Given by Lynn Kettleson on September 18, 2016
The pre-FRS part of my story is short. I grew up on a corn and beef farm in the flat, treeless prairie of Northern Illinois and was active in the Presbyterian Church. When I got out of college, I left the farm, I left the Midwest and I left church.
The next quarter century was anything but church on Sunday.
So what about Unitarian Universalism? How did I get here? I married into it in 1992 when I wed Robin Lawson, an FRS member.
All religions set some standards about how to live, so why Unitarian – besides the fact that my wife had already chosen it? I only suggest that you compare and contrast our UU Affirmation of Faith with the Apostle’s Creed that I recited every church Sunday in my youth. As someone who’s probably an agnostic on most days, our declaration fits me well. Like 43 percent of my fellow Americans, I attend church for spiritual growth and guidance and because it keeps me grounded and inspired.
So the real question isn’t so much how I got here, but why am I still here after 25 years?
It’s not because I fear death. When we’re very young, each of us can look forward to about 30,000 days. I am now at 25,855, but I’m definitely not here as some sort of insurance to spend eternity up there. And, it’s not about the minister. No offense, Susan. Since my teenage years, I’ve experienced four wonderful ministers: Bob Bielenberg at my original church in Illinois; John Davies, my favorite and the minister at my collegiate Presbyterian church; and, of course, Bert Steeves and Harold Babcock of FRS.
So what is it that keeps me coming back here?
I want everyone to look around the congregation. Do you see any of your good friends here today? I do.
I’m still here because of you. This is my community. And sitting in the congregation today – like most Sundays – are many of my close friends. Back in 1992, Robin and I began developing friendships with other couples. Over the course of 25 years, friendships grew and faded, but today virtually all of our closest friends are also members of this church. You know how it works. You start by chatting after the service or at coffee hour, or after a meeting – then you are inviting them to your house. Years later, you know the details of their lives and those of their children and extended family. Their joys and sorrows.
The great thing about a community, especially about this community, is that we can achieve more when we work together. We hold each other to higher standards and reinforce what’s important in life. The examples that others set encourage each of us to do more, to be better, and to become what we hope we could be.
Our communities are especially important to us when we personally experience difficult times. Let me give you two examples. In 2001, I underwent two knee replacements and was laid up for some time while I was recuperating. The church was there for me and my family. Robin had the support of friends while having to deal with a crotchety invalid. And Chuck Kennedy came over to mow the lawn when I could not.
One of the bleakest times of my life occurred in December 2007. My oldest daughter Courtenay died of breast cancer. It was the love and support of the church community that sustained me and my family during this extremely painful time. The funeral service in Boston happened on a day in which an afternoon blizzard gridlocked commuters so that those friends who attended spent hours on the road. I learned later that our then minister Harold Babcock spent nine hours getting back to Newburyport. As for us, when we got home, there were friends to comfort us and enough food to feed us for a week.
One last thought. When I remember the church sanctuaries of my youth, I remember stained glass windows depicting biblical characters. The stained glass practice dates from medieval days to help clergy educate their illiterate flock. They were beautiful, but they kept people looking inward. Here the wonderful clear windows of this sanctuary encourage us to look outward – and that tells me that this religious experience must be part of the world outside. And so, I will continue to remain an active member of our community. And I hope that you all will as well.