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Reflections from Rev. Emily Gage

What Does It Mean To Be a Community of Risk?

Not so many years ago, when I was in the earliest days of being a parent, sometimes the most mundane things seemed a risk. I have a distinct memory from the sleep-deprived haze of those early weeks, when I needed to make a run to Target. I packed up the baby equipment, the extra clothing and bottles, and whatever else it was I thought I needed, and I got ready to go. I put Paul in the baby seat and snapped it into the car, and I thought, “Am I crazy to even think about leaving the house with the baby?”

I cannot recall now precisely why I felt this way, although, in general, it felt like we were operating without much of an owner’s manual. Perhaps it was simply because so much was unknown, it seemed like anything could happen out there. And I might not be prepared for whatever it was. Of course, this was just early training for the rest of  parenthood—taking a deep breath before starting on an adventure, not knowing what was in store, and hoping that whatever happened we would figure out what to do. It turns out there’s not a lot one is in control of as a parent. So much is experimentation and risk.

It was not that long after my Target moment that I started to watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, where,  in an episode about being a vegetable taster, I heard the words, “You gotta try new foods ’cause they might taste good.” While this has been a helpful reminder for a child at the dinner table, it’s also a good one for parents when contemplating an adventure.

We take risks all the time, you and I, as individuals. Sometimes they are little ones—opportunities that come up in our daily lives for us to try new things, or speak new truths, or test new limits. Sometimes they are big ones—starting or ending a relationship, taking or leaving a job, letting go or taking a leap of faith. Life is a risky business; there are risks all around us, and there are the risks that we take. The trick is to find a balance between too much risking and too little. And perhaps, more importantly, the balance between risks for the sake of risks, or risks that reflect who we are, what we value, and where we might need to grow.

One of the biggest risks I took in my life was leaving a congregational ministry not knowing where I was going to go next. (I had some safety nets in place, so it was not totally reckless.) But it required a leap of faith and a sense of new possibility. And then, I had an opportunity to try a ministry at a large congregation in a new role. I took that opportunity in part because it was the one that scared me the most—in the best way possible. It represented a new avenue, a new way for me be challenged in work I already deeply loved and was called to do. Nine years later, here we still are, and I feel the exhilaration of the risks that we continue to take.

Which makes me wonder—What does it mean to be a community of risk? Partly it must mean that we support one another as we learn and grow on our journey—that’s built in to our programming--in our Soul Connections groups, in our adult religious enrichment opportunities, in our social justice witness activities, in almost any one-on-one interaction. Partly it must also mean that as a congregation we take risks together. It’s easy to see ones that we’ve taken lately—leaving our building temporarily and creating our congregational life on the road. Buying 1019 South Boulevard and making it into our Unity Temple office/classroom space/community center. So much risk, so much possibility.

Once a month, I teach our Introduction to Unitarian Universalism class, and I am always struck by those few Unitarians and Universalists who gathered in a room in Oak Park in 1871 to contemplate the formation of our liberal religious community. I wonder if they asked themselves, “Is this a crazy idea to build a congregation right here and right now?” Maybe they did, even as they went ahead. And look what their risks led to—a community of risk that keeps giving birth to new visions and new opportunities. Anything is possible.

May it continue to be so.