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God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. — Christian scripture, 1 John 4:16
Our beloved communities are places where people are tied together through the spirit of love. This heritage comes to us from the ideas of liberal Christians who rejected the concept of an angry, vengeful God in favor of a loving God who would not torture "his children" by sending them to a place of everlasting torment but, after death, would welcome them into his fold like a loving parent.
Through the story of Judith Sargent Murray and her quest to teach children love, not fear, participants discover how the idea of God as love changed everything: This new philosophy shaped the Universalist tradition of love which would give rise to the notion of the inherent worth and dignity of all people and a shared emphasis on encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. In short, this heritage of love from our Universalist roots shapes our living tradition even today as our communities of faith support one another in love and friendship; these are the primary ties which hold us together.
Background information: Judith Sargent Murray and the Spirit of Love
When John Murray first arrived in the American colonies of New England, he found people more than willing to accept the message of a loving and forgiving God. Making a swift departure from the oppressive teachings of Calvinism which preached salvation only through God's grace, John Murray and Universalism offered a new perspective—universal salvation—which was available to all humankind through God's love. This emphasis upon salvation through love had people rethinking the nature of the Divine and preachers considering how to preach this message from the pulpit.
Judith Sargent was among the first to seek a way to teach these ideas to children. In this changing religious environment, she found herself working with children of the Universalist congregation in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where John Murray served as minister. She discovered the need for a new religious catechism, as existing materials for children ran contrary to Universalism. Judith was an educated woman and accomplished writer (even in an era when women were expected solely to serve their husbands as wife and mother); she was the perfect person to create such important materials. After the death of her first husband, Judith Sargent married John Murray, cementing an important partnership in the articulation and development of American Universalism.
This session will:
- Through a story about Judith Sargent Murray, introduce the Universalist heritage of love which comes to us from our Universalist roots and lift up an early feminist writer from our faith tradition
- Demonstrate how an emphasis on love creates an environment of acceptance and fosters cooperation
- Provide experiences where participants act to fulfill our third Principle, "encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations."
- Learn about early Universalism in colonial America and about Judith Sargent Murray
- Explore ways our heritage of love is alive in our Unitarian Universalist congregations today
- Create a symbol of the heritage of love which ties us together by making a friendship bracelet
- Reflect on how love can be the spirit of a congregation
- Experience working together cooperatively through games.