Community Ministry, "God Talk," and Other Matters
The following questions, based on this issue's contents, are designed to stimulate spiritual reflection and adult education group discussions.
by Jane Greer
Afflicting the comfortable?
William Woo profiles the Rev. Kay Jorgensen, a community minister who co-founded a street ministry in San Francisco that works with homeless people ("Fools in Faith," page 16). Jorgensen also organizes retreats for people interested in understanding the situation of the homeless.
The Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor, a UU theologian, says that religious liberals have always been devoted to direct social action, but that they also identify with middle-class culture the very establishment they seek to change. "As a group we are reluctant to take radical action that might threaten our privilege," Rasor says. "Kay's ministry is an exception. By crossing social boundaries, her work challenges us to see the class realities of the liberal theological tradition." Do you agree? Are liberal values held mostly by the middle class? Can middle-class people push for social change that threatens their own comfort? How much would you be willing to give up to ensure a just society?
Volunteer vs. paid labor.
Volunteer coordinator Rosie Hamilton is part of the paid church staff at West Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Portland, Oregon. "If you really want something, you need to give it value by paying for it," she says. "I don't worry about how much I get paid, but the idea that this congregation values what I do means something." ("Congregational Life," page 52.)
Do you think that payment changes the quality of the work? How does your congregation treat its paid employees? Its volunteers? Do people expect less of themselves as volunteers? Do you think that everyone in a congregation should be expected to volunteer?
Does money talk?
Lorinda A. Henry writes of the problems her family encountered in a congregation where people seemed to expect a certain income. ("Church for the Rich," page 13.)
Are assumptions made in your congregation with regard to income?
Borrowing too much from other religions?
Rosemary Bray McNatt reviews Diana Eck's new book, A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation ("Bookshelf," page 55). McNatt says that Eck "lifts up for criticism an unfortunate tendency of our own religious practice in all too many congregations: the appropriation of others' religious traditions and symbols with an incomplete understanding and appreciation of the faith and culture from which they come."
Does your congregation use the traditions and symbols of other religions as part of its religious practices? If so, what are they? Does this affect the way you view the religious group borrowed from? Does it affect the religious group borrowed from?
Ministry outside the box.
John Millspaugh describes ministers serving in a variety of ways as performing artists, program administrators, choir directors, and chaplains, for example ("Community Ministry Takes Many Forms," page 21).
Does this coincide with your idea of ministry? Are there limits to what can be called a ministry? How would you define ministry?
A conflict of interests?
"Does our commitment to individualism impair our organizational effectiveness and our ability to help heal the ills of the world?" asks Warren Ross ("The UUA at 40," page 30). He also asks, "Does individualism stand in the way of efforts to create an anti-racist culture and denomination?"
Is it possible to have a strong denominational voice on social justice issues while also attending to the individual spiritual needs of the person in the pew? Are we torn, as Ross suggests, "between the pursuit of our first principle (the inherent worth and dignity of every person) and the attainment of number two (justice, equity, and compassion in human relations)"?
"People ask me why we aren't growing more rapidly, or why we aren't more racially and culturally inclusive," said outgoing president John Buehrens at the 2001 General Assembly in Cleveland. "I have a simple answer: we don't want to be, and we don't want to grow. Not yet. Not really." ("Delegates Deliver a Mandate," page 36).
Is Buehrens's statement accurate? If so, what would it take to stimulate growth in these areas?
Newly elected president Bill Sinkford pledged to champion "racial justice and gender justice and equal rights for our bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender brothers and sisters" at the 2001 General Assembly, to loud cheers. Christopher L. Walton writes that people at GA were quieter when Sinkford continued: "As people hear this message and join with us, the artificial barriers we have placed around gender, age, and ability will give way to the reality that nothing can separate us from the love of God." ("Delegates Deliver a Mandate," page 33.)
The Rev. Dr. Forrest Church acknowledged that "the word God has shrunk with repeated use" for many people, but suggested that "we can always stretch it!" How far can traditional religious vocabulary be stretched? Is there a place for "God talk" within Unitarian Universalism?
is editorial assistant for UU World.
UU World XV:4 (September/October 2001): 63.