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Thursday Morning Worship: A Faithful Conversation

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General Assembly 2007 Event 2002

Speaker: Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs

"There is an essential tension in liberal religion," Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs said in his sermon, A Faithful Conversation, during the Thursday morning worship service, "between those who believe that the church is in the world to foster pluralism or enable dialog or even encourage community, and those who believe that the church is in the world to engender the experience of the Holy in order to awaken compassion and foster a life of loving service."

But rather than presenting the tension as eternal, necessary, or unresolvable, Eller-Isaacs came down firmly on one side: "The purpose of the church is to engender the experience of the Holy. … Pluralism is not an end in itself. Pluralism is a way to be together in community, not the purpose for which we come together."

He made a distinction between the many varieties of UU practice and the singular experience to which the practices lead. "When a Unitarian Universalist says, ‘I am a Buddhist, a Pagan, a Christian, a Humanist, a Jew,' she or he is really saying ‘the way I move toward unity with God is guided by the stories and spiritual techniques developed by a particular tradition.' … But there is a universal state of being to which human beings aspire and about which they have testified from time before time."

He faulted congregations that present the responsibilities of membership as purely institutional: regular attendance, pledging, and committee work. "How powerful it would be to define responsible church involvement in terms of consistent spiritual practice, the cultivation of skills in small-group intimacy, and community leadership for positive social change. Instead of placing the church itself at the center of our concerns, why not actually structure our church life to emphasize spiritual and social change?"

Eller-Isaacs reaffirmed the UU commitment to the humanist values of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Transcendentalists, but framed Unitarian Universalism's current situation like this: "Having survived the rise and fall of fundamentalist Humanism, we are finding our balance again."

The ongoing effort to reconsider the purposes of the UUA, he said, "is not an idle exercise" but serves "to give greater focus to congregational life and ultimately to deepen our practice so that we might live more loving, more effective, and more joyful lives."

Reported by Doug Muder; edited by Pat Emery.

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Last updated on Thursday, March 29, 2012.

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