“I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life.” Luke 18:30. Voting in this year’s national election has become an explosive issue. What’s to become of this country when voting is so contentious and so subject to interference from the outside and (now!) from the inside?
Like those very worrisome fires in California last week, it feels like our democracy has become an inferno. Like Louisiana after Laura, our souls have been flooded and flattened by the cyclone of the political campaigns, which have only now begun in earnest. The year 2020 is what we call a live moment when anything can happen in this election.
But vote we can. Vote we must. And vote we will.
But did you know that when you go to the polls on November 3 (or mail in your ballot), you will be following the same practice observed by Town Meetings in Massachusetts since 1630—voting. In those days, only men with property were allowed to vote; today, all citizens over the age of 18 can vote, black or white, male or female, although it took a long long time before the franchise was universal. We celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage this year, but we sometimes forget that it was 60 very hard fought years in the making. Such that now, finally, we have more than 127 women in the US Congress, 26 in the Senate, 101 in the House, of whom 48 are women of color!
The practice of voting started in colonial, Congregational Massachusetts. 160 years before the US Constitution was signed by the 13 colonies, public decisions were made collectively. A point of theological significance lay at the foundation of this policy—self-governance was a virtue rooted in the spiritual freedom in Christ, and the common-wealth depended on honoring a covenant between citizens to consult and to support each other. Now, even though voting in our American democracy has been cast into some doubt, nevertheless, we still govern ourselves very reliably that way in our Congregationally rooted churches in the United Church of Christ—so we are a democracy here. What kind of a democracy—direct democracy or representative democracy?
Well, it’s a blend of both. Members cast votes directly when it comes to hiring or firing the minister, buying or selling property, and approving or amending the budget—that’s the direct part. But members also elect officers, council members, and commissioners who deliberate and carry out with the staff programmatic and administrative matters for them all year long—that’s the representative part.
You may be asking yourselves, just what have I done by joining a congregational church? Did you realize what you were getting into? I’m curious, What was involved in your becoming a member in the first place—classes, vows, sign a book? Were the rights and responsibilities outlined for you? Did anyone describe the uniqueness of churches, being living organisms whose different parts act in concert, being wellsprings of inspiration and the source of an alternative perspective on life that you can’t get from the MFA, the country club or any other voluntary association? What a concept, a congregational church is run by the congregation! But to be a Congregational church, unlike a nation, a vote means more than voting and forgetting. Voting means ownership and accountability, which in turn means attention and follow-through. I like to say that a Congregational church is an Owner-operated, Equal-opportunity, Total Participation GOSPEL MISSION CENTER.
As a consequence, to be successful (just like a nation), a church needs an informed electorate and a committed one. Right now, that is more true than ever at Eliot Church. Because, Eliot is in a transition as you know perfectly well. But also because, occasionally, the elected leadership goes back to the congregation to vote on other matters of consequence, which is what I want to discuss with you today, one year and two months into this Interim period. Although an Interim Minister is not a REAL minister, as someone here once wondered if it was the case, I want to clarify that my role is to be a resource, a cheerleader—and a TIMEKEEPER. And right now, I’m saying it’s time for you to decide what kind of a church you want to be, and to find the appropriate words to include in the church Profile which goes out to prospective candidates for Settled Pastor.
The Interim process is like a sabbatical when there is no pressure and there is time to reflect and rethink life a little bit. Our process began last fall with the “Soundings” program, then shifted gears last January when the Discernment Committee was appointed by the Leadership Council, and now it will continue soon with Small Group discussions to collect data and solicit the ideas and opinions of the congregation.
This will lead you ultimately to two Congregational Votes, the first one about the Church Vision and the second one when you appoint the Search Committee for Settled Pastor. No dates have been set yet for these votes, but I believe we can be ready with the Congregational Profile and to appoint a Search Committee by January 1st. Setting any and all deadlines is the responsibility of the Leadership Council—I’m just putting a stake out there for leadership to adjust as they see fit and for a target for you.
So right now, your Cheerleader and Timekeeper is asking for your concentration over the next 3-4 months, during which a Church Vision for the future will emerge from surveys and conversations led by the Discernment Committee, and they are hard at work as we speak.
No one is asking you to leave house or husband or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God exactly, but any alteration you can make in your plans, any extra effort you might dedicate, any new way you could devise to participate in the building up of this beloved Eliot community will be repaid, Jesus said to the disciples and, by extension, us, as much in this age as in the age of eternal life to come.
What repayment did Jesus have in mind, in this age, during your lifetime—the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, enrichment of spirit, wisdom, well-being, fellow-feeling—that’s what’s in store for you!
So let me involve you, let me entice you to find a place or a role in the exciting work of this church at this particular juncture. Think of it this way--you’re not betting on a horse and hoping it wins—you are investing in a horse to help it win.
Mainly, commit yourself to follow the action, read all our media, and respond (write RevRick “I loved what you said about. . .” or to Dr. Elizabeth, “That book looks interesting but I can’t attend.”) Here’s a quick run-down of some of the action at your church today--
Discernment now (Search later).
Reorganization—3 of our projects are to Right-size (a Discernment sub-committee is studying different models to bring our operations into proportion with the congregation; a new Operations Manual is being developed; and (my pet wish) cleaning out storage spaces (Ugly Room, Chapel rail, parlor kitchen, boiler room, behind the stage).
Rebuilding. This means strengthening the congregation’s interconnectivity—despite Covid-19, we will replace the missing glue in this congregation through phone and internet. One more Outdoor Service is planned for Sept 13 (maybe more weather permitting) which we could target as a ReGathering Sunday.
Dr. Elizabeth’s initiatives—Anti-Racism, family reading group, Real Housewives of the Bible.
RevRick’s initiatives (ART(iculation) Mob, John Eliot Research (as part of 175th Anniversary and Anti-Racism), Columns, Zoom Environmental Interviews, One-Minute Minister).
Monique’s initiatives--working with the Section Leaders and integrating them into our Online recorded worship services this fall.
175th Anniversary--we have to go back to the drawing board due to Covid-19, but Susan Nason will let us know about next steps.
I am asking you to accept roles where we have vacancies (MSJ, Facilities, Spiritual Life), and by all means participate and be prepared to Vote the Vision by Christmas time.
We are not many, so we must be judicious in what the staff offers and what volunteers take on. But we can increase the quality and depth of the Eliot experience and get some momentum going toward the Call of a Settled Pastor, however short or long a time that may take. We are in it for the duration.
This sermon sounds to me a little like a political convention speech of which we have heard too many now; nevertheless, I will circulate this in our different media in the hopes of corralling each and every one of you faithful. We face some headwinds from COVID-19; and there is natural resistance to change. But your devotion to Christ will overcome those impediments!
No one is asking you to leave house or husband or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God exactly, but any alteration you make in your plans for the sake of building up this beloved community will be repaid, Jesus said to the disciples and, by extension, us, as much in this age as in the age of Eternal Life to come.