R.E.M.’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” is playing as I re-read Shawn Anthony’s recent post about his Christian faith and how this puts off the Unitarian Universalist Association ministerial formation path. If you’re not a fan of early R.E.M., you’ll have to trust me that this sets the perfect tone. (Rockville is an easy ride on the Red Line, and Hubby and I found a fabu Taiwanese restuarant there — we do go back — but that’s besides the point.)
The point is that Shawn has joined an unorganized society of those who can’t make Christian faith and Unitarian Universalism work, or at least work in practical terms. Michelle Murrain, also a blogger, is another. I’ll be a third, though I’ll announce my formal break at the same time I resign my fellowship with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, probably by the spring. Best to observe the formalities I think. Come April or so, you can read all of us by news feeds if not UUpdates!
Those I feel the worst for are the Christians that stay behind. I always got a lump in my throat or heartburn when I heard “another one left.” After all, there’s no logical reason why this incompatibility has to be. If I lived in certain parts of the US, I could stay Unitarian Universalist since an badly-fitting option is better than none at all. Though I believe in the Trinity now, I could even keep company with the Universalist-less Unitarians in Britain and elsewhere, tucked in nicely under the broad catholicity of their partner, the Free Christians. But in practical terms, anywhere I would choose to live offers the United Church of Christ more accurately matches the Christianity I have, but I have rehearsed that before and vain repetition makes bad blogging. But, as others reminded and remind me, if the faith is true, there is no departure. I am just as close to to the sisters and brethren as before (if not in the same committee room.)
But what do I make of my time as a Unitarian and a Universalist? That’s the hardest part to reconcile. Was it, at last, a mistake? No. A wise colleague once noted that Universalism had a charism in its doctrine and the herzlich tenderness found in its pastoral works, and that wouldn’t be lost. I was reading Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism (1844) for my upcoming UCC theology class; this was his opening manifesto for a reformed catholic Christianity. He wrote in an appended General Summary:
93. Separation, where it is characterized by religious life, spewing almost always from some real evil in the state of the church, and hence sectarianism is to be regarded as a necessary disciplinarian and reformer of the church in its practical life.
94. Almost every sect represents in strong relief some single particular aspect of piety, and contributes to the fuller evolution of individual activity.
95. Since however the truths of the gospel form an inseparable unity, and the single member can become complete only among with the whole body of which it is a part, it follows that no sect can ever do justice fully even to the single interest to which it is one-sidedly devoted.
96. Sects then owe it to themselves, as soon as they have fulfilled their historical vocation, to fall back to the general church communion from which they have succeded, as in no ther way can their spiritual acquisitions be either completed or secured, and they must themselves otherwise stiffen into monumental petrifactions, never to be revisted with the warm life pulse of the one universal church.
Those words come at the right time. (Perhaps, for you too Shawn.) Christian Universalism has been unable to do more within the UUA than hold on by its fingernails, and not that with much success. It’s time (for me anyway) to keep growing and enrich the Church Universal by getting back closer to it.
I wonder what the churchly Elmer Hewett Capen, Elbridge Gerry Brooks, Fredrick Henry Hedge or James Martineau would make of that?