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The big message from sabbatical continues to be: how precious is this place. How precious Unitarian Universalism, yes. How precious church is as a place where people gather to explore the deeper experience of life, yes. But how precious it is to have here in the North Side a place of spiritual openness where we grow our souls by reaching in, reaching out to one another, and reaching out together to bring healing and hope, justice and compassion to the neighborhood and the planet.

Of course I was enriched by the retreats and the online courses and the visits to other churches and the conversations with colleagues and the time spent with family and friends and the movies and the books and trips to the gym and meditation and prayer. But returning from sabbatical, I’m struck most deeply by appreciation for the institution we call “church,” and for how church is lived at Allegheny.

Talking with long-time (longest-time?) church member Martha Brethauer about the church, she offered, “We’re still here. And that’s something.” We are “The church that stayed.” The church that stayed in the wake of the Great Depression, the church that stayed despite ministerial malfeasance, the church that stayed in the face of a serious and threatening Red Scare, the church that stayed with a generation of lay leadership, the church that stayed in spite of White Flight, the church that stayed against the express wishes of and direct pressure from the Association, the church that stayed by giving away its budget boldly and wisely, the church that stayed through conflict and change.

It’s an obvious yet profound statement that people who stay create the church.

At the end of this sabbatical, I envision my ministry as creating together a place where people come not only for the experience of God in worship, not only for Religious Education, not only for music, not only for the beautiful architecture, not only for even the people—wonderful as you are: I envision our ministry together as creating a church that lives its vital mission so thoroughly and deeply that people are drawn in as if by gravity. The experience of the divine, the programs, the people… they all serve the mission of moving with people, especially the marginalized, the imperfect, the wounded (not least, ourselves) to fullest possible fruition, to grow a soul.

When people are drawn to the mission, their heart and soul and body follow. Sometimes during worship you may not feel the presence of that deeply human experience that some are willing to call God. Sometimes programs will fall short of your expectation. Sometimes the music will hit a clinker. Sometimes people will disappoint by being human, imperfect, and different.

Ultimately it’s the mission that calls us out of bed Sunday morning and weekday evenings. If it doesn’t, then let’s make our mission even more vital, compelling, and gravitational.

You are blessed and you are a blessing when you show up fully and connect deeply. That’s nowhere more true than at church. When we take this church for granted, we all lose. The neighborhood loses. The North Side loses. And even the universe loses a little of its Love. Come this Sunday. And the next. And the next. Create the church of your wildest dreams and your fondest imagination. Transform yourself. Transform the world.

– Rev Dave