Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072
Church School: 10:45 AM
Reflections on Membership
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, April 5, 2009
Samuel Clemens (aka, of course, Mark Twain) said and wrote many humorous—but oh so true—things. There are pages and pages of his pithy quotes and incisive insights out there. Among my favorites is this one on abstinence, which he sent to the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, who was known in her time as “Lemonade Lucy” because she would not allow alcohol to be served at White House functions:
“Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent,” Mark Twain wrote Mrs. Hayes. “In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.”
Or, of women, about whom Mark Twain once said:
“What, Sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce.”
But my favorite is from Tom Sawyer. Is it any wonder that when Aunt Polly saw fit to carting him off to church, Tom exclaimed to his pal, Huck Finn: “Church? Why Huck—Church ain’t shucks to a circus!”
Who would have known that, in time, Tom Sawyer would emerge as a spokesman for (perhaps) the largest religious group in America, and that his exclamation to Huckleberry Finn—“Church ain’t shucks to a circus!”—could very serve as a sort of rallying cry in our own day and age.
Commentators tell us that churches, along with various other kind of social and benevolent organizations in our society, are in decline. People don’t have time for that kind of involvement any longer. They’re too busy at work (if they have work). Too busy taking care of their families. They’re more interested in staying home than in getting involved. Too busy surfing the net, or watching television, or pursuing purely personal pursuits. When they have a bit of discretionary time, they’d rather go to the movies—or to the mall—or even to the circus instead.
To so many, the church has come to be viewed as just one more institution—one more burden—demanding time, energy, and money. By too many, perhaps, it has come to be seen as perhaps the least relevant and productive institution of all—as nothing more than, at best, a quaint old anachronism, totally ineffective, impotent in a changing world.
In a way of course, Tom Sawyer was right: Church is just shucks to the circus. But do we really need any more circuses in this world of ours? Or do we need something that cuts deeper, that springs from eternal sources, that touches us where it really matters? We have circuses enough all around, in the cultural and economic and political spheres. We don’t need any more
For most of us, the church, for better or worse, is the only place we have for the nurture of our spirits—the only place where most of us can pull our view away from the narrow here and now. As imperfect and limited as it certainly is (and I make no claim that this church, or any church is a perfect institutions), the church is the only place most of us have to ponder the workings of the divine in our daily lives.
Maybe this is why, in times like these we’re now living through, we need churches more than ever: to pull our eyes away from the truncated narrowly materialistic view of existence that has gotten us into this predicament, to remind us of the deeper ties that bind us, to one another, to all the world, to all life.
That is part of the reason we are here today, in this church, as we joyfully welcome these nine new members (a bumper crop! an excellent harvest!). To remember that, while we as a church revere the past, we trust the dawning future more. To remember the words of Pope John XXIII, addressed to his own church, at he called into session the Second Vatican Council that changed everything: “We are not on Earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.”
You can’t have a church without people. You’ve got to have members to have a church. It is the members of the church who keep its traditions alive; who do the work that needs doing; who pass along the institutions of the church to those who will come after them. “Who do the work of committees, and stay till the end.” It is into this living fellowship that we welcome these nine fine men and women this morning. And it is in this spirit that we remember all those blessed souls who have warmed this church by their presence, and by their commitment, down through the years.
However long or however short the time someone has been a member of our church, we are all nevertheless woven together in a sacred garment of tradition and destiny. That garment is made of strong material indeed—like the mithral that guarded Frodo’s heart in The Lord of the Rings—gentle and delicate, but resilient, too, and tough enough to withstand whatever fortune deals.
May the ties that bind us together continue to grow stronger through the years that lie ahead.