Confidently in the Direction of Our Dreams

Prelude: Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Gwen Kahn

Good morning! I am Gwen Kahn, a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia, and a member of your Stewardship Committee. 

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.

We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today.  I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour… from the comfort of your own homes.  You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to grab whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be part of your worship experience today.

As always, kindly set your phones to worship mode; we won’t know, but I think you might enjoy the hour free from distractions.  And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news. 

And although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.  

And now let us prepare for worship with the song “Be Ours A Religion” sung by Chrissy Haddad.

Music: “Be Ours A Religion” Chrissy Haddad

Call to Worship: Rev. Misha Sanders

Our Call to Worship today is by Rev. Leslie Takahashi.

“To worship means to consider that which has worth—today we consider, with gratitude, the many gifts of this community—

The opportunity to be affirmed in who we are and to offer that affirmation to others

The chance to stand up together to help remake the world in the ideal of justice

The freedom to choose one’s own path to truth and to learn from the travelogues of others

The space to expand one’s own spirit and to reconnect after busy –or humdrum–weeks with the sustaining truths of one’s life

Regular reminders that we must see our world through the lens of love

And the aspiration to consider all life as precious for if all of it is made of stardust, how can it not be wondrous?

So this morning let’s welcome all of these gifts with gratitude—for they have been paid for with many currencies

The blood of the martyrs who died so that we can be free in our religion

The sweat of those who persisted in justice’s name against hostility and adversity

The tears of those who struggled to build better lives for those in this life

The questions of our children as they understand the world anew and offer their understanding to us as a fresh lens

The laughter and joy of those giddy with the embrace of community

The dollars and cents of those who gave what they could—and then stretched a little more.

The infinite small acts of service that make the parts greater than the whole, done by those who knew themselves in sympathy with our purposes.

So today we consider with gratitude and humility what it means to pay forward what has been paid forward for us.

And now, with all of this, let us enter into worship with gladness in our hearts.”

Lighting of the Chalice: Presented by Elissa Branum Martin written by Bruce Southworth

Story Wisdom: Adia introduces, “The Magical Yet,” by Angela DiTerlizzi

Interlude: “No Coming, No Going”

Joys and Sorrows: Karen Edmonds

Good Morning. I am Karen Edmonds, a member of Northwest’s Care Corps Team, and I am here to bring you the Joys and Sorrows this morning. And I invite you all now, those of you with Joys and Sorrows to share with our congregation here gathered virtually, to open the chat box at the bottom of your screen and enter your Joys and Sorrows. 

Joys and Sorrows is our time in this space to honor these sacred moments and milestones. For our Ritual, we have water and we have river stones. Smooth and heavy in our hands, these river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease and life’s burdens and times of heaviness. The water in our bowl is a precious natural resource. We use it sparingly, reminding us of the preciousness of each life and its unique journey.

Please keep in mind those in our congregation who are ill, hospitalized or recovering, as well as those grieving a loss. Your prayers, healing thoughts, cards and emails are welcome.

Ryan Wilson, nephew of Marti Wilson.

John Wienert (Any cards or notes should be addressed to Penny Raney whose contact information can be found in our NWUUC data base, REALM.)

Kathy Frost (recovering from elbow surgery)

Gwen Kahn and her family, Sydney, Jay, and Anthony at the passing of Mary Lowrey, Gwen’s mother.

A stone of Concern for each of them.

Also, we have some birthdays this week. 

Tammy Clabby 03/07
Nancy Johnson 03/08
Paul Ross 03/09
Jay Kahn 03/14

Prayer and Meditation: Karen Edmonds

Love is the spirit of this church
and service is it’s law.
This is our great covenant;
to dwell together in peace,
to seek the truth in love,
and to help one another.
Because caring is a calling and
all of us are called.

May it be so.

Reflection: Melissa Niedermyer

Good Morning- I am Melissa Niedermeyer, a worship associate here at Northwest  as well a member of the Stewardship Committee along with Cameron Moore and Gwen Kahn.  Those of you who know me, know I watch a lot of movies, resulting in the accidental memorization of random ideas, so I want to start our talk today with an idea from Disney’s movie “Cinderella”:

“Dreams are wishes your heart makes.”

Of course, Cinderella was dreaming of pumpkin coaches and mouse footmen, but the idea of the heart wanting what it wants is older than that and is applicable to many situations.

When I reflect on the last 12 months, I can’t help but consider how they have been pretty rough;  I know that my heart is wishing for a return to regular schedules, and an ability to spend time in person with friends and family with my face uncovered, shoulder to shoulder and hugging when I feel like it.  The current pandemic has seemed to amplify the interpersonal, economic, and family issues that most people might experience even in a regular year; some of us have struggled with work, some of us have struggled with educating our children; some of us have been ill or have had family members that are ill; some of us have lost friends and family members. In so many ways, it has been a year for disruption and sadness.

I know for me, the ability to connect with my NW friends every week, even if only virtually has been a bright spot.  If you are on this Zoom call right now, it means that you, like me, feel that Northwest is a place that matters to you; that it is important enough that no matter how many hours you may have spent zooming for work, school,  or to check in with friends and family, you are willing to get up earlier than you have to on Sunday to spend yet one  or possibly two more hours on a zoom call to keep the Northwest community just that: a community.  We have all been batted about by the plague year, yet so many of us still find it in ourselves each week to click the button on the website and join this virtual gathering once a week to check in with our church home and church family.

As a child, I often attended a Baptist church with my grandmother on Sundays where those sort of quaint sounding ideas “church home” and “church family” were utilized unironically.  As I have reflected on this past year, I have come to realize that, despite the online format, my “church home” ties have actually deepened, and my “church family” is more important to me than I ever thought possible even just 12 months ago.

  I have sincerely appreciated it when members of the Care corps called my house just to check on how the Niedermeyers were faring down in Fayetteville, and often did not hang up after the usual pleasantries- they took time from their day to really check in and see how my family was holding up and if we needed anything further.  I have delighted in the picture montages of all my NW family members finding ways to to be out in the world during this time- looking at those pictures gives me just as much pleasure as receiving pictures of my nieces from their aunts. I have sat in various  virtual committee meetings and services and marveled at the talent, creativity, and commitment of so many of you; you all are truly an impressive group of people.  I have leaned heavily on the relationships that I have made and cultivated in our congregation, as I am sure that many of you havel.There is so much more about my own life that was made bearable this year because I have these relationships.

 Rev. Misha reminding me every Sunday that she “loves me and there is nothing I can do about it.” moves me to tears each week- and I have come to understand that is  exactly how I feel about my Church home and my Church family- I love y’all and there is nothing you can do about it.  In a year that was full to the brim of subtraction and grief, this community has added value to my life by giving me a place to belong, and a place to bring my fear and sadness- this community ,even virtually, has brought me joy and hope and comfort. Please  Take a moment and put in the chat what value, enjoyment, and support that you have gotten through your continued participation in church this year.(READ REPLIES)

If we at Northwest have this kind of power to bring solace and togetherness on a Zoom format- think of the ways that we will exponentially increase this power once we are back together in person  in our beautiful new church home doing the work of this church family- uplifting and educating each other, offering help and comfort to those who need us, and giving our children a place to grow. I know I am dreaming of our return home, and you would not be here virtually if you did not share that dream- the wish that our collective hearts make.

  The theme of our pledge drive this year is “going confidently in the direction of our dreams.” I am happy to report that many of you have already confidently headed in that direction by pledging ahead of the drive.

The Stewardship Committee has set a pledge goal for the year 2021-2222 of 200,000.00; this is a lofty goal and a large number- but think of the dreams we can build together at Northwest if we have the will and the commitment to reach this goal-  Consider how we would feel if there were no Northwest and the people who make up our staff:  our wonderful minister, our excellent director of music, and our dedicated RE director and any other staff member that makes it possible that I am perhaps forgetting to mention.

As I said, I love the movies: In  “It’s a Wonderful Life”. JImmy Stewart’s character George Bailey was shown in a dream sequence what the lives of others would have been without his existence-George found that his absence mattered, and that the lives of many people had been touched by him. George’s cinematic example is an exercise in understanding and appreciating what matters most in life and how our individual presence and commitment is both a gift to our community and ourselves, and that relationship is precious.

 As stated, The theme of this year’s pledge drive is “Going confidently in the direction of our dreams.”  Our theme is actually a paraphrase of a quote by the American philosopher Henry David Thoureau, and by going confidently towards all that we  as a congregation  have been dreaming of and imagining once we all back together with our church family answers the wishes of all the hearts zooming away this Sunday morning when they could be in bed still sleeping. Thoreau also reminded his readers that “if you build castles in the air, you must put foundations under them.”  As a congregation, we put foundations under our dreams when we say yes to committing our time and treasure to our home in the woods.  As you answer the call to pledge, think about what you love and value about the Northwest community and remind yourself of your hopes and dreams for your church home when we return together to minister to each other and to the needs of those around us. You will find the information you need to make your pledge  in the chat box, as well as on our home and Facebook pages and in the weekly newsletter. Thank you,

And now,  Tracy Montgomery will sing “We’ll Build a Land”

Music for reflection: “We’ll Build A Land” Traci Montgomery

Sermon: Rev. Misha Sanders

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”  Henry David Thoreau said that.  Thoreau, that highly-quotable, problematic, self-absorbed rascal of a Unitarian ancestor we Unitarian Universalists love to name meeting rooms after.  He probably wasn’t preaching a stewardship sermon when he said it, but I think it’s pretty cool that our amazing Stewardship team decided to use a part of this quote, “Confidently In the Direction of Our Dreams” as our theme for stewardship in this 2021-2022 church year.  

I told you all this last year, and I’m going to tell you again.  For years, as a lay person in my Unitarian Universalist church in Illinois, I had strong opinions about Stewardship Sunday.  Some years, I would forget to look at the newsletter the week of Stewardship, and I would accidentally forget to skip church that week, and on those weeks, I would literally tell visitors apologetically, “It’s not always like this.  Please do come back another Sunday, because I promise, our minister isn’t a money-grubbing jerk.  Not usually.”   I was THE WORST!  

So, thank you for showing up today, even if it was an accident.  And visitors, it’s *not* always about money, but it *is* always like this…the other parts where the people here are awesome and we love you just the way you are.  So, do come back.  

I’m going to share this story again too, because it’s still just as fitting: 

“I enter a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and give our order.” said the anonymous author of the now-viral social media post a few years ago.  “While we’re approaching our table two people come in and they go to the counter – ‘Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended’

They pay for their order, take the two and leave. I ask my friend:

‘What are those ‘suspended’ coffees?’

‘Wait for it and you will see’

Some more people enter. Two girls ask for one coffee each, pay and go. The next order was for seven coffees and it was made by three lawyers – three for them and four ‘suspended’. While I still wonder what’s the deal with those ‘suspended’ coffees I enjoy the sunny weather and the beautiful view towards the square in front of the café. Suddenly a man dressed in shabby clothes comes in through the door and kindly asks, ‘Do you have a suspended coffee ?’

It’s simple – people pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who cannot afford a warm beverage. The tradition with the suspended coffees started in Naples, but it has spread all over the world and in some places you can order not only a suspended coffee, but also a sandwich or a whole meal.”

What a lovely model of giving those Italians created for us, isn’t it? Buying a morning cup of coffee for someone who might come in after you’ve left the building and asks for a little bit of caffeinated grace.  

I will tell you that for fifteen years I didn’t pledge a penny to the congregation to which I belonged.  Nothing.  And that is not ideal.  It is true now and it was true then that I could have given SOMETHING.  A fiver now and then.  Most of us, but not all of us can do that. But I didn’t.  And here’s what happened to me while I showed up for years in that place and gave of my energy and time, but not not my finances.  People with means and privilege and passion for our beloved faith kept the church open for people like me who needed it to survive.  They kept it running for people like my son who has never had to grow up doubting that he is whole and holy and worthy of love just the way he is, because his church family made sure he knew it from his very first memories.  

Let’s talk about this beloved community right here.  

Our ask this year is doable, and it is ambitious, and it is exciting.  

We have expanded our building to accommodate more people, and we are expecting them to come.  We are expecting them to come because this congregation is an exciting, progressive, ever-moving-forward place to be and we have good news to share with our neighbors.  All of our neighbors.  And all of our neighbors who show up and become a part of us will bring invaluable gifts with them which will become a part of what we’re continuously building here.  Some of the gifts they bring will be in the form of financial gifts.  And some of it will not.  We are called here, in part, to bind up the broken, and in my experience of my own brokenness, the broken do not tend to show up with their wallets open asking us how much they can give.

That’s where that Italian coffeehouse model of giving comes in: When some of our dreams are big enough to support the dreams of some of the rest of us who have less but give and dream in other ways.    

Our Stewardship campaign this year, under the capable, enthusiastic, and dedicated leadership of Cameron Moore, Melissa Neidermeyer, and Gwen Kahn, is asking us again to dream big…and then…as we already have proven we know how to do…to move confidently in the direction of our dreams.  

They are big dreams, these dreams we believe we can make reality together in a new church year that we hope will be mostly in-person!  

But dreaming big and going confidently in the direction of our dreams is something we have just modeled and done…during a year of social distancing and grief and hardship…friends, you built a new fellowship hall and and expanded sanctuary…ANYWAY!  That’s some very bold, brash, beautiful confidence in your dreams!    

As Melissa already shared, our pledge goal for the 2021/2022 congregational year is $200,000.  Doable. Within reach.  Our board came to this number during a lot of hard work in board meetings and a special budget meeting, and they believe confidently in this dream.  

How will the rest of our income needed to keep our finances healthy come in?  Well, you already dreamed up and created an expanded space for rentals, more events, and a brand new pre-school.  And we know that as our world comes out of pandemic lockdown with vaccines in their bodies and hope in their hearts, they will be looking for places to meet each other, to celebrate and give thanks with each other, and to marry each other.  NWUUC is ready for them.  We have been going confidently in the direction of our dream to be here for just such a time as this, and we are ready.  Our Justice team has some bold, exciting dreams that we will be sharing when the time is right, and I know already that the vast majority of you will be thrilled and on-board with their dreams.  We are ready and excited and just about cannot wait to help it all unfold.  

Some of you give more than your fair share already, by far.  You’ve bought someone else’s coffee because you want every person here to stay here, regardless of ability to pay.  Thank you.  

Some of you never quite know what is appropriate to give, and maybe it is a good time to consider your regular pledge and assess whether ir not it is still reasonable for you, and maybe it stays exactly the same this year.  You can pay your portion of the bills to keep this place running, and that’s what you’re going to put on your pledge card this year.  Thank you.

Some of you, like me and my little indigent family for many years, may have no idea how in the world people can afford the luxury of generous giving.  Maybe you can give a few bucks here and there, if your car doesn’t break down or if the pets stay healthy.  Been there.  These are the days for which the folks who can afford  to cover your share were made.  These are exactly the days for which beloved community was made.   Stay.  Be fed.  Share whatever gifts you have in abundance, and they may not include be very much money.  Maybe next year will be different.  It is consistently true that the most generous among us are often not the ones with the most to give.  And so, thank you.

Money is a very touchy subject in beloved community.  We don’t have a pay to pray situation going on here, and I will also tell you that your minister is deliberately ignorant of how much you pledge.  I do not know.  Not knowing keeps me from ministering differently based on who could be considered a powerful agenda lobbyist if I knew who they are.  

I am a woman who grew up working class poor, became much poorer as an adult, but-for-the-grace-of friends with spare couches and basements, my son and I would have been homeless for a while at the beginning of my seminary journey.  I have lived through domestic violence, I have used my white privilege to walk right into Walmart and steal things I needed for my baby and not get caught, and I have picked up dropped coins on the ground around toll booths in highway exit lanes so that I could buy enough fuel to get to where I needed to go.  

I know about beloved community holding me up when I couldn’t do it for myself.  

And so I know how it feels to be the guy in the shabby clothes walking into the coffee shop asking if anybody has paid it forward to somebody like me yet today.  I know the indignity of “I’m sorry, but no.” And I know the grace of YES.

Today, maybe you can be the grace of yes for somebody.  May going confidently in the direction of our dreams meet a need and fulfill a dream for someone else.  

For my beloveds who can pledge 10 dollars, your ten dollars is mighty and it is the stuff of dreams, and it is enough.  And I already know that your other gifts will be as important and as precious to this community as our financial gifts.

For my beloveds who are mid-range pledgers, you are the ones who have kept this place alive for more than fifty years now.  Your gifts are the dreammakers, and they are enough.  

For my beloveds who pledge so much more than your fair share, we are all held by your love and generosity in ways we all know we can never repay.  Your gifts are the dreams turning into reality, and they are enough. 

We have big goals.  We have exciting plans.  We still need to furnish our larger space, we will need sprucing up to be the best host possible for beloved little ones in our impending pre-school.  We will need to keep fairly compensating our staff.  We still need new air conditioners. Our new larger space will result in higher utility bills.

We will so very much come out better for all the work we are putting into this beloved community.  Yes, even financially. Preschool revenue, added rental revenue, and the additional pledges from the people who will join us in community as we grow.  And in the meantime, while we stretch and dream through the newest stages of the growing pains, we will need all the support we can get.  

[bluebird image] Katy Lockhart, Melissa Neidermeyer, Cameron Moore, and the Kahn family worked on this really cool pledge postcard that the mail has already delivered to some of you, and for others, it is on its way.  For those who have not received it yet, here is a preview of our mascot, the bluebird, and you’ll get to see the official postcard image during the offering, thanks to Dr. Philip. Please consider your giving amount carefully and prayerfully, if that word applies to your financial decisions. What time and talent do you have to share, in addition to your treasure?   We need, want, welcome, and are excited about YOUR engagement, no matter how you can best serve.  

Unitarian transcendentalist dreamer Henry David Thoreau said a lot of encouraging things about advancing confidently in the direction of our dreams.  

So did Willy Wonka, and he made it a little more clear who he was talking to and about.  “WE are the music makers and WE are the dreamers of dreams.” 

Which obviously leads me to the brilliant modern music maker, dreamer of dreams, philosopher, and part-time theologian P!nk:

“However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
We may be right, we may be wrong
But say that you’ll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world we close our eyes to see.
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”

I believe in you.
I believe in your dreams. 
I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Gwen Kahn will now invite us into a time of giving, because…you know…what else would we do now but collect an offering, right Gwen?

Offering: Introduction by Gwen Kahn

Our congregation is a theologically diverse religious community with membership open to all who are in accordance with our principles, mission and vision. Our congregation is entirely self-governed by democratic process. One of the privileges of our free church tradition is to provide all of the financial support for our many ministries from among ourselves. Generosity, therefore, is one of the spiritual values we recognize as central to our personal and our institutional well-being. You are now invited to participate in the blessing of giving, as our offering is gratefully received.

Dedication of the Offering: 

Please join me in the Dedication of the Offering: 

“To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.”

Benediction: Rev. Misha Sanders

Our benediction today is by Rev. Michael A Schuler.

“If you are proud of this church, become its advocate.
If you are concerned for its future, share its message.
If its values resonate deep within you, give it a measure of your devotion.
This church cannot survive without your faith, your confidence, your enthusiasm.
Its destiny, the larger hope, rests in your hands.”

Postlude: Jim Pearce