Reading from Paul Hansen, member of the congregation in
So long in coming,
Let every heart
That hears these words
Embrace this time and this people.
Loneliness shared is loneliness vanquished.
Here is where questions flow
And fall back warmed, if not answered.
Here is one place we create salvation.
Each gift we offer to friends and strangers
Adds meaning to that time
When this place was first filled.
When a soul feels cramped in casing
Less than elegant
How can it live, full and free?
We come here because we know.
Here is acceptance
That has welcomed us and ours
For all these years.
Every home is a clumsy sketch
Of its inhabitants.
Yet, its magic helps us rise
To nobler definitions.
We gather this morning in hope, once again. We gather in hope,
not in certainty, for nothing is certain. It is hard enough to
know ourselves, much less each other. Hard enough to know our
own hearts, our own motives, our own limits. To admit our own
fears, our own frailties, our own uncertainties, much less know
those of another.
But “loneliness shared is loneliness vanquished.” We are, in
fact, better together. I know you have been tested here harshly.
In places your skin is softer colored and shiny, the baby-soft
skin that emerges after wounding. Some of you have scabs. I know
there are those who chose to pull back, to try to prefer
loneliness for a while. I know because the people in my church
have those scabs, that softer, shinier new skin, too. Three Dog
Night was right, it’s easy to be hard.
And yet, here we are. The fact of our being together, lighting
the chalice of our faith, singing the songs of community,
setting one foot then the other on the path of the future, these
For 125 years, it has been enough.
Not all of those years were easy. When Americans tell our
stories, they are usually heroic. Here is yours:
In 1885, fourteen Universalists gathered in a hall over a store
to form a congregation with the Rev. Henry deLafayette Webster
as its first minister. By the next year, a small wooden church
was built on land donated by Anson P. K. Safford, a local land
developer, former Governor of Arizona, and a Universalist. Thus
the first church in Tarpon Springs was erected two years before
the city was incorporated and before the Orange Belt Railways
came through the town. Other denominations being organized had
use of the building until they could have their own.
The year after this first building was destroyed by fire in
1908, the present structure was erected at the corner of Grand
Boulevard and Read Street. Several additions have been made
since. The congregation has at various times been named Church
of the Good Shepherd, First Universalist Church, and the
Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs. Its present name,
Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs, was adopted in
Both Webster and Safford had many northern friends who were
among those being attracted as winter visitors to Tarpon Springs
after the railroad was built and the town was being developed as
a resort. One winter visitor was George Inness, Sr., the famous
19th century landscape artist, who painted some of his
well-known works here. Later his son, George Inness, Jr., a
member of the church, painted three beautiful landscape panels
for the sanctuary to replace windows blown out by a hurricane in
1918. The church is now home to eleven large Inness paintings
that adorn the walls, making a notable contribution to the
beauty of the interior and to the cultural life of the
When we Americans tell our stories, they are usually heroic, but
yours is starkly understated. The three paragraphs of history on
your website briefly mention one destruction by fire, and one
disaster by hurricane, and the later might have escaped mention
were it not for the accidental creation of a new mural space. I
have to imagine that at the time, these problems loomed far
larger, seemed far more disastrous.
The church burned down. If you’ve ever been to a building fire,
you know what this is. You wander the ashes numbly. The smell of
wet ash hangs in your nostrils and will cling to your shoes for
weeks. It would have been easy to close the doors, but there was
a need for this church, work to be done, greater love to be
lived, and so the members looked each other in the eye, summoned
each other to courage, held each other tightly and then built
the church building we worship in this morning.
Ten years later, a hurricane blows out the windows. That sounds
so tidy. So genteel – hurricane one day but never mind that –
some time later, George Jr. magically appears with his paints
and voila! You and I know it was far messier, far more sturm and
drang than that. The members were in here mopping and drying and
weeping and cursing and “why us again”-ing for weeks, perhaps
months. They could have taken being redisasterized as a sign
from God to pack up and give up, but then they knew it was a
reminder to look each other in the eye, summon forth courage,
hold on tightly until they all quit shaking, then rebuild the
In their time, our Universalist foremothers and forefathers
sustained and led this congregation safely, ensured that it
would be here for your time and your care. They were not
extraordinary people. They were ordinary people with an
extraordinary faith, ordinary people living epic lives of love
and courage because the human cost of living a lesser life has
always been too high. Annie Dillard writes: “There were no
formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure
generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has
Loneliness shared is loneliness vanquished.
Here is one place we create salvation. Here, we can learn to
know and love each other boldly. This is a spiritual practice.
And because we are practicing, we are not perfect. Because we
are human, we will always be perfectly imperfect. In our perfect
imperfection we can forget to love each other enough, fail to
love each other fully. This is not a venal sin or a heinous
crime. It is the humanness.
I have a good friend whose husband is sometimes unkind – not
mean, just not kind. Joe is abrupt, self-centered, arrogant. I
enjoy time with my friend, and abiding her husband’s lack of
kindness is a price I pay, but at times the price has felt
excessive. One afternoon, I complained to my friend, hoping she
would fix her husband for me, at least a little bit. Her answer
was simple: “Here is a fact: he cares about you. If you care,
too, you will figure out how to talk to him.”
This is a choice we face over and over again: we can choose to
care, and do the hard work that our choice requires. Our
Universalist faith calls us to a care born from the knowledge
that we are each a child of God, blessing and blessed. We don’t
come to church to find the people we love; we come to church to
love the people we find. This is the place where we learn to
choose care, a place where we learn to choose love, so that we
might live. That voice still and small calls us to love.
In her poem, Beginners, Denise Levertov writes:
Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla
“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea-“
But we have only begun
To love the earth.
We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
- so much is in bud.
How can desire fail?
- we have only begun
To imagine justice and mercy,
Only begun to envision
How it might be
To live as siblings with beast and flower,
Not as oppressors.
Surely our river
Cannot already be hastening
Into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot
Drag, in the silt,
All that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet –
There is too much broken
That must be mended,
Too much hurt we have done to each other
That cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know
The power that is in us if we would join
Our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
Complete its gesture,
So much is in bud.
So much is unfolding. What will you do now that will ensure your
next 125 years? How will you continue to be a vital congregation
that adds love to your lives and to the world?
Despite your fine art collection, it is not your time or your
destiny to be a museum. You have work to do, real work of human
relationship and human justice. Too much is broken that must be
mended, too much hurt we have done to each other that must be
forgiven, so much unfolding that must complete its gesture…
So much possibility. There are so many people in need of our
love. Some of them are here.
We come here because we know. Here is acceptance that has
welcomed us and ours for all these years.
So here you are, mopping up, drying off the water, assessing the
damage. Remember who you are, and you will know what you are
called to do next. Look deeply in each other’s eyes, summon
forth all your courage, hold onto each other tightly, and
rebuild the church. It is what you have always done. This is the
right time to require more of yourselves and each other: more
care, more love, more joy, more church.