Prelude – Medley of “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” and “Come Holy Spirit”
Welcome Song: #361 “Enter Rejoice and Come In”
Chalice Lighting: Global Chalice Lighting for August 2017
Song #1 – It is Well with My Soul with New lyrics by Kimberley Debus, 2009
Story for All Ages – Part of Unitarian Universalism is a Really Long Name by Jennifer Dant
Offering: Quiet meditative moment with music
Song #2 – Hymn #318 We Would be One
Responsive Reading –
Before we begin our responsive reading I would like to ask each of you, in your own way to join me in prayer.
As we read or watch the news each day and we see continued hate and violence, may we remember that we are not alone. As our hearts break and we are faced with the reality that we have not come nearly as far as we need to, may we speak out. As others defend or explain away the problems facing our nation and our world, may we continue to encourage them to wake up. As we wonder if our ideals and expectations are doomed to fail, may remember that none of us are free until all of us are free. May we continue to answer the call of love and fight for the lives that need us most. May our voices continue to rise until they are heard above the hate.
May it Be,
Presentation: Picture it … Massachusetts … 1961
I’ve wanted to tackle the topic of the merger between Unitarians and Universalists for quite some time. Originally, I wanted to write an expose type piece called “The Room Where It Happened” ala Hamilton, especially with as little as is readily available about the merger. But as I was preparing for today, I realized that there was more than just the one day in 1961. So, I hope you won’t mind that I’m going to indulge my inner Sophia today. Most of this information comes from the UUA Website and the book “The Unitarian Universalist Merger 1961-1975: Report of the Commission on Appraisal to the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association” written in 1975.
Here are some similarities between the two Us.
- “Unitarians and Universalists have always been heretics. We are heretics because we want to choose our faith, not because we desire to be rebellious. “Heresy” in Greek means “choice.”” http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/history/faith
- each was a free faith, with no creed, and both had a strong policy of congregational autonomy. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilyn-sewell/unitarians-and-universalists_b_873972.html
- Too liberal for both Calvin and Luther, they had come out of the left wing of the Protestant Reformation, and were adamant that each person must be free to follow the dictates of conscience. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilyn-sewell/unitarians-and-universalists_b_873972.html
- By the beginning of the twentieth century, humanists within both traditions advocated that people could be religious without believing in God. No one person, no one religion, can embrace all religious truths. http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/history/faith
- Other reformers included Universalists such as Charles Spear who called for prison reform, and Clara Barton who went from Civil War “angel of the battlefield” to become the founder of the American Red Cross. Unitarians such as Dorothea Dix fought to “break the chains” of people incarcerated in mental hospitals, and Samuel Gridley Howe started schools for the blind. Unitarians and Universalists have been at the forefront of movements working to free people from whatever bonds may oppress them. http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/history/faith
While both Unitarians and Universalists were liberal denominations of Christianity, there were theological differences. Thomas Starr King once said, “The one thinks God is too good to damn them forever, the other thinks they are too good to be damned forever.” The clever turn of phrase was in reference to Universalists putting emphasis on the love and grace of God, while Unitarians put more emphasis on man’s innate goodness. With these differences, how did the merger happen? It was a long road that started almost one hundred years before the merger.
Picture it, New York City 1865 … Delegates at the Unitarian Convention presented a resolution to look into a union with the Universalists.
Picture it, Chicago 1893 the World’s Parliament of Religions and the First Congress of Liberal Religious Societies, which included Unitarians, Universalists, Reform Jews, and Ethical Culturalists, helped move the Unitarians and the Universalists closer together as their separateness as hampering the growth of religious liberalism. Universalist James M. Pullman challenged Universalists to live up to their name. Unitarian Jenkin Lloyd Jones did not like the fact that the two denominations were fighting like dogs and not getting work done.
Picture it, Merriden, Connecticut 1895, At the General Convention of Universalists a motion came to the floor calling for Unitarian Universalist Cooperation, but was tabled. It happened again two years later.
Picture it, 1908 The National Federation of Religious Liberals was formed. (At that time, there were proposals for an organic union between the two denominations, meaning that no one would push the issue, but that since it was inevitable that it should be allowed to happen on it’s own.) Both Unitarians and Universalists were active in the group until its collapse in the 1930s. In 1931 a Joint Commission was appointed to consider the practical methods of union. They decided closer fellowship was better, which led to the formation of The Free Church of America, or The Free Church Fellowship. This church did not last long.
Picture it, Washington, DC. 1947 the Unitarian Biennial Conference a new resolution was opened. This led to another joint commission and a referendum where 72% of Universalist Congregations and 75% of Unitarian Congregations authorized a plan for a federal union between the two denominations.
Picture it, 1953 further progress on the Federal Union proposal lead to the establishment of the Council of Liberal Churches which worked in the areas of Education, Publications, and Public Relations. During this time roughly 35 congregations joined and became the first Unitarian Universalist Congregations. They were the biggest proponents and supporters of the union, specifically “a step by step procedure whereby the member churches and other local groups of both denominations may democratically determine whether the AUA and the UCA shall be merged”
Picture it, 1956, we are finally getting somewhere, the Joint Merger Commission is appointed. This commission did not work to bring about the merger, but instead create a climate for dialogue throughout the two denominations “by encouraging the churches and fellowships o make the decision based on the merits of the questions.” In other words, the commission’s job was to look at all sides of the issue, offer advice, but allow the people in the churches and fellowships to make all decisions. The commission over two years created the following documents – (read them) as well as regular reports to the congregations.
Picture it, Boston, 1960, Across the hall from each other delegations from both Unitarian and Universalist denominations sat and hashed out the details. With runners crossing the hallway to check on progress and share ideas. These were the rooms where it finally happened. This work led to the official creation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which held its first General Assembly in 1961.
While some historians would have you believe that the biggest fears came from the Universalists due to their smaller numbers, there was a lot of anxiety from all sides. Universalists feared their identity would be swallowed up by the larger body. Universalists were also worried that their rebirth and commitment to becoming truly universal would be squashed by the merger. Unitarians feared that their name would lose its meaning and power when paired with Universalist. Unitarians worried that their recent growth would be halted or that they too would also go through a declining phase like the Universalists. Christian theists on both sides feared coming together would jeopardize liberal Christianity. Humanists in both denominations were concerned that the Christian parts of both denominations would rise up against them. As with any change there was trepidation, suspicion, and unease.
And yet there was a lot of hope, prospect, and promise. Being that the merger was organic, it was expected to be a more inclusive fellowship that either denomination had been on its own. The new denomination was envisioned to be more flexible, process oriented, and dynamic. There was hope that it would release creative forces to deepen the spiritual lives of the congregations and the congregants. There was belief that the new association would be a magnet for other liberal religious groups, that more money could be raised and better sent as there would be less duplication and overlap. Growth was anticipated. And people believed that it would become a force for social justice in the US, in Canada, and the world at large.
It is this part of the merger that has become the most needed and most important in our world. I’m going to read page 20 of the report about the merger written in 1975 from the section titled “External Forces and the Merger”. Social change and societal change have continued. As UUs we have partnered with many movements. We have marched; we have rallied; we have spoken out; we have pushed boundaries. We can look at this history and recognize that we are not where we need to be, yet, even with all the progress we have made. In report I just read from, there is a section titled “Are we Chronically Unrealistic”. The big question contained in that section is “We still wonder if those early extravagant expectations of the sixties are inevitably doomed to failure”. That question rings poignant today. Were our expectations too lofty and extravagant? Are our principles too hard to follow?
I don’t think so. We live in a world that is continually changing. We live in a world where we have answered the call of love. We are people who desire to continue rising together to keep answering that call. Our music this morning started with our prelude which was a popular Unitarian hymn blended with a popular universalist hymn. It was a little choppy. Besides our welcoming song, all the hymns we sang today have had new words written for them by Unitarian Universalists for Unitarian Universalists. We have blended our Us and are now moving forward. To live up to our ideals we have to look at our past, see our privilege, notice what still needs work, and find a way to help fix it. We need not try to be the saviors of the world. We just need to try to live up to our ideals, which means rising with each other to answer the call of love, listening to those in the margins of society, and being a beacon and a refuge for all.
Mission of the West Fork UUS
Be a beacon and a refuge for all
Grow in spirit
Touch our community
Song #3 – Hymn #298 Wake Now My Senses
Joys and Concerns
If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it; or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts. These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.
Closing Words – Remembering our spiritual, courageous ancestors
Song: Go Now in Peace
Image Credit: The symbols of the Unitarian and Universalist faiths, before their 1961 merger, as depicted on the wall of First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque.