For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
Gathered here, in the mystery of the hour;
gathered here, in one strong body;
gathered here, in the struggle and the power:
Spirit, draw near!
I’m writing this column at The Mountain, a Unitarian Universalist retreat and learning center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern North Carolina, here to participate in the Spring meeting of the Southeast Chapter of the UU Ministers Association. It’s my first time back in more than two years, and it’s been great to catch up with colleagues both old and new. I’m also excited to be here this week because the Rev. Thandeka is leading us in a seminar on what she names Affect Theology, “the study of the human emotions and affective states that guide, direct and prioritize religious beliefs, liturgical structures, religious education programs and pastoral practices by members and leaders of a religious community.” The first part of her seminar has been quite enlightening already, and I look forward to our discussion of how to put these ideas into practice.
Perhaps more valuable than the continuing education that takes places at such ministers’ meetings, though, is the opportunity to spend time with colleagues and friends. For all that we come from all over the southeast, from a wide spectrum of urban and suburban locations and serving in congregations of different sizes and styles, we all come together as religious professionals who love the faith we share. Spending a week together in close quarters on top of a mountain, we form our own community, much like a congregation but concentrated in time and space.
After all, while we’re here, we do everything a congregation does. We worship together, in the morning as well as in the evening. We care about one another, for those who are struggling with life’s challenges or who have suffered losses. We enjoy one another’s company, literally “breaking bread” together in the dining hall as well as chatting outside on the deck or sitting quietly together on Meditation Rock. We learn from one another, whether in the formal seminar sessions or in informal conversations that share the wisdom of experience. We make decisions together, electing officers and discussing the programs that are being planned or that we want to be planned. And we inspire one another, to know how we might better fulfill our vocations to serve the common good and make the world a better place.
Of course, not everyone here participates in the same way. We all arrive as individuals, with our own personalities and attitudes, our own histories and dreams, our own joys and struggles. We don’t all eat exactly the same food at meal-time — the hard-working staff of The Mountain ensure, of course, that there are suitable vegetarian, gluten-free, allergen-free, etc. meals available so that nobody goes hungry — and the same goes for the spiritual food of the community we create together. For that matter, not everyone here has the same skills and abilities, whether in terms of speaking or listening or teaching or imagining or acting, and that’s okay, too. In fact, we need such time and place with one another precisely because we’re not all the same, because we’re don’t see things the same way or even want the same things. It may not be perfect, but it’s wonderfully human, and it is a joy to be together.
People who have been part of a gathering of many Unitarian Universalists — particularly General Assembly but also district meetings as well as last year’s Hampton Roads UU Revival — will often comment that they gained a better idea of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. The concentrated days of a UU camp or conference have much the same effect, offering at least a taste of the Beloved Community to which our faith aspires. And when we return home, we bring with us memories of that taste and a renewed desire to find it again, and to share it with others. I know that this week at The Mountain will give us some good ways to continue doing just that, at the Fellowship and beyond!