Frances Deverell

Rev. Frances DeverellAfter a few years of listening to sermons I began to wonder if we were truly willing to commit our lives to these principles of worth and dignity of people, justice, equity and compassion, peace, and world and earth community, or if we were just spouting nice ideas on Sunday morning.

I found that there was so much disagreement on how to approach these themes in reality that most of the churches and fellowships I belonged to were stuck when it came to social action. Thus began my long search to free our energy and our ideas, to become the movement for social transformation I believed was possible.

In the course of this search, I found that social action is more difficult and complex than first meets the eye. We learned from Lotta Hitschmanova that it was not enough to send warm clothes and blankets. We had to work with people to help them take charge of their own well-being, not create dependence. Just like our vision of the interdependent web, the issues of social justice are all interconnected and solutions are not obvious. It is often more about process, and relationships, than it is about particular actions.

It is essential to understand our own needs and motivations as we do this work. The call for personal growth, and increasing depth and maturity is an essential part of the work if we hope to see a world based on mutual respect, peace, and sharing of the necessities of life.

The Rev. Jennifer Crowe writes that she believes Unitarian Universalism offers a saving message “that asks us to live at the intersection of spiritual development and social justice.” She believes that numerical growth of our churches is not a worthy goal in itself, and that growth will come naturally with “the development of an authentic mission and message. It comes when others see us living out our values, living lives of integrity, service and joy, creating authentic change in our world.”

In her experience at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, new people are seeking a practice-oriented spirituality. They welcomed the church’s programs on UU history and theology and a year-long Wellspring program to give them the tools they needed and wanted to live authentic, meaningful lives.

Today it is my belief that as Unitarians, both as individuals and in our congregations, we must seek a balance between personal spiritual development and outward orientation. Because the issues are so complex, we must develop our relationships with others in the community and do a lot of listening to see what is really needed and what we are best positioned to contribute.

There are so many issues and situations that need our attention; we cannot do them all. We have to live with that. But allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by our insufficiency is not an option. I go with Adrienne Rich:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
So much has been destroyed,
I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age,
Perversely, with no extraordinary power,
Reconstitute the world

Our spirituality is not complete if it does not manifest itself, finally, in our deeds.