Category Archives: International Ministry

Radical Resistance

Llwynrhydowain was the mother church of Unitarianism in Wales and the centre from which grew a remarkable group of  Unitarian chapels (14 in all) in Dyffryn Tywi and Dyffryn Aeron, Ceredigion, an area that later became known as Y Smotyn Du (‘The Black Spot) to some hostile nonconformists. The first chapel was founded by Jenkin Jones, an Independent minister, after he became dissatisfied with the orthodox Calvinism of his co-pastor at Pantycreuddyn. Jenkins adopted Arminian views and built the first chapel in 1733. Apparently, the chapel was enlarged in 1754. It was rebuilt entirely in 1834. Forty two years later, in 1876, the congregation was evicted for failing to vote in accordance with the landlord’s wishes in the 1868 election. The then minister, William Thomas (Gwilym Marles) – grave in front of chapel – held services in the open air until a new wooden chapel (Ty Cwrdd) was built at Castell Hywel, followed later by a stone chapel on the Pontsian road.

[WELSH RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS TRUST Report to Buildings Sub-committee, 15th September, 2005 HEN GAPEL LLWYNRHYDOWAIN, Rhydowen, Llandysul. References: G & J Hague, The Unitarian Heritage (1986); D R Barnes, People of Seion (1995)].

Unitarians in Wales

A Unitarian in Wales
A Unitarian in Wales

Pilgrimage is a spiritual exercise, an act of devotion.
~Phil Cousineau

I arrived in Wales on January 12, 2015, on an ancestral and spiritual pilgrimage: to be still in the land of my ancestors, to listen to the stories, to meet the people, and to spend Sundays with the Unitarians in Wales.

My sabbatical journey was intended to be a time to connect and grow, rest and replenish, contemplate and write. It was all that, and so very much more. What happened to me in those first five weeks was no less than transformational. Wales captured my heart, the people touched my spirit and the stories of the faithful changed me and opened my ministry to new possibilities.

Throughout my travels and in my conversations, I experienced the transformative power of being in relationship beyond comfort zones and cultural borders. I developed a greater appreciation for how bearing witness to another person’s story and a congregation’s history affirms one’s own fundamental worth and place in the global faith community.

I left Wales on February 14th, with one question, “How would I stay in relationship with the Welsh Unitarians?”

Turning toward Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council (UUPCC) to explore this question was the obvious next step. I quickly learned that partnership building opportunities had expanded to the United Kingdom but no connections had yet been made in Wales. Realizing I had already begun the work of partnership building, I worked with Cathy Cordes and the Welsh Unitarians to plan a second trip. By mid June, I was back in Wales promoting the mission and vision of UUPCC.

For eleven weeks I had the honor and privilege of walking alongside the Unitarians in Wales. Like so many others I was surprised to learn Wales has 22 Unitarian congregations 13 of which are Welsh speaking. In North Wales a new congregation is emerging. In the South and Southeast districts members recall stories of guarded gatherings with dissenter’s worshiping under the cover of darkness, hiding away on mountaintops and in hay barns. Until the signing of the Unitarian Toleration Act of 1813, non-Trinitarians in the United Kingdom lived in fear of persecution, loss of livelihood, fines and imprisonment. Unitarians were unable to hold public office or attend the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge. It was illegal to be a Unitarian.

For centuries Welsh Unitarians showed resilience and perseverance in the face of discrimination, harassment, violence and oppression. Through it all, they have remained steadfastly committed to free religious thought and practice.

I left Wales a second time on July 23rd, more passionate than ever in my belief that the Welsh Unitarians have amazing, powerful, transformative stories the world needs to hear. The people of Wales stopped hiding in barns two centuries ago. The time has come is time we shine the light on their bushel basket for it is overflowing with goodness, hospitality, compassion, wisdom and inspiration.

Several potential partnerships are presently emerging in Wales

  • In the South District of Wales, Rev. Wyn Thomas is eager to partner with a congregation who is connected to the Jenkin Lloyd Jones and Frank Lloyd Wright. Rev. Wyn is a descendent of the same family tree. He serves the parish of Jenkin’s birth.
  • At Highland Place Church in Aberdare, the Women’s League is excited about partnering with another women’s group in the United States.
  • In the capital of Wales, the Cardiff congregation is looking for a partnership to provide opportunities for young people to communicate beyond borders.

Bringing the mission and vision of Partner Church to Wales was the highlight of my sabbatical pilgrimage. Continuing the work of connecting and strengthening people and congregations through partnerships will be an honor.

We have much to learn from our Welsh brothers and sisters. I invite you to be a part of the evolving conversations and future partnership development.

 

This article was published in the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council Fall 2015 newsletter.

Seeds Planted

This worship services explores the transformative power of relationships and invites the gathered community to re-experience God’s grace as it known and felt through human action and interaction. This service was  part my summer sabbatical ministry in Wales, UK. The address invites the listener to cultivate relationships in the global community through the mission and vision of Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council.  

Opening Words/Geiriau Agoriadol gan
by Albert Camus, Translated by Justin O’Brien, adapted

Great ideas, it has been said,
come into the world as gently as doves.

Perhaps then, if we listen attentively,
we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations,
a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope.

Some will say that this hope lies in a nation;
others in a human being.

I believe rather that it is awakened, revived,
nourished by millions of solitary individuals
whose deeds and works every day negate
frontiers and the crudest implications of history.

As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth
that each person, on the foundation of their own suffering and joys,
builds them all.

Welsh:
Translated by Melda Grantham, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Welsh Department Secretary

Syniadau gwych, mae wedi cael ei ddweud,
dod i’r byd mor ysgafn fel colomennod.

Efallai wedyn, os byddwn yn gwrando’n astud,
byddwn yn clywed yng nghanol y cynnwrf o ymerodraethau a chenhedloedd,
betio gwan o adenydd, y cynhyrfus ysgafn o fywyd a gobaith.

Bydd rhai yn dweud bod gobaith hwn yn gorwedd mewn cenedl;
eraill mewn bod dynol.

Credaf yn hytrach ei fod yn cael deffro, adfywio,
meithrin gan filiynau o unigolion unig
y mae eu gweithredoedd ac yn gweithio negyddu bob dydd
ffiniau a goblygiadau crudest o hanes.

O ganlyniad, mae disgleirio allan ddiflanedig y gwir byth-dan fygythiad
bod pob person, ar sylfaen eu dioddefaint a llawenydd eu hunain,
nhw i gyd yn adeiladu.
Chalice lighting/Geirlau Cynnau Caregl

These chalice lighting words are used every Sunday at the Undodiaid Caerdydd (Cardiff Unitarian). Translated by Melda Grantham, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Welsh Department Secretary

‘Welcome, as we come together to celebrate who we are
and what we can become,
may you find comfort and friendship
here in this loving community.

May the flame of our chalice,
the symbol of our faith,
renew in us an endless search for all that is right and true,
an abiding love of life and an unending dedication
to follow the path of peace and justice.

Welsh 
Croeso, fel yr ymunwn i ddathlu pwy ‘rydym
a beth medrwn fod,
boed i chi brofi cysur a chyfeillgarwch yn y gymuned gariadus yma.

Boed i fflam ein canhwyllbren,
arwydd ein ffydd,
adnewyddu ynom yr awydd i chwilio’n ddi-ddiwedd am bopeth sy’n wir a chywir, cariad parhaus tuag at fywyd,
ac ymroddiad di-derfyn i ddilyn llwybr heddwch a chyfiawnder.
 
  

Meditation/myfrrdod

Consider for a moment a time in your life when meeting someone changed who you are and how you walk in the World.
Consider maybe a transformational moment when the course of your life was radically altered.

Or maybe a more subtle yet poignant moment when a simple interaction with a stranger opened your mind and heart to new possibilities.

Consider quietly for a moment how a chance encounter inspired, transformed or touched your being.

We could all likely name our children, a spouse or partner, a loved one who inspired us.
I could name all of you, your land, your stories, your culture, your faith.

This may have been a chance encounter, one of those unexpected joys.

It may have been a planned encounter that brought you more than you could have ever anticipated.

It may have happened in your home, a local gathering or half way across the World.

Maybe you were touched with kindness.
Someone saw you and understood your circumstances.
Someone shared your joy or struggle.
Someone changed your thinking with new insights or revelations.
Someone inspired you to take action.
Someone mended your broken heart, sparked forgiveness or helped to widen your view.

Hold this relationship in your mind’s eye… as you once again bear witness to and re-experience God’s grace working in your life through relationships; human action or interaction.

I’m going to light a candle in a minute to represent the people who changed our lives. As I light the candle, I invite you to bring each of them and your story into this space made sacred by your presence. As I light the candle, I invite you to say aloud their name or in the quiet of your mind.

{If time allows and people seem willing, you can invite members of the gathered congregation to come forward and light a candle as they are willing and feel called to do so.}

Let us be together for a time of musical meditation then silence as we remember the people we meet along the way, those who change who we are and how we walk in this World.

{Close the silence with the prayer or blessing.}

Prayer/Gweddi
O’Spirit of Life, Love and all that is Holy in this space made sacred by our presence and the stories of our days, we celebrate all that is our life.

For the people we meet along the way who inspire us to right living, may we be forever reminded to return the riches with those we meet along the way.

For the moments that touch the depths of our being with God’s ever-present love and joy, may the light of the Divine shine brightly through our words and deeds.

For the wisdom that arrives in the curiosity of a child and the mysteries forever unfolding, may we look for that which we can’t see and see that which we can’t find.

For the times when life feels overwhelming, the heart aches and hope is fragile,
may we find peace and comfort in the eyes of a stranger and tea with a friend.

For the joy and love and gift of life that is only a breath away, may we be grateful for yet another glorious day.

O’ Spirit of Life, Love and all that is Holy, hear this our prayer of affirmation for all that is our lives. Amen and blessed be.

 

Sermon/Address:  “Seeds Planted,” by Rev. Carie Johnsen

“The most radical thing we can do is connect people to one another.”
~ UUPCC bumpersticker

As some of you already know, I arrived in Wales last January on a pilgrimage to be still in the land of my ancestors, to listen to the stories, to meet the people, and to spend Sundays with the Unitarians of Wales.

That sabbatical journey was intended to be a time to replenish and reflect.  What happened was no less than transformational. As some of you know this land captured my heart, the people touched my spirit and forever changed my ministry turning me ever so slightly in an expanded embrace toward UU Partner Church work.

During my last trip a few of you had made random suggestions toward ongoing relationships between congregations and children.  With this seed planted, I left Wales on February 21st with one lingering question, “How would I stay in relationship with this country, new friends and colleagues, and our shared faith?”

We Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists are passionate about our freethinking faith. Whether a small congregation or large, whether theologically Christian or Humanist or Buddhist or Earth Centered, we share a guiding commitment to the individual discernment of what matters most.  Every week around the World, we light our Flaming Chalice as a symbol of diversity, love, truth, hope and justice.

When I left here last, I told the story of my time with the Welsh Unitarians and this beautiful country to anyone who would listen.  I went to England and took a service in Surrey at Godalming Unitarian Chapel where I shared my experience of being inspired by the story of Protestant dissenters in Wales. When I returned to the States and began to share my stories with colleagues, families and friends, I began to hear back from people who had connections to Cymru/Wales. I will come back to a few of them in a moment and share their stories.

This simple act of telling my story of being inspired and more deeply connected to our nonconformist history of Arianism and Socinianism and Welsh Unitarianism wove threads of connection far beyond our socially constructed borders, far beyond me and you, far beyond anything I could have planned eight months ago.  What has become clear to me is my first trip was the beginning of a long-standing relationship; I had already, unknowingly, begun the work of Partner Church ministries.

UUPCC is all about reaching beyond boarders to grow, connect, deepen, expand and sustain our faith and our common commitment to liberal religion through person-to-person, congregation-to-congregation relationships.

For over twenty years almost 200 congregations have been partnering to walk together in this free religious faith. As the work expands to build partnerships between congregations and people in the United States and United Kingdom the opportunity to pair small congregations and aspiring congregations of similar size together brings new possibilities for pilgrimages and hospitality, new opportunity to be transformed by our theological and cultural diversity and the friendships we make along the way.

This past year, I have found a deeper appreciation for small congregations. My son who is 25 years old returned to church where he lives.  When he arrived, a bit shy and unsure, he was met by a small congregation, less then 10 in the pews, and a minister who welcomed him into the fold.  His connection to the community was strong as his minister and he were theologically aligned in the Wiccan tradition. In his conversations with Inanna, he learned she spoke a bit of Welsh and in fact had taken four years of Welsh while at seminary.  A few weeks later I attended service with Justin, met Inanna and shared my hope to facilitate small congregation partnerships. She was, of course, enthusiastic about the possibility of partnering with a congregation in Wales and immediately approached her Board who responded with a vote to go forward.

About that same time Bruce Taylor from Massachusetts had been watching via facebook my travels to Wales. He had traveled to Wales the year before and came upon the LLwybr Ffydd Undodiaid (Unitarian Faith Trail) brochure in a store.  Inspired by the stories he read, he toured the villages and visited the chapels but was unable to attend any services.  He returned to the US and wrote a sermon about “yn Smotyn Du” (the Black Spot). He too is a small congregational minister with interests in partner church opportunities.  He currently serves two congregations but due to financial constraints one church will not be renewing his contract at the end of this year.  He too wonders about the future of Unitarian Universalism in small rural towns where the closure of mills a few decades ago has changed the social, economic and religious landscape of the communities he serves.  Bruce sends you greetings. He writes,

I was raised as a Baptist and came to Unitarian Universalism in my twenties. After working with computers for many years, I went to seminary, and I was ordained to ministry in 2009. I now serve a small congregation in Ashby, Massachusetts, 50 miles northwest of Boston. My favorite pastimes include hiking and skiing the mountains of New Hampshire and playing the flute. In 2014, my wife, Loretta, and I traveled to Wales for the first time. We were delighted to encounter the “Black Spot” region, and visited several of the chapels there. Back at home, I have been learning more about the Welsh roots of Unitarianism. I consider this an important connection, and a story that should be more widely known.

And then there is my colleague, Deane, who serves a new church founded just twenty years ago in Belfast Maine.  Aspiring to change the way they do church so as to remain relevant in these dramatically changing times, he sees partner church work with Wales as an opportunity for his congregation to expand their global faith connections and inspire communities to creatively go forward together.  He is quite familiar with the custom of pilgrimages and leads his youth yearly on service learning trips locally, nationally and internationally.  Deanne also sends greetings. He writes,

My name is Deane Perkins, and I serve as the full-time minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, located about an hour east of Carie’s church in Maine.  My congregation is only 20 years old, and we do not have the history that you do, so I would be eager to learn more about Unitarianism in Wales and how we are similar and different with regard to theology, liturgy, and so on.  I want to tell you up front that I can trace my ancestry to Scotland and England, but, as yet, have not found descendants in Wales.  Meanwhile, I look forward to establishing a relationship between our churches and us.  My best wishes to you!–Deane

So it seems, the wise women and men who spoke of their hopes for connection had planted the seeds mid-winter in Wales.

Back at home in the States, I learned my very first UU Minister, the Rev. Jim Robinson had also planted a seed.  Upon his return to the US following a five-year ministry in England, he encouraged the UUPCC to extend partnerships beyond India, Africa, Transylvania and the Philippines.

During my past trip, while sitting still and listening, I kept saying, Spirit was leading me.  Well it seems God, working through the people, dropped a seed in my pocket and it was carried across the pond. And I have returned to join with all of you to tend to our garden.

A garden watered with the gift of love, hope, truth and justice and nurtured in relationship with each other, within community, beyond cultural comforts and across ponds. A garden diverse in texture, color, scent and size to represent all that is our faith – an expansive global community of people inspired by those oh so familiar words of David Francis, “We do not need to think alike to love alike.”

Partner church ministry is about settling into intentional, sometimes awkward, more often rewarding, relationships for the long haul.

It is about walking side by side through the triumphs and the challenges. It is about the little moments shared over a cuppa te and the big moments found in meeting our larger faith family through pilgrimages.

In slowing down and taking the time to know each other and share our common and divergent experiences, we affirm the worth and dignity of each person’s remarkable faith journey.

In bearing witness to our common faith journeys, in blessing the religious milestones and historical markers, we celebrate the past, present and future story of Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism globally.

In exploring together the joy and sorrow of our lives, we find insight, hope, strength, possibility and companionship.

In it all, we are changed, our faith trajectories both personal and institutional are altered ever so slightly, yet felt ever so profoundly. It then becomes the gift that lives, generation by generation, flame by flame across the nations.

Ours is an uncommon faith rooted in our common humanity.
May we be blessed by all that we know, all that we have been, and all that is yet to unfold.
So may it be, Amen..

 

Seeds of Inspiration

Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel
Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel (1692)  on the mountain above Pontardawe and Trebanos

It seems that during my time in Wales, I had become of bit of a topic of conversation in the village of Llangadog and Llandovery.  I was told someone had thought it quite strange that I would travel to a rural part of Wales to stay in a village of less than 800 people for five weeks.

I’m not completely sure if they thought I was strange, or my behavior strange. Either way, they found my extended presence in rural Wales a bit odd.

As an American Unitarian Universalist, I am used to being misunderstood.  Very often people have never heard of us, let alone know about us.  All too often, if they have heard or know about us, they think us a bit of an anomaly, some would go so far as to say we are a cult. So it seems, I have traveled several hundred miles only to find myself in familiar company.

I arrived in Wales with an open agenda and a clear intention: to engage in a spiritual and ancestral pilgrimage

~ to be still in the land of my ancestors, discover a bit their story, walk in their footsteps, and look at how their living shaped mine.

~ to partake in village life, meet the people of the Wales and return home with a connection to my Welsh heritage.

~ to enter into a time of contemplation, reflection and writing; to cultivate spiritual practices to guide and sustain me and my ministry.

~ to discern what God is asking of me – who is God calling me to be; how shall I serve Love (capital L Love) in an aching world.

My first task: to discern what matters most, where and how shall I sustain my call to ministry.

You see, after several years of ministerial service, my grounding and rootedness in Source or God, as I understand it, had gotten lost in a sea of service to a vital and dynamic congregation.  In an effort to serve everyone, be all things to all people, my spiritual life and the source of my being, had gotten a wee bit waylaid in my ministry to others.

This task of navigating a spiritual journey amid the demanding overscheduled days of ministry is a bit like driving in Wales where the narrow farm roads with tidy hedgerows block your view and give little warning of what is coming around the bend or what is down the road to the right. This limiting aperture is simply unrealistic in a diverse, complex, and complicated global world community. Moving forward as the road or schedule and life dictates without some inner, wiser or divine compass guiding us is a bit like driving in the rain without windshield wipers and a radio blasting.

When driving through the rich pastureland and mountain roads of Wales, one learns very quickly it matters what road you take.  Equally, it matters what one believes and to understand this freedom to believe, as our wisdom, reason and experience dictates, came at grave peril. No one new this better than the early dissenters in the United Kingdom, the people who risked everything when they challenged the teachings of the Established Church.

The story of the Welsh dissenters dates back to 1662 when England passed the Uniformity Act requiring all clergy to sign an agreement supporting the teachings of the Church of England.  Two thousand clergy dissented and the concept of non-conformity was established.  The clergy and their followers risked their jobs, their homes, their families, and, in some cases, their lives, when they chose to promote the religious freedom and beliefs we take for granted today.

During my five week stay in Wales, I had become completely captivated by conversations with the Welsh people, farmers, scholars, clergy and Unitarians.  Listening to and reading their stories of discrimination, harassment and persecution brought alive in my mind a time of religious passion and chaos, and a time of religious conviction.  In this act of bearing witness, centuries later, to the remarkable stories of persistence and conviction, I was inspired.

In his book Welsh Chapels, Anthony Jones describes the Dissenters of the 17th, 18th and 19th century as “the beating heart of Wales[1]hardy saplings that had put down deep roots, refused to be dislodged and grew into ‘the mighty oak of Welsh Dissent.”  It is their story that I was intrigued by from day one to day thirty-five.

In my quest to know my ancestral story, I was surprised to discover a brave and courageous religious history of tenant farmers – honest, hard working people seeking greater opportunities for their children.  Their perseverance and determination, sheer tenacity and faith led them through the uncharted lands of the Dakota Territory; yet it was their participation in the emergence of protestant traditions that surprised me the most.

As early dissenters from the established religion, they served various independent Capels as deacons and lay ministers.  My pilgrimage through Wales became a time of walking in their footsteps and walking in the story of our shared faith.  This journey of visiting ancient chapels and graveyards as well as the old farms and barns where the earliest nonconformist met served to integrate the stories of my ancestors and the stories of my chosen faith tradition.

My intrigue deepened when I happened upon this excerpt from Anthony Jones’ book Welsh Chapels.

“Cwmglo was inconspicuous, a dingle of sylvan beauty, screened by a profusion of dense corpses and tall overhanging trees… But even in the delicious seclusion of Cwmglo the Dissenters were not free from molestation. Though their minds were fixed on the things of the spirit, their ears were always alert for the footsteps of the informer. A shaking bough, or a quivering bush, or the snap of a twig in the undergrowth, made their hearts beat faster, their blood run cold. The soothing influence of hymn and sacred song was denied them… gleams of the modern street-lamp. The only light to guide their faltering footsteps was afforded by the moon or stars. When the sky was overcast they stumbled over the trackless mountains in an inky darkness that only country people know… hidden in the trees around Cwmglo was a gabled farmhouse of considerable dimensions… Its occupier was himself a Dissenter, and when his fellow worshippers requested of him the use of one of his barns for a chapel, we may be sure that he readily acquiesced. An empty barn all year round on a farm well-known for its productive meadows might, it was thought, arouse the suspicions of an erstwhile passer-by. To delude the curious, therefore, the barn was stored with hay during the weekdays, and emptied for the services on Sundays. The congregation was not seated when the service was in progress – a standing position was more conducive to instant dispersal should escape become necessary. The rostrum was crudely built of timber felled in the contiguous woods. A rush of light that flickered wanly in the draught from the ventilation holes in the walls, provided the only illumination and to keep themselves warm they wrapped their feet in straw… “

This story of Cwmglo is the story of the Unitarian Chapel Hen Dy Cwrdd at Cefn Coed.  The original rostrum from that barn is where the service leader preaches today.  In the recent past the congregation went back to that barn, carried with them the original rostrum, and held services.

I came upon a similar family story in my final days in Llandgadog.  A farmer in Gwynfe shared the story of nonconformists meeting in the barn on the farm Pantmawr where my great great great grandmother Margeret Morgan was born and raised.

While my Congregational and Methodist ancestors walked alongside the Unitarians in the fight for religious freedom, I have come to learn their path to choosing what mattered most opened long before the way of the Unitarian. While my ancestors were given the freedom to worship in 1689, the same would not be offered to the Unitarians until 1813.  The consequences the non-Trinitarians faced were often more severe.

When the minister and members of the Unitarian Church, Llwynrhydowen, in LLandysul voted against the squire in 1876, they were evicted from their church building, lost their jobs and suffered hardship of poverty and persecution for years. The Welsh Religious Buildings Trust tells the story,

“In the mid 19th century, the congregation could number anywhere up to 600. It was a part of a radical Unitarian culture within a Welsh rural setting, resistant to successive waves of evangelical revival emanating from the epicentre of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism not far to the north. As such these communities became collectively known as the ‘Black Spot’.

In 1876 it was the scene of a national scandal when the congregation and its minister William Thomas (also known as Gwilym Marles) were evicted by the local landlord, John Lloyd of Alltyrodyn. Lloyd cited their ‘radical’ non Tory, Unitarian ideologies as a breach of their lease.

After the closure, the popular minister addressed an outdoor congregation of about 3000, with his back to the locked and chained chapel. Due to the national interest prompted by the eviction, a fundraising campaign saw a new chapel created, but after the death of Lloyd his sister had the building returned to the congregation. Unfortunately by this time, Gwilym was in ill health and died before he was able to attend the opening ceremony of the new chapel. His remains were laid at the new chapel and it was subsequently dedicated to his memory.”

While we (Unitarians in the UK and Unitarian Universalists in America) have similar trajectories in our theological evolution, our emergence as religious liberals in the United States was not as perilous.  With the separation of church and state in the United States came the freedom to self determine religious beliefs. Still these foundational beliefs of Welsh & English Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism in the United States have guided our common faith traditions for generations.

Centuries of teachings and experiences, science and reason affirm the truth of what was at one time considered illegal, subject to persecution; while at the same time, thought by countless others to be absolutely visionary.

Grateful for our dissenting forefathers and foremothers who cleared that dense forest of religious persecution, we arrive here at this point in history – comfortable and safely settled in our lives where the freedom to determine for ones self what matters most is our touchstone.

We, the twenty-first century Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists, are privileged by the martyrs and religious heroes, Acts of Toleration and Constitutions and Bill of Rights that separate church and state. We, the descendants of centuries of radical dissenters and nonconformists, remain the minority across the globe. Yet our vision, our people, our values continue to shape the world in profound and transformative ways.  Countless generations later, our conviction that freedom to choose one’s own belief is foundational. Yet at the end of the day, it is not so much what we believe but how our beliefs impact the world we live in.

These words from Philosopher and UU Dr. Ronald J. Glossop poignantly articulate our shared conviction to this basic truth.

The kinds of beliefs we have influence how we behave. Knowing what is true is important. But having true beliefs is not the most important thing in our lives, and having true beliefs about God is not the most important thing in religion.

The most important thing in religion is being committed to furthering goodness. Promoting goodness includes finding out what is true and helping others to acquire [for themselves] such knowledge, but it also includes furthering love and compassion and justice.

And it involves doing this whether or not there is a God helping us to accomplish it.”

We might do well to ask ourselves, “At the end of our days, will we be able to say we lived grounded in beliefs that compelled us toward goodness and love, healing and wholeness, joy and abundance for all of humanity.”

If we can answer “Yes!” then our ancestors – those who walked before us and cleared the woods of falling debris – have not fought and suffered in vain.  For in our living, we are a testament to their living, and we honor them well.

[1] Anthony Jones, Welsh Chapels, National Museum of Wales (1984) xi.