We live in a generally secular society that does not place significant emphasis on religious matters. As people of faith, we recognize the value that practising this faith brings to our lives, and thus our inclination is often to spread the word! This is especially true when faith communities such as our own are interested in growing. We will explore considerations for marketing not only our faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism, but also what it means to market our UUCD community.
Lori Kyle is a 51 year-old Midwestern (Kansas City) native who moved to Toronto with her family five years ago. She currently resides with her partner Margaret and two children (Maddie, 15, and Nathan, 13) in Toronto. In May 2014 Lori completed her Master of Divinity degree, and hopes to be ordained in 2015 following her meeting with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in April. Her primary aspiration for ministry is to work in a congregational setting. Prior to preparing for a career in ministry Lori worked as a social worker in the area of mental health. Her personal interests include hanging out with her family, hoping her favorite team (Chicago Bears, of course!) will make it to the playoffs, watching non-scary films, and reading a well-written novel.
The complete sermon can be read below:
A couple of weeks ago an email appeared in my inbox from my friend and colleague Lynn Harrison, who came to visit you last Sunday. She put the word out to all the Toronto UU ministers and wannabees that there was going to be an interfaith service for global peace, hosted by a parish in the Toronto diocese.
Representatives from various faith traditions were being invited to share a reading from their sacred text or tradition during this service, and the email said it would be preferable if it could be an ordained minister.
I was excited about the thought of our wonderful tradition blending with other wonderful traditions in an effort to bring about peace in our war torn world. I waited as one by one, the official ministers responded that they weren’t able to attend.
Finally I said, “I’d be happy to do it,” and so I was slotted to be our UU representative. It was important to me that our tradition represented, I wanted exposure for Unitarian Universalism…how many times have we had someone say to us, “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of that before. Now, what is it again?”
I knew which reading I wanted to use…it’s the one that we used for our responsive reading today… “To Worship” by Jacob Trapp.
I wanted this one because it beautifully encompasses an aspect of Unitarian spirituality, and it highlights that, in a way, there aren’t many degrees of separation between our various traditions.
So I enthusiastically arrived early to the peace service, and was greeted by a rather sheepish looking clergy from this church that said, “Since we have representatives from so many religions here today, in the interest of time, we’re only going to have 16 people offer readings from their traditions. The remaining ones of you will instead be asked to read individual prayer petitions that we have prepared for you.” “So I won’t be doing a reading from my tradition?” “Well, um, no.” So I took my seat literally on the sidelines, among the Bahia’ and Scientology and other ‘fringy’ representatives.
I proceeded to dutifully read my petition prayer, after watching a representative from Islam, a couple from Judaism, and a plethora from various Christian denominations go up one by one to share their sacred texts with the several hundred people who had gathered from around the city that day.
When talking to a couple of UU ministers about it afterward, I learned that, due to similar brushoff experiences and the accompanying frustration, they’ve no longer put much effort into having a presence at such events.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I have to respectfully disagree with that course of action, or non-action.
I believe that we should show up. I believe that we should at least attempt to offer the precious gift of our wonderful faith tradition, and if we get pulled off the field and sidelined just before the game starts, then we make sure we’re ready for the next opportunity.
It’s like a gospel reading says, and I paraphrase….
We have a light in this world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor do we light a lamp and put it under a basket, but instead in a chalice and on a stand, so that it may offer light that all might see more clearly. Let the light of our faith shine in such a way that its goodness may be known.
If we want the general public to learn more about our tradition so that we may grow, if we wish to become more integrated into the community not only for growth, but also because we simply want to be part of the fabric of the larger community, it seems that we need to be there.
It’s like our reading a few moments ago said…
It goes on one event at a time,
It starts when you care to act,
It happens when you do it again after they said no.
People say no, with seemingly very little thought or research, out of fear. If the culture we live in doesn’t encourage us to go deeper in our spiritual lives even with more ‘mainstream’ approaches, it’s not only going to do the same with ours, but things can be easily misconstrued when the approach isn’t well-known.
Case in point, my nieghbour at a street party…we’ll call her Jen. We were talking about our respective faith traditions (her background is Anglican), and after expressing some dissatisfaction with how fulfilling she found Anglican worship services to be and saying that she’d be willing to branch out to explore other religious paths, she quickly said, “But I wouldn’t be interested in the Unitarians because I’m not in to worshipping grass.”
As I attempted to gently do with Jen that day, so do I desire to do in the larger community….to let people know not only that we’re here, but also what we’re about.
That’s a big reason why I was so excited about sharing a UU reading at the peace service… because I love our UU faith. I feel gifted by it – it’s one of the greatest gifts that I will receive in this lifetime – and I can’t help but want to share it.
I love that the closest thing we have to doctrines are the Principles that recognize the inherent value of every single human being, how compassion and justice are heralded, and how we acknowledge and celebrate the interconnectedness of the entire Universe.
These things warm me and sustain me and help me know my place in this world.
That said, Unitarian Universalism isn’t the be-all end-all for everyone. Certainly many people are deeply and rightly inspired by other religions.
But we live in a culture that doesn’t place encourage us to go deeper and to experience transcendence, and there are many more people who are turned off by the whole idea of spirituality and religion.
Despite the absence of focus on things of the spirit, we are wired to be nurtured in this way…. even though often we’re not consciously aware we long for it…like a thirsty land we cry out for rain. Although we don’t live in a culture that emphasizes it, our humanity continually draws us to it..
The equation seems rather simple… we possess the gift of a drink that might quench others’ thirsting souls. And there is so much thirst to be quenched. The resolution isn’t hard to figure out….spread the word of Unitarian Universalism!
However, there’s a bit of an obstacle that we’re overlooking. Typically UU’s don’t evangelize. In our tradition usually we embrace a more ‘live and let live’ approach. It allows for the theological elbowroom that many of us cherish.
But it also squelches the possibility of profoundly enhancing the lives of others.
This issue came up last summer as several aspiring UU ministers sat around a café table talking about the fact that as UUs, we’re not evangelizers and proselytizers, we’re not ‘Those people who chase people down” and that we take some pride in that.
And then Tony, who had been quiet for most of the conversation spoke up and said, “This is what I hate about the UU community. That I had to live until I was 28 years old before I learned that there was a place in a faith community for me, a young gay man, because UU are don’t want to bother anybody else.”
This is why we should be compelled to be in the public - we have a message that offers a haven, a home where people are accepted as they are, a place where people can simply be and grow and connect. Our tradition isn’t perfect and it isn’t manifested perfectly in the world. But nonetheless it has beauty and grace to spare, and the capacity to change lives, and to offer respite for those that otherwise may not have it, in addition to offering a home for those who would easily be welcomed elsewhere but aren’t interested in what they’ve been shown.
So, is there a market for Unitarian Universalism? I believe there is, and I believe it with a passion born of love for this faith and of a belief that people are busy and distracted and disenchanted with religion, and many would tell you they have very little interest in any of it.
But all the while they long to be told and reminded yet again about their inherent dignity, that they are accepted with compassion, that the interconnected web of all that exists would never be the same without them.
I found myself thinking about this just this week when I ran into my neighbor John, a sweet and thoughtful man, who looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. I asked him if something was wrong, and he told me through tired eyes that his buddy at work had lost his job that day.
He explained that for 15 years his friend had been a good employee as a company mechanic, and was fired when it was learned that he had taken a laptop from the lost and found. He is the nicest guy, John said, who made a stupid mistake, and then he wondered out loud how his friend would pay his mortgage and support his wife and two kids. Almost in tears himself, he spoke of how his friend openly wept as John walked him to his car in the company parking lot for the last time.
After John and I parted I couldn’t help but wonder how much of a difference in might make to his friend to be a part of a community that emphasizes and celebrates his worth and dignity, in a time when accessing a sense of personal dignity was probably very difficult.
So we have to ask ourselves….how would John’s friend know that our first Principle is a celebration of his inherent worth and dignity? How would a young gay man know that our second and third Principles call for him to be treated with justice, equity, compassion and acceptance? How would my neighbor Jen at the street party know that our fourth Principle calls for a free and responsible search for truth that hasn’t, in my experience, included the deification of grass?
These questions certainly invite us to ponder our mission and purpose in the wider community. There are other questions too. Perhaps questions to ponder first.
Questions such as…do we collectively believe that we possess a gift…a light not to be hidden under a basket? And to dig a little further yet, who is the “we” in the equation? As our reading a few moments ago noted, “It starts when you say ‘We’ and know who you mean.” For example, you’ve heard me use the term “faith” community several times today.
Now, this can be a tricky word because it can mean different things. Faith can be described as a system of religious belief, but it can also be as simple as fidelity, confidence, trust, belief not based on something that can be concretely proved.
I use it thoughtfully, because when people, like us in this room this morning, gather to experience some measure of experience that transcends the one-dimensional, faith appears.
So as a faith community, what do we have faith in? What inspires us and connects us as part of the wider circle of Unitarian Universalism? And as a congregation, what defines us? What drew us here initially, what keeps us coming back? How do we want to be seen in the wider Durham community? Part of the beauty of our tradition is that it’s congregationally based, which means each congregation sets its own course for the most part, which results in a fair amount of diversity from congregation to congregation. This is great, but it can also pose a challenge to establishing identity, and can require us to look more closely at the question about who we are.
While we may take pause to consider these questions, this we know…ours is a life giving, living tradition. I know you know it too, because you’re here today.
You might have noticed the quotation at the top of our OOS today, which says, "A living tradition must be earned, not without dust and heat, and not without humbling grace."
May we recognize how we have been graced by this Living Tradition, may we be humbled by and generous with its gifts, and may we be willing to walk through the dust and endure the heat, in order to nurture in our own lives and congregations, and in the world.
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