Unitarian Universalism is a Strange Religion: Prt 2

Look at the members of your local Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and the chances are good that almost none of them were raised in a UU church. A great number of people in our ranks came to us after learning things about themselves and the religion  they grew up in that lead them to seek out a different way of relating to the divine. In a very real sense, we are a religion of refugees.

We are a religion of refugees, and yet it can be so hard to remember what it felt like to be new and to want to claim some part in the community.

I, myself, was raised Presbyterian, and was even confirmed in the church as a knowledgeable, well rounded 13 year old. Though it may seem odd, I learned a lot more about my given faith after confirmation than I had known before the ritual, and I found myself questioning a lot of the things I had been told about God, Jesus, The Bible, and the world. I found my way to the Unitarian Universalist fellowship near my University, and I was initially impressed with the idea of open mindedness and the ability to come to God on my own terms. The thing was, even though almost none of these people had been raised as UUs, they had established a culture of secular humanism. They didn’t have any real spirituality in their services. They resisted the young adults’ desire to change that, to the point where we had almost become a second congregation within the same building.

We are a movement built of people who have fled orthodoxy, yet so many of our congregations seem eager to create a new orthodoxy. We get so invested in the congregations we build and nourish that we forget how to let others take ownership along side of us. Our movement allows religion to be so personal that we can forget that the goal of religion is to bring us together, and that a big part of that has to be welcoming strangers into our communities; making them part of the family.

Change is hard, and we always fear losing something important to us. But when the thing that we are working for includes principles like the worth of every person and encouraging one another to growth, we have to remember that constant change and renewal are part of the process. We have a pervasive, if not universal (NPI) problem with diversity. We cannot make people join us in order to solve it. We have to learn to be inviting and we have to allow new voices to take their place in the chorus of our faith. I don’t have an easy solution, but I want to be part of the conversation. I want to admit the problem. I refuse to simply be part of the culture.

We offer the world something wonderful. It is human, and thus flawed, but it comes with a promise that we will not allow imperfection to prevent us from continuing to work towards goodness, justice, and equality. How have you seen diversity addressed well? What approach has lead to more inter-generational participation? What has made your congregation more welcoming to people of color or the economically disadvantaged? How has your congregation worked to include your young adults and empower them to speak confidently to their peers? How do we maintain our sense of ownership without stifling the input of new members?

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One Response

  1. I’m really glad you made this point. For a group of mixed-up, mismatched people who had to make an active choice to accept this spiritual organization based (directly or indirectly) on it’s inclusiveness, the church doesn’t always come across as being as inviting as they would like to think of themselves.

    I’ve heard about congregations longing to be more visually diverse, but they seem to miss the point that in order to reach that goal, they will have to be more open to difference in class and education level. Having a decent education, I can almost skate by in spite of being poor. It does still seem to be a hidden barrier, though.

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