Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Is Essential

by Kathy McGowan, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff member

One piece of my job is working with new Unitarian Universalist emerging ministries. There are many ways of becoming a Unitarian Universalist group, including becoming one of the newly formed Covenanting Communities. See

It is an honor and a privilege to work with these folks. Prior to my coming on the Southern Region’s Congregational Life staff, I was creating a new congregation in upstate New York. As with any ministry, there is so much work at hand. It is my job to help emerging ministries to focus. I have four areas that are critical in their formation.

The first is spiritual depth. Because there is so much work facing these folks, their own spiritual life will diminish unless they are intentional about tending to it. This involves self-care. I encourage all them to be diligent about their own daily spiritual practices, and pay attention to balancing family and friends, their work, and their congregational commitment. Beyond self-care is going deeper into the Unitarian Universalist faith. If they are going to create a Unitarian Universalist covenantal faith community, they must know what that means in a deep way. As leaders, they must grow in depth in order for the community to grow in size. They, therefore, must live with each other in a covenantal way. 

The second is Unitarian Universalism. In order to be able to grow this wonderful faith, we must understand our theology and heritage. We have values that have stood the test of time. We must know what those are and how others have sacrificed for them in order of us to have the privileges that we enjoy. We have a life saving and giving faith. We must be able to understand that relationships and how we behave (covenant) affects how we interact with the world. Our world is hurting and broken. We must know ourselves so that we can be in relationship with others who are different from us in order to search for wholeness.

The third is purpose. It is critical for new groups to have a sense of coming together for something larger than themselves. It is so easy to create the church for me. So many people get seduced into thinking that this is their opportunity to create the congregation that they have always wanted with the kind of worship that they like, etc. This is the thinking that will kill it. There must be a sense of creating a space for those that we have not thought about yet. I like to think that when the Martians find us, they will say, "Those UUs have it going on!" But we must be creating something special for others, not ourselves. Having a purpose beyond themselves must stay central. I ask things like how are you changing the world? And I expect real answers.

And, lastly, generosity. While each of the others leads nicely into the next one, generosity needs to be the lens through which they view everything else. Questions I might ask are: How are you being generous with yourselves? How are you being generous with Unitarian Universalism? How are you being generous with your local community, and how is that helping to define your purpose? Many well established congregations ask me how they can become generous. That is much harder to do later, but at the beginning you can tend to generosity and feed it. If you become a generous people from the beginning, it becomes part of your culture and your values.

These are the things that I hope to get into groups’ DNA as they are forming. If they can get these four things right, what could be more joyous? Really, in one form or another, isn’t this what we want for all of our congregations? How are you doing in these four areas? Let me know. I posted this to our Facebook group. Please post replies there (and join the group, if you haven't, already!).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Universalist Pragmatism & Courage

by Rev. Kenn Hurto, UUA Southern Region Lead

No doubt you have heard that many Unitarian Universalist congregations have posted signs on their property — Black Lives Matter — only to have them defaced or torn down, sometimes within hours, and often more than once.

What’s that all about? It is a sad sign of the fear and hatred abounding in our society. That the phrase “black lives matter” is controversial is a sign of white privilege. Yes, I hear the anxiety in the retort, “All lives matter.” And, indeed they do. But, why is it problematic to say “black lives  matter?” Are people of color not in the “all?” That’s just the point: black lives matter, too! Not more, but as well as all others!

 Black Lives Matter arose in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin murder and a sense that a great injustice had been done — again! For background, see A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by movement co-founder Alicia Garza.

The need for a banner comes in part from the undeniable observation that all too often black lives don’t matter in our racially severed society. Indeed, to quote Alicia Garza, where black lives “are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”

The late Unitarian Universalist theologian, Dr. Ted Jones once quipped: “Black people get the most of the worst and the least of the best.” Slavery is the original sin of America. It’s legacy is everywhere and shows up in a pandora’s box of racist evils: From crime to housing access, from lack of educational opportunity to unjust policing, from health care to no decent neighborhood grocery stores, from employment barriers to every day slights, everything is harder if you are black. Black Lives Matter is one way of saying, enough and no more.

Unitarian Universalism has its roots in the spiritual struggles of white, European, Protestant descendants. Our faith has been defined mostly as an effort to come up with right belief, correcting the irrational tenets of religious orthodoxy. We have good reason to be proud of our critique of ill-founded, often superstitious beliefs. 

Beliefs do matter. Racism is proof of that. Yet, sadly, all too often our Unitarian Universalist yearning for purity in our belief truncates our ministry into an unending series of irrelevant arguments. This fussing is a bad habit. It keeps us distant from the daily struggles too many have just to survive. When you consider that 1 in 7 Americans face food insecurity every day or that more than 30,000 people die of gun shots every year, is the question of God’s unity vs trinity even worth discussing? 

Our sainted Emerson, preferring a well-grounded faith, famously cut down a pompous orator of right belief by saying, “Sir, your actions speak so loudly, I can barely hear a word you say.” Our Universalist ancestors — less preoccupied with religious argument than the Unitarians —taught  that God or what simply matters most is found in loving action and that all souls are worthy of such love. That side of our faith is the source of another banner we proudly display: “Standing on the Side of Love.”

In a recent sermon, I said, “Love is our teaching. It is our practice. It is our end.” Love calls us to be awake to the ways any lives do not matter. Love demands we speak up, step up when and where anyone is not loved. We Unitarian Universalists are at our best when stand on the side of love every day. We are at our best when our congregations assess their ministries by asking: Are we loving more broadly, more truly? If not, let’s get going; there’s work to be done.

I am proud so many Unitarian Universalists and so many of our congregations are showing up and standing on the side of Black Lives Matter. It is our faith at its best.