Hannah Sessions

As some of you know, I was raised in this community from the age of 9. I vaguely remember the infamous first meeting in the Berninghausen’s, and remember well every stage of our growth leading up to this lovely space. In the early days of planning CVUUS it was my own mother who made the “piss or get off the pot” pronouncement which perhaps prompted the paths of fate which have brought us all together today. I know her bluntness and aforementioned approach to life and decisions has prompted many a move in my own life.

My history with CVUUS went a level deeper when, in 1999, as seniors at Bates College, my eventual husband Greg and I were attending the campus UU gathering and met Johanna Nichols, another strong and wonderful matriarchal figure in our lives, who was serving as a minister in a nearby town. Little did we know that in a short time Johanna would follow us to Middlebury, marry us, and on a rainy spring day during the early days of our farm tiptoe through the mud in nice shoes to get the signatures of two over-worked, financially strapped young farmers in order for them to sign the member book! Could be the only signatures in the book collected on the platform of a milking parlor. And then we were members in our own right.

So, what, besides my history, makes me dance about CVUUS? Well, church as always been a very grounding presence in my life. It’s not always easy to live where you grew up—though it makes for great stories for your kids. I don’t know how many of you have ever experienced it, it can be empowering but also stifling to live every day amongst fields of memory and expectation landmines—and I had a really great childhood! Too often in our society we run from what we know, we value more the self-made person who forges out into the world and makes a name for themselves. Success sometimes is considered equivalent to distance. I say it takes bravery to stay put, to face and live among the insecurities of your past, to let your memories exist and fill your body, and yet to continue to grow into your OWN person- the person you ARE today, who may or may not be the person you imagined you’d be. This community always strikes the right balance and is one of the BEST parts of living where I grew up. We preserve and cherish our history and each other, but we are free to grow, to change, to explore, to leave and come back, and forge ahead with changes that feel right. CVUUS is an inspiration to witness and to grow up with.

Like probably all of you, in my every day, I search for meaning, and for connection with the greater pulse towards good. As MLK Jr said “the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice”. Tapping into the arc is what we do. Time spent together on Sunday is, and has always been a crucial recharge—like Rev. Barnaby says, we “fuel up at the gas station of love”. We feel connected to a spiritual yearning felt by each other and by people across the world. When we worship together, we are reminded that we are not alone in our quest for kindness, for justice, for equity expressed in our everyday lives. Occasionally we may feel inadequate in our efforts towards a greater cause of good, but worshiping together brings meaning to the littlest of things that we can do, and thereby empowers us to do more. Like a quilt, our myriad of efforts come together to form a fabric of kindness which is stronger than our single parts.

As a parent, I stress church as an important part of life because I want my children to have the support that CVUUS has always provided me—support you don’t always get from the rest of society. A spiritual community is a home, an identity, and a place which I hope will lay the groundwork for all of our kids to be good, moral, compassionate people. Amidst the math, science, writing, social and sports skills, we need to squeeze a moral compass into their tool belts. We can’t be there on the playground, on the playing field, in the classroom, to ensure that our kids to the right thing. We can’t shelter them from misogynistic music lyrics, from homophobic remarks, from racist undertones, from cruelty in general, but we can give them the moral tools and framework to recognize that these things are not acceptable and should not be the norm. Kindness is the norm. Curiosity is the norm. We CAN have a society where people are respected, included, honored. How are we doing that? Besides all of us allowing them to be their wonderful selves, our RE program is phenomenal. By exposing our kids to different religions in Neighboring Faiths, to learning about our UU past and establishing mentor relationships in Coming of Age, to all of the important life and relationship facts in Our Whole Lives, our kids are getting better prepared for the bombardment that awaits them outside of these doors every week. Back in the early days of CVUUS we didn’t have the resources for these great programs, and I am very thankful that my kids are getting this type of education. It takes a village and when I tell my daughter, I was really proud of you for seeking out and including that girl in your game, I know that CVUUS is backing me up and valuing that as well, and has from the earliest days as a Chalice Child and a Golden Eagle. When my son chooses his favorite pro basketball players not only for their skill, but because they are NICE and GOOD people, we have SUCCEEDED as a community. (Bonus, that reportedly Steph Curry is also Rev. Barnaby’s favorite player.)

I end my reflection with a challenge, however. Looking ahead, we need to find a way to draw in more families. Parents need to realize that making a commitment to this open, loving community is a difficult investment time-wise when you have to compete with hockey practice, soccer games, ski races—all of which take place on Sunday mornings now—but the pay off is SO worth it! Kindness and community need to be right up there on our priority lists! Valuing kindness is beginning to reap rewards, seen even in the college admissions process. In a recent article in the Washington Post, a dean of Yale University said “We want students who have achieved in and out of the classroom, but we are also looking for things that are harder to quantify, like authentic intellectual engagement, and a concern for others and the common good”. Why don’t they just say it– they are looking for UUs!

When I ask my son, what can we do to get more families to come to church he says: I don’t know—maybe put in a basketball hoop? I laughed—predictable response, but the more I think about it, he might be onto something. If that’s what it takes to have more families and future generations of leaders jump on the ‘arc towards kindness’ and fill up at the ‘gas station of love’ then maybe a game room should be in our plans for basement renovations. It may not be who we THOUGHT we’d be but it may be who we ARE.

Jan 31, 2016