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Celebrating Our Generosity: Funding Our Faith Worship Service, General Assembly 2004
General Assembly 2004 Event 2078
The Annual Program Fund and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Stewardship Award Sermon Award Service
"How much more do you think you need to buy in order to be happy?" asked Bonnie Dlott in a sermon titled, "Wanting, Getting and Giving." Dlott, a fourth-year seminary student at Starr King School for the Ministry, was delivering the annual Stewardship Award sermon. The Annual Program Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association give an award annually for a sermon on creating and sustaining support for Unitarian Universalism, including financial commitment to affirming our faith, vision, and values at the local or national level.
Dlott began by telling a story of how she received a "message from the universe" one night, in the form of a loud thump from within her closet. She opened her closet to find that the closet rod had pulled out of the wall and fallen down. She decided the universe was telling her, "You have too many clothes."
In a class in seminary, she had previously learned how Americans tend to have too many things, too many material objects. The instructor of the class asked, "What means the most to you? What would you save if your house was burning and you had 10 minutes?" Dlott realized that she would not try to save all her clothes.
"Why do I have so many outfits?" she asked herself. "Because I want them!" When she purchased a new outfit, she felt transformed into a new person. "Each piece of clothing is a transformational opportunity." But she also felt that those transformations did not last more than two or three days.
"I was starting to feel I understood my own wanting," she said. She wanted transformation; she wanted to become a better person. But she began to question whether just buying a new outfit really made her a new person. "Can transformation be accomplished by just getting things?"
When Dlott thought of the things that had really caused transformation for her, the truly transformational events in her life were all a result of some lifelong commitment. For example, she wanted children, she got children, but she was really transformed by "the giving and the giving and the giving and the giving" to her children. Through her children, she learned that she was stronger than before, learned that she wasn't perfect but that she would be loved anyway. "I had been transformed by the giving that happened, after the wanting and giving."
"Money is something that means a lot to us, and so does our faith," Dlott continued, "and I believe that the way we use our money should have something to do with our faith." Obviously, we must meet the needs of our lives first, such as food, clothing, and shelter. However, "Unitarian Universalists make more money than people in any other denomination, and we give less of it away.... Are we hurting ourselves by not giving? Are we missing an opportunity for real transformation?"
Dlott imagined inviting someone from her partner church, which is in a poor region of Romania, to her home in America. She imagined showing that person her "closet bursting with clothes," and then telling that person she couldn't give any more money to that partner church - money to help pay their minister, money to buy them a cow so they could have milk to drink. "How could I tell them I couldn't give any more money," said Dlott, "just so I can have money to buy more clothes so I can feel better for a few days?"
"I suspect that wanting and getting might be preventing me from becoming the person I want to be," she said. When she dies, she would rather be remembered for her love for Unitarian Universalism than having her obituary tell how she was "a snappy dresser."
"What would you give up to feed someone who was hungry? Does your checkbook register accurately reflect your faith and principles?" asked Dlott. "What kind of person do you want to be? Are you ready to be transformed into that person?"
"You have enough to make a difference," said Dlott. "We can be transformed into the people and the movement we dream of being.... We can bring our light and justice into a world that desperately needs it."
Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Joyce Holmen.