By Erika Webb
The very word mosaic implies an assortment of colored pieces, varied in shape and size, placed together to form a whole. The finished product typically is beautifully non-blueprinted.
Recently, at a conservation-oriented community forum, MOSAIC Unitarian Universalist member Judy Raymond introduced herself as a "cranky citizen." The citizen part is true.
But, as a devoted congregant, she lives MOSAIC's mission statement: "to transform lives through compassion, service, generosity, and respectful relationships."
The former English and special education teacher has been a UU for 35 years, but a subconscious soul stirring may have started when she was about 8 years old.
Over summers spent in New England, her family attended different Protestant services because the affiliated population was so small; Catholicism was the predominant religion in that time and place.
"Protestants had to band together to have services," Ms. Raymond said. "One Sunday my mother said, 'We're going to the Unitarian service today. Just take everything they say with a grain of salt.'"
Sitting in the church, listening to the speaker and the hymns, Ms. Raymond said she was fairly unfazed.
"I thought this is just as boring as our Methodist church," she said.
But later on, having graduated from Stetson University and having been "an on again, off again Methodist," she attended Unitarian services in Orlando.
"I felt right at home," Ms. Raymond said. "I think most UUs would agree ... community is terribly, terribly important. I am such a positive Unitarian, I could positively make you sick," she said laughing.
The MOSAIC Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Orange City formed seven years ago. It has 24 members, a small congregation with long tentacles reaching out into the community to embrace everything and everyone.
"There are seven principles, which are very important to us, especially this business about the inherent worth of every person," Ms. Raymond said. "We do that without regard to race, gender, ability, class standing. Every person has worth and dignity; they are born with it. We lift that up in our (community) service and in our worship services."
The other six principles are:
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence.
The inclination to tag along with someone who seems so happy, hoping to discover what they know that we don't, is pure human nature.
Shadowing Ms. Raymond might necessitate a good pair of running shoes.
She mentors at and runs supplies -- donated by MOSAIC -- to Orange City Elementary School. She volunteers for Hospice, and serves on MOSAIC's worship committee, booking speakers and writing services. She is part of the congregation's social justice committee, helps the membership committee and generally does whatever she can to help where she sees a need.
All of that while trying not to do too many things at one time.
"I try to achieve balance," Ms. Raymond said. "UU teaches that. How can you appreciate your life in little tiny fragments?"
So, she finds a time and place for meditation. She reads and writes a journal. She walks her dog.
Her happiness comes from seeing all that is not her, from having a naturally open mind and being of service to others without expecting personal gains. Those just come.
"All religions are formed to inspire people to do good," Ms. Raymond explained. "My vision for life is to make sure everyone has as happy a life as I've had."
That's not to say hers has been perfect. Her point is that circumstantial imperfections can transform a person if properly utilized.
"Truth is keeping a balance, trying to be whole. When you feel like you're in the right place at the right time and all is right with the world, that's a state of grace," Ms. Raymond said. "All of us are trying to get to that place -- at least once a day."
The last Sunday of every month MOSAIC's offertory collection goes to support the food pantry at Iglesia Cristiana Nuevo Comienzo, a non-denominational church in Deltona.
Ms. Raymond said MOSAIC is too small to have its own food pantry.
"For seven years, we have supported a food pantry of one kind or another," she said. "We give all unpledged monies to (ICNC's) food pantry, and have for the last three or four years. They're on the list for Second Harvest and they can use that money better there, and get more with it than we could give them if we donated canned foods."
Educating and supporting individuals and groups in the community -- without dogma -- is another of MOSAIC's "core heart issues."
They've worked closely with the ACLU, helping with felon's-rights restoration, and recently partnered with members of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender community to host an open-to-the-public panel discussion.
"There were six or seven people on the panel. It was an educational forum, a necessity for more acceptance and respect," Ms. Raymond said. "We were hoping to open a few minds and I think we did."
One night MOSAIC showed a film demonstrating how individuals might rightfully interact with the police when stopped by them.
"You learned when it would be wiser to say, 'I need an attorney,'" Ms. Raymond said. "There are things you can do that are not against the law, that are your prerogatives. Respect for law enforcement was always emphasized even as the citizen learned what he could and could not do in the various situations illustrated."
"We have worked our heads off and tried to get out there in the community," she added.
And not just as a congregation, she explained. MOSAIC congregants pursue personal missions and support their own causes in whatever ways they choose.
But it's not a requirement.
"We don't want people to think if you come to MOSAIC and don't kick into high gear, then don't even bother," Ms. Raymond said. "That's not the way it works. Transformation takes time and we don't judge. We are so delighted to have a place where people in the community can come on Sunday morning, and get their batteries recharged."
So where is God in all of this?
Right on the path of each seeker, according to Unitarian Universalists.
Ms. Raymond said she and her fellow UUs each are on a spiritual path and gather to talk about the individualized part of the journey with others, but not to change anyone else's mind.
"We draw from many sources. Among the things listed are the Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves," Ms. Raymond said. "It is the wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us. There are so many wise and loving people out there from whom much wisdom can be gained."
"You don't want to close your mind to any of it...You can ask 10 UUs what his or her concept of heaven is and you'll probably get 10 different answers," she added.
The first Sunday in June featured a talk given by United Church of Christ Minister Mark Spivey on the Book of Ecclesiastes.
"Some might say they have no use for the Bible, excuse me, MOSAIC does," Ms. Raymond said. "Mosaic UUs, and really UUs in general, find wisdom and inspiration in all of the world's literature, straight up to and including the twenty first century."
The "Merry Month of May" at MOSAIC was dedicated to humor in religion.
"We're not a bunch of dour puritans and pilgrims here," she said. "It's about a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. My truth is not going to be your truth but does that keep us from doing good in the community? Being generous? Being respectful? It shouldn't."
For more information, visit mosaicuuc.org or uua.org.