Here is the story, prayer and address from June’s Mission Possible service. Does it spark off your own thoughts of the possibilities of our Kensington Unitarians community? Do write your own ideas about our mission here, your imaginings of how best to use this community’s assets and resources.
To What End
A story is told of the holy fool of Sufism who was approached for assistance by the board of a large company who were working on their mission statement.
“What is your fundamental purpose?” asked Nasrudin.
“Our mission is to create constantly increasing dividends for our shareholders,” they declared.
“To what end?” asked Nasrudin.
“So they make increased profits which they will want to reinvest in our company,” they said.
“To what end?” asked Nasrudin.
“So they make more profits,” they said, becoming somewhat irritated.
“To what end?” asked Nasrudin nonchalantly.
“So they re-invest and make more profits.”
Nasrudin pondered this for a while and thanked them for their explanations.
Later that week they had arranged to visit Nasrudin’s house to work further on the Mission Statement. They found him in his garden stuffing oats into his donkey.
“What are you doing?” they asked. “You are giving that poor beast so much food that it will not be able to go anywhere.”
“But it is not meant to go anywhere,” Nasrudin replied. “Its purpose is to produce manure.”
“To what end?” they asked.
“Because without it I can not grow enough oats in my small allotment to feed this greedy beast.”
(with thanks to Peter Hawkins for this
and many other Mulla Nasrudin stories)
I called this part of the service ‘felt annoyed recently? Oh good,’ as much of a reminder to myself as to anyone else. Nasrudin’s story of feeding a donkey in order to produce manure in order to fertilise the ground in order to grow more oats in order to feed the donkey in order to produce manure is a useful reminder about all human activity – it’s worth reviewing what we’re doing and why from time to time.
As a church we are something other than a social club or a group of friends. A healthy church community is going to be filled with all sorts of people. One of my delights in being a church member is that I get to meet different people who are not just like me or my friends or my family or my work colleagues. But if we are successful in truly opening our doors to all people who feel they are in accord with our particular spiritual and social ethos, – well sooner or later someone or something is going to annoy us. And when that happens let’s be pleased, let’s note the moment as a sign of our success – it means this is a real community not some cosy little club where we get to be friends with people who are carbon copies of ourselves.
And let’s remember Nasrudin’s donkey and ask ourselves from time to time – ‘to what end’? What is our purpose?
Time of prayer and reflection:
Let us pray to the god of our hearts and our understanding for this community and for all communities of the spirit that they and we might be true expressions of something greater than ourselves. May we look beyond the superficial to something greater that calls us, that reminds us we too can be greater than we sometimes are.
Let us be inspired to use the resources of this people and this church in ways that help and inspire others and so to build a real community of the spirit here and now.
As we survey our own lives and the life of the world it can be only too easy to feel despair and yet by accepting that and moving onwards we may find new reserves of strength and possibility through our vulnerability and uncertainty.
Let us not strive for perfection but rather to be real and true.
Let’s rest in stillness and silence for a few moments now – a chance to send our thoughts and prayers to the broken places – in ourselves, in those we love and in the world around us.
And may all this be so for the greater good of all concerned, amen.
Some Thoughts on ‘Mission Possible’
We’re said to be shaped by our early experiences and those of us who’ve spent our childhoods glued to TV sets and radios will forever feel a connection to programmes we enjoyed as children. Back in the 60s there was an exciting TV programme called Mission Impossible, where a group of spies were given an impossible mission each week, to right the wrongs committed by a group of evil people employed by the mysterious Scorpio. Deeply satisfying as a viewing experience with marvellously tense theme music – and the goodies always won in the end.
If only real life was as straightforward. But real life is messy and tends towards complexity and confusion and all human endeavour has a tendency to fizzle out in confusion or disappear up its own proverbial backside. That’s why we need to stop and review what we’re doing from time to time and then re-set the course we’re travelling. Otherwise we end up with our own version of Nasrudin busily stuffing oats into his poor donkey’s mouth.
Our work here at the church is carried out by four paid members of staff – Gitana our cleaner, Jenny our warden, Jane our outreach officer and me as minister, plus a host of volunteers, including our management committee and trustees and an assortment of professionals – from window cleaners to roofing contractors, plumbers and electricians. It’s easy to get lost in all of this busyness. Today we’re holding this congregation’s AGM. An annual general meeting is required of any charity as part of its transparency – and we must by law publish our annual report. Tedious though it is to compile such a report it’s essential – not just to keep the charity commissioners happy – but because it marks a pause point, a chance to review where we’ve been and re-assess where we want to go.
Now it’s completed it can act as a reminder of our potential as a community of the spirit, to consider our possible mission. This report summarises our assets – not just a building in central London with a leaky roof, not just money wisely invested and donations gratefully received, but volunteers, staff, and a willingness to reach out to the world. It also reminds us that we here at Essex Unitarian Church are part of a national and international movement of liberal religious people.
In the last year our General Assembly of Unitarian & Free Christian Churches has been reviewing its own sense of mission and vision for its work. A group of us met up for a day last September and shared our ideas for the future. Out of that day came this booklet A Vision for the Future, which you are welcome to borrow, we’ll make sure there’s a copy in the library soon. Twenty four people have written about different aspects of our work as a religious organization in 21st century Britain. They are as diverse as you’d expect a group of Unitarians to be but there is also a cohesion to much of the imagery used.
Two images stayed with me from that day of conversation – the image of a Unitarian community as a complex Oriental carpet as a ‘reflection of the world’s complexity bound together by our many different views’. A second image was of our communities as a wonderfully full bowl of fruit, offering a spiritual feast for all to enjoy. Both images remind us of an aspect of Unitarian communities that is what attracted me in the first place and perhaps you too. I appreciated then as I appreciate now our absence of fixed creed or dogma. To be a Unitarian is to accept life as a glorious mystery, as a great unknown, as a personal search for meaning and purpose – and to support and encourage one another on the path of exploration. We reach out and invite others to join in a spiritual feast that is at its best truly diverse, we welcome in all who wish to join in such explorations of the spirit.
On the back of your hymn sheet today you’ll find a sunflower petal with a statement for you to complete if you wish. It asks: What is your vision for our Kensington Unitarians community. Jeannene has spoken of extending our welcome to people who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender. I was really touched by her image of couples holding hands in our services and I’m delighted that we’ll be holding our first same sex marriage ceremony here in August. My vision for our community would be to let the world know that we have a wonderful venue for ceremonies here and that we can work with people to create unique events marking key life moments. I also want to extend the welcome we give to families and ensure that we are as child friendly and parent friendly as we can possibly be. Do have a think of your vision for this community’s next steps and don’t be constrained by what seems now to be possible. Let us hear your ideas. Who knows what we might be and what we might become.
Rev. Sarah Tinker
Sermon – 21st June 2015