On the last Sunday of the year, after those who celebrate Christmas attended their Christmas Eve service, exchanged their gifts and enjoyed their Christmas dinner and before the New Year’s revelries began for those still young enough to enjoy those celebrations, our church hosted a service devoted to exploring Islam and Muslims.
An unusual choice, perhaps, but one in keeping with our belief that there are many ways of understanding our roles in the world as religious persons. Dr. Morsi focused on the five pillars of Islam and, like good preachers everywhere, kept coming back to his main point: A good Muslim follows the tenets of the faith, finds meaning in its beliefs and rituals and seeks to honor that which is held most sacred.
The discussion period lasted almost thirty minutes and the questions and comments varied widely. Because the tenets of Islam are foreign to so many of us, especially the humanists among us, it was to be expected that some of the questions would be challenging, and they were. But they were asked respectfully and answered respectfully, and when we held hands to sing Let There Be Peace on Earth, the feeling in the room as I experienced it, was serious, respectful, mature and united. It made me pleased and proud to know that I am serving a church that can and does embody such qualities. I thank you all for providing that for me and for all of us.
Also, at that service, I floated the idea that the imam and I and other ministers in town come together to form an interfaith ministerial association so that those of us with varying religious perspectives do not feel isolated from one another. Good communication fosters good relations. We are fortunate that so far Bowling Green has not shown evidence of intolerance to such a degree that the mosques have felt threatened, that no one has felt under attack because of their religious beliefs, but that may not always be the case. Working now to build bridges will serve us well should the day come when support against intolerance may be needed.
You may or may not be aware that UU churches across the country have faced repeated incidents of vandalism to their signs when they have publicly displayed their support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. If we choose to take a stand on this issue, we may expect to face more of the same.
Since that Sunday, I have approached the ministers of two of the Christian churches in town to gauge their interest in forming an interfaith association. Both expressed a desire to be involved. I see this as a promising development for the year ahead. I will certainly keep you posted as plans develop.
For now, just having a place for the kind of fellowship that allows us to get to know one another will be accomplishment enough. Building relationships across religious and denominational lines is an important way to “encourage spiritual growth.” We grow our own faith in a more meaningful way when we take our principles seriously and put them into practice in a way that is conscious, that integrates them firmly into the fabric of our lives. That’s the reason that we celebrate our own (new) religious tradition of Chalica.
Our church is celebrating Chalica this year the same way we did last year. On each of the first seven Sundays of the year, we will be lighting a candle in our Chalica candelabra, one for each of our principles. A member of our church (or in the case of the first week, the minister) will speak to the congregation, stating what he or she intends to do in the following week to practice the principle we are honoring for that week. We try to live our lives according to our principles—principled living. There is a great satisfaction that comes from living out our values in this way, and it builds our sense of community with one another when we share with one another the ways our principles guide our lives.
Community is also strengthened when we get to know one another well by meeting together in small groups to discuss the things that matter most to us. That’s the value in our Small Group Ministry program. I will be leading two sections of these small groups (also called “Covenant groups”) beginning on the week of January 24. The Sunday group will meet from 2:00 to 3:30 pm; the Wednesday group meets from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. Both groups will meet at the church. We’ll be reading and discussing the book Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg, a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. The term “faith” can be both puzzling and intimidating to Unitarian Universalists. Here is an opportunity to cultivate the “feeling of ease and peace” that faith promises.
We deepen our sense of community when we meet together in small groups to explore the things that matter. We deepen our understanding of what it means to be UU by consciously integrating our principles into our lives. And we create a safer and more meaningful city by learning about one another’s spiritual traditions. As this new year begins, I’ll be recommitting once again to a Unitarian Universalism that helps shape my world into meaningful patterns. I invite you to join me.
See you at church.