Invocation for a Congregational Meeting
I like congregational meetings. More than any other facet of church life, more than the worship or music or potlucks, these exercises in democratic decision-making go to the heart of our religious heritage.
The right of the members to assemble and deliberate and vote on their spiritual affairs grows out of that same New England tradition that produced town meetings, where neighbors still gather each year to elect their councils and school boards and practice the sometimes difficult art of self-rule.
Thomas Jefferson, whom we claim as one of the forerunners of our liberal faith, called town meeting “the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government and for its preservation.” But of course, Jefferson was from Virginia and probably never attended one.
John Adams, another Unitarian from Massachusetts, was better acquainted with the often messy realities of both town and congregational meetings. In the parish of Braintree, where he grew up, these gatherings could become so heated that, early in the 18th century, a rule was passed to stop people from standing up in their pews and shouting at one another.
Vigorous debate is essential to democracy, and fireworks are certainly a part of our revolutionary tradition. So as we gather this morning, let there be a free and unhampered exchange of ideas, questions and opinions. Democracy is not supposed to be tame or tidy or tepid.
But as we speak, and as we listen, let us also remember this honorable legacy we’re privileged to uphold and carry on, a heritage that goes back to the founders of our nation and the founders of our Unitarian faith. Let us be worthy of the standards of tolerance, reason and civility they embodied and envisioned.