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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Abriendo Puertas Nuevas - Opening New Doors

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Bettie Young, Worship Associate, Sherry Mitchell, 2013 Stewardship Chair, the Choir and the Chalice Dancers


Abriendo Puertas Nuevas – Opening New Doors – Stewardship Sunday

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

March 3, 2013

A few weeks ago, a gentleman came by the church during office hours looking for financial assistance. I welcomed him into my office and explained that I don’t give cash, only grocery cards. He told me it had been a long time since he had any work – he works in construction – so he needed to get his family up to Boston where they could stay with people they knew. He needed gas money.

I’ve heard many such stories. Some are undoubtedly true. But I also know for a fact that I’ve been tricked into assisting people who are not honest. I’ve even been scammed. Not here. Back in Massachusetts. That’s another story.

“I don’t have any cash. I could give you a grocery card, so at least you have food.” Often, I offer the card and that’s the end of the conversation, but this time I motioned to a chair and invited him to sit down. I’m not sure why I did.  Maybe I was looking for a little human interaction on a day that seemed to be consumed by emails. Maybe it was something about him.

We introduced ourselves. He told me he was from Guatemala and that his name was Douglas. I expressed surprise at his name. “In my country, five percent of the people have English names.” His English was a little hard for me to understand, but we worked together at communicating. We relaxed a little.

Shyly, he asked, “You, Unitarian?” I nodded yes. “You don’t believe in the Trinity?”

I struggled to not miss a beat. My stereotype is that Spanish-speaking immigrants are unaware of Unitarian Universalism.

“No, we don’t... “ He wasn’t looking at me in a disapproving way, so I continued, “We believe Jesus was just a man, not God. He was a great man, a great leader and teacher and he inspired people to love each other and God. But he never said he was God. He never even said he was the Son of God. He said he was the Son of Man.”

He nodded. “I don’t believe it either,” he said, then added, “Someone in my country told me I was a unitarian.” 

I was reminded of the experience one of our African American members reported to me recently:  of visiting a nearby UU church and being greeted by their Greeter who proceed right off the bat to explain UUism, clearly assuming she knew nothing about it, probably because she is black. So, I tried not to look surprised.

Then he proceeded to ask me about nearly every aspect of Christian doctrine there is. “You don’t believe in hell?” “You don’t believe that Jesus died for our sins?” “You don’t believe that Adam and Eve sinned?” “Was the earth created like it says in Genesis?” “What happens after we die?” We discussed each question. We agreed with each other.

Douglass had attended many different churches. He felt that their doctrine was based on fear. And he wanted to reject that. But it seemed he couldn’t trust his instincts, yet. I said I hoped he and his family would join us for worship on a Sunday morning before he left for Boston.

I asked him if he liked to read and when he said yes I gave him a slim introduction to Unitarian Universalism. Then I remembered that we have some brochures in Spanish in the Meeting House foyer. So we walked over here. I unlocked the door and disengaged the alarm system.  We were in the foyer. He looked through the windows into the sanctuary and said something like, “Wow.”

Our sanctuary is beautiful, but isn’t just beautiful. It feels like a sacred space, even when no one’s here, even to a visitor. It’s as if the Spirit of Life that is invoked on Sunday mornings lingers here for the rest of the week, even though we feel we are taking it out with us when we leave, having just sung, “Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.” I think he sensed that.

Then he asked me, “Do you teef?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean. Could you say it again?” “Teef,” he said again. I listened more carefully. Teethe?

“Oh, tithe! When you give ten percent of your income to the church?”

He nodded, yes. “In the churches I go to, they say, if you don’t tithe, you’re stealing God’s money from God.”

More fear-mongering, I thought.

I wondered if our space looked so lovely that he was worried that our financial expectations would be too high for him.

“No, we do not ask for a tithe. We pass a basket and people put in what they can afford.” He nodded. He admired the space some more. I gave him the brochures.

Then he asked me if any Latinos came here. I had to be honest. “Maybe one or two and maybe not on the same day.” “Any blacks?”  “There are some African Americans. And a couple people are Indian Americans. Not many other Asians. The congregation voted to be intentionally multicultural, though. I recently counted: of our 203 members, 11% are people of color. We want to be as diverse as our community.”

“That’s good,” he acknowledged with a nod of his head. “You would be welcomed here,” I told him.

We thanked each other for the conversation. I said I hoped he and his family would return on a Sunday morning, or find a Unitarian Universalist church in Boston.

I have not seen Douglas since.  Perhaps he returned one Sunday when I was not here. Or maybe he has made his way to Boston. I hope he will find a UU congregation there.

Ours is the faith tradition in which he belongs theologically. He is one of us. If he ever musters his courage to cross cultural, linguistic and (let’s be honest) class boundaries to attend a Unitarian Universalist worship service, I pray with all my heart, with all my heart, that he will be welcomed. … Will the doors be open for him? Truly open?

Abriendo puertas nuevas. We are opening new doors.

The increased multicultural character of our area is one cultural shift to which we must attend, if we hope to thrive as a congregation in the coming decades. There is another, and it is the increased number of people who answer “none” when asked their religion. This shift is another we ignore at our peril.

Some of you used to be “nones.”

Most, I would say, of our Sunday morning visitors these days are nones. When they walk through our doors, they aren’t rejecting the religion of their childhood, because they were raised without religion. They may be baby-boomer empty-nesters. Or, they may be Gen X’ers or Millennials – aka to older folks as “young adults.”

What these generations may have in common is inexperience with, disinterest in, or even distrust of religion. But they also typically share a sense that something is missing in their lives. It might be “spirituality” or “community,” or both, that they seek. They all typically visit virtually first – they wander around our website more than once before they visit in person. Then they take what are for some, I’m told, courageous steps: to park and venture onto the deck, open our heavy doors, and enter our busy foyer. What will they see, and feel, when they enter?

The baby-boomer empty-nesters will see lots of graying heads like their own, but the Millennials may wonder what in the world they have in common with the older folks they see. The boomers, especially if they are white, will hear music and language very familiar to them. The Millennials, not so much. Our theology, the spirituality, and the sense of community may be what our visitors are seeking, but our cultural expressions are comfortable for those who are already here.

A couple examples.

Words. My generation – I’m 60 – uses the words “gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender” but my daughter’s generation – she’s 30, a Millennial – uses the word “queer” to include them all. I would cringe if the Worship Associate made that substitution in our Welcome at the beginning of the service. Queer sounds like a put-down to me. But she and her peers that I know, both white and black, would feel welcomed by its use.

Isn’t that what I want, for diverse people to feel welcome here? Well, I might have to get used to some change!

Music. I was speaking recently with one of our youth who is taking a hip-hop dance class. I ventured, “I feel like we could have even more varied musical genres in our worship at church, so if you ever are working up a routine to a hip-hop song the words to which are meaningful to you, and might fit with a UU theme, please let me know.”  I might have sounded nonchalant, but inside I felt brave to say so. What door was I opening for us, musically??? But if we did it, we would be opening the door for her and her peers and the Millennials ahead of them.

Isn’t that what I want, for diverse people to feel welcome here? I might have to get used to some change!

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church has been opening doors and windows and letting in the fresh air a lot lately, not to mention the dove we sang about earlier, Hope and love are flying in, as well!

Just two weeks ago at our annual Town Hall Meeting, an architect presented eye-popping drawings of a way to replace our high-maintenance wooden deck with a pathway that leads from the parking lot to an atrium-like mostly glass addition that joins the building we are in now, called the Meeting House, with the Religious Exploration Building, and provides handicapped accessibility to both levels of both buildings as well as to the property behind. As I said in my March newsletter article, the presentation ignited something in me for which I’d hoped:  hope for the future of Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church!

At the Town Hall Meeting, I sensed a lifting of spirits. New images of “what might be” open the doors of our minds and free us from bondage to the way things are. New leaders introduce new energy, new resources, new competencies, and new practices into the wealth of past experience and residential PBUUC wisdom. I thank all of those whose maintenance labors and leadership labors - over many years - have brought us to this hopeful moment!

In the meantime, we have to run a church… There will be no doors or windows to open (or working bathrooms, our problem today) if we don’t have a maintenance budget capable of repairing or replacing them, and a Building Fund into which we put money to save up for the big projects like roof replacement, and salaries and training for the staff who do what volunteers cannot or don’t have time to do, and funds to do what it will take to be the thriving community we want to be!

I hope this year will be the year that we get out of the grasp of the bare bones budget we adopted when we let go of the former tenant in the RE Building and reclaimed the space as our own, a home for Unitarian Universalism.  There is so much we could do that we do not do because of lack of money in the budget.

Which brings me back to the question of tithing and the offering basket…and the pledge you are asked to make in the next few weeks, so that our finance folks can add up the projected income and make a budget for spending it.

Now, we all know that a lot of people don’t feel very flush right now. The sequestration looms over a local economy that already had people like Douglas wishing to pack it up and go somewhere else. Whether we are personally, directly effected by federal fiscal policy or not, we are all impacted by the instability and fear hovering, and the ripple effects when those who are effected have less to spend.

To make up for the flat or even decreased giving by those who will lose their jobs or face furloughs, or are already struggling, I want to ask those who are not directly impacted to consider making a larger pledge than you might have otherwise, if this is your first time pledging, or, if it’s not, to increase by 10% over what you are giving now. And, like the Stewardship Chair says, if your circumstances change, so can your pledge.

My husband and I will be raising our pledge by 10% over the current year. We have been giving a half-tithe to our church for some years now, and the other 5% to other organizations and causes, ever since I challenged my previous congregation to do so. (And found out a couple households actually gave a full tithe to our church!). If you don’t already at least half-tithe, would you consider doing so? Think of the people in the churches Douglas has attended, who are asked to give 10% of a low income.

Thank you.

I thank you that this is a place where I am inspired to try to practice what I preach. I thank you that this is a place that gives children an opportunity to feel good about giving. I thank you that this is a place where youth feel supported, where women can retreat for bonding and learning like 45 did yesterday, where men have done so too. I thank you – most of all - that this is a place where the Latino gentleman, my queer daughter, and the hip-hop dancer will each be welcome, where each may find their spiritual home.

Abriendo puertas nuevas.

I thank you that this is a place where new doors are opening, and where the windows are open and doves of peace, hope and love are flying in!

You can play an MP3 audio file of this sermon by clicking: HERE.

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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church • 3215 Powder Mill Road • Adelphi, Maryland 20783-1097
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