One of the blessings of getting out of your normal surroundings is that it inspires you to see thing anew when you return. Whether it is a Summer vacation, or a Board Retreat somewhere that is not your congregational space, or a sabbatical for a religious professional, changing your surroundings not only allows you new experiences, it helps you see what has become common in a new light.
That has been my experience returning to your Central East Regional staff after having spent a year as a member of the New England Regional Staff. New England is the one area of the country and of Unitarian Universalism that I had never served in my years as a church administrator, seminarian, minister, chaplain, and now regional staff. Our congregations in New England are both the same, and different than other parts of our country, and it helped me to more fully understand our living faith tradition to be amongst them for this past year.
What has been most eye-opening for me, however, has been the things about our Central East Region that coming back has helped me to see. Things that I would have just assumed and never thought about had I not had the time away in a very different system with a different set of assumptions. Since I have only been back with the Central East Region for one week, I am sure there are still things for me to realize, but I thought I would share just a few with you.
The first learning I have had about the Central East Region and about your Regional Staff from my time away is how important building and maintaining relationship is for both the staff and for our congregations. Relationship is both a purpose of our religious communities, and it is the primary means by which we build our religious communities. As your Regional Staff, building and fostering relationship with and between congregations is both a primary purpose of our work, and it is that same relationship that allows us to support, coach, and challenge congregations. By moving to work in another region, I realized how much of my ability to be helpful to congregations is based in trusting relationships I have built with congregations over time, and how difficult it is to do the work of supporting congregations if that trust is not there, and that relationship has not been built or maintained.
One way to understand covenant is as an intentional relationship based upon a series of promises, made in the light of something larger than ourselves. For the Hebraic ancestors of our faith, that something larger was God, but my time away helped me to see that, for me at least, that larger reality in which the relationships of covenant might rest is the vision of beloved community… the vision of a world made whole. What I saw during my time working with congregation’s in New England is that, no matter the congregation, or its history, or its location, or its theological makeup, all of our congregations at some level share a vision of a better world, with love at the center. What I saw was that there really is a centerline of vision that runs through our living faith, even if we rarely acknowledge it as such.
It is my joy to be back with you, serving the Central East Region of our Unitarian Universalist Association, and to rebuild the relationships that have been left in my absence. I want to thank the rest of the CER Team for both the grace with which they have let me go, and the joy with which I have been welcomed home… and especially to thank Paula Cole Jones for the care she has taken for my primary contact congregations whilst I have been away. I look forward to continue on the journey with all of you as we continue to build the world of justice and hope that welcomes everyone in love.
It is good to be home.