I feel privileged to be able to share my thoughts with you this morning. Peter and I met this past Friday to talk about how to tie the service together between my message, the scripture and the hymns. I told him that it taken me weeks to get my thoughts down on paper with some semblance of organization. I have a deep respect for all that Peter does on a week to week basis and for how he connects all aspects of the service together. Thank you Peter.
The informal title of my message today is ‘Reflections on 2011 and The White Meeting House’ or ‘It’s Not Just a Church’.
I’m going to talk to you today about my experiences and reflections in the months following Tropical Storm Irene. But first, I would like to ask you for your prayers and support for our brothers and sisters all along the eastern seaboard that were hit by Hurricane Sandy. In talking about that storm at my office, we were all feeling guilty and helpless as the storm turned towards the coast knowing that in hoping and praying that it dodged us, it would ultimately slam into other communities.
I am part of the pledge committee this year, along with Jeff & Jill Loewer. In our pledge letter, we asked that you respond by way of sticky notes to some thought provoking questions about our church. I thought it only fair that I answer those questions from my perspective this morning. I’m going to put myself right on the spot.
And although it is late in 2012 I’m going to start by reflecting on last year.
The year started quietly and uneventfully. As Waterbury Town Clerk and presiding officer at elections, I was mindful that it was an odd numbered year. For me, that meant there was only one election on Town Meeting Day, whereas in even numbered years like this year, there are three election cycles, the third of which was this past Tuesday. Even numbered years are crazy, especially when they include a presidential election. The odd numbered years are a lot less stressful in terms of my work, for sure.
And then in late April, Polly’s nephew passed away following a tragic accident at his home. Taber was 11 years old and in the 6th grade at Crossett Brook Middle School. He was a creative, imaginative, incredibly intuitive child. In addition to his parents and brother, Taber left behind 3 great grandparents, 4 grandparents, countless aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and his One Studio and school communities, with grief that was nearly impossible to bear
While hearts were still trying to heal, along came Tropical Storm Irene on August 28th. We have talked about the storm here, on the streets, in the grocery store, at home and work, time and time again, but it was a lifeValtering event that deserves discussion and remembrance. It changed the course of everyday life in Waterbury, and it threatened to change me.
The Municipal Office where I work was flooded, along with over 200 homes and businesses in Waterbury. On the day following the flood, we set up shop in a classroom at Thatcher Brook Primary School. For the next 2 months, we worked from there, doing our best to perform our municipal functions, but spending the majority of our time on flood related activities. Steve, Community Planner and fellow choir member, took on the very difficult task of coordinating volunteers. I went to work early in the morning each day, to copy and collate information that was distributed daily to flood affected people. We refrained from calling them ‘victims’ early on due to their resiliency, and started calling them ‘floodies’ instead. I spent the rest of the daylight hours manning the phone and doing my best to be of service to those that needed a reassuring voice.
I laid awake many nights wondering how and where I was going to move the contents of the Town vault while still making the records accessible to the public. We’re talking about almost 250 years worth of Waterbury’s history – 300 volumes of land records (do you have any idea how heaving those books are?), over 1,000 survey maps, well over 100 books containing vital records, town proceedings, and other essential municipal documents. It was a daunting task and thanks to my colleagues, in particular Alec Tuscany and the public works crew, we ultimately found a solution. Then, in early November of 2011, we moved to our 2nd temporary location at the Main Street Fire Station which is where we will be for the foreseeable future.
I will confess – it was a very difficult and trying time for me, and by virtue of that, for Polly as well. I had too many moments, hours, and days to mention, where I was tired, stressed, aggravated and downright ugly. I hold an elected office where it is my job to serve the public, and in the course of doing that, be pleasant. Prior to the flood, I loved my job and performed it with enthusiasm.
In the months following the flood, my job became a chore and I lost something within myself. It truly was a trying time for our entire community.
And now, for the brighter side and the real message I want to share today, which is not entirely about Irene, or me, but is about a clarity that came to me in the months after the flood.
The morning after the flood, we came into the Village and walked around. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm morning, in stark contrast to the day before. Water was still receding and we initially made our way down South Main Street. We circled back, and ended up standing in front of the church, assessing the flood damage to the North V from the Stagecoach Inn further up North Main Street. The church look surreal – pristine in its beauty, but surrounded on three sides by water, debris, river muck and smells of oil, propane, and other nasty stuff. I pictured that scene in my mind’s eye repeatedly in the months following the flood.
In addition to the support I received from Polly, my family, and my co-workers, there was something else that did not waiver during my post Irene days: this place, atop the knoll in the Village of Waterbury, and all of the consistency and connectivity that it provided for me. Jeff Loewer suggested a few weeks ago that to him, “this place is one of the few consistent threads that has continued through his sometimes disjointed and inconsistent path.” I couldn’t have said it better.
Our pledge letter asked you to reflect on the following questions:
• What made you come to this church for the first time?
• What are your favorite things about the church?
• What makes this church special to you?
• What does this church mean to the community at large?
• Why do you keep coming back?
So here it is from my perspective:
What made me come to this church the first time? I took a little hiatus from church attendance after college, around 20 years or so. When I really think about it, I came to this church for 4 main reasons: because there was an emptiness in me spiritually; because I was raised in the congregational church tradition so this seemed like the logical choice; because I was living in Waterbury; and because on the few times that I did attend services here, I discovered that the choir was so darned good that I wanted to be a part of it. What a great choice I made
What,are,my,favorite,things,about,this,church? One of my favorite things is that this is not just a church to me. It is the place that I frequent on Thursday nights to pray through song with my choir friends; where I go on Sunday mornings to take an hour out to ease my mind, settle into prayerful worship, listen to and participate in beautiful music, reflect on Peter’s sermons and scripture readings, give praise to our God for my many blessings, and be with all of you. Every week, flood or no flood, come hell or high water. (I actually googled this phrase, and it means ‘come what may’, ‘no matter what happens.) Or as we say here: come join us, no matter
who you are or where you are on life’s journey. You are welcome here. Or maybe, as I felt in the months following Irene, when your journey seems too difficult and you can’t find the energy to go on.
What makes this church special to me? When I was young and my parents forced me to attend the First Congregational Church is Essex Jct., I tried to tell them that I could be closer to God skiing at Glen Ellen on a Sunday morning in the wintertime. I have friends who claim they don’t need a structured environment or need to attend a church service to proclaim that they are spiritual; they can meditate or recreate or commune with nature to connect with a higher power. They haven’t convinced me, not by a long shot, just as I couldn’t convince my parents all those years ago (thank you Mom and Dad for not giving in).
What I need is this . . .this place on the hill, out of the flood plain where I can spend time with all of you. We have a connection. I see you in my office, or in the grocery store. Your kids may not recognize me out of context, but when we remind them I’m in the choir and tell them where I sit, they smile and show that spark of recognition. I may not know you that well personally or socialize with you, but we have a bond and that is the willingness to take the time to be involved and worship here, together.
What does this church mean to the community at large? I often see people, leaf peepers in particular, stopping on Main Street to take a picture of our church. It is quintessential New England beauty, after all. On the wayhome from church a few weeks ago, I passed a car stopped on the ramp, way up by the northbound
entrance to I89. It was obvious to me that they were taking a photo of the Village, most likely a photo with the church steeple as its focal point. I love it when I witness that event, because they aren’t just taking a picture of an historic, lovely, building; they are taking of picture of a place that is special to me; a place that I am a part of and that is a part of me. It is a beautiful building, most worthy of a picture for a tourist, but what they don’t see through the lens of their camera is the beauty on the inside – all of you, the music, the murmurs, hugs, and smiles on any Sunday morning, the children’s rapt attention on Peter’s stories (and science experiments ), the beautiful flowers, the smell of apples and chicken pie; a place where we meet, worship, and work, all for the better good.
A couple of weeks ago, Peter mentioned this church’s importance in our wider community: a place where people pick up their food from CSA, where high schoolers at risk for dropout are tutored, where musicians practice and perform, and where students can meet to talk about bullying and being a leader for civil rights in their schools, just to name a few.
This is a place where we are all served through our various Boards:
• Christian Education V where our children and confirmation classes are challenged to think for themselves, learn, and be creative;
• Deacons – who keep our services running smoothly each Sunday with help from all of you in greeting, ushering and coffee (I’m sure there is room on the board in the back of the sanctuary to sign up );
• Outreach – who serve our wider community through projects like OIKO Credit and other and mission activities;
• Parish Administration and Pastoral, better known as Lesley and Peter – who see to the very busy day to day activities of the church and move us through each week in worship;
• Stewardship – the caretakers of this building; and
• Finance – the overseers of our financial well-being.
Let us not forget Circle II, whose members work feverishly most of the year to raise money that they in turn give away; to Camp TaKumTa, Habitat for Humanity, the Food Shelf, to youths for mission activities, to help defray the cost of furnace repairs, or to purchase new carpeting and a heating system for the church, to name just a few.
And don’t even get me started on the talents of Erik and Mary Jane and the gifts they generously share with our entire community.
Last week, Kelly Hackett spoke about the impact that the church had on her when her home and daycare business was flooded. While she ran her daycare from the church classroom, she witnessed daily how widely this church is used and its importance within our community. Her children learned firsthand that this building is not only a place to worship, but a place where they can feel safe and a place that provides a sense of love and is a symbol of community strength.
I told you in the beginning that I would answer every question that we asked of you, and this is the last one. So finally, why do I keep coming back? How can you not want to be a part of it all? We have collected sticky notes over the past several weeks as a visual reminder of the all of our blessings. Here are some of the thoughts you expressed:
• The philosophy of openness and inclusion helps to keep me on a path I value;
• I like all the giving that happens within this church;
• The sermons recharge my energy for the week;
• I look forward to the message every Sunday. It is a time of thoughtful reflection on ideas that are often new; • Singing with my choir ‘family’;
• The flowers are a weekly gift of beauty, passion, and courage;
• My thinking is stirred, my soul is rested;
• I like eating sweets after church;
• The church is generous in sharing its building with community groups;
• I love the quiet time of worship and miss it when I have to miss a Sunday – I love it when I’m back.
• I might add creative worship, like the memorial service we had on the Winooski Bridge on the 1st anniversary of Irene.
There is something here for everyone and the simple fact is that our support is critical not only in maintaining but enhancing our programs and all that we enjoy within them. Support comes in a variety of forms: our participation in volunteer and fundraising efforts which is an integral part of our calling within this church; our involvement in activities, like the upcoming human food chain, that radiates our presence throughout the wider community; and the heart of the matter today — a thoughtful reflection on the church’s financial needs and a commitment to support those needs through pledging.
A couple of weeks ago, Peter suggested that I would be speaking from a different perspective than I might have during my seven years as church treasurer. I hadn’t thought about it that way until he said it, but he’s right. If you are not worrying about budgets, and expenses, and pinching pennies, you can open yourself up to all this church has to offer. We can let the Board of Finance and the Treasurer worry about the finer details, but we need to help them by giving generously out of our many blessings. There is abundance in all that we receive in doing so, and as our pledge card states, our God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
Polly and I cancelled a couple of vacations in the aftermath of Irene because we knew that we needed to be here, helping in our community. This past April we finally took a vacation far away from Waterbury and the flood, and I came home with a peaceful energy and a renewed faith that everything is going to be okay. I came back with that piece of me that went missing in the months following the flood. I can’t help but think – in fact I know V that my church and the multitude of ways that worshipping here fills my heart and feeds my spirit, brought me to that better place. Okay, and maybe a couple of weeks in southern Arizona!