Worth and Dignity: Our Good News

“Worth and Dignity: Our Good News”  A Homily on Campus Chaplaincy

Rev. Brian J. Kiely  October 2, 2016

I want to begin by offering thanks and congratulations as well, first to Audrey Brooks for her 10 years of service to Campus Chaplaincy – in addition to all she does around here at UCE, and also to Anne Barker who has stepped up to enthusiastically take on this challenging task.  To that I would add my congratulations to the Westwood Congregation for being primary funders of this initiative and devoting some of Anne’s time to this work.  It is a big stride for a smaller congregation.  Fantastic.

As Audrey said during her meditation, ministry to the wider community is the work of our congregations.  Let’s explore that.

We have come into Unitarian environments drawn by the people and the philosophies we have found here.  We call it home, because we connect with so many people who see the world much the way we do.  We find liberal, accepting and affirming folks who get outraged by many of the same things that bother us, who go soft and gooey over some of the same societal wins, who essentially want to live in the same kind of world we do.

That makes our communities safe and comfortable for us.  In these rooms we feel our worth and dignity affirmed, and that’s a good thing.

But you may have noticed that there is another world out there that is not quite so warm, or friendly, or affirming. There are hateful and isolating and shaming propagandists who dress themselves up in a variety of styles of religious garb even though their message bears on relation either to the religion of their founders or to the kind of constructive message the world needs to hear.

That’s also true in the secular realm and increasingly in the political as well.  Most of us have been looking on in horror and fear as Mr. Trump – a lying, racist, anti-just-about-everything bully is making a real run at the US Presidency.

That meanness and nastiness is spreading into the Canadian public sphere, as well.  Too often instead of challenging policies, the various media are full of personal attacks on our elected representatives. We see a political world where facts no longer matter, where discussion, dialogue, and negotiation have less and less room in the political arena.

In other words, we see a climate where “Affirming the inherent worth and dignity of others” is so far from the norm, that it has become a quaint idea.

We have a lot of work to do.  Why?  Because we know our first principle is anything but quaint or outdated.

We look around our Unitarian communities and see what a healthy environment this Principle can create.  How many lives have we made better by affirming those who don’t believe in God in the prescribed way and yet who feel deep spiritual connections and hold well considered moral values?  How many people have we saved from family rejection and disdain?  How many activists trying to improve the world have found common cause and sympathetic voices within our walls?  How many LGBTQ people have found a safe haven among us?  How many children have we taught to live respectfully in the world and gently on the earth?

We know first hand that that this Principle can bring healing to the world.  We have seen it work.

We aren’t the only people to espouse these views, of course.  Many branches of other religions are built on loving and generous messages.  They also promote the idea that we are all the children of the divine realm and all have worth.  That’s wonderful

But it doesn’t let us Unitarians off the hook.

Affirming the Worth and dignity of others is a big part of our Good News- our Gospel.

And we have a job to share that good news widely and gently,

How do we do that job?

First by simply living that Principle into being in the way we treat our families and friends, the people we meet at work and in the street.  We live that Principle into being most strongly day by day and one to one.  It can be hard, I know.  A bunch of you have told me that you have family who think The Donald is the bee’s knees.  Thanksgiving with family like that can be…strained.  I’ll be talking about affirming the worth of ‘those people’ in the October 23rd sermon.

Another way to advance our First Principle is to is support our two Unitarian communities and their programs. Not all of us can be on the front lines of advocacy because we have enough on our hands simply living this First Principle in our own lives.  For a good many, caring for ourselves and loved ones, making a living or getting an education is pretty much most of what we can handle.  That’s great, and it’s enough.  We support the congregations and they are able to carry some of the load.

As part of my work I have sat with Audrey in the Capitol Region Interfaith Housing Initiative for the past several years working to change attitudes towards the homeless or poorly housed.  Anne has been part of the larger plenary sessions of that group.

Our communities have come together to sponsor the Adam family from Syria.  In so doing we are affirming the value of all people – even refugees!

Our Social Justice committees have worked to support LGBTQ rights, on supporting anti-poverty work and on a host of other issues foreign and domestic.

Our children and youth leaders work on helping our children see these precious Principles in action, and this Fall Lauren Kay is launching Our Whole Lives for adults, helping develop respectful and healthy attitudes towards sexuality.

And then there is Campus Ministry.  Begun by Audrey and now being taken forward by Anne’s commitment and passion.  How better to promote the values for which we stand than by reaching out to young people and their teachers in one of the most formative stages of their lives?  It doesn’t matter whether or not they become Unitarians now or later – though that would be nice – what matters is that they see good and capable adults living their affirmation of the worth and dignity of others.  That’s why it is a wonderful thing that we have had Campus Ministry for the past 10 years and that it is now going to continue in strength going forward.

This is our work, good people. This is our calling, to mend the world, to model good and healthy ways of being together, to stand against the darkening clouds of isolationism, climate destruction and unenlightened self-interest and hold up the brightest possible chalice light.  More than ever we need, to be beacons.

If not us – who?

So thank you Audrey, congratulations, Anne.  We are proud of you and grateful to you for carrying the work of our gathered communities forward.

And now it is our task to back you and support you and stand beside you when you call us to help.