The Blessings We Didn’t Want

By Megan Foley

An outstretched hand, palm facing the camera, with a rainbow of light cast on it by a prism.

I don’t blame you for being fed up with this fall’s church planning.

We had about a minute in, when, June? when we in congregations thought we were on the path to pandemic freedom. I don’t know about you but I definitely was imagining A Return To Normal Church. And even though we were talking about planning for multi-platform and asking each other for hugging consent and figuring out what to do with unvaccinated kids, if you’re like me you may have been thinking that was just “preparation”, which somehow wasn’t the same as The Real Future.

Now you’re using all that preparation and weathering the rocky seas of Not Knowing What’s Next and having to plan, cancel, plan again, assess, listen, use a plan that you thought you’d never need, experiment, mess up, tweak, listen some more, manage expectations…it’s TIRING and we’re SICK OF IT.

But… in many ways, this is a blessing. Really. Just maybe not exactly in the way you think.

When I was in seminary, I was taught that the concept of being blessed, especially by God, had gotten quite a clean up in the centuries since the bible was put together.

Nowadays we seem to use the term to mean ‘good luck!’ or ‘hope everything turns out well!’ or even ‘have a good day!’ But it was different in the bible stories. In those stories, being blessed by the divine came with additional responsibilities and often additional struggle. It was the sort of thing you wouldn’t be chosen for or enter into lightly. Think of Mary being “blessed” with child – no small thing, was that. Wondrous, miraculous, some say life-saving….but Mary’s life was challenged to the extreme by that blessing.

I’m not saying that congregations managing COVID 19 protocols this fall of 2021 rise to quite Mary’s level of ‘blessing’ – but I do think we’re doing exactly the difficult work that we need to do, whether we enjoy it or not. And we are ‘blessed’ to have the dubious privilege of working so hard on it.

Our congregations were long overdue for a course correction by spring of 2020. We needed to spend some intentional and lengthy time thinking about why we existed, who we served, whether or not our practices aligned with our faith, and how and why Unitarian Universalism makes a unique contribution in the world. But we hesitated to jump in because who wants to do that sort of work? What might we discover on the other end of it? Generally it was those congregations already in crisis who were most willing to ask these sorts of important questions, and move through them to vitality and relevance on the other side.

Opposite arrows drawn on chalk board labelled "old way" and "new way"

Well, we’ve all been in crisis this past year. It’s been a biblical-style blessing. Despite the pain and work it’s been a rich time for identifying and committing to our purpose. We’ve been forced to ask whether we matter, to whom we matter, and how much. And when we’ve asked those questions earnestly…the answers have been gratifying and energizing.

We didn’t want to keep doing it, though, did we? We wanted to have it behind us so we could slip back into our old comforting patterns, the patterns where we didn’t have to question everything or listen to everyone, the patterns where things were predictable. I know I did. Comfort and routines, however, are not what our churches really need.

Church, going forward, needs to be relevant, so we need to be able to change things easily to suit changing needs. Congregations need to be founded on trust among their members, so we need to be able to communicate kindly and thoughtfully. And Unitarian Universalist congregations need to have a core of inclusivity and pursuit of Beloved Community, so we must keep the circle wide and make sure those who are struggling in our communities don’t get left out.

We are blessed to be able to do the work of reinvigorating and reforming our congregations, even when it’s tiring and we’re sick of it. Our faith is a blessing on this world, a hard-won blessing, one that you are gestating and birthing and nurturing right now, this very fall of 2021. The work isn’t easy, but it is worth it. A thousand times over, worth it. And you are never alone in doing it; we are all in it together, with you, always.

About the Author

Megan Foley

Rev. Dr. Megan Foley serves as Regional Lead for the Central East Region staff. Before joining regional staff she served for six years as the minister of the Sugarloaf Congregation of Unitarian Universalists in Germantown, Maryland....

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