October 18, 2011

Purpose

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:33 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I was reading some articles on Universalism and found an article written about the Schuylkill Unitarian Universalist Church.[STAFF WRITER, MARK GILGER JR.m MGILGERJR@REPUBLICANHERALD.COM)Published: October 17, 2011] This is part of what the reporter said:

“The Unitarian Universalism Association was formed in 1961 with the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. It promotes the tolerance of all religions and respect of all religions writings.
Congregation members vary in their religion and personal beliefs and ideas, but they share the concept that individuals have their own path of fulfillment. The goal of the church is to help them find that path.
“We talk a lot about ideas because everyone’s beliefs are valued and their ideas are respected,” said Miller. “We believe in the community and the ability of people to come together to do good things.”
There are more than 1,000 Unitarian Universalist congregations in North America alone, consisting of more than 205,000 members.”

It made me reflect on the fact that many UU congregations have as their primary goal something like “to help individuals on their own path of fulfillment”.   As a mission that seems a little thin to me, and too self-centered. The article also talked about the congregation’s tolerance and creating “A place for people of differing beliefs to dwell together”. Coupled with a belief that all people can come together to do good things, this could be a powerful vision of the Whole World at Peace, but it is often the expression of a much narrower sanctuary for a small and edgy few to do small works of kindness and limited generosity.  I don’t mean to say anything negative about the Schuylkill congregation, I know nothing about them other than they fed a reporter rather bland lines.

We remain small because our vision and mission is small. To serve a few overly educated people is nice, but to change the world and capture the imagination, passion, and commitment of at least one in every thousand people requires a deeper purpose: to create deep peace in individual hearts and in human relations, to nurture virtue: courage in hard times, hopefulness for humanity’s future, compassion for other beings, transforming love in action, a fusion of science and faith.

My previous church said its goal was to create for all humanity, yes all humanity, an ever greater heritage of freedom, justice love and mercy. I would like to see those words appear in articles about UU congregations, or words like them, more often than our diverse beliefs, tolerance of beliefs, and vagueness of belief.

Do you agree?

Advertisements

August 15, 2008

On the Other Hand

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:04 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

As I preached from the pulpit this last sunday I quoted the Knoxville, TVUU, website on how they had worked for “desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women’s rights and gay rights” and I read that their current minitries involve emergency aid for the needy, school tutoring and a cafe that provides a gathering place for gay and lesbian teens.  I read this because my own congregation has served the same causes. 

Yet, what ran through my mind at that moment (wich I did not speak out loud) is that the role we play and the people we serve are usually those on the margins, those oppressed by convention, those who are not affirmed by the mainstream culture.  I wonder if we grow as a movement if we are going to have to learn how to serve those who are in the mainstream too?  Or perhaps that will never be our calling. 

Sara Robinson, on her Orcinus blog on the Knoxville shootings, opened with the idea that “We are an odd group, we Unitarians.  Conventional wisdom says that we are soft in all the places our society values toughness”  (I wonder if we are less odd if we include the Universalists…)  She went on to affirm our solidity and toughness, but she never countered the idea that we are odd.  In fact, though we are often at the forefront of progressive movements, and we may even help progressive ideas become mainstream, we are not those who make progressive ideas conventional.  Could we be, or will that never be our place in the world? 

One of the significant moments in my life was when my eldest daughter came home from school with a new vocabulary word that had provided a revelation.  “I just realized why our family is so different” she announced, “It is because we are ‘intellectuals.'”  Ah yes, it was so true.  Later that day I remembered when I was a teen and a young woman left UU-ism in tears after proclaiming (at the end of a youth retreat weekend) that we proclaimed we were so tolerant and open minded, but we were intolerant of people like her who liked shopping for the latest fashions, and cheer-leading, and pop music. We did not accept a girl who wanted to wear makeup at a youth retreat and who was smart enough but not at all intellectual. 

So it is that Unitarians have always been associated with a small group of people; a group limited by education level, economic level, and social status.  Often we are very powerful people, movers and shakers, but that is a minority nonetheless.  This makes us distinctly capable of empathising with other minorities, and less comfortable with the conventional (even though we are terribly conventional in many ways.)  In contrast I think of how my Universalist congregation built its first building in the center of town, held famous revivals, and one year won the city-wide Sunday School attendance contest. 

Currently we serve those who are soft where conventional society is hard, and thoughtful where conventional society is thoughtless.  Even if we were to grow ten times larger we would still be a small minority in this world.  We still serve religious atheists and neo-pagans, and intellectuals above all. I hope we do not lose sight of that purpose, but I also think we are at our best when we speak our purpose in a way that even the most conventional can understand.