River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

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Fellowship, Spirit and Service (Excerpt)

Fellowship, Spirit and Service (Excerpt)


Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd

River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Sunday December 8, 2013

Weíve asked ourselves to spend the next few years growing and deepening in fellowship, spirit and service.  And so it has to begin there Ė with how we are with one another in community and how radically we are willing to extend our welcome.

If we really want to grow and deepen in our fellowship, we first have to expand our very definition of who is invited to stand in fellowship with us, whose story is welcome here, whose vulnerability honored, whose perspective shared. 

To put it simply, if we are going to grow in this way, we have to move together from simple inclusivism to real pluralism, and we have to commit to it every single day.  Let me describe that a little bit but first backing up to what comes even before inclusivism.  Namely, tolerance. The step before inclusivism is tolerance and in this world Iíve had quite enough of tolerance. Itís beneath us. With tolerance you pretty much just say Ė hey, if youíre different from our norm in any way, weíll put up with you, if we have to.  Tolerance is simply another expression of privilege.  Bleh. 

Then thereís inclusivism, which is essentially where weíre at right now in our fellowship.  It involves welcoming others into our own theological and ethnic context.  Essentially, "Come on in.  Hereís what we do here. Youíre welcome to join us if you like that sort of thing."  Itís stating a communityís norms, holding firm to them, and inviting others to get on board.  This is not inherently bad, but neither is it really inherently welcoming or culturally radical in the way our vision calls us to be.

Pluralism, real pluralism, is a different beast entirely.  Real pluralism, the kind of fellowship to which we are called, is a truly generous and welcoming response to an increasingly multi-faceted world.  A pluralistic congregation doesnít say, "Come on in Ė if you like us just the way we are."  Instead, it says, "Come on in, letís shape each other into something new."   That kind of pluralism is beautiful, difficult, a new expression of the treasured humanism at our heart.  We are the congregation with a warm heart, an open mind and a social conscience, and how we do things here can be re-made by the presence of every precious person who walks through these doors.   

This kind of pluralism takes courage.  It takes work, and sometimes it involves putting our judgments into the context of our great love.  By way of illustration, let me tell you about my friends at Seekerís Church here in the District.  Itís a little lay-led congregation of the most progressive Christians on the face of the earth.  They re-define God in the biggest, broadest ways possible and even comprised a list of 1000 names for God that included things like, "hopeful dancing breath of kindness," and "fabulous loving baker of the faithful."  Iím not even making those up.

Anyway, at Seekerís Church not long ago, a group of members were sitting around in a discussion group talking about theology and as they went around the table the largely highly-educated largely upper-middle class people were going on about how far past the idea of "God as father" all of them were, and besides, it didnít fit with feminist critique and nobody was that literalist anymore were they, and after some delay, they got around to one member of the group who had up to then been loathe to speak.  His name was James, a young man not far from a life on the street, just a few years sober after a long addiction. 

James looked at that group of people with their very clear cultural story of education and spiritual abstraction to tell and said, "Actually, the one thing I need most in my life right now is stability, and so I like to think of God as a Father."  There was silence for a moment at that table and at first the other enlightened men in the group who had moved beyond all of that thought they ought to somehow gently correct him, and then, just as quickly, their faces softened and the conversation moved on, and they let James be James, knowing that his difference enriched them all. 

Thatís the difference between inclusion and pluralism.  Thatís the difference between a fellowship of like-minded people doing like-minded things and a fellowship of spirits willing to be transformed by each and every person who walks through these doors.