You check their website, find out the service time and see that the topic is “The Secret Life of Bees,” the title of one of your favorite novels. But when you arrive, you realize that the speaker is a professional bee-keeper, and the service feels more like a commercial for beekeeping than a worship experience. The person playing along with the hymns gets the right notes, but the tempo makes it hard to sing.
If you are already a committed UU, you might just roll your eyes or curse under your breath. But if you are someone looking for a spiritual home, you will likely cross this church off your list — even if other members give you the standard not-so-great-lay-led-service caveat “We pride ourselves on having many voices in the pulpit. We hope you come back because the service is different each week.”
In a recent conversation on Facebook about a similar experience, the Rev. Jake Morrill shared this story:
My sister and I both grew up very active as UU’s. When she and her new husband moved to (a new community) twenty years ago, she took him to a summer service that featured a chemistry professor giving a dry lecture and a slide-show. They never went back. Now, she’s a dynamos for the Methodists, organizing mission trips, community-wide justice projects, etc. Theologically, she’s as Universalist as they come. I always think what a loss it was for Unitarian Universalism that we lost my sister and her family that summer Sunday…
As I read this story, I began to think about the covenant between Unitarian Universalist congregations, and in relation to our covenant with our highest values and commitments.
When someone walks through a Unitarian Universalist congregation’s doors for the first time–after having read the promise of the “free faith” on UUA and congregational websites–don’t we have an obligation to offer the best expression of Unitarian Universalism that we can muster? And if one of our congregations falls short of that promise, don’t we have an obligation–as Unitarian Universalists committed to our best expression of who we are– to share our observation of this disappointment and invite them to do better?
And if we are leaders or members of a congregation who receives such feedback offered with a loving heart and an eye to our highest aspirations, isn’t it our obligation to hear it with an open a humble heart?
Being in covenant with one another requires both courageous truth-telling and open-hearted listening. Our UU leaders need to develop both skills…
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant