Sunday, October 8, 2017: Gloria’s Tale, Our Tale

By: Winniepix (photo of Richard Whitehead, MBE Great Britain, during the London Marathon, world-class medal winner and record-holder in several running events)

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“If you want to talk to God, talk to your neighbor.”

(by Rabbi friend of one of Rev. Anita’s colleagues)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Jane F.

 

 

CALL TO WORSHIP:

“I’d like to ask you now to reach inside yourself and touch that special place in your heart where love blooms and grows. Know that it is love which brought you here…and love which keeps you alive. Know that you are not alone, that the love which blooms inside you is shared by the sisters and brothers who surround you, who, like you, have known not only loss, not only fear, but also the joy of saying “Yes” to the beauty of life….”

In that spirit and with that love, let us worship together.

(by Mark DeWolfe)

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Elsa & Clio M.

We light our chalice to welcome the morning.

We light our chalice to welcome the light.

We light our chalice to welcome each other.

Let its light ever remind us,

of the beauty and the power of heartfelt welcome.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “There Is More Love Somewhere”

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Music Director Tara Tresner-Kirsch shows the children that we can appreciate music with more than just our ears.

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

EXPLORING DIVERSITY: “Ability: Why It Matters” (by David B.)

Last summer, when the Transition Team began meeting to lay the groundwork for our year of Exploring Diversity, Rev. Anita pointed out that Ability is the one aspect of diversity that we all share. Each of us has limits to our physical and mental abilities; some built-in from birth and others acquired at various points in our lives. If we want to be a community that includes people with physical disabilities, we need to ensure that our church home has removed physical barriers to the greatest extent possible and that we make deliberate inclusive choices to provide a safe, navigable physical environment for members, friends and users.

One of my earliest projects as an architect was a project at the Waltham Public Library, for an addition and restoration of the original 1915 library. The project included an accessible entrance, elevators, accessible bathrooms, braille signage, and open book stacks throughout the new and historic spaces that were laid out to provide the required accessible path of travel space for the public. As the project was winding down I met Gerry, a resident of Waltham and a member of the MAAB, the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board, who also happened to be a wheelchair user. Gerry pointed out that while we had provided sufficient accessible parking spaces, we had also designed a paving surface of split face granite blocks between the parking spaces and the new accessible entrance that made the path of travel for wheelchair users more difficult.

A meeting was convened at the site and I dutifully pointed out that the rough granite blocks provided a tactile surface to alert blind people that they were approaching the parking lot and that the blocks were within the prescribed height limits for an accessible path of travel. Gerry was having none of this and insisted that I try navigating his chair over the blocks and through the door. Though I had already yielded to his own demonstration of the difficulty of traveling over the blocks, I accepted his generous offer and used his chair to enter the library through the doors. Though I managed to do this, it was not without difficulty, and certainly not without learning an unforgettable lesson.

Last year during the house meetings, we were asked to imagine our church community in 2024. It is my hope that within the next 7 years we will arrive at a deeper understanding of diversity, and will deliberately transform our building and how we use it to provide universal access to all people, including those with different physical abilities.

ANTHEM

READING: “You Are Accepted”

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life.

Grace strikes us when, year after year, the longed for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment, a wave of light can break into our darkness, and it really is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’

(by Paul Tillich from “The Shaking of the Foundations”)

OFFERTORY

HYMN: “There’s a River Flowing in My Soul” (#1007)

SERMON

Gloria’s Tale, Our Tale

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)

When I first met Gloria she was sixty years old, and recently retired. She’d worked for that company for forty years and had needed to take early retirement because of problems with her knees. Gloria laughed a lot. She was a happy person, and very sociable, glad to see me when I visited her where she lived with her aging parents. When she spoke it was with enthusiasm, but it was difficult for me to understand what she was saying much of the time. Gloria had Down syndrome.

Gloria’s was an active family in the church. Slowly, over time, I came to hear the story of Gloria’s life unfolding. I heard it from her parents, from her younger brothers, also active in the church along with their growing families. And finally, I also heard it from Gloria, as I better was able to understand her, and as my love for her generated the patience I needed to stay with it and listen carefully.

Gloria was the first born of an Italian American family. Her father had started a modest construction company and the young family was looking forward to the life they would build together, they and the baby on the way. They were not expecting a Down syndrome baby. They were expecting their first child, and that is who arrived. Their daughter, Gloria. They loved her. Held her. Christened her. Cherished her. Watched her grow, play with friends and master tasks. When it was time for Gloria to start school they went to enroll her. They were told that Gloria would not be allowed to enroll in the first grade because the school did not have the proper setup to teach a child with special needs, and they, the school system, determined that they could not afford to hire someone for the education of only one child. That did not sit well with Gloria’s “can do,” Dad.

He challenged the school board. “How many special needs children would it take to justify hiring a special needs teacher?” he demanded. After much hemming and hawing they finally came up with a number.

It was the 1940’s. Gloria’s Dad then sent out through whatever means were available in those days, I imagine newspaper ads, Rotary, social clubs and such, to the local community and surrounding towns, asking if there were folks with young children who had special needs and would like to go to school. People responded. When he hit the magic number, and had generated enough children to “justify hiring a special needs teacher,” children whose parents were sufficiently committed to their education that they would take responsibility for getting them to school without added bus service, he returned to the school committee and demanded Gloria and these other children be admitted. Reluctantly, they were.

The Special Needs classes continued. Gloria worked hard, enjoyed her friends, went to Sunday School, and participated in the community as any other child might. Her brothers did admit that often they kept a watchful eye out for their older sister in the playground, to make sure she was okay, but Gloria generally managed. Eventually she finished High School.

Now what? By this time Gloria was probably close to twenty years old. Was she going to sit around the house for the next twenty, thirty, forty years, doing nothing, being bored and unproductive? That didn’t sit well with her industrious parents, who were steeped in the work ethic that had forged the life they loved.

Her Dad tried to use his contacts to find her a job. As I said, he was in construction. No one was hiring people with disabilities. No one was hiring people with Down syndrome.

So Gloria’s Dad got an idea. He knew for certain, that there were jobs that Gloria could do. There were jobs her friends could do. Not complicated, but real jobs that performed necessary tasks, with a little supervision. Using the knowledge he had gained from creating and running his own construction company he set up what we would now call a “sheltered workshop.” I don’t recall exactly what they made and did in that company. What I do know is that most of the employees were in some way disabled, and that the products that they produced were all valuable, contributing to the economy in real ways. And the workers there did what workers do everywhere. They made friends with one another. They went out after work together. Saw movies, ate dinner out, had arguments, told stories, and gossiped together. I know this because Gloria spoke often about what she missed most about working, now that she was retired. She missed seeing her friends on a daily basis. She missed the sociability of the work place. And she, just like any of us, was going to have to figure out a new way to do her life, now that she was retired. Fortunately for Gloria, she still had her parents who were determined with her, to figure that out. And she, and they, still had their church.

Because Gloria’s parents had understood themselves as having been blessed with a daughter, and because Gloria’s parents recognized the image of God, the divine light in Gloria, they celebrated her living among them and with them, and consequently, that light, the divine light only burned brighter and brighter. And so a space was created, one in which the divine light of others with special needs was recognized and given the space and the air that light needs to burn really brightly.

Gloria’s parents had no use for labels. They saw children, they saw people, and they saw opportunity. And their church community became part of their story, learning with them and from them. It carried forward in remarkable ways.

I remember a little boy in the church who had some serious learning disabilities. He had been taking piano lessons. One day during coffee hour, he mentioned to some folks on the Worship Committee that he would like to play the piano in church. The Worship Committee did not hesitate for a second. And little Andy was given the opportunity to play the offertory one Sunday. He practiced and practiced. And when the day came, and Andy played, the congregation seemed to hold its collective breath in anticipation, broke out in applause when he was finished, and receipts from the collection that day were more than the congregation had seen in a decade.

I learned so much from pastoring Gloria’s family and their church, a church that had learned to love and hold as precious all of God’s children, all of us. I had never known someone with Down syndrome before. Maybe I had even avoided them, I can’t be sure. But once I had the chance to learn how to know and love Gloria, my eyes and my heart opened. Once I learned from her parents how barriers could be lifted if inclusion was the goal, my grasp of what was possible expanded and my willingness to accept limitations was curtailed. When people said “we can’t” I began to understand them to be saying “we won’t” which is quite different. And now, after these many years, I understand that often when we say “we can’t” what we really mean is, “We don’t know how.” And that difference is important.

Important to understand, and to take seriously, because “We can’t,” or “We won’t,” as my nine year old granddaughter says, is not a growth mind set. When you say “I can’t” she tells her mother, “You are not in a growth mind set.” But if you say, “I can’t do it yet,” then you acknowledge that there is growth and learning possible. And you just might do it yet.

Gloria’s family and their church, engaged together in a growth mind set. Together they lived into our third principle, the principle that calls us to acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. They did it big time, by doing it small time, personally, one person, and one family at a time. Without planning or expecting it, they discovered that the spiritual journey in which they were engaged, of accepting one another, of accepting Gloria, was in fact the path to truth and meaning. They were transformed, and I was transformed by them, by the love that inevitably spilled out, overflowing from accepting hearts.

The accepting heart….May it be ours.

“reach inside …Touch that special place in your heart where love blooms and grows….

For ” …the love which blooms inside you is stronger than fear…”[1]

May we so love…that we and our world, might be transformed.

Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: How Could Anyone? #1053

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE: (read by the congregation)

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE

[1] The Rev. Mark DeWolfe