It is not uncommon for people unfamiliar with the North Chapel Universalist Society to ask some form of the question: What is this? What should one expect? Who are you?
It is always a joy to try to answer that question on behalf of this community of generous, happy and soulful people who, sometimes, when we gather together, call it church.
Perhaps, I would begin by saying that it is nothing much – this gathering – this organization. It is not that big a deal. It is not salvation. It is not with any certainty the gathering of the chosen people of God. We are fairly circumspect about morality in general. There is not even any confident claim, that I know of, to a rendering of “the truth” although we do offer our own perspectives.
It is just a sweetness, a pause for those whose lives are hectic; a communion for ordinary people – those who struggle or keep too many secrets or feel isolated. It is a gathering of intentionally thoughtful people whose view of the world is liberal and expansive and who covenant and promise each other kindness and respect. It is always an invitation to see, to look, to listen and to be curious and awake in the world.
It is, for many of us, a centerpiece on the table of our week. A little salt and lemon and butter on the asparagus for those who like asparagus and who like it a little bit crisp – not overcooked and limp. It is a piece of music for those who realize they have been preoccupied. It is a chance to sing some of that music or take note of a poem or share a story. Sharing stories is an important part of who we are and what we do.
John Ruskin once said, “The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw….To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion – all in one.”
Perhaps that doesn’t say it all but it comes pretty close. We also love to be active. Sometimes, we like the seeing to be an entry point to some action, personal or collective… when that could do some good. But it is mostly about the human souls, each human soul seeing and telling.
Every person’s, every soul’s, every individual’s sight and voice adds to this sweetness and this gathering. Each person makes it not only richer but also gives us more balance so that it doesn’t ever become too sweet, or too salty, or have too much butter. But even when we don’t get it completely right, and sometimes we don’t, even that, in such a setting as this, brings it’s own delightful inversions and serendipities and balance. Sometimes without being willing to take some risks, without some willingness to be vulnerable, to be a fool….. this kind of endeavor easily can become meaningless and unwelcoming.
It is all a reflection – a mirror held up so as to be able to see – sometimes ourselves, sometimes others. It is intended to help us learn and practice to be in meaningful, honest and authentic relationships. Too much of our lives in this society and too much of our culture is “cramming in isolation” so that we can appear to know everything we are supposed to know but forever carry the uncertainty of it as an underlying static and deep anxiety.
So, if you would like to have a sense of what this is, I invite you to imagine a shoreline – the edge of a great ocean. Sometimes we find ourselves together, gazing out at the great ocean, but most often, we are focused on a fire that we have built on the beach in the center of our circle, throwing sparks and burning orange and blue while we sing and share our stories of the journeys we have made to get here and the journeys we might anticipate in leaving here. We light that fire every time we are together and welcome anyone who might like to join in the circle.