What a Year!

Join us this Sunday as we celebrate one year as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland! The YoUUth choir will join Karin Tooley to bring us music as Rev. Joe and Allan share stories and reflections about your first year as a new congregation.

We will be gathering in Fellowship Hall this Sunday.

What a Year!
Written for and delivered to
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland
February 2, 2020
© The Rev. Joseph M Cherry

Wisdom from the Global Scripture

A statement of Purpose (Unison)

As members of a church family we meet for the study and practice of religion.
Here we seek to understand the way of life as it is shown in the generous deeds, the wise teachings and the high character of men and women who have gone before.
Here we would learn by doing.
Here we would worship in spirit and in truth.
So would we prepare ourselves for future service in church and community.

(The assembly may then repeat in unison the covenant of the church.)
The Beacon Song and Service Guide, (1935)


This morning I’m going to do something I never imagined I would ever do from the pulpit of a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

I am going to quote a former director of the FBI.

On Friday, January 31, 2020, James B. Comey, also a former U. S. Attorney General, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post. Comey’s piece is called Trump Won’t Be Removed. But we’ll be fine.

Here is much of what Comey said:

When I was a little kid, the United States seemed to be coming apart. The president was murdered in public. The first lady had his blood on her pink suit. Then the man who killed the president was murdered, also in public.

Earlier that same year, four black girls in Birmingham, Ala., were killed by a racist bomb attack during Sunday school. Then Malcolm X was assassinated. Then Martin Luther King Jr. Then the murdered president’s brother, who was a senator and likely to be the next president.

Our cities were torn by riots and fires. Troops were deployed — at least those who weren’t half a world away in Vietnam, being killed by the thousands in a war few understood. Many thousands of young men fled the country rather than be drafted to join them. Thousands more marched to protest the war, often burning flags and battling police or counter protesters. Unarmed students were killed by soldiers. White Americans violently resisted desegregation. War and death and disorder dominated the news.

There is a natural human tendency to think we live in the hardest times, that our challenges are uniquely difficult. As British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay said almost 200 years ago, “We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point — that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason.”

Understandably, millions of Americans today see [terrible difficulty] darkness. Our president is a bad person and an incompetent leader. He lies constantly, stokes flames of racial division, tries to obstruct justice and represents much of what our Founders feared about a self-interested demagogue….

The test of our shape is underway. The House impeached the president, and though the Senate will likely acquit, the American people can witness the whole thing. The free press fostered and protected by the genius of the First Amendment has let Americans know the truth, if they wish to. They can see the facts and the process, and they will be shaped by that, both now and for the long term.

In November, Americans, fully informed, will have the chance to decide what kind of country we are and what we expect of our leaders.

I don’t buy the stuff about the United States’ democracy dying. Its death has been predicted regularly for two centuries… and [this] has been a feature, to one degree or another, of the United States since Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were lying about each other and predicting the death of the republic if the other were elected president…

But neither party will disappear because the American center — that great lump of us clustered around the middle — always holds. Where the center is, exactly, moves over time — we changed the world by embracing same-sex marriage, for example — but it never goes away. That lump is our national ballast….

When I was a kid, the United States didn’t come apart. It won’t now.[1]

I quoted Mr. Comey, quite extensively this morning, because I believe he offers some wise counsel. It may have come from an unexpected source, but that’s sometimes how it happens.

While I certainly understand all the upset that people, including me, are feeling about the process that Impeachment trial of Donald John Trump has undergone, as much as I feel like it took a band of cowards, including one of our own elected senators to accomplish it, I have faith that this is not the end of our democracy or our nation.

Though not in perhaps the most flattering of terms, Comey tells us what will save us is us: “The great lump of us in the middle.”

Eventually, maybe even in November, some sense of balance will be restored to our great congress. In November Amy McGrath could win her bid to unseat Mitch McConnell from the place he’s held since 1984.

If I were in a more chipper mood, I would perhaps make the obvious joking reference to George Orwell’s book, but I won’t.

This is the potential of our democracy. If McGrath could defeat McConnell’s bid for a 6th re-election, nothing could protect him from losing his power.

That’s just one example. Another example is a certain senator who hails from Cincinnati who is up for reelection, or defeat, in 2022.

This week for Chalica we are focusing on our 5th principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.”

Our complicated, messy, not very fast or efficient model of democracy is what will right the ship of state. There is work to be done, continual work to be done. One of the ways we can do this is to really dig in the UUTheVote Effort here at the Congregation. Eileen, as you may already know, has jumped into this effort with focus and determination. Go to her and ask how you can help our nation reclaim itself through democracy.

It was a year ago this week that we celebrated the power of democracy in a way that was far more local than the national debacle we are facing now.

It was a year ago this weekend that we worshipped together for the first time as the newly created Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland.

And because of that, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what something like our reunification means in this world.

As you can imagine I have had many people ask me how things are going over the last 12 months. I have also had a lot of people tell me what they think of what we did a year ago.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. When people ask me how we’re doing as a joined church family, I answer them with a very honest answer. I tell them If I were grading our work together, I’d give us about an A-/B+. There is always a little bit more work that needs to be done, but that’s in every faith community no matter how long they’ve been around.

But the work that the laity have been doing is pretty amazing.  Lay leaders, those on the Board, those who volunteer in any capacity within our congregation, if you’d be so kind, please stand up so that people can express our gratitude.

I also want to share with you a kind of an amalgamated statement. Over the past year, clergy of many different faiths have wanted to talk to me about this project we are engaged in. If I put them all into a room and they each shared their thoughts about what we’ve been doing for a year, this is what their sentiments would be.

You are brave.

You are really trying new things.

You are bringing excitement to other churches around you with the work you’re doing.

They have also said “You are doing the kind of work that demonstrates that people can overcome the hurdles of disagreement and hurt. That people can come together for a brighter future. It is undoubtedly hard but also holy work.”

I had one colleague put her hand over mine and say “The congregation you serve is an inspiration to others.”

You are an inspiration to others. This congregation, this faith, can be a strong way forward as we work to teach the world that we need not think alike to love one another.

And our nation needs us to teach them this lesson with love and ferocity.

Let us take a little time to celebrate our first anniversary together, and then let’s roll up our metaphorical sleeves and get to the work of healing a hurting world.

Thank you.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/james-comey-trump-wont-be-removed-but-well-be-fine/2020/01/31/95816ca0-4460-11ea-b503-2b077c436617_story.html