Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072
Church School: 10:45 AM
The Blessed Symphony of Faith
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, February 20, 2011
Over the years, those of us charged with putting together the annual All-Church Canvass have tried various themes to move you, inspire you, and get your money from you. With varying degrees of success, I suppose. (Though I remain deeply impressed by how consistently the people of this little church of ours come through when called upon; how, year after year, they dig just a little deeper to do what is needed to keep our rather special religious institution functioning.)
So, maybe it’s not the theme that’s important; or the format of the service; or what the particular speakers on Canvass Sunday say (though I would spend real money to come and hear what Pamela has to say, anytime).
Perhaps it doesn’t matter that in 2002, the theme was the seasons of our lives, the seasons of our church. (Yes, there really are other seasons besides winter!). Or that in 2004, in honor of it being leap year (and Canvass Sunday being on February 29), we talked about the need for our church to take a “Great Leap Forward” into the future. In 2005, we called ourselves an “Open-Armed” church (as opposed to an “Openly Armed” church); in 2006, we likened our church to a ship, adventurously sailing unknown seas into the future. In 2007, we declared “We Are The Church”, and in 2008, we said that we should “Celebrate” that fact. In 2009, with spring (we hoped) just around the corner, we were asked to tend to our church garden, and make sure that it bloomed forth abundantly.
Does anyone remember what last year’s theme was? Here’s a hint: Canvass Sunday was on Valentine’s Day, February 14. So, of course the theme was “Give From Your Heart”.
Don’t feel bad if you couldn’t remember all of our canvass themes from years gone by. (If truth be told, I doubt if I would have been able to remember many of them, without the help of our trusty church website—which has sermons and meditations from all the way back in 1999 posted, in case you’re interested. Plug.) Because, as I’ve said, the important thing isn’t the theme. That’s just the outer packaging. The important thing is the commitment, the dedication, and the love that the people of our church have for this very precious spiritual and community legacy. Without that, the glitzy ad campaign in the world wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. With that commitment and love, we will re-enact again this year the most implausible of human miracles; the survival of a small, self-supporting community of faith in the face of strong social forces to the contrary; in the face of a society and culture that says such places as ours shouldn’t be existing any longer.
But having said all this, and perhaps unduly minimalizing the sheer creativity it takes your Canvass Committee to keep coming up with a new theme each year (maybe that could be next year’s theme.. something about creativity!), I especially like this year’s theme. (In spite of the fact that I wasn’t there at the meeting when it was chosen—maybe that’s why it’s such a good theme.) I think that there’s a lot more that churches and music have in common than we realize sometimes.
This church of ours is like that song we can’t get out of our heads (even if we might want to sometimes). Even when we’re doing other things, and headed other places, it’s the underlying melody that will not let us go. A melody of freedom. A melody of diversity. A melody of caring and compassion, and that deepening, quickening sense of always something more. More than we realize, perhaps, this church provides what Dick Clark called “the soundtrack of our lives”—the underlying melody and harmony that holds our lives in order and gives them some sense of purpose. It sounds the “Big Notes” in our lives:
It swells forth with a magnificent beat and rhythm; first-rate, child-centered religious education; innovative programs of exploration, education, and personal growth; worship and spirituality rescued from dogma and authoritarianism; the chance to share with a multi-generational community of caring and compassionate; a chance for each of us to reach out and serve others and become part of something bigger than we are.
One person can sing in the shower, but none of us, alone, does a full orchestra make. For that, we need others.
Any one of us can be a spiritual person alone, all by ourselves. But none of us, alone, a religious community makes. For that, we need this church.
The poet May Sarton once said: “There are days when only religious music will do. Under the light of eternity, things, the daily trivia, the daily frustrations, fall away. It’s all a matter of getting to the center of the beam.”
There are times in our lives when, only by being in religious community with others, can we find the centeredness of our lives. It is this church which provides that centering, and that community.
Orlando di Lasso is considered by many to have been one of the most important Renaissance composers of the 16th century. Over 2000 of his spiritual and secular works have survived, of which one of his best known “Musica dei donum”—“Music, the gift of God”-- tells of his celebration of music:
“Music, the gift of God,
draws men, draws gods;
Music draws out our deeper connection with all existence. It moves more nimbly and effectively than mere words ever could, into the deeper recesses of our beings. Unlike words or thoughts alone, music touches our souls directly; it engages our emotions (even our bodies), as well as our intellects.
Such could be a job description of what this church of ours attempts to do, too. As Scott Alexander has said, it tries “to touch the deep and tender places in the human spirit.” It’s a tall order for a little church like this one. It’s the reason it needs our support now, more than ever.
I like to sing. That doesn’t mean I sing well. But I sing everywhere, all the time. I sing in the shower (everyone sounds like Mario Lanza in the shower!) I sing in the car. I sing at my desk while I’m working. I sing in the grocery store. I always have. I’ve never thought anything about it. Now, not everyone does this, I understand.
One day not too long ago, I was cruising the aisles at Stop & Shop (a place I hang out a lot), trying to figure out what to buy for supper, singing some little song (I don’t remember what). Another shopper (a little woman dressed in black), came up the aisle in the opposite direction, stopped right in front of my cart, stared straight at me, and asked (not in a very pleasant tone): “Why are you singing? Are you really that happy?”
I don’t remember what I said, but what I should have said was, “Probably not. I’m probably no happier than most people, I suppose. But when I sing, I know that I’m alive. And that I’m not alone.”
This church sets some very high standards for itself: changing the world; bringing about the blessed community of memory and hope; deepening our spirits; meeting our society’s unmet needs.
Those dark angels dressed in black in our culture say we’re crazy. It’ll never work. We’ll never reach our goals; we’ll never accomplish our aims, that the church is still playing LPs in a culture that’s hooked on MP3s. “Why do you support your church?” they ask. “Are you really that much more spiritual or religious than anyone else?”
Probably not, if truth be told. But in this church, we know that there’s always something more in this life. There are always new spiritual possibilities waiting to be awakened. And here, in this little church, we know that we’re not alone.
For as dear Maria sings in The Sound of Music:
A bell is no bell till you
And, for those of us here in this church, our lives are not complete until we sing once again, together, just as fully as we are able, our hearts’ own song.