Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Gifts of Spiritual Community

I consider Unity Comox Valley to be a healthy vibrant community. It didn’t grow that way by itself – no one came here and waved the magic wand and said – you are now healthy. When I was attending the Healthy Congregations seminar at the Canadian Unity conference last summer, Martha Creek said something on the first day that got my attention. She said: “There is no such thing as a Healthy Congregation.” Coming from the person who was going to be leading us in a three day seminar of healthy congregations – this took me by surprise. She then went on to say that there are only healthy people … who make healthy congregations. Like a body – the health of the body is determined by the health of the cells. The extent of the health of this congregation is dependent on the health of each one of us. Martha had us do a quick exercise – no thinking – just write down what I see when I picture a healthy congregation. This is what I wrote • Each person learns about themselves • Everyone is a model for each other • New people observe and experience an atmosphere of support & acceptance • A place where each person is supported to grow, shift, understand and love each other and themselves. • And then these 3 words: collaboration, contribution and celebration I came across these markers awhile ago and they struck me as being worthwhile to look at again in view of this series. Each person learns about themselves. At Unity we offer weekly classes or workshops which many of you attend. We use different books and exercises – not to learn about the author or even the material – but to learn about ourselves. The material is hopefully interesting, but the goal is self awareness. Continuously in the classes we find it all comes back to us. Old belief systems, habits, attitudes that we don’t acknowledge run in the background and direct our words and our actions. When these old ways of being are brought into our awareness – into the light – we can choose to continue with them or to let them go. And not just classes - when you join a team – Sunday set up or refreshments or volunteer to do the Thought for the Day – all of these activities are opportunities to learn about yourself. It is only our increasing awareness of ourselves and our thoughts and behaviours that is going to create a better world for all. Everyone is a model for each other Being together helps each one of us become more aware of our words and actions. We are always modeling for each other. No matter what we are doing or saying. We can observe someone and say to ourselves: I would like to have their peace of mind or their lightness of being ……….or we see someone act and we think to ourselves: I hope I never do that. Either way – we are observing and learning from each other. New people observe and experience an atmosphere of support & acceptance. This is one area where we really shine. This is usually one of the first comments I get from a newcomer….how warmly they were greeted and quickly made to feel comfortable. Extensive research has been undertaken to find out the reasons people go back to a church after a first visit. It gives 8 factors and asks them to rate what was the most important factor and the least. I can’t remember all the 8 factors but they are things like: coffee, music, minister, lesson, children’s program, bathrooms…..the number one factor for their return is……….how they were greeted at the door. Before they had any other experience – how they were greeted at the door. I went to visit a huge Unity church in Missouri – over 1,000 people there on a Sunday morning. Missouri is big wide open country so we could see the church building and the turn off the highway and a road leading to the parking lots. As we approached there was a sign that said: first time visitors parking – this way. Gosh – we got our own parking spot – close to the door. That spoke volumes – before we even entered the building we felt welcomed and accepted. Acceptance gives you the space to feel your feelings, say what’s on your mind without being judged or criticized. Because sometimes we just have a bad day or a bad moment. And with a relationship based on acceptance we don’t have to pretend to be who we are not. What a relief. A place where each person is supported to grow, shift, understand and love each other and themselves. Well, that’s a tall order – grow, shift, understand and love – and not only others – but ourselves. This is our spiritual home where we get to practice our principles and be surrounded by those who will love us and support even when we are not living them perfectly. Unconditional love allows us to be who we are without judgment. It is knowing that others will love you even when you are not feeling worthy of it. On the good days and the times when we are struggling. It is a place where others who will remind you of the Truth of your being, someone to pray with you and hold you in the Light when you don’t see it for yourself. One of the greatest gifts of your life is finding a place where people are going to support you in your spiritual unfolding. Not where we are seen for our jobs, our possessions, the outer things. Where we are seen in a different light – the light of love and understanding. When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth." Billy - age 4 And then I wrote these 3 words: collaboration, contribution and celebration. Collaboration Today we are having a Community Circle – a time to talk about topics that affect us all as a spiritual community. The Board and I actively seek your ideas, input and feedback before any big decisions are made. One of the key components of our growth and success in the last few years is this atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation between everyone. Contribution We continue to create ways for everyone to contribute. We have various volunteer opportunities, some on-going, some connected with a special event. People who have a specific gift have found ways to share that. Each person’s participation is a contribution – whether it is attending a class, workshop, spiritual cinema, Serenity Service or Sunday service. Your participation in any of these uplifts our entire community and each of us is also uplifted. Unity Comox Valley is a place where we can give. And the last one - Celebration This is a key aspect for me. There has got to be an element of joy and laughter and lightness otherwise – I am not signing up! Over the last 3 years we have had many celebration events. There is a quote from Colossians 3:12 that I love – it says it all: As God’s chosen ones (which is every single one of us) , holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. There is incredible potential in the form called spiritual community. There is unlimited possibility for growing – growing in love, growing in Spirit. Honour this community we have created and always look for ways to nurture and support it and each other. Indeed we are all connected. Heart to heart, soul to soul.