New address: 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210-1409.
Today is “Association Sunday,” the day the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has declared that we should focus not on our own congregation but on the wider Unitarian Universalism. Now as soon as I say that there will be some people who’ll no doubt think, “who are they to tell us what to do? Just who do they think they are telling us to celebrate Association Sunday?”
And, actually, that’s a good question. But let’s put it another way—who do we think they are?
When most people think of the UUA they think of the people who work at 25 Beacon Street in Boston, or the people around the country who work with them. But those people are more properly called “the staff of the Association.” They’re the people who work for the UUA. The UUA itself is better known by its full name: The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. The UUA is really the UUA of C. The UUA is, in a very real way, not a thing in and of itself but is instead a coming together of each and every one of the free and independent Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country. And that means that when the UUA declares this or that, it is really the association of congregations that is declaring it. Today is Association Sunday because we are celebrating it, and so are [name four or five other congregations in the District and throughout the country that are celebrating Association Sunday], not the other way around.
So today is Association Sunday because we’ve said it is, and because, if you want to know the truth, there ought to be at least one day out of all the other days of the year that we set aside—like Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day—to remember something that we ought to be thinking about all the other days as well. Our Association literally would not exist without its member congregations, but we all would be infinitely less without it. We all, each of us, this congregation need the UUA (of C) because by coming together in Association with other Unitarian Universalists we are capable of things that would be unthinkable if we were left on our own.
Now is not the time to rattle off a list of ways we benefit by being a part of the UUA. Things like [here you could name a few things like ministerial settlement services, district services, lifespan faith development curricula, worship resources, our two hymnals, public witness on issues of national importance, etc. and, of course, if there are ways your congregation has specifically benefited recently, these should be highlighted] shouldn’t even need to be mentioned. It should be obvious that together we are more than any of us alone.
And so the purpose of our Association Sunday is not to convince anyone of the importance of our association but to encourage us to deepen and grow our association so that our movement might flourish. And of the need for that, too, there should be no doubt. Just take a look at the world we live in. Read the headlines; listen to the news. [You could insert a couple of examples here if you like.] Is there any doubt that a faith such as ours, that religious communities such as this one, have a place in our world today? That the world needs what we have?
So the first Association Sunday, in 2007, looked at the need to grow our movement’s numbers, the need for us to find ways to increase the number of Unitarian Universalists in the world. It was once estimated that on average a Unitarian Universalist invites someone to her or his congregation once every seventy five years! Obviously that has got to change, and it is changing. The staff who work for the Association have been doing work on national media campaigns, and many of our congregations have doing the same on the local level—getting the word out, without proselytizing, that there’s something going on here worth checking out. [If you’ve been doing something, or if a congregation near you has, this would be a place to raise it up.] About half of the money raised during the 2007 Association Sunday—over $700,000—went to supporting the national media campaign (those ads in Time magazine that created quite a buzz); an additional $300,000 plus went back to the Districts to support local efforts to grow the movement; and an additional $300,000 plus went into a national initiative to increase the racial and ethnic diversity in our ordained ministry.
The second Association Sunday, in 2008, focused on growth in spirit, and the funds raised—considerably less that the first but still nearly half a million dollars—were split between supporting lay theological education and efforts to support excellence in our professional ministries.
This year Association Sunday is focusing on growth in diversity, and the monies we raise will help our movement to develop spiritual communities that are more welcoming to ALL people by:
You see, it doesn’t really matter all that much if we grow the size of our congregations and our movement, and deepen the spiritual maturity of our congregations, if at the end of the day we still look, sound, and act pretty much like we do right now. If the only people we attract are carbon copies of the people who are already here... well, we’re already here!
And it’s true that there are other folk out there like us who need what we have. But it’s also true that there are other folk—folk who in very real ways are not like us—and they need it too. And what’s more, they have things that we need. Their very difference is needed, because too much sameness is stultifying.
No one likes change. People may say they do, but deep down people really only like change when it’s other people who are doing the changing. Yet we Unitarian Universalists are spiritually mature enough to know that whether we like it or not we need change. That’s why we believe that even our beliefs—even our most cherished beliefs—should be held lightly, open to revision, because we know the importance of evolution in every facet of life. Growth, movement, change, evolution, transformation—in the long run the only alternative is extinction. Death.
And so this year’s Association Sunday is not just about “growth in diversity” but also about “growth through diversity.” Now in many ways Unitarian Universalism is a pretty diverse religious tradition. We certainly are theologically. And we are around issues of sexuality and sexual identity. And our understanding about issues of race is pretty good, even though the actual experience in the majority of our congregations is still pretty white. And if we’re honest with ourselves we have miles to go on issues of class. So for all the diversity we have to celebrate there is still much work to do.
Yet as a movement we recognize that this is important work to do. It’s important for the world, because we are too small a planet for us not to find ways to turn these divisions and distinctions from barriers and barricades into beautifying parts of the landscape, from reasons for us to be suspicious of one another into reasons for us to want to get to know one another, from causes of hostility into causes of celebration. It’s important for us as individuals, too, because the more we expand our contact with people who are different from ourselves, the wider and deeper we can grow, the richer our own lives can be. It’s not always easy. Heck, it’s hardly ever easy. But we know it’s right.
Here, we... [and this is a good place to talk about how it is in your congregation. What are the realities—the successes and the challenges of your congregation—viz a viz diversity? What are the realities of your wider community? Are there any initiatives underway? Any plans in the works you could announce? Anything to celebrate? Here’s a good place to do it. Perhaps you might consider looking into offering the Building the World We Dream About curriculum in the coming year, as one example.]
Our congregation is a voluntary association of individuals who have come together to create [Name of your church]. Similarly, our congregation and over one thousand others have voluntarily joined together to create an association known as the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. It is us; we are they. And the world needs the UUA, just as our community needs us. Today we have the opportunity to help strengthen our movement for generations to come by deepening our efforts to grow in and through diversity so that we don’t just talk the talk but actually walk the walk.
[It is suggested that the offering come after this sermon.]
Association Sunday 2009
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Last updated on Monday, September 16, 2013.
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