The Many Different Ways to Be Us: Encouraging Diversity: Association Sunday, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

Start Date

  A family visited this church recently, a father, a mother, a  
twelve-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy. I'm sorry to say they   
didn't like it much. The father didn't like the sermon, the mother  
didn't like the choir, the twelve-year-old girl said it was "boring."   
And the ten-year-old boy said, "Well, what did you expect for a   
dollar?"

   You may be a Unitarian Universalist if on Hallowe'en you explain to  
everyone the Pagan significance of their costumes,

   Today is Association Sunday and we emphasize encouraging diversity  
among us even though most of probably already think of ourselves as  
relatively diverse, because we hold different theological beliefs and   
not all of  us are democrats. We ARE a Welcoming Congregation  
welcoming members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender as  
well as other folk who may be minorities, but we could do a better job  
reaching out to the wider comity as a church and as a denominations  
well. But there are many ways to be us and we come from a wide  
background. Someone once said: ?We could learn a lot from crayons:   
some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, some have weird names,  
and all are different colors.... but they all exist for the same  
reason-to color- and they all fit very nicely in the same box.?  And  
there?s no such color as ?flesh? any more  that is only for white  
people!

   I talked a little bit last Sunday about our history. After church we  
had  an orientation and 10 people became members after the orientation  
with two more who will probably sign the book this Sunday! Part of the  
orientation process is for each person to  share their religious  
journey, because I think that?s the beginning  for most people. They  
get to a point in their lives, and often it?s very early. when they  
find themselves not fitting in to the religious mold they are being  
put into by their family or culture, and they begin by asking  
questions, or rebelling, or somehow, beginning to be those ?UU?s   
without knowing it!? sometimes as early as grade school!
   One of the interesting phenomena about these orientations is that  
each group usually has a predominant denomination that they seem to  
represent each time. One time, it seems like they mostly Lutherans,  
and the next Presbyterians. I know it sounds strange, but for some  
Karmic reason, it  seems to happen that way. This past Sunday was  
perhaps the most predominant I remember, because about 95% had been  
raised Catholic! After leading so many of these orientations I have  
heard hundreds of stories about religious journeys out of both  
traditional religion and no religion at all into Unitarian  
Universalism. They are remarkably similar yet unique. My story is as  
well.
   Yet no one asks us when we join what we believe. Try joining a  
Methodist, Presbyterian,, Baptist or any other Church without that  
question coming up!  And I don?t mean to put these churches down, only  
point out the difference in joining. We simply don?t ask you any  
questions for membership. Maybe we should ask something.

   Doesn?t it matter what we believe? Of course it does. But there are a  
lot of ways to be us, so to speak.

   What I?ve found is that many  people are looking for a church where  
they can be honest about who they are and what they believe and yes,  
what they don?t believe! And can?t find that in traditional religions  
any more. Oh the majority of people ARE finding a lot of this in  
traditional religion and that?s OK, too. I don?t believe that we have  
the only way, that we are right and  they are wrong. Yes, we kid about  
having bumper stickers that say ?Dear God, please save us from your  
followers!?, but among we UU?s we, too, have a wide variety of  
theological beliefs that we must often remind ourselves to be tolerant  
of!  According to a 2006 survey of the congregation, taken after the  
last minister left, ?Humanism is the most widely held stance within  
our congregation, with Naturalistic Theism, Earth-Centered  
Spirituality, Mysticism, UU Christianity, Theism, and Pantheism also  
widely identified sentiments. Spiritual and personal growth, family  
relationships and values, as well as philosophical and psychological  
ideas are well received as sermon topics. Buddhism and Theological  
Christianity are the other faith traditions principally identified by  
our members who stated some loyalty to a tradition other than  
Unitarian Universalism.?

   An article from our denomination?s magazine the UU World  asked a few  
years ago  ?Where is the unity in our theological diversity? It is a  
question that ministers, congregations, and individual Unitarian  
Universalists have grappled with since at least the 1840s.?
   The article goes on to describe three different kinds of UU congregations-

   ?At sixty-two-member Epiphany Community Church UU in Fenton,  
Michigan, Sunday worship includes Scripture readings, a version of the  
Lord's Prayer, and a sermon in which God is a featured presence.  
Sunday after Sunday the congregation follows the Christian calendar.  
Members take Communion and observe Lent and Pentecost. And interwoven  
into this are distinctly UU occasions such as a water service and  
flower celebration.

   Two states to the west, the Michael Servetus Unitarian Society in  
Fridley, Minnesota, has services in which God is generally not named.  
Instead there are occasionally references to the ?spirit of life.?  
There are meditations or reflections, but not prayers, in keeping with  
the fellowship's long history of humanism.

   In Hoffman Estates, Illinois, members of the Panthea Pagan Fellowship  
meet to do earth-based rituals, which include a lot of dance and other  
movement, calling the five directions, and invoking the God and Goddess.

   These three congregations, one Christian, one partly humanist, one  
pagan, represent just part of the theological diversity within the  
Unitarian Universalist Association. In the more than 1,000 other  
congregations in the association there are many different blends and  
varieties of Unitarian Universalists??humanists, Christians, pagans,  
Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and those still searching for an  
identity.?

   Both the Unitarian and Universalists have had struggles  about their  
?doctrinal integrity? because they were both considered heretical by  
the more traditional, but there always edges being pushed. ..  
Unitarians struggled with the issue of ?who we are religiously as a  
people? every couple of decade, starting as early as the 1840s when  
Emerson and  the Transcendentalists challenged the ?orthodox?  
Unitarians about whether it was any longer necessary for the  
literalness  of biblical miracles being  the true validation for  the  
authority of Jesus.

   Indeed, by  the late 1800s, the Unitarians were arguing about whether  
 just a commitment to Unitarian ethics was all that a member?or even  
a minister?needed to affirm in order to join. At issue was whether a  
Unitarian church was even Christian  any more and . by the early  
1920s, Humanism had become predominant and the debate was whether a  
belief in God was a defining characteristic of Unitarian faith. The  
Humanist-Theist controversy began to heat up.

   Universalist Minister Clarence Skinner who was dean of Tufts  
Theological Seminary and one of the most well loved Uninversalist  
Theologians of the 20th century in his book about Universalism before  
the merger, A Religion for Greatness: wrote:
   "Religion...The essential core of religious experience is the seeking  
after and finding man's relations to the unitites and universals.   is  
a sense of vital, meaningful relationship between the self and the  
universe, the outreach of man to something beyond himself...There is  
no experience which gives man so compelling a universalism as this  
radical religious insight into the unities and universals...Both the  
methods of science and the methods of religion are complimentary and  
each must be employed if we are to achieve a universal view. There  
must be racial, political, social, and scientific universalism in the  
modern world. The religion of greatness and beauty will become  
indivisible parts of the all embracing unity and universal."

   In 1960, both the Unitarians and the Universalists  voted to create  
the Unitarian Universalist Association to begin May 1961. The two  
denominations were very different-the Unitarians  had traditionally  
been urban, upper-class, Boston Brahmin, well-educated intellectual  
and more humanist, the more well known, while the Universalists had  
been rural, working class, more emotional and more Christina or at  
least, spiritual. By the late 1950?s a lot of those  differences had  
disappeared, but certainly not all of them. They would continue in the  
clergy, at least  up to this day in some cases!
 These were The Purposes and objectives in 1961 :
1. To strengthen one another in a free and disciplined religious  
search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship;
2) To cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great  
prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition,  
immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God  
and love to (humanity)man;
3.)To affirm, defend and promote the supreme worth of every human  
personality, the dignity of (humankind)man, and the use of the  
democratic method in human relationships,
4.) To implement our vision of one world by striving for  a world  
community founded on the ideals of brotherhood(and sisterhood),  
justice, and peace;
5) To serve the needs of member churches and fellowships and to extend  
and strengthen liberal religion;
6.) to encourage cooperation with men( people) of goodwill in every  
land." Thus 895 churches and fellowships with 156, 443 legal members  
were united.
   I  believe those are the foundation for today?s movement as well and  
is reflected in our current
The following statements were adopted as Bylaws by the 1984, 1985, and
1995 General Assemblies.
 " We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist  
Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in  
our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within  
our 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 of which we are a part.

The living tradition we share draws from many sources:
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed  
in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an  
openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to  
confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and  
the transforming power of love;
- Wisdom from the world's religions which inspire us in our ethical  
and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's  
love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason  
and the results of science, and warn us against the idolatries of the  
mind and spirit.
-Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the  
sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the  
rhythms of nature.

Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom  
of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian  
heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or  
bond of union used by any society unless such is used as a creedal test.

   I find these to be truly inspirational because they allow for both  
Unitarianism which we will call the unity and Universalism which we  
will call the universal to be not just represented but taught. No we  
can?t just believe anything we want to! There is a religious  
responsibility in being Unitarian Universalist if you take it  
seriously, to yes, actually search for religious truth! That means, I  
believe, at the very least, showing up for church!  Assuming, of  
course, you find a church that is also searching for religious truth!

   Louise and Ray Pope were two of the founders of the First UU Church  
of an Antonio back in 1945 where I served from 1991 until 2006. Roy  
died before I came and Louise was ina coma by the time I arrived. I  
did her memorial service soon after and in her life crisis file found  
some of her writings she wanted included in the service. the church  
had obviously been such a crucial part of her life and I was sorry I  
hadn?t gotten to know her.  "Being religious", she wrote, "...raises  
our ideals, broadens our visions, disturbs and pursues us into action.  
It helps us find peace and beauty amidst our blundering efforts.  
Religious living is a search, a yearning, an upward reach for loftier  
existence with other people and a closer communion with our creator. I  
hope that the community and world will be a little better for my  
having lived.
   Worship," Louise wrote," is the expression of appreciation,  
aspiration, love or determination in our religion whether privately or  
collectively... Church is an institution for worship and education, to  
foster love, fellowship, and education. The work of the church is to  
give impetus to our religion, to give comfort in time of trouble, and  
inspiration for enjoying the peace and beauty of abundant living...I  
am challenged and inspired, over and over, in trying to be a Unitarian."

   It is not easy to be a Unitarian Universalist and it is not a do it  
yourself religion either. I like the language of the 1961 merger  
statement because it is more active than our current Principles which  
I also love, but the 1961 statement, it seems challenges us to  
actually DO something, using the first 4 here using inclusive language-

1. To strengthen one another in a free and disciplined religious  
search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship;
2) To cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great  
prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition,  
immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God  
and love to humanity;
3.)To affirm, defend and promote the supreme worth of every human  
personality, the dignity of (humankind)man, and the use of the  
democratic method in human relationships,
4.) To implement our vision of one world by striving for  a world  
community founded on the ideals of universal kinship, justice, and  
peace;

   And I believe at the center of it all is that profound love which can  
transform even hate and evil if we can but make it strong enough  in  
enough loving hearts willing to work together.  There is a religious  
spirit- or -dimension- or- God- or -idea- or feeling or -power- or  
something that has inspired humankind throughout history through this  
present day to build religious communities of all kinds, shapes, and  
beliefs including the very one we come together in right now.

   There are people here who have dedicated much of their lives, energy,  
love, time, spirit, and yes, money to this church because it has meant  
so much to them. I have  been inspired by some of the older members  
who have put in so many years and so much love and you can seethe  
passion in their eyes and the happiness in their hearts and know that  
they have become good Unitarian Universalists, not because of their  
belief, but because of their behavior, because of their work toward  
the building up of the beloved community. I find the happiest people  
at church are often those who are working  the hardest or  doing the  
most  for other people. Let us love one another and let us reach out  
to the wider world to those people who need our loving message as well!

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be  
upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A  
Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one  
more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to  
ministry. ?Vaya con Dios? is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is  
?Go with God,? So I adapted it to say ?Vaya Con Su Dios, ?Go with your  
idea or interpretation of God.?

Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios

Event type
Worship Service