My husband is fond of a quote that is usually attributed to Woody Allen “90% of life is just showing up.” I’m not sure that’s all that’s required, but that is definitely where it begins. We show up. We make our presence known. Then we try to know others. Then we make ourselves vulnerable. Then we make ourselves useful. Perhaps we’re emboldened by success. Perhaps we need time to recover. Then we try again.
When visitors come to check us out, what will they find? Some will be impressed by what they hear from the pulpit, while others are simply grateful for what they do not hear. Some shy folks would rather we gave them a wide berth until they’ve had a chance to warm up. Others eagerly accept the invitation to stay for coffee but sit alone watching seemingly intimate groups talking in Fellowship Hall and wonder whether there will be a place for them. Thankfully, some among us feel responsible for greeting newcomers with kindness and a welcoming curiosity—because we do love to hear visitors say if they return: “I felt so welcome when I came to your church, that I really wanted to come back.” But in any case, the first step for all of us–visitors and members alike– is to show up, and then to keep on showing up.
We have to be resilient—try to grant one another the grace of presuming good intentions. And we must keep on showing up. Among my most cherished experiences have been those times I continued to get to know folks I initially joined only in order to get something done, not because we hit it off right away. I kept on showing up, despite a difference in beliefs or some awkward conversations. What’s that saying Steve Askins is fond of?– “A church is meant to comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable.” Being with diverse people allows us to learn from one another and grow in mutual understanding, instead of always seeking comfort in groups that reinforce how we prefer to be perceived.
What would happen if every time we succeeded in getting close to a group of people, we chose to keep to ourselves and not share with others the pathway to such intimacy? Think what the history of race relations might have been in this country if Blacks had been allowed to settle wherever they could afford to live as other immigrants were. If there had been no Sundown Towns, no all-white communities. no red-lining (whether by law or simply by practice?) In fact, racial segregation persists to this day, all over the country.
People usually think carefully before they visit a church, and they likely think very carefully before they sign the membership book. Time must be taken before commitments are made to an entire community. Yet we are hopeful that they will ultimately commit to the community as a whole, to the possibilities inherent in our values and our mission; even if the reason they stayed at first was because of a particular sermon or a particular cause or particular friends.
John Wolf, the Minister Emeritus of a church in Tulsa, wrote:
“There is only one reason for joining a Unitarian Universalist church and that is: to support it. You want to support it because it stands against superstition and fear. Because this church points to what is noblest and best in human life. Because it is open to women and men of whatever race, creed, color, place of origin, or sexual orientation.
“You want to support a Unitarian Universalist church because it has a free pulpit. Because you can hear ideas expressed there which would cost any other minister his or her job. You want to support it because it is a place where children come without being saddled with guilt or terrified of some celestial Peeping Tom, where they can learn that religion is for joy, for comfort, for gratitude and love.
“You want to support it because it is a place where walls between people are torn down rather than built-up. Because it is a place for the religious displaced persons of our time, the refugees from mixed marriages, the unwanted free-thinkers and those who insist against orthodoxy that they must work out their own beliefs.
“You want to support a UU church because it is more concerned with human beings than with dogmas. Because it searches for the holy, rather than dwelling upon the depraved. Because it calls no one a sinner, yet knows how deep is the struggle in each person’s breast and how great is the hunger for what is good.
“You want to support a UU church because it can laugh. Because it stands for something in a day when religion is still more concerned with platitudes than with prejudice and war. You want to support it not because it buys you some insurance policy towards your funeral service, but because it insults neither your intelligence nor your conscience, and because it calls you to worship what is truly worthy of your sacrifice. There is only one reason for joining a Unitarian Universalist church: to support it!”