our calling

 Contents: UU World September/October 2002
September/October 2002

Open the Doors

Gonna let my little light shine,
Shine, shine;
Cause there's somebody, down in the valley,
Tryin' to get home.

The General Assembly in Québec is now a memory, and a powerful memory it is: the pleasure of being in community with more than four thousand Unitarian Universalists; real opportunities to learn; the experience of a truly international religious community; and significant business — five "Actions of Immediate Witness" and a "Statement of Conscience" opposing the War on Drugs (click here). But for me, the center of the experience was the wonderful worship. At this year's Service of the Living Tradition, the Rev. Barbara Pescan opened her sermon by singing the lyrics quoted above.

We talk often about the need for Unitarian Universalism to grow. But too often our conversation misses the mark. "We're growing at a slower rate than the population," we fret. "We need to grow faster to survive." Or, "We need more members so that we can hire an additional staff person, or renovate our building." Or, "We can't pay our minister a fair wage if we don't have more pledging units." Too often our conversation is about what we need. These needs are real, but there is a far more compelling reason for us to commit ourselves to growth: to open our doors to all the people down in the valley of their lives who need the kind of spiritual home that only we can offer.

On a plane recently my seatmate was a young woman traveling with her ten-month-old son. Well, she was young by my standards, perhaps in her late thirties. Our casual conversation turned to religion, as often happens when I tell people that I am president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

She said she'd heard of Unitarian Universalism. "Didn't you make a statement against Arab profiling after September 11?" she asked. "There is a church near where we live. I've thought about visiting." She was a first generation Palestinian immigrant, a Muslim, married to a Lebanese Christian. "Where will my baby find a church where he can honor all of his heritage?" It was a painful question for her. She looked at her son sleeping beside her and tears welled up in her eyes.

I listened quietly and then told her that Unitarian Universalism could be such a community. We value the wisdom of all the great faith traditions. We know that each person's spiritual path is unique. We are committed to living as a religious community that honors and celebrates difference. We believe that our differences can be blessings, not curses.

"It is not just for my son that I cry," she said. "I need a religious home."

I am often asked why growth of Unitarian Universalism is important. Why should we reach out? Why should we live through the stresses and change that come with growth? We're happy the way we are, people often say. Why should we "let our little light shine"?

The answer is simple. Our commitment to growth must flow from that place where our love for this faith encounters the aching needs of the world. Thousands of people — tens of thousands — yearn for what we have found. Many who don't know about us have given up hope of finding a community of faith that values real, lived human experience.

Unitarian Universalism is a demanding faith. An examined life grounded in liberal values is never easy. Sustaining covenantal community takes constant attention. We offer no simple salvation. Our congregations will not become comfortable homes for everyone. But . . .

There's somebody, down in the valley,
Tryin' to get home.

In faith,
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

 Contents: UU World September/October 2002
UU World XVI:5 (September/October 2002): 9

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