Commission on Appraisal Presentation
The skit was written by Fred Wooden. The summary was written by Kim Beach.
Participants at the General Assembly were members of the Commission on Appraisal (COA):
- BW: Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley
- DR: Deborah Roberts
- KB: Kim Beach
- DB: David Barus
- LP: Lisa Presley
- DA: Dianne Arakawa
- AU: Arthur Ungar
- FW: Fred Wooden
The full written report is also available online: Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity.
COA arranged in chairs, panel fashion. Following brief introduction by Denny or other, BW should go to the microphone, stage right.
BW: (read without much feeling) Good morning. I am Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, Chair of the Commission on Appraisal. We are an elected body of you, the General Assembly, charged with the responsibility to study and recommend anything which, in our view, would be of benefit to the Association.
Four years ago we assembled our several ideas, gathered from hearings at GA, meetings elsewhere, correspondence and our own research, and decided to study Congregational Polity. We met in Boston, New York, Seattle, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Berkeley. The report represents our conclusions and recommendations.
It is divided into two sections: the first is Congregational Polity and Theory and Practice, the second is Issues and Concerns.
I will now proceed to describe these sections and their basic contents.
(As BW reaches this point, DR should creep up along side her and get her attention, tapping on shoulder)
BW: Starting with the Theological Perspective...
BW: (looking up and saying to the audience) Excuse me. (Turning to DR) Is there a problem?
DR: I think so.
BW: Well, what is it.
DR: It's not even 9:00 a.m. and I am beginning to nod off.
BW: But this is what we have to do. We're stuck now. Like it or not they're out there and We're up here. And we've got to make a report.
DR: Cut to the chase.
BW: What do you mean?
DR: Tell them why we were so interested in it. Face it, polity by itself is a bore. We've got to find a way to excite them as much as we were.
BW: So what do you suggest.
DR: Start with what matters most, like what we say in the introduction.
BW: "One of the deepest convictions that unites us is a belief in the beloved community.
BW: And how we all feel it but have trouble defining it.
DR: Unity in diversity,
BW: The interdependent web,
DR: The covenant of being,
BW: The kingdom of God.
DR: The report says, "We seek a way of being in the present that leads toward the future" Congregations are that way of being, because it tries to model that spiritual ideal. Through congregational life we try to get a little closer to the spiritual ideal we call the beloved community.
BW: Shouldn't we also, though, help them feel the tradition. Congregational Polity is almost 350 years old. That history is important to understanding how we have become who we are.
DR: And we are not alone. Many religious communities use Congregational Polity but with different outcomes and expectations.
BW: They need to know the Congregational Polity is not a monolith, but a evolving and diverse model of community spiritual life.
DR: And that's why we struggle with it as much as we celebrate it. There are conflicts between spiritual ideas and polity, between values and practices, between past and present.
BW: But how can we make all this come alive? We had better find a way to get them as interested as we are.
DR: We could do a skit. People like skits don't they?
BW: Sure, a skit about polity. I can imagine it now. Reenacting the Cambridge Platform of 1648; that would be a show stopper.
(Blackout rostrum, lights on stage left. Long table with COA members seated behind and beside. Each wears a cheesy paper pilgrim hat. They all look stiff and uncomfortable. They begin to speak, as if reading or reciting)
LP: Prithee, sir, tell me if this is Newtown?
AU: Aye, sir, 'tis. But we here call it Cambridge, for this is where the college is.
LP: I am lately come from Salem, and seek the synod of churches.
AU: You are among them, good sir. Would you be here to take part in these worthy efforts?
LP: I would, for we seek to make a godly commonwealth.
(Blackout stage right, lights on rostrum)
BW: I see what you mean. Face it Deborah, polity is not sexy.
DR: It is hard to make 1648 interesting.
BW: But you and I know it's important. That's where it all began. That's where congregations first established their congregational nature. It may not be very exciting, but they need to know that the framers of the Platform saw a congregation as both autonomous and in community with other congregations.
DR: They even enumerated the ways they ought to relate: mutual care, consultation, participation, recommendation, admonition and succor. In these ways a congregation would be in community with other congregations, much as members of a congregation are in community with each other.
BW: I liked that sense of give and take. How can we express that.
(Pause to think)
BW: How about dance?
DR: A polity dance?
BW: Well, something interpretive, impressionistic. David is on the Board for the Alvin Ailey Company. I'LL bet he would be willing to try it out.
(Blackout right, lights left. COA members posing and stretching
DB: All right , let's go through it one more time. 5,6,7,8, covenant one with another. Succor, 2, 3,4, admonish, 6, 7,8. Vote, and talk, and vote, and talk. Big finish, and.... consensus.
(Blackout, lights on rostrum
DR: It has a certain,
BW: Don't say it.
DR: (Pausing to think) Music!
BW: Of course!
DR: Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman,
BW: If we can sing songs about unions and suffrage, why not polity. And music is a great metaphor for the interplay of parts, unity in diversity, and all that.
DR: And Fred was a member of the Hymnbook Commission.
(blackout, lights up on Wooden at keyboard, huddled over with pen and paper)
FW: (singing, tentatively): It's sensational, that We're congregational. Oh the jollity we find in our polity...
(blackout stage left, lights on rostrum)
BW: Maybe not.
DR: I knew I was glad my term was up.
BW: If I only knew then what I knew now.
(Look at each other, shaking heads slowly. Turn to congregation)
DR: We begin with laughter. And that is not what you think of when you think of Congregational Polity. But laughter maybe what we need. A Polynesian creation legend says that when the gods made the first couple, the couple looked at each other a long time. The couple burst out laughing, and then went off the live their lives together.
Over the last four years the moments when we, as a Commission, felt most alive and most together were when our words led to laughter, or to anger. We spent hours, days, pushing and shoving words around. Every now and then we felt sure we had our hands on what we were trying to say, only to have it slip away the next day.
Over the last four years we sought to put the idea into words, more often failing than succeeding. We even fell to quarreling, sniping, and other betrayals of the ideal we espoused. Some of us even wondered if we were deceiving ourselves about the whole matter. But then we noticed something important.
It was the moments of laughter and anger, the moments when we could not say it but most felt it, that kept us going. Do you know these words from Howard Thurman?
(Lights up, stage left)
GR: "Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve, that in good times or in tempests, I may not forget that to which my life is committed."
BW: The question was not really polity, but piety. What was it that made us choose to be congregational. Why did we think this was a good idea, anyway?
Inevitably, the words of James Luther Adams, our late and beloved scholar, came into the conversation.
Beach: "We live by our devotions.... We all... place our confidence in something, whether it be in human nature, reason, scientific method, church, nation, Bible or God.
This confidence finds explicit or implicit expression in belief and disbelief.... if we discover what persons really believe to be sovereign, what they will cling to as the principle or reality without which life would lose its meaning, we shall have discovered their religion, their god. The sovereign object of devotion is not always readily discernible, but it can sometimes be detected by what we might call the "temperature test." When the temperature of a person's mind of spirit rises to defend something to the very last ditch, then generally that persons sacred devotion is at stake."
DR: And that's exactly what happened. We were in Boston one Spring...
DA: Like most committees, we meet around a table; and once, around that table, I felt the heat of my faith rising. We were discussing why we are congregational and I said I am a Christian Unitarian Universalist. Congregational Polity for me is an expression of that faith. But most Unitarian Universalists seem to deny this, or at least avoid it. And that is a struggle for me, because I am implicitly dismissed as out of touch or disbelieved when I say I am Unitarian Universalist.
BW: And we heard Dianne's struggle, and began to feel it. What sort of religion is it that says all are welcome, but doesn't really mean it. The ideal of the beloved community was present for all of us, but its failure was also present. It turns out Dianne was no alone
AU: I also felt the heat rising. I am a Jew, and a Unitarian Universalist. We try to honor Judaism, but it always comes out Unitarian Universalist. It is also a struggle for me as we wrestle with the fact that we are Christian in history, but ambiguous in the present.
LP: I am a Canadian who always has to make a point of it since it is so often overlooked. Why do Unitarian Universalists think everyone is from the United States? I struggle with being culturally invisible.
GR: I am a lay person who struggles with the ethereal habits of the clergy, and those who prefer to talk about a problem rather than address it realistically. The old joke about the choice between heaven and discussion about heaven is no longer funny to me.
FW: I am a life long Unitarian Universalist who has seen ideas come and go. I struggle with those who believe Unitarian Universalism is the "church of what's happening now." Isn't there something that about us that transcends even us?
KB: I am a Unitarian Universalist clergyman who struggles with the reality that we are intellectual and thoughtful and fair-minded in every thing except religion.
DB: I am a long time Unitarian Universalist who wonders why we are so self absorbed?
DA: It became clear to us that what we believed in was hardly perfect. The ideal was real, but the failure to rise to that ideal was also evident.
FW: The measured tones of restraint thinned and vanished. As the failures became more obvious, the temperature rose. The real voices of faith, the voice that has fear and anger, came out. It was hard but powerful. Yet, at that moment we also realized this candor was what we wanted, what we thought our faith was about. It's hard to describe what that felt like. Maybe this story from Martin Buber can help. He was once visiting an old and well known scholar over night. One morning
DB: (reading as Buber) "I got up early in order to read proofs.... I took it into the study that had been offered me in case I should need it. But here the old man already sat at his writing-desk.... he asked what I had in my hand, and when I told him, he asked whether I would not read it aloud to him. I did so gladly. He listened in a friendly manner but clearly astonished, indeed with growing amazement. When I was through, he spoke hesitatingly, then, carried away by the importance of his subject, ever more passionately,
KB: (reading as Buber's friend) "How can you bring yourself to say "God" time after time? How can you expect that your readers will take the word in the sense in which you wish it to be taken? What you mean by the name God is something above all human grasp and comprehension, but in speaking about it you have lowered it to human conceptualization. What word of human speech is so misused, so defiled, so desecrated as this? All the innocent blood that has been shed for it has robbed it of its radiance. All the injustice that it has been used to cover it has effaced its features. When I hear the highest called "God," it sometimes seems almost blasphemous."
FW: "The kind eyes flamed. The voice itself flamed. Then we sat silent for a while facing each other. The room lay in the flowing brightness of early morning. It seemed to me as if a power from that light entered into me. What I now answered, I cannot to-day reproduce but only indicate:
DB: "Yes, it is the most heavy-laden of all human words. None has become so soiled, so mutilated. Just for this reason I may not abandon it. Generations have laid the burden of their anxious lives upon the word and weighed it to the ground; it lies in the dust and bears their whole burden.... religious factions have torn the word to pieces; they have killed for it and died for it, and it bears their finger-marks and their blood. We must esteem those who interdict it because they rebel against the injustice and wrong which are so readily referred to "God" for authorization. But we may not give it up.... We cannot cleanse the word "God" and we cannot make it whole; but defiled, and mutilated as it is, we can raise it from the ground and set it over an hour of great care."
FW: "It had become very light in the room. It was no longer dawning, it was light. The old man stood up, came over to me, paid his hand on my shoulder, and spoke:
KB: "Let us be friends."
FW: "The conversation was completed. For there two or three are truly together..."
BW Truly, together is the key. But how shall we be together? Our own historian Conrad Wright gathered some of his essays on our congregational polity into a book Walking Together titled from a passage in the prophet Amos. The King James translation reads, "Can two walk together, unless they be agreed?" This would suggest they need be of one mind in order to be together. But is that so?
(Music: (Song: "O World Thou Choosest Not..." sung as anthem)
O world, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise, and on the inward vision close the eyes, but it is wisdom to believe the heart. To trust the soul's invincible surmise is all of science and our only art. Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine that lights the pathway but one step ahead across a void of mystery and dread. Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine by which alone the mortal heart is led unto the thinking of the thought divine.
DR: "Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine," says the hymn. "That lights the pathway but one step ahead across a void of mystery and dread. Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine by which alone the mortal heart is led unto the thinking of the thought divine."
BW: The prophet Amos in the modern translation of the same verse reads, "Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment? That's a little different. Walking together may not require like minds, but only like desires. Like Chaucer's famous pilgrims to Canterbury, very different people can find reason to walk together, if they are headed toward the same place. Among us on the Commission we found a common desire for a religious community. And it was more than longing for comradeship. We shared a common goal: to build a community where faith was the gravity that held us. But this faith would not be a blind faith, without reason or doubt, or a uniform faith where everyone feels and thinks alike. It was faith in something that was yet far off. Even the Bible says "faith is the substance of things hoped for". Such faith we believed would be one of such trust that diversity was not just tolerated, but admired, appreciated, invited, and valued. Why? Because we needed it to guide our ever forming vision. The faith we had was that even what we believe today could grow and change, for "today we but see in a glass darkly," to quote Paul again. But in the journey, in the walking together, we will learn that tomorrow we might see more clearly.
DR: T hat's what being Unitarian Universalist means to us, and why our movement is Congregational. For only a community of equals, walking together, sharing the journey, can hope to get anywhere. But it can only work if we are willing to take the risks of faith. If we truly walk together, share the uncertain as part of being a people of faith, then he vision may begin to come true.
BW: Today, as we reach out to affirm the blessings of being anti-racist; to welcome lesbian, gay, and bisexual people; we need to reaffirm our belief in religious diversity. And how better than to start with ourselves.
DA: I believe there can be a community where we can read from scripture, speak of Jesus or pray to God and even those who don't believe it cherish what it means.
BW: If you are a Unitarian Universalist Christian, I invite you to stand with her as you are able. (Pause) Look around. See who's standing. These are Unitarian Universalists. They belong; they believe; they matter, even to those who disagree with them. Thank you.
AU: I believe there can be a community that goes beyond annual Seders and occasional hymns, to listen, and learn, from Jews and Judaism.
DR: If you are a Jewish Unitarian Universalist, I invite you stand with him. (Pause) Look around. See who's standing. These too are Unitarian Universalists. They bring something unique and precious to our spiritual commonwealth. Thank you.
BW: Gone are the days when most of those who became Unitarian Universalists came to reject. Now they also come to add and enlarge. Baptists and Methodists bring a love of song. Catholics and Orthodox bring a delight in liturgy. Quakers bring their silence, Evangelicals their passionate preaching, Pentecostals their enthusiasm in worship. If you affirm one of these traditions as part of your Unitarian Universalism, I invite you to stand.
DR: We are now beyond the old trio of Protestant, Catholic and Jew. If you are a Muslim Unitarian Universalist, I invite you to stand. (Pause) (If no one stands, say: "If you have any Muslims in your congregation.") Look around. See who's standing. We need to remember the Unitarian aspects of Islam and the diversity of the Muslim world. Thank you. If you are a Hindu Unitarian Universalist, I invite you to stand. (Pause) (If no one stands, say: "If you have any Hindus in your congregation.") Look around. See who's standing. We need to acknowledge the wealth of those who have understood unity in diversity for thousands of years. Thank you.
BW: If you are a Buddhist Unitarian Universalist, I invite you to stand. (Pause) (If no one stands, say: "If you have any Buddhists in your congregation.") Look around. See who's standing. We need to remember the principle of enlightenment, that the religious task is always one a self salvation. Thank you. DR: For years the greatest number of Unitarian Universalists were those who affirmed some form of humanism. If you are a Humanist I invite you to stand. Look around. See who's standing. These people are the ever asking voice question every certainty; not to destroy it but to affirm it. We need to hear doubt not as distrust but as the vital exercise of the soul toward ever greater strength. Thank you.
BW: The newest voice in Unitarian Universalism comes from those who affirm the power of earth based spirituality. I invite those who own this as part of their Unitarian Universalism to stand. Look around; see who's standing. These people remind us of the ancient voices that came before modern notions, and still provide the foundation for spiritual wisdom for peoples around the world. Thank you.
DR: Think of spiritual life as like being a singer. The instrument is yours, but its power and strength require exercise, discipline, practice, criticism, and support. This what lies behind our commitment to diversity: that all our voices may sing.
(Solo voice, from choir, singing, "My Life Flows On" Choir sings second verse. All sing third)
My life flows on in endless song
above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real though far off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing!
What though the tempest 'round me roars,
I know the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness 'round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love prevails in heav'n and earth,
how can I keep from singing!
When tyrants tremble as they hear
the bells of freedom ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near,
how can I keep from singing!
To prison cell and dungeon vile
our thoughts to them are winging;
when friends by shame are undefiled,
how can I keep from singing!
BW: Why did you become Unitarian Universalists? Because you believe, without any proof that it will happen, in this thing called the Beloved Community. For us that community is not defined by belief, by language, by nation or scripture, but by love. Recall these words of Hosea Ballou:
GR: "If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury, but if we do not, no other agreement will do us any good."
DR: At the heart of our Unitarian belief in doubt and reason is a Universalist belief in love. Consider these words from Olympia Brown:
AU: "Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world as important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals.... Go on finding ever new applications of these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation, always trusting in the one God which ever lives and loves."
BW: Old words, traditional words, but our words. Only in the midst of our work as a Commission could we re-affirm that vision, both in those words and in other words. But when we began our study we started with the frustrations. They were many and varied. The report calls these frustrations Pressure Points: places where there is tension between what we do and what we say. We heard anger directed at outsiders, often association staff, for interfering in local congregational life. We heard loneliness from community based ministers, those outside the congregational milieu. We found ignorance and misinformation about what congregations and associations do and should expect from each other. We saw anger about unity expressed in words at GA but rarely enacted in congregations. Sadness came from those who felt marginalized because of beliefs, class, and ethnicity. Altogether, they are forbiddingly serious, but maybe the way to talk about them this morning is to take a light look at them. Perhaps laughter will again prove a more adept speaker of truth than mere facts.
(Person at other rostrum, talking to a congregation on Sunday morning)
BW: Welcome to the Unitarian Universalist Community of Misty Hills. IÆm Rev. Bluebird, but everyone calls me Barney. ItÆs Palm Sunday, which is important to Christians, but for us it means it's time for flower communion (which is the only communion Unitarian Universalists believe in) After the service please join us for our annual Vernal Equinox Potluck Passover barbecue. Are there any announcements?
LP: Thanks Barney. I'm Patty Cake, president of the congregation. I'm also chair of the New Democratic Club, which will meet during the service. We all know you don't have to go to church to be a Unitarian Universalist, right Barney? (Chuckles all around). Following the service, the Amigos de Tierra, will meet to plan the Easter Sunday Sacred Recycling Celebration. Also, don't forget to listen to the part 17 of the Story of Particle Physics on "Some Things Considered" tonight. We'll meet to discuss it at Cyberperk at 7:30. Petitioner's Anonymous will meet tomorrow in the Xerox room. And now, here's Pete Skinflint to talk about the Canvass.
GR: Thanks Patty. Well, here we are again. Just like last year we are looking at a budget shortfall. And since we donÆt believe in guilt, thereÆs no way we can force you to give more money (heh-heh). This is a free church, after all, and you decide what youÆre willing to give. No one can tell you what to do or how much to give. Besides, we all have other causes we support, and you know, it's a Unitarian Universalist tradition..(trails off, forgetting what he was going to say). If some of you could do a little better we might not have give up free coffee.
(Commission members reach quickly into pockets and provide money for the collection).
DR: Hi. I'm Sara Morningstar Winterspring, Director of Education and convenor of the WomenÆs Spirituality Circle. I just want to remind you that this year the ABC-UUWF will be holding their convo at Lackawanna B&B. I also want to say that the RE-COM will be meeting with the Fin-Com to plan for the GA. Two from our YRUU is going to Con-Con this year. If you would like more info, contact me or the DA Chair, who will be in the Sojourner Truth Alcove after the coffee hour.
KB: By the way, the membership committee will be recognizing new members next week. If you want to join, the membership book is beside the water fountain, next to the guest book. They're both blue, but the membership book has a green pen. If you sign, let them know.
DR: Your congregation may not look exactly like that, but there my be a passing resemblance in a few places. We on the Commission felt, and later confirmed, that Unitarian Universalism frequently fell into patterns too often like this. We compromised our ideals either because we forgot them or decided those ideals should have a particular shape. Of course, no human institution has lived up to its ideal. Sometimes thatÆs why we left a religion from our past. But did we really think Unitarian Universalism was exempt? Some may have harbored the thought that Unitarian Universalism did not have ideals to fall short of. But your laughter this morning proves you wrong.
BW: Unitarian Universalism compromised its ideals like everyone else. In our case, shunning overt orthodoxies, we chose quiet orthodoxies. Quiet orthodoxy is understanding that certain things are normative, without saying so. Quiet orthodoxy is the unwitting conformities, the inarticulate unities. It is a congregation thatÆs a political party, or just a perpetual party.
FW: where music either reveres J. S. Bach or tries to be B. B. King
DB: where neckties are required or forbidden
AU: where prayer is meditation or sermons are addresses,
KB: where everyone watches PBS and no one watches TBS
LP: where money is the only obscenity.
AU: where being religious is considered fanatic, unless its eastern.
GR: where youÆd better have children, or youÆd better not.
DR: If you ever thought that certain religious ideas were unacceptable in your congregation, ideas important to you, I invite you to raise your hand. (Pause) Look around. These people have been stifled in the name of freedom. They heard the message: we donÆt talk about that here, or respect that here, or allow that here. No one actually said it, but it came across anyway.
BW: If you have ever thought that certain political ideas were unwelcome in your congregation, I invite you to raise your hand. (Pause) How open is a community where these people cannot speak securely? Chances are, if you like Country Western Music, work in a blue collar job, feel uneasy about abortion, enjoy steak, or come from the south, you keep it quiet. Chances are if you vote Republican, drive a Cadillac, and believe in free enterprise, you keep it quiet. If you have ever felt your taste or personal life was something you had to hide because your congregation criticized it, would you raise your hand?
DR: We have quiet orthodoxies about religion, about politics, about money, about membership. We have quiet orthodoxies about what religious community means, how it acts, who takes part and how. We have quiet orthodoxies that shut people out as surely as doctrines and rituals. Mostly we donÆt acknowledge them; sometimes we laugh about them. Maybe youÆve heard this:
(Song: from the Hymns for the Cerebration of Strife)
Where is our holy church?
We only wish we knew;
It might be those now gathered here,
Except we are so few.
Where is our holy writ?
We really cannot say;
It gives us that for which to search,
And that for which to pray.
DA: Our report believes that the remedy lies not in changing what we are, but recovering the original vision, a religious community of autonomous congregations. That means seeing the Unitarian Universalist world differently than before. In a few words, that vision is of a community of congregations, linked to each other spiritually and morally by a common faith and a common vision. To use an analogy, the community of congregations should be like the community of individuals: autonomous individuals, choosing to be together and disciplining their autonomy for mutual advantage. Unitarian Universalist historian Conrad Wright calls it the "community of autonomous churches," where the community is as important as the church, the group as important as the individual.
BW: That is the idea, first set out systematically in 1648. But itÆs soul is not in the words of the Cambridge Platform. To understand what we mean go back a little further, to an event in 1629, when English settlers in a town named Peace, but called by the Semitic version Salem, created the first congregation in North America. Separated from England, by choice, the settlers almost instantly set out to practice their emerging faith. Poring over the Bible for guidance, they examined seven citizens for evidence of election. These they called pillars, and they wrote a covenant, a document that would bind them together in mutual assistance, fellowship, learning, care and discipline. By submitting themselves to this covenant they formed a church.
DR: On a certain day the pillars, with officials and others as witnesses, stood in a meadow and formed a circle.
(Those stage left should do as DR speaks). They joined hands, and recited the words of their covenant.
All: "We Covenant with the Lord and one with another; and do bind ourselves in the presence of God, to walk together in all his ways, according as he is pleased to reveal himself unto us in his blessed word of truth."
BW: That was all they said. Much has changed in detail: we do not assume God is male or even a being; we do not presume the Bible to be the whole and sufficient repository of the truth. But the essence of that covenant remains as true now as it did then. Listen to what it means, not just what it says "We covenant with the Lord and one with one another,"
DA: They made a promise, as equals, even with God.
DR: "and do bind ourselves... to walk together..."
AU: to hold each other accountable
BW: "according as he is pleased to reveal himself unto us"
LP: knowing that our knowledge is far from complete or perfect
DR: "in his blessed word of truth"
GR: but believing that the truth can be found, if we are faithful to one another.
BW: Everything about congregational polity: the independence, the autonomy,
the right to choose your own leaders and clergy, everything, comes from those seven pillars in Salem. We do it this way so we can choose freely to walk together, guided by the truth, however incomplete, and our faith that the truth is there if we humbly seek it. The rules, the traditions, are there to help us walk together rightly.
DR: So why don't we do better? The born Unitarian T.S. Eliot, who later turned to Anglicanism, warned us against imagining that any system of governance, secular or spiritual, can answer all questions. He said,
FW: [We] constantly try to escape/ From the darkness outside and within/ By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
DR: Congregational Polity is a system. It is good, but certainly not perfect. There is no way to get around the question of commitment, of belief, of faith.
KB: And what does that mean for us, a people who tend to see faith as folly, or at least as questionably Unitarian Universalist?
DB: Is skepticism sufficient to sustain congregational polity.
DR: No. There is an irreducible kernel of belief in the endeavor that must precede belief in the polity. The Beloved Community is that irreducible kernel.
BW: Our report examines how we have compromised that ideal and created quiet orthodoxies that substitute partial visions for whole. It suggests that we have failed our polity as much as our polity has failed us. Our report tells of ways in which we can move back toward that vision of the community of autonomous churches.
DR: But we would gladly surrender all of those recommendations for a renewal of the vision that sustains our polity. In some ways, we are suggesting a form of Tshuvah, the returning that is the marrow of Yom Kippur. Chaim Stern's adaptations of the prophets appear in our hymnbook.
(Music: Singing the Living Tradition #218, played or sung as the following is read)
BW: "Who can say: I have purified my heart, and am free of sin?
All: There are none on earth so righteous that they never sin.
DR: Cast away all the evil you have done, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.
All: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit within you.
(Music: Singing the Living Tradition #218, sung)
DR: This is what congregational polity is about. Yes, it's a theory and a history of how power and authority are understood. It's principles and precedents and procedures and traditions. And that's all very important. But the important question is why we affirm it. We believe in congregational polity because,,,
KB: "the spirit bloweth where it listeth"—to create a new community... through life with others" —James Luther Adams
AU: because we are "hungering, thirsting, seeking after righteousness." —William Alar Channing.
LP: because "Some day, men and women will rise, they will reach the mountain peak, they will meet big and string and free, ready to receive, to partake, and to bask in the golden rays of love." —Emma Goldman.
DR: because "Love cannot remain by itself —it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action..." Mother Teresa
DB: because "We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man." —Margaret Fuller.
FW: because "liberation is costly. It needs unity. We must hold hands and refuse to be divided." Desmond Tutu.
Song: "There is More Love Somewhere" in Singing the Living Tradition #95
BW: 375 years ago, at the very beginnings of our faith, John Winthrop told those departing for America what their journey would mean. He said "the only way to provide for our posterity is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with our God[. F]or this end we must be knit together in this work as one... [W]e must entertain each other in brotherly (and sisterly) affection[. W]e must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality[. W]e must delight in each other, make others conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work; our community as members of the same body.
[S]o shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace..."
Winthrop ended his words with those from Deuteronomy. Near the end of their long wanderings in the wilderness, Moses takes his leave of the people. Standing before them he says, "I call heaven and earth to witness today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, that you and your descendants may live."
BW: Those words were true almost four thousand years on the edge of Sinai;
DR: they were just as true almost four hundred years on the edge of the continent.
BW: They are just as true today on the edge of the millennium.
DR: May we hear them today they did before, finding new promise for ourselves and OUR posterity.
For more information contact coa @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
- Audio/ Video for Sale
- Multimedia Coverage
- 2012 Phoenix
- 2011 Charlotte
- 2010 Minneapolis
- 2009 Salt Lake City
- 2008 Fort Lauderdale
- 2007 Portland
- 2006 St. Louis
- 2005 Fort Worth
- 2004 Long Beach
- 2003 Boston
- 2002 Quebec
- 2001 Cleveland
- 2000 Nashville
- 1999 Salt Lake City
- 1998 Rochester
- 1997 Phoenix
- 1966 Hollywood