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Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom, First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

Human beings naturally long to be part of a people. The desire to belong is hard-wired in us because people are more likely to survive when they are part of a group. However, even understanding this evolutionary reason for needing belonging, belonging pulls on the human heart, not the mind. Yearning to belong is felt deeply, as is exclusion from belonging.

As individuals, we might find belonging when we resonate with a community, or when we are accepted by one. But belonging requires more than just a connection between a person and a people—it also requires commitment. Leadership development coach Karina Antonopoulos says, “Where you belong is where you constantly choose to show up.” Belonging is more than a feeling, it is also a practice. We come to belong to a people when we commit to them and show up for them again and again.

As people here at church, we create belonging together. Like with the individual, creating belonging as a people is also a practice. We make covenant with one another, which expresses our commitment to each other and our expectations of behavior and values. We then practice living our covenant and returning to one another when we fall short of it. We also invite new people to join us in belonging, intentionally making space for their whole, authentic selves. When we are at our best as a people, we practice opening to new people’s souls, weaving their lives’ truth into our community, rather than asking them to fit in by being just like us. We retain our theology, values, and covenant as our core, and expand our circle of belonging to include different kinds of people, experiences, and cultures.

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