If our religion doesn't inspire in us a humble affection for one another and a profound sense of awe at the wonder of being, one of two things has happened. It has failed us, or we it. — Forrest Church (1948-2009)

This workshop introduces Forrest Church's Universalist Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Church developed this contemporary "theological universalism" to address what he called a principal challenge to the creation of a viable theology today: social fragmentation. As he put it, we live in a world "where togetherness is no longer a luxury but a necessity; [where] we are thrown together by realities that shape our common destiny." Those realities include the global economy, global communication systems, and global nuclear and environmental threats. At the same time, "centrifugal forces spin us farther and farther from one another, fracturing the one world we now experience and jeopardizing our common welfare." A response to these 21st-century challenges can be found in our own theological heritage as Unitarian Universalists. Church invites us to proclaim a faith that invokes the broad spirit of our Universalist forebears, while, at the same time, moving beyond their 18th- and 19th-century Protestant doctrinal biases and limits.

And thus the good news from Church: Our own theology today can "provide symbols and metaphors that will bring us, in all our glorious diversity, into closer and more celebratory kinship with one another as sons and daughters of life and death. For Church, we must "[posit] the existence of a power beyond our comprehension." Only then, says Church, can we begin to account for the miracle of being with an appropriate measure of the two feelings he finds at the root of all direct human experiences of the Holy: awe and humility.

As we explore Church's emphasis on awe and humility as well as his "one Light, many windows" theological metaphor, participants will develop their own responses to his Universalist Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Does it help us discover or acknowledge feelings of awe or humility? Does his theology give us a way to frame religious pluralism?

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

Preparing to lead this workshop

Read in this order the resources included with this workshop:

  • Leader Resource 2, Recovering Transcendentalist Universalism — Forrest Church
  • Handout 1, Introducing Forrest Church
  • Story, "Forrest Church's Redemption Experiences"
  • Handout 2, Forrest Church's Theology

As time allows, read "Universalism: A Theology for the 21st Century" in UU World, November/December 2001. Use these questions as well as the spiritual preparation exercise and questions in this workshop to help you understand the Universalist Theology for the Twenty-First Century created by Church. You are encouraged to write your responses in your theology journal:

  • Church identifies a major function of theology to interpret the text of creation. The foundation of his faith is not an absolute, rationally created and posited truth claim, but is rooted in feelings of awe and humility. First come feelings (direct experience), then thoughts (theological reflections) about them. Do you agree with Church?
  • What do you think of Church's use of the image "Light" to conceptualize what all Unitarian Universalists and members of other religious traditions might share in common? Can you suggest an alternate image or feeling (or set thereof) that you might use when considering whether there is indeed a common emotional, experiential ground of your Unitarian Universalist faith and that of other faith traditions?


This workshop will:

  • Build knowledge about the Universalist Theology for the Twenty-First Century created by the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church (1948-2009)
  • Engage participants to explore whether feelings of awe towards life and humble affections for one another are possible foundational links to their own Unitarian Universalist faith
  • Develop participants' awareness of how they use their own theological lenses to interpret and assess feelings in themselves and others.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Determine whether feelings of awe and humility are at the root of their own direct experiences of the Holy
  • Explore their own understanding of what Forrest Church calls a major task of liberal theology: to posit the existence of a power beyond our comprehension so we can take into account the awe and humility foundational to all direct experiences of the Holy
  • Demonstrate increased self-knowledge about the emotional foundations of their own Unitarian Universalist faith.

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