Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Tag: search

[BLOG] Ministry & The Seven Month Itch

I’m a newer minister.  Sure, I’ve long been called to this work but as far as practicing the craft, I’m fresh off the assembly line.  I’m in my first settlement, first year, and there are first firsts all over the place.  On top of it all, there has been and will continue to be this shared hope amongst newer ministers that what we need to learn and do will be more accessible:  Searching for a congregation will be streamlined, settling into a community will be smooth, our credentialing process will be straightforward, compensation for ministers will make sense, and seminaries will teach all of the ins and outs.  No surprises will be left.  It’s a tall order.  It’s an impossible hope.

And all throughout this hope, no matter where I turn, I feel that my colleagues and I are often repeating ourselves with, “Well, this should be here for us…and that, too.”  Some may call it entitlement and certainly part of it is.  However, entitlement or not, we’re feeling our way through a calling rooted in humanity with human systems and human flaws with human needs.  It’s an incomplete system.  It may never be as fleshed out as our hopes demand. Read the rest of this entry »

The Person Next To You

This is the second sermon delivered during Candidating Week.

A wise colleague once offered me some invaluable advice about ministry. She said it rather bluntly and without explanation, but I understood her reasoning: She said, never tell anyone what you do for a living..when you’re on an airplane.

This advice is not unique to ministry. It’s not unique to airplanes either. You hear it if you’re a lawyer, a mortician, a teacher, or, really, anything. I tried to live by this advice. I wasn’t quite sure why I needed to: I enjoyed talking with people about their views on religion, learning about where they came from, and hearing their questions – just like this past week. It’s the kind of thing I live for and am called to be present to. But, still, I followed the advice. And let me tell you, it doesn’t work.

A couple years ago I found myself on a flight to San Francisco. I was all prepared to be my most anti-social self: I had a book and my earbuds. Somehow I thought those things would help. Just after take off I started digging into my book. Not long into the flight I felt a tap on my arm and the man sitting next to me asked: Are you a Unitarian Universalist? My cover was about to be blown. Read the rest of this entry »

Suddenly Surprised

This is the first sermon delivered during Candidating Week.

Our reading today is titled, “Walking Toward Morning” by Rev. Victoria Safford.

You know, we do it every day. Every morning we go out blinking into the glare of our freedom, into the wilderness of our work and the world, making maps as we go, looking for signs that we’re on the right path. And on some good days we walk right out of our oppressions, those things that press us down from the outside or (as often) from the inside; we shake off the shackles of fear, prejudice, timidity, closed-mindedness, selfishness, self righteousness, and claim our freedom outright, terrifying as it is—our freedom to be human and humane.

Every morning, every day, we leave our houses, not knowing if it will be for the last time, and we decide what we’ll take with us, what we’ll carry: how much integrity, how much truth-telling, how much compassion (in case somebody along the way may need some), how much arrogance, how much anger, how much humor, how much willingness to change or be changed, to grow and to be grown. How much faith and hope, how much love and gratitude—you pack these with your lunch and medications, your date book and your papers. Every day, we gather what we think we’ll need, pick up what we love and all that we so far believe, put on our history, shoulder our experience and memory, take inventory of our blessings, and we start walking toward morning.

I was completely surprised. I wasn’t even sure what happened — all I knew was that I was suddenly face first in a pile of snow. I really hate to begin by talking about the winter. Not the winter Massachusetts just had with snow piles high above my head and not the winter you just had here in Kentucky, but a winter many years ago in Illinois. It was a completely unremarkable winter but it has stuck with me.

Not far from where I grew up as a child, there was a shopping center with the usual suspects: JC Penney, KMart, and a now dilapidated indoor mall that had the most amazing nachos and the weirdest assortment of stores: a magic shop, an exotic pet store, a store that sold various types of sand and glass. I was with my mother on a particular winter day, the snow was piled out along the sidewalk outside and I was simply not having a good day. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of Humanism

This sermon was delivered at a neutral pulpit and to the search committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, KY.

Our reading today is titled “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford.

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

As a child in suburban Chicago, my family came to Unitarian Universalism just as I was entering my teenage years. It was in a town about twenty miles outside of the city where we came upon the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale. This was after a good friend recommended it. The church itself was situated behind the town library and was surrounded by the large picturesque homes that were characteristic of the town. The building was quaint.

Beautiful stone with plenty of trees, a church sign that hadn’t been changed in over twenty years, and a distinct and charming look about the whole property. It looked like home and that was the point. In the 19th century, the minister of the congregation — William Channing Gannett — wrote an essay titled “The House Beautiful.” In this essay he suggested that a church home must, simply enough, feel like home. And he wasn’t just talking about the people. Read the rest of this entry »