For the past two years, I've had the privilege of knowing Dan, our ministerial intern here at Arlington Street Church. I wasn't the least bit surprised that he received high marks from the UUA's Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Dan is someone who is both compassionate and wise, pastoral and prophetic, drawing from both academic learning and personal experience to serve our faith.
When he finishes his internship here, he will be serving a UU congregation on the West Coast. So I couldn't help checking out their website.
And, once again, I read what's there with mixed feelings. When it comes to how many UU congregations address sexuality issues, I have a tendency to see a glass half full and half empty.
On the half-full side: They are a welcoming congregation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender folks. Their social justice work includes a commitment to marriage equality and reproductive rights. They provide Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education for teens. Looking at their sermon archives, I can find some sermons touching on sexuality issues. Like many UU congregations.
Then, on the half-empty side: You have to dig a bit on the website to find out that they are a welcoming congregation. Two of the three sexuality sermons were from way back in 2005. And no sign of a Safe Congregations Program, teaching Our Whole Lives to adults or other age groups, working for other sexual justice issues or learning about other sexual and gender minorities. Like many UU congregations.
I know, it sounds like I'm being picky. Then again, I've also seen the consequences of the "half-empty" side. Sure, it's great to have an inclusive church where all kinds of love are celebrated ... but when you have some particular issue involving sexuality, and need someone to talk to, and you're not quite sure how your church will deal with it because, well, they don't really talk about it ...
Get the idea?
My own theory is that too many religious liberals, UU and otherwise, take their liberalism for granted. A woman from another church related to me how someone in her congregation wanted them to say simply that they welcomed "all people" -- period, no labels or limits. As wonderful an idea as that may be, there is something to be said for reaching out to members of an excluded minority and saying specifically to them: "You are welcome here." Likewise, it is one thing for a minister or religious educator to tell her parishioners that they can talk to her about anything, and another to specifically offer a listening ear and open heart for those very issues which make people uneasy.
Unitarian Universalists have done so much work in this area, compared to other faith communities. But there's also a great deal more we can and should do. This is something that Dan and I have talked about, and see eye to eye on. So, as he goes off to his new ministry, here are my hopes for him:
~ I hope that he finds the time to preach at least one sexuality sermon from the pulpit, and to start more dialogue about it as a result.
~ I hope that he can encourage the RE Council there to consider expanding their offering of OWL to more age groups, espcially adults.
~ I hope that he can talk to the congregation's board about the UUA's Safe Congregations Program, so that they can feel more confident about the spiritual home they provide for their children and youth.
~ I hope that he can do more sexual justice work in the wider community, from reproductive rights to reaching out to the full range of sexual and gender minorities.
May seem like a lot, but I'm also not expecting him to transform the congregation overnight. Just help them to get started on transforming themselves.