“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” Jonathon Edwards
I preached my first sermon when I was 14. I was in confirmation class, and one requirement was that we had to memorize various books from the bible. I chose 1 John Chapter 1 because it is the shortest chapter in the new testament- ten verses. I deeply questioned church doctrines, but confirmation was important to me so I slogged through the requirements in order to complete the class.
I remember our class was discussing how we have to confess our sins so that we can be saved by Jesus, and I thought, that sounds so distorted from this intensive study I had just done. I didn’t say anything at the time, but later I gathered up some friends and started preaching to them about what I thought the texts meant, and how God’s forgiveness and love was given to us. It wasn’t so much that confession was the key, but acknowledgement- a very different judgment in my view. Confession spoke of cleansing the soul, something that I thought that God did rather than us. Our part was simply to see that which was given to us.
It started a trend of analyzing and perhaps overanalyzing the creed and other doctrinal studies we had begun. When I was confirmed, I knew I didn’t believe the doctrines, but I had developed a very deep appreciation for God and the church. My confirmation was a commitment to God and to church, not to the doctrines we were taught. I think of it as making a pact with God.
My Universalism started there in the basement of that Lutheran church. It was a “Great Awakening” to realize that I had left behind the church of the angry God, and had discovered a faith of love and forgiveness that transcended the worst thing I had ever done and was better than the best thing that I could imagine. It was years later until I discovered that there were Universalists who thought the same way. And my prayer is that our church stays strong and our faith is secure for all the legs of our faith journey, so that all who need us, may find companionship in our communities. May we keep our eyes open to that possibility.
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Rev. Chris Neilson
Today the USA celebrates Columbus Day and Canadians Thanksgiving. Our US Thanksgiving comes around next month. Both leave me conflicted. Surely I honor the heritage of my husband’s Italian American family, yet Christopher Columbus was a cruel and greedy person. The traditional Thanksgiving tale speaks of gratitude and cooperation – admirable virtues – but fails to mention the 500+ years of systemic genocide of native inhabitants and their culture. I love parades and family gatherings, and the thought of giving it all up is too much to bear! What has evolved then is my personal strategy for being faithful to my values while remaining engaged with family and community.
- Identify my personal values, AKA the grounding of my faith. This can get challenging as what I think should be my values might not be reflected in my living. I say family is highly valued, but would you know that by looking at my calendar? Hmmmmm.
- What in this celebration resonates with my values? What part can I feel good about promoting and encouraging?
- What feels so wrong? For me, being able to articulate and name the difficult part of the holiday is an important step. When I know what I am dealing with a decision is needed – ignore or expose and resist? The answer changes, based on the situation and what I feel capable of.
- Make Lemonade. What can I do to build on the positive instead of just being “anti”? What can be my small contribution to building a new way? For example, I chose to share resources with my children’s teachers from Preschool through Middle School on age appropriate ways of celebrating Columbus Day and Thanksgiving which tell the whole truth and challenge us to build a community where all are valued. If you are interested in exploring more, here are some places to start:
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Lifespan Faith Development Consultant
St. Lawrence and Ohio Meadville Districts
A couple of nights ago, I was having dinner with a group of clergy. They were all from congregations in the same geographic cluster, give or take a few miles. They are all effective leaders – intelligent, creative, thoughtful, pastoral – and their congregations are all doing quite well, in their own ways.
They were excitedly discussing how they might all become even better at what they do and more effective in their ministries if they worked together. And how their congregations would benefit if they collaborated regularly with one another and created new ways for them and their lay leaders to work together to address common concerns..
Even though a couple of the congregations were larger than the others, no one threw her/his weight around or insisted that “might (size) makes right.” There was no one-up-manship. It was simply a great creative, collegial conversation. And I expect some pretty exciting things to come from it – including a new way to form cluster networks grounded in deep collaboration rather than simple geography.
Some respected congregational analysts have predicted those congregations which are not closely connected to and collaborating with other congregations will suffer in the future. To thrive in the modern American religious scene will most likely require networks of strong mutual support.
Maybe our Puritan ancestors were prescient when they wrote the Cambridge Platform back in 1646 as a guide for congregational organization. The Platform describes how congregations are independent and autonomous; with the right to choose their own leaders, own their own church property, ordain their own clergy and welcome their own members.
AND – it outlines an inter-congregational covenant of mutual support that lays out how congregations are expected to collaborate with, be accountable to, and support one another. This is what they called Congregational Polity. This second part is also often forgotten.
In our Unitarian Universalist history, there have been times when we have overlooked what lies at the roots of our heritage. The conversation with this group of clergy a couple of nights ago gives me great hope that we are rediscovering and remembering the importance of covenantal congregational collaboration that is deep in our ancestral DNA.
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