“A Bright and Shining Future”

Rev. Julie Kain

Wow, this has really been a whirlwind of a week with you. I want to take a moment and express my deep appreciation to everyone who has participated in one or more of the many church gatherings that have taken place in the last few days. Every setting in which we’ve gotten together has been distinctively different from the last. Your true southern hospitality has been shining at full strength this week and on behalf of my husband Rudy and myself, I want to say a big “thank you” to you all.

As many of you know, especially the family members of your search committee – the search committee you selected many months ago has been putting in hours and hours and hours of their time to fulfill the charge that you invested in them – to represent the heart of your community, the UU Church of Pensacola, and to seek out the best possible match in ministerial leadership for supporting your current needs and desires, and equally important – to collaborate with you in creating a future of exciting possibilities as the church community approaches it’s 50th anniversary in the next two years.

I have been truly impressed by the depth of commitment I have witnessed in your church leadership. You are a group with enthusiasm, dedication and a genuine fun-loving spirit. The bonds of deep caring that you have with each other is quite apparent, even in the short time Rudy and I have been among you. I hope that you can also take a moment with me to acknowledge your own sense of gratitude for the precious sense of community that you have created here. Bravo.

This week I have met with longtime members and friends of this church and quite a few of you who are fairly new to this community and some of you fairly new to Unitarian Universalism. Each and every one of you bring a rich life history to this particular moment in time as we come together this morning and consider our futures.

Each of us has come to the UU Church of Pensacola and to Unitarian Universalism with our own unique longings and expectations. Each of us has our own stories and I’ve heard many of yours in this past week and I have shared some of mine with you.

My path to ministry began with my active involvement in a Presbyterian church during my youth, as I had shared with you all last week. Between the important sense of community I experienced in my youth group, the musical training and enjoyment I received by singing in the various church choirs, and the intellectual exploration for world religious and spiritual studies that began in my 6th grade confirmation class, my early life was blessed with a positive influence of being in a religious community

I stayed in Indiana, the state of my birth after high school and attended a Quaker college. During high school I had participated in an American Friends Service Committee summer youth campaign in California. There we were helping to renovate what had been previously army barracks and a Japanese detention center into permanent housing for a cooperative of farmworker families. The summer before I had gone to Jamaica with a large group of Disciples of Christ youth on a cultural exchange and so had the brief experience at a young age of being in a racial minority and immersed in a third world culture.

What was added to my appreciation of community and religious study, was a curiosity for other cultures and a thirst for justice-making. My individually designed major in Community Development with an interdisciplinary approach of education, psychology and cultural anthropology also has prepared me for my current work in ministry.

The next portion of my life was dedicated to raising my daughter in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This was where I discovered Unitarian Universalism, fueled by a desire for a place to take my daughter and for me to reconnect with my earlier experiences of being in community. For the thirteen years we lived in Chapel Hill, I was a dining room manager for an independently owned northern Italian restaurant – a business I had learned from my family. I was fortunate to work with an excellent staff team, many of whom were there the entire time I was and some are still there after these eight years that I’ve been gone.

My restaurant job was unique in that it gave me time to be involved with my daughter’s life as she was growing up, and to become progressively more involved in my UU church in Durham, North Carolina.

It was there that I was asked by our new associate minister, if I’d ever considered professional ministry. I told her I had thought about it bud didn’t think it was possible because I was the single parent of a 15 year old girl.

The surprising turn of events was that when I mentioned the conversation to my daughter, she exclaimed that it was an excellent idea and she was not only willing but excited to move across the country with me so that I could attend seminary.

That was eight years ago and now after three years of classes and five years of serving three churches that have ranged in size from 100 to 550 members, and the current count in San Diego at 850, I am ready to settle into a church home of my own and to put down roots in a community once again.

I always wanted to return to the Southeast when I went west for my schooling and the area of the Gulf Coast region has caught my fancy these past few years.

Music lover that I am – when I read about a highly rated international music festival in Lafayette Louisiana, four years ago, I decided to treat myself to the first vacation that didn’t have any family obligations tied to it. I returned the following three years, and last year Rudy and I had the pleasure of going from the international festival in Lafayette on to the Jazz Fest in New Orleans, pre-Katrina.

When Rudy and I met, one of our very first shared interests was a love of the South and it has been our intention to return when the time and place was right. Again, it’s hard to say how much we have enjoyed our time with you and in this beautiful region of the country. We’re hoping to stop by the Crawfish Creole festival later today before heading back to San Diego tonight.

My experience this week with you – the good people of UUCP – confirms what my good friends and ministry colleagues in the South had told me about ya’ll – Eunice Benton the Midsouth District Executive and Dick Creswell, your Healthy Congregation consultant, who has visited and talked with you about church visioning and the role of generosity as a practice of celebrating abundance. Eunice and Dick both told me that what was reflected in your congregational search materials, was in fact true, – as a community you are poised on the threshold of new growth.

Despite the fact that you are located firmly within the proverbial Bible Belt, the greater Pensacola area offers an abundance of culture, arts and industry, and a population that has yet to be fully recognized in it’s resonance with our Unitarian Universalist free-thinking, justice-making faith values.

I believe this community has been built on a firm foundation of commitment and responsibility and that the sky is the limit in what we might achieve together. It’s a matter of putting our dreams into action with a common vision of moving forward – boldly into the future.

Here are just a few of the areas that I know you have a passion for cultivating. One is music in worship. This community is just filled with people who are talented musically.

In addition to the wide spectrum of styles we can hear in individual and ensemble pieces, wouldn’t it be great to have a choir?Music is such a powerful part of our human experience, I just know there are lots of exciting possibilities we might offer to each other and to the larger community.

Another area for potential growth is one that we share with countless congregations across the country, the desire for our church community to meet the needs of families, children and young people. Our lifestyles these days are full of so many options and demands on our time that it is challenging for many of our UU churches to do that extra amount of outreach so that younger people have a place where their needs and interests are addressed and respected in the realm of religious study, reflection and community. Whenever we are talking about the future, we cannot forget to include young people, tomorrow’s leaders and recipients of our legacies.

The last area I want to mention briefly today is one of our core values as Unitarian Universalists , the religious practice of justice-making. As UU’s , we are called to be visible and present in our larger communities – advocating for the worth and dignity of all people, regardless of the issue and the risk in taking a stand.

This congregation has a proud and painful part of its history in this regard, with the shameful murder of one of its members – Jim Barrett and the wounding of his wife while taking action to protect women’s health rights. As UU’s we must prepare ourselves to be ready to engage in the public square with both those who share our values and concerns, and with those who firmly oppose them

When we commit ourselves to each other and to the causes of justice in our midst that demands our response, even a small number of people can make a significant difference.

Many of us believe that Unitarian Universalism has a message and values that are badly needed in our world today. We are a faith based in lofty ideals and in action. We are a faith that has changed and grown over time and we are still growing and changing.

May we continue to be a home to seekers of all kinds, welcoming the critical mind and the open heart, and encouraging spiritual growth among the many paths that we are walking.

May the depth of our community together, the quality of the relationships between us – sustain us through the adversities life may have in store for us.

May those same bonds of friendship and fellowship make this church home a special place of celebration and joy as we help each other to live out the brightest blessings of our dreams.

May it be so. Amen!