Never say you’re never doing something anymore, because ocean liners don’t stop on small dimes. Anyway, while making tea this morning, my mind lit on one of my top pet peeves in UU culture — and came up with a potential help.
The gripe: when worship leaders ask visitors to identify themselves, to further clarify whether they are first or second time callers in the particular congregation — and then fail to ask if anyone has been part of a UU congregation before.
The reason I know I like this is that I have seen it done. I love having people shout out the name of someplace that previously has only been a boldface pattern of letters is UU World. Suddenly, here is part of that church –the real church, not the building — right here among us! Marvel.
Maybe denominational affairs committees could work with this in some way. It feels very different to shift from one UU congregation to another. And while some change sites of worship for religious reasons, many do not. They treasure their UU polity knowledge, their traditions. They are grieving and hoping this new place will have some of their favorite features. So why not just ask?
It is said that doing this intimidates visitors who come in from other, or no, religious traditions. I can’t imagine that our huge store of inspiration and training lacks the ability to frame agreeable words of equality around this diversity.
The purpose of the pulpit rotations of the old Standing Order was twofold in evidence, but single in purpose. While it appeared to maintain a clerisy –a learned ministerial class — each with knowledge of many congregations, its real purpose was to persuade both congregants and clergy that they were not “lone rangers.” Proof that the clerisy was not the primary goal is that when a congregation called a council for its highest functions — usually election of a new minister — delegates from neighboring congregations might well be non-ordained laity. These councils were investigative and empowered gatherings, giving congregations real power over each other. Indeed, they ended because congregations attempted to meddle in the theological or political choices of neighbors by who they sent as delegates.
So there’s a real danger in welcoming guests from other congregations. But our current polity, with its nominating committees, its search processes, its covenants of right relations, bears no resemblance to those “once in a lifetime” councils which now have been gone for at least 150 years. Inviting people to call out the beloved name of a sibling congregation during worship — to lift it from a page or screen into our hearts while validating theirs — keeps only the positive residue of those long-ago years — the sense that we belong to each other.
There. It’s come to me. NOW I would like to be done.