Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
That short verse from the Hebrew Bible is explored in great depth Unitarian Universalist historian Conrad Wright in his book Walking Together, a compilation of sermons and essays about life in our UU congregations. Do we need to “be agreed” on everything in order to get along together? Those from more doctrinaire faith communities would say, yes, we must agree on theology. Unitarian Universalists – who pride ourselves on our independence and on being part of a “non creedal” faith – would say no, we need not be agreed; and this can sometimes lead to the charge that being UU means you can believe whatever you want. This is, of course, not accurate and the question is something of a trap because belief is not what defines us as a faith community. What defines us is our shared values and our 7 principles, which we Unitarian Universalist congregations covenant to affirm and promote both in the larger world and in our congregations. We can disagree about the best way forward, about what issues to focus on, about what kind of worship we will have or what music we will sing, but at our core, we share a passion for justice as a reflection of our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people (I might amend that to include all beings) and to an acknowledgement that we are a part of something larger – the interconnected web of all existence.
So how does it actually work? How do 1,000 autonomous, independent congregations relate to each other, make decisions, share resources and ideas? One way is through our UUA staff and board of directors, but the most direct way is through attendance at our annual General Assembly. Held each year in a different city, General Assembly (GA) is where Unitarian Universalists from all over gather to do the work of our association (issues of governance and also of choosing what issues to focus on in the larger world, where to take a stand). Each congregation is invited to send delegates to consider and vote on matters on the agenda each year, and there is also amazing worship, interesting workshops, and an opportunity to find others who share our commitments and our passion. Here in Virginia, we feel like a tiny faith, surrounded by much larger churches and faith communities; at General Assembly each year, we get to live as if the world were full of justice-seeking people.
And as you might imagine, in such a large gathering, full of passionate people who value independence, there can be conflict. Engaging conflict openly and respectfully helps organizations keep moving forward. This Sunday in worship, Doug Throp and I will share some of what we learned and experienced as we participated remotely in this year’s General Assembly, and we hope to inspire many of you to attend this June in Providence, Rhode Island. Can two walk together except they be agreed? Yes, of course, as long as there is a shared commitment to travel together even when the road gets a little bumpy. See you in Providence in June 2020?
In faith and fellowship,
Rev. Justine Sullivan
Interim Minister, CVUU