By Reverend Rebecca Bryan
My best year in college was one when I had fewer choices, only a couple of friends, no car, two pairs of jeans, and one dress. Unhappy my freshman and sophomore years, I had debated between transferring to another school and studying abroad for my junior year. After much deliberation, I chose to study in Bangor, Wales.
Once I made the decision, things began to move. My choice to leave everything and everyone I knew for a year was complicated, but I knew it was right, even with the restriction of being allowed only one suitcase and a carry-on for the entire year (thus, my two pairs of jeans and one dress).
In hindsight, I came to appreciate how having fewer choices was an important part of why that year was so good. Without a car, I explored everything on foot. Walking the steep hills, on the campus, and in the small city, nestled in between rocky mountains, kept me fit and connected me to a rugged natural beauty unlike any I had ever known.
Liverpool was an hour’s car drive away, London and Scotland were a few hours train ride away, and with a short plane ride, I could have been backpacking all over Europe. But if those had been options, I would never have discovered myself as I did.
Fewer friends meant I didn’t have to contend with the pressures of sororities, parties, and the like. Even my two pairs of jeans and my one dress, which seemed at first a horrific restriction, turned out to be a gift. And imagine my surprise when I realized my new non-American university friends had no more clothes in total than I did in my suitcase.
I returned a different person, someone I have never lost, but instead have purposely nurtured.
There are other examples in my life when making a decision opened pathways that I couldn’t have imagined and that would not have been possible. Joining my first Unitarian Universalist church as a single mother was one of them. Every decision involved taking risks; making an investment of my heart, time, and frequently money; and letting go of other options, often things that mattered tremendously. Sacrifice. I wouldn’t change a single one of those decisions. I’m sure you have yours too.
I have been privileged to be able to make choices; it is not the case for everyone. My reflection this morning is about decisions we can make, including the decision to do what we can to help make the world an equitable place where all people are free to make decisions about their lives.
Living in indecision or in the tepid waters of commitment has its place, such as when you are trying things on or considering options. Eventually, however, the tepid water gets cold. One day you realize you have lived too long in the place of ‘undecided.’ You have grown too comfortable and forgotten that you never meant to stay there. At some point, we need to surrender and decide and let the rest of the situation unfold.
The hardest part about deciding, for me, is the fear that I might be wrong, might not be following my heart, might be misreading my aspirations. There might, I think, be something better, more important, more promising just around the corner.
Last week I asked you to send me your stories about commitments you have made and how making them affected you.
One person described her decision to face cancer head on, with a positive attitude, promising her family she would do everything she could to beat it. “I promised them that if they helped me, I would fight my hardest and would not give up – even when it got hard.” I remember the first time I met this mother of triplets, Erin Hutchinson-Himmel, at her home while she was still in treatment. Her family, all of them, are beacons of light in this congregation.
Another of you wrote about the time you decided to move after your wife suddenly died. You said what a scary time it was and how that decision ultimately ushered in a whole new life for you. That’s my Dad. I know it hasn’t been easy, and I also know how much you love your new wife and the life you have built together.
Ann Haaser wrote about her commitment to addressing gun violence. She said how challenging it is to care so deeply about something people often don’t want you to talk about because it’s painful and brings them down. It’s easy to love and have compassion for the survivors who are forced to live in this reality, predominantly black and brown people, she wrote. It’s hard not to get frustrated with people who turn away or who say they want to help but don’t show up or who show up and then drift away from the work.
Ann also wrote about the gifts that come with commitment, all of which include the word “community.” The gift is being part of a community of other people similarly committed to an issue, those who see the work you put in and will talk about the truth of what is happening, no matter how difficult.
Making commitments is scary and taxing. Yet, it is also beautiful and necessary for a fulfilling life.
I was very serious when I decided almost three years ago to become your minister. When I said “Yes” to being your minister, I meant it. It hasn’t always been easy. At times it’s been hard, not just in this past year. I’ll be honest; when it got hard sometimes during my first year, I would think about ways out. “I know,” I would tell myself, “I’ll leave and go where they really appreciate me.” Of course, that was silly and immature and stemmed from a place of fear.
The summer after my first year here, I had a long and life-changing talk with myself. “Now, Reverend Rebecca,” I said. “Stop. You know what’s happening. You’re scared. There are unknowns here. You still miss other places, and you wonder ‘what if…’ That doesn’t make the decision wrong. Stop looking over there or anywhere else for a way out. Let’s follow this decision and see where it takes us.”
With that, something changed. Once I told my monkey mind that it needed to occupy itself in other ways, I dropped deeper into us, this church, our church. Thank goodness I did, because nine months later COVID-19 was here in full force. The true journey begins once you make the decision. That doesn’t mean you won’t change your mind, but changing your mind will be a different decision, one that will also require you not linger in the tepid waters of indecision.
This has been a wonderful year with its fair share of challenges and gifts. Never once did I revert to indecision. I am here, we are here, this is our reality. This is our beloved community to hold, care for, and hold up. I can’t do that alone; none of us can. We have to do it together. Isn’t that beautiful?
At our training for stewards helping in this year’s campaign, we asked everyone to offer three words that describe what FRS means to them. Tears were running down my face by the time everyone finished. It was breathtaking, an important reminder, an affirmation. I also asked on Facebook and collected a few additional responses.
Here’s what you all said:
What FRS means to me: (in three words)
Always in need of money, Ideals, Family
Community, Values, Tradition
Worship, Action, Social justice
Experience, Home, Love
Connecting, Caring for others within in and beyond our beloved community, Friendship, Nourishment
Foundation centering, History, Democracy
Hope, Faith, Peace
Spiritual home, Making the world a better place
Challenge, Support, Inner strength
Congregation, Ushers, Music
Character, Change, Beauty
Commitment, Acceptance, Exploration
Ritual, Comfort, Amazing
This year, we will face a 15.5% budget deficit if we are unable to reach our annual giving goal of $520,867. This increase in the goal is due almost entirely to a revenue decrease from the ending of the Verizon cell tower lease and the loss of income from building rental and face-to-face fundraising during the pandemic. Only 2% of the increase in expenses is due to increased insurance rates and cost of living adjustments for staff, which were not given last year due to COVID.
We raise all our own money here. We don’t receive any money from the Unitarian Universalist Association. We ask our friends, supporters, and members to make a pledge, which is a written promise to contribute a certain amount of money over the next year, which runs from July 1st of this year to June 30, 2022. The board uses these pledges to design the budget to present for a congregational meeting.
You can make a pledge in a few minutes by completing an online pledge form, the link to which we will put in the chat, or by coming by church today at noon to drop your card off to me and grateful volunteers standing on the brick walkway in front of the church until 1pm today. You can also mail the pledge form from the bottom of your letter to the church or make a donation through the church website.
There are many ways you can fulfill your pledge, including paying by credit card or by checks, weekly or in one payment. We understand things can change, and you may need to adjust your pledge over the year; that’s okay. You can also join the 76 folks who have made their pledges recurring, meaning they continue indefinitely, until they tell us differently. This makes budgeting less stressful.
I know this has been a hard year, the hardest in many ways. I know you may feel uncertain of what is to come and of what life may look like after this church year. It’s hard to be apart. I miss you terribly. We will be back together in person again and online, and we need to be ready.
I believe in this congregation: the spiritual home it provides, the way we care for one another, and the work for social justice we do in the world. I believe in our larger Unitarian Universalist faith.
I’m asking you to help. Please be generous so that we can pay our staff, expand our programs, guide our actions by our mission and values, and be all that we are meant to be for one another and the world.
In a moment, we are going to take five minutes of quiet, during which time Justin will play music. I ask you to consider carefully what you are called to pledge to this church and elsewhere in your life. What other decision is it time to make a commitment to? Make your personal commitments, those in your heart, by writing them down, and make those to the church by completing your pledge form. Then we will come back together to close our service.
To what, and to whom, do you pledge yourself? I close with words by Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter…
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
Amen and blessed be.