May 2012

Ambitious people climb, but faithful people build – Julia Ward Howe

Recently I returned to Andover Newton, where I received my seminary education, to participate in a panel discussion with the ambitious goal of exploring “the state of ministry.” My co-panelists were both American Baptists. Ashlee Weist-Laird serves a small, racially and socio-economically diverse congregation in Jamaica Plain. Jeffrey Brown led Union Baptist Church in Cambridge for many years and at the same time ministered to youth on the streets, at night. He founded and is now Executive Director of Boston’s Ten Point Coalition, a group that collaborates with community and government organizations to serve high-risk youth, particularly those involved in or affected by gang violence.

We each talked about the places we serve, and how we decide where to invest our energy. We considered together what it means to be faithful, and to invite those we serve to be faithful.

What might it look like, for each of us, to be faithful?

That is not a simple question. My Baptist colleagues and their church members have a particular tradition that shapes the way they consider that question, but it’s up to them to decide what form their answers take. As Unitarian Universalists we may cast a wider net as we consider what traditions influence us, but our struggle is the same.

We come to this community, each of us, with our ideas and our fears, our joy and our pain. We come hoping to be touched, inspired, relieved, renewed. We come looking for companions, for people who share our values and who may join us in working for a cause we hold dear. What does it mean to be faithful, here, as part of this congregation?

Faith presupposes not knowing. It requires taking risks and staying open. It asks us to be willing to learn, and to stay in relationship. As part of a congregation we don’t get a guarantee that things will always go the way we think is right, or that our needs will be fully met. We don’t get a guarantee. And yet we come – you come – looking forward, curious, welcoming old friends and people you are just getting to know, saying yes when asked to pitch in, reaching out when someone needs help, learning, stretching, challenging, listening, asking, giving. Building. Being faithful.

I am glad and grateful to be here as your minister.                Janet