by Holly Ito, Natalie Campbell, Merrill Ito, Michealle Havenhill, and Allysson MacDonald
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
August 5, 2007

What does it mean for to live faithfully? Are we called to live according to Unitarian Universalist principles, or to our own personal values? Some of us share our stories about our commitment to our ideals or moral positions, and how we think we'd live differently if we were truly "faithful."

About Small Group Ministry by Holly Ito

Small Group Ministry started this past March 2007 here at Mission Peak. We now have 5 groups meeting on different days and times with about 40 people participating. You don't need to be a member of Mission Peak to be part of a group. In fact, it provides an opportunity for newcomers to get involved and start getting acquainted with others.

Small Group Ministry is also called "covenanting groups" because members of the group have made agreements with each other, including a commitment to perform at least one service project for the church or the larger community during the year. We also commit to welcome new participants into the group or to add new groups.

There are a number of different ways to organize groups, but since we were just starting out, it was basically a matter of which times people were available for meeting. We decided that at least this first year, all groups would use the same topics for our every-other-week meetings. The existing groups will continue until November. Then we take a short break and re-group and start again early in 2008. Future years may include specific interest or affinity groups, such as a group for parents, young adults, etc. Other congregations have used the format successfully with their youth group.

The format of the meetings is pretty standard. It starts with an opening reading or poem that helps focus and set the tone for the meeting. This is followed by a check-in time to catch up from where we left off at the prior meeting. The main activity of the meeting is the topic which includes several questions and aspects to be considered. Before closing, there is a check-out time to share Likes and Wishes from the session; then there is a closing reading or poem.

Somehow having a fairly rigid format to our meetings seems to free up the discussions because we know that others will be listening attentively and respectfully, without criticism or debate.

Similar to our Sunday worship services, our meetings provide a time where we leave the business of the rest of our lives and re-connect with ourselves and the others in our group. The topics used typically aren't subjects that people address in casual conversations or even in long-term relationships. I know I've learned new things about Merrill from being in the group together, and we've been married a long time. Some of this year's topics include: Spiritual Timeline, The Road Not Taken, Living Simply, Taking a Stand.

The topic that today's service is based on was titled "Living Faithfully." Questions that we addressed included:

This morning 3 members of small group ministry will share their response to these questions.

1. Living Faithfully, by Natalie Campbell

The word "faithful" doesn't really call to mind anything particularly religious -- at least not in my life, or my family's life. To me, the word "faithful" is interpreted the way it is in Yellowstone National Park. Like the geyser - Old Faithful. It means reliable, dependable and constant.

To be faithful is to be a good friend, daughter, wife and mother. I am there when people need me. I am there when I say I will be there. I return phone calls, write letters, remember birthdays and listen when someone needs to talk.

With each passing year, I find that my life gets more and more busy with the everyday routines we all need to get through to survive. Sometimes a returned phone call takes a few days, and birthday cards might be a little late. But it is a matter of pride that I do not forget about someone whom I love, and who loves me.

Without steady connections, relationships break down and people drift apart. Of course, sometimes these things just happen. A friendship needs to move on, or is at its natural end. But too often, the very relationships that should be most important to us are taken for granted. Kind words are left unsaid; loving actions are saved for later and then forgotten in the day-to-day business of our lives.

We need loving, caring people around us to keep us grounded and to keep us connected. Small Group Ministry, for me, is one more way to live faithfully. The ten people I meet with every other week have become a source of great comfort to me. The dependability of having the members of the group share their stories, and listen to mine in turn -- this is a wonderful way to stay connected.

From the very first Monday we met, I found that I really look forward to our sessions. I can't wait to hear what everybody is up to in their lives. And to I love discussing each new, thought-provoking subject. I am there for each meeting, with out fail - happily and faithfully.

2. Living Faithfully, by Merrill Ito

My personal principles provide me guidance in my life's conduct. In my youth, my personal principles drew from:

1. My Japanese cultural inheritance
2. Boy Scout principles
3. Buddhist Eight-fold Path
4. Aikido doctrines

Since our UU Principles are in absolute consonance, I now include them, too.

The key to living my personal principles faithfully is respect. Respect instills true belief and motivates appropriate action or behavior. Actions tagged with respect often bring returned respect, and they have the powerful potential to spread respect.

We tend to think of respect exchange as a human activity, or maybe even an animal activity. But, it also involves inanimate objects.

If I were Tim the Toolman Taylor, and I treated my new super-duper tool with respect, I would take good care of it. In return, the tool would serve me well, for a longer time. If I were to dis-respect it by misusing it, it would break, and maybe even injure me.

Physical spaces that I use must also be respected, especially if it's a space for worship. The ritual of slowly bowing, or saying a little prayer, upon entry and exit would remind me to be respectful. I must also show respect by cleaning up after myself.

I must keep my dirty feet and shoes off furniture, or they will not only soil the furniture, but all subsequent users as well.

A typical human respect is for our Elders. Respect your Elders, and you will reap the benefit of their experience and wisdom, which they will offer you, with respect. When younger, we are all misled into being smug about our mastery of knowledge. But, as the years pass and we mature, we all observe the truth: the more we learn, the more we discover how little we know. Each of us needs all the help we can get, no matter where we may be in our lifespans.

These examples, and countless others like them, tell me that I must continue to be diligent in respecting my principles, and all good things as well. Respect must always trump contempt.

3. Living Faithfully, by Michealle Havenhill

As a leader of a small group ministry group I have an opportunity to think about the topics in advance of the group meeting. I give the others in my group the opportunity as well. I was having difficulty with the topic of living faithfully because of the word "faith". I equated the word with religion. As an atheist, religion is not a topic I am comfortable discussing. I was concerned I wouldn't have anything to share with the group on Monday evening. As I pondered this topic of Living Faithfully it dawned on me that I live faithfully everyday. I have a strong core of integrity and honesty that is always a part of me. This is put to the test every day in my profession. This is the topic, or a similar one I shared with the group that evening.

I work in the biotech industry in Quality Control. It is my job to release product after it's manufactured. There have been times in the five and a half years I have been with my current company that a request was made to release product I found unacceptable. I once was called into the office of the CEO and the other officers of the company. They wanted me to release product that was questionable, they worked on me for a good hour to try and get me to release it. I absolutely would not do it and finally told them if they wanted it released they had to sign off on it themselves. Finally my persistence paid off, the product was not released and they let me continue to test more product until I could pass an acceptable lot. If that product had been released it could have kept us from being the successful company we are now. Based on this, my bosses realize that I will not let product out the door without a full understanding of the ramifications. I have had bosses at other companies who want to dictate how I should perform my job. I have left companies that would not let me perform the job as it feel should be done. I always stay true to my core values.

As I found, living faithfully does not necessarily have anything to do with religion but being true and faithful to ourselves. What I most appreciate about being a part of small group ministry is the chance to discuss this topic and others at a deeper level and to really get to know people from our congregation.

Silent Reflection by Allysson McDonald

Let us join together in a period of silent reflection. I invite you to close your eyes and get comfortable so you can go deep within, feeling yourself in the presence of that which is sacred to you. You might want to ask yourself what living faithfully means to you. What ideals or moral positions have you been committed to over the years, and how have you managed to stay faithful to those ideals or positions? If you were truly faithful to your principles, how would you change your own behavior, what would your life look like if you were living faithfully?

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