I’ve been on some teams in my life. In college I joined the novice women’s crew team at my college. In New Hampshire I played Ultimate Frisbee on an all-ages, all-abilities, no-cleats, family-friendly, pick-up, Sunday-afternoon league. In 2019 I was on the community division champion boat in the spring dragon boat races that came to Worcester. I am not a star athlete, but I have loved being on a team.
The people on a team have each other’s backs. They support each other to help each other become better athletes. They make commitments to each other and show up when they’re supposed to—or at least, that’s the ideal. In competitive rowing, you can’t row the boat unless you have all the rowers. The first year I rowed was in England, where the drinking age included college students—if you missed a practice, you had to buy the other 8 women on the boat one beer (or soda) each. Skipping practice was an expensive mistake.
Teams can also be brutal and competitive. Sometimes that spirit is turned outward toward the race and trying to win, and sometimes it’s turned inward toward competition within the team itself. I’ve never been a high-level athlete, so I’ve never been part of a team like that. What I’m looking for on a team is mutual support and encouragement to be our best.
A person can row by themselves. They can take a scull out on the water for a solo row. They can sit on the rowing machine in the gym, push with their legs and pull with their arms, and get a good workout. But rowing as part of a team gives a feeling of power and unity that rowing alone can’t provide. A boat with eight rowers, all pulling together, streaks across the water. Bodies and spirits in unison, they do more together than they ever could alone.
Church is a team. Unlike rowing, no one person can be a church by themselves. We need one another on our spiritual journeys. We encourage each other and bear witness to the honesty of our souls. We don't have to compete against each other; after all, there's nothing to win. We can help each person be the best they can be. We come with our grief, our joy, and our longing to make a difference in the world. Together, our grief is comforted, our joy amplified, and difference greater than we can make alone.
I’ve discovered during the COVID pandemic that two of the most important things about church for our community are singing hymns together and sharing fellowship together after the service. We need to move our bodies together, standing up to sing (even with our masks on). And we need to break bread together, to share our lives with one another. The ship of our church moves ahead when we pull together. And the movements of our lives are shaped and encouraged by being together in religious community.
You’re on our team if you’re coming to church in person. And you’re on our team if you’re worshiping from home or Zooming into small groups. As the surge of the omicron variant ebbs, I hope more people will feel ready to come to feel the power of being together in person. Together, we have power and movement, in person and online, children and adults, as one team.
One of our members shared this quote from the late Unitarian minister A. Powell Davies with me, and it speaks to my heart:
I come to church because I fall below my own standards and need to be brought back to them. My church renews my courage and my hope. I feel again the love I owe to others. Workaday enthusiasms are not enough; they wear out too soon. I come to church to be cleansed after a week’s life; there are residues of thought and mood that I want to lose. I come to church to be refreshed and comforted by feeling once again that in the mystery of human life something answers the cry in our hearts. Life must have its sacred moments and its holy places.
I come to church because we are better together than we are alone. I am a better minister in partnership with you. I look forward to seeing more and more of you at church, for worship, small groups, or outdoor activities, as we move out of the pandemic.