Longing for Belonging

Longing For Belonging

Rev. Fiona Heath

January 18, 2015

Making your way in the world today

Takes everything you've got.

Taking a break from all your worries

Sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name.



And they're always glad you came.

                “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”

By Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo

For those of you above a certain age, you know that I just quoted the theme song to the tv sitcom Cheers.

Wisdom comes in many forms, even tv show theme songs.

You wanna be where everyone knows your name.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to belong some place like Cheers.

Where Norm walks in and everyone yells Norm!

Perhaps we should incorporate this practice into our committee meetings.

Every time someone walks in we all stop and yell their name.

Would it help us remember how each of us matters to UCM?

Many of us long to belong.

And we are often so sure we do not.

On Sesame Street, another source of great wisdom,

There is the game where we are asked which one doesn’t belong?

Many of us carry that secret voice that says me!

I’m the one not like all the other ones.

I’m the one that doesn’t quite fit in the group,

By virtue of my age, or gender, or sexual orientation, or race, or class, or politics or favourite television show.

By virtue of my addictions or suffering or illnesses.

I’m the one who shouldn’t be here.

This is the tension of belonging,

Wanting to fit in, wanting to be fully ourselves,

and afraid that being ourselves won’t be good enough.

Sometimes it takes a long time before we are able to belong to some place or someone.

It is no good secretly wanting to be a country singer but joining an opera chorus.  Yee haws and arias might be a fabulous mash-up but can’t be sustained for the long term.

We have to be honest with ourselves about how we are before we can figure out where we belong.  This can take a lifetime.

And some of us find power and strength in standing apart.

In not belonging.

But community, true community,

is not composed of clones.

All of us have ways in which we don’t always fit. And all of us have ways in which we do.

The key to living well as part of a community is to be honest about how we fit,

and even more honest about how we don’t.

It helps to remember no single community will meet every need.

It doesn’t always work out.

Sometimes a person’s needs don’t match what we have to offer.

Sometimes a person can’t figure out how to work with others.

This spiritual path is not for everyone.

But when community works, it can offer a powerful sense of belonging.

To know that although we are alone, we are not alone, we are connected deeply and intimately to lives beyond our own, we are part of the whole.

To be accepted and welcomed as we are can be a freeing experience.

Belonging can lift a weight off the spirit.

It is one of my great hopes that each of you might experience this as part of UCM.

Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal tradition – we consciously choose to be together.

We are anchored in community.

We see that in being together, caring for one another, working for a common cause, we gain a well-spring of spiritual sustenance.

We strive to live in right relationship with one another,

guided by our principles.

We strive to foster a sense of inclusion and acceptance.

Our newest members did not convert to Unitarian Universalism.

Rather, they expanded themselves to include our particular way of being.

And as they open themselves to be changed and guided by this faith,

so we too expand ourselves and allow this community to be influenced by the gifts of their presence.

Belonging is a reciprocal relationship.

Community is not made once, but is an on-going process.

It rests on the participation of each person, on all of us cooperating.

It is created each week in this place by everyone here.

To be in community is to experience a sense of connectedness and unity with one another.

We build on the work of those who came before and we hope to leave a healthy ground for those who will follow.

From hand to hand to hand to hand we create this community.

If we do our work well,

my hope is that each of you feel a strong sense of belonging to the whole.

That you feel at home in a loving and lovable universe.

That you feel like this is your place and your people.


Community sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

All of us cooperating and belonging and getting along and taking care of each other with the greatest of ease.

So why does it often seem impossible?

Why is it so hard for people to work together?

For congregations it can be even more difficult due to cultural myths that this is where everyone is spiritually aware and good all the time.

But as Unitarian Universalists we face that hard truth that we are who we are.

We don’t come here to be our best selves.

We come here to be our true selves.

There is a difference.

No one can sustain being always at their best.

It would be like living our lives dressed to attend the Oscars.

Beautiful to behold but not very practical in the everyday.

But we can be our true selves.

And our true selves are complicated.

Awesome, and more beautiful than a designer dress, but complicated.

We aren’t always as kind as we would like to be.

We are careless when we should be graceful.

We are awkward when we should be smooth.

We have hard edges and soft spots and poor memories.

Coming together in community as imperfect people can sometimes be a challenge. 

Attitudes of goodwill are required.

Rather than make assumptions, we can ask questions.

We can take the time to know one another and get on the same page.

People can be extroverted or introverted.

Some are high energy, others have to conserve their energy.

One person can make a snap decision and move forward,

another needs days to process.

Now put them all on the same committee!

In our worst moments, we will think uncharitable thoughts about UCM and our fellow members.

And when that happens, I encourage you to take a time out with a beverage of your choice.  

Remember that community is not about perfection or about having it your way.  Community is inefficient and exasperating. Community is not about getting things done but about being there for one another through life’s challenges.

A community holds you up when you are weak, and is made better by your strengths.  And when that person you barely know touches your arm gently to ask how you are doing, it can break your heart with tenderness.

It doesn’t matter if we aren’t wearing designer dresses, but are just slobs in yoga pants,

we are still better off together trying to be people of the chalice.

There is an African story about a tribal leader who lay dying and called his people to his side.

He had his son pass out short sticks to all the people in the room.

“Break the stick” he whispered.

Sticks began to break all over the room.  Some people took a little longer, but eventually everyone had broken their stick.

The old man got his son to pass out sticks once more.

“Bring your sticks together” he asked.  “In groups of 3 or 4 or 5.”

The people gathered into small groups and bundled their sticks.

“Now break them” said the old man.

The people tried. They took turns. They worked together.  Some little pieces broke off, but the bundles held.

“Each of us alone”, said the old man, “can be broken.  But we are strong when we stand together.  Do not forget.”


Garrison Keillor knows the value of long term involvement with a community.

He wrote an essay for National Geographic about Minneapolis St Paul

where he has lived for most of his seventy odd years.

“So how was it to grow up there then?” they say.

“Oh, you know. It could’ve been worse,” I reply.

We are not braggarts and blowhards back where I come from.

But if you want to know the truth, I feel understood there.

I sit down to lunch with Bill and Bob or my sister and brother whom I’ve known almost forever, and it’s a conversation you can’t have with people you met yesterday.

You can flash back to 1954 and the island in the river where we used to mess around, or the front office you shared with Warren Feist that looked across the street to the Anoka Dairy, or the toboggan slope behind Corinne’s house, no footnote necessary, and they are right there with you.

I come home and feel so well understood.

I almost don’t have to say a word.

I was not a good person.

I have yelled at my children.

I neglected my parents and was disloyal to loved ones.

I have offended righteous people.

People around here know all this about me,

and yet they still smile and say hello,

and so every day I feel forgiven.

Ask me if it’s a good place to live, and I don’t know

—that’s real estate talk—

but forgiveness and understanding,

that’s a beautiful combination.

 Garrison Keillor, There’s No Place Like Home

 May all of us here come to know this community of the chalice as a place where we are known and understood, known and forgiven.

So say we all.


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