© Dr. Chris Schriner 2004
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
May 2, 2004

Every community has a story. And every communal story is the story of a journey, because whatever is alive is constantly changing, sometimes moving ahead, sometimes sliding backward. And so a spiritual community needs to tell and retell the saga of its own challenging journey. Jews tell of the Exodus, Christians recount the wandering ministry of Jesus, Muslims remember Muhammad's sojourns in Mecca and Medina.

We are now over a decade into the history of Mission Peak Congregation. So in celebrating the tenth anniversary of Charter Sunday (May 1, 1994), I want to speak of our journey, as I understand it.

But - do not believe the story I will tell you. Listen to it, respond to it, learn lessons from it, but do not believe it in any literal way. When we tell the tale of a community such as this one, we are myth-making. We are interweaving truths and half-truths and probably some nonsense as well. Memory is a creative reconstruction, not a videotape, especially the collective memory of a community. I know some legends which are told about this community which I suspect are simply false. We need to take our own mythology seriously, and know it well. But we don't have to be literalists or fundamentalists about our own communal myths. We can hold these myths lightly and revise them when appropriate.

Mission Peak has a creation myth. We were born out of The Play Group, young parents whose little ones played together. I'm reminded of the story told by the parents of author Frances Moore Lappe. When Frances was a child, she visited a fundamentalist church with a friend. Later that day, she asked her mother, "What's hellfire and damnation?"

"Her father heard Frances ask the question and he said, 'It means it's time to gather a Unitarian fellowship.'" (Gwen Foss, Ed., The Church Where People Laugh, p. 17)

So our story starts with families and a concern for children. This is a good myth--and it's probably even true! Our family-focused beginnings remind us to regularly evaluate what we are doing for children and youth, and ask ourselves whether we are still focused on offering a loving environment for their ethical and spiritual development.

Barbara Meyers has already told you stories of our early days, leading up to Charter Sunday in 1994. And Charter Sunday came early in the Season of Ben, the Rev. Ben Meyers. He was with you prior to Charter Sunday, and for five years after that till his resignation in May of 1999. This was a time of extraordinary membership growth, partly because of his amazing charisma. I have been with Ben at ministers' meetings, so I know he is one of a kind. He helped you grow, but your early membership growth was also due to the rest of you bringing friends. A new congregation generates new enthusiasm, and you shared your excitement with others.

Unfortunately, Ben's great energy was followed by great exhaustion. He came to realize that he had worked too hard for too long, and he was "burned out." Almost any ministerial resignation is rough on a congregation, but it's especially hard with a deeply beloved spiritual leader. So even though this is a joyous day, it may be bringing back some difficult memories for some of you. If that is so, I would be glad to lend an ear and do what I can to help heal these old hurts.

Ben's resignation provoked a crisis of confidence. Should we continue our journey, people asked, or should we call it quits? But you realized that Mission Peak was more than just the personal magnetism of a ministerial dynamo. You pulled together, rolled up your sleeves, and went to work. Thus began a season of transition, anxiety, some membership losses, and enormous labor on the part of your leaders and your ministerial search committee.

Fortunately your interim minister, Howard Dana, did important work with you, and helped you heal. He was a good guide over some rough and stony ground.

Now let's shift for a moment to Southern California. In 1999 I was enjoying my ministry at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laguna Beach, but I was ready for a change. My fiancee Jo Ann and I were drawn to the Bay Area. One day I got an email from "gunnmoll." I figured it was porno-spam, so I hit "delete" without opening it! A couple of weeks later your search committee called me to see if I had received Becky Gunn's email requesting my ministerial packet. Four years ago this month I was your ministerial candidate, and I began work in September, 2000.

Having seen a minister go from enthusiasm to exhaustion, burnout is one of your great congregational anxieties. People would come 'round and check my temperature periodically: "Well, Chris, are you burnt out yet?" And I was told that our volunteer leaders were thoroughly exhausted. Some probably were, but after I arrived I was amazed to see abundant creative energy flowing into both old and new projects, leading up to the Five Year Plan that you adopted last December. We've done so much in the past few months that it probably is time to slow down a bit. We do need to pace ourselves, and I thank you for reminding me not to shoot up and then crash down like a Fourth of July rocket. But sometimes the rumor of staff and volunteer burnout is based more on worry than reality.

This January we shared a mythic moment known as The Tsunami, a high-energy intensive workshop on how to invite our friends to Mission Peak. About half of those who regularly attend this congregation were present. So how will this part of our story play itself out? Will we look back and say, "We went to the Tsunami, but then we wandered off course, failing to use what we learned that day"? Or will we say, "The Tsunami was the first of several steps in our journey of outreach, and it helped us grow enough to afford our own building"?

Recently we have hit a few bumps in the road. When a congregation tries new things, conflicts can arise. The economy is still bad, and our annual canvass may fall short this year even though most of us have increased our pledges generously. And Kidango plans to double our rent. But every journey has its setbacks, and you have already crossed much wider rivers than this one. It has been said that whatever doesn't kill us can make us stronger, and you have grown stronger by toiling across some steep and rocky terrain. And if you do feel yourself stumble, or if anything happens that weakens your dedication to the path of Unitarian Universalism, please tell me. I cannot respond to concerns I don't know about.

No long journey is easy. But our steps are lighter when we are on a path that feels right and we know we're moving toward our goal. And at Mission Peak, our goal is the realization of simple yet profound spiritual values:

To treat all people kindly, because they are our brothers and sisters; To take good care of the Earth, because it is our home; To live lives full of goodness and love, because that is how we will become the best people we can be. And to do these things in a congregation where we learn from many religions and philosophies, and from science, art, literature, the lessons of everyday life, and all that happens in the larger world.

We are on a good path, moving in a good direction. So Happy Birthday, Mission Peak on your Big One-Oh. May your lovely chalice be kindled week after week, burning brightly with the flame of freedom, the fire of commitment, the light of new truth, and the warmth of community.

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