My name is Barnaby Feder. I am the minister at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society here in Middlebury. That means I’m from the one of the religious traditions here in this sanctuary that was appalled by the wild emotions stirred up by 19th century Christian revivals. Thus, I feel well-suited to introducing what we have done to update one of the most theatrical and, for many, inspirational revival traditions: the anxious bench. There were many variations on the theme, but the old-time revivals often featured a bench or group of seats down front where people anxious about their alienation from God and religion could come and beg for the Spirit to help them accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The anxious bench was a psychologically brilliant innovation. By separating themselves from the crowd and all but eliminating the distance between themselves and the preacher, who often came down from the altar to speak directly to them, people affirmed a readiness – or at least a desperate wish – to be redeemed and transformed. The resulting conversions were often spectacular: screaming, talking in tongues, bodily gyrations, weeping and much more, all of it punctuated by cries of praise, prayer and encouragement from the crowd.
That’s not what we are after at this revival for several reasons. To start with, there is the level of our concern for the environmental havoc humankind is wreaking. No one here has been saved from this crisis and we would be failures indeed of only a few people here felt the need for transformation. We have created a global tragedy with no easy path to relief in sight. Indeed, every day, humankind makes things worse. Thus, every seat in this room ought to be the anxious bench.
Some new insights come with that perspective. First, we are too diverse to have – or trust — any unified view of what will save us. Second, because we come from different starting places with different gifts, we usually need to be calmer than our revivalist forebears. If our love of creation is real, then we must show it in effective ways. As we strive to turn the world around, we need to appreciate what each of us brings to the struggle and how we can support each other. Screaming, talking in tongues, and ecstatic convulsions won’t be encouraging signs. So we have a communal exercise coming up after Dr. Antal’s sermon that we hope will help you out of your anxious seat in a productive way. Each of you will be able to add a leaf to this tree naming how you aim to do more in the coming year.
It closing, I am going to name one other thing we all should have in common: deep, deep sadness at what humanity has wrought. We need to be in touch with this sorrow if our response is to come from our hearts as well as our heads. And, to be honest, I see no hope for us if it does not. So, I offer you this prayer of sorrow and invite you to make it your own as well as mine:

Spirit of Life-Giving Love and Love-Giving Life, God of many names and none,
Be with us as we mourn
Our selfishness, our pride, our short-sightedness, our wastefulness;
Be with us as we weep for
Our limited compassion, our inattention, our laziness, our distraction;
Be with us as we struggle with
Our fears, our ignorance, our anger, our drive to dominate.
Dear Spirit,
Forgive us for what we have failed to say, failed to do, and failed to halt,
And guide us to forgive each other and ourselves
Knowing that all are in pain, no matter how much we resent it.
Dear Spirit,
Transform our pain into illumination of all truth that sustains us,
All hope that is warranted,
And all love embodied
In this precious world we have so ungratefully abused.
Dear Spirit,
Hear our lament and hold us close.