“Will you be part of the Gay-Straight Dialogue group?” It was the mid-1980s and I had just become the Director of Religious Education (DRE) at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Haverhill, MA. The Reverend Janet Bowering, after deep reflection, had decided that her Universalist faith called her to begin officiating at services of union for same-gender couples.
Aware that her decision was controversial in the congregation and in the community, Rev. Bowering had approached a few gay congregants to share honest stories of their lives as part of a group to include both gay and straight people. The group was an extraordinary, life-changing experience for all of us! We all took some risk, allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, and reached out in love and respect to understand and support one another. And the congregation grew proud and supportive of Rev. Bowering’s stance.
Good leaders know that love and understanding is built on the willingness to share stories; community organizers often begin work with “one to one” conversations that allow people to find out about shared commitments and values. UU religious educators also know how to help people share stories across differences and build coalitions that work for justice. As the Reverend Meg Riley pointed out in a sermon to the Liberal Religious Educators' (LREDA) Fall Conference last year, “it’s what religious educators have always done.” We create containers that allow people to connect their own lives and experiences with the stories and experiences of others. We persistently teach radical, inclusive love, and we always make room for shared stories. We strive to build communities of love and justice with children, youth, adults, and multigenerational groups—communities where there is always room for one, or many, more.
Sometimes a message of love, acceptance, and inclusion meets the immediate needs of a person in pain. Sometimes a message of love and acceptance invites people to join together and work for justice. Both are part of the implicit and explicit curriculum we offer in our Unitarian Universalist congregations.
As you head into your summer, attending General Assembly, UU camps or conferences, and/or happenings in your congregation, community, and family, remember to be both a teller and a hearer of stories. Share deeply and listen in return—that is a powerful way to share love. Allow yourself to be changed by what you encounter. Make it a spiritual practice to reach out in love and to be touched, perhaps even called, by what you discover. Who knows what great things your love can do?
If you are with the UUA at General Assembly 2014 in Providence, RI, June 25-29, you will find the theme of "Love Reaches Out" resonates with sharing our faith through our stories. Two opportunities are a workshop on story-sharing on Saturday afternoon, June 28 (Good News! Sharing Your UU Faith through Storytelling) and the Let's Talk session, Thursday, June 26 from 5:30-6:30 pm, where you can meet new friends and share what your faith has taught you about love. On the Saturday evening of General Assembly, our UUA public witness invites us to share our stories and hear others' at the public, outdoor Waterfire event in downtown Providence.
Not coming to General Assembly this year? Learn how to conduct meaningful, respectful One to One meetings on the website of the UUA's Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Read more about love, faith, and sharing stories: How We Grow in Faith: Philosophy of Religious Education, Workshop 3 of the Tapestry of Faith adult curriculum, The New UU.