I realized recently that this month marks the end of my 5th year at Union Church. How truly blessed I feel and have always felt to have to have been called by this congregation to serve as you Pastor. In my first years, I enjoyed the opportunity to come to know so many of the members and friends of this beautiful and beloved community of faith. I celebrated the many traditions and events that have become an important part of the traditions at this church, including everything from Easter sunrise Service to Christmas Eve, along with Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo and the Summer Speaker Series. In the summer, it was a joy to welcome our seasonal visitors and to come to know so many new folks. And then we began to hear rumblings of a virus that was moving across our world and then on a Saturday morning, March 14th to be exact, I remember calling our Moderator, Paul Schlaver, so that we could make a decision about closing the church. We didn’t want to take the risk that even in one last Sunday before a Pause that we ight mcause the spread of this very frightening virus across our community. In the two and a half years since that time, we have made our way together, staying in touch as best we could, meeting on Zoom and in outdoor settings, and then carefully gathering here back at the church. It has not been easy for any of us. I have seen too many in this congregation who have faced real challenges of isolation and illness, loss and grief, during these years. I recall hearing a few of our older members lamenting that they wouldn’t be able to get this time back. It seems that when we are young, we feel that we have all the time in the world, but as we age, we begin to realize that the years in front of us will be far fewer than those we have already lived through. Let us pray,
Not long before the pandemic forced us to remain at home to be safe, there were folks in our community who lost a loved one. Two of our friends lost their husbands and we had to postpone the Memorial Services for many months. Our family lost a beloved sister, sister in law and aunt when Rich’s sister, Clare, died just months earlier. We had hoped to hold the funeral that spring but it was postponed for a full year and a half. The rituals that we often partake in after a loss are often important to those left behind. It is a time to say goodbye and it is a time when the family can receive an outpouring of support and care that they need as they move through grief. In addition to the loss of a beloved family member, many, many families felt isolated in their grief and loss. Additionally, many important moments were also postponed, including weddings, special birthdays, graduations…all of which took a toll on those who had long looked forward to these celebrations. So much loss.
In the coming weeks, we will begin a process of strategic planning. We will be invited to think about the vision of this church community, a vision that emerged when many of you gathered as Pastor Jan was preparing to retire. I understand that you participated in a wonderful process to consider who you were and who you wanted to be as a community of faith. That vision was assembled into a statement that we still share on the church website. I would like to invite you to look that over and to consider what you might change or add. I would like us all to consider whether we want to recommit ourselves once again to that vision as we invite the Spirit of God to guide us into the future.
First, I would like for us to take a little time today to pause and to name what we have lost in these recent years, due to Covid, due to the enforced time of separation, and in part because of the fears, the anxiety, the worries that have bubbled up within our hearts. What have you personally lost out on? What has our church lost during this time as a community? In your bulletins is a paper insert and I would now like to invite each of us to take a few moments in quiet and begin to reflect upon all that has been lost. How has this caused us grief and sorrow? If you would like, please write these down on the enclosed sheets. Pause
Is there anyone who would like to share some thoughts?
Include the names of those who have died over this time in our church, the numbers of those who have died across our nation and the world…
Collect these and place in the box at the front. A time for quiet, the singing bowl…
-Blessing for a time of grief.
I humbly invite you to carve out some time during these autumn months to spend time reflecting upon what you have lost, praying in the midst of that sorrow, and inviting God to be present in those emotions. From personal experience, I have learned that if we do not take the time to name our losses and to grieve them that they will often follow us and weigh us down until we pay attention to them.
Now, I would like to invite you to take a few breaths and invite the Spirit of hope and life into your minds and hearts. What is the Spirit of God inviting you to dream, to hope for, in your own life and in the life of this church? On the hearts, write down some dreams, some hopes…
Would anyone care to share? Bring them forward… A blessing for hope and new life