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The breadth of our message

Can Unitarian Universalism become more culturally diverse?
By Christopher L. Walton
Fall 2009

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An hour after he was elected president of the Unitarian Universalist Association on June 27 (see page 37), the Rev. Peter Morales met with me and several colleagues from the UUA’s Communications staff. We asked him what Unitarian Universalism has to offer the world.

“The number of people who are already in agreement with us,” Morales said, “not just in an intellectual sense, but in complete harmony with our core values, is enormous. The breadth of our message is very appealing, but we need to become more culturally diverse in our forms of expression in order to reach the millions of people who share our theology and values.”

The cover story of this issue explores how one congregation—All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma—is learning this very lesson (page 26). When a black Pentecostal bishop, the Rev. Carlton Pearson, began preaching “the gospel of inclusion” to his Tulsa megachurch several years ago, his evangelical critics recognized right away that he was embracing the “heresy” of universalism. Many Unitarian Universalists were fascinated by his story, too. The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, the senior minister at All Souls, reached out to Pearson, they became friends, and last year, Pearson, his family, and many of his remaining followers made All Souls their home.

What does it look like when African American universalists, rooted in the Pentecostal tradition, join a largely white UU church? The people of All Souls, newcomers and old-timers alike, are learning to stretch culturally—and proving Morales’s point. If Unitarian Universalism is to offer a religious home as broad as our message, we will have to learn to stretch, too.

This issue also features an excerpt from Mary Pipher’s wonderful new book, Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. Although she doesn’t call it that, I think of her memoir as a humanist’s spiritual autobiography: the story of how her unexpected fame as the bestselling author of Reviving Ophelia disoriented and depressed her, and of how she gradually learned to reclaim joy. “Be Present” (page 33) shares some of what she learned, but you’ll want to read the whole book.

In the last issue, I announced the end of uu&me!, the four-page children’s insert the Church of the Larger Fellowship had been producing for UU World. (See editor Betsy Williams’s farewell letter on page 9.) Now I am pleased to introduce “Families: Weave a Tapestry of Faith,” a new insert in the center of the magazine produced by the UUA’s Lifespan Faith Development staff.

The “Families” pages aren’t a replacement for uu&me!, but something new: a collection of stories, activities, and resources to help you and your children (or grandchildren!) explore our deepest UU values. Led by editor Susan Lawrence, the LFD staff worked fast to put together this fine new section, and I’m happy to share it with you. Please let us know what you think!

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