Here’s the first part of a story I told at the Central Midwest District’s LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) chapter retreat:
Once upon a time there was a congregation that was pretty much just like any other congregation, except for one thing. It had a fairy godmother. The congregation loved the fairy godmother very much because she was special in so many ways. First of all, she was always very curious and the children in the congregation loved to follow her around as she explored all sorts of wonderful things. And she was passionate, too. The youth in the congregation liked nothing better than to sit around for hours with the fairy godmother drinking heavily caffeinated beverages and talking about their deepest thoughts and feelings. The fairy godmother was brave, as well. And the young adults in the congregation were fascinated by all of the courageous things the fairy godmother had done in her life, like backpacking through Europe or bicycling across India or spending a year in Mongolia, where all there was to eat was yak meat and yogurt. The older adults found much to admire in the fairy godmother, too, for she was strong, reliable and hardworking. But perhaps it was the elders who loved the fairy godmother the most because she possessed the wisdom of the ages, and they would turn to her as they made the difficult, sometimes final, decisions about their lives.
Now while fairy godmothers are very nice to have around, they have busy lives of their own. Inevitably there comes a time when every fairy godmother disappears. It’s just part of who they are, and this congregation’s fairy godmother was no exception. So late one Sunday morning, just as the congregation’s monthly potluck was beginning, the fairy godmother began to tap her water glass with her magic wand. It took a little doing to get everyone’s attention because even though the congregants loved and respected the fairy godmother, they loved to talk among themselves even more! Finally the fellowship hall grew silent and the fairy godmother gave them the sad news. “I have been your fairy godmother for many years now, but the time has come for me to move on. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the nature of fairy godmothers.” There was a collective gasp from the assembled congregation, followed by a huge, sad moan. And that was followed by a din of protest as everyone at once, from the youngest child to the eldest elder, tried to explain to the fairy godmother why she mustn’t leave them. But her mind was made up, she told them. There was nothing they could do or say to stop her.
However, just as it is inevitable that a fairy godmother will eventually disappear, it’s also true that fairy godmothers never leave without bestowing some sort of extra special gift. So once the congregation settled down and faced the reality of her departure, the fairy godmother told them what she was leaving with them. “To the children,” she said, “whom I love, I leave you a hearty portion of my curiosity. You live in a wonderful world and there’s much to explore. May you always be intrigued by every nook and cranny of it!” And the children smiled and clapped their hands and were delighted by her gift. “And to the youth,” she said, “whom I love, I leave you an abundant supply of my passion. Your thoughts and emotions run broad and deep. May they make your lives rich and full, and may you use them to heal the world.” And the youth looked sullenly at their shoes and felt a stirring of sadness in their hearts as they thought of losing their dear friend. “And to you, my young adult companions, whom I love,” she said. “I leave you with a healthy dose of courage. Now is the time for you to spread your wings. May you bravely go where your imagination leads you, no matter how far…or how near.” And the young adults smiled at thought of making their youthful dreams come true. The fairy godmother then looked at the older adults in the congregation and said, “And to you, whom love, I leave you with two huge fistfuls of my strength. Although it may seem that your days are never long enough to do all that must be done, please know that it is always worth the effort.” Finally, the fairy godmother’s eyes found those of the elders, and she whispered to them, “And you, my friends, whom I love without hesitation. I leave you with a fathomless well of wisdom. You have seen and heard so much in your lives. What you know is a blessing to us all.” The fairy godmother then raised her wand and flicked her wrist and in a burst of glittering fairy dust, she was gone.
While they were sad that their fairy godmother had left them, the congregation was thrilled with their new gifts. The children found that their curiosity was now insatiable. The youth discovered that their talks were deeper and more meaningful than they had ever been before. The young adults immediately began planning a service trip to far-off land that they had always dreamed about. The adults decided that now was the time to hunker down and completely revise the congregation’s by-laws. And the elders smiled and nodded wisely at the flurry of activity they saw around them. The congregation was humming and buzzing as it never had before. Each generation was learning and growing and expanding their horizons. Soon their sadness ebbed away and they found themselves wrapped in a warm and cozy sense of contentment. And hardly anyone noticed when the feeling of enchantment they had shared when the fairy godmother was with them gradually dissipated, like fog lifting in the mid-morning sun.
Soon the enchantment became a distant memory. And the sense of contentment began to dull their minds and hearts. The children grew tired of the same old routine in their Sunday school classes, no matter how exciting the subject might seem. The youth found that their thoughts and feelings could take them only so far, and a vague sense of disconnection began to seep into their meetings. The young adults returned from their service trip to a far-off land only to discover that the other generations were too involved with their own projects to pay much attention to what they had done. The older adults began to feel anxious that so many of the key milestones they had envisioned in their latest 10 year plan still lay far ahead of them. And the elders found themselves increasingly isolated at their monthly luncheons. They still had so much to offer, but no one really seemed to care.
Part II here.