Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ordination as a Theological Statement

It’s happening, friends. Sunday, I will be ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister.

In our tradition, only a congregation can ordain a minister. Not the UUA, or the MFC, or a District Executive, or the UUMA. Only a congregation.

I am awed by the theological significance of the event.

Ministers have many different duties, pastoral, prophetic, preaching, teaching … the sacramental duties are referred to as the “priestly functions,” even though none in our tradition go by the title of priest.  Officiating at a wedding, baby dedications, those sorts of things.

But for an ordination, the congregation as a whole, the church body, does the priestly function. The church body becomes priest. They draw out from their midst an individual, acknowledge the calling on their life, and because we are a tradition of learned clergy, often recognize the education, training, and fellowshipping that has been a part of their preparation. And then they set the individual apart, giving them special authority for ministry.

It takes away my breath, not just the transformation of the ordinand, but the transformation of the congregation itself, into this priestly role. It is incarnation, as the congregation becomes the body of Unitarian Universalism, of our heritage, our traditions.

The ordination will happen to me, but it is not about me. It’s about the holy mystery in which we understand ourselves as a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  We do not require an intermediary or higher authority, such as a bishop, to acknowledge the workings of Spirit; we are that authority.

I tremble. 

Monday, October 22, 2012


I like to ask Unitarian Universalists for their testimony.

Sometimes, they’ll start giving me their “elevator speech.” That’s what we’ve been taught to do – a 2 or 3 sentence explanation of what Unitarian Universalism is.

I went to an evangelical seminary, full of AME’s, Baptists, and the like. None of them ever gave me an elevator speech. They gave me their testimony, they told me a personal story about how their religion changed their life.

So here’s my testimony.

I have done a lot of spiritual exploring in my life. I have found much in the teachings of Jesus that inspire me, but found that the box many Christians try to limit God to seemed too restrictive; the idea that there is only one way, and that coincidentally, it is the dominant religion of the culture, and usually the family, that they grew up in, seemed to lack both personal humility and the giant awe for a force of love so limitless.

I was neo-Pagan for many years. I can remember excitedly reading Scott Cunningham’s Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner, nudging The Husband to say, “This, this!” Exploring the divine feminine in religion, the idea of  religiously living in tolerance with the differences of others, “So long as it harm none …” made me understand that religious excitement that others might call being born again. Epiphany!

A goddess-group friend said, “I believe it’s all metaphor. But this is the metaphor I’m comfortable with.” An illuminating moment, where I realized the choice we all have, and that, for me, it’s not about finding absolute truth. I don’t believe humans have the capacity to see absolute truth, and it’s a dangerous road, to try to take the metaphors we believe in, and decree that they are not metaphors, they are not the finger pointing to the moon, but our metaphors are the moon, are the truth.

What metaphors am I comfortable with, for trying to conceive of something so beyond me, something I experience, but do not know?

My understandings about what it all means have grown over the years. They’ve also shrunk. They have been dropped as if from an airplane, breaking into a billion brittle shards. I have broken, too; my spirit shattering in that many pieces. I have lost all faith and been desperately, spiritually, alone.

And bit by bit, I have re-found meaning. I have studied texts and wisdom, ancient and new, pushing myself with hard questions until all I wanted to do was put that religion thing back on the shelf and Just. Stop. Thinking.

Sometimes I did. Sometimes I stopped thinking, and just let go. And experienced.

What has saved me through all of this is Unitarian Universalism. Having a religion that values the illimitable mind, that pushes me to go deeper, to question what I most have faith in, to have that examined faith … and to be in a continual process of re-examination , to always, always, know that revelation is not sealed, neither in the big scheme of things nor even my own private revelation … that has saved me.

I have been Christian. I have been Wiccan. I have been a potpourri of thought, I have been entirely devoid of faith, I have been filled with the richness of theology, philosophy, and the direct experience of the transcending mystery.

And through it all, I have always been a Unitarian Universalist. This religion saved me and every day, it saves me again.