The word congregation is from the Latin congregatio, from the verb congregare, ‘to herd together…to collect into a flock.’
That sounds dangerously like a herd of sheep, which any self-respecting Unitarian Universalist rejects out of hand.
Our Congregation is more like a gathering of shepherds, not sheep! Like our U.S. declaration of independence we say: ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal…’
But we’re not separate from one another—we are more likely to sign a declaration of interdependence…
Nearly 500 years ago William Tyndale translated the Bible into English, which was a heretical thing to do (for which he was ultimately executed, by the way – burned at the stake, like so many of our UU forbears).
Note: The word heresy is rooted in the verb ‘to choose.’ Heresy is sometimes confused with apostasy, the denunciation of one’s former religion; it’s also confused with blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion; all of which we have to plead ‘guilty as charged.’
Tyndale rendered the Greek ekklesia, ‘those called together,’ as congregation rather than the former translation of ekklesia as church.
The point for today is that our spiritual forbears dreamed of religious freedom; they were the sorts who initiated the Reformation…our roots are not only in the so-called Reformation, but the ongoing re-formation…the individual, life-long process of forming our own religion, or our own personal brand of spirituality, if you will.
Many of our forebears gave their lives to win this freedom …a freedom we take very seriously.
Thus the line in our hymn: ‘guard we well the crown they won; what they dreamed be ours to do, hope their hopes and seal them true.’
They dreamed of religious freedom – freedom from having religion imposed by the state…we inherited that freedom, thanks to Thomas Jefferson and others.
We’ve inherited freedom from the imposition of religion; our hope is to use that freedom to build our own personal faith system…which requires an inner, personal freedom – a freedom we associate with our UU faith.
We are, in a very real sense, a gathering of heretics – a congregation free of religious dogma, free of creeds that ‘bind the mind,’ and stifle the spirit.
Today we remind ourselves of that freedom and the work we have before us. So we re-dedicate ourselves to that work.
We come together as a congregation to be supported in our quest…to be inspired to continue our personal spiritual journey…to educate our children so that they will understand the origin of all the religions of the world and they will be encouraged in their own spiritual journey.
We come together as a congregation to connect with one another, and to re-connect with a divided self when we go through significant changes.
We come together as a congregation to find ways to make our individual and collective contribution to a world-in-the-making – using the mythology in the story of creation that says that God created the world in six days, rested on the seventh, and put the ongoing work of creation in our hands – on the eighth day.
This is the eighth day. This is our congregation. ‘We built it!’ But we didn’t do it by ourselves: ‘comrades gone before (who lived) lives that speak and deeds that beckon,’ as the hymn says.
This is a transitional year for us, as a congregation.
We’re fortunate to have an energetic team of congregants who are working on what we’re calling “Our Future Story.”
Out of a mountain of ideas and concerns, with input from nearly 300 congregants, about 120 of whom have participated in one or more of the special gatherings, they’ve been carving and polishing a mission statement which says:
“The Unitarian Church of Westport is a diverse and welcoming religious community, free of creed and dogma, and open to people of all backgrounds and faiths.
WE INSPIRE and support individual spiritual growth.
WE CONNECT through worship, music, leaning and caring ministries.
WE ACT in the service of peace and justice.”
They’ve been polishing a vision statement that says:
“We strive to be a growing, financially stable, religious community that is known to value diversity in our membership and programs. We continuously develop the strength of our worship, education and music programs, and the positive impact of our social justice programs and community service.”
This is going to be a very special year, indeed. I hope you’ll find ways to be involved in this work in the months ahead.