Oct 22 2007
A couple of Sundays ago, during Social Hour following our 11:00 am worship service, a visitor asked me about the sources of Unitarian Universalism. “Where did you come from?” he said, or some delicious question like that.
How could he know that he had touched on one of my favorite topics, made all the more real to me by our recent pilgrimage to Hungary and Transylvania? So I launched into an impassioned retelling of our faith’s story, from sixteenth-century Europe to nineteenth-century United States … Oh, it went on and on in a never-ending stream of enthusiastic detail. (To my conversational partner: Thank you for that wonderful question; I look forward to continuing our conversation!)
Meanwhile, though, some other visitors were standing nearby, and a congregant was striving in vain to find a break in my historical monologue so that I could meet them, too. Finally, with one last over-the-shoulder burst of “and in 1819, he claimed the name Unitarian for us,”* I turned to these visitors, and then we too had a wonderful conversation. (To these visitors: Thank you for waiting and for sharing your stories with me. May this sharing continue!)
Later still, the congregant offered me the nicest possible reminder about good ways to connect with a wide number of folks at Social Hour. Maybe monologues are not quite the thing, you know? I recognized the patterns of my own shyness in what he said. (To this congregant: Thank you for your gentle, compassionate communication!)
These experiences reminded me, deep in my own skin, that this fall’s Visibility Campaign for Unitarian Universalism in the Bay Area asks us all to take some risks, to step out of our comfort zones, to be more of the best of who we already are. Visitors and long-time members, ministers and lay folks alike—we are all learning, growing, stretching … figuring out new ways to share ourselves, our stories, and our faith with others.
The Rev. Bill Sinkford, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, recently spoke of visitors who “screw up the courage to walk into a church where they know no one.” A little over ten years ago, I was one of those first-time visitors to a Unitarian Universalist congregation where I knew no one, and it amazed me how much courage it took.
So why do we do it? Why do we human beings go seeking a spiritual home?
Each of us knows the answer to this question by heart, and our answers are as unique as our own life stories. For me, I screwed up the courage to walk into that Unitarian Universalist church ten years ago because I had a broken heart, and I wanted to make sense of life’s sadnesses in a deeper way. Unitarian Universalism gave me the freedom and the resources to search for meaning in all the wisdom that the world has ever produced and that it produces still. I also wanted to make a difference in this world, which often seems as broken-hearted as I was then—and Unitarian Universalism gave me a community with which to work for the good, without striving at the same time to convert anyone to a particular way of believing. Unitarian Universalism has led me to a wholeness that I could not find anywhere else.
Why, then, are we Unitarian Universalists advertising our faith? Why are we broadcasting our name from BART billboards and local radio stations, on Comedy Central, and through ads in Time magazine?
There are lots of answers to these questions, too. I’d answer it this way: Because there are curious, hungry folks out there—some of them broken-hearted, some of them eager to work for the good, many of them both of these things and much more—who want the kind of wholeness and meaning in their lives that Unitarian Universalism offers. There’s a big difference between “proselytizing”—striving to convert—and “evangelizing”—making available our good news. We Unitarian Universalists are claiming our own way of evangelizing.
How do we sum up our good news? As I said over and over to a San José Mercury News reporter during a recent interview (look for the article around the second week of October): We Unitarian Universalists believe that “we do not have to think alike to love alike.”
And that’s a quote from Francis Dávid,* * which reminds me of another story … J
May our sharing continue!
* “He” was William Ellery Channing, Unitarian minister and theologian, one of the founders of Unitarianism in the United States.
** Dávid Ferencz, or Francis Dávid, was a Unitarian minister and theologian who converted the king of Transylvania to Unitarianism and helped to make that country a Unitarian state, based on religious tolerance and freedom, during the sixteenth century.