Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Build a Caring Community

Where we build caring community

Sanctuary of The Unitarian Church in Westport, CT where we build caring community

Build a Caring Community

At the Unitarian Church in Westport CT we held our annual Homecoming Service on Sunday morning.

Our Director of Lifespan Faith Development, Mary Collins, told a story about caring community. She enlisted Ellie and Bob to help her illustrate.

Bob wore a most fantastic multi-colored clown’s wig. Ellie wore a fanciful bright pink boa. They stood on opposite sides at the front of the sanctuary.

They were members of two different communities with a raging river in between. Each was a caring community.

Bob Perry in his wig, with Mary speaking at the podium, teaching caring community

Bob Perry in his wig, with Mary speaking at the podium, photo by Janet Luongo

Because each community had a brave explorer, they eventually met each other. Over years as the communities became friends, they decided to build a bridge over the river so they could travel back and forth more easily. They also built a meeting house over the bridge and gathered regularly.

They began to care for each other, building a broader caring community with the meeting house as their special place.

But some members of each community didn’t like the change or the fraternizing with members of a different community. Eventually their voices drowned out the others, and they stopped meeting.

Two brave explorers reuniting their communities

Two brave explorers reuniting their communities, photo by Janet Luongo

But – as you can guess – brave souls again ventured out and finally rejoined the communities. Both communities benefitted. And she didn’t say these words, but I will, “lived happily ever after.”

She probably didn’t say them, because that’s not what usually happens. Her message seemed to be that we have to keep working to build a caring community. Building bridges once is never enough!

My Role in Caring Community

We met outside on the lawn for the start of this service. The Senior Minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse called members of our church, our own caring community, to come forward to take ‘Symbols of our Congregation’s Life’ to carry in a procession into the sanctuary.

offering plate

An offering plate like ours

Since I am the treasurer, I carried an offering plate! I was tempted to pause at the entrance to the sanctuary to remind us all of the need to support our beloved congregation financially, but thought better of it.

Also because I was part of the choir, I wanted to keep moving forward to help with the singing.

The Tragedy of 9/11

After Mary’s story, Rev. Frank Hall, our Minister Emeritus, reflected on the events 15 years ago today, the tragedy of 9/11. He had been on his motorcycle to a meeting when the events happened. So he didn’t learn about until he reached his destination, a meeting of several Unitarian-Universalist ministers, where the others were gathered around a TV.

Rev. Frank Hall, taken by David Emberling

Rev. Frank Hall, taken by David Emberling

He returned immediately to Westport and the church. He found people in the sanctuary, seeking consolation and community.

Diane Farrell, our first select-woman (mayor) at the time, asked all the ministers to gather later that day to discuss their response. He was asked to lead a prayer at the end of the meeting, surprising him. “I opened the prayer with silence so I could collect my thoughts,” he said.

The silence was powerful. “I don’t remember what I said after that,” he told us.

The following Sunday, Sept. 16, the sanctuary was over-flowing, again with people wanting to be with others. All were seeking a caring community in that time of grief and uncertainty.

He closed his reflection by reciting a poem by Pablo Neruda, Keeping Quiet.  You can listen, not to Frank, but to Sylvia Boorstein.

Keeping Quiet: Sylvia Boorstein Reads Pablo Neruda’s Beautiful Ode to Silence

A Revolutionary Movement

In his homily “Promises Yet to Keep,” Rev. John spoke about our calling to work for the unkept promises of the revolution for racial justice.

He called Black Lives Matter a revolutionary movement. He referred to Rev. Dr. Bill Sinkford’s sermon, which I wrote about in late June, (near end of that blog post) at the UU General Assembly. Rev. Sinkford reminded Unitarian-Universalists of our commitment to racial justice 50 years earlier.

We thought we could bring about change, but did we? Today, Black Lives Matter is leading a renewed revolution against racial injustice. He said, “Resistance is what love looks like in the face of hate.”

Rev. John said, “We’re now engaged in the same revolution. We’ve just been asleep for a while!” The Twitter hashtag, #staywoke, for Black Lives Matter, reminds us to pay attention and not fall asleep again.

Rev. Dr. John Morehouse at GA

Rev. Dr. John Morehouse at GA

He quoted Ta-Nehisi Coates on the disparities in wealth and opportunity for people of color. They arise from hundreds of years. Coates said, “We have forgotten the scale of the theft.”

Be Maladusted

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted,” King said. Rev. John borrowed from him to say, “We should all become ‘maladjusted.'”

Can we part of a caring community in our country? Can we care for others who are not like us? Refugees? Victims of police shootings?

Rev. John encouraged us – no, challenged us – to reach beyond our congregation, beyond our towns. We should extend our caring community to embrace all who are on the margins, disenfranchised, or mistreated.

He was on fire! I believe we are in for an exciting time at The Unitarian Church in Westport.

If you are nearby, come join us! If not, watch for more news.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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