The Meaning of Membership

Rev. Don Beaudreault
First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist

Opening Words: “And I have felt…”

And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts;
A sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air.
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls though all things.
-William Wordsworth
Meditation: “From arrogance…”
From arrogance, pompousness, and from thinking ourselves more important than we are, may some saving sense of humor liberate us.
For allowing ourselves to ridicule the faith of others may we be forgiven.
From making war and calling it peace, special privilege and calling it justice, indifference and calling it tolerance, pollution and calling it progress, may we be cured.
For telling ourselves and others that evil is inevitable while good is impossible, may we stand corrected.
God of our mixed up, tragic, aspiring, doubting, and insurgent
lives, help us to be as good as in our hearts we have always wanted to be.
-Harry Meserve

Sermon: “The Meaning of Membership”

Over the years, I have discovered that there are types of Unitarian Universalists and that each has a particular concept concerning what it means to be a member of a congregation – no matter what a bylaw description of membership officially states.

For instance, First Parish UU Brewster’s bylaw states that to be a member:

A person shall be considered a Member of the Society if his or her name appears on the Membership Book maintained by the Society, and participates, as able, in its programs, and has made an annual financial contribution of record to its operating fund. The Senior Minister or the President of the Board of Trustees may waive these requirements at his/her discretion.

That is more or less a generic description evidenced in other UU congregational bylaws.
Still, some groups do not include that financial requirement.
Others might at the very least state that to be a member, a person will be in agreement with the Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Others might suggest or expect that the person seeking membership will have a UU orientation class – or at least has spoken to the minister.
Others might have a description of what constitutes behavior of a member that violates UU Principles and Purposes, and then it will also list the process by which a person’s membership can be rescinded.
By the way, more and more congregations are doing the latter.
So, there are various types of UU membership based on attitude and practice, all of which constitute every Unitarian Universalist congregation.
I would like to share some of my thoughts about this.

Here goes: “Beaudreault’s Top Eleven UU Types”:

TYPE ONE UU: “Looky Loo” – curious, cautious, non-committal; sometimes takes years to feel that UU is the right choice; sometimes takes the first 3 minutes of a sermon to know that UU is the wrong choice and Looky Loo might very well bolt for the exit; a real shopper.

TYPE TWO UU: “Spiritually Bruised” – refugee from another faith; feels the effects of creedal, dogmatic and doctrinaire burnout; possibly “Bruised” will become volatile when asked to talk about religious upbringing; maybe cynical about religion; feels hurt and betrayed by “church.”

TYPE THREE UU: “John-Jane One Note” – exuberant mono-dimensionalist; one issue feeds a spiritual energy; wants the congregation to support THE cause (meaning John’s or Jane’s); might get discouraged when sees that UUs make their own choices in their own good time.

TYPE FOUR UU: “Einstein Has Nothing over Me” – cerebralist who is usually intellectually a number of steps ahead of others, including the minister; they can really mentor the rest of us. Einstein-types can be unique and wonderful when brain links up with heart.

TYPE FIVE UU: “Mother Theresa and Gandhi Have Nothing Over Me” – the all-heart person; wonderful idealist; love and acceptance of differences are touchstones; quiet acts of charity; might seem tough, but might be hurt easily; it’s hard to be around a saint for some UUs who are less heart-centered.

TYPE SIX UU: “The Institutionalist” – realizes that we have a history and KNOWS that history; appreciates that there is a philosophical way of being UU: that martyrs have died for our faith, that we are not just an “anything goes” movement. The Institutionalist supports us fiercely.

TYPE SEVEN UU: “The Organizationalist” – this is part of the 10% of any group that is currently in a leadership capacity; wants to make a difference, so pitches in and helps wherever needed; usually already over-committed; needs to watch fatigue issues, and to listen to congregational needs, not just their own.

TYPE EIGHT UU: “Just Needs to Be Here”– desires human connection; needs a place where deep values are cherished; seeks love; appreciates the conviviality and energy of a community; church represents “family” where joys and sorrows are shared; might be in need of healing from life’s challenges.

TYPE NINE UU: “Bruised No More” – has evolved from TYPE TWO UU; feels wonderfully liberated now; open to a variety of religious experiences, to the fullness of life; ready to accept messages from the universe; eagerness to learn, be, and do. Others will be amazed at such energy and adaptability.

TYPE TEN UU: “The Fixer” – imbibes a strong concept of justice; envisions UU as a conduit for expressing values of freedom, love, and equity through dialogue and action; seeks application of ethical, fair principles through reasoned and effective means; The Fixer has a world-view lens.

TYPE ELEVEN UU: “Seeker of Peace” – a quiet, meditative type for whom “spirituality” means turning inward to seek universal answers; appreciates silence and simplicity; sees the common thread of love and joy taught by all great spiritual teachers; not always obvious in a congregation of doers.

Well, my friends, these are just some of the “UU Types” I have observed over the years. Obviously, no one person can be so stereotyped; in fact, most of us have varying traits that make up who we are or think we are.

But I do believe that in common, we UUs are on a pathway of discovery – each in his or her way. And may we help each other find the direction we want to go.

So, you see, there is no one way to be a member of a UU congregation. All are needed. And each is different, because each of us has a particular slant on life, don’t we?

Beyond the types, however, are the foundational reasons that attracted us to such a liberating faith.

I don’t know about you, but a major reason I became a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation was because I was always the last one chosen for the baseball team. I will not go into details about my athletic mis-firings as a kid, other than to say that I might as well have been called Charlie Brown Beaudreault.

In other words, I felt left out. Not a part of the team. Not one of the in-crowd.

Of course, it wasn’t just about playing baseball. Other things about me made me feel that I was different.

And it took me a long time to feel good about being different.

Discovering a Unitarian Universalist community was, for me, a statement that I did belong. That I could be myself and nobody else but myself, and that nobody was going to judge me by telling me that I should be somebody other than myself.

The late musician/journalist and gay icon Lance Loud says something about coming out as a gay person which for me speaks to not just coming out as gay, but coming out as a Unitarian Universalist. He says:

Coming out is a means of redefining oneself, of claiming membership in a lifestyle and a social order with distinct values. Chief among these values is honesty.

Honesty. Honesty. Honesty.

Naturally, this is an ideal that is sometimes forgotten by me or others who call ourselves Unitarian Universalists.

But it is still an ideal. An ethical imperative. Something forever to keep in mind: that we are all attempting to be who we are and want to be – and that nobody should try to rearrange our sense of “self.”

As long as we ourselves are not abusive or violent in word or action toward others; nor they toward us.

We are who we are and will state so, despite others who might disagree with us.

Because, indeed, we are all God’s children; said in another way, quoting our opening reading by that somewhat Unitarian-thinker, William Wordsworth, we evidence a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused – indeed, each of us is part of that interdependent web.

We believe this fiercely.

So, all this is basic to The Meaning of Membership within a spiritual community.
Let me say that again: within a spiritual community.
For Unitarian Universalism membership implies its people, with all the attendant intricacies of being human but cast within the light of a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused.
Oh, indeed: God of our mixed up, tragic, aspiring, doubting, and insurgent lives help us to be as good as in our hearts we have always wanted to be. (Harry Meserve)
And when we are really a good idea as a spiritual community, we wear our splendid humanity on our sleeve for all to see. When we are good, we show our love.
For me the idea of this liberating congregation of members and friends is foundationally and ultimately not merely an abstract entity, an abstruse theological debate, or an unfocused orgy trumpeting the cause de jour. These things are superficial and can even be ways by which people in a congregation prevent themselves from being fully integrated in mind, body, and human spirit.

The idea of this place might be all these things and more, since the people are engaged in these pursuits, but at the heart of the matter, the people are holding up the fullness of spiritual community when they move beyond pretense, sham and delusion and are simply and magnificently themselves, intricately human and ever aware of our humility in the face of ultimate questions.

To put it elsewise: a liberating church is not merely a societal structure allowing us to find a golfing partner, a date for next Saturday night, a good buy at a rummage sale, an individual soapbox, or a nap during the preacher’s sermon. It might be all these things, but more vital to these is the possibility that it allows deep exploration of who we really are in relationship to ourselves, others, and the BIGGER PICTURE.

And when members of the community forget this – getting trapped in minutiae, control issues, personal affronts, purely egomaniacal pursuits – then we fail to be a spiritual community.

It takes work to be dedicated to the task; constant vigilance to rise above the fray of being merely human; to keep one’s focus on that which lifts us up rather than puts us down.

Still, we come together as a spiritual community. We are not merely individuals. As I said in part in my article “Why We Are Not McDonald’s””
Unlike McDonald’s, a UU congregation shouldn’t be a place for gimmicks or tricks. We are called together by common consent and supported by a noble history and ethical imperatives.
Unlike McDonalds, a UU congregation shouldn’t be a collection of anonymous, smiling persons asking you “May I help you?” but not really caring about the deeper you, the one who seeks relationship.
Unlike McDonald’s, a UU congregation shouldn’t be merely a comfortable place leaving you full. It should make you feel unsatisfied, calling you to right the injustices in a world in need of healing.
Indeed, to be a member of this or any other UU congregation means that we will live our lives with love – in all we think, feel, and do.
And yes, this community is here to support our efforts in living such a life.

Closing Words: “In the quietness..”
In the quietness of this place, surrounded by the all-pervading presence of the Holy, my heart whispers:
Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve, that in good times or in tempests,
I may not forget that to which my life is committed.
Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve.
-Howard Thurman