Chapel by the Sea

Mar 28, 2021

By Reverend Rebecca Bryan

I was participating in a mission-vision workshop for church last year when the idea of a chapel by the sea came to me. It woke me up, stirred my heart, and brought tears to my eyes. The dream sparkled!

Could it be? A Chapel by the Sea? I wondered.

It spoke to me and still does because in my dream it is beauty, contemplation, connection, restoration, all wrapped together in one dream. Beauty, contemplation, and connection are some of the most important elements of my spiritual life, and it is my spiritual life that gives me the enduring strength, courage, and conviction I need to act, to work in steady, sustained measure for the values of our Unitarian Universalism.

Don’t diminish your dreams or their sparkle, for dreams are what call us to be what we can be. They are expressions of the possibility of our values incarnate. Dreams and the work it takes to realize them, to shape them into goals, and to grow from them are what make life worthwhile.

Some of the most powerful dreams are deceptively small, in size, difficulty, or achievability. A dream’s potential for transformation results directly from the intersection of our values, skills, and passions with the needs and desires of a community, be it a neighborhood, a city, or the world. The right dreams, those that arise out of such alignment, will change you for the better, though they may not be easy to achieve.

Do your dreams sparkle? Do they make you come alive when you think of them? I hope so.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” said our Unitarian forbear Henry David Thoreau. The right dreams, whatever that means for each of us, will empower us to suck the marrow out of life, rather than have life suck the marrow out of us. When our dreams run dry, our hearts are soon to follow.

Without dreams that make us sparkle and come alive, we run the risk of becoming depleted, cynical, cold minded. “Don’t ask what the world needs,” said Howard Thurman. “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

My friends, there is no shortage of need in this world. Xenophobia, inequity, and hatred run rampant. If we try to save the world or address all the issues at once, we will fail, not only in doing so, but in keeping our hearts and spirits open to the miraculous, the beauty, and the wonder of life. I’ve seen this happen. What starts with the best of intentions leads to people giving up, feeling impotent, and ultimately turning away from working toward the solution. People move from outrage to action, to burn out, to withdrawal.

On the other hand, if we go where our heart is, go with the issues that break our hearts or pull on our hearts or awaken our hearts, even with anger, we will succeed. That same heart that is broken and outraged will feel deep meaning, connection, and joy with every little success and every little movement toward change in whatever arena we’ve chosen.

Setting authentic goals is bold and courageous. When you put your heart on the line, it’s vulnerable, it’s brave, and it’s exactly what this world needs.

Therefore, one of the first things for us to know when it comes to dreams and goals is ourselves. What speaks to us? What awakens our heart? To what do we want to devote our days? This is true for us as individuals and for us as a congregation.

The beautiful thing about being part of a spiritual community like ours is that you learn and grow in awareness, efficacy, and influence on issues that matter to you. When we are together — physically or virtually — it’s harder to give up. Working with others, we inspire one another when we’re downtrodden or feel like we’ve hit a wall. We teach one another, challenge one another, and love one another. We hold each other accountable and in love and deep care. It’s okay to take a break, to change your role from leader to follower, and to change back again. However things unfold, we are not alone.

Last year, we dreamed together as a congregation. We held conversations and workshops, co-created a statement of our values, mission, and ends, as we shared in our responsive call to worship this morning. We then voted unanimously to accept them last fall. It is now time to agree on goals or dreams that will advance us toward our mission and ends and uphold our values. These goals are the answer to the question many have asked, “What now?”

Using what we learned in our mission work, what we are currently doing, and what we know of this congregation, the staff, the Parish Board, and the Core Team have articulated five goals. Each of these has specific objectives or tasks that further several or even all our ends. These are not set in stone, far from it. They are in draft form, waiting for your engagement and your input. I’m excited to share them with you.

I hope you join in discussion about them either after this service at the Passion Action Fair or at one of the two discussions, one on Wednesday at 5:30pm, the other on Friday at noon. Help us refine these goals and, most important, help us bring them about. They are organic and will continue to evolve as we do them.

I invite you to take these in, maybe even close your eyes. Watch for what sparkles. What makes you excited, proud to say, “That’s my church”? Go into those goals as you continue exploring and acting on them.

We, the members, friends, and supporters of the First Religious Society, committed to authentic connection, courageous action, love, spirituality, and wonder, will:

  1. Create a diverse congregation in all expressions that is centered around transformative and diverse worship and music, cares for one another, and is strengthened by our differences. This includes, but is not limited to, creating and nurturing a welcoming church, accessible both in person and online, becoming an AIM-certified UU congregation, and having intergenerational music with a drumming circle or handbell choir.
  1. Create a vibrant, growing intergenerational congregation deeply engaged in the communities and world around us. This work includes expanding the children and youth ministries and the intergenerational programs to include service work and retreats, online and in person.
  1. Engage in justice work in partnership with others beyond the congregation who are directly affected by one, two, or all of these three lenses: climate justice, racial justice, and gender justice. Think bigger about the way we are charitable in our community and the ways we show up, using a framework of solidarity, not charity. Work with Indigenous Peoples’ Day Massachusetts and partners to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Newburyport. Form an authentic relationship with a Black church and work together on a shared commitment such as addressing climate justice or gun violence.
  1. Create a 300th anniversary celebration in 2025 that advances all our ends. Create intergenerational events and church services honoring our long-term members and the development of Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist thinking. Write an interim third volume of history, ensuring that in addition to celebrating our accomplishments, we remember and name elements of our history when we were not at our best and consider actual or symbolic amends, for example, a sign on a pew, “Slaves sat here.”
  1. Renovate the Parish Hall into an asset of our congregation and the community at large. It will be a community center that furthers all our ministries and programs, pulls people into the campus, and increases the vitality of downtown Newburyport. It will advance climate justice in its building and use and will be used by the community at large, online and in person.

I’ll close with one of my personal sparkle dreams: we will have a beautiful, green Chapel by the Sea, where we can gather, alone and together, in times of quiet, connection, music, and meditation to rejuvenate ourselves in body, mind, and spirit.

We have a dream of a more loving, most just world that cares for the Earth and makes space for all people, especially those who have been marginalized. I believe in this congregation and in our ability to make positive change in each of our lives, in the communities to which we belong, and in the world beyond.

I offer you now some special music. Use it as a time to go within yourself, to connect with the dreams that sparkle for you in the life of this church and beyond.

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