Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Joining a Church

I am in the process of joining the congregation here in Ann Arbor, where we moved at the beginning of 2013.  And I am savoring this moment of non-membership and allowing myself to feel this process.

There is no doubt that I will sign the book.  This is my faith tradition from birth.  I get church life.  I really like the ministers at the church.  I find the worship fulfilling and satisfying, even though it is more humanist than I have been used to.  We filled out our pledge card months ago.  The people that I have met seem to be good solid folks I would like to have friends and companions.  But I don't really know them.

And there is where a little note of disharmony enters the picture.  A little discordant and false note.  The rhetoric of joining a UU congregation is typically describes it as "entering into this religious community" or "joining this group of people" or even "entering into a covenant with these people."

I know this because I have used those words over and over again, as I invited people from the pulpit to consider joining the congregation.

The little note that doesn't ring true is that the people of the congregation are the part of the equation that is most unknown.  Even after 9 months of pretty regular attendance, I don't know that many people, and those I do know, I don't know them very well.

So, it feels a little false to say that what I am doing is "joining these people in religious community."  I think that the real definition of the commitment that I am making is "I am committing myself to sustaining this ministry of worship".  Basically, I am saying "This Worship Experience Works for Me."  And, I am affiliating myself with this thing, Unitarian Universalism.

The presence of other people, people who seem to be good folk, at these worship services facilitates the worship experience and verifies to me that my perception of it is probably accurate.

But there is another step between my willingness to support this ministry of worship and a real commitment to the people of the congregation, which all of the rhetoric of the church says is the real goal of membership.

The rhetoric about joining a religious community sets an expectation.  It makes signing the book feel a little hypocritical, as in: "I say I am committing to these people, but I don't really have the basis to make that commitment."

In addition, there is no implied process of growth.

What if we said, instead, at the point of induction into Unitarian Universalism: "I have been called by this ministry of worship and service to make the values of Unitarian Universalism (or some such formulation) the cornerstone of my life.  I am saying "yes" to that call and are joining with those gathered here to support each other in that transformation."

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