One of the churches I used to serve had a line in its liturgy that said “we miss you when you are not here.” Returning to the rhythm of the church after a month’s vacation, I found myself looking around the church during that first week back as well as on Sunday, feeling grateful for those who were present and feeling the loss of those who were not. “Missing those who are not here.”
We don’t do guilt in Unitarian Universalism. It’s funny how people are quick to tell me why they haven’t been at church when I run into them around town. I tell them that they don’t have to explain why they haven’t been around to me. I let them know that we are there when they are ready. I am not about guilting folks. But I need to start saying, “I and we, the church, miss you when you are not there.” Too often in church life we miss people too late: by the time we wonder aloud that we haven’t seen so and so in a while, so and so has moved on or dropped out. In a sense, we know their presence by their absence from us.
In community it is sometimes easy to take people for granted. Especially the ones who are there almost every week without fail. The steady don’t often get our attention or our thanks. Hallmark hasn’t made a card that acknowledges a person’s constancy in a church community. Staff is paid to show up Sunday after Sunday but the membership isn’t. With all the choices today’s world offers us on Sunday mornings, you all choose WUUC. That fact fills me with gratitude and inspiration.
A few Sundays ago I sat in the back of the sanctuary while Ashley and the youth who went on a pilgrimage to Transylvania this summer spoke about their experiences. Michael played Romanian folk songs on his accordion. Bill and Betsy were off with the kids looking outside around the church for bugs to put into jars to identify during the RE time. Earlier in the week, Bob, Tom, David, John, Gregg, Chuck, H.W. and Nancy had braved near 90 degree heat to stain the areas by the portables, fix a leaking area of the roof, and spruce up the grounds. All week long volunteers like Cora and Pam were dropping in to begin handing things off to Rev. Jamil. Lindsay will continue to work until the end of the month to help transition our Religious Education program over to Rev. Jamil. Lori and Janet and D.D. helped me with the Eastside UU potluck in Cottage Lake Park. Anonymous donors paid to have the rugs in the portables professionally cleaned so that they would be fresh and ready for our children. The Board and Ministry Leads and Karen and Lori have not taken the summer off but have been busy doing the work of the church. Numerous committees and task forces have been meeting or have retreats coming up to plan out the year. I found myself flooded with gratitude for the gifts you bring to this church.
As the community moves into its fall routine, I find myself wanting to say to those steady members, “It is good to see you, I am so glad you are here.” It is a way to extend hospitality and welcome not only to the newer comer but to the regular and the long timer. All of us need that sort of welcome. I will still tell those who I run into who have not been at church recently that we miss them. Because it is true. That person or persons may not know that their absence is noticed or makes a difference. To me, saying that we miss them is not about guilt but about acknowledging them.
It takes all of us to create a community of connection and support. As the school and church year ramp up, know that each of you is missed when you are gone.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,