Stewardship Sunday Remarks by Kevin Jagoe, Lee Pardee, Parrish Turner, Joy Gabriel
All of Us, Part 1 – Kevin Jagoe, Ministerial Intern
Rebellions are built on hope.
You have seen images of this amazing community this morning and soon you will hear from several of our members. Classes taught, youth group activities, worship services, choir performances, our spectacular building that holds so much of this. And so many images of us out in the world, putting our values into action. Proclaiming our message of hope all around Brooklyn and New York, Washington, and places around the country. We’ve walked, taken trains, marched, bussed, and flown to show up for our audacious vision of a world where love wins.
Religious communities are built on hope too. When people first step through our doors, they are hoping for something. Maybe that something cannot even be named yet. A few words that have been named are:
Connection. Family. Community. Love. Healing. Lament. Justice. Laughter. Hope.
We have a community where we do not need to name the same sources of inspiration. We do not need to have the same things guiding our inner lives. This is the product of a radical change in how those who came before us thought about religion.
What holds us together is the call to hope, to love, and to action. We Unitarian Universalists are defined by what we do as much as what we say. And we love words, but we are at our best when they move us to action.
That is what I’ve seen as I’ve joined you here at First Unitarian Society. A community that celebrates in worship on Sundays, learns together throughout the week, helps one another when called upon, and raises inspiring children and young people. And you love a good protest! You also set goals and make them happen. Time and time again.
I have been honored to hear your stories. I’ve heard so many people this fall and winter say that this place, this community, has helped make meaning out of the chaos of this election. People have been inspired to do things they didn’t think possible.
While we are literally in a Sanctuary this very moment. I think the true power of First Unitarian is to help keep us going the rest of the week. To create a sense of Sanctuary within us. For those times we need to know there are others out there who believe in the world we believe in.
It is through the connections formed here, in this place, that a sense of Sanctuary is formed. Over time, moment layered on moment. This community is the center for so many of the relationships that hold us when we need to be held the most. And over time, it is through your support that this place of hope is possible.
One way we support this place is financially. We are not about one protest, one Sunday, or one cause here. We are about the long haul and sustained action. For more than one hundred and eighty years we have passed the torch of liberal values from generation to generation. Through good times and bad, we’ve gathered together to support one another. I hope over the next six weeks of our stewardship campaign you will think about how to support First Unitarian. Now is the time to create our generation’s legacy.
Our task is to build this place, to create a hub to support living out the values we hold dear:
So that we can continue to show up to the next call for action,
And provide a sanctuary for renewal,
For each one of us today,
And to remember those who brought this place into being,
For the generations to come,
And to keep the rebellious spirit burning bright,
For All of Us.
All of Us Generosity Testimonial By, Lee Pardee
My name is Lee Pardee. I have been attending First U Brooklyn for over 30 years, and I currently serve as president of the Board of Trustees.
I came to First U Brooklyn originally because I was having a hard time in my life. Before I came I had a pretty bad opinion of church. I thought it was for losers and people who were irrational. I was pretty much an atheist, anti-church snob. But I had heard about Unitarianism from a roommate and I walked in the door.
And then I sat in the back and cried through the services for most of a year.
And then I helped out at UniFair and made a couple of friends.
And then I ushered.
And then I joined the choir, and I made friends who were a lot older than me.
And then I helped organize Sunday dinners with a local homeless shelter, and buses to Washington for justice marches.
And then I taught religious education to the 3 and 4 year-olds and made friends who were a lot younger than me.
And now it is over 30 years later and I can’t imagine my life without Unitarian Universalism and this congregation. I am still an atheist – though I prefer to name my identity as a UU religious humanist. As a humanist, I feel blessed to be a member of this congregation where my atheism is no big deal and is genuinely honored as an expression of my “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” (that’s one of our UU principles) and where I have been encouraged in my spiritual growth (another of our principles), including being encouraged and welcomed to preach on my religious atheism.
I feel genuinely deprived whenever I have to miss a Sunday and my weekly dose of inspiration and joy and encouragement to be the moral and ethical and brave person I want to be. (Thank goodness we are streaming services now!)
I am grateful to be strengthened by the support of a like-minded community that names and acts on what is good and what is bad; what is right and what is wrong. I am blessed to be in this living congregation of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and abilities where we care for each other, help children grow into wonderful human beings, and work together for justice and stewardship of the earth.
I pledge generously to this congregation because it gives me so much spiritual sustenance, because I think Unitarian Universalism is the best religion in the world – for me – and I hope for you, and because this congregation is where we can work together to create the world we want to live in – a beloved community for All of Us.
Remarks by Parrish Turner
My name is Parrish and I grew up going to Catholic Parish School of Religion. That was only confusing for a few years. But I soon turned my inquisitive nature to other questions. I frustrated my teachers with questions about inconsistencies or as I called them, plot holes, and other strange philosophical questions about the nature of sin and afterlife. Instead of discussing my bizarre questions, my teachers laughed as they called me heathen. I was once given a book by one particularly concerned teacher which walked me through philosophical questions which lead to the conclusion that a Christian God must be real. I disagreed on chapter three and stopped reading it.
In college, I found myself in a small town in Georgia sitting at a bar with an ex-Mormon, a freshly converted Mormon, a gay man studying to become an Episcopal priest, a Druid, and a 70 year old UU minister. It sounds like the start of a joke, but this is what our friends called “pub theology.” We had many more faces move in and out, but we had made a space where all were welcome and we wanted to learn from each other’s difference. We wanted to have tough discussions, heated debates about the nature of goodness and which season of American Horror Story was the best.
We were a group of religious misfits who had all left whatever we had been raised in search of something more loving. We all believed that our world could be better. The methods looked a little different and we often fought over what change might look like. But we wanted to push each other, to share our stories with each other, to learn from each other.
It was one of these friends who pushed me to seek out First Unitarian when I first moved to Brooklyn. “Worst case scenario, maybe you get a boyfriend out of it.” Well that hasn’t happened yet.
Last summer, a huge portion of First U walked in the Brooklyn Pride Parade. Many of us ended up in a bar laughing and talking loudly over each other. The conversation shifted quickly, sharing positive memories, discussing hard topics where we couldn’t reach a conclusion, and enjoying each other’s company. That night was the same night of the Pulse shooting in Orlando. After most of us had headed back home, a strange man in a city on the other side of the country entered the sacred space of the gay bar and opened fire. The next morning, we filled in for service in a much more sober tone. I spent the service holding hands with those around me, checking my phone for updates on the number of dead. But I had First U to hold me in those moments.
In the madness that is the big city, it is hard to find any sense of community to root into. But in the times of strife, in challenging times, I have found a place that I know I can turn to. In good times, full of excitement, I know I have a place. There is a place where people of all kinds can sit together and celebrate our differences. Though we may disagree, we have learned to do so out of love. And we recognize that, often, through conflict come the most beautiful new discoveries.
ALL OF US by Joy Gabriel
When I was growing up a devout Mormon girl, I was taught we are all part of the same big family and we need each other to attain salvation. That sounds dangerously Unitarian, doesn’t it?
The less Unitarian part is that people can be cut out of the family circle. People with questions about race or gender or sexuality, people with questions. So everyone in this room basically.
I lived under palpable threat. When I was a teenager, my mom said the Lord told her there was something wrong with me. I still don’t know why. Unnamed, “fill in the blank” unworthiness. A broken-ness that could not be fixed.
I thought it was just me.
Until my brother and my father in law came out around the same time. This was not “fill in the blank” unworthiness. This had a label. And they were swiftly cut out of our communities. The easy brutality of it, the inhumanity of it, shook me to my foundation. I found it hard to say “get with the program or get out” because I had been trying to get with the program my whole life. I couldn’t fix what was just ME.
We had a God, a religion, a family that said, “We are all connected, no one gets left behind, we will take care of each other. Except you. There’s something wrong with you.” All our systems failed us.
Yes, we left the church but it had already left us. And it was a punch in the gut to hear cherished family say I ruined their life and they couldn’t love or respect me anymore, but I already didn’t have a place there.
It’s heartbreaking to see the forces that divided my church and family take over my country now too. I thought I was finally free from this.
But my childhood religion was not wrong about one thing. We are all part of the same family and we do need each other to attain salvation. Not the kind that gets you to heaven. I’m not looking for heaven anymore. I’m looking for humanity. I found it here. Along with something no therapist could give me. Because I was cut out of family and community, there was work I couldn’t do alone. None of us can. I needed you. You can call that salvation if you want. I only know that I stand here a different woman than I was a year ago.
I fought through the darkness for a long time and transformed my entire world to give my children a chance to live in a different one from where I grew up. I never imagined this kind of world existed or that when I found it there would be such power behind it. That’s why I’m not ceding this ground to anyone. Certainly not on an Electoral College technicality.
Because this is my religion. It’s not a shared belief in a Supreme Being or a set of ancient rules we agree to live by, but a shared vision of the world we see as possible.
Because this isn’t just about my kids. It’s about yours too. It’s about the immigrant separated from her parents. It’s not just about affirming my own worth and dignity. It’s about my brother. And Parrish. And all LGBTQ lives. And Black Lives. It is taking care of each other, and standing for justice together, because we are all human beings.
This is my religion.
No one gets left behind.
That’s why I give to First U. On behalf of the Stewardship Team, we ask you to give enough of yourself and your means to feel generous but not burdened. My definition of generous was different when I first walked through the door than it is today. Back then I couldn’t even find the voice to stand and introduce myself. I let your strength bring me here. Give from where you are. We will rise to meet you. And I believe the Universe will rise to meet US. Whatever is coming, we are in this together. ALL OF US.