Never Sailed Before
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, February 19, 2006
Well, anyway, I was puttering along, playing some tunes—a little West Side Story here; a little Shostakovich there; a bit of Franz Ferdinand-- when I came upon an album I hadn’t played in a while, so I put it on. It’s something that I’m sure some of you over a certain age might recognize…
That’s right—it’s Richard Rodger’s theme from Victory at Sea. That was one of my father’s favorite television series; he loved the music, too, and always played it around the house, so it brought back memories.
It also reminded me that today is Canvass Sunday, and that we had chosen a nautical theme— “Sailing Toward Our Dreams”—for our canvass this year. That got me thinking about boats, and wondering what I, a landlubber if there ever was one, was possibly going to say about boats.
Well, I have had some historical interest in boats at various times. But then it dawned on me that they were all boats that had sunk: the Titanic, the Lusitania, the Andrea Doria, the General Slocumb. I was even a member of the Titanic Historical Society once, for a short time. That’s not terribly useful experience for a Canvass Sunday message, I’m afraid.
But that reminded me of a story. There was an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman who were once shipwrecked. They were stranded in a little lifeboat, out in the middle of the ocean, with absolutely no help in sight. Then, the boat sprung a leak. They bailed, bailed, and bailed; but to no avail. The boat just sank deeper and deeper into the sea. Their hope was fading fast, so, the Englishman proclaimed, “I guess we had better turn to prayer.”
“Oh no,” the Irishman exclaimed, “has it come to that already?”
But who would lead the prayers? Sandy, the Scotsman, decided to give it a try, good Presbyterian that he was. Ushering forth all of his memories from his boyhood in the Church of Scotland, he bowed his head, and proclaimed: “The morning offering will now be received.”
Well, our situation isn’t that bad. In spite of the winter cold, and the high cost of gas, and oil deliveries at the parsonage, and bills for plowing and snow removal, we’re not shipwrecked (yet). We don’t need to resort to prayer (alone), not just yet anyway. But we have decided to take up a collection of sorts this morning—our great big all-church collection in fact-- our annual fundraising drive, which we call our All-Church Canvass.
Every year at this time, we remind one another of how important it is for each of us to do our share to support our church. We remind ourselves how it all comes down to us; how we are a self-governing congregation which owns its own building; which selects (and pays) its own minister; which hires it own staff; shovels its own snow; makes its own decisions—and yes, pays its own bills. We are the church and the church is us; it is the people of this church who are responsible for meetings its financial needs.
We are the boat; we are the sea…
And the financial health of our church depends on you and me.
It is not always an easy journey for little churches like ours. Sometimes, we are tossed and turned by the great waves of that big old ocean—that all-consuming culture out there. People don’t put all their personal cargo in a single boat anymore; they belong to many different organizations; they support different groups; they’re part of numerous different crews—all of which make demands on their time, talent, and treasure. Sometimes, for little ships like ours, it might seem as though they’re just aren’t enough hands on deck to keep our boat afloat. Or, there aren’t enough resources to keep our little ship sailing.
So, at Canvass time, we pause and consider why it is important to do what we can to keep the sails raised—and dig a little deeper—and renew our financial pledge to this church—and maybe (hopefully) increase it a little, or a lot, depending upon our own individual circumstances.
Your pledge to this church is perhaps the best opportunity you have to put real life behind our deepest religious values. It is the chance to go on offering the gifts of hope and courage to a world which needs these things so badly. It is your chance to affirm, in deed and not just in word, the inherent worth and dignity of every man, woman, and child—in a world where the worth and dignity of so many is under assault as never before. It is your opportunity to continue to support this free and liberating religious institution which has stood proud in this town center for 262 years now, offering its vision of a faith free of dogma, and repression, and narrow-mindedness. It’s your opportunity to continue to support this oasis of the Spirit in this oftentimes dry and barren world. It’s your chance to pass on this gift of a free faith to the generations that will come after us—and chart those waters of the Spirit never sailed before.
“Love, like a carefully loaded ship, crosses the gulf between the generations,” Antoine de St. Exupery reminds us.
This church of ours is a sacred ark, built with love. It is our chosen vessel for the journey of our spirits. May we continue to cherish it, and honor it, and care for it, through all the days of our sojourn on this Earth.