The Patience To Remain

In conversation with an earlier post, Anna Flowers asked this in the comments section, 

Peacebang, I’m curious why you remain in the UU church. And I don’t mean that in a snide way – I’m just genuinely curious about your path that has led you to stay so long. I realized not too long ago that I do not have the patience to remain and am so much happier now that I tell people I’m seeking ordination in the United Church of Christ. I honestly have given up on UUism. The UCC struggles with similar issues but in so many ways it seems less dire/extreme to me. Where do you see the light/hope in the UU denomination?

Dear Anna,

I was born into the UU church and dedicated in one of our congregations as a little kid (about four years old). Quite simply, this is my church. I love it. I have high hopes for it.

That said, I deeply believe that God is not at all interested in denominations. It is a spiritual commitment of mine not to overly attach to any one in particular, choosing instead to think of all of us as one Church. The denominational distinctions that seem so huge and important to us are ultimately insignificant. Heresy, I know! But we are humans discerning the will of God. None of us has it quite right. Our doctrines and statements of faith are a stab in the dark. I am a covenantal woman – I believe that the Church is a broad and complicated response to our feeling called to be God’s people. So let’s be God’s people.

I love what Unitarian Universalism can be when it is living into its best vision of itself. One of my best friends and UU ministerial colleagues calls me “our Luther,” as I am always pounding my theses on the church door and working toward reform. I think Unitarian Universalism is a religious movement that the world of today really needs and wants. The trouble is, we’re tripping over ourself making a mockery of our claims to embrace freedom, reason and tolerance as our “holy trinity.” I am committed to doing what I can to make our faith tradition all that it can be for the good of all souls who join in common quest for a deeper life than any of us can have alone.

I’m a scrapper and fixer by nature, so this is my calling. It is deeply satisfying. Plus — and this is a huge, enormous plus — I do this screaming and yelling and reforming work within the context of serving a congregation that I love and respect, and where I experience almost none of of the characteristically “UU” dysfunctions that are rampant in the wider movement. I cannot claim to have anything to do with this: I inherited a healthy, mature congregation when I was called here ten years ago. Of course we have our growing edges, but they are more connected to being an historic Standing Order New England church than in being “UU.”

People often assume my congregation is Christian UU. Nuh-uh. No way. But I can minister among the largely Humanist community because they welcome spiritual depth and seriousness in worship. We laugh a LOT. It is a celebratory community. But we are a church. We take church seriously, whatever our theological orientation.

I have often said that I don’t like to write about my congregation as my digital ministry is independent of my parish ministry, but it would be disingenuous to pretend that my passion for Unitarian Universalism is not greatly informed by the positive experience I have as the pastor of one of our UUA member congregations.

I have Privilege of Call in the United Church of Christ and have an intimate relationship with the UCC and am well aware that the UCC and the UUA share many “besetting sins.” I also do a tremendous amount of mentoring of ministers in mainline Christian denominations and I consult with Christian congregations. I know full well the grass is not greener anywhere in the religious landscape in America right now. I do not take my frustrations with UUism personally, as I have a good scholarly grasp on our historical context and am able to stand back at any given time and see exactly what’s going on from a broader perspective.  Unitarian Universalists tend to think that they are a really unique animal. We are not. Our practices, polity, denominational (associational) structure and forms of worship are firmly in alignment with mainline Protestantism. I’d like for our narrative of belonging to shift from shallow and rejectionist to deep and inspiring.

I hope this for all churches and denominations. We are all expressions of God’s desire to bring us together to be a people. To say that in a non-theistic way, I believe that there is an energy in the universe, a force field, that draws creation toward harmony and wholeness, and that feels to the human organism like love and inner peace. When human individuals and communities align themselves with this energy, it changes them, and they are in turn able to influence their environments to be in further alignment with this beautiful energy. We know this is working when there is the possibility for intellectual, emotional and physical freedom and flourishing for all beings, and enough for all to have their basic needs met for a decent quality of external life. This is my version of the Kingdom of God.

I am working toward that. There are many ways that God brings us together to be a people. The Church is the most dear to my own heart, with the performing arts a close second.

Thanks for asking. I hope this answered your question.






4 Replies to “The Patience To Remain”

  1. Thank you, so much of what you have said is exactly how I feel. I also grew up UU and have returned as an adult. I am a lay-preacher in the South West and I too love Unitarian Universalism. As a spiritually oriented atheist, I find, that I often have more in common with Christian UUs or other theists that with those who theistically agree with me. I delivered this sermon in both Santa Fe and Los Alamos several months ago on this very topic:
    “Do We Know What We Believe …or Do We Simply Believe that We Know?

    Also a ditto on your previous posts about sermons needing to carry a message and possibly minister to someone having what my wife calls a dark night of the soul.

  2. Thank you for this reply. It’s so interesting to me to hear people describe their call. I think your call to be the “Luther” of the UU denomination, as your friend puts it, is wonderful. For me, what ended up drawing me out of the UU denomination is exactly as you put it – “God is not interested at all in denominations.” And yet, they do serve necessary and practical functions in creating and sustaining ministeries that none of us can deny.

    One of the things I love about the UCC is that from what I can see here in the South, the ministers come from very diverse backgrounds, and view the denomination as a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself. Recently, when I attended the Southeast Conference meeting, I witnessed one of the senior pastors of First Congregational Atlanta (an historic black congregation here) talk to my pastor saying something along the lines of, “This UCC denomination has been a pretty decent one, wouldn’t you say? I really like the emphasis its placed on social justice…” This was such a breath of fresh air coming from my UU upbringing. It was like they were chatting about a new boss or the local government. Now, this in no way undermines the commitment that we have to the UCC and its ministeries – but it recognizes that we’re all Christians first and foremost, and what flavor denomination you choose, while an important decision, is more tactical than strategic. The strategy for all of us is to be the body of Christ loving and serving the world.

  3. I think this is a great article and I’m happy to call Anna my friend. I agree that we as UUs have a tendency to trip over our feet trying to be ultra-inclusive and it comes across (or sometimes even IS) disingenuous. I was just at a conference where Rev Peter Morales, president of the UUA, spoke about this and how we need to stop worrying about who we’re going to offend and start speaking from the heart. People should see that if you say you want to “stand up” for something that you aren’t insulting those who can’t physically stand up and we can all begin to trust one another and focus on good intentions. I believe UUs and UCCers have deep similarities in our values and we have similar aims to make this world a better and more loving place. What struck me about your reply, Anna, was the sentence, “We’re all Christians first and foremost…” We’re all Humans first and foremost and whether or not we believe in Christ we can “draw creation towards harmony and wholeness.” God, Love, Christ, Knowledge, Spirit… They’re all right answers.

    Anna, I’m really glad you’ve chosen to go into ministry. You are going to make some congregation very lucky and bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. Good luck!

  4. Thanks Don! I didn’t mean that everyone in the world is a “Christian first and foremost,” I just meant that Christians are all Christians first and foremost, and are more defined by that than by their particular denomination.

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