Sandra Miller: We are Community

Seekers Church
October 27, 2002
Sandra Miller 

We are Community

Today I am here before you, as Billy has said, on behalf of the Transition Ritual Team. September 22nd marked the first worship service, offered by our beloved Muriel, that we hope will help us as a congregation make the physical, emotional, and spiritual move from our home here at 2025 to our new home at Carroll Street.

Last week as Peter brought us the word on Recommitment Sunday I looked around this room and was struck sharply, not for the first time but poignantly, that as much a part of us as this sanctuary is, this sanctuary is not us, it is not Seekers. We are Seekers, the oldest and the youngest among us, the longest and the newest among us. And it is our commitment to being intentional in our Christian lives that holds us together. Our belief that, as the Gospel reading this week reminds us:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it; ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’

"As yourself." It has been my personal experience that loving oneself is not a given, it is something that you grow into; it is a process that takes time, years, and hard work.

I’ve been working with a poem by Marge Piercy a lot lately. I’ve used it in leading opening worship for Celebration Circle, and I used it just this last Wednesday evening when I preached to Potter’s House Church. There is so much to it that fits so many circumstances.

To Be of Use

The people I love the best
Jump into work head first
Without dallying in the shallows
And swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
The black sleek heads of seals
Bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
Who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
Who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
Who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
In the task, who go into the fields to harvest
And work in a row and pass the bags along,
Who are not parlor generals and field deserters
But move in a common rhythm
When the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
Has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident,
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
But you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
And a person for work that is real.

from  The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme" by Marge Piercy

Yesterday at Wellspring, Marjory, Brenda, Sharon and I took a wonderful walk under beautiful blue skies accented by dispersing storm clouds which made the changing leaves and vistas all the more brilliant. We talked as we walked and one of the observations that came out of that rich conversation was that Seekers has grown and is like a child ready to leave home and strike out on its own. That Seekers loves itself, and is open to loving its neighbors old and new.

I can’t resist the temptation to digress not too far off the point for just a moment. Matthew 13 tells of the farmer who went out to sow his seed. You know the story; some fell on the path, some fell on rocky ground, some fell among the thorns, and some fell on fertile soil. Walking the paths of Wellspring there were many acorns. There on the land that is a place of respite for all the communities of Church of the Saviour I couldn’t help but think that C of S is like one of the big oaks that has over the course of its remarkable life, in years of adequate rainfall and years of drought, dropped many acorns on all kinds of ground. Seekers is an oak born of an acorn that fell on fertile ground and has now matured and stands ready to start dropping its own acorns, which will also fall in many places. Allow me the poetic license to liken our being a fruitful oak to striking out on our own so I can tie this flow of words back to the point.

Do you remember striking out on your own? Some of us probably had stars in our eyes and big dreams, others may have been numbed by the experience for any numbers of reasons and some of us were undoubtedly scared and skittish. That seems to be an accurate description of us as a congregation today. And so, the transition ritual team hopes to be, dare I say it, like Paul and the Apostles, “tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own selves.”

Sharing of ourselves means telling our stories. I’m going to “cheat” a bit here and not tell the story of my leaving my parents home. That story has little relevance to why I’m standing here today. Instead I’m going to tell you the short version of how I come to be standing here today and how I feel about our move to Carroll Street.

I came to 2025 the first time almost 12 years ago on the second of what became a virtually annual visit with Deborah and Glen. I was very broken at the time, I considered myself a failed Jew, and an agnostic though I had been to my first Faith at Work women’s retreat in California led by Marjory. The first time I walked into the building I had a sense of being at home. There was something about the building – its odd mix of stateliness and downright funkiness was a mixture I could relate to – it felt like a place where I could let my guard down. It was Christmastime and being able to share the warmth and hospitality of our Christmas Eve dinner let me see the love in this congregation in a way that may not have been so evident on an “ordinary” Sunday. On Christmas Day I was welcomed into the home of Mary Carol and Alan with such genuine caring. Although they didn’t know me and had invited me because I was staying with Deborah and Glen, they extended true Christian hospitality to me, including a small gift, a little teddy bear with moveable arms and legs, so that I too would have something to open. During that stay in DC I also went to Marjory and Peter’s for dinner, and one afternoon went with Deborah and Marjory to lunch and the Torpedo Factory. The next year’s visit included time with the Dragoos and Banksons again, and also a fun afternoon including hat shopping with Sherri Bergen. My ties to this community got stronger and stronger as the years went on and helped to nourish me as I explored my growing faith in God, and explored my coming to Christ.

I can’t tell you which year it was, but I remember Deborah and Glen driving me by Carroll Street when Seeker’s was first considering buying it. Through all of those deliberations and the other crisis that the community experienced I was praying in California. When Deborah told me that Carroll Street was back on the market and you had decided to make a bid again, even from a distance it felt right to me. Like God had chosen the timing saying now you are ready for this new house.

For me this is an exciting time. I felt so distant for so long, knowing about but not being in on the process. Then God said to me now you are ready to make the move. Suddenly I was helping to do some of the demolition at Carroll Street, volunteering to be on the decorating team and finally joining the Transition Ritual team. I won’t say that I don’t have some trepidation about what it will be like as we settle in to being on our own in a whole different neighborhood, but I can’t help but have stars in my eyes and big dreams about all the possibilities. If I could move 3000 miles on faith and feel as if new life has been born in me, I have faith that this community can move across town with spectacular results.

On December 8th we would like you to bring in mementoes that have significance to your lives as Seekers. Emily will be bringing us the word and sharing some of her Seekers stories and will invite you to share some of the many rich stories of our shared life that day. Today I’d like to invite some of you to share some of your seeds of hope and dreams for our life at Carroll Street. Let’s hold safe space for each other and pause briefly with a deep breath between each sharing as a way of honoring God’s presence among us.

In closing here’s a very short Wendell Berry poem from The Timbered Choir 1991, #V:

The seed is in the ground
Now may we rest in hope
While darkness does its work.

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[The processional that preceded this sermon was led by Seekers Dancers and was choreographed originally by Credo, a sacred dance company in the Boston area. In 1994, two members of the Bodyspirit Mission Group saw it performed by Credo at the international Sacred Dance Guild Festival and brought it back to Seekers. A group of eight Seekers Dancers shared it a number of years ago, around the time when we first knew we would be moving to a new home. With our “crossing” to Carroll St. becoming an ever-closer reality, the Transition Rituals group asked the dance group to “repeat” it.
The dancers recreating “By the Waters of Babylon” represented the diversity of our community in that two are quite new to Seekers; two are “medium-term” members; and two are long-term members of Seekers or other Church of the Saviour communities.]

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