A Certified Green Sanctuary Intentionally Multicultural An LGBT Welcoming Congregation Home Home

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church - Welcoming. Multicultural. Green.

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

Sunday, February 2, 2014

From a Trinity of Errors to a Trinity of Promises

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert, with Worship Associate Carol Boston, and the Choir

From a Trinity of Errors to a Trinity of Promises

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

February 2, 2014

The song (“Gracias por el Amor”) just sung by the choir was composed by Clif Hardin, a Unitarian Universalist, who is the Music Director at River Road UU Church in Bethesda. When David and I discussed the music for this service, we wanted a song that portrayed our connections with the broader Unitarian Universalist movement – as I like to call it, rather than “denomination.” That’s because we are moving and changing – as the name of our hymnal implies, we are a living tradition. Unitarian Universalism arises out of, responds to, is shaped by and at times helps shape the cultural, historical contexts in which we find ourselves over time.

But if “denomination” connotes institutionalization, we have  - and need - that too. For example, Clif Harden, like our Music Director, David Chapman, is a member of the local UU musicians group, which is part of the national UU Musicians Network. There are similar local and national organizations for ministers, religious educators, administrators, board chairs and so on.  What do they do? Well, they have formal purposes such as establishing credentialing standards and procedures, and creating or sharing resources. But there are informal purposes too, which arise because of the relationships created in the process of realizing the formal purposes.

The first one of those that comes to my mind is the purpose of supporting our peers. You may remember that two years ago, right about now, David was diagnosed with cancer – and his fellow UU musicians organized themselves to fill in for him as pianist and choir director here for three months, at no charge to us, so that we could continue to pay him when he was out for treatment. It was a huge blessing to us as a congregation, to have their support so we could do all we wanted to do for David, and thankfully, he is better.

Congregations provide support in times of need for each other, too. Longer ago, ten years to be exact, a fire in our RE Building caused it to be closed and in need of rehabilitation. Though that was before my time here, I’ve heard about it from many of you. As our Worship Associate Carol Boston prepared for this service, she remembered how heartening it was to receive checks, large and small, from individual Unitarian Universalists and congregations from across the country. She told me it wasn’t only the money that helped, but also the bracing words and encouraging wishes from people most of us will never meet, whose only connection to us was through three initials: UUA. Since that time, she has written a few checks to UU churches whose buildings have been devastated by fire or storm—and she suspects she isn’t alone here in that.

Those three initials, as you may know, stand for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, headquartered in Boston, which provides a national public presence as well as connectivity and resources (such as capitol campaign guidance after the fire) to congregations either directly or through its regional districts. Our district is the Joseph Priestley District, named after the British scientist and preacher who discovered oxygen but was forced to flee across the ocean because of his Unitarian beliefs and settled in the mid-Atlantic region.

Both the UUA and the JPD are supported by the Fair Share contributions from congregations, kind of like voluntary dues, paid on a per member basis, $87 per member of the congregation. The only problem is, we don’t pay our Fair Share anymore. This congregation was for many years absolutely committed to paying it, but when we were not able to replace our long-time renter, we had to cut it out of our new bare bones budget, which is no longer new but still bare-bones and still, now for the fourth year, lacks Fair Share contributions.

But the Board of Trustees, and many of you, are dedicated to resuming this obligation and so between now and next Sunday they ask you to consider joining them in making a contribution of at least your Fair Share at the Town Hall Congregational Meeting after the service. While the amount collected may not add up to $87 for all 200 of our members, unless some give more than their individual share, the contribution will signify we are moving ahead toward full Fair Share, reaffirming our denominational connections. Based on that collection, a check to each, the UUA and the JPD, will be written and sent. If you cannot attend the Town Hall Meeting, please see the details on page 6 of today’s Bulletin.

We are fortunate, I think, to be a faith tradition that attempts to be both an institution and a movement. It is organized to serve its needs and mission, and it is evolving, discerning its sense of direction, drawing on our shared sources and guided by our shared principles. (If you don’t know what those shared sources and principles are, they are printed in your Bulletin and on one of the first pages of the hymnal).

If this was only a “denomination,” I’m afraid we would be stuck in the muck of history, being what yesterday wanted, not what tomorrow needs. But, if we can maintain the tension between those aspects – institution and movement - Unitarian Universalism will thrive in this “spiritual but not religious, social media age” and into the future.

So, for the remainder of the sermon, let’s reflect on the living, moving, changing nature of this Unitarian Universalist movement of which we are a part.

Well, what did yesterday want and what does tomorrow need?

One of my colleagues in a support group of ministers to which I belong, like David belongs to his, has deeply considered these two questions and I want to share his ideas with you because they resonate with me. The source is Rev. Fred Muir, who has been a UU minister twenty years longer than I, and who has served the UU Church of Annapolis for more than thirty years, which makes theirs, I believe, the ministry of longest duration in the Joseph Priestley District. The church has gradually grown during that time to its current 460 members.

He says what yesterday wanted have become today’s errors, which will cause the demise of Unitarian Universalism if we persist with them. And he describes the promises that the future needs from us. I have to warn you, that Fred has organized his ideas in threes even though we are unitarian! Thus, my sermon title.

He cleverly entitled the paper in which he describes the trinity of errors,  “From iChurch to Beloved Community.” He used the “i” to refer to the first of the three errors: an over emphasis on individualism, in which individuals regard their church as their own personal church and make demands of it accordingly, like we do with our iPads, iPhones, etc. He reminded us of how the “theme of individualism was creatively and appealingly exploited in Apple’s early commercial,” do you remember? ‘Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. They push the human race forward.’

Such individualism sounds like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who many of us – especially those Baby Boomers among us – revere as one of our Unitarian Transcendentalist forebears. But it lacks humility. It may have suited his times. I don’t think it suits ours. And Fred points out that individualism gets in the way of honoring our covenants with each other – he says, “Individuality yes, but not individualism.”

The second error from the past is related to individualism, exceptionalism. As Fred says, “As unique as our experience with Unitarian Universalism may be, it is not the only way. We must stay conscious of how we explain, defend or share lest we come across as elitist, insulting, degrading, isolating, even humiliating of others. The iChurch’s exceptionalism is a barrier to sharing the good news of Unitarian Universalism,” he says.

Exceptionalism gets in the way of interfaith collaboration, because we think (though we would never say it) that Unitarian Universalism is better, and even our efforts toward being a multicultural congregation, when we act as if we are exempt from communicating carefully, with attention to whether the energy level, tone or content of what we say causes our impact to be something other than what was intended.

The third error is also related to individualism. It is what Fred calls an “allergy to power and authority.” Many who came to UUism in the mid 20th century came out of hierarchical religions that were not welcoming of different views and were even injurious to some, especially those who are gay. But, younger and recent joiners seek authority that they can respect; they are not allergic to it. They tend to want to spend less time on hearing every viewpoint and achieving consensus, so more can be accomplished.

When they lead, research shows, they tend to listen to a diversity of interests and passions, incorporate what fits with the mission and vision, and move forward, making space for those who disagree without being distracted or stymied by disagreement. Those who have been accorded titular authority, staff or lay, should be granted the actual authority to lead their congregations into the future as best the whole can envision it at the time.

Muir commends congregations to take seriously their covenants, within the congregation and between UU congregations. He says, “Living as 21st century Unitarian Universalists requires our congregational life to be religious and spiritual, covenantal and experiential, progressive and evangelical.”

All of that sounded right to me when he first delivered this paper, before ministers and lay delegates gathered as the 2012 General Assembly of the UUA was about to begin. But he didn’t answer the question: if these were the trinity of errors we had inherited from our past, with what could we replace them in order to meet the needs of the future of our movement and denomination?

In the eighteen months since then, he has arrived at three promises that seem to be what our immediate future needs: generosity, pluralism, and imagination. However, he hasn’t yet published the text of the talk in which he presented these promises, to a JPD ministers’ study group conference I attended last November. So, I have to rely on my memory and notes because. What follows is my take on what he is trying to do.

I will say first that he also says, and I concur, that the future requires our congregations to be spiritually grounded and spiritually alive. By that I mean: we can’t be so taken up with how we are running the organization of the church; with what we are doing for others who are not (yet) part of it, and with how we are advocating to change the world… that we don’t attend to the spirit of life and of love within each of us and among us.

That means that the quality of our relationships is really important. It’s like Jesus is said to have said a couple thousand years ago, “They shall know you by your love.”  Love doesn’t mean we have to be “nice;” it means being caring and forthright, helping each other to “stay at the table” when there are conflicts to work through. It is generous.

Attending to the spirit of life and of love within each of us and among us also means that our worship experience should be spiritually grounded and alive. It should feed you and it should move you, push you, make you laugh and make you cry. Not all at the same time! It should touch your soul.

And the worship should be really varied, because we are a very varied collection of folks – our theologies vary:  some of us are theists and some pagans, some spiritual humanists and some secular humanists, some are questioning their theology and some don’t think about it at all, while some just want a sense of community, and still others come here just to find comrades in the struggle for earth, social and racial justice.

Our cultural norms in worship really vary:  some of us want to experience a gathered silence and others want to stand, sway and clap; some of us want an intellectual presentation with time for questions and answers while others of us are fed by dance and music, poetry and musings; some of us love the house band, others the children’s choir, and some want the adult choir to stick to the classical… or pop… or musicals…

So, what I think we really need in worship, since it’s the central gathering moment of our varied and hopefully even more diverse congregational community, is a plurality of experiences and expressions, in which each person will find something familiar as well as something alien, comfortable as well as challenging, all working together for edification and the creation of a sense of community. It should become the case that there isn’t a “UU culture” except in so far as it is pluralistic.

All of this requires imagination, on everyone’s part – to be open, to try new things, to experiment, to fail, to err, to find our own way forward into our future with the talents of those we’ve got and those who will soon join us.

So, lets experiment with this trinity of promises:  generosity, pluralism and imagination.

And, let us invite others to join us in this congregation, this movement, this denomination that aspires to be, and move our world toward being, a Beloved Community.

Let us be evangelists for this living tradition, to borrow these words from Pete Seeger, by ringing our bells, wielding our hammers, and singing our songs for it as well as for justice, for freedom, and for love.

Amen. So may it be.

Source: “From iChurch to Beloved Community: Ecclesiology and Justice” by Rev. Fredric J. Muir. 192nd Berry Street Essay. Delivered at the Ministerial Conference. June 20, 2012, Phoenix, AZ.  http://www.uuma.org/page/BSE2012/?

Facebook Icon Twitter Icon Google Plus Icon


Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church • 3215 Powder Mill Road • Adelphi, Maryland 20783-1097
301-937-3666 • Fax: 301-937-3667 • churchadmin@pbuuc.orgwebmaster@pbuuc.org

Regular operating hours for the Church Office are 9 am to 5 pm, Tuesday through Friday. Any exception to these hours will be posted in the Sunday Order of Service.