From the 8/28/16 Question Box service: ‘Would an atheist fit in a UU congregation?’
In a word – Yes.
As long as they don’t mind sharing a pew with a theist (and vice versa).
There is also plenty of room for an agnostic – as long as they are okay sharing the pulpit with a soul identifying as gnostic. A Humanist soprano is welcome to sing to their heart’s content – if they aren’t opposed to harmonizing with a Pagan baritone. And a devoutly non-religious seeker may serve alongside a Sikh on the Board of Trustees (under a Sufi chairperson) – as long as they’re all okay working with a Catholic secretary.
And with the board’s treasurer being a Buddhist.
This is both the charm and the challenge of fitting into a UU congregation.
We all believe differently (it’s hard enough to fit into a church where everyone shares the same basic theology).
In our UU parishes, we all reserve the right to our own personal free and responsible search for truth and meaning. On any given Sunday, you can be sure that you’re sitting next to (or close to) a soul who resides on the opposite side of the theological spectrum. But who – like you – chooses intentionally to flock together with birds of different feathers.
We somehow all find ourselves in the same sanctuary, seeking to ‘find’ ourselves – together. Lifting up the shared spaces of our concentric circles – our seven principles. Sometimes colliding. Sometimes colluding. Oft-times inspiring. And always aspiring to stand on the side of love – and to begin again in love, if and when we color outside each other’s lines. Accidents will happen – but so will extraordinary moments of grace and profoundly expansive encounters with unlikely like-minds.
And I have found this to be true even in those UU congregations in which most of the members happen to be atheists.
In the living tradition of our Unitarian Universalist faith, we understand wisdom to be omnipresent – not limited to any one tribe or text. We draw inspiration evenly from both the sacred and secular elements of life – not the least of which are the holy people. places, and things of our own individual lives (and life experiences). Nevertheless, our congregations lift up six sources as particularly symbolic of this spectrum;
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
- Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
- Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
Odds are (if you’re reading this) – at least one of these sources resonates strongly for you. Some of them, maybe not so much. Some, maybe not at all.
In my own travels among UU’s, I’d say the vast majority of us can affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all six. Despite our personal favorite(s), we stand open to all that may be learned from each one of those perspectives. And to the richness each piece could potentially add to our own soul’s collage.
So this will be a Six Source Summer.
By my count, we have nine services on our docket this July and August. As I began huddling with some of those service’s lay leaders a while ago, I noticed the thematic tea leaves lining up organically. Either by serendipity or synchronicity (or both), there seemed to be a service suited strongly to/for every source.
July 2 – ‘Spiritual Teachings of Earth-centered traditions’ (Turning Circle)
July 9 – ‘Direct Experience / Mystery and Wonder’
July 16 – ‘Humanist teachings / Reason and Science’ (Karl Branting)
July 23 – ‘Words and deeds of prophetic women and men’ (Laura Solomon)
August 13 – ‘Loving our neighbors as ourselves’ (Sally Ann Cooper, Linda Linton, Stuart TenHoor)
August 27 – ‘Wisdom from the world’s religions’
So I invite you all to spend some (or all) of your summer Sundays with us this season. To join us at the service for the source that moves you most – and at the ones that may not normally light your fire.
And to the other Sunday services we’ll offer in July & August – which may very well source you just as richly, even though they aren’t on this ‘Six Source Summer’ list… Who knows?
Six in one (half dozen in the other)?
May the (Source) Be With You,