Strength in Crisis

Strength in Crisis

October 04, 2020 | Sarah Stewart

It was July when the stewardship team chose strength in crisis and the image of the honeybee as our theme for this year. And what crisis in particular were we thinking of? certainly, the crisis of the Coronavirus. We mourn the 200,000 Americans and 1 million people worldwide who have died of this virus. We mourn all our losses, from loved ones we cannot visit, to jobs we lost or afraid will disappear, to the closure of schools, and all the ways we cannot be together. We mourn the recent increase in cases in Massachusetts.

As a church, we have been strong through this crisis, thanks to our amazing community, thanks to all of you. We have moved worship services online when we could no longer gather in person. A team of caring people reached out to every member and friend to check in on them during the quarantine. Small groups meet online for mutual support, laughter, spiritual exploration, and friendship. And when we had to, we came out in person to help a member find emergency housing, to bury our beloved dead, to march in the streets to proclaim that black lives matter; we were strong in the heart of the storm. And racism and white supremacy are another crisis we're facing right now, that's why it's so important to say that black lives matter. Fires on the West Coast destroying homes and habitats are forcing us to face the reality of climate disaster. These crises along with the Coronavirus are national and global in scale. We can take action here in our local areas. Our members are active in efforts to cool Worcester neighborhoods, to green our church building, to march in support of racial justice, to reform policing in Worcester and in Massachusetts. Yet our nation lacks leadership to confront these evils at a national level. This week, the President refused to condemn white supremacist groups, he refuses to say he will accept the results of the election, should his opponent win. And now he has been diagnosed with coronavirus, after refusing to wear a mask or practice distancing, as all of us have done for months, putting our nation's leadership in jeopardy. We pray that he and the First Lady and all those who have been diagnosed in his circle will recover from this illness, and that they will emerge with compassion for the millions of Americans who have had the disease. Our nation's leadership has been chaotic for a long time and the chaos may continue. We know the reality here, here in our congregation, in our community, that our resilience here in Worcester and as First Unitarian Church are more important and necessary than ever. Resilience in the face of danger brings to mind the honeybee. And that's why we chose it as the image for this year stewardship campaign.

When the team chose the honeybee as a symbol of strength, I said, I was sure that there would be images to work with in a stewardship sermon, and I really had no idea how rich the imagery was. The natural world is not given to us as a metaphor for our lives, it is simply the way it is, honeybees and flowering plants have co-evolved to support each other in their given environment. But we have evolved to be meaning-makers in our world. So, we witness the beauty of the world and give it greater value in our own lives, by investing it with meaning and understanding. We come humbly before the honeybee today, to learn the lessons she has to teach us as we face our own crises and look for our own strength. So, I told you there was a fund of parallels between the honeybee and the church, and our church at its best, has a lot in common with a beehive. So, here are things that bees do together in their beehive; they cooperate for the wellbeing of the hive; they care for their young, they build honeycomb, which will serve as a place to cure nectar and honey and to grow larval bees, they find and collect nectar and pollen from flowers, which they need for their food, they tend the queen, who lays all the eggs in the high, they share information with each other about food sources, they work together in a relay team to mature nectar into honey, they cool and heat and protect the nest, and they search out a new home, when needed. Every bee has a job to do in the hive, and every bee’s job supports the whole. So, here's our first parallel with church, because cooperation is a central value of our church community. We're cooperating together right now to offer these worship services and other online and a few in person opportunities for a community. And we're seeking in everything we do, not to try to privilege in person over online, but to acknowledge that everybody is at different points in their readiness to come together. So, we say, how can we keep our offerings online and robust on the internet as well as in person? even as we hope that the coronavirus pandemic lessens in Massachusetts.

So many of you helped in so many different ways and cooperated together in so many different ways this past spring. Like I said, we had a member face a housing crisis, and some of you came out in person to help move her things. Some of you provided online community, instantly moving small group meetings onto Zoom, and getting your groups together, sometimes several times a week. Some of you were able to increase your giving to the church. Some of you made phone calls and helped reach out to every member and friend of the church to see how they were doing during the quarantine. Some of you showed up next door at Wesley United Methodist to help them reopen their food pantry, during the heart of the pandemic. And it's not just during this crisis that the church has cooperated for strength. We've been remembering the stories of the church history recently, if you tune in tonight for the First U Virtual Review, you'll hear some of these stories. One of my favorites from an earlier moment of crisis, was just after the fire in the year 2000, which was a very difficult time for this church. Water had come pouring down through the organ pipes, from when the firefighters put out the fire, just gallons of water pouring through that instrument. And just like those bees, a relay line volunteers helped carry the individual pipes out of the organ loft and outside so that they could dry out and be saved. Cooperation is part of our strength in the face of crisis. Bees use art to communicate truth. Now, for bees, this means to dancing. When a forager bee goes out and discovers a new and vital source of food that they want to tell other scouts about, she, that forager bee, she goes back to the hive and inside the hive, she does a dance to communicate where the food is. The length of her dance indicates how far away the food is, and the angle of the dance, compared to straight up and down on the beehive, indicates the angle of the food source compared to the sun. It is amazing that these bees use dancing to communicate such precise scientific truth to their community about food sources. They do the same thing to help them find a new home, when they need to, they dance in much the same way. And we here at First Unitarian Church, we are certainly committed to witnessing to the truth, through art. We don't necessarily need nectar and pollen, and a new home for our church community; we need truth and kindness, love, and justice. Art is always been at the heart of who we are and the truth that we proclaim. It shows up in our stories on Sunday morning, one of people's favorite parts of our online worship service, in this beautiful building, and especially in our music, tending the soul through music, and beauty, and art, is part of our strength as First Unitarian Church.

Bees are all about creating community. A healthy hive will always be growing newbies and having these who survive and thrive and eventually the hive will get to be too small for the number of bees that there are and when this happens, the Queen will lay new queen bee eggs, and a new queen will hatch, and that new queen will take some of the workers and swarm in order to find a new nest. There can only be one Queen per hive. So, once you have a new queen, she takes some of the workers with her and swarms away. You know, we think of a swarm as a bad thing, I remember cartoon images from my childhood, where cartoon characters were being chased around by a swarm of angry bees. And the bees can be upset when they swarm, because they don't have a home and it makes them nervous. But a swarm is really a good thing, because it helps create a new hive and helps expand the bees in a given area. First Unitarian Church has long nurtured community in Worcester. We have had times in our history where we have spawned new swarms of Unitarian Universalists to go out and find new homes. In the 1840s and 50s, we helped launch two other Unitarian churches in Worcester, the Church of the Unity and the Free Church. More recently, we have helped to launch community organizations such as the Boundless Way Zen Temple and the Joy of Music program, and now, we're sharing our community worldwide through live streams, no longer bounded by the walls of this beautiful hive; our church home. Just like a beehive our church is democratic; bees are democratic. When a hive needs to reproduce through swarming, the Swarm has to choose a new home, and they will have many different options to choose from, sometimes as many as 10 or 12 potential new nest sites. Scouts go out and evaluate the possible homes, they actually measure the capacity of the home; they can tell which way the opening faces, about how high it is off the ground, where the sun hits it, and they come back to the swarm, and report these qualities of a new potential hive through dancing, just the same way they report about food. One scout will come back from a potential new hive site, and she'll dance to tell the other bees about it. And other worker bees, will take in the information she provides, and if they like it, if they think that scouts onto something; she's got a good new home for their new hive, they will go out and look at it; or they will simply take up the dance. More and more bees will join the scout, who has the winning bid on the place to find a home, and in this way, the bees vote. It takes them a couple days sometimes, they only do it during the day, they rest at night, and over time, different scouts will join different dances, voting for different opportunities. They almost have a bee conversation, and in the end, when a majority of the bees or a super majority of the bees have decided on the one home, they decide through consensus to go to that new home. One bee expert I read said that the bees have a democracy grounded in trust and mutual respect. We're probably projecting a little bit on the bees here, but, the bees trust the scouts they send out, and they believe the information that they're getting from them, and they respect their expertise in judging a new home. And here at First Unitarian Church, we ground our democracy and trust and mutual respect. We share leadership, we listen to one another, we generate ideas together, we follow shared enthusiasm, we model cooperation and even respectful disagreement when necessary. You know, this may seem very fundamental, not necessarily a strength to lift up, but in these times, I think this kind of respectful mutual discourse is in short supply. Our conversations online, the presidential debate this week, we just do not see respectful discourse modeled for us in our larger community. And the fact that we have built this church on a democratic system, and that we rely on that kind of discourse and listening and shared decision making to govern who we are and where we'll go, it matters a great deal in these times.

The last way that the church is like a beehive is that the church itself has a soul, which each one of us helps to tend and carries with us. In a beehive, the queen bee carries the hives genetic information. She begins her life with all the fertilization that she will begin so that she will have for the rest of her reproductive lifecycle, and so, all the bees in the hive share her genome, the Queen is the heart. And, in our church, it is the soul of the congregation which we share and carry with us, that is our governing basis. That is that piece of us, that is the church, that we each carry with us. It's our distinct spirit, it's our permanent heritage; traditions kept over time, our mission history, our rule of life together as a church, this is our queen bee. In the words of one theologian, the soul of a church is such that if all written records were destroyed, it could be recreated through the living testimony of its members. Each of you takes the soul of this church with you in your lives, everywhere that you go, you are it's living testimony. We have certainly lived this truth since March, we have not been able to be together in person as a whole church community. Even now, most of our operations are online and we'll be into the new year, even as small gatherings are becoming possible. The building has been quiet, but the church thrives in each of you, in the church soul which you carry with you. The soul of First Unitarian Church has been alive and caring in grocery runs for neighbors, in sympathy notes, in phone calls, in emergency help for people in need, in online leadership, in music shared together, in nights volunteering at the homeless shelter, in loading food into neighbors trunks, in dinner table conversations with our children about hope and resilience, in modeling love and patience for one another. These things are the soul of our church, these are what we keep alive through our ministries. We're planning online and small group activities for children, youth and adults, our wonderful music ministry, ways to grow justice, these are all parts of our plans for next year, but it's really all about soul. The soul is what we love and carry within us. The soul is what calls our spiritual and financial support. We don't have a specific financial goal for stewardship for this year. Church leaders are asking everyone to do what they can to support the soul of First Unitarian Church. Some may not be able to give as much, we know that Coronavirus has changed people's circumstances. Some may be able to give more, and if that's you, we encourage you to think about giving more. All of us together tend the soul of our church, so that it's light may shine for years to come.

I love you all. Amen.