OUR PARTNER CHURCH A sermon by Rev. David M Bryce – January 27, 2013
This is a big year for the overall Partner Church program. The Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council turns twenty this coming summer. It was only after the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania that we could reestablish full contact with the Unitarian congregations in Transylvania. In that twenty years the program has expanded and now includes connections with congregations in India, the Philippines, and now with the twelve emerging congregations in Kenya.
I decided to look up the word “partner” in the Oxford Dictionary online and found that partner is an alteration of the word parcener ‘partner, joint heir’…“
I like that etymology because it speaks of being “joint heirs”, that is, joint inheritors. We are joint heirs with our Transylvania Partner church, joint inheritors of Unitarianism and joint inheritors of our shared traditions of reason, freedom and tolerance in religion.
Francis David (Ferenc David) was the leader of the Unitarian movement in Transylvania. He convinced King John Sigismund to become Unitarian himself but also to issue an order, known as the Edict of Torda, in which religious freedom was guaranteed to Roman Catholics, Lutheran, Calvinists and Unitarians. This is the first edict of religious tolerance known in modern Europe.
I found the Edict on the website of the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council; it reads as follows:
Diet at Torda, 1568 King John Sigismund
ACT OF RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE AND FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
His majesty, our Lord, in what manner he – together with his realm – legislated in the matter of religion at the previous Diets, in the same matter now, in this Diet, reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching. For faith is the gift of God and this comes from hearing, which hearing is by the word of God. End quote.
Religious faith is not from the word of other people, but from the word of God, that is, from our own reading of truth, our own relationship with the word.
Relationships are important. Human beings are fundamentally relational creatures. All too often in our lives we find ourselves lonely and isolated, or feeling that those relationships we do have are not deep enough, not meaningful enough. Sometimes the people we are in contact with through work or through organizations we belong to do not really know us because the environment of those groups does not foster real relationship.
For many of us, that is why we become members of religious congregations; we seek community. And one of the most important ways that our religious communities grow is that members of the community share their stories of connection with other people. They share the stories of community and relationship with others; and those others want to share the same thing. We long for connections.
Those of you who have been around for a while have heard stories from those who have traveled to visit our partner church in Desfalva, Transylvania, and found meaning in that journey. Some of you have your own stories about when members of our Partner Church came here to spend time with us. These connections, these stories carry us outside our own walls, they carry us outside The First Church In Belmont.
Gary Smith, retired minister of the Concord Church and now chair of the board of the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council, recently spoke to that point when he wrote these words: You all know these stories. It is why we are in this work of relationship, of getting over and beyond ourselves in our often insular congregations and fellowships.
We human beings can allow our lives to narrow down to our own cities, our own towns, our own neighborhoods. For me, part of the value of the Partner Church program is that it expands my vision; it brings me and us out into the world where we begin to relate on a human level with other people.
For me the partner church program is not just about our relationship with other Unitarians in one village, though it certainly includes that important element. But for me it is about connecting us through those individuals to a world of people; connections that transcend our false categories of separation.
Years ago I traveled through some of the world: Mexico, England, Kenya, Turkey, India and other places. And I know that having been there changes my sense of those places. I recall the sights and the sounds and the smells. And because I have met individuals in those places I have a different vision of who they are.
For example, when I hear about Iran on the news, I remember traveling through that country.. I remember talking for over an hour with a man who spoke of his home in southern Iran and of how beautiful the southern coast was. When I hear about our so-called “enemies” in Iran I often think of him; or I think of the man who was so welcoming to me on the street of the city of Herat, offering me tea and a chance to talk about his country and his life. Those personal connections, however brief they were, change my sense of that place, that country, those people. The place becomes alive and the people become real. And I am changed by that connection.
That growth, that expansion and change, is part of our sacred journey. In like manner, when I traveled to the village of our partner church I connected with them in a new way. They became real people.
Part of our goal for this coming September is to bring members of our partner church here to Belmont. Difficult as it may be to believe, September is now only about seven months away, seven months and a few days. Personal connection with them has the potential to change us and them.
I end with the words of Rev. Rod Richards, minister, UU fellowship of San Luis Obispo County Ca:
We humans are the line-drawers. We are the border-makers. We are the boundary-testers. We are the census-takers. We draw a line to separate this from that, so that we can see clearly what each is. We create a border to define our place, so we can take care of what’s there. We test boundaries to find if they are real; if they are necessary; if they are just. We congregate within those boundaries in families and tribes and cities and countries that we call “us.” And we call people on the other side “them.”
But our minds seek boundaries that our hearts know not. The lines we draw disappear when viewed with eyes of compassion. The recognition of human kinship does not end at any border we have created. A wiser part of us knows that the other is us, and we are the other.
Let justice flow like water and peace like a never-ending stream. Let compassion glow like sunlight and love like an ever-shining beam. The rain…the sunshine; the breeze; the life-giving air we breathe; they know no boundaries. Neither do our compassion; our good will; our concern for one another. God has no borders. Love has no borders. Let us lift up the awareness of our unity as we celebrate the awesome patterns of our diversity on this beautiful day.