ourselves walking among Wikipedia entries – experts with surgically tuned resumes and a whole alphabet of letters after their names. Gaining entry into many of our fields requires us to pretend that we, too, have all the parts in the correct places with the edges sanded straight and smooth. We protect the illusion by avoiding what might shatter it – both in others’ eyes and in our own.
Isn’t it fitting that our Unitarian Universalist theme for living this month is Wholeness? The April Soul Matters guide asks us to consider the messy journey of becoming whole: “We were meant to be broken, broken open to be exact. Over and over again, our faith reminds us that protecting our personal wholeness is only half the game. The equally important part of life’s journey is about letting in the wholeness of world!”
What happens when I revisit the anniversary dinner carrying this new light? How does the story unfold when glimpsing it through the cracks that invite an opening toward true wholeness?
Like this: Knowing that the operations team was running a skeleton crew, almost the entire Membership Committee and several friends arrived early to help set up the Sanctuary. The first trickle of guests turned into a steady flow, and every attendee came bearing goodies in abundance. We had to unfold two more side tables to accommodate the cornucopia of dishes. When our extra guests showed up, others moved place settings closer together and made room for extra chairs. After Rev. David Miller gave a touching blessing over the food, two friends stepped up to engage with the preschoolers so their parents could enjoy the dinner conversation. Members who have been part of the congregation for decades (and some, for just a few months) told stories of their time at UUCF that brought many in the room to tears. Countless guests stayed late to help haul coolers, break down tables, plunge their hands into dishwater and leave everything as tidy as possible for Sunday morning services.
Our 2019 Anniversary Dinner was not perfect because it was seamless. Instead, its flaws allowed for a different kind of wholeness to come to life. By recognizing that none of us could manage the event alone, the team had to ask for help and graciously accept the help offered. The endeavor was neither the Shannon show nor the Membership Committee show. It belonged to everyone who offered a hand, a voice, a story, a word of encouragement.
As much as I would have liked to stay hidden inside my illusion of mastery, the circumstances nudged me out into honesty and into relationship. The evening gave me the opportunity to admit that I had not anticipated every eventuality, and the crew needed help handling the actual situation before us. Like it or not, others would have to see me in my cracked, duct-taped state. This revelation of my imperfection seemed to trouble exactly no one and surprise even fewer. Maybe we all know that just about everyone else is faking it a little, and that just about everyone else is as tired of it as we are.
What if in this faith community, we don’t have to fake it?
What if here at UUCF, we get to work with each other to bring our shared vision to life even if we don’t quite know how to do it exactly right?
What if here, more than anywhere else, we get to stretch beyond our sense of what we think we can do, and try new ways of creating, leading and becoming?
What if here, when we take on new challenges and reveal the broken places, we will be held with patience and tenderness? What if others welcome our attempts with enthusiasm?
None of us has to wait until we’ve mapped our exquisite plan before taking the next step. We get to venture out even when we’re scattered in a jumble of pieces. Here, held in love, we can explore how the choices we make expand our spirit. Let’s build our connections through our brokenness. As we deepen our journey, let’s become whole in relationship with each other and with the world.
How will you let the cracks show as you open toward the wholeness of connection?