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Introduction, Workshop 9: William F. Schulz

In "What Moves Us," a Tapestry of Faith program

No one knows better than I that the [Spirit] often fails to keep appointments with our congregations on Sunday morning. When that happens, it is often useful to go for a walk in the woods on Sunday afternoon! But even so, what has happened Sunday morning is not without value. For even when the Spirit fails to show, the church is where we learn how to touch It elsewhere, what to look for in the woods, and how to see. — William F. Schulz

This workshop introduces the Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz's theology, Unitarian Universalism in a New Key. Schulz, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations from 1985-1993, executive director of Amnesty International USA from 1994-2006, and current president and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, created this theology to "sound Unitarian Universalism in a new and more melodic key." To this end, Schulz emphasizes the experiential aspects of our Unitarian Universalism faith tradition: "While what we believe about religion is important, what we experience of the religious is even more so." We must nurture, says Schulz, an "organic faith that refuses to truck with nationalism or cultural stereotyping but is faithful first to the needs of our planet. ... Human survival depends upon our willingness to think and act in global and nondualistic ways." Schulz shows us what this "organic faith" looks like as Unitarian Universalist theology and ministry today. (Finding Time and Other Delicacies, p. 46, 39)

Schulz emerged from his Amnesty experiences with a firm belief in the importance of the community consensus of nations, as he puts it, to assign worth, dignity, and value to individuals. Such valuing of persons does not come automatically, Schulz says. It is assigned. But who, Schulz asks, does the assigning? Schulz opts for global public opinion. And also something more: Unitarian Universalist religious tradition and our worship services where one learns how to seek, perceive, and touch the Spirit.

Thus throughout his 12-year tenure at Amnesty, Schulz regarded himself "first and foremost as a Unitarian Universalist minister." For him, his work at Amnesty was Unitarian Universalist ministry.

What in our religious history and our congregational life shapes and forms our moral values and informs the way we act in the world? And how does our own social justice work inform our own personal Unitarian Universalist religious perspectives, practices, and experiences? How do we learn to look for, see, and touch the Spirit in our worship services? Schulz's Unitarian Universalist Theology in a New Key invites us to answer these questions. Schulz also calls on us to "invite the Spirit to dwell within our hearts;" to talk about "the Holy" as Unitarian Universalists; and to talk about Grace as a wellspring of our own Unitarian Universalist faith tradition.

Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program introduction.

Preparing to lead this workshop

Read Handout 1, Biography of William F. Schulz and Handout 2, The Theology of William F. Schulz. Use some or all of the following exercises and questions to help you reflect on Schulz's Unitarian Universalism in a New Key and how his theological perspective relates to his own personal experiences as a world renowned social justice leader and Unitarian Universalist minister. These questions and exercises parallel the five sections, or topics, presented in Handout 2. You may wish to write your responses in your theology journal:

I. Schulz's Assessment of Human Nature

  • Schulz begins with personal experience. He believes that the power of our own Unitarian Universalist faith and congregational worship life can help us stay the course through our distressful emotions and anxious feelings that will lead us, as he puts it, "inexorably to our hearts." (Schulz, Finding Time and Other Delicacies) Have you had an experience when your Unitarian Universalist faith and congregational worship life helped you stay the course through your own distressful emotions and anxious feelings, until you found heartfelt feelings of emotional renewal or peace? If not, can you imagine a way your Unitarian Universalist faith and congregational worship life might do this for you?
  • Schulz calls such experiences the "newborn intimations of possibility, faith, grace, and God." What words might you use to describe the possible uplifting experiences of your faith and your congregational life?
  • Schulz says that assertions of the inherent worth and dignity of persons are "designed to cover up the fact that we all are sinners and that we are not always certain which sins (and hence which sinners) are worse than others." What is your definition of sin? What do you think Schulz means by sin? Using your definition of sin, do you agree that we are all sinners?
  • Do you believe that every person has inherent worth and dignity? Why?
  • Do you believe that your Unitarian Universalist community's worship life plays an important role in your religious life?

II. Unitarian "Universalist" Values

  • What is your response to the observations Schulz makes about Universalism?
  • How do you think the principles and other values from our Universalist and Unitarian heritages might function to not only put us in touch with our best selves, but also keep our "basest impulses," as Schulz puts it, constrained for the greater good? Do or could these values help you understand, adjudicate, and make peace with the way in which you can fall away from your own moral values?

III. Religion Is a Discipline

  • What do you think Schulz means by the terms "religion" and "discipline"? Using his definitions, do you view your own Unitarian Universalist faith as a religious practice? A discipline? If so, why? If not, why not? What do you do to experience spirituality?

IV. Schulz's Definitions of Theological Concepts

  • Paraphrase Schulz's definition of the term "grace. Have you had an experience that would fit Schulz's definition of grace? If so, did that experience motivate you to any particular action?
  • Schulz's list of our sources for religious authority that complements the authority of the individual includes tradition, community, reason, nature, and the Holy. Do you believe that any or all of these religious sources of authority complement the religious authority of your own personal religious experiences? If so, how? If not, why not? What, if any, religious sources not listed by Schulz would you add to his list?

V. The Source of Our Ethical Injunctions

  • Schulz says we are a creedless faith because we have a theory about Creation as too grand and complex and mysterious to be captured by a single creed or metaphor. And so, Schulz argues, we rely on the world's great religious traditions, the sciences, the secular arts, and more to express the complex majesty of creation. Now assess whether you believe his claims are true for you. In what personal experience of yours does your allegiance to our noncreedal faith tradition begin?
  • What does it mean for you to be in right relationship with another person? What values help you to be in right relationship with another person?
  • What is the relationship between social justice work and your values and vision as a Unitarian Universalist?

For more information contact web@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, February 21, 2013.

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