I write this report while attending my first UU General Assembly a few days shy of beginning my term as president of the TJMC Board of Trustees. It’s been an interesting week of inspiring services, making some new friends, and installing a new UUA president after a tumultuous three months in which our denomination found itself divided, faced resignations of its highest ranking leaders, and was forced to own up to deep and sobering shortcomings regarding race and hiring practices.
While all this has been occurring at the denominational level, our congregation has also found itself conflicted. For TJMC, it has been over fundamental issues related to growth and how to manage our budget. It’s my prayer for our congregation that we can address these issues with the same commitment, trust, and good faith that we’ve modeled in our larger denomination this week at General Assembly.
I was planning to use my first President’s Report to introduce myself and what I see as the key priorities I’d like to see our congregation to address over the coming year, but given the debate surrounding our budget, I have instead decided to use this report to address that topic directly.
At TJMC, we often refer to our “beloved community.” I think that we tend to use the term most often when we anticipate a disagreement, preemptively calling each other into covenant with the hope of heading off the conflict. To me, the value of the “beloved community” is how it advises us to act once we’re already in conflict. It makes me think of my family, where we are constantly dealing with disagreements and disappointments, and then reminding ourselves that the love we have for each other runs deeper than anything that pulls us away.
My friends, right now is the time to remind ourselves of our beloved community. As a congregation, we’ve agreed to budget a deficit to invest in our priorities: financial growth, member engagement, and fairness in our staffing practices. Along the way we’ve learned that our feelings about this budget span the spectrum from enthusiastic supporters to cautious optimists to folks for whom a deficit budget is unsettling and finally to church members who strongly oppose it.
As the congregation’s new president, it’s important for me to emphasize that wherever you fall on this spectrum, you are part of the TJMC community, and your voice is important–it is important to me, to the Board, and to the life of our church family. As we tell each other every single week at our worship services: “We all have a place here. We all are welcome here.”
It’s also important to emphasize that each of us is essential to the congregation’s well-being. Since the budget vote, I have been inspired by people who had voted against the approved budget who have stepped up to take a larger role in the congregation in order to be part of the work that will ensure our future as a healthy congregation. And I have been saddened to see some people considering decreasing their engagement. To both those groups I say thank you for all you have done for this church, and ask you to continue playing a role in what is certain to be a transformative year at TJMC.
What this church does, how we change lives, how we lead in our social and racial justice work, how we nurture each other and our world, only works because we are all committed; because we all strive to be as generous as we can with our money, our time, and our love for each other. There’s no magic to building an amazing church. It only requires giving these three things as freely as we can.
Last summer, I preached a sermon about journeying into the unknown, and much of what I said is still relevant for us today.
I said that my wish for our church was that we be brave. I pointed out that bravery isn’t acting without fear, it’s acting in the face of fear, and I talked about how much there was for us to do as a church.
I said that I wanted us to take risks, and that I wanted us to amaze ourselves with our resilience and our strength and our unity. That’s still what I hope for:
I want each of us to volunteer for something we don’t think we’re up for, and then do it, and surprise ourselves by it as much as we surprise anyone.
If we do these kinds of things, there’s nothing that can keep us from being a vibrant, healthy, growing congregation. I commit myself to this work–it’s the reason I accepted my nomination to serve on the Board–and I hope you will join me.
Let us each be a blessing to each other.