In the course of the discussions of capital improvements I have heard many people say that we should not be spending money on capital improvements when there are so many problems in the world.
I disagree. But I also operate from a different paradigm than the people making these statements. I don’t believe that the physical structure is irrelevant to our greater purpose. I don’t believe that every win for one is a loss for another. I don’t believe in private v. public, us v. them, the unfortunate out there who need saving and the more fortunate in here doing the saving. I believe that we are the public. We are not all well adjusted, superbly lucky, super literate (or super-educated or computer literate) people who never need to have a space of comfort, who never need others to speak on our behalf, who have never been victims of the economy or a lack of government services, of ill health or of other people.
I believe that church’s are sanctuaries, they are gathering places where communities uplift and live out the visions they may not be able to easily, or in any way, live in their own individual lives. Is it wrong that in the communities I’ve lived in and around, some of the best-maintained structures are the church’s, Boys and Girls Clubs and community centers? Is it wrong that some of the most beautiful structures and works of art are or are in sanctuaries? I don’t think so.
If inspiration is important, if community is important, if inspired community is important, then the sanctuary is important. The church as communal space is important.
For me, the sanctuary is the whole of who we are. When we plant our sign on property, wave our banner at rallies, when we accept membership in this congregation, when we claim a Unitarian Universalist identity, we take responsibility for the whole of our principles acted out in our congregation and in our lives.
Which brings me to the hidden cost of community building. Being considerate all the time. Being considerate means constantly observing others with a sensitivity that acknowledges that what they are experiencing in a situation is not what we are experiencing in the same situation, accepting that we are not always privy to every thing that happens but that in community we must be willing to accept that sometimes when people say they are acting with the best interest of the whole in mind, that they are, particularly when this is what they are called or asked to do. And sometimes it means addressing long-standing issues that we might prefer to ignore. Like the parking lot and growing our endowment.
Yep, I said it. Growing the endowment and improving the parking lot are part of being considerate. As a member of the young adult community and also the strategic planning task force who sought input on various issues, I found that among young adults, youth and those involved in pastoral care and environmental justice, parking lot improvement was much more popular than among others not in these groups.
We have seen our friends and visitors fall (the gravel is not forgiving to high heels, or to people who have difficulty lifting their legs). We have taken steps to improve the situation by adding more special needs parking, extending the sidewalk in the lot, and having the ministers graciously move their own reserved spaces to the back of the lot. However, we still have people who can’t get one of the limited spaces and must drop off passengers at the bottom of the ramp before parking.
It is not green or just or respectful of our community. Our lot violates Arlington County Code, but because of a grandfather clause, we have gotten waivers to keep it. The run off from our parking lot effects Four Mile Run stream. The demographic of Four Mile Run is browner and poorer than the demographic of UUCA. I am browner and (I think but am not sure) poorer than most UUCAers so I may be more sensitive to this point but I know plenty of people at UUCA with heightened sensitivity to this situation, including members of Green Action, who help research green surface lots as part of the last round of planning for capital improvements, which was delayed by the cost of the mold remediation.
Which brings me to the endowment. If we are to do truly great things for the community we need to be a stable financial presence for those who depend on us and we need to create funds for visionary endeavors, such as having an endowment that could be a foundation to sustain and enhance our social justice work, the financial commitments we make to other organizations, or expand the current social justice fund, which was recently established through generous gifts from members.
So why is that some of us, including our most vocal and generous supporters of community activism, can be so supportive of something that seems so “inwardly focused”? Maybe it’s because we can’t isolate the doing from the being. Hospitality and social justice are not separate and are not projects done in pockets or elsewhere. It is who we are and how we live, the skin, not just the suit. We can’t see the line of external/internal community, public/private church, the world out there/the world in here as easily. The “they are we is us” seems so much clearer. We are the other. I’ve heard people cite studies that say this anti-oppositional, non-polar, multi-viewpoint, large-mirror, community-oriented thinking is a trait of Millennials. Maybe it’s more common in this generation but I think that anybody who is exposed to enough of the world through either direct or indirect communication knows how hard it is to maintain a wall when people can see the other side and when the other side starts looking familiar (like family). I also think that anyone who has lived in or was bred by the society with a 50% divorce rate knows that it's a dangerous and slippery slope to be on when we begin weighting public "opportunities" over and against private "demands."
In the next few months and years, the congregation will be asked to consider what is important to us. We may need to acknowledge who “us” is. We will need to consider a number of issues and ideas, not just the lot and the endowment, but many aspects of how we can maintain and improve existing and/or create new projects, programs and spaces that will embody the creative, justice-seeking, personally-connected, reverent* spiritual maturity we aspire to.
And then we will have to do something about it and the first step, the right thing to do, might not be the most obvious or glamorous.
Think about the homes you have visited where it was clear that the person living there put a great emphasis on the experience of guests not just in the offering of food or beverage or a place to stay but in the way he or she had permanently designed or arranged rooms or items or the way he or she may have spent resources on the space. Now think about how caring, compassionate and how generous of time, talent and treasure these people are in the world. Coincidence? I think not.
Here’s to putting out lives where our values are.
*Reverence: Honor or respect felt or shown.
-Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary