Rev. Julie Kain
Now I know that we’re just starting to get to know each other here, so to appeal to the natural curiosity you must have about me, I’m going to start off right away with a little confession.
When I was in the seminary-part of my preparations for Unitarian Universalist ministry, there was one subject that I put off taking until last because…frankly I was avoiding it.
I’m pretty familiar with the way UU’s think having been one now for 15 years and in the context of being in close relationship with 4 different congregations so far. And so I bet you just might be thinking right about now that the one subject I wanted to put off until the last of my seminary education was – studying the Bible. Was that what some of you were thinking?
Well I hate to disappoint you this early on in our budding relationship, but no – I didn’t put off the study of the Bible until last. I actually had a fascinating biblical scholar as a teacher who I think could probably make just about any subject interesting for his students.
No, the subject I put off until last was….drum roll, please – Unitarian Universalist history.
As is the case with so many things in life where we experience a change of heart about something, when I look back it’s not easy to recall exactly why I was wanting to avoid UU history, only that I did. I mean, in general, I don’t have anything against history.
And before some of you start getting nervous, let me assure you I’m not about to launch into a UU history lesson!
I do want to confess that despite the fact that I had been avoiding my expected complement of UU history, I actually ended upreally enjoying it, mainly because I learned about a lot of great people who stand in our Unitarian and Universalist traditions, people with great ideas and very impressive actions to their names and credit.
What I want to share with you today is this wonderful thing I learned about our roots as Unitarian Universalists, finding our way from England, by way of the Mayflower. You know right there at Plymouth Rock with the Pilgrims, otherwise referred to as “Puritans”.
Despite the fact that these folks wore strange clothes, had repressive attitudes about many things and were not very nice to women and Indians, they did develop a revolutionary idea and put it into practice. The revolutionary idea the Puritans put into practice was a new interpretation of an ancient biblical concept called “covenant”. Their new interpretation forever changed the world and is at the heart of our religious tradition, as is reflected in the recitation of your church covenant this morning.
The word covenant most simply means “to come together” but more specifically it means to come together by making a promise as when two people promise to love and care for one another in a committed relationship or marriage.
The revolution that took place said that churches should come together, not through a common assent to a religious doctrine, or through sacraments administered by priests identified through church hierarchy and apostolic succession. Instead the revolutionary idea was that people should join themselves freely by a mutual agreement to walk together, to live out the highest truth that we know, to choose our own ministers and teachers of all kinds and to engage in an active process to determine the truth in new situations. This was an arrangement that actually encouraged the voice or protest, complaint and dissent.
The covenant that we share as Unitarian Universalists asks us to be ready at all times to receive whatever truth shall be made known to us, regardless of the source of that truth.
I am the kind of person who loves to go on walks. I prefer walks in nature but sometimes I also enjoy walks through town, or even walks in shopping malls and airports. There’s always so much to see and I am always noticing new things, things I’ve never seen before.
I am the kind of person who enjoys quiet and solitude. My husband Rudy will attest to that. But I’m also the kind of person who loves to take walks in the company of another. My husband Rudy is one of my very favorite people to take a walk with. And besides enjoying each other’s company, one main reason I like to walk with another person is I get to see even more than when I walk alone.
I found Unitarian Universalism due to the same reason many people find us. I wanted a place to bring my daughter and to feel as if I was not walking alone in trying to show her the many ways of thinking and being religious in our world today. And so after her best friend’s vacation Bible school had come to a close, I took my daughter Caroline to the local Unitarian Universalist church, which I happened to find in the Yellow Pages. She was nine years old then and I’m proud to say that she is now studying to become a neuroscientist at San Francisco State University.
I feel very fortunate that as a young person I experienced a strong sense of community and a place for learning and growth. When I fell in with the Presbyterians at the age of nine, I was very active in that church throughout my high school years.
It was there in my sixth grade, Presbyterian confirmation class that I actually became a Unitarian Universalist long before I’d ever heard of it. You see our confirmation class met in the church library and when I began to question that Jesus was “the one and only way” to salvation I took it upon myself to read a book that I found there on the church library shelf. The book was called The Religions of Manby Huston Smith and now is considered a classic under its new and politically correct title – The World’s Religions. This began my lifelong study of various faith traditions, and other ways of learning about myself, Life, and the rest of humanity.
I left the Presbyterian church after high school when I attended a Quaker college, a place whose religious philosophy resonated with my own – aspiring to recognize the divine spark within all people. But I never joined a Quaker religious community and it wasn’t until I found the UU church and its rich liturgy of religious and secular texts that I felt at home. And it was great to have music in worship which is something I deeply missed in the silent Quaker meeting.
I believe as Unitarian Universalists we are an unusual group in that the vast majority of us have freely chosen this as our faith community. Most of us have some kind of background with another tradition. Some of us were raised without any church affiliation. Andsome of us were raised as either Unitarian or Universalist or both and have decided to stay, because it still feels right to us.
As Unitarian Universalists, our choice to be together in covenant is not just a one time verbal agreement – it is meant to be an ongoing practice. By our own power to choose, we each bring our communities into being and we sustain them.
I know that the UU Church of Pensacola has a long history of dedicated people working and playing in community with each other and that has sustained you. I know how important it is for you to have created this welcoming place and a legitimate presence of free religious thought for the larger community of Pensacola. I can see that you have created a place where you want to bring your children and invite other families into our ongoing quest for growth and learning. I know how proud you must be of this beautiful church home.
I also know that the UU Church of Pensacola has had a series of relationships with UU ministers – of varying degrees of satisfaction and effectiveness, and that you are now poised in anticipation for a new and expanded level of commitment – both from the minister you are seeking and from yourselves.
This is a lofty and daring aim, and you have struggled long and hard to nurture these dreams of an even brighter future for the UU Church of Pensacola. I am feeling privileged this morning for the opportunity to walk with you during this transformative time. We have much to learn from and with each other.
Our feisty and free-spirited ancestors, the Pilgrims, were advocating for the gift we enjoy today – freedom of religious conscience. They can inspire us in our own resistance to the remaining oppressive powers of church and state in our time.
Our Pilgrim forebears were inspired to daring action by a new interpretation of their relationships to each other and to the source of all life. They dearly loved their Bible but in a natural development from the time of the Reformation, they were able to entrust their faith in the belief that the Bible was still not the full revelation of God in the world. They believed that revelation is not sealed but continues to break forth into human consciousness and conscience as truth.
What these Puritans practiced in their congregational way has actually helped to transform nations, not just ours. And that is truly revolutionary.
Puritan scholar A.S.P. Woodhouse wrote this: “The congregation was the school of democracy. There the humblest member might hear, and join in the debate, might witness the discovery of the natural leader, and participate in that curious process by which there emerges from the clash of many minds – a vision clearer and a determination wiser than any single mind could achieve.”
Today we are standing in a rich tradition of transformative faith and action.
When we walk together, we are learning from each other, we are seeing more than we could possibly see alone and we are joining our powers together to make our world a better place.
When we walk together, we are deeply caring for one another. Each of us is held in the loving arms of community. We are accepted, encouraged and supported in our own growth as the precious human beings that we are.
And when we walk together we are able to form a clearer vision of the future and entrust ourselves to a wiser determination than any of us could achieve alone.
I look forward to the future possibilities for growth and enrichment at the UU Church of Pensacola. You are already a fine community!
Today may we join our hearts and mind with gratitude for our religious ancestors and their powerful words and example of promise. “We pledge to walk together in the ways of truth and affection, as best we know them now or may learn them in days to come, that we and our children may be fulfilled, speaking to the world in words and actions of peace and goodwill.”
May it be so.