Love Is the Doctrine of This Church
By Reverend Rebecca Bryan
Did you ever wish you were given a rule book to life? Maybe you were the kid wondering how to fit in at school or who your people were. Did you long for that rule book when you were facing a life-changing decision you thought you knew the answer to but were not 100% sure? Or perhaps when you were going through dark times, you wondered how you were going to make it through.
I have been all those people. Perhaps you have too. Maybe you are experiencing one or more of those things right now: wondering how you fit in, facing a life-altering decision, or feeling difficult feelings.
We all need guideposts along the journey of life, the principles we look to when making decisions or reacting to things going on around us. We refer to these principles when deciding how to use our time, money, and talents in ways that further what we believe in. They are what we turn to in difficult times, what we hold ourselves accountable to, and what we check ourselves against regularly.
Life is more fulfilling, rewarding, and simple, not necessarily easy, when we are clear about our principles and genuine in their application. Twelve-step programs use the slogan “principles over personalities” to embody this approach to life.
When we live according to principles or clearly articulated values, purpose, and objectives, we are better able to rise above societal disarray and cultural pulls antithetical to what we believe. Life becomes about making meaning and creating purpose. Without attention to principles, we are apt to respond to human instincts for power, prestige, and security. What is true in individual lives is true also in churches.
We have been working on articulating our congregational values, mission, and ends for the past eighteen months. The congregation voted to do this work at our annual meeting in May 2019. A team of parishioners interviewed various consultants and chose Laura Park and Unity Consulting, who had experience working with other Unitarian Universalist congregations and our Association.
Last church year, nearly 200 of you participated in workshops and discussions sharing what you value, love, and hope for our beloved congregation. You came up with four values originally, which the Parish Board raised to five after listening to congregational conversations later in the spring.
Our mission statement:
Come as you are
Journey together in love
Act with courage
Transform our world
We also developed six ends that we believe will help us progress toward our mission. These ends apply to all ages, from youngsters to elders. They set a high priority on worship and music, belonging and diversity, living into our Unitarian Universalist identity, intergenerational community, partnering with others working for justice, caring for one another, and honoring the history of our faith and of this congregation.
The ends are interdependent, working in unison to further our mission and sustain our values. They do not work alone, nor do they compete for our resources or attention. They also promote the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism including acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregation and the interconnected web of life of which we are a part.
The prominence of each end will increase and diminish according to the rhythm of the church year, the lives of our members and friends, and the circumstances of the world around us. We know that they will evolve as we do, collectively and individually, and we will review them regularly.
Most recently I had the joy and honor of interpreting these ends using a theological lens of Unitarian Universalism. I hope you have had the opportunity to read the Theological Interpretations of the Ends. They integrate our faith and these ends and principles in important ways. “Reading these made me so proud,” said one parishioner. “These are who I am, who I strive to be,” said another.
I will not read them all to you, even though early ministers of this church would keep people here for four or more hours on Sundays. There is a link to them in your Order of Service. We plan on having discussion groups and maybe even a several-week group that explores them and other information about our faith.
I will read one which is a theological interpretation of the end “Welcome people in all their diversity and create belonging for one another.”
The ontological struggle for all humans is to live in the exquisite and sacred balance of belonging to oneself and belonging to others, in our case, the congregation. Navigating individuation of self, while maintaining healthy and real connectedness as a part of the whole, is deeply spiritual work. Humans realize this or work toward its end through experience and being in relationship.
It pains us to know so many people and groups of people do not have a spiritual or religious home where they can belong and be open about who they truly are. We strive to make ours a faith where all people can belong, if they so choose, and be fully and openly who they are.
We believe that true belonging creates the conditions which support us in our journey of self-understanding and differentiation. It is a need and inherent right for all people to know they belong, and we open our congregation to all who choose to belong with us.
We understand and respect that belonging carries with it responsibilities as well as gifts, namely to extend that belonging to others and to care for each other. The teachings of world religions, religious naturalism, earth-based religions, secularism, humanism, and the lives of great people are sources of our faith. As such we strive to live into what they teach about our responsibility to welcome the stranger into our midst and create a sanctuary for their hearts, minds, and bodies.
We honor the divinity and equality of all people and seek to reflect that to one another in all we do. We make our welcoming known as broadly as possible in the community and to those who may be seeking a faith community like ours. In so doing, we live into the truth that no one need ever be alone.
We welcome diversity, and we change because of the diversity of our members, friends, and guests. We offer diverse ways for people to experience worship and church life that reflect the myriad ways people experience belonging.
I am proud of the work we are doing together. We need these values, mission, ends, and theological interpretations. I already use them every day. How else would I know what to say “yes” to and what to respectfully decline? Where would the clarity of mind come from that had me accept, with honor, the invitation from the Mayor to serve on the City’s new Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force? How would our Board know what budget to bring you? How would you know where to focus your efforts, give your love, and show up time and again? The adage is “Be sure you have a map of where you’re going, or someone else will determine it for you.”
Norbert Čapek, the founder of Unitarianism in Czechoslovakia, wrote a prayer that included these words: “It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals.” And Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
Here we say, “Love is the doctrine of this church … and service is its prayer…” And so on. Each repetition of this Affirmation of Faith guides us in our values and principles, clarifies our direction, and makes us grateful to be together on this journey of our lives.
Amen and blessed be.