I don't normally get very worked up about Sunday services; I normally feel quite well prepared if I'm preaching, I don't get stage fright, and I feel very connected to my congregation, so even if I goof up, I am pretty sure most will forgive me. But today I have butterflies!
It's not because I'm not prepared, nor is it stage fright or fear about goofing up. I think it's because today really signifies the beginning of something new and thrilling for my dear congregation. Not only do we expect a good-sized crowd today for both services, but we are revealing ourselves in a new way to the larger community. We will have our elected officials speaking. There will be clergy from other congregations. The press will cover our gathering. We will have visitors from all over the area, come to see what we're doing on our little plot of land.
The butterflies I'm experiencing, I think, come from the question in my mind, "will we measure up?" It's kind of like a first date with someone you really want to connect with. I've been scanning my closet, trying to decide what outfit goes with what stole and do I want to wear my robe or is that a little much for a woodsy service. We've tried to clean up our outdoor "cathedral" of the construction detritus, get the bird poop off all the tables, smooth the ground as much as possible, hack back the blackberries and nettles to get them well away from the service site, and generally put our best face on.
As the reservations for the salmon feed continue to climb, we have scrambled to get enough picnic tables, chairs, and the like. We want to make sure that our guests are comfortable, well-welcomed, and don't break a leg on the property. Just as with every first date I've ever gone on, I want to make a good impression, want people to come back, want to reveal UUCWI as a warm, interesting, safe, and inspiring place to be.
Additionally, we have in the past watched other UU congregations in locales like ours (Port Townsend and Port Angeles, for example) grow exponentially when they built their own home. We hope and expect that will happen to us, that when we have a real home of our own we will have lots of visitors and that many of them will become part of our community. But there are no guarantees. Much of that projected growth depends on how we welcome people today, how we welcome them next week and all the weeks to come.
So I'm excited, scared, confident, and hopeful, all at once. I know we have two good services to offer today. One is our annual Ingathering which includes our Water Ceremony, with stories and kids and the novelty of pouring water into a common cup. The other is our Groundbreaking Celebration, with many more visitors and official guests. We're expecting to host up to 100 people today, which is a mammoth number for our little group. And many of those folks come looking to see whether we are someone they want to know better, to experience Unitarian Universalism for themselves, and to consider the possibility of becoming one of us.
First dates are never easy, for either party. I expect that there are folks out there today seesawing over the question "should I go to the UU service or not?" Will curiosity help them overcome their shyness? If they do come, will they be comfortable? Will we make a good first impression? Neither of us will know-----until we decide whether to make a second date.