Re-Reading the Cambridge Platform

So here’s about the only heresy it is possible to utter in today’s Unitarian Universalist Association.  These words fly in the face of the only thing on which we officially self-described UUs have agreed to agree.  They contradict statements I have made for most of my professional life.

In fact, I cannot believe these words are leaving my computer to enter the larger world:

What if The Cambridge Platform no longer provides an adequate definition for liberal congregationalism?

Okay!  Okay! Don’t all scream at once!

How DOES the Cambridge Platform define a congregation?

“A congregational-church is, by the institution of Christ a part of the Militant-visible-church, consisting of a company of saints by calling, united into one body, by a holy covenant, for the publick worship of God, & mutuall edification one of another, in the Fellowship of the Lord Iusus.”

Let’s not parse the old definition of “Militant-visible-church: and “saints by calling.” 

Let’s not even quibble over whether the Lord Iusus needs us to call his name or just shows up and sits in a back pew like so many other anonymous visitors that we are free to welcome or ignore.

 Let’s get straight to the mission statement:

“Publick worship of God & mutual edification one of another.”

Nope — I’m still happy with it.  Here’s why it still works for me:

Nowhere does this statement include a mandatory Sunday morning show-up for the saints.

Nowhere does this statement exclude people whose worship and mutual edification occur at irregular moments.

When I look at it, I see folks who want this connection at life’s major milestones, even if they haven’t used it for awhile.

When I talk with them — folks trying to arrange a memorial service or wedding after decades away from Sunday mornings, they don’t seem any less *religious* — meaning tied to a sense of tradition.

When I explore their relationships and ethics, they don’t seem any less *covenantal* — meaning seriously and reflectively connecting themselves to each other and to folks who have already so connected.

In other words, maybe our private relationships really can be enough for the Cambridge Platform.

I have a coworker who went through a tough divorce and near-fatal car crash.  She only made it with the devoted assistance of a close circle of friends.  In gratitude, now that she’s back in the mainstream, she is slowly bestowing a piece of major jewelry on each one of them.

So here’s the heresy.  It isn’t about the Cambridge Platform after all.  The issue is how the Puritan culture continues to hang on around it.

Maybe it’s time to separate the Cambridge Platform out from its UU worldly accretions — the weekly Sunday worship of the Roman Catholic mass, the corporation laws of Massachusetts — and see if there’s anything left to serve the liberal religious seekers who petition for our community-based ministerial services.

These seekers describe their faith in terms in which they immediately recognize our principles.

They trace their spiritual imagery through wider worlds they find affirmed in our sources.

Why does the UUA somehow continue to regard their covenants — the meals cooked while exhausted, the bills paid in boring jobs, the vacation destinations enjoyed because their loved ones wanted to see them — why are these evidences of covenant somehow inferior to the covenant of folks who return to our pews, chairs and classrooms, Sunday after Sunday?

 

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