Yes, this is also Super Bowl Sunday, isn’t it? So Joe gets a ticket to the Superbowl from his company but when he gets there, it’s in the last row in the corner of the stadium. Halfway through the first quarter, he sees through his binoculars an empty seat ten rows off the field, right on the fifty-yard line. He decides to take a chance and makes his way to the empty seat.
He gets there and sits down, somewhat nervously. He asks the guy next to him. ‘Excuse me, is anybody sitting here?’
The guy says,’No.’
Joe says, ‘This is incredible! Who in their right minds would have a seat like this for the super bowl and not use it?’
The guy says, ‘Well actually, the seat belongs to my wife, but she passed away. This is the first Super Bowl we haven’t seen together since 1967.’
Joe says, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry; that’s really sad. But couldn’t you find anyone to take the seat? A friend, or a close relative?
The guy says, ‘No, they’re all at the funeral.’
This is the third part of the series of the evolution of Unitarian Universalism, of the merger between the two denominations in 1961 that led to us today, the Unitarian Universalist Association. I've titled this last of three sermons, 'Merging the Head and the Heart and Making the Spirit Whole.' I know, that's not the title I started with, but it's the one that also evolved as I did my research. The Unitarians were more than the head, the Universalists were more than just the heart, and when they merged, I want to argue they made the spirit whole, that is there was something missing when the two were separated that was found when they united. Was it amazing grace? A true marriage? I continue to learn about hour history as well and how we evolved theologically to become who we are today as theologically pluralistic as we are, but I'll talk more about that later. Not everybody cares about history, I know, but I think it helps us to understand ourselves better.
In the late 1950's and 60's, many Protestant denominations, some very small and strapped for religious cash and customers, were merging into larger entities, reducing the need also for many small denominational headquarters, staff, etc. The Congregationalists of New England and the Midwest merged with the German Evangelical and Reformed churches to form 'The United Church of Christ,' or UCC. That denomination is usually the most liberal and some cynics say that UCC stands for 'Unitarians Considering Christ.'
The Methodists had many different kinds of Methodist churches and they all merged into what is now called the United Methodist Church. Many Baptists, Presbyterian, even Lutherans underwent various mergers, and in 1961, so did we. Mergers were also a result of an evolution of theological changes; many small denominations had originally split off from a 'mother' church for relatively minor differences in Sunday morning ritual, Biblical interpretations, or even the method of church governing. The other factor was that church attendance and membership was declining, and in the Mainline churches -Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, the numbers continue to decline. Many of these mergers were difficult and heart wrenching because they were in a very real sense losing their religious identities in some cases, losing the traditions of worship that they had followed for generations. Just like the present closing of some of the Catholic churches in ethnic neighborhoods in Cleveland, people are losing their religious homes and are in deep grief as if they are losing their very God himself!
The mystical New Age writer, Joseph Goldstein, is supposed to have said, "It's not that all paths lead to the same place; it's that all paths lose themselves in the same territory." And as someone else has said: 'Some people are just as alarmed to see their religion practiced as they are to hear it doubted.'
Though the Unitarians and the Universalists had some very similar theological beliefs, as I've said, they had some very strong differences as well, especially class, education, and location, rural vs. urban.
Starr King was originally a promising young Universalist minister who became a Unitarian minister just before the civil war, sent West to California, he saved California for the Union it was said and though he died young became so famous that Starr King Seminary in Berkeley is named for him as are Mountains in California and New Hampshire. To him goes the famous quote on the difference between the Universalist and the Unitarians : 'The Universalist believes that God is too good to damn us forever; and you Unitarians believe that you are too good to be damned.'
The Universalists were feeling like the Unitarians didn't like them much. In 1860 Moses Ballou said, 'I think there that there is no sect on earth which would gladly destroy us than the Unitarian...' In 1867 John Wesley Hanson said, 'The Unitarians and the Universalist have too long seemed to occupy semi-hostile attitudes. While the self styled Evangelical sects..have united in solid phalanx against all liberal movements, we, the Siamese twins of progress, the two great and growing liberal sects, have stood aloof from each other and allowed the united armies of the alien to advance as they should not have done.'
1872 Rev Dr. George Putnam of Roxbury, Mass acknowledged that both ‘have always been working toward the same end,’ and said the main difference was, ‘a difference in administration.’ In the 1890s there was the Chicago World Parliament of Religions which helped the two come together and Unitarian Jenkins Lloyd Jones, who was general secretary of the parliament in 1893 and helped form the First Congress of Liberal Religious Societies, embracing Unitarians, Universalists, Reform Jews, and Ethical Culturalists..
The Unitarians, under what was described as the radical influence of the Western conference, changed the basis of the National Conference by eliminating article IX in the Unitarian constitution 'allegiance to Jesus Christ' and substituted the original preamble referring to 'the religion of Jesus' and his summary of 'practical religion.' So at a time they were talking about merger, it looked to the Universalist and to many Unitarians that the Unitarians were not even Christians any more!
In 1899 the Unitarians at the May Meeting resolved 'in the netters of Pure Christianity' the two denomination should formally move toward closer relationship.'
Isaac M. Atwood, the first general superintendent of the Universalist General Convention in 1899 responded by saying 'The recurrence of the wooing, which has broken at intervals for many years, between the Universalists and the Unitarians evinces a smoldering affection somewhere under the surface. This time is is the American Unitarian Association, a rather venerable and somewhat austere lover, that gets down on one knee to the Universalist dame, are spontaneous, not manufactured...'
Conservative Edwin Chapin Sweetser , from the Universalist Church of the Messiah, Phila, who had been trying to get a more conservative creedalism of Universalism argued in an article 'The Invitation of the AUA' 1899: 'Not until the Unitarians accept Jesus Christ as the Unversalists do will it be advisable for the two bodies to adopt such a plan as the Unitarians have suggested.' Later 1901 he went further and said , quoting Shakespeare-'An two men ride a horse, one must ride behind.'
Unitarian President Frederick May Elliot defined the liberal as one who's resolved that in the realms of the mind and soul there shall be no compulsion, so far as he can prevent it, and he believes that the best way to promote this end is to create and maintain such institution as can be made to serve human purposes in a wholly free spirit. Such a church is a company of seekers and the bond which holds them closely together is their common confession that what they seek is still beyond them,'
Robinson Unitarians and Universalists
1953 saw the formation of the Council of Liberal Churches, which merged the beginnings administrative functions of RE, publications, and public relations. The youth merged in 1953 into the Liberal Religious Youth or LRY; they were far ahead of their elders in finding common purposes! As historian Russell Miller history reflects 'deep differences in theology, class configuration, philosophy, behavior and attitudes which cannot be easily overcome.'
Then a joint commission on merger was appointed; in 1959 a joint biennial conference of Unitarians and Universalists in Syracuse in finally affirmed in plebiscites in both denominations in 1961 with Dana Greeley elected as first president of UUA
When the Unitarian Universalist Association was formed in 1961, the principles to which it was dedicated were these:
‘Support the free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of religious fellowship.
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 humankind;
Affirm, defend, and promote the supreme worth and dignity of every human personality, and the use of the democratic method in human relationships;
Implement the vision of one world by striving for a world community founded on ideals of brotherhood [sic], justice, and peace.’ (UUA bylaws)
There were FOUR UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST FAITH STANCES
Turning away from a focus on ‘God’ and building a faith in human abilities and ideals to establish a better life in a more humane world.
Questing for the divine, as expressed in many different religious traditions, and developing a faith in God or the creative life force, enabling us to open ourselves to spiritual transformation.
Finding unique spiritual power in the ministry of Jesus, and embracing a commitment to follow him, while reappraising the Gospel through the insights of modern culture.
Disciplined effort to awaken to the sacred oneness or reality, both within and beyond ourselves, thus bringing balance and wholeness to personal life and the social order.
Robinson, The Unitarians and the Universalists.
Survey taken 1965
‘There was an uneasy relation to the tradition terms or structures of Christian religion. 2.9 % God supernatural being
23.1 % God Paul Tillich Ground of all being
28%God Irrelevant concept
1.8% God is harmful concept
33.2 % ‘God may be appropriately used a a name for some natural process within the universe, such as love or creative evolution
‘In many senses the liberals instance on creedlessness has been an insistence on the right of personal formulation of religious concepts, which are in a large measure beyond the reach of empirical enumeration.’
10.5% classed immortality as part of their belief; 56.9% wouldn’t define themselves as Christian
11.2% preferred the denomination to move closer to liberal Protestants or the ecumenical movement within Christianity
36.7 % movement toward an emerging universal religion
52% distinctive humanistic religion
In 2001, a regional survey of UU members in the Midwest was conducted by Ohio University. This survey allowed respondents to choose more than one label for themselves. The researcher noted that, “the typical respondent felt the need to circle three or four terms to describe his or her theological views.” The results of this survey were:
Christian (13.1%) 7
“In 1961, 104,821 in 651 congregations, joint membership soared to the highest level in the mid-1960s (an estimated 250,000) before falling sharply back in the 1970s .
The UUA represents more than 1,000 member congregations that include more than 217,000 members. United States Census Bureau 629,000 individuals identified themselves as Unitarian/Universalist in 2001. A more recent survey (2007) performed by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 0.3% of U.S. adults or approximately 340,000 individuals identified themselves as Unitarian Universalist.
The two liberal churches did have their differences, but they began to see their survival threatened and came to realize that they had more in common that they did in difference! There were some who never went along and there are still independent Christian Universalist churches and a few Unitarian ones as well, and many individuals who left because they could not accept the change. Overall the merger has been good for both groups, though the Universalist identity has been greatly diminished and their seminaries were closed not long after the merger to the great bitterness of some. Let's face it, it's a long name to say, so how often we just shorten it and say we are Unitarians.
Yet, perhaps the Universalist part of our heritage seems to be growing again the one that was more spiritual, more based on the teachings of Jesus. In a recent article in the UU world, it says that the country's largest church of Universalist heritage, the 900-member First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, has grown from a few dozen, says one of its co-ministers, by "trying to touch the broader Unitarian Universalist stroke of combining the head with the heart."
And in West Hartford, Connecticut, a 500-member church of Universalist heritage is "growing week by week, a rising membership that," its minister says, "speaks volumes to me that the Universalist message is not dead." The ministers of these churches believe that Unitarian Universalism's theological pendulum is swinging back from intellectualism toward spirituality. And they suggest that across the continent, the time is right for this shift, as increasing numbers of unchurched baby boomers with young children search for a comfortable faith attuned to their generally liberal religious views. "It's heresy to say this," asserts the Rev. Stephen Kendrick, minister of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, "but having served both humanist churches and this one, I fervently believe that there are more liberal Christians waiting to become Unitarian Universalists than there are humanists ever willing to come to church."
I think people are looking for a church experience that is beyond theological discussion but still intelligent. We are still made up of people who have left traditional religion and traditional religious services, but more and more of our younger people have had no religious experience to reject and want some! We don't come here for history lessons, I know, but for inspiration, hope, and the help to make it through another day. I hope knowing some history of how we have come to be the church we are will help us to continue to build up the beloved community and to co create the church we want foe the future. I hope that those of us who participated in the cocreation process yesterday and those who are interested in still being involved in cocreating our future will come together to build a future of hope and help of love and justice.
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 with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and 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