I have an increasing love and appreciation for our homecoming service. Only one out of my 24 was rained on. A week or so before each one I look carefully at the long-range forecast.
This year’s service was, in a word, great. We gathered on the lawn, standing under sunny skies—too many for a single circle, now. Big groups clustered in the shady spots under the trees, and a growing group of older folks sat on the balcony.
As I walked along Compo Beach this morning, watching the sunrise, I kept thinking about our homecoming service and for some reason I remembered my older brother Chet’s homing pigeons. He built a pigeon hut with a system that allowed them to enter through a small, one-way door. Once they came in they couldn’t get out.
I remember how he would bring one or more of the birds when we drove somewhere and he’d release them when we were ready to drive home to see if they would be waiting when we arrived, and they always would. They didn’t have to stop for red lights or traffic.
He named each of them; he loved those birds and did his best to protect them from harm, though he lost a few to predators. They came in a wide variety of colorful patterns with some unusual configurations of fluffy feathers.
There’s a lot of speculation about what enables pigeons to find their way home, from the earth’s magnetism to their sense of smell. The homing pigeon is a select breed of domesticated Rock Pigeon. I smiled as I compared Chet’s homing pigeons to our flock. We come in an increasingly wide variety of colorful patterns with some unusual configurations.
Some among us were born and raised in Unitarian Universalist homes. About 5%. Most of us, though, found our way here after flying the coop. We come from every brand of Christianity; many of us grew up in Jewish households, practicing or non-practicing. Some grew up in Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist homes. Some were raised by families that stayed away from religion altogether.
Sometimes people refer to religious leaders as pastors who shepherd their flock—of sheep. That metaphor doesn’t work well for us! Besides, it’s the sheepdog that guards and herds the sheep. We Unitarian clergy generally refer to ourselves as ministers, from the Latin verb ‘to serve.’
It’s an honorable thing, to serve, of course. The verb to serve is rooted in the Latin servus, a root shared with the word servile ‘to be abjectly submissive.’
I don’t think of you as one of the flock, needing a shepherd. But I chose a life of service, and I’ve found deep meaning in serving. It’s extremely rare when someone has made me feel servile. On those few rare occasions I’ve done what I needed to do to take care of myself—to preserve a sense of humble self-respect, which is the first responsibility of those who serve.
You and I came here by choice. Our homecoming service is a powerful reminder of the hopes and needs that brought us together, and the sacred quality of mutual respect on which we build this congregation. Those were my thoughts this morning as I watched the sunrise on Compo.