Coming Home to Belonging

Ingathering Sunday

September 11, 2022

Rev. Maddie Sifantus


TIME FOR ALL AGES    The Long, Slow Swell of the Sea

Janeen K. Grohsmeyer

I speak now of a time of great changes, of the ebb and the flow of an ever-advancing tide, and of a long, slow swell of the sea. The women were rising.

The women had always been there, of course, from the beginning. Across the globe, down through the ages, in the homes of their families, the women fetched the water, gathered and prepared the food, made the clothes, tended the fires, and cared for the children, the sick, and the old. In this country, through the centuries, in the sacred places of their communities, the women cleaned the buildings, decorate the altars, brought the food, sang in the choir, helped the poor and the needy, and listened from the pews. From the beginning, the women had been there.

But mostly, they had been silent, and mostly, they had held no power in their hands. Mostly, the decisions had been made by the men.

No more. The women were rising, with the long, slow swell of the sea.

In the year 1977, a group of women gathered around a butcher block in the kitchen of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Lexington, Massachusetts. They decided that the women should be-and would be-heard. That summer, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly agreed to their proposal, and the “Women and Religion Resolution” was formed. Our bylaws were updated, our songs were revised our principles reframed-so that the word “he” became “he and she” and “man” became “people.” A seventh principle was added respect for the interdependent web of all life, man and woman, female and male, and stones and butterflies and trees. The words weren’t the only things to change, people’s ideas were changing, too.

The women were rising, and the tide was flowing over the land.
In 1980, a great gathering was held, a “Convocation on Feminist Theology,” and people came from all over the land. To honor their journeys, journeys through space and time, journeys with joy and pain, journeys completed, journeys ongoing, and also journeys no yet begun, two women, Lucile Longview and Carolyn McDade, created a ceremony of water-sharing from them all.

For the women were rising and water had carried them there.
From the mouth of the Mississippi River, from the Atlantic and Pacific . . . the women and the waters came. From the mountains and the deserts, from rivers and streams from drops of rain. . . the women and the waters came. From the oceans of the ages, from the ancient womb of life that created us all . . . the women and the waters came.

In the circle of hundreds, they gathered. In a circle of hundreds, they sang. In a circle of unbroken they listened to each other’s stories, and they listened to the waters as they fell. For the women came forth with their water, those waters from all over the land, and they mingled the waters in a great earthen bowl.

Then, as each had given to the waters, each took from the waters. In this taking, they reclaimed the water. In this taking, they reclaimed the Earth. The reclaimed their history. The laid claim to their future, and the future of all living things. A vow and a promise, to each other and to themselves.

Then in their circle of hundreds they sang “We’re coming Home” as we will sing in our water communion this morning.

For the women were rising, and the waters were rising, and great changes were sweeping over the land, with the long, slow swell of the sea.

And the women and the men were all coming home.


So this is a special Sunday for us here at UUCSP. Once a year on the Sunday after Labor Day Weekend, we join with most UU congregations on our Continent in a ritual called Water Communion. Way back in the Twentieth Century, in November 1980 as you have heard in our Time for All Ages this morning, a group called the Unitarian Universalist Women and Religion held a retreat at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We can imagine them gathering next to the lake for a week, being inspired by its changing nature and its natural beauty, just as many of us have visited a body of water during the summer months, even if it was only Ventura Harbor or Sespe Creek.

At the end of their retreat the women were asked to pour water that they had collected during the week into a large bowl. For these women, the water represented the place, experiences, and feelings that had been meaningful during their time together. In a ritual, they had pooled their water and shared their thoughts with each other. This was the very first water communion, and it has become traditional in a great many of our congregations.

Today we bring water back from near and far—from vacation spots, garden plots, home taps, our church kitchen or anywhere that might have had meaning for us from the summer months.

My water today is from St. John’s River in Aroostock County, Maine near Caribou where the founders of this congregation moved from. And my water is from the Atlantic Ocean in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Lake Winnipesaukee where two months ago I led worship on an island in the middle of the lake. And there’s some water too from the Sudbury River near where I used to live and the First Parish in Wayland where I was called to ministry and where I will be a participant in the Memorial Service of my mentor and dear friend Ken Sawyer one week from today. And my water is from the mighty Connecticut River near my sister Bonnie’s house in South Hadley, Mass.

Just as it did for the UU Women and Religion gathering, the pooling of our water represents the pooling of our experiences, our gifts, our joys, our sorrows, and our hopes as we ingather into this community this morning. It symbolizes our sense of belonging here, to this place and to these people, whether here in the Sanctuary or far flung

I now invite each person or family in the Sanctuary who chooses to come forward and add a small amount of water or virtual water to our bowl. We also have a pitcher of water you can use if you forgot yours. Those of you at home please pour your water into your own vessel or meditate on a body of water that is important to you. And while you are performing this ritual, we will be singing the song that Carolyn McDade wrote for that very first water communion, the words to the chorus will be on the screen or are in your Order of Service.

SONG: Coming Home


We’re coming home to the spirit of our soul.

We’re coming home and the healing makes us whole.

Like rivers running to the sea

We’re coming home.

Words and Music, Carolyn McDade

All rights reserved. Reprinted under ONE LICENSE A-735009

REFLECTION      Coming Home to Belonging              Rev. Maddie Sifantus

Today we have shared our water on this day we symbolically come home to each other. We have sung about belonging and coming home. We have gathered here together at our historic Sanctuary on Main Street and across the miles through the magic of Zoom and Facebook, for this one hour, one community. We are symbolically one.

Our community is physically gathered on the historic lands of the Chumash whose legacy we humbly honor. This land later supported the Spaniards and Mexicans who settled here, followed by pioneers from the East who are some of the founders of this congregation as well as Dust Bowl Children and many more, including me and many of you. We hope that all of us can “belong”, even though we don’t always agree on what it means to be a faith community…which actually is part of our heritage as Unitarian Universalists. Or as Frances David is said to have said centuries ago, “We don’t need to think alike to love alike.” But we all have the need to belong. We hope you can feel you belong here. Please know that you are welcome—yes, even you with all your foibles, needs and challenges but with all your gifts as well.

Beyond these walls we are always looking to welcome more beloveds into our worship and activities, widening our welcome, drawing our circle wide and wider still. Kate and I would love to have your ideas for that as we start this new church year. How can we bring more people in the doors, now that it is more safe to do so? How can we welcome those who speak other languages, even as my Spanish amounts to Hola! And my Mixtec and Zapotec are non-existent. How can we include youth and children back into the life of this congregation after these challenging pandemic times? How do encourage people to sing with our choir and help bring more music into this space and to our services? How do we better get the message out that all are welcome to our concerts, Gatherings and the Spiritual Growth Center activities even if folks belong to other faith communities? How do we become the community center that is relevant to our place and time and still fill the needs of those of us deeply embedded in the historic UU tradition? I could go on but I want to end my short reflection on this occasion of a new church year and our ritual of belong with a thought about community and belonging from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Africans have a thing called ubuntu. It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.

May we all work for together for the common good and have a sense of belonging as we sail on our Blue Boat Home. May it be so.