Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Glowing Coal

Something that regular readers of the Celestial Lands might have picked up on… and something that anyone who has been in a congregation I have served as a minister probably could not have missed… is that I love our congregations. I love the congregations of this Liberal Faith Tradition we call Unitarian Universalism. One of the great privileges of having been a Unitarian Universalist Seminarian who was also a military chaplain candidate was that it made me a bit of an “exotic” preacher… and it landed me enough preaching opportunities that I was able, over 5 years, to travel to 8 different states and preach in over 45 different congregations. I was able to meet and explore many of our liberal faith congregations in the way few people (who are not a UUA President or District Exec) get to.

In short, I’m fascinated by our congregations. I’m fascinated by how, why, and what we do as liberal religious congregations. I write about it, I speak about it, and I explore it with liberal religious communities.

Now that I’m not able to “travel-preach” anymore (unless someone wants to pulpit-exchange) I’m looking for other ways to continue that exploration of our congregations. One of the most amazing ways to continue that exploration of our amazing congregations is by reading the “Congregational Records” produced by UU Congregations that are in search for a new minister. Now, this is not just an academic exercise… if the Army does not figure out whether or not they want me to deploy next year I will be looking for a congregation… but there is an aspect to exploring those congregational records that is about my fascination with our congregations. It’s why I even read fully the congregational records of congregations that are, to use a military term, “way above my paygrade.”

Now, I’m not going to say anything specific about any congregations… so my Friends in the UUA Transitions Office can breathe a sigh of relief… the process of how ministers and congregations are connected with one another in our tradition is confidential for some very good reasons. I do want to talk about one of the questions congregations are asked to answer.

Congregations are asked to answer a question about their vision and mission… not whatever vision or mission statement they may have, but to try and articulate what is the “glowing coal” at the center of their congregation.

Of all the questions I have seen congregations struggle with in the several years I have been reading such Congregational Records, this one appears the hardest… and sometimes it leads to some of the most amazing answers.

It is hard for our tradition to name what is our “glowing coal”. What is it that rests among us that gives us hope, energy and passion? What is it, to paraphrase one of our new hymns, that is “the fire of commitment that sets our minds and souls ablaze?” I think it is hard in part because we are afraid that, if we are to name a “glowing coal”, we may find it is not shared universally among us. Because of that fear, we have long stayed away from trying to identify what rests at the center of our faith… what holds us together, provides us warmth, and lights our way.

I know that fear, I feel it myself when I move into these waters of exploring what may be our tradition’s “glowing coal”. There have been many suggested answers, from our “living tradition” to “our vision of a world made whole” to my most recent suggestion, a liberal faith methodology. As I have read the results of search committees struggling to answer this question in their own congregations, it has struck me how important this work is for us as a faith tradition and movement as a whole. It is not necessarily important that we find that “glowing coal” that rests among us and holds us together…

No, the important piece is the continuing search for it. The important piece is that we continue to explore, refine, and uncover what rests in common among us of Liberal Faith. That we always are in communion with one another in seeking to find that center, even while that center fades and moves, shifts and dances among us. For in seeking to find our center, our “glowing coal”, we learn more about ourselves, our passions, our visions, our hopes, our dreams, our values, our beliefs, our principles, our faults, our limitations… We learn, perhaps, that it is that glowing coal we are forever seeking that “lights our minds and souls ablaze.”

Yours in faith,

Rev. David

One Thought on “Glowing Coal

  1. Loved the photo of Ununseptium! I was pleased that I remembered a fair amount of chemistry, although I had to look up the periodic table to see what class it was. Very nice that it’s a halogen, which is both flexible: “he group of halogens is the only periodic table group which contains elements in all three familiar states of matter at standard temperature and pressure.” and highly prone to bonding “Owing to their high reactivity, the halogens are found in the environment only in compounds or as ions.” However, this part isn’t so good: “Halogens are highly reactive, and as such can be harmful or lethal to biological organisms in sufficient quantities.” But I’m sure somebody can make a good joke out of that fact.

    And David, you haven’t ceased to amaze me yet. Keep it up!

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: