A Flowering of Creativity

Czech Unitarian Norbert Čapek created the Flower Communion as a simple ritual, free from orthodox baggage, and a time to celebrate our common values and shared commitments. Bring a flower from your garden or elsewhere to contribute to the altar/focal point display. ESUC Annual Congregational Meeting will follow the service. We will be voting to elect officers and pass our budget for 2019-2020. Please do plan on attending.

“A Flowering of Creativity”

My colleague Aisha has spoken to you about the Flower Communion Story. How Norbert and Maja Čapek came to be Unitarians, and how he came to design the Flower Ceremony. Being Unitarians, our various congregations have made a hundred local variations. In the Shaker Heights, Ohio congregation in which I grew up, the service was always held outside, on the church’s front lawn. Some congregations do it on Easter. Some in connection with the youth coming-of-age. But it’s among out most popular rituals everywhere. Why?

I think it’s so popular because the Čapeks understood Unitarianism deeply, and designed the perfect ritual for our use. Our congregations are made up of many types of people; many varieties of bloom. Some effusive, some taciturn. Some stand out right away; others take time to notice, or to fully appreciate. Some are bold and dramatic; others subtle, complex. A healthy church has every type, and room for every kind of person.

Whenever flowers are contributed for our services someone lovingly arranges them with great care—like the revolving art exhibits I’ve so much enjoyed over the course of my nine months with you. Now this morning I challenged our ESUC Flower Team to quickly throw all the contributions together on the spot…and on the double. It’s an apt metaphor for UU communities everywhere—made up as we are of people who join one day and, often within a couple of years, are congregational—maybe even denominational—leaders (like the Čapeks themselves).

All the gifts of all our members are of value. Whenever Dr. Čapek conducted his Flower Communion in Prague, he would repeat what he called the following “proverb” as he “consecrated” the flowers, and which we read responsively earlier in the service:

Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these, thy messengers of fellowship and love. May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts. May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world.

So it is in any church, especially a liberal church with the high tolerance for eccentricity that we allow—indeed celebrate! Some people want ESUC to move more deliberately in this direction; some want the church to move the opposite way. Since I arrived the biggest problem—in my estimation—is a certain lack of trust regarding others’ motives. And this is accentuated—not among everyone, but among too many by a habit you’ve fallen into of choosing sides on the various issues coming before the group for consideration (which is to be expected and perfectly natural) and then seeming to hang on to whichever side you were on even after the issue fades away. Which is kind of curious. Why? I kept asking myself, would you do such a thing?

Here’s what I think. This church is a good church. It has a wonderful, honored history and has been served by many heroic leaders, lay and professional. Moreover: you’re good people. I haven’t meant anyone I do not like or want to get to know better. I cannot tell you how proud I am to serve this group! But you’ve been traumatized. Seriously traumatized by the unusually abrupt departures of three skilled and caring ministers in less than four years: Joan, Peter, and then Elaine. None of whom were perfect human beings, but all three of whom were hard-working, integral colleagues, whom I’m proud to do my best to follow. It’s not that these ministers’ departures were not timely and well considered; they were. It’s that they all happened—from the average members’ point of view—so suddenly that the minister (whom, perhaps, you leaned on while going through divorce, or your child’s struggle with delinquency, or what have you) just suddenly was gone…. And besides all that there are those, or so it seems, who are pleased that this came to pass.

Listen: Joan, Peter, and Elaine are strong people. They have all landed on their feet and all acknowledge the manifold blessings that have come to them because of and through their ministry here among you good, wonderful people. Let them go. Let them go.

I am convinced that the actual root of our problem here at ESUC, such as there is one, comes down to unexpressed (and mostly repressed) grief. And my prescription: taking time this summer to reflect on the nature of ministry, its virtues, its pitfalls, and ways to help make it truly shine. (As it has here, incidentally, several times in the long history of this church and in the ministries of these three have just held up.) I want to lead worship services this summer in which I hold up each of my immediate predecessors and honor them, respectfully and lovingly mourn them. And let them go. That’s Step One.

Step Two: Organize, collectively, to become a radically hospitable church. No holding back. Everybody on board! Committing to reaching out to newcomers by trying new ways to reach out. We need to think of the proceeds from Holly House as a Challenge Grant—challenging us to use this remarkable opportunity to put our hearts and imaginations and muscles into making ESUC a fantastic church. I will also, this summer, be co-planning with Aisha a series of outreach educational and social justice outreach efforts to get our name and our profile out there, into the community, as a beacon of progressivity and fun. Yes: fun! Good, growing congregations have fun together, lots of fun. And that has to be part of our growth plan, too, if it’s going to enlist our whole hearts.

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Step Three: Celebrating as we go along! This morning we consider ESUC as a garden. Kind of an English garden, for sure: jumbled and haphazard and kind of wild, nevertheless there’s room for all kinds of flowers and for all kinds of people in this garden: even you. Even me. The lay leaders of this Congregation are not perfect people. But they are good people, trying hard to live up to our Unitarian Universalist Principles, and doing the best they can. I admire them and respect them all. The budget you raised, the Board, and Nominating Committee members you are about to elect: these are all the product of hard and generous, collective efforts.

The choir’s and other musicians’ efforts come forth in song. The Board’s efforts come forth in the agenda you will, no doubt, quickly and graciously plow through and vote on shortly: less melodious perhaps, but every bit as important to the life of this congregation as the music program or meals shared together at pot-luck Suppers, potlucks, and Auction-sponsored social events. Other wonderful contributions include:

  • Our Religious Education teachers and volunteers;
  • Those who have facilitated Covenant Circles;
  • East Shore Live! and
  • The Right Relations Circles and other restorative practices to help dismantle oppression, beginning among ourselves.

Let us this morning celebrate what you’ve got going here, and the contributions of those who make all this possible. (Hip, hip: Hooray! Hip, hip: Hooray! Hip, hip: Hooray!) And just as we celebrate today’s flower communion: rejoicing in the cockamamie mélange that is us: flowers of every type, seemingly thrown together on the slapdash…and yet the whole: strangely resilient and remarkable beautiful. Each individual blossom wonderful by itself, and yet even more lovely the bouquet as a whole—made up of flowers of every type, all different and yet all in harmony: unity amidst diversity. May it be. May it ever be. And may we be part of it—our best part—today, and every day hereafter for years to come. Amen.