Recently in several groups I am part of there are discussions about what the purpose of Unitarian Universalism is, why we were drawn to it, what keeps us wanting to be part of this faith tradition and claim it as our own. Below is one of my responses. I share some of my story, as well as a beloved vision for this religion.
I was drawn to Unitarian Universalism because it was a creedless faith tradition that professed to house (and to honor) sources of faith that were in alignment with my path.
My path has been a winding road of spiritual discovery and development. From orthodox Christian roots, to Druid, Esoteric and Metaphysical studies, to philosophical and logic-based teachings and deep considerations about what possible purposes of Life are, and how we can mindfully interact and contribute to sustaining each other and our planet as responsible human beings.
The first Unitarian Universalist congregation I began my UU explorations with was a very small group whose leaders were pivotal in a nonprofit county-wide peace group I was on the board of in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. From there I moved to the Greater Boston area where some of our oldest American congregations are and found my “home” church in First Parish in Concord. I was drawn to the church itself for its beauty. Once inside, I was welcomed by all the right-for-me-people as if by magic. And, magic indeed as they had a flourishing sacred feminine women’s group I was immediately invited to join. I did just so, and thanks to the group’s shared-leadership model, I soon was co-leading the women’s worship circles, including annual pulpit supply, and hosting special community events.
I was also present when their settled minister of over 20 years retired and we entered into an interim period, during which time the congregation decided to change its mission statement with the express mission to remove reference to Jesus Christ. I was part of the visioning team who worked on developing a new mission to present to the congregation to be voted on. Some how our little committee was able to craft a vision that was accepted during the annual meeting. Experiencing this process was both eye-opening and faith-building, as it brought greater clarity as to the various reasons people – at least the people in our committee – were drawn to Unitarian Universalism, drawn to the church, and drawn to take on leadership roles therein to help it fulfill its purpose in our UU world.
Because of my secular work I travel alot and wherever I go I find a UU Church to visit. As well, I search out congregations online to watch videos or read sermons about various topics that are of interest to me. I have discovered great diversity across our Nation (and worldwide) regarding the focus of UU congregations, and the programming they present.
Some congregations remain very Christian-based and include prayers, others expressly Humanist – yet even here they vary from leaning towards philosophical pulpit messages vs social-justice-centered messages, still most tend to set time in the Order of Worship for meditation of some sort.
There are congregations that offer metaphysical messages, which I admit was a surprise and a delight!
And even congregations who, both from their pulpit and within their small group ministries, explore extraterrestrial theologies. (Yup – ET has found a home in Unitarian Universalism 😉 )
I’ve noticed since I’ve moved to Maine 5 years ago that many of the congregations here choose to not have settled ministers, but rather are lay-led with diverse pulpit supply &/or contract ministers who serve in various capacities part time. Again, each having a different culture therein, even though they are geographically only an hour or two from one to the other.
Over my 12+ years of Unitarian Universalist experience, I have witnessed congregations whose strength lies in the proactive collaborative leadership styles, others who have a trusted and competent settled minister who guides their congregational ship. Still others whose demise has been either lay-led, or spearheaded by settled ministers who were incapable of keeping the congregation moving in healthy directions. With such diversity in values-systems (some prioritizing buildings, others prioritizing people, others with very pointed social justice focuses or spiritual missions, some with a combination of all the above) it is challenging to determine what is the most likely model to success. But I am eager to discover.
Currently I am affiliated with the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) as the Affiliate Community Minister for Women’s Spirituality. I am a member of the UU Society for Community Ministries (UUSCM) which I recommend to anyone (lay or ordained) who is in a leadership role inside or outside the walls of their congregations. I am also the co-convener of UU Women and Religion where I help put forth programs and projects that live into the UU Women and Religion Resolution that was passed at General Assembly more than 40 years ago.
Most often I am called on for pulpit supply to offer Spiritually focused grounded messages to nurture and nourish congregations. I also lead retreats and have other entrepreneurial programs designed for such purposes, as well as to do my part to help grow our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition by drawing upon my secular skills in media and communications.
I entered Unitarian Universalism as ordained clergy (in another denomination). My interfaith ministry is either lovingly and enthusiastically embraced by fellowshipped UU clergy, or completely rejected – there seems to be no middle ground in this.
I have been blessed to worked alongside some of the most courageous, brilliant, loving UU ministers and UU religious professionals, RE directors, and musicians anyone could ever hope for.
I have also received both emotional and financial abuse from a small amount of UU ministers who for reasons I can only make guesses at instigate such unkind actions and refuse to work with our Good Officers to discuss why they are creating disharmony and how it can be resolved. It is a source of heartbreak, yet it is also a proponent in my UU-activism, drawing me ever-forward to help cultivate and create equality and equanimity in Unitarian Universalism for the very reasons I became a UU to begin with:
Because of the many sources I have drawn my faith from has led me here and because we are told upon entry into any UU congregation that All are Welcome. My hope is to help be part of a movement where this sentiment is every UU’s lived-experience.
And, while its creedless claim is what enticed me to investigate Unitarian Universalism, I do I wonder…
What if hospitality was the pillar of our Faith?
If coming together created sanctuary?
If sharing Joys and Sorrows was the path to enlightenment?
What if our sacred texts were our sermons, poems and songs?
If our principles were our doctrines?
If our covenant was the Hope that binds us?”
It was recently mentioned in a Facebook group thread the existence of a “UU Covenantal Community.” One of my desires is for this to be made manifest in our faith tradition. If there is a movement that encompasses this goal, sign me up for the committee! Let’s usher that forward! 🙂 <3
In love and faith,
Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Porter-Manning