As we prepared for the 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, Unitarian Universalist ministers gathered for the 192nd Berry Street Lecture offered by The Rev. Dr. Fred Muir of the UU Church of Annapolis, Maryland (full transcript here: 192nd Berry Street Lecture). Fred’s
lecture, titled “From iChurch to Beloved Community: Ecclesiology and Justice” addressed what he names as our modern “trinity of errors” (a clever reference to the seminal work of Unitarian martyr, Michael Servetus, who challenged Calvin’s Trinitarian doctrine, more info here: Michael Servetus "On the Errors of the Trinity").
To us, his ministerial colleagues who are always thinking about our Congregations – our people, our shared ministries, and the hopes and possibilities therein – Fred said, “Fundamental to our future is recognizing that our way of faith - from its ministry to its members - has been supported and nurtured by a trinity of errors leading not only to ineffectiveness but an inability to share our liberating message; which is to say, while Unitarian Universalism’s gospel is good news it is losing its vitality and relevance. The trinity of which I speak is: First, we are being held back and stymied - really, we are being held captive - by a persistent, pervasive, disturbing and disruptive commitment to individualism that misguides our ability to engage the changing times; Second, we cling to a Unitarian Universalist exceptionalism that is often insulting to others and undermines our good news; and Third, we refuse to acknowledge and treat our allergy to authority and power, though all the symptoms compromise a healthy future.”
More recently, my colleague Rev. Gretchen Haley has engaged her Colorado congregation in conversations around practices that can help us move from being the unsustainable “iChurch” named by Fred to becoming a powerful “We” Church, “…the covenantal church manifesting Beloved Community” (more about that phrase here: MLK and Beloved Community). Expanding
on Fred's ideas in Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism, Gretchen suggests that as a covenantal people we are called to make “Promises of Generosity (compassion with boundaries, and being stewards rather than consumers of the Congregation and its resources); Promises of Pluralism (deep listening, intercultural competency, radical hospitality); and Promises of Imagination (maturing from certainty to learning and holy curiosity, from decision making to discernment, and making a commitment to the common good – including letting go of the fake fights – more on fake fights in this powerful General Assembly sermon, which begins at 1:12 time stamp here: “In All Thy Getting, Get Understanding”).”
When I think about the congregations of my childhood religions, not a single one of them inspired me to think about the promises we might make to one another as generous, hospitable, imaginative human beings capable of creating and sustaining an extraordinary,
engaged, religious community. Rather than generosity there was judgment; rather than hospitality there was shaming; rather than imagination there was certainty – and of what were we told to be certain? Our own unworthiness.
It is my privilege to be ordained into a faith tradition that has the good news of generosity, hospitality, and imagination to share with others. As we move into one of the most generous seasons of our year, I invite you to consider what it means to make Promises of Generosity to one another, and to those yet to come. As we begin to navigate our way beyond the ugly
“Othering” that has been revealed during this political season, I invite you to consider what it means to make Promises of Pluralism to one another, and to those yet to come. As we continue to evolve as Greater Nashville UU Congregation, I invite you to consider what it means to make Promises of Imagination to one another, and to those yet to come. How might your promises keep us evolving from “iChurch” habits and towards “WeChurch” best practices?
We have good news to share as the Greater Nashville UU. Let’s keep doing that, including by way of the promises of generosity, hospitality, and imagination that we’re inspired to make – and determined to keep.
Keeping the faith!
Rev. Carmen Emerson