A major theme of the worship service last Sunday at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando was connections. The sermon (in the form of three reflections) was written before I knew that we would have anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Muslim protesters outside our sanctuary and some of their supporters inside. As it happened, the sermon was a good fit for the day, so much so that some people thought I had known what was going to happen and had written it especially for the occasion. I had not. There was only time for a few last minute tweaks once I saw what was happening.
It has been interesting to watch the deepening of connections that has taken place because of the events of last weekend and the events since then. The protesters left our campus only to move on to women’s health clinics, the private homes of health care providers, and other venues. Since I am just coming up on my first anniversary in Orlando, I am still learning about the broader community. This week was a crash course as we reached out to others and they reached out to us. Connections have grown to religious groups, community groups, large and small, and through a surprising array of informal conversations in coffee shops and elsewhere in the community. I might have hit a new personal record for hearing people say, “You know, I’ve been meaning to check out your church. I really should.”
I think the week has deepened the congregation’s sense of connection to its mission of exemplifying liberal religion in Central Florida. I know the interaction was very challenging for some of our members, especially those who come from backgrounds similar to the protesters. However, it has been a clear reminder that the congregation does not exist for the comfort of the members and that the existence of the congregation matters to the world beyond our walls.
For me personally, it has been very clarifying to read one protester’s “account” (on their blog) of what happened Sunday. She was aghast at things for which I am proud to stand. She misquotes the sermon. She claims to have asked me questions after the after worship for which I could not provide answers. Interestingly, that conversation never happened. Not one of their groups had a conversation with me after the sermon and I wonder if that is because that they knew I would have answers. Based on the author’s professed lack of understanding of the worship service, I suspect that our frames of reference may be so divergent that I could not have provided answers that would have had any meaning for her. I do wonder if all of our guests had as much trouble understanding what was going on as did the author of the post. Based on some comments I heard, I think some of them had a more meaningful experience. In spite of the challenges of the week, it has been a wonderful spiritual exercise to ponder these interactions.
Although the week is not over, at this point it appears to be one of those experiences that one would not wish for, but from which there is much to learn. I look forward to continued learning and deepening connections as we move forward together.