A Blossoming Congregation

Speaker: Rev. Carolyn R. Brown

The opening words are from “Kasserian ingera/How Are the Children?” by Pat Hoertdoefer:
Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai. It is perhaps surprising then to learn the traditional greeting that passed between Masai warriors. “Kasserian ingera” one would always say to another. It means “and how are the children?”
It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai always place on their children’s well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer, “all the children are well.” Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place, that Masai society has not forgotten its reasons for being, its proper functions and responsibilities. “All the children are well” means that life is good. It means that the daily struggles of existence do not preclude proper caring for their young.
I wonder how it might affect our consciousness of our own children’s welfare if in our culture we took to greeting each other with this daily question: “and how are the children?” I wonder if we heard that question and passed it along to each other a dozen times a day, if it would begin to make a difference in the reality of how children are thought of or cared for in our own country?
I wonder if every adult among us, parent and non-parent alike, an equal weight for the daily care and protection of all the children in our community, in our town and state, in our country. I wonder if we could truly say without any hesitation, “the children are well, yes, all the children are well.”
What would it be like … if religious leaders began every worship service by answering the question: “and how are the children?” If teachers began every class by answering the question: “and how are the children?” If every town leader had to answer the same question at the beginning of every meeting: “and how are the children? are they all well?” If every business leader and corporate executive had to answer the same question at the beginning of every workday: “and how are the children? Are they all well?” Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear their answers? What would it be like? I wonder . . . I wonder . . ..
Let’s begin here and greet members and friends in our Unitarian Universalist Congregation with and how are the children? And before we can respond to one another “all the children are well”, what actions must we take in this congregation? In our community? In our state? In our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? In our country?
And how are the children? Working together, may all our children be well.

READING & MEDITATION –The reading is by Rev. Randy Becker:
As I would approach the Parish House door, the door would magically creak open, and entering into that sanctuary of warmth against upstate New York’s winter chill, a ruddy-face man would bend down to my level, offer a hand, and ask “Randy, how are you today?” Every Sunday, I (and all of the other Sunday School students) would be welcomed into the community of the Universalist-Unitarian church in Utica, New York .
Every Sunday, someone other than my parents and teachers would know my name. Every Sunday, someone wanted to know about how I was, and how my week had been. Every Sunday, someone with no obvious need for anything, needed me to help make the community complete. Every Sunday . . .
Something about that experience must have stuck, and stuck essentially. Because this nearly-sixty-year-old, who has committed more than 35 years of his professional life to this religious movement, remembers it like it was last Sunday. Or, was it last Sunday?
I know what I did last Sunday. I greeted several children at the door. I gave a special wave to another one as we sat in the sanctuary enjoying the prelude. At the second service, I especially welcomed several children whose absence at the earlier service left a hole in the fabric of our community, and I let them know that. In the services, I enjoyed the place and time set aside to talk with all of the children about their thoughts and feelings. With love, I led the congregation in singing them out to their classes. After the service I assured the parents of children who chose to stay in the service that their little sounds did not disturb us – they are the sounds of life itself. In the coffee hour, I helped to rearrange the snacks so some favorites were right up front, where little hands can reach them. Later, I wished “a good week” to several kids and youth as they left.
Yes, that was last Sunday, and . . . it is also every Sunday. Every Sunday.
Because what I remember most was that the door didn’t just open magically on special, Inter-generational Sundays, but on every Sunday. That welcoming face was there every Sunday, not just on holidays. I was welcomed by name, and asked about my life every Sunday.
Children arrive at our doors every Sunday . . . the question is, “are we there for them every Sunday?”

Growing up as an Evangelical United Brethren, I didn’t experience many of the holy week activities that my brother describes as organist of an Episcopal church in Ohio. Wednesday was a Tenebrae service. The next day was Maundy Thursday, combining what Curt called a “pseudo Seder” Agape Dinner, followed by a service with many elements of prayer, readings and music and physically moving from one place to another in the church and the garden. Friday noon services included the Stations of the Cross. Sunday morning they return the trappings to the altar and during the procession bring in the Pascal candle for the Sunday service followed by a brunch.

What I remember from my childhood is the coloring of Easter eggs and scrambling to find them in their hidden places on Easter morning. My brother and sister and I got Easter baskets, but we had to be clever to find them. My mother hid them and sent us on a sort of scavenger hunt by writing notes leading to other notes. Solving each note led you to the next step until finally we found the baskets. Her notes were very clever and always rhymed, even if she had to stretch to find a word.

Easter was more of a rite of spring for the children in my family of origin.
I knew what the holiday was about, but the food and new clothing of my friends were more interesting. It was a happy time until I became a teenager and started paying attention to the words of the music we sang in the choir.

Many Unitarian Universalist churches celebrate some part of the traditional holy week ritual, and adapt it to fit our generally accepted theology about the importance of the message and teachings of Jesus above and beyond the mythology that surrounds his death. When we say that Jesus lives today, I believe we are saying that he is not forgotten, that his influence has continued through the efforts of those who followed him. Our values as a religious association and as a nation are based largely on the teachings of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition in which the majority of us were raised.

It is often challenging to come up with an Easter sermon in view of our emphasis on the life of Jesus. When Keith suggested that sometime we might honor all the babies and pregnancies and the new life in the congregation, I jumped at the chance.

We gather here this morning as a religious community to speak of new life, growth, and possibility. It is spring. Blossoming trees surround us. Lilacs and forsythia, tulips, redbuds and pear trees. All of them promising that life will continue through another season of rebirth and renewal. The weather is hotter than we expected, but even so, we have had enough rain so that our part of the world has greened up significantly. For all time humans have celebrated this season of the year with rituals and thanksgiving, honoring the forces that once again create the miracle of new life and a possibility of a rich harvest.

So it is that today we celebrate this holiday with its pagan roots in the worship of the earth goddess, Eostar, who was recognized at the time of the spring equinox. As in the world outside with the redbuds and lilacs, new life is present in our congregation this morning. Not only in the hopes and dreams of the parents for their children, but also in our hopes and dreams for the success of our goal to create a new home for our congregation.

It is fitting that during these past three years of planning and creating a vision for the future, we have seen the increase of new life in our congregation. We have watched the blossoming of several women who have given birth to new life.
Our fruitfulness is not only in our creating of new humans but in creating a dream for their future.

Today we take a step toward both of these goals by honoring the efforts of all the parents in our congregation. Parents and grandparents, both the biological parents and the people who have lovingly agreed to parent the children of their partners. Parenting today is a difficult job, for the dangers threatening our children are many and varied.

While we plan for a safe and inspiring space for our children to grow and prosper and feel loved, we must keep in mind that this world is not a safe and inspiring place for many children. The Children’s Defense Fund hosts a website full of government statistics regarding the situation of children here in our great nation.
The statistics even for Kansas are unsettling.

695,081 children live in Kansas
A child in Kansas is abused or neglected every hour
A child in Kansas is born into poverty every 2 hours
A child in Kansas dies before his or her first birthday every day
A child or teen in Kansas is killed by gunfire every week
Number of children in School Lunch Program 316,260
Kansas ranks 31st among states in per pupil expenditures.
Kansas ranks 31st among states in infant mortality.
[*1st represents the best state for children and 51st represents the worst state for children.]

“And how are the children?” Were we to adopt the Masai community’s gauge for measuring the health of our state, it would be difficult to respond “All the children are well.”

This brings to bear the crucial importance of the children in our religious community. I spoke a few weeks ago about how we cannot predict the effects of our actions. There is one prediction, however, I can make. If we do not speak to our children here at First UU, if we do not interact with them, they will not remember us.

You have an opportunity to be remembered during our summer program, Arts and Culture. You may choose a Sunday to work with the children and share your journey into another culture, and express it through some form of art. Denise Jackson-Simon is hoping that once again you will respond by sharing your ideas and your travels with our children as some of you did last summer.

Our Unitarian Universalist prophet, Sophia Fahs, practiced and preached her ministry with children:

“Put the children in our very midst! Let us give children opportunities to observe common things and happenings and stories that relate to their own experiences. Give them opportunities to sense for themselves the mystery in being alive and growing and learning. We would be companionable and sympathetic, joining children in their own wonderings and learnings and actions.”

The challenge of all the new life in our church presents openings for each of us.
We can entrust part of our material wealth to the church to proceed to develop our programs with and for children. We can pledge to support the Capital Campaign with the children in mind. We can enjoy the egg hunt after the service this morning. We can make friends with one of the children. We can offer a hand to parents trying to be part of what goes on here. We can also become mentors for other children in the community, supporting new life everywhere we go.

The reading by Randy Becker about the minister and congregation that welcomed him as a child is a lesson we all need to remember. My hope is that when our children here at First UU become adults, they will have similar memories, memories of you and me welcoming them, talking to them, helping them, intentionally trying to remember their names. Every Sunday.

Today we have celebrated the promise of spring and the new life in our community. We focused our attention on the importance of the parents in our congregation and we look for opportunities to help them as they nurture their children. At the same time, we nurture our individual hopes and dreams for the creation of a new home for our church and our children.

When the next Masai visitor from Kenya asks, “And how are the children?”
– may we respond in the health of a blossoming congregation, that our children are well, our community is well, and we share a commitment to give from deep within to achieve our hopes and dreams for the birth of our new home.