I think I was always meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. I know that now. I didn’t know that…then. Then, when I was younger. Then, when I struggled with belief. Then, when I dealt with the stuff that has made me who I am today.
This year, I served as a General Assembly delegate of Pathways UU in Hurst, TX. It is the first time I have served in this capacity. I was literally asked by a board member if I would serve as one of two delegates, and I very quickly said “Of course!” We Aries do not muck about. We tend to be swift in our decision making, even if later it comes back to bite us on the heel. I did not know what I had gotten myself into.
Because money is tight this year, I was not able to attend GA in person. Instead, I attended as an “offsite delegate.” It was interesting. It was thoughtful that the UUA has made this as an option for those who are either financially incapable of attending or cannot travel due to the health or other restrictions. It wasn’t the experience I had hoped for, but it certainly allowed me to be present virtually. For that I am thankful. The experience really opened my eyes to many things.
As a former priest, I complained A LOT at how I spent so much time doing administrative stuff. It seemed like I was always traveling 3 hours (one way) to get to the diocesan offices to attend (often times boring) meetings. I was on committees where we would spend hours debating the same stuff that we had debated a year, or two years or even three years ago. Catholics are funny that way. We would spend hours working on amendments (not that much ever got amended) at Convention and many times the discussions would get heated.
So, when it came to my first exposure to GA, I was rather appreciative of the processes – even when it seemed like folks were getting mired down in the minutia of it all: even when grammatical errors were more important to tackle than the intention behind the words.
Processes are important. Assembly is important. Coming together is important. Exposure to it all is important.
I was proud to be fully engaged, even though I was confined to my chair in my home office for hours and hours at a time. While others at GA did this too, I had easy access to a bathroom and my Keurig all day and could still remain in my jammies if I wished. And when moments got too serious (and there were times when it did), I deferred to my 3 cats to provide comic relief and therapy.
Through the voting on amendments, through engaging in the wording of the Statement of Conscience, through the exchange of delegates and other kibitzers in the off-site portal, through the sermons, services and Bryan Stephenson’s Ware Lecture (which will go down, I’m sure, in UU history), something very interesting happened to me. Something that is possibly life changing. I began to question several areas of my life as a UU.
Some of you know my story, that I became UU in the first year of seminary in the Orthodox Catholic Church. Four years after I was ordained to the priesthood, I resigned from such as I became honest with myself and the organization that I did not share its beliefs. It was another four years before I came back fully to the UUA when I discovered the Church of theLarger Fellowship.
So, for the last five years I have really thrown myself back into my faith as a UU – or so I thought. In the last five years, I have been part of CLF, First Jefferson UU in Fort Worth and Pathways UU in Hurst (a suburb of Fort Worth). I have been on worship committees, lay leadership teams, spirituality groups, served as an instructor before classes, have given a number of sermons, worked with children, and have even had voice in church business (without serving on any board). I have felt fulfilled in the last five years as I have settled back into what I sought out 15 years ago when I first joined the Unitarian Universalist faith at a small congregation known as the UU Fellowship of Abilene (Texas).
And then GA happened.
There were so many wonderful speakers who talked about their experiences – both good and bad – in the UUA. So many had talked about walking away and coming back into the fold. We worked together as a group on language around dismantling white supremacy – a subject that matters to me as a white person whose Godmother is a black woman. In the Ware Lecture, UU and lawyer Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative) gave us a charge to truly live out our principles by being taught mercy through the broken.
And I wept. Tears streamed down my face. There were times I wept so hard that I couldn’t pay attention to the monitor in front of me. I was overcome by all that I had digested mentally and emotionally that by Saturday evening (around 10 p.m.) I had surrendered myself to great inquiry of a necessary inventory of my UU self.
“What am I truly doing in my congregation?” “How do I exemplify myself outside of my church to others as my UU faith calls me to do?” “How much do I really know about UU?” “What am I doing to learn more about the UU on the national level?”
And then the big question hit me right between the eyes.
Over the last year, UU clergy and laity have asked me WHEN I was going to get serious about going into ordained ministry in the UUA. In May of this year, I led the entire service and gave the sermon at Red River UU in Denison, TX near Lake Texoma. While there, the Rev. Doug Strong, with much sincerity, engaged me with this inquiry.
The truth is that the idea of going back into full ordained ministry (in and of itself) scares the hell out of me.
At Pathways UU, where we are lay-led, we depend on having different speakers each Sunday. Today’s speaker was the well-spoken UUChristian minister Rev. Craig Roshaven. He charged us with the question (as was the title of his sermon) “Where is your Jerusalem.” He reminded us how Christ feared Jerusalem but knew that he had to face it and go there, where he met his end. His end had purpose. Metaphorically, Jesus had to die to his fear and make an ultimate sacrifice for others to have hope.
My Jerusalem is before me. I fear a lot of things as I wrestle with this idea of going back into ordained ministry. It is very expensive going to seminary. I have a spouse. There are many things we may both have to sacrifice to make this a reality. We are much older now and a little more settled. This would upset that way of living. And are we both on the same page about this?
I am on a cliff side looking down at my Jerusalem. The question of how to get there is the biggest before me.
GA brought about necessary discussion in several areas. The main discussion I participated in was and is the discussion that is with myself. Where am I going? What am I doing? What are my goals and hopes as I move forward in this inspiring faith? And what am I going to do about all of it?
In her candidacy before becoming the newly elected President of the UUA, The Rev. Susan Frederick Gray said, “To the Presidency, I bring an abiding love and respect for our faith and tradition and the unwavering commitment to see it grow and thrive.” I am sure that is not an easy statement for her to make. I am sure it is not an easy statement for anyone in church leadership to make. One simply can’t make off the cuff statements like this without true discernment.
And this is where I – and possibly many others who came away from GA feeling renewed – stand: in discernment. A place of discernment is not unsteady but can be uncomfortable. Discomfort is important because it removes chances for complacency. Complacency keeps us from making good and honest decisions whatever they may be.
I think I was always meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. If anything ever offered me salvation it is UUism. While I may not be a deist, UU allows me to stand at the great buffet table where there is so much to offer. I am not limited to agnosticism or new age spirituality which entices me. At the same time, UU also challenges me. It calls me to question my intentions in this faith and my intentions of involvement. It calls me to wrestle with who I am and who I hope to become. It calls me to be challenged by others and live in covenant with so many different expressions of faith and reasoning. UU makes me want to be better. And that is scary at times.
So as we enter into a new era of the UUA, I hope to use this as a time to truly focus on my existence within this necessary organization in my life. I hope that you will also look at what UU means to you and discern those things that you might feel called to do – whether it be joining a committee at church, getting vocal in a local political organization, speaking out for reproductive health, getting active on a national committee, or even answering the call to ordained ministry.
This is YOUR faith. This is MY faith. What is your intention in your faith? What is your intention in your involvement? I invite you to seek that out. I invite you to be so moved by your faith as a UU that you are brought to a place of discernment and discomfort so that new and exciting decisions can be made for your future in this inspiring and necessary faith.
Namaste! Shalom! Blessed Be!