Service of the Living Tradition: A Name, A Difference, General Assembly 2017

General Assembly 2017 Event 263

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Program Description

The Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group invites you to join us at this service where we honor those who have died, recognize those who have completed active service, and welcome those who have received fellowship, credentialed or certified status in the past year. The sermon will be delivered by the Rev. Cheryl M. Walker.

A Name, A Difference

We come into our UU communities to do some good, as we make some friends and grow our souls. What other motivations might we bring with us, and which ones do we need to check at the door? What difference do we want to make with the time we have?

The Reverend Cheryl M. Walker has served as the Pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Wilmington, NC since 2009. Prior to going to Wilmington, she served four years as the Assistant Minister at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City. Rev. Walker currently serves as the President of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Springfield College and a Master of Divinity from The Union Theological Seminary of New York.

Our Music Coordinator is DeReau K. Farrar. DeReau is the Director of Music First Unitarian Church of Portland, OR. He served as Director of Music for the UU Community Church of Santa Monica, Choir Director for First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, Artistic Director of Selah Gospel Choir – an interfaith community gospel choir, Voice and Choir Teacher for New Roads High School, and Musical Director for classic theater company, A Noise Within. Additionally, DeReau worked in Los Angeles as a freelance music director, vocal contractor, consultant, and arranger, and has a background as a classical singer.

Sermon by Rev. Cheryl Walker

I was an early adopter of Facebook. I liked finding out what my friends were doing, and I didn't so much mind their pictures of food that I could not smell nor taste. And I really liked finding out who was having a birthday. Like today I found out that Sarah Lammert is having a birthday. But lately I’ve been thinking that Facebook and all of social media was inspired by Satan! And I don’t even believe in Satan. We may have the technology for social media, but from what I have observed we have not sociologically, emotionally and psychologically evolved enough to use technology well.. Perhaps one day we will, but today we use social media as a weapon as often as we use it as a tool.

So I have become queen of scrolling, because there are just days when I’m only looking for cute little cat videos and I don’t really want to know about the world, the nation, or the latest upheaval within Unitarian Universalism. Just make me laugh because I’m tired of crying.

A while ago I came across a post that made me laugh out loud. It was entitled "Badly Describe Your Profession." And some of my esteemed colleagues who apparently also needed a good laugh posted some fine responses. Here are few of them, their names won’t be used so as to protect the guilty.

  • Once a week I talk about stuff I'm interested in, and I get mad if everybody doesn't come to listen. The rest of the time I worry about money.
  • I patrol the parking lot making sure not one is parked in the spot reserved for the minister.
  • I get paid to keep my head in the clouds and make changes at an incredibly slow pace. I also remove melted wax from many surfaces. My salary is decent, but I also receive compensation in the form of cookies, endless newspaper clippings and homemade jars of jam.
  • I talk for an hour a week, butt into other people's personal lives, and go to meetings about creating more meetings
  • On Sunday I tell people they can make the world a better place. When things don't improve that week, I repeat myself.

There is some truth in each of these responses. I think the greatest truth is the last one, we tell people they can make the world a better place and we repeat ourselves. And we’ll keep repeating ourselves over and over and over again, because if we didn't believe we could make the world a better place I suspect most clergy, religious educators and musicians, administrators, membership coordinators, any religious professional would give up this endeavor called Unitarian Universalist ministry. We repeat ourselves week after week and we hope, we pray, that someone is actually listening. That someone will actually be impacted by our words. That we are actually making a difference.

I think that every person who answers their life’s calling does so with the intent of making a difference. It’s not just ministers who listen to what their lives are calling them to do. We ministers may act like we’re the only ones who received the call, but that isn’t true. Many people hear a call in their hearts and minds and souls; all of us can. And when we answer the call we make a vow that we shall follow it through to the end. We may make that vow to the Lord, to God, to the Goddess, to the Universe, to Humanity, to whatever it was that put that call on our hearts; we make a vow to make a difference and follow it through to end.

Every year, one of the most moving parts of this service, for me, is when we call out the names of those dear colleagues who followed their vows to the very end. I usually do not know most of their names. The longer I am in ministry the more names I know, but still most of the names are unknown to me. I know this, I know that one day my name will be called, a long time from now, inshallah, and there will be people who will not know my name. And that will be fine. It will mean that I lived a good, long life and actually got to retire, so new people entering ministry won’t know me and won’t know my name. This calling, any calling, isn’t about making a name it’s about making a difference. When you begin an endeavor, follow any course your life calls you to follow, you need to ask yourself this - do I want to make a name or do I want to make a difference?

Most of the people whose names we did not know spent their lives toiling in the proverbial vineyard just trying to make a difference one life at a time. There may have been times when they were the right person, at the right time, in the right place and in that moment they made a big difference. But I bet none of them started with the intent of making a name for themselves. You may make a name if you make a big enough difference, but if your objective is to make a name for yourself and you happen to make a difference it probably won’t be a positive one; because the difference you made was all about you and your ego.

When one is out to make a name for themselves they are not interested in anything other than themselves. Oh they may say they are trying to change the world. They may say they are just trying to speak the truth, but they really are just trying to make a name for themselves. How can you tell these names makers? How can you tell if you are trying to make a name or a difference? Well you can just ask yourself one question, do I care if I get the credit for something, or do I care that something gets done. Name makers do not care whether they are making an impact on the world, they only care that you spell their name right. They say they are change makers, and they may be, but they do not care whether the changes they make are going to have a positive impact.

I once heard the great Bill Jones, the Unitarian Universalist Humanist scholar, say that we often speak of change, but if you took your car to the mechanic and you needed a new battery, because your car wouldn't start, and the mechanic changes the rear passenger tire, the car has been changed but there wasn't a positive impact on the car. It still won’t start.

One has to ask the question do I want to make a change or do I want to have an impact? I can change an institution and still not have an impact on the lives of the people in that institution. I can change the bylaws, I can pass resolutions, I can restructure the institution, I can change the leadership of the institution, I can do all of these changes and still not have any impact on the lives of people the institution is purportedly is serving. Change, contrary to popular belief, is actually easy. Having an impact, that’s hard.

Our, Unitarian Universalist movement has had impacts on many issues, same sex marriage, women’s rights. On many issues we are thirty years ahead of other faith communities. But on some issues, like race and class, we are thirty years behind. We keep making changes but we have had little or no impact. We change the name of programs, we change the language we are going to use, we change the leadership and still our impact has been limited. We keep thinking of ways to change and spend little time thinking about ways to have a lasting impact.

To have an impact is to first understand that transformation, takes time. We can quickly make changes but lasting impacts have to take time to take hold. In our rush to change things we sometimes need to stop and hold back and ask, are we trying to make a change or have an impact? It’s not always clear which one we want, but we should at least stop to ask the question because that alone will help us focus our efforts.

To make an impact we need to meet them where they are now. We cannot expect people to already be who we want them to be. If they were those people already we would have no work to do. So we must meet them where they are in order to bring them to where they need to be. And to do that we must speak in ways that can be heard. It does no good to speak if you cannot be heard. And how one speaks often determines if one will be heard. Are you speaking at people for the sake of speaking what you believe is truth? Or are you speaking with people to share the truth you believe? Do you want to speak or do you want to be heard?

There will be times when you will say your truth, and it’s only your truth, knowing that the people you are speaking to cannot actually hear what you are saying. If that is the case, then know you were not trying to really have an impact, or make a difference, you were speaking because you felt you had to. Certainly, there is a place for speaking when no one is listening (I hope this isn’t one of them), but they are few and far between. When we are speaking only to ourselves, when we are standing on our soap boxes proclaiming truth like prophets of old, we should go back to our very first question and ask again am I trying to make a name, or am I trying to make a difference?

The times we live in right now are ripe with the potential for great transformational seeds to be planted. We may not see all of them blossom into the radically inclusive, compassionately welcoming, justice demanding faith and world we dream of. We may not live long enough to reap the benefits of the work we do together. And there will be times when the work of creating the world we call beloved community will seem too hard and we will want to just give up in despair. Times when we tire of preaching the same sermon week after week, make the world a better place. When we wonder if anyone notices the work we are doing, as flawed and as imperfect as it is. Days when if we see one more tweet, one more post, one more headline, we’ll just scream!

When we come to that place we need to remember the colleagues whose names we heard tonight, who just kept climbing one mountain after another. Speaking not just to speak but to be heard. Not concerned with change but with having an impact. Not caring to make a name but to make a difference.

Remember them and then go out and climb your own mountain. Speak your own truth. Make your own impact. Make your difference. This is what we are called to do. Not just those on this stage, but each of us who call ourselves Unitarian Universalists. We are bound together by an abiding faith in the power of humanity to transform the world. We are bound together by the belief that with these proverbial hands we can build a future for ourselves and those not born yet, that is better than the world we inherited. We are bound together by the knowledge that together, each of us unique and valued for our differences, can make the dream of a world of peace and justice a reality.

And when that day comes and someone calls out our names in remembrance, let it be said of us, you may not know our names, but know this of us, we made a difference.

Amen, blessed be, ashay. I love you.

About the Author

Cheryl M. Walker

The Rev. Cheryl M. Walker is minister of the UU Fellowship of Wilmington, North Carolina.

For more information contact .

The sermon at the 2017 Service of the Living Tradition was delivered by the Rev. Cheryl M. Walker.

2017 GA Photo Album

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Sermon by the Rev. Cheryl M. Walker