Mar. 17, 2019.
I will tell you, this vessel that we are journeying in together in this moment in time, this vessel in some ways is a lifesaver for me. It keeps me afloat in the midst of these turbulent waters. I was telling my colleagues at a meeting recently, when I am traveling through a particularly difficult week, I actually can’t wait for Sunday. I have been fed so deeply lately by our shared worship experience that I really feel sad when I miss it for any reason and I am not talking about me as preacher. I am talking about me as worshipper with all of you. Taking in the readings. Experiencing the incredible music. Feeling the emotion and the wonderful vibe of connection that fills me before, during and after the service. It has really helped save me this year in the midst of all the absurdity that seems to continuously bombard us.
And that isn’t all. I have such gratitude and have felt such returned gratitude for when we are here with this ship, this vessel, at a moment’s notice in times of need. We, all of us, support the recently diagnosed, families who are suffering loss, those who have been furloughed, those needing spiritual support in difficult times. This happens every day. The staff – those who answer the phone calls and emails from those who care for your children – are here. The pastoral care team, who provide an invaluable listening and active presence in the lives of so many in the congregation, are here. The RE teachers who help guide our children through these troubled waters are here.
And beyond all of this, there is also such deep gratitude for all the joy, so much joy that this vessel carries. The young arts ensemble, the children’s music program, the choir and all that comes from the amazing music and arts program. The social events, vespers, the adult education program, even standing out in the cold working in the gardens. All of it – it touches our hearts, it bolsters our spirits and it fills our lives with joy and meaning. There is all this and so much more, so many little moments in the Commons, out on the playground, laughing together in our staff meetings, crying together in moments of tragedy and sadness. And of course, exploring together the deepest questions and experiences of life. This is the vessel we travel. This ship, the UUCF, is the vessel for our journey and the ship needs us.
I want to be clear that all this cannot exist without our financial support, which is a nice way of saying money. I guess I wish that weren’t the case; that the world wasn’t based in this kind of need for capital. But it is, and I think it is important for us to be honest and clear. At last count, our community had approximately 654 members, 120 non-members who pledge something to UUCF, 54 people who don’t pledge but have given some money and 372 other folks who are involved somehow with UUCF who do not contribute at this time. We also have about 290 children registered in our Religious Exploration program. Give or take, that is a community of about 1,500 human souls in our data base who during the course of the last couple of years have either pledged or participated in some way on this ship.
That’s a lot of folks and I don’t know if you noticed this, but we don’t charge for worship. We don’t seat members in better seats than non-members. We don’t sell little chalices in the Commons after the service, although that isn’t such a bad idea. We actually pride ourselves on being here so when someone needs to be here – whether they can participate financially in the community or not – we are here. I don’t ever want money to come between someone having a loving and accepting spiritual community or not. With that said, those of us who can afford to give need to because this ship takes money to travel through these seas.
The majority of our amazing and wonderful haven’t had a raise since before I became the minister. And this is my fourth year. Even if we can’t give raises, with the numbers I have given you today, we actually could use more staff for help with things like facilities and rental coordination. We have somewhere around $800,000 of deferred maintenance that we need to address and speaking of that, this ship has been leaking. As most of you know, we have had some pretty serious roof leaks, and although we are asking for your annual pledge today, we will need to ask you later in the spring to help contribute to fixing the roof currently above your heads.
This is our ship. To have the appropriate crew – for this ship to be seaworthy and to keep sailing – we need to contribute to its foundational financial health. And here, above all else. is the reason why: we cannot and we must not stop believing that a new world is possible, because a new world will never be possible if we stop believing and if we stop trying.
Our mission statement – “The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax is a progressive religious congregation whose mission is to transform ourselves, our community and the world through acts of love and justice,” is more than just words. This is a statement of deep intention. This is a challenge to live this faith in such a way that we try to make a difference in the lives of ourselves, each other, our community and, as much as possible, the world. I don’t take this lightly. Whether it is the choir singing songs of freedom and love at the Lincoln Memorial. Whether it is the UUCF members who stand witness outside of the NRA on the 14th of every month for the last 5 years in rain, sun or snow. Whether it is having painfully difficult conversations about the disease of racism and systems of white supremacy at work in the world today. Whether it is a moment of peace in this sacred space on another day when an act of violence has brought a tragic end to the holy beauty of human lives. Whether it is the deep joy of a new visitor feeling like they are really being seen for their whole self for the very first time in a religious community. I do not take it lightly that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax needs to be strong, present, growing and available to work together with ourselves, each other and our community to help transform the world through acts of love and justice.
So, this takes a sound financial foundation and a seaworthy vessel from which to travel. This year we are changing the annual pledge campaign to a pledge that will continue until you decide to change it. Yes, it is different, but we hope that it will help us to stabilize our financial foundation and diminish the substantial amount of time, resources and effort that goes into the annual campaign. And once again in a spirit of transparency, once you make your pledge, please don’t forget to pay it if at all possible, over the past few months we have had to dip into our reserves to the tune of $40,000 to meet our obligations.
There is a lot going on right now in our world and here we will not find all the answers and here we will not be able to solve all the world’s problems. But this is an amazing place that on Sundays and every other day of the week contributes mightily to helping this world be a more compassionate, just and kinder place. So I take a quote today from Edward Everett Hale from reading #475 from our hymnal. For UUCF I say, “We are only one, but still we are one. We cannot do everything, but still we can do something; and because we cannot do everything, we will not refuse to do something that we must, can and will continue to do.” We must keep believing.