by Joni Grady
October 16, 2016
By now I hope old members have had their hearts filled with memories of past challenges and accomplishments and newer ones have had their interest piqued by these same glimpses into the distant and recent past. While I was here that May day in 2011 when the 20th anniversary was celebrated, I don’t remember much about it so it’s been VERY interesting to dig back into HUU history. I thought to look at our wonderful webpage and it was like finding a buried treasure. How many of you have actually read everything there? How many of you have read at least the section “About Us?” I think (hope) maybe it wasn’t there when we were exploring the idea of moving here because it would have been enormously helpful. I do heartily recommend its study for anyone thinking of joining HUU because it explains a lot about the beautiful tree we call HUU and why we are the way we are at this moment in time. Think about this: probably one of the youngest charter members, or planters, was Barkley Rosser, who joined particularly because he wanted a liberal religious education for his daughter. Barkley was about 43 years old at that time and there were several others in their forties, the Stricklers and Elizabeth Ihle, for instance, who are still here, and some who have moved on to other places. What an adventurous experiment they embarked on! A new variety of UUism, even if they couldn’t decide whether the seed they had planted would turn out to be a mighty oak or a sturdy apple tree. A clean slate, with only the preconceived ideas about church and religion they each brought with them from their own past lives—plus the UU principles. They could and did do anything, try anything that would grow the congregation and the voice of UUism in the Upper Valley. They could and did build a whole RE building, hire ministers, fire ministers, and become a de facto and then official UU Welcoming Congregation. We’ve told you a bit about the roots of HUU and you can read more online
Now, at the risk of extending a metaphor WAY past its natural lifespan, I want to change perspective just a little. Linda Dove has just told us what she found when she walked in through those very real front doors and her experience mirrors mine. But if HUU itself is a virtual tree, a tree of life, a tree of spirit and love, planted all those years ago, how do our visitors and new members, fit in now, what do we find when we fly in on our virtual wings? At first they only see this very real old schoolhouse, and maybe the real but younger RE building, embedded solidly in the sturdy trunk. If they’ve been UUs before, they’re probably not surprised by what they see inside but do they all understand the symbols? Certainly the coffee pots under the “Community Café” might express hospitality and a warm welcome even before our visitor hosts and we ourselves make that explicit—and that’s good. The flowers and then the music immediately let us know our souls are fed by more than cold logic and reason, and the flaming chalice is soon revealed to be the light our lives are guided by. In fact, at their very best, our services as a whole feed the entire person, body and soul, (especially if there’s a potluck afterwards.)
What don’t visitors and even new members see? They can’t see that the virtual HUU tree is filled with nests, each with a different design and purpose, but each sheltered by the outstretched branches that grow around them and make room as more room is needed. Who built them? Who inhabits them? Why are they here? These nests are built by us. Each one of us, old and new, young and old, has the freedom and responsibility in this free UU church to try out an old nest, refurbish it as needed, or create a new one. And we are all needed to inhabit them at different times during the days, the weeks, the months, the years of the church life. They exist to make this beloved community possible and able to fulfill our mission in the world, and they are each microcosms of the larger community, bound by the same covenant that holds us together as a whole. There’s the board-nest, up in the highest branch, charged with oversight and planning, the communications nerve-nest that is scattered but held together electronically, the caring nest that is lined with soft downy feathers from each of us and moves wherever it is needed most, and the worship nest that perches precariously at times, always hoping to produce golden eggs for the pulpit nest but needing the creative energy of the whole congregation to maintain the balance between heart, mind, and hands, between care-giving, sense-making, and justice- seeking.
As you might imagine, it’s hard to sustain all these working nests—and the many more I didn’t mention—without the R & R & R (rest, relaxation, and re-creation) nests to keep us whole and grow the connections a beloved community must have. Each month circle supper nests are built in an evening and disappear with bedtime and each week the back room becomes a peaceful yoga nest. Each month covenant group nests are reoccupied and reanimated by trust and deep sharing and each month book nests become places of conversation and learning. The choir loft/nest is being rebuilt by Dee and filled with singers– and it will bless us all. If you don’t find the nest you need and can lend your time and talents to, already built and ready to welcome you in, you are welcome, invited, urged, to start one yourself. Engage companions in the task–and call on the people you see around you for aid and assistance. It could be a nest to hold a flock of parents and children or a clutch of singles of all ages or people who like to play games or instruments. It could be a moveable nest of hikers or movie buffs or foodies or people seeking social justice.
But what about the nest builders?
We ourselves, both visitor and member, do not reveal our entire selves to each other immediately. Science—and dog handlers– tell us that we are followed by a steady stream of smells that uniquely identify each one of us. I see us more as beautifully feathered beings streaming invisible plumes and ribbons of many colors and textures. These are our longings and our dreams, our sorrows and our strengths, and it is only as we come together for worship, listen together, work together, play together, that we gradually begin to be seen in all our glory. Some of us weave thread into cloth, some turn cloth into quilts and some into shrouds. Some of us garden, some create masterpieces of food or beauty from the gardens—and some clean up afterwards. Some trail songs behind them, some poetry, some sawdust. Some arrange the chairs, some organize protests, and some herd cats. These skills and talents are the ribbons and feathers that we offer in love to the nests we create but more than that, these are the ties that bind the nests to the tree and to each other nest, and that ultimately bind us all together in a beautiful, vibrant, strong, interdependent web of Beloved Community.
How we respond as individuals or as HUU to the third key task, Justice-seeking, is a topic for another day.
Only our imaginations limit what our tree can hold as long as our principles guide the blueprints and our covenant is our work song: Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law. This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another. Blessed be.