Oct. 24, 2021 – Preparing the Table

“Preparing the Table” was Rev. Molly’s sermon title on October 24, 2021. The sermon introduced the “Rising to the Moment” Accessibility Campaign that will allow our church to install an elevator, automatic doors and other improvements. Accessibility Campaign Team members Melissa Ensign Bedford and Ruth Milledge testified in support of the campaign. Read more. See the text of Rev. Molly’s sermon below the video.

“Preparing the Table” sermon text

My grandmother taught me that the good china does no good packed away in felt sleeves, buried in the back of the closet, carefully stacked in a wooden box under hanging layers of dresses. “Pull out the good dishes!” she would say and we would set the table for our hamburger dinner with such great care.

Grandfather liked the tall glass for his iced tea, but my brother and I loved the low tumblers that fit our small hands just right. Grandmother needed the wide chair with the tall cushion for her back, and I liked to pull up the office chair to spin while I ate. I folded napkins into triangles and put ice in most of the glasses, but not hers, which would receive diet coke at just the right temperature.

In the end, we would admire our beautiful mismatched tablescape, tailored just exactly to the needs of each diner: The good china, and four different kinds of glasses. Carefully placed napkins and 4 uniquely shaped chairs. Then, grandmother would have a thought and hurry to set another place, this one with a taller chair for a petite guest. She would send me down the elevator to the lobby of her high rise apartment building to invite her hair stylist to dinner, who lost her husband last year and was still lonely sometimes.

Such great love I learned preparing the table for hamburger dinner: Bring out the best, invite someone who could use a friend, and give each what they need to be comfortable, to feel beloved.

What dignity. What care.

Here at UUCC we have a mission of radical welcome.

And I learned from setting the table with my grandmother that radical welcome is far more than the open door we sometimes think it to be. Radical welcome is a place prepared thoughtfully and with care. It is taking the time to ensure the comfort of every body. It is an expression of love for each guest in all their particularity.

This kind of radical welcome is countercultural in a world that seeks one size to fit all, especially in our institutions. Our society moves fast and pursues efficiency above all, and is loathe to pull out the good china or pay close attention to the specific needs of each guest. This leads to ill-fitting welcome, physical discomfort, or outright exclusion even when the invitation is open and wide. We would do well to remember this here in our congregation.

My grandmother was a lover and proud supporter of the arts as well as her grandchildren. She pledged to the symphony, the ballet, and the touring musical theater series.

The arts did not love her back.

She could only go see the show if there were seats available in one of three particular rows, which didn’t require her making her way up and down precarious steps. Once her tickets were in a different row than she thought. She fell and bruised her hip and her pride quite badly, and didn’t go back to the symphony for a year.

When I became your minister nine years ago, my grandmother made the five hour drive with aching back in the passenger seat of a Ford sedan to be here at our beloved church for my installation. She beamed as I was charged with the ministry, she sang the hymns seated, in her old-fashioned, wavering soprano. I have no doubt she dropped a few twenty dollar bills in the collection plate. After the service, I’m sure she chose a sugar cookie instead of the awesome pie we served at the reception, because they were her very favorite. She admired my office; it’s spaciousness and shelves of books.

But there was no way for her to get down the stairs safely. And she was too exhausted to lower herself back into the car, ride down to the lower level, and haul herself out of the low seat to look around. She never saw the bottom half of this church. It’s tiny tables and chairs, and colorful paper decorations, further evidence of vibrancy, but not accessible to her.

We did not adequately prepare a place for her. And for so many others over so many years. You may, yourself, have a story of facing access barriers or witnessing another experience those barriers here.

We have not loved everyone back. Let us grieve that truth.

And let us turn our hearts seriously to our mission.

Radical welcome is not a phrase we speak or a statement at the beginning of worship. It is not open arms and a beckoning smile. Radical welcome is a beautiful place prepared for every body. Without preparing to meet the physical, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive needs of a wide variety of human beings, our statements of welcome may as well be whispered into an empty room. Our beautiful table may as well be set at the top of a mountain without any rope.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to proclaim and embody the worth and dignity of each very particular person, within the context of the deeply material interconnection of the whole. This embodiment can lead us to experience the kind of deeply beloved community that truly tastes like heaven on this earth. And this embodiment requires setting carefully prepared places while consistently widening the table – adding all the leaves, and maybe pulling up some card tables too. Then, feasting on the profound beauty of this life, with a place that fits for every body.

Embodying our faith requires what UU educator CB Beal has described as pre-emptive radical inclusion.

Beal writes: ” Preemptive Radical Inclusion means that we intentionally position ourselves, before we know anything at all about anyone in the room, to presuppose that everyone is already, and always, in the room. We don’t wait for an individual to tell us what they need, and THEN meet their needs, we create experiences that preemptively involve them. The burden is on those in leadership to be aware of the needs of the people we are most likely to miss.”

We are all leaders here. It is our responsibility to set the table for those we are most likely to miss. So doing, we finally create the truly embodied welcome we commit to by faith, preparing a way for every body and for the future needs of our very own bodies too. Beal is careful to remind us through their reflections that inclusion is not our end goal. Justice is our end goal, and inclusion is the only way we can get there. Inclusion invites the transformation that we seek. We don’t stop at setting a beautiful table with a place for every body. But that careful preparation is the only way we can have the gorgeous collective love feast that we dream of and pursue.

Today our congregation is taking a step into our mission of radical welcome. We are preparing the table in a way we have heretofore failed to do by making our building more accessible to more bodies.

This morning is the launch of our “Rising to the Moment Accessibility Capital Campaign” to include our dear ones who are already and always here in the beautiful beloved community we are trying to create, but who face significant and unacceptable barriers to full participation in our community. We must right this wrong and set a better table.

We are raising $400,000 to install a full-size elevator, replace decades old carpeting that has become a significant tripping hazard, put in automatic door openers on the main upstairs and downstair entrances, and install braille signage throughout the building.

My spouse and I have chosen to make a significant gift of about three times our annual pledge to this campaign in honor of my grandmother, who left me some stock I will be donating in addition to her legacy of thoughtful, beautiful hospitality. And I have some excellent news for you. Twenty other pre-campaign givers also already made commitments to this campaign to get us off to an excellent start.

We have already received pledges totaling $294,000 toward our goal in addition to a $16,000 grant, making us less than $100,000 away from our total goal at the launch of our campaign today!

These improvements are well within our reach if our remaining families can each consider a generous gift from their own context to pitch in with what we have already raised.

I want to let you know that this campaign is in addition to your annual support of our congregation, which we use to pay our staff, fund our programs, and maintain an increasingly more accessible facility. Please think of this as a separate gift when considering how much you can contribute. Some of you may have access to inherited or saved wealth that you could consider sharing. Some of you will stretch just to give a little bit more. All of it will make this congregation a better, more beloved community.

Dear ones, it is time to pull out the good china and set a beautiful, mismatched, inclusive table with a place for every beloved body that waits to join the love feast with our community. I hope that you will dig deeply and give generously. And I hope that you will experience your gift and our community increasingly as a delicious embodiment of the world we are working to create.

You can make your pledge today at https://uucomo.org/rising/ or email campaign chair Ginny Winter with any questions.

Together we rise to the moment!