All Souls Kansas City

Service: “Arise, All Souls 150th Anniversary Celebration” with 150th Anniversary Committee

Click here to start at the sermon.

Good morning, and welcome, on this very special day!
Happy Anniversary, All Souls!

In case you are visiting us today for the first time,
We are delighted that you are here,
But you should be warned that things are going to be a little different from usual,
as we celebrate the 150th year since our founding in 1868.
We always love having guests;
It’s just not always quite this much of a party.

This is, of course, certainly a day of rejoicing.
The endurance of any institution or community over the generations
For a century and half is cause for amazement and excitement
In this disposable world.

It is also a legacy for which we here today are now responsible.
As other people once planted the seeds so that this congregation might be here now
For us to find,
We of the present have an obligation – not just to preserve, but to nurture this place,
So that the same kind of community, in its best possible form,
will be available for future generations.

There are many poignant memories to share,
and many hopeful dreams for the future to embrace;
much to be proud of, and much to anticipate.
But right now, just for a moment, I invite you to set aside all the hoopla,
And enter together into the place of honest reckoning,
where pride and envy alike are silent;
where we stand before the grandeur of our ideals
in all our human hopes, and fallibility, and gratitude.

Something greater than selfishness summons us;
something larger than our individual possibilities invites us into covenant;
an enduring suspicion that we could each be wiser and more loving than we are,
and together build a world more worthy of our best endeavors.
That same suspicion whispers that each of us is made for liberty and dignity and wholeness,
from out of the same creative source of universal energy;
that in the end we are received into a common destiny,
with the love that we have given and accepted and returned and left in the world
as the only meaningful measure of our days
Somewhere within each of us,
an endless fountain of gratitude and praise is flowing;
sometimes in the salt tears of sorrow,
sometimes in the sweat of our creative work, and our labor for justice;
sometimes in the blood of sacrifice for the common good;
sometimes in the wine of celebration and the words of rejoicing;
sometimes in the still water and silence of reverent wonder.

Dearly Beloved, we gather here in the presence of those selfless ideals,
that yearning for wholeness, that awareness of mortality, that reverent wonder,
that everlasting gratitude and praise.
We gather here, in the covenant community of memory and promise,
as they did who came before us, as they will do who follow,
in our common humanity.
May what they have bequeathed from the past be to us a blessing,
that we receive and honor;
May what they inherit from our hands be to the future a blessing,
that offers vision and strength for a journey greater even than our own.

Arise, All Souls, into love’s abundance;
Weave a world that is glad and whole.
Rise again to the promise of freedom;
In wisdom arise, in struggle arise;
Sing the kinship of every soul.

In this aspiration we kindle our chalice flame,
As every week, as in our kindred UU congregations around the globe,
As in the hearts of all who hold dear the promise
Of peace, justice, growing light, and greater good here in this world.

Click here to start at the sermon.

You can write the history of a church by the sequence of its ministers; if they are present for any length of time, each one leaves a distinctive mark on the character of the congregation. Their arrivals and departures are often the occasion for a variety of strong feelings among the parishioners. But the reality is that ministers do come and go – some for a reason, and some for a season, as it is said of friendships. In truth it is the people – the members in their continuity and loyalty – who truly create the essence of a religious community. If it is to have an effective mission and a powerful covenant, it is in the hearts and minds and spirits of the people that a congregation’s DNA must be nurtured and expressed and spread forth in the world.

It is a privilege and a joy to help lead this 150 year old institution into the future. In my experience, All Souls is supportive toward ministry here, and makes good use of professional leadership. As Claudine described, people often take good ideas and run with them. And as Floy mentioned, there is an eagerness for preaching with intellectual depth and thoughtfulness, as well as inspiration and reverence. I hope this pulpit will always be in the hands of ministers who are committed to the life of the mind, as well as personal integrity and service. And I hope this congregation will always remember that you are engaged together in a work of mutual co-creation, and you make the ministers what they are by how you treat them, as much as their words and actions shape the congregation. I hope that you will continue to choose ministers and interns who will challenge the status quo, and invite you into ever more inclusive community and profound connections. I hope you will continue to support leaders who model spiritual maturity, and ask us all to grow together in that direction. I hope that ministry will continue to serve you well, as it has in the past, in a vast variety of ways.

As I look ahead to the future of this church, I hope for two qualities of community most of all. I hope that we aspire to lead by example, and to lead by generosity and abundance. I hope that we seek to teach our new members and our children and the larger community around us, not by lecturing or scolding or instructing, but by showing. I hope we teach integrity by showing integrity in action. I hope we teach compassion by demonstrating it in our behavior. I hope we teach respect and acceptance by illustrating it in practice. I hope we teach honesty and accountability by displaying them in the life of this institution. I hope we teach reverence and joy by modeling them together in our daily lives. It never does any good to expect other people to acquire virtues that we are not working toward ourselves. When we covenant to ‘help one another’, this is what it means – that we are each making the effort to live our values into the world, and that we are in this project together.

Second, I hope we lead from a place of generosity and abundance, and I’m not primarily talking about money. If what we are doing here is mostly waiting for new people to come and bring us more friendship, and more energy and commitment, then we are in the wrong enterprise. A hundred and fifty years ago, the folks who began this community of faith had something to offer the world; some good news about our human capacity for reason and freedom, about our connectedness to one another and the world of nature, about how we could make the common good of our society more just and compassionate for everyone. They were eager to share their good news, and that eagerness was the greatest resource they had. They had a gift to offer; a gift of friendship in the struggle and companionship on the journey. They were also people of both conscious and unconscious privilege, who didn’t always know how to think beyond the limits of ‘folks like us.’ We are still about the business of learning to fulfill their promise more fully, and more widely. Because the world still needs that good news – indeed, the world has never needed it more. The world needs institutions like All Souls church to be generous, to take risks in the service of our convictions, to offer persistently inclusive welcome and radical hospitality as a testimony to the good news we still believe. Our history has been 150 years of preparation for these very days; to meet the world’s hunger right now for the message entrusted to us.

My own gift to celebrate the start of our next century is a new hymn text, set to music by my friend and colleague Jason Shelton. Our musicians are going to do the choral version to close our time together in doors, and then they will lead us outside to dedicate two enduring memorials to this landmark moment in this congregation’s history. We invite you to remain seated for the moment, but watch for the signal when we ask you to truly Arise, All Souls.