By Janet Irby
Today I want to share with you about Priorities or what is most important for us as a congregation. So I’m going to talk with the children first. Please come up close so we can talk. Do you have a good friend? What’s their name? What if you have to choose between two things: Say your good friend wants to play with you. But there is a new boy or girl on your street. They want to have someone to play with. What would you do? Kai: “I would invite my friend Oliver to come play with me and the new kid—the more the merrier.” Here are some questions for you to answer as you listen and paper for drawing. Then we will talk after the service. ….Thanks for sharing.
This is the one-year anniversary of Dave’s and my return to this congregation. And we have not followed the ebb and flow of events here that much. Being gone for 21 years. So I have had a year to listen and observe and find my place again with you. And I have heard some new voices sharing how they value providing a safe place for all people to worship and fellowship. I agree. I have also heard from those who want to use Sunday morning to go out into the community, for example a small project to clean up the environment. Their voices are important, too. So we have many different viewpoints about our priorities. Soon we will be going through a process of planning and visioning for the future with Dave Irby leading us. And we may struggle to agree. You may remember the inspired counsel from president Grant McMurray in Doctrine and Covenants 161 3c. “Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful… But it is to loving community such as this that each is called.” Sacred community is a priority for us and it is hard work at times. Now I know the need for a safe place to heal — because of a time of crisis in my family.
In 1977, my family member who was a father and spiritual mentor to Dave and me, had betrayed the trust of his family and the church in his actions. The day after I found out, I stood in the foyer of my church on Sunday morning and searched for comfort for my pain. But I felt an emptiness inside, I felt abandoned by God. Luckily, our family had been a part of a small group for about a year. Our small group included Blake and Diane Puckett. And the Puckett’s had already committed to building a house in the new “gathering center” behind the Crystal Springs church. They had told us to come lookat the house next to them. And that winter day in 1977, the Spirit impressed on me that Dave and I needed to go look at that house. Since I felt like relationships I had trusted in the past had failed me, I thought, “Why not take a chance on this? What do we have to lose?” Plus, there was something comforting about living near like-minded close friends in the Crystal Springs congregation like the Puckett’s — with Butterfield’s next door and Cotherns across the street. So soon we had a new church home—the Crystal Springs congregation. This was the place I needed– a place where we belonged, where we could heal.
And we all need the strength of a loving faith community. So, I put a question before you today, “Is ‘belonging’ to each other and providing a spiritual home for new people, for all of us, our priority?”
Well….. there is another thread in our tradition– our journey together. Jesus set the example over and over – all of his ministries beyond the Temple doors to the rich and the poor, the diseased, the rejected of society, people he did not know from all walks of life. So there is a priority beyond building sacred community. It is the path of new discovery, the path that beckons to the unkown, a path to new ministries. Let’s read the beginning of D&C 161– “Lift up your eyes and fix them on the place beyond the horizon to which you are sent. Journey in trust ….Be faithful to the Spirit of the Restoration, mindful that it is a spirit of adventure, openness, and searching.” Many of us have been called to new horizons. Now… We have four men in our congregation who have started in the church’s seminary program this Fall. Donald, Steve, Tyler, and Barry. So this is a new beginning for them and for us as they share new energy. Another example– Kathy Sharp told me about moving here from Puerto Rico with her family in 1982. She decided deliberately not to look for houses in our gathered community here because she didn’t want her friendships limited to those in the church. And she has always set an example for us of someone who is not willing to rest in safe places.
So we have many examples of moving out. Here’s another story from my journey. Dave and I moved out of this safe place 22 years ago to San Francisco for his new position at UCSF. I was a bit alone with him working 80 hours a week. And I was struggling with what to do. One Sunday morning, Dave was out of town and I was driving from our home in Tiburon to the Novato church twenty minutes away. As I was driving, my mind focused on the issue of my future. And I asked God, “Should I pursue my academic career and a full-time position at a university, or should I focus on ministry in the community around the church?” So as I was driving to church, I stopped for bagels. And the woman behind the counter asked me. “What are these bagels for?” I told her, “For church,” Then she asked, “What church?” I told her, and her eyes lit up and she said, “I know that church. I really like your church. I’m from Independence, Missouri. I used to be a Mormon. I need to talk to you ….” And so we agreed that I would come back at a time when she was having a break and we could visit. And…As I drove away, the words came to me, “There is ministry in this community that only you can provide.” That was the answer from God that I was looking for and it led me to ministry with the immigrant community around our church building. I share this as another part of my journey, but I know many of you have had similar experiences where we are called to move out to new ministries and new places.
And that, too, is a priority. So I put before you these two paths:building sacred community and moving beyond our boundaries to minister to others?
It might help if we consider for a minute who we are. We have a mission to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, love, hope and peace. In second Corinthians we read, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new.” We are a new creation together evolving as clay in the potter’s hands. So what’s working with us? We have this lovely building and grounds that has been the place for ministry for over forty years– and families willing to care for it. We have a relationship with a Co-op preschool with parents here helping and learning parenting skills. We are respected in the community by long time neighbors. Dennis is connected to the community as the Fire Commissioner. I understand that Deborah has connected us to Crystal Springs Elementary as we assist an immigrant family. We are focused on incorporating new voices in our congregation from many walks of life. We are learning from those transitioning from other faith traditions. We’re learning about gender roles and fluidity and thank you to Genesis and today’s class by Elayne from the Gender Justice League. We have opportunities with other groups such as the Church Council of Greater Seattle. We have also expanded our tribe each year in the Fourth of July parade with friends and family. And this year, we participated in a pride parade together.
So we seek a balance. In building sacred community there’s so much to do. But we also need to live out what we believe— to help God in the world around us, like 16-year-old Greta Thunberg who wants people to wake up and take care of our earth. Is there new ministry we are called to as a community of faith? If we are going to reach out and consider new paths, how do we decide on a priority? I’m stumped. So I went back to the D & C. 161 3d “Understand that the road to transformation travels inward and outward. The road to transformation is the path of the disciple.” Now when I was reading this, it dawned on me. Transformation…. we need to focus on God’s role in this. That was the common thread in my stories I shared—the urging of the Holy Spirit. When I was in-need of healing, I was led to move here. When I was searching for direction in California—I heard from a lady selling bagels! As we consider our future together, may you know deep in your soul that God’s Spirit transforms us. For me this reality is something I can’t deny. So we will soon be planning and visioning– Will we be open to God’s Spirit in the process?
Are we willing to change and be transformed into new creatures individually and as a group? My challenge to us — Let the encounter with God’s transforming Spirit be our priority.
To help us, I want to suggest a spiritual practice that we can do together—in the coming weeks or we can do individually. I notice that some people need to feel a connection to this building and grounds. Some are very connected, but they need to see it in new ways. Now, do you remember seeing …who was it….Genesis and Mykka and Mike? waving to cars going by down on the grass by the street and claiming more of these grounds. Andrew came to me last Sunday to tell me that his pumpkins are growing out in the garden. So with Nellie’s help the children have claimed some space for growing plants. Jo has claimed it by using the whole fellowship area for the children to learn. I’ve seen Tyler claim it by dusting the sanctuary. So I suggest we do a meditative walk outside and inside and ask, “Where and how is God speaking to me through this space?” Walk slowly, silently, breathing deeply. Walk in the rooms and find a spot that speaks to you. Walk outside and see what bush, what tree, or what in nature speaks to you. I believe this will help us as we make decisions together about this space. Let transformation be our priority.
I want to end with the conclusion to my family member’s life. In his later years, he once again started attending the congregation he had harmed and, amazingly, was welcomed back. He asked for rebaptism and was given that opportunity with his family’s blessing. And at his memorial service, one of his son’s and his son’s wife were profoundly touched by the story of his redemption and the love exhibited by the people. As a result, they started attending church and she decided to be baptized at reunion. This spring they were both ordained as elders and have accepted leadership roles in the church. The power of God’s spirit. Place your trust in this transforming power. That is our priority.
And children, there is a poster I found in the church when I was doing my meditative walk: “If you think someone could use a friend, be one.” See if you can find the poster.
Would you bow with me?
Help us to believe in the power of your Spirit to transform us, to open our minds and hearts. May we trust in the process that can be difficult at times. We place ourselves in your hands and commit to listen and move and breathe with your Spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ- Amen