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Nurture your spirit. Help heal our world. Unitarian Universalists.

Letters, Spring 2012

Readers respond to the Winter 2011 issue.

Spring 2012 2.15.12

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Honest rituals

Rather than accept the empty ritual of “How are you?”/“I’m fine,” (“How to Give a Blessing,” by Kathleen McTigue, Winter 2011) and feel guilt if we should veer from it with an honest answer, why not just do away with the ritual and return to simple “Hello”s?

The reluctance to reveal emotional information, as portrayed in this article, not only is a sad reminder of the general reluctance to reveal ourselves to one another in our Puritan-based heritage, but also serves as a signpost for Unitarian Universalists who continue to wonder why their congregations struggle to attract new members. Lack of emotion is a feature of the esoteric Unitarianism practiced by our historically white, well-educated membership, that turns off people seeking warmth. The key words here should be heart, love, shared grief and common human family, rather than horror, too much information, shame, and embarrassment.

Marilyn Roy
Lawrence, Kansas


Shadows or opposites?

In “Our Shadow Side” (Winter 2011), what Marilyn Sewell is talking about are opposites and not shadows. Unitarian Universalism’s shadows are much more difficult to accept, so I would say:

The shadow side to our rich intellectual life is that sometimes we are irrational. The shadow side to our strong tradition of the word is that sometimes we use words imprecisely, which can lead to conflict based on misunderstandings. The shadow side of our humanism is that we sometimes trample on human values. The shadow side to our tolerance is that sometimes we are intolerant. The shadow side of our theology of love and acceptance is that sometimes we are not loving or accepting. The shadow side of our free faith is that sometimes we impose strictures and conditions.

Louise Rogers
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England
Staffordshire Unitarians
posted on uuworld.org, Dec. 21, 2011


Marilyn Sewell is right: UUs must have a mission. Vanessa Rush Southern (“A Spirit of Fierce Unrest,” Winter 2011) reinforces this by her question: “Loving the world and its hurt places, where do we focus our efforts at resurrection?”

The world is hurting and will become uninhabitable for humans if humans do not reverse the increasing emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By making its mission enlisting its members in the environmental movement, the UUA can do its part to save the world.

Hershey Julien
Sunnyvale, California
UU Fellowship of Sunnyvale


I found Marilyn Sewell’s article “Our Shadow Side” truly bizarre. The idea of a dark side to our deepest values is interesting, but can be of little use to spiritual growth when her examples bear such a bewildering lack of resemblance to UU congregations. Never getting around to action? Disregarding the health of the community? These are the opposite of the UUs I know.

Also disturbing is her characterization of worship services as “stimulation” and “entertainment.” Programs exist to fulfill the church’s mission, which usually includes ministering to the needs of the congregation. It is neither trite nor selfish for people to desire services that are meaningful to them.

If anything is inhibiting UU religiosity, I think it is the mistrust of the word “religion” that results from the pain so many of us have experienced at the hands of religious institutions. It’s a word and a spirit that UUs can reclaim, but such a blossoming won’t come through misplaced criticism. If we want religion, we should be rejoicing in our brightness.

Rebecca Mattis
Rutland, Vermont
UU Church of Rutland


Empowerment tragedy

Mark Morrison-Reed’s article “The Empowerment Tragedy” (Winter 2011) sheds much-needed light on an otherwise dim period of UU history. Putting the events of the 1960s and ’70s in the larger context of what was happening in the country and what was going on in our congregations gives our “empowerment tragedy” a more manageable dimension.

A name that I missed from the description of “activist ministers and committed congregations in exclusively metropolitan settings that had a significant African-American middle class” was the Rev. Donald Szantho Harrington, minister of Community Church in New York City. He and his board chair, Cornelius McDougald, who was chair of the UUA Commission on Religion and Race, brought the idea of a Black and White Alternative to the General Assembly in 1968. After the vote to fund the Black Affairs Council, those who were concerned and disappointed with the vote had a meeting, where after much discussion the concept and name was changed from Black and White Al­ternative to Black and White Action, officers and board members were elected, membership dues were collected, and an organizational meeting was scheduled for the Thanksgiving weekend after GA. But that’s another story!

Betty Bobo Seiden
Oakland, California
First Unitarian Church of Oakland


Mark Morrison-Reed concludes that the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “black empowerment tragedy” had to happen due to our institutional immaturity, fear, and hubris, but I think otherwise. He points out that year after year the American Unitarian Association, Universalist Church of America, and merged UUA passed resolutions supportive of integration and civil rights, long before other, larger denominations were willing to touch the topic. And what did we get for these efforts to be ahead of the curve but a huge blowback other denominations were largely spared?

In a religious denomination that consistently takes the lead on these kinds of “social justice” initiatives, inevitably there will be stragglers, and some or many of those stragglers will fall away from the denomination. It took the Southern Baptists until 1995 to apologize for segregation—almost 50 years after the AUA and UCA started passing resolutions against it—but today the Southern Baptists are a denomination of 40,000 congregations and 16 million members—a hundred times the UUA’s membership.

Perhaps we are, and have been for quite a while, as Marilyn Sewell accuses, “a religious movement that no longer takes religion seriously” and have become an organization for which social justice has become the primary, self-justifying raison d’être, at last for many or most of us.

Dino Drudi
Alexandria, Virginia
Cedar Lane UU Church


Community roots

It was good of the Rev. Dr. Linnea Pearson to praise the Society of the Larger Ministry (SLM) in her letter about UUA pioneers (“Letters,” Fall 2011). However, I must correct her history on the founding of SLM.

When I transferred my ministerial standing in 1979 from the United Church of Christ to the UUA, the UUA had only one recognized ministry: serving a traditional parish. As a community minister serving as hospital chaplain and pastoral counselor, I was perturbed, so I founded the SLM (formerly Extra-Parochial Clergy and now the UU Society for Com­munity Ministries) at the General Assembly in 1981. The SLM worked steadily throughout the 1980s and ultimately the UUA established a third ministerial track recognizing community ministry in 1991.

The Rev. Dr. Robert L. Rafford
Middlebury, Connecticut


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