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. As a former member of congregations, and current interfaith colleague called to serve local congregations who desire spiritually rooted services, I share below some of my story, as well as a beloved vision for Unitarian Universalism – and for all traditions who are struggling with growing pains.
Many have asked that I consider the MFC. And, after discernment with my mentors, I declined. The reasons are varied, but integral is that the current blended UU brand is not a religion as best I can see. It is a corporate umbrella with a political agenda. While my spiritual roots are drawn from both Unitarian and Universalist ideals of days gone by, there seems to be a void in spirituality and integrity in the modern day incarnation of these once transcending religions. (perhaps had the Spiritualists joined instead of separating from unification conversations decades ago, the combined religion would be transformational. Though the irony is indeed that the Spiritualists’ foresight granted them to see the writing on the spiritual wall.) In UUism there are too many cross-overs into what only can be categorized as lobbying and that is against codes for religious and nonprofit interference with governments. The UUA also need, at a corporate level, to identify what their actual mission is transparently regarding who they serve and why the UUA exists, and more importantly, a code of ethics that applies to all, not one that can be wielded against those who are not in power, and based solely on whatever is trending politically. The marketing 10-15 years ago, at least at the local congregational level, was one of true religious diversity and welcome. This simply is not the reality at the corporate level. And as a result many leaders and congregants are leaving, some loudly so, most quietly without a word as to do so places a target on their backs.
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. A bittersweet moment for many as the goal was to widen the opening to encompass many spiritual leaders, not only a single messiah. Once this was established, 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 travelled alot and wherever I went, I would often find a UU Church to visit. (Sometimes Unity, Science of Mind, Spiritualist, etc as I have spiritual alignments and friends in many). 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.((UPDATE June 2020 at bottom of page)) 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 seek ways to 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 was to help be part of a movement where this sentiment is every UU’s lived-experience, or to create a new religion where this open acceptance and welcoming is created. Yet there is a political agenda in place that prevents true acceptance of others.
And, while its creedless claim is what enticed me to investigate Unitarian Universalism, I do I wonder what could shift for the organization if they contemplated these tenets of The Church of Kineo:
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 the UU faith tradition, for the sake of my beloved colleagues therein, so that it truly becomes a sacred and safe religion that welcomes all paths. If there is a movement that encompasses this goal, sign me up for the interfaith committee to help guide that! 🙂 <3
My work with UU congregations will be as an invited guest, and not a member of any congregation.
In love and faith,
Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Porter-Manning, Interfaith Minister
August 12th, 2019
June 2020 – with the announcement of the CLF’s new leadership, I resigned my affiliation as two of their newly appointed core group of three are known to be radical bullies and have received their leadership positions based not on the content of their character…
Summer 2020 – I resigned all my remaining corporate UU roles, including my membership in UUSCM as while it is one of few organizations with in that tradition that is truly open to interfaith clergy, I simply no longer identify as UU in its current incarnation it is a lobbyist group and several of its key leadership are engaged in abusive behaviors I can not and will not condone.
There are still a few UU Groups I consult with, and a few congregations I serve as guest and retreat leader offering spiritual support as an interfaith minister through the pandemic and beyond.