Top 10 reasons you may not feel comfortable in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.
We see it all the time: Signs by doors say, “Everyone welcome here,” but we know it’s not true. We know that, because of our economic status, or sexual orientation, or gender identity, or racial or cultural background, or physical or mental ability, we are not actually welcome.
As senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF), I thought I’d save people time by being honest up front and saying that, while all people are, of course, welcome at CLF, time has shown that folks who hold certain beliefs will ultimately be uncomfortable and leave. To make it easy, I have named some of those beliefs which, if you hold them, may well mean that you won’t like it here.
Belief #1. God wrote it, I read it, that settles it.
In this community, we’re not really focused on “settling” things. You’re more likely to hear words like exploring, questioning, wondering, learning, growing. And we don’t hold that there are particular words that God wrote and others that God didn’t. You’re as likely to hear poetry by Rumi, contemporary musicians, or names in the newspaper cited as you are Christian or Jewish scriptures. In fact, not everyone here believes in God at all!
Belief #2. There is only one right way, and many wrong ways, to understand what is most holy, precious, and true.
We are a community of atheists, Christians, Buddhists, earth-based and pagan folks, humanists, agnostics, and people who celebrate multiple religious traditions. We are a community of journeyers and spiritual adventurers. None of us is seeking “The Truth” so much as we are seeking a dance with the mystery, with the holy, as our daily practice.
Belief #3. It really doesn’t matter what I do day to day in my life, so long as I have done the proper rituals and accepted God into my heart.
We believe that faith is, ultimately, to be experienced in how you live. We have no creeds or dogmas, but we do invite one another to reflect on how our lives hold up when looked at through the eyes of our values, love being central among those values. Are our actions creating more love on the planet? Are we helping each other? Are we kind? Are we making the world more just?
Belief #4. Some people are worthy of help and love, and some people just aren’t.
We believe that no God would create people in order to damn them, that the chance to wake up exists throughout life for all people. We’re not chumps or fools; we understand that people do some truly rotten things. But we believe that the limitations on loving those people are our own, and not to be attributed to some external force called God or any other name.
Belief #5. God will reward the good and punish the bad after death.
Though we have as many opinions on the subject of what happens after death as we do on anything else, you won’t find many people here who talk about hell. We believe that most hell is suffered here on this planet, and it is our task to hold each other accountable for the hell we create for others.
Belief #6. Spirituality has no connection to the world of politics.
Of course we don’t get into the business of electoral politics or supporting candidates. But we are a community of activists related to our values: supporting marriage equality; protecting the earth from degradation; standing up for human rights for people regardless of economic status, immigration status, physical and mental ability, gender identity and every other descriptor used to dehumanize or ignore people. You’ll find a disproportionate number of activists here.
Belief #7. God has created a natural order, and traditional families and gender roles reflect that order.
We think the universe is a complex place, and that gay and lesbian couples, feminist men and women, transgender and bisexual people, and multiracial and multicultural families are part of the great gift of human diversity that makes life interesting. You will find members of this community from all walks of life, who experience love in their lives in very different ways.
Belief #8. God gave the earth to humans. Humans have dominion over the earth.
We talk a lot about something we call “the interdependent web of all existence.” That is to say, we understand ourselves as completely inseparable from and bound up with the earth, as dependent on it as we are on the air that fills our lungs. Far from having dominion or controlling it, we believe that we need to be grateful for this wonderful gift and show our gratitude through good care and respect.
Belief #9. People here are just waiting for someone like me to tell them the truth, so that they can become better people and be worthy of God’s love.
Whatever your truth, people here will be eager to learn from you about it. However, we will be equally eager to share our own truths with you! People are not here awaiting deliverance from themselves. We are looking for companionship, conversation, understanding, not for someone else to save us.
Belief #10. I have nothing to offer this community, but I can receive from others.
We are interested in your journey and your story. We believe that you bring unique wisdom and gifts, just the ones we have been waiting for! We are happy to share with you, and understand you might feel shy for a while, but we’re going to want to know you. We encourage you to start small and get to know a few people. We hope you will find this to be a safe, nurturing community where you can be your most authentic self.
This essay originally appeared as “Top Ten Reasons You May Not Like It Here” on Quest for Meaning, the new website of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and is reprinted by permission.
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The Rev. Meg Riley is senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.
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