Midweek Faith Lift
July 21, 2021
Welcome to Unity of Ames, Welcome Home!
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Faith is a withholding of conclusion so that you allow what is to arise.
BE THE CHANGE:
The next time you have an instantaneous judgment come up about someone, or something -- see if you can summon the curiosity to step past it, and see what there is to discover on the other side.
From July 11, 2021 Daily Good.org
This past year, since our last birthday celebration in 2020 has been a journey of this kind of faith. It has been a continual withholding of conclusion and a constant process of “learning to be with what is” and allowing it to arise. If you want a powerful object lesson in how you are “not in control” then just attempt a live, online broadcast of a Sunday church service. Last week, a number of Ames Area ministers got together in person for the first time since March 12, 2020, and shared stories of how it has been to do “online church,” I recalled how at that meeting, most of us were going to have “live church” in church on Sunday March 15, and then no one did….but us!
We were finally completely online from my home by the last Sunday in March.
It was a powerful step into my instantaneous negative judgment of doing “online church” and a summoning of curiosity to try to move past the resistance and “see what there was to discover on the other side.” A lot missteps and a pretty steep learning curve for me and for my blessed tech support team of Elza McGaffin and Jim Trenberth. Both of them became the “Minister Whisperer” to keep me going. My husband, Todd, became my PPA- Permanent Platform Assistant, a job he was not really ready to embrace on that basis!
I am forever grateful because we were not at all prepared!! Our internet was not strong enough, we had no online music licenses and the whole FaceBook/ Livestream was a mystery! I remember waking up one Sunday and wondering aloud why in the world I had NOT retired when I turned 65 in 2017!! What was I thinking….what conclusion about all this was I withholding so that I could walk this kind of faith journey?
As the Ames Minister group shared their experiences, I shared the story of how, when I was doing the service from home, just about exactly a year ago, a silk flower arrangement caught fire behind me and I saw it on my computer screen before I realized it was really happening in my study! “Holy Smoke, Church is on Fire!!” That was the ONE Sunday Todd took off and I did the whole service myself. I put out the flames in the bathroom sink and when he got home, he wondered what smelled??? The Ames ministers all laughed and called me a “Pentecostal Preacher!”
My other favorite story was from Dave Russell, Pastor at First Baptist. We were all very challenged by Holy Week and Easter. They wanted to do something special so they arranged for the Halleluia Chorus from the Messiah to be recorded for the service. The day they were recording the service, the music director’s dog was there, not unusual for rehearsals. Well, normally this pup is very well-behaved, but this time he got up, ran around in circles, and started howling right along with the Halleluia Chorus! That is an Easter they will never forget!!! Everyone had a story of dropped connections, things not getting recorded on time, or not playing back very well. It was “the best of times and it was the worst of times….” With everything in between and a lot of good stories along the way.
What has been so interesting to me is that to understand the spiritual Power and the energy of Faith, normally we quote the scripture, Hebrews 11:1-3
The Meaning of Faith
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. (NRSV)
This past year, I have to admit that this understanding of faith was a bit of a stretch for me. I was not at all sure what to hope for and I honestly did not have a clear conviction of “things not yet seen.” Our three times a week prayer call was quite honestly a lifeline to holding a consciousness of this kind of faith, especially as Covid numbers and deaths kept increasing nationwide and the US had more than any other country. Our regular prayers together helped sustain faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity despite the horrific death of George Floyd and all the resistance to the protesters. Our prayer circle was a lifeline of holding the high watch during the election and aftermath as we all learned to walk a different path of faith, the path described in the opening quote, the path of learning to be with what is and withholding conclusions.
I have to say the first time I came to Ames to work from church on a Wednesday after the initial lockdown lifted, it was a bit unnerving. I left church that evening and forgot my black bag with my laptop! I was all the way to Ankeny when I realized it was not in the car, and I had to turn around and drive back to Ames to get it! I had no choice as I was doing the service from home and had to have my computer to do it! As we gradually returned to a “new” normal of doing the service from the sanctuary and having live music with Bryan, wearing masks and “seeing” each other from a social distance, it began to feel less surreal.
Having socially distanced lunches and birthday celebrations together restored some sense of connection and community. Celebrating the State Fair by having ice cream treats on a stick last year in August was another way to navigate this strange new Covid dominated world. Little things felt like big gifts…..like finally being granted permission to sing the Peace Song during a live, online service. It has been a long journey of being with “what is here now” and finding the joy in the now moment. I was trying to remember what it was I talked about for much of last year, and I really had to stop and think about that! We were doing the Stations of the Cosmic Christ and when that was complete, we did The Book of Joy, which was truly a God-send!
As we have journeyed this year on a new path of faith that has taught us to be with what is and to cultivate curiosity about it, withholding judgment and leaning into our resistance, we can come to a place of appreciating the gifts of the Pandemic. One big lesson for me was how deeply I appreciated your emotional and financial support and faithfulness to our spiritual community. Somehow we managed to stay connected via Facebook, prayer circle phone calls, socially distanced lunches, and Chaplain Dinners and through the online Sunday service and Wednesday meditation. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the UCOA Board who adapted to Zoom meetings, all of you who attended our Zoom annual meeting, and those who still attend Zoom classes. Thank you, all!
It is still weird for me to speak to a camera on Sunday. TV Preacher was never my thing! I know you are there, and I know there are a lot of people who may not watch the service on Sunday, but they do watch it later. We get tracking data about this and we are truly a church without walls. There have been Sundays when most of you are online and we also have all the folks from Unity Northwest with us! That has been another blessing of this journey…we have a sister church to share the journey. That has truly been a joy! Thank you, Rev. Elizabeth and Unity Northwest!
So today, when we celebrate re-opening the church with a “Welcome Home!” what do we mean? Because in many respects, it doesn’t seem like we ever left, and yet things are different. When we think of a homecoming, it is usually in relationship to a high school or a university or college, not a church, right? Or we think of welcoming home returning soldiers and others who have been away. For some people, home was not such a happy place and a “homecoming” does not really sound like a happy event. No thanks, happy to get away from there and no need to go back….ever! That is truly a valid response to the idea, for sure.
However, as I have been sitting in prayer with this “welcome home” idea, it has become clear to me that what it means to me is a somewhat unique concept that applies to everyone who is part of our community: online folks and in-person folks. Let’s think of “home” in a more abstract way, as in home is where the heart is!” Jesus, after all, was an itinerant preacher/teacher. He did not have a temple or a synagogue for his ministry. He did not have a home at all, but was a wandering rabbi! And after he was no longer on the earth plane, his earliest followers met in each other’s homes to remember, share meals and pray and baptize one another. Today we call that a “house church,” and there are many communities that do it that way.
What I believe is true for us as a spiritual community is that we have actually found a home in each other’s hearts. During this challenging time we have opened our hearts to each other and we have kept our minds engaged with spiritual principles and truth. We have held the light for each other during this unprecedented challenge of pandemic, derecho and social upheaval. So that is what I believe “HOME” really means: Heart Open; Mind Engaged! So whether we are together in a building or online on Zoom, Facebook or whatever, we are HOME: Hearts Open; Minds Engaged! Welcome to Unity of Ames, Welcome Home!
Blessings on the Path!