Monday, January 21, 2013

Building a church which has a purpose

It's hard to build a church.

We started the Brockport Unitarian Fellowship in September of 2009. It's been 4 years. We have about 35 members and an average Sunday attendance of between 15 and 20. We are planning now for our fifth church year, 2013 - 2014. We have a committee working on an annual operating plan for the 2013 - 2014 church year.

Rev. Christina Neilson, the congregational life consultant from the St. Lawrence District, met with our congregation yesterday, Sunday, January 20th, and we did the vision thing and set some goals in small groups. People shared a lot of ideas. We aren't short on ideas. It's executing them that is the problem. Most of the labor is volunteer with the exception of a 1/2 time pastor and a musician we pay twice a month to play the piano at two of our services.

The understanding which has slowly taken shape in my mind is that Unitarian Universalist ecclesiology is based on the idea of convenantal relations within each church and among churches in the UUA. The covenant is based on the affirmation and promotion of the Seven Pinciples which we draw from our Six Sources. It has taken me many years, about 10, to come to this understanding. Why has it taken me so long?

It has taken me so long because nobody has spelled it out for me, succinctly, clearly, and to the point that I have now spelled it out for myself. If covenanting to affirm and promote the seven principles drawn from the six sources is what Unitarian Universalism is about why is this not clearly understood by UU members and the world at large?

I think of all the jokes about UUs, like the one about UUs like Jehovah Witnesses going door to door to spread their religious beliefs but not having anything to say. How many UUs does it take to screw in a light bulb? A whole committee and they can't decide what should be done. You know the jokes. You've heard them too, and laughed, as I have too, in self denigrating humor, laughing at our own ignorance and gratuitousness. But taken seriously, as a way of life, Unitarian Universalism is not ephemeral whip cream, it is serious, deep, challenging, and demanding.

I have been thinking further about the seven principles drawn from the six sources and it dawns on me that if I am to seriously apply them in my life and make a difference to myself and to the world in which I live, I need a lot of help. I certainly can affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, but in a world awash with racism, discrimination, and exclusionary policies of every sort and stripe, I realize that I cannot affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person alone. I need a lot of help. We, as a community, need a lot of help.

And so, our churches, our community of saints as Rebecca Ann Parker calls us, must grow, here and now, if we are to make our Seven Principles visible, relevant, and meaningful in our daily lives.

As I go about my daily life and enter into discussions with people and ask them if they too believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and if so, will they come to church with me so we can explore how to make this principle manifest in our community life together?

I understand now, better, what the purpose of church is. It is a group of people who join together and covenant with each other to affirm and promote the Seven Principles from the Six Sources. This group of people is a communion of saints who shelter one another and work together for a transformation of life on earth, here and now, for the benefit of the interdependent web of all existence. What holier work can there be? What could be more important? Our church will grow, has to grow, if we are to save the world.


  1. "This group of people is a communion of saints. . ."

    You can take the "lapsed Catholic" out of the Roman Catholic Church, but you can't take the Roman Catholic theology out of the "lapsed Catholic". ;-)

    And please DO take that as a well meant compliment David. I have often said that I find liberal American Catholics to be more genuinely *liberal* "religious liberals" than many Unitarian Universalists.

  2. Dear Robin:

    I do take it as a compliment and I appreciate your insight and sense of humor.

    Interestingly, Rebecca Ann Parker uses the phrase "communion of saints" which I find very interesting and validating and she is a Methodist and Unitarian Universalist I believe.

    Some of the liberal Catholics have been accused by some of not being good Catholics. I am thinking of Daniel and Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day, St. Francis of Assisi, etc. Some like Matthew Fox and my former pastor at Corpus Christi, Fr. James Callan, have been excommunicated. when the local paper in Rochester the Democrat and Chronicle asked Father Callan how he felt about being excommunicated by Bishop Matthew Clark, Callan said, quite sincerely I believe, "Oh I don't believe in excommunication."

    Jesus, himself, was quite a radical in his day, so much so the ruling clergy of the day asked the Romans to kill him. It's funny how those in power are so easily threatened, kill the ones they see as a threat and later canonize them as saints.

    Unitarian Universalists are so liberal that they don't believe in anything strongly enough to die for it. You are a rare example of someone who has stood up for what you consider to be the injustice of the UU hierarchy. They haven't killed you yet but I've seen the videos in Montreal where they have roughed you up and threatened you with police and other legal secular power.

    May God bless you from a proud Roman Catholic Unitarian Universalist.