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Presented September 26, 2010, by Ellen Taylor
Listen to a recording of "Seeing the One Which Has Opened"
20:26 minutes - 8.19 MB - Seeing the One Which Has Opened .mp3 file.
When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.
- As one door closes
- another opens.
- As we say goodbye to one
- we say hello to another.
- It is said that for everything there is a season
- a time for this and a time for that.
- And while change may be difficult
- it is also exciting.
- For without change
- there is no growth.
- So we treasure our memories of what has passed
- and we learn from what has passed.
- So that we are able then to fully appreciate
- what is yet to come.
- And through this cycle of letting go and embracing
- we live our best lives.
The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealized past.
Two weeks ago, Rob gave his last first-of-the-year talk. Last week, Reverend Adam RoberSmith from the Second Unitarian Church of Chicago talked to us about the search process to find a new minister. And this week is the customary Board President talk that sometimes loosely alludes to the state of the church. So here it is. In case you haven't picked up on the clues, we now face a major transition in the life of this congregation as the door on Rob's tenure closes. I have to admit that when Rob said this would definitely be his last year as our minister, and my brain translated that into "we have to find a new minister," my reaction was "ah crap."
Due to the difficulty of finding a part-time minister, the last search committee recommended ordaining one of our regular guest speakers. Fortunately, it ended up being a good arrangement and 14 years later, Rob has been our minister 3 times longer than the average of all ministers in our 170 year history. The other two ministers who seem to have been the most well-liked in recent history (recent history being my lifetime), George Crist and Cal Knapp, also came to us in unconventional ways. George Crist was a Lutheran minister who had been dismissed for heresy and had gone to work for the Herald Whig. We hired him in 1960 and he served until 1968. Cal Knapp had been a local Methodist minister who'd moved and was doing ecumenical work in Peoria. In our 1971 search for a minister, we consulted with interim ministers and regional UU ministers, and the minister of the Peoria Unitarian Church mentioned Cal, who had been an occasional guest speaker at that church. He served our church 1971-1976. Unconventional finds have served us well, so my mind was kind of stuck in that box and my train of thought last spring and into the summer went something like this:
How will we stumble upon someone like Rob whose life circumstances (meaning other gainful employment) allow him (or her) to do this job for very little money? The greater Quincy metro area is hardly a mecca of liberal religion. It's hardly a haven for free thinkers. But we know many bright people. We know many compassionate people. But can we find a person who has the intellect and ability to give stimulating talks, and who also has the sense of compassion and the innate sensibilities Rob has when it comes to working with the sick and dying and their families? And who has the time to do the job, and who will do it for what we can pay? Not to mention someone whose religious and philosophical beliefs fit? This particular combination of criteria had me banging my head on that closing door.
Around the same time I was banging my head on that particular closing door, I had my foot in another door, trying to pretend it wasn't also closing . My first-born child was graduating from high school and preparing to move 8 hours away, and though I was very excited for him, I knew it would be an emotional roller coaster for me. You see - and this may come as a shock to those of you who know me - I've been known to tear up on occasion, and I thought I might cry when Ian left for college.
I bring up this personal experience, not because my particular personal issues are relevant to the congregation, but because they are representative of all of our personal transitions. Some of you went through this experience of children leaving home years ago, some of you have sent children much farther than just 3 states away, and some of you will have children at home for several more years. But we all have various periods of transition in our lives, times when one door closes and another opens. We go from childhood to adulthood, from student to professional, from single to married and sometimes from married to single. We move from one job to another, from one city to another, or even from one country to another. We shift from work to retirement, from health to illness, and eventually, from life to death.
In all of these changes, a door closes on something we may miss. But if we believe Alexander Graham Bell, a door opens on something else. I believe that. (I guess I can't guarantee there's something in the open door of death since I haven't actually seen it myself, and the people I know who have aren't talking. But I believe the promise of our opening hymn, that something always, always sings.
I'm sure we all miss certain aspects of childhood . But think of how unfulfilling your life would be if you had never embraced adulthood. It's difficult to leave the comfort and familiarity of old friends and colleagues when we move, but a new city or new job presents wonderful opportunities to meet new people and learn new skills. Even in facing a serious illness, when the door on independence and unrestricted activity closes - whether temporarily or permanently - the door that opens can give us a new look at family and friends. It can give us opportunity - opportunity to allow friends to help us, and opportunity for the kinds of conversations we don't have until forced to think about our mortality. These opportunities often help us create stronger bonds with those who help us and those with whom we have the conversations.
Many of my friends - including some of you - whose children have already left home, assure me that while the specifics and dynamics of the relationship may change, grown children are also wonderful. And really, I know that - just as I love my teenagers despite the fact they're no longer cuddly, baby powder-scented bundles of joy or little boys who sit on my lap and let me hug them. I know I will enjoy the unique aspects of this next phase. And as my friend Carolyn, whose daughter Mia you have heard sing here, keeps telling me, the alternative is unthinkable - I don't really want (well, the rational part of me doesn't really want) Ian to live in our basement until he's 40.
Late last spring, it occurred to me that the same applies here at church as well. Losing Rob as our minister isn't quite as personally traumatic for me as sending Ian off to college. But will I miss having Rob as our minister? Absolutely. Probably just as some of you missed George Crist when he left. But missing George Crist didn't prevent you from appreciating Cal Knapp. And those of you who knew and loved Cal Knapp weren't still mourning his departure to the point you couldn't appreciate Rob. I realize there were a few years and a few ministers between Cal and Rob. But my point is that regardless of our relationship with the present guy, we'll develop relationships with the future guys too. Some will be better than others, but that's okay.
Which takes us back to our options. After hearing what Adam had to say last week, I've been able to broaden my scope of thought. It's as if Monte Hall has just told me I can hold on to my box - the box of stumbled-upon locals, or I can trade it for what's behind Curtain #1 (a UUA interim minister) or Curtain #2 (a called or consulting minister). But how to choose?
We have a lot of work to do in the upcoming months. Our biggest immediate task, as we discussed last Sunday, is to figure out who we are and what we want. Knowing how we arrived at this moment can help us define who we are, so the history of the church that Frieda has compiled is useful as well as interesting. And the recent survey conducted by the search committee is a good start in determining what we want. What makes this task difficult is that we don't all want the same thing.
Here's what I've noticed. In the 15 years or so that I've been here, I've heard people say we're too academic and that we need something a little more spiritual. And yet often when we have speakers whose talks are more spiritual, I feel tension in the room. I sense people's shoulders tighten. The degree of tension varies, but there's almost always some. We say we want more spirituality and yet it seems to make us uncomfortable. I believe the reason for this is that, as Quincy Unitarians, our spiritual beliefs vary so much that it's difficult to find a level with which we are all comfortable.
So this most basic question - do we want academic or spiritual - may be the hardest to answer. Finding someone we can all live with will be tricky. Finding someone we can all live with who will move to Quincy or do the job for what we want to pay will be REALLY tricky, which leads me to believe the question "what do we want," once answered, will become "are we willing to pay for it."
The fact that we built the addition without debt and then bought a grand piano gives me hope that if we are determined enough, we can afford the minister we want. But I also realize that regardless of how much we want something, there are some limits to what we can do. Some of us think that growing our membership numbers will help us grow our budget. That makes sense. But unlike the business model, in which growth is a conscious, intentional effort, I think church membership growth is more similar to personal relationships. The young woman frantically searching for a husband rarely finds one. At least not the right one. Desperation is just not very attractive. It's when she is happy with her life and with herself that she is able to build a healthy relationship with someone else. People who radiate that kind of happy confidence are attractive. I think our focus should be not on marketing ourselves, but on making this church the best it can be. We should not hesitate to let people know we're here and let them see who we are, but radiating our covenant is what will draw people to us.
So, we have to work on what we want and how to pay for it, and we know these will be tough questions. Tough questions can lead to disagreement, tension, and dissension. In the church world, dissension often leads to split congregations and new, offshoot churches. While the thought of two Unitarian churches in Quincy makes me chuckle, I think we're better than that. We're used to not thinking in lock-step, so I don't see that differing opinions within our congregation have to lead to dissension. But I do want to reiterate what Adam said last week about the promise of our covenant. If we keep our covenant at the forefront of all conversation, then we can use any differences of opinion as means of developing deeper understanding of the issues and of each other.
The door that has opened for Ian leads to wonderful new experiences. These new experiences will include disappointment, but also growth, joy, and excitement. He's very happy at college and after just a few days there felt such a sense of belonging that he said it seems he's always been there. I miss him, of course, but it feels good to know that he's so happy. If I were to continue looking regretfully at the closed door of Ian's childhood at home . . . well, for one thing it wouldn't be healthy. But it would also just be silly and self-destructive to choose mourning the past over rejoicing in the present.
Our closing hymn, "Enter, Rejoice, and Come In," is typically used as an opening hymn, but I think now is the appropriate time to sing it.
I have faith - or Unitarian confidence - that new doors will open for the Unitarian Church of Quincy. I don't pretend that whatever lies just inside the newly opened doors will always make us equally as happy as what's behind the closed doors. After all, it is possible to surrender the box containing a new washer and dryer for what's behind one of the curtains only to end up with a cement monkey on a surfboard yard ornament. Sometimes what's beyond the new door will be less satisfactory, sometimes it will be a lateral move, and sometimes it will be better. But refusing to look for the door which has opened is as unthinkable an option as Ian living in my basement until he's 40. So instead of looking long upon doors with regret that they have closed, we must instead look at them with appreciation and gratitude, then turn to the doors which have opened, enter, and rejoice in what lies ahead.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.