It has been nearly 50 years since Tom and I found this Unitarian Universalist church sitting next to Saltwater State Park. Our children were toddlers and we were in our early 20s. We found it to be a liberal religious group that meshed so completely with our beliefs and it came with the bonus of being a caring and energetic community.

It became our second home. It has been the site of family celebrations for us – our daughter’s wedding and our 25th and 50th anniversary celebrations. I have so many wonderful memories of events in this beautiful setting. I was so proud when our church members voted unanimously to become a Green Sanctuary. I appreciate the opportunity to meditate every Tuesday evening and walk our Labyrinth. I cherish times to visit with friends after church. We have both been retired for over 10 years, and despite our ‘stagnant’ income continue to increase our pledge because giving to this church is in the same category as funding college for our grandchildren. It is really important. If it provides just a fraction of the spiritual, emotional and community support to other members that we have received, we are joyful and grateful.

I love this church. When I moved here from the Midwest 23 years ago, knowing no one but my new work partners, I found this church and it became my new family. And though some of its members have come and gone, Saltwater Church has been a constant for me. Ministers, too, have come and gone, but the heart and soul of Saltwater—its mission, its aspirations and achievements—endure and nourish my soul week after week.

I remember when my son was born, 21 years ago. We were in interim then, as now, with another wonderful interim minister and a caring DRE. Greg came with a birth defect we did not expect and it was a shock. Having a visit from that minister, and later from the DRE–even before we’d taken him home–was a true blessing. When a friend visits, they bring love and support which is wonderful. When a church representative visits, it feels like they bring the love and support of a whole community- which they do. And what a gift that is.

This church has also given me a place to learn, to teach, to hear and try new ideas, to listen, to love, to worship, to serve and be served, to act and witness action, to laugh and cry, to be myself and be more than myself, to be real and true and spiritual. Coming to church is like a vacation day—it rejuvenates and energizes. I have received so much here, and so I want to give back.

As UUs, we chose and direct our own spiritual path, but it is this coming together to “nurture each other, to find meaning and connection within our lives and to contribute to our communities with our hearts, mind, hands and spirit,” that is the difference worth paying for.

I give money to this church because it works. It feels good, it does good, it is good. It’s the charitable donation that gives back manifold. Indeed, even if it wasn’t tax deductible, it would be good value! I am glad to contribute to fair share salaries for our staff. I am jazzed that the money I work so hard to earn helps keep these buildings clean, safe, beautiful and available to all our community. I am proud that the financial support I give in turn supports so many more individuals in programs that matter to them—social justice, earth justice, education, and more. Through my pledge each month, I feel like am marching with you when you march for immigrant rights or fossil fuel reductions or when you carry supplies to Hospitality House. And I am excited to fund a ministerial search:  WOOHOO!

So, for all these reasons I give to Saltwater. And I give till I feel it. I give until it feels really good. I give at the 5% tithe level and declare myself Beacon. Thank you, my congregation, for accepting me and my pledge. May we both continue to be worthy of the gifts we give to and receive from each other for many years to come. Blessed be.

James used to say you can pray three ways: please, thank you, and “wow!” Today you will hear my prayers. First, thank you, I came here for the first time on the Sunday after 9/11. My beloved sister, who was already fighting cancer, worked in Tower 2. I came to Saltwater Church. I came to grieve, and I came to feel grateful that my sister survived. I was fearful, and confused, I found a wonderful religion. I found you. You comforted me. You talked of love, when so many in this country were spouting hatred. You surrounded me with laughter and chalice circle discussions and invited me into your homes. You even showed up when I invited you into mine. You held me during a divorce from a good guy everyone here liked. Later, I found my Tom here. THANK YOU!

You also cause me to catch my breath and say, “Wow.” I close my eyes during the service when the music transports me to the eternal. This choir – and often we sing so joyfully, so passionately, that I feel that connection to the divine. Your art, and writing, infuse me with the beauty and sweetness of the world. In the welcoming room, here in this space… WOW. This church invited a transgendered child to speak here last week. Where else can I find that? WOW. This church gives my children the message that they are beautiful and perfect and holy just as they are. This community takes our message out there, marching and lobbying and saving the planet as a spiritual practice. WOW.

Now, for “please.” A few days ago, advertisers in Britain pulled out of Google when they discovered their ads were associated with violent content. They had not been able to persuade Google to change their filters. So, they pulled their money. Now, Google is changing their filters. When I pledged here, I am voting for social and environmental justice, for acceptance and love of all people. I am sending my spiritual values out into the world on the river of my intention.

In Judaism, there is a belief that the Messiah will not come until every single Jew is “all in,” praying for the Messiah in unison. I love that message. Jewish children grow up knowing that if they sit on the sidelines, they alone could be responsible for the prolonged agony of the world. True here, too. You matter, and our children matter. Your pledge is a declaration of being “all in”. That our values in action – together – can heal this broken world. Please pledge at a level that demonstrates your commitment to our shared faith. Please.

Hi, there. My name is Debra Valpey, and I have been a member of this church for 34 years. That is a relatively long time.  You might ask me why I stay so I will tell you. First of all, I stay because of the strong friendships I have made over these many years. I would miss the fun times, warm hugs, and the genuine pleasure I receive with and from so many kind souls if I did not stay. I have also stayed because being a part of this community has enabled me to grow as an individual, as a woman, and as a Unitarian Universalist.

I have had the privilege to serve as a lay minister for many years, thereby improving my ability to better listen with love and compassion to many folks as they address milestones and glitches in their lives. I have had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Healthy Congregations Team and assist our congregation in approaching uncomfortable change and inevitable conflict in positive ways, including updating our Covenant of Right Relations. These two roles have helped me feel useful.

I have had the honor to teach a number of adult religion education courses, including marriage enhancement, science and the search for God, adult sexuality, comparative religion, and others. As I teach and facilitate, I learn and grow. It is a win-win.

I have also been invited to deliver sermons and services, sometimes by myself, and sometimes in collaboration with lay groups here at Saltwater, which has deepened my own understanding of theology and spirituality.

I have served on the Board during a number of ministerial changes, and this has helped me move more positively through changes in my own life.

I have also created and commiserated with the Creative Hands group as we knit and crochet comfort shawls, scarves, blankets and baby hats for our congregants and the community. And I have come to know, love, and trust our community of Writers through my decades with the Saltwater Writers Group. Theses have helped me feel connected to community.

What a fortunate and blessed woman am I. Had I not stayed, I would have missed so much. And that is also why I have pledged to this church for all those 34 years and plan to continue to do so.