Unitarian Universalist … Brand Identity?

In February, the Unitarian Universalist Association Headquarters, in its final days on 25 Beacon Street in Boston, announced a new logo for our Association. It replaced the star burst chalice, that has been used for the last nine years as the UUA’s logo. It replaced the first logo we used for 20 years starting in 1985. Many of us will continue to identify that one as our Unitarian Universalist symbol that will be different from whatever the UUA cooks up as its logo today and in the future.

In announcing the new logo and the new look for the UUA web site, the press release talked about “brand identity.” Those are fighting words. Here is what was written:

We asked UUs from across the country, of all ages with various levels of involvement in our faith, to answer three questions: Who are we? What do we do? And why it matters? From these conversations, and more, we began to form our brand identity for the future of our religious movement.

Using marketing style focus groups to develop our “brand identity” and introducing us to a very different looking logo sent shock waves through the small pool of UU’s who pay attention to what the UUA does. The commenters on Facebook and the UU blogging community went wild with offense and criticism. “What have they done to our chalice?” “And what is that odd shape that holds the flame?” “And just who do they think they are defining our identity for us?” Messing with our identity and putting it next to the word “brand” was enough to get UU ministers hot and bothered too.

This humble minister was not one of the nattering nabobs of negativism. Now I do of course have reactions and opinions. I just sympathize with what the UUA is trying to do. As the chair of the UUA’s good governance committee, I’m a close observer of both the UUA Board and Staff. I know many of the leaders personally, and appreciate their struggles and intentions. And my Insight meditation practice has cultivated in me a little institutional compassion.

This brand identity language I think comes from our UUA President, Peter Morales, who worked as a newspaper editor and publisher. He is very aware of the advertizing and marketing world. I sympathize with his position. The UUA Board has charged him with growing the membership of our congregations, something he doesn’t have a lot of control over. He must regularly report to the Board about how he is succeeding or failing at achieving this “end” (or goal – see Being someone who has worked extensively in the business world, Morales knows if more visitors show up (and be welcomed and included effectively) in our congregations, they are more likely to grow. One way to increase that traffic is to market Unitarian Universalism more effectively. In business, this is referred to as developing recognition, identification and loyalty to your brand. It is the one thing the UUA can do nationally that we can’t do locally.

The problem is, they talked to something like 50 Unitarian Universalists in focus groups around the country to decide how to put this campaign together. For the UUA to sit in Boston consulting with their “top-notch branding agency” to assess what identity they want to project as Unitarian Universalism is a little presumptuous. I understand why they think they can do it. From where they sit, they have the bird’s eye view of what is happening in our congregations all across the country. They see trends in our movement that we in our congregations don’t see. Our congregation here in Albany, New York, looks and feels very different than the congregation in San Diego, California or Columbus, Ohio. I get that sense by reading their mission statements and knowing their ministers. Leaders in each congregation may think they know who and what Unitarian Universalism is and is not … without seeing the larger view. This is especially true of our ministers who talk about our identity in the pulpit every week.

Here is the disconnect. Individual congregations reserve the right to define ourselves rather than have any other congregation or our association of congregations tell us who we are, what we do, and why it matters. That fierce congregational individualism is what the term “Congregational Polity” is all about.

This identity tension between individual congregations and the larger association has been going on from the very beginning. Yet reviewing our history reveals consistent patterns. Historian Earl Morse Wilber’s analysis of Unitarianism came up with this conclusion. What defines us is a commitment to freedom, reason and tolerance. These three words are a very useful way to capture important qualities about our identity but they are far from complete.

We have an independent, elected committee within the UUA called the Commission on Appraisal charged with taking a bird’s eye view of our association, analyzing it and making reports to us. They decided to study our theological diversity to see where we had agreement and where we had disagreement, looking for the common core that binds us together. Not surprisingly, they found both agreement and disagreement in their 2005 report to our annual meeting of our Association called General Assemby at the end of June. Their conclusions were very interesting.

We do have quite a lot of agreement with each other that identifies a common core.

We agree:

  • All human beings have worth and dignity that deserve respect;
  • Our welcome should be widely inclusive not restrictive;
  • Though we are optimistic about our capacity for goodness, we are also capable of evil;
  • Wisdom and inspiration come from many sources;
  • Our perception of truth is incomplete and evolving;
  • Reason is a necessary part of religious inquiry;
  • Awe, wonder and love are also necessary and
    healthy parts of our religious journey;
  • Each individual ultimately gets to decide
    what to believe and not believe;
  • Each individual member gets one vote in
    democratically controlling congregational business.
  • The natural world is a continuously evolving web of interdependence of which we must be a respectful part.
  • Humanity is responsible for creating a just, sustainable and peaceful world;

Now think how other religions would affirm or reject these statements and you begin to see our unique identity emerging. We have lots of disagreements to be sure. We don’t agree about the nature and existence of God; the value of spirituality, spiritual practice and prayer. We disagree about the degree individual conscience should be informed, inspired or critiqued by tradition and community. Still, our vitally important agreements are enough to bind us together as a unique religious tradition.

At General Assembly, representatives of our congregations can democratically endorse these agreements to define how our congregations will work together. They cannot tell individual congregations who we are, what we do and why it matters. Only our individual congregations have the privilege of putting our member’s agreement into words that identify, define and bind each congregation. We’re bottom up, not top down.

The problem is, many congregations aren’t diligent or skilled at putting our agreement into clear, concise and beautiful language. Our congregation’s Board has decided we might have this problem. Times change and members change. Our mission was written over 20 years ago. Recognizing we might have a problem when I arrived here in 1999, I recast our mission statement as the chalice lighting we use every Sunday. I took more than a little interpretive license with the meanings that may or may not be part of THIS congregation’s member’s locus of agreement. After looking at other congregation’s beautiful mission statements, maybe you will agree that we could simplify and clarify it too.

Knowing we’d be considering such work, I asked Douglas Taylor, minster of the UU congregation in Binghamton, New York, to lead a workshop here a month ago on our shared theology. He gave an inspiring sermon on this theme the next day. In it, he used some high powered theological jargon to describe what a religion needs to do for its members. The three words he used were intimacy, ultimacy and efficacy. Let me translate for you.

We all face the existential condition of being alone, helpless and insecure. We experience ourselves as separate, limited in our ability to control our bodies and environment. We are all vulnerable to injury, sickness, old age and death. These are inseparable from being alive. Religions provide answers, responses and ways to cope with this existential condition. They provide a way for people to feel part of a greater whole, be it relationship, family, community or congregation. They provide a way for people to feel valued as part of that whole and useful to that whole. They support each person declaring:

I belong.
I matter.
I make a difference.

That is what the identity and the purpose of our congregation, communicated through our mission statement needs to do. The clearer, more concise and more beautiful the language of that mission statement, the more attractive, powerful and effective our congregation can become.

An example of that kind of clarity of mission happened for the UUA in Phoenix, Arizona in June of 2012. Arizona had passed SB 1070 which enabled discriminatory practices by police officers against people who appeared to be Hispanic or Mexican. The first impulse of our General Assembly representatives was to express our disapproval and move our yearly meeting to another location. But those affected by the law encouraged us to come and take a public stand against it. So we did that by organizing a symbolic action deeply rooted in our mission, a protest at night outside the Mariposa detention facility where undocumented immigrants were being held unfairly. Thousands of UU’s got on buses from the Convention Center to that demonstration in 90 plus degree heat. We listened to speeches, sang songs and chanted loud enough to be heard inside the facility. Thousands held up battery-powered candles in the darkness. Those torches, those beacons, moved many of us who were there as an expression, a visual symbol of our commitment to justice.

Here are the words Chris Walton, the editor of the UU World, used reflecting on that memory and the new chalice:

The flaming chalice is an interior lamp, a flame to light indoors in the particular context of worship. As an emblem, … it’s a symbol of our religion as practiced in sanctuaries and homes. But it has a cousin in our symbolic tradition that is a flame lit in the public square: the beacon lit in times of public crisis, the candles held up in vigils, the lantern in the steeple.

We too have a relationship with the word beacon. Architect Scott Knox worked with us to come up with a phrase to guide the design of Emerson Community Hall that also expressed our identity as a congregation. What we came up with was, “beacon of light.” Look around this space now, to see how we’ve made those words beautiful in glass, wood and stone. Our success, helped put the words “be a beacon of liberal religion” into our strategic plan in 2009.

Now look back at that new logo and see how it strives to hold together the image of beacon and chalice, both cherished parts of our heritage and vision of our mission in the world. I think it does it beautifully.

The effort the UUA put into crafting that new logo and the result suggests the kind of inspiration and beauty that a well crafted mission statement can offer. It can organize and prioritize what we do. It can attract people to us and express our identity and purpose. It can guide us advocating for and building a just, equitable, and sustainable community here and around the world. I hope you see the beautiful results of that effort expressed in some of the mission statements I’ve listed for you below.

Now its our turn.

I can’t craft the language by myself. None of our members individually can do it either. Only this congregation working together can find those beautiful words that communicate who we are, what we do and why it matters.

We need your help!

Select, copy and paste to an email the text below to the end. Mark the mission statements with Bold, Italic, or Underline as indicated. Then answer the five questions after the last mission statement. and send it all to fuusa-mission@albanyuu.org.

If that doesn’t work for you, print out the next section, fill it in then mail to Mission Task Force, c/o FUUSA 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12206.

Unitarian Universalist Mission Statements

 Mark in bold/circle the words/phrases that express core values of our congregation. (Optionally, underline/cross-out the word/phrases that don’t)

Welcoming all, we worship together with loving hearts and open minds, promoting peace, equality, and respect for the Earth. Questioning, reflecting, learning, leading . . . we change ourselves as we change the world. – Monterey, CA

Joining hands and voices for justice and peace, we inspire lives of joy and spiritual integrity, growing an inclusive community of courage and caring. – Denver, CO

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder will become a beacon of liberal religion, committed to: (1) Nurturing the spiritual growth of our diverse and multigenerational religious community (2) Fostering ministry and hospitality between and among our members, friends and visitors (3)Actively promoting Unitarian Universalist values here and in the wider world (4) Sustaining these efforts through our culture of social justice and generosity – Boulder, CO

As a Unitarian Universalist faith community, we nurture individual search for meaning and work in community for freedom, justice and love. – Asheville, NC

Listen! Open! Serve! Creating connection by listening to our deepest selves, opening to life’s gifts and serving needs greater than our own -every day! – Rochester (Unitarian), NY

We are here: (1) To learn and practice true hospitality (2) To revere the reasoning mind and the generous heart (3) To claim our diversity as a source of our strength, and (4) To relinquish the safety of our unexamined privilege for the freedom to engage in transforming justice. – Columbus, OH

We are a caring, religious community inspired by our Unitarian Universalist heritage. – Bellevue, WA

UUC is a community that covenants to awaken spirit, nurture hope, and inspire action. – Seattle, WA

Welcoming, Growing, Leading Welcoming everyone; Growing in mind and spirit; Leading in social justice. – Appleton, WI

The mission of this church is to carry forward the cherished legacy of the free faith tradition, to own the brilliant, boundless mind of Unitarianism and the fearless, grateful, loving heart of Universalism – to recognize that these legacies of the radical Reformation continue to evolve in history, and we will have a hand in their evolution before we hand them on to young people who will come later, to shape of this inheritance a religion of hope, reverence and love. – Mahtomedi, MN

Guided by Unitarian Universalist principles and powered by the energy and resources of its members, Jefferson Unitarian Church acts to nurture our spiritual community, grow Unitarian Universalism, and transform the world outside our church walls. – Golden, CO

Fostering community through love, spiritual growth, and social justice. – Oak Park, IL

Our mission is to create community, to nurture spiritual growth, and to act on our values to help heal the world.

Nuestra misión es crear una comunidad, fomentar el crecimiento espiritual y actuar en nuestros valores para ayudar a sanar el mundo. -San Diego, CA

We gather in community to nourish souls; transform lives; and do justice. – Austin, TX

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are strengths of FUUSA and most valued by our members?

  2. Look at our mission statement below. What parts are critical to preserve (bold/circle)? What could be reworded (italics)? Removed (underline)?

    We welcome all men, women and children who seek a religion based on the inherent sanctity of every person’s free and responsible search for truth and meaning. In keeping with our distinctive, non-creedal religion, we strive to excite the human spirit and inspire its development; to respond to moral and ethical issues in our local, national and world communities; and to sustain a vital and nurturing congregational life.

  3. What is missing from our mission statement?

  4. What differences should FUUSA try to make in Albany, the Capital Region and the world.

  5. What slogan would most FUUSAns be proud to wear on a T-shirt?

    Please put any additional comments and responses below (or on the back)

Welcoming All Free Seekers

Our theme this month is hospitality.  Here is what I had to say on the subject today.

Call to Celebration

We will be considering the theme of hospitality this morning, so I looked for a suitable nineteenth century etiquette guide for advice on just how we should be hospitable. Fortunately I was able to find A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding by Daisy Eyebright. That wasn’t her real name by the way. Her given name was Sophia Orne Edwards, wife of Colonel James Hutchins Johnson of Bath, New Hampshire, member of the 29th and 30th Congressional sessions in Washington DC and a timber baron. In the 1860’s, when Johnson had severe damage to his trees after a windstorm, Sophia started writing for magazines including The Country Gentleman, published here in Albany, New York. Her book on Etiquette was published in 1873.

I begin with a little of her advice on hospitality. (By the way, her advice was also directed to parents on raising children):

BEHAVIOR at home is one of the best touchstones of good manners; for many persons will appear well abroad, and yet cannot exhibit any degree of ease at their own fireside and table. But to entertain company without embarrassment or excitement, is an art which it requires some usage to perfect….

We were not designed to live alone, to shut ourselves up in our houses, and enjoy the blessings which have been given us in a spirit of exclusiveness.

Nature teaches us a lesson in this direction. She keeps open house for innumerable winged and creeping insects, and their banquets are always spread among the beautiful, fragrant flowers, whose hospitable abodes are ever filled with guests, from the bees and the butterflies to the tiniest winged gnat. Elegant hospitality can be exercised at a moderate expense; and those of us who cannot afford to give costly dinner or evening parties, can surely entertain a few friends at tea, or of an evening, and thus promote a social feeling among neighbors and acquaintances.

Let us now promote good social feelings and open to the spirit of hospitality as we join together in the celebration of life.

Spoken Meditation

Guest House

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Genesis 18:1-8

And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Matthew 25:31-40 (my translation of Lord as Blessed One)

When the Child of Humanity (aka Son of Man) comes in glory with all the angels, then sits on the throne of glory; and all the nations will be gathered, and the Blessed One (aka LORD) will separate the people – just as a shepherd separates sheep from goats – placing the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the Blessed One will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, enter into possession of the realm prepared for you from the beginning of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer, saying, ‘Master, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the Blessed One will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of these my brothers or sisters, however unimportant they seemed, you did it to me.’

Buddhist Parable

“There are these three persons found existing in the world. What three? The one who is like a drought, the one who rains locally, and the one who pours down everywhere:

And how is a person like a drought? Herein, a certain person is no giver of food and drink, clothing and bed, lodging and lights to the wretched and needy beggars.

And how is a person like a local rainfall? In this case a person is a giver to some, but to others gives not.

And how does a person rain down everywhere? In this case a certain person gives to all be they recluses and Brahmins or wretched, needy beggars; that one is a giver of food and drink, clothing and bed, lodging and lights.

So these are the three sorts of people found existing in the world.”


We Americans today have a problem with hospitality.

In Ireland,” C.E. Murphy writes, “you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting.

Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.

I liked the Irish way better.”

Not that we didn’t know any better back when Daisy Eyebright was writing her etiquette book over a hundred years ago. She writes this about welcoming guests:

You should try to make their visit as agreeable as possible, but without any apparent effort; so that they may not think that you are putting yourself out of the way to afford them pleasures in which you do not often indulge. It is your duty to endeavor to make the time pass pleasantly, but if your visitors perceive that you are altering the daily tenor of your life on their account, it will detract greatly from their happiness.

Now I know we have many fine hosts and hostesses in our congregation having visited many people’s houses, perhaps we are more exceptional, I don’t know. What I do know is we all have limits to that generous hospitable welcome. Who has passed someone on the street who is asking for a handout and not averted their eyes?

One of the challenges of urban living is not knowing the people who live around you. In a small town or village, from the beginning of time, where people were born, grew up and died on the same plot of land, no one was a stranger. Strangers in those settings are a novelty and a source of curiosity and interest. Not so in the urban setting where a stranger is perceived as a potential threat.

Mass media has stoked that fear with stories of strangers outside schools with candy luring trusting children into their cars with bad intentions. Advanced weapons technology has permitted one suicidal, crazed person to enter a school and do tremendous harm. My family never locked the doors to our house when I was growing up. That wouldn’t happen here – in fact we keep the door to our congregation locked except on Sunday morning and pay a lot of attention to security issues. We are very aware that strangers can be very dangerous.

What we are less aware of is the low level of the risk of violence, at least right here and right now. Almost all of the strangers we meet are worthy of our hospitality.

Who would be intimidated, for example, if an elderly woman came to visit our congregation as happened in one church I heard about. The usher welcomed her and asked if he could help her find a seat. She said:

Thank you young man. Please assist me to the front row.”

The front row,” he gasped. “No one ever sits in the front row. Why would you want to sit there?”

Well I’m a little hard of hearing and I so much want to hear every word the minister preaches.”

Well, okay,” said the usher, “but I doubt you’ll want to hear him that much. His messages tend to be a little boring. You’ll not want him seeing you yawning in the first row. Won’t make a good impression.”

Do you know who I am?” demanded the woman.

No,” said the usher.

I’m the minister’s mother.”

Do you know who I am?” said the usher.

No,” said the minister’s mother.

Good, I’ll be happy to usher you to your front row seat now.”

I know a little about being a stranger. In the fall of 1977, at the tender age of twenty, I bought a rail-pass and set out for adventure from my hometown of Newark, Delaware. I visited friends in Athens, Ohio, Madison, Wisconsin, and Wenatchee, Washington, stopped in Corvallis, Oregon, and ended my journey in Palo Alto, California. I checked in to an inexpensive residential hotel, along with drug addicts and the mentally ill. (I didn’t know it at the time as I didn’t know anybody in the whole state). My first Sunday there, I visited the Palo Alto Unitarian Church. Having grown up a Unitarian Universalist in Newark, I felt this would be the place I would not be a stranger. And yes, a woman at the Membership Table, Peggy Polk George, welcomed me. I will never forget that welcome. I was no longer a stranger in a strange land, I had a home.

My experience of being a stranger in a new community is hardly unusual. It is more the norm today in our mobile society. People move all the time for educational purposes, for employment, to care for relatives, for retirement. Many immigrants today are forcibly uprooted from their native land because of strife and conflict. Many of our neighbors right here are refugees. As part of our Board retreat last Saturday, we did a 15 minute walk around our neighborhood, dividing into groups of three and walking in four different directions. Our group said hello to a Hispanic woman living a couple of doors down on Washington Avenue, saw a woman in a burka, passed a large family of Burmese refugees outside the 7th Day Adventist church on the corner of Western and Lake and saw a great variety of people in Washington Park walking around the lake. Being a stranger is a very common American experience.

That stranger experience also carries over to our religious life. Unlike most of the world, Americans are much more willing to seek out a new religious faith that matches how they think and believe than many others around the world. I was speaking this past week to the Reverend Priscilla Richter, minister in our sister UU congregation in Schenectady. She has just returned from a visit to their partner Unitarian church in Romania. Part of our Unitarian heritage connects to the Transylvanian region there, where the first Unitarians separated from the Catholic Church during the Reformation in the 1500’s. They have had a continuous presence there ever since.

Unitarians in this region have a strong sense of Hungarian national and cultural heritage. They don’t often have visitors as people don’t change churches much, as that would be a denial of one’s ethnic identity. Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Reform Christians, and Lutherans (the predominant faiths) don’t convert to or even visit each other’s churches.

Unitarian Universalists in this country are at the other end of the spectrum. 90% of our members were not raised UU. People often come to us because they like a Protestant style of Sunday service. They leave their churches and congregations because they no longer believe the things they are expected to say and sing in their home church. Historically that difficulty centered on resisting the view of Jesus as co-equal with God, violating a basic principle of monotheism. Unitarians and Universalists have always focused on the humanity of Jesus, and the ethical and inspirational dimensions of his message. We don’t focus on his miraculous powers (described in scripture) and his ability to get us into heaven. We are much more focused on a form of reality based religion. We care about how we should live in this world believing that striving to live a moral and ethical life will take care of what might happen in an afterlife if one should exist. And our Universalist forbears went even further saying that a loving God wouldn’t punish us eternally anyway for our finite capacity for sin.

So, because our reasoned approach to religion, even after 200 years here in America, is still a very new idea to most people, we are a movement and a congregation deeply committed to offering a wide welcome to all free seekers of truth and meaning. Most of those words are in the first sentence of our current mission statement you’ll find on the back of your program.

One source for our welcome can be found in sacred scriptures from around the world. From Genesis, the story of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers is often cited as such an inspiration. In the Christian scriptures the story of separating the sheep from the goats is another inspiration. In both cases, hospitality offered without expectation of reward are handsomely rewarded. In the case of the Buddhist parable, the story is more a stimulant for self reflection. What is the quality of my own hospitality and generosity?

Another source are the ancient Greeks who celebrated hospitality through the word xenia which translates as guest-friendship. The Greek God Zeus was thought to be a protector of travelers, embodying the religious obligation to be hospitable. Theoxeny is a theme in Greek mythology in which humans demonstrate their virtue or piety by extending hospitality to the humble stranger. The Trojan war described in the Iliad of Homer actually resulted from a violation of hospitality. Paris transgressed the bounds of hospitality by abducting Menelaus’s wife Helen. Talk about bad manners! These stories, like the Biblical ones, caution mortals that any guest should be treated as potentially a disguised divinity.

Within the Unitarian and Universalist traditions, the focus on hospitality has been there from the start. In the first copy of The Universalist Leader, a journal published in 1832, the editor writes:

Hospitality is the very spirit of the doctrine we profess. This doctrine, more than all others known among men, breathes good will to all mankind, and exerts all its means to benefit the-human race.

Interesting to see how that same concern is expressed differently from the Unitarian side from a story retold in a Unitarian journal in 1876:

Not long ago Mrs. B., while staying at the sea-shore, chanced to meet, at the same house, a charming couple, delightful people, genial, and cultivated. The more she saw of them, the more she liked them; and soon she asked the natural question, “where they lived?” “Why, they had been living in A.,” mentioning Mrs. B.’s city, not far from Boston. It was strange, she thought, that she had never met them in society. “What church did they attend?” she asked, with a little diffidence. “Oh! The Unitarian Church,” said the wife. “We took a pew and went quite regularly to church, but no one but the minister ever called on us. I don’t remember any one in the society ever speaking to us, or calling on us. Except a few near neighbors, we made no acquaintance. We stood it two years, then my husband sold the house, and we moved this spring into the city.” They were Marylanders, far from their own relatives or friends. Mrs. B. said afterwards, in telling the story, she felt ashamed to look those good, refined, pleasant people in the face, and tell them that was her own church, and she had gone Sunday after Sunday, and sat not far off. They had listened to the same prayers and sermons, joined in the same songs of praise, and yet remained all those years greater strangers than if a high wall of partition, not a pew-back, had shut them off from each other. She felt it had been a positive and irreparable loss to the church to have two such people among them, and yet exclude them from all real, vital fellowship with the society, by such entire lack of welcome and hospitality; such lamentable indifference and lukewarmness.

Now I know we are far more welcoming than Mrs. B.’s church. I share Mr’s B’s story because this remains a challenge for us today. This still happens without our meaning to do anything that excludes someone. It is in the absence of the offer of hospitality that the opportunity for relationship is lost.

The other side of this cautionary story is the exciting possibility that exists right now, today, in this room. There are many charming individuals and couples here today each of us has not yet met. As in the story, I know many of them because I have the privilege to meet with so many of you personally and get a chance to experience the light you bring into our congregation. I do my best to connect people together, but I cannot do this alone. We have many programs like Circle Dinners, our monthly Potlucks and neighborhood gatherings, Small Group Ministry, our various interest groups and classes, all to assist in the welcoming process.

In Channing Hall, in Latin, we have words of welcome written in gold letters above those big beautiful bay windows. It translates: “I am human. May nothing human be alien to me.” Another colloquial way to translate those words are, “May no one be a stranger here.”

That is our welcome. That is our commitment. If you are a seeker after truth and meaning, you are welcome here.


The great Twentieth Century theologian Alfred North Whitehead said:

I always feel that I have two duties to perform with a parting guest: one, to see that he doesn’t forget anything that is his; the other, to see that he doesn’t take anything that is mine.

If there is any inspiration you have received today that is agreeable, please take it with you. If there are any words that are disharmonious to your being, leave them here. But most important, if there are words and ideas that stimulate your growth and development, cherish them as grist for the formation and refinement of your character.

Introducing Mostly Mindful Minister

While this site isn’t completely ready for prime time, I thought I’d put a first post up so at least the world can begin to link to it.  I’m moving away from my HTML 1.0 web site I started way back in 1994 as a way to distribute my writing called Sam’s Bookshelf and Cafe (still available via the menu).  That site became cumbersome because adding content was tedious (coding the html) and it didn’t automatically generate RSS links when I posted something.  I realized I had to step into the 21st century and use some more advanced tools.  So I’ve switched to a WordPress platform to host my work.  This gives me all sorts of bells and whistles that I didn’t have to code myself!  I’ll start porting my writing over here then link it off my top menu.  Not sure if I’ll stay with this theme but it works fine for the moment.

The title comes from my long interest and practice of Buddhist mindfulness meditation.  The psychological and pragmatic approach of mindfulness meditation as taught at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts most closely fits what works for me as a spiritual practice and I believe fits Unitarian Universalists very well.  We need a way to develop our moral behavior, the power of our minds, the openness of our hearts, and the wisdom to guide our actions in the world.  Mindfulness practice delivers very well in all these areas without having to sign up for a set of beliefs or belief systems.  The Buddha left a detailed map of how the mind and heart work for developing wisdom and compassion that works for me and I introduce  it to others.

What I’ve realized over the last several years is the importance of what I do as “content generation.”  The distribution of that content could go in any direction be it email lists, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, my Times Union blog or someplace else.  What I need to do is make everything easily cross-link with each other so the content is available to my audience (and congregation) in the way they prefer to receive it.  That could be a blog RSS news reader (my favored way to sample the Internet fire hose) or Facebook pages, or something else.  I’m still figuring out all the technology of interconnection but I know that WordPress is one of the better platforms to make those cross-links.

I plan to put material here that is  useful to my congregation, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, NY.  My more general essays tend to get sent to my Times Union blog.  My goal is to make sure there is regular material available for my members to support their growth and development that may or may not work as posts to the Times Union blog.

So I look forward to this site being also very useful to people who are exploring whether Unitarian Universalism is the right fit for where they and their family are on their growth path and if our congregation can be a home for them in that process.  We cannot be all things to all people but we are welcoming of all free seekers of truth and meaning looking to:

  • excite the human spirit
  • inspire its growth and development
  • respond morally and ethically to a troubled world and
  • sustain a vital and nurturing religious community.