Thursday, June 21, 2012

GA begins, officially! And Ministry Days ends with a bang, not a whimper

Ribbons: Delegate, Green footprint, & Welcoming Congregation.
Yesterday started off with worship at UU Ministry Days and the annual “25/50 Year Worship.” This service honors those UU ministers who were ordained 25 years ago and 50 years ago. Each of these cohorts selects from among its members one person to deliver a homily at this service. Now, these selected sermonizers are the cream of the crop. Surviving 25 or 50 years in successful ministry is an accomplishment in its own right, and so the selected speaker from each group is the cream of the cream of the crop. Not surprisingly, these sermons are consistently excellent. This year was no exception. From the 25 year class, the Rev. Kathleen McTigue was selected. From the 50 year class, the Rev. Rudi Gelsey was selected. Both sermons made me cry at moments, as happens almost every year.  Rev. McTigue's sermon was "Like Licking Honey From a Thorn", and (as the title suggests), it reflected the bittersweet nature of ministry, and life.  Rev. Gelsey delivered an extemporaneous style sermon; he lost his sight nine years ago. The title was "Perpetual Peace: A Future Worth Creating".  A topic dear to my heart!

I then went to a Collegial Conversation called "Next Steps on the Journey to Anti-Racist, Multicultural Ministry: Who Are Our Neighbors & Other UUMA Initiatives".  There are exciting trainings ahead in the UU Ministers Association!

UU Ministry Days ended yesterday late afternoon with the annual Berry Street Lecture, the longest-running lecture series in the United States.  This year's lecture was delivered by the Rev. Fred Muir, who spoke on the future of Unitarian Universalism and UU ministry.  I took copious notes, but eventually the entire text of his lecture will be online and I will link to it here.  His focus was on the "trinity of errors" that hold UUism back: 1) a persistent commitment to individualism; 2) an exceptionalism that is often insulting to others; and 3) an allergy to authority.  As Rev. Muir noted, "Individualism is not sustainable, nor sustaining."  He noted that people are seeking a congregation that embodies the Beloved Community.  He noted recent studies that suggest that young seekers yearn for a kind of modern evangelism without the "conservative political overlay".  What must we do to become the Beloved Community?  Rev. Muir thinks that all congregations must "weave justice dreams" that are part of our UU history "into the fabric of our institutions".  He thinks the four pillars on which UU Beloved Community can be built are: multiculturalism, environmental justice, sexual & family values, and right relationship.  He also thinks that we need to reconnect with the "soul-filled nature" of this ministry.

I loved the story Rev. Muir told about discovering UUism for himself.  He was a college student; he had been raised in the Disciples of Christ, and he had always "loved church".  He had a professor who read Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Divinity School Address" to them, and he was quite moved.  He asked the professor what religion Emerson had belonged to, and the professor told him that Emerson had been a Unitarian.  Muir asked, "Does that still exist?"  (Ah, our evangelism is so lacking!)

It was a great talk, and so Ministry Days ended with a bang.

I went to a Regional New England In-Gathering at General Assembly... it's always fun to see folks from home across the country!  They told us that (after California) Massachusetts had sent the most attendees to GA this year.  Amazing that so many of us made the long trip!

Last night was the official start of GA with the Opening Celebration, including worship and the banner parade.  We got to hear from some of our Justice GA partners (the Indigenous Cultural Center Tonatierra, the National Day Labor Organizing Network, and more).  And we heard a great talk on the Doctrine of Discovery by Steve Newcomb, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.  I will have to read that book!

After GA, we left the hall singing and walked over to Heritage Square for our first witness event here: "Turning the Tide from Fear to Human Rights" with the Arizona Immigration Ministry.  About 1,000 UUs were there! A pretty amazing 10 p.m. protest crowd!  Read a write-up here.