printed in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, May 10, 2014
(“No man is an island” was the title chosen by the newspaper for this editorial. While an accurate nod to the John Donne I reference, I prefer more inclusive language.)
As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I am in exceptionally good company on both the lay and professional sides. One of my professional colleagues is the Rev. Tom Schade, a retired UU minister who, post retirement, is spending his days now as an “Opinionater at Large.” What he’s really doing is stirring the pot of religious liberalism, in the very best ways. Recently, among a series of posts about the purpose and mission of liberal religion, he said: “Systems of social domination and subordination have existed as far back into human history as we can see. Humanity is not fallen, but rising, developing new ways of being together that are more fair and just. Liberal thinking, then, is systemic, not personal. We will rise together as we fashion new ways of being together. Everyone is embedded in a network of mutuality; everything, and everyone, is being shaped and conditioned by everything and everyone else. We know that we cannot isolate evil into one person or group. Our view of persons are that each has dignity and is worthy of respect, and that are all interconnected, such that their actions and attitudes are mutually dependent.”
Given that I profoundly agree with this thesis, what arises next for me is this: In light of this truth, how am I called to serve this mission in Cheyenne, Wyoming?
As a Unitarian Universalist living in a place that has an embedded identity as rugged individualists who go it alone, do it their way, and all too often, suffer in silence, I feel called to speak often of the healing power of love in relationship. Relationship with God and the holy as we understand it; and love in deep relationship with other flawed, hopeful, and struggling people. We are all a part of something larger than ourselves, and none of us can survive long as an island – we are all a part of the main.
In a community where suicide and addiction are among the highest in the nation, this message could not be more essential. Therefore, I urge everyone to find a community – my personal recommendation is to find a church community where you feel profoundly welcomed in your wholeness. As a minister, I’m biased in that direction, of course. And if you’re looking for a church home that welcomes the young and the old, LGBT and questioning people, people with more questions than answers, or those who love a really great potluck, then join us some Sunday at 10:30 am at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne. Nurture your spirit – help heal the world.
The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.
Easter Sunday was a strange day for me. Still ill from the stomach “flu,” with Ani and Rob not feeling much better, I gave it my all for the service, then darted around our Thank You brunch afterward, playing keep away from people who wanted to hug or shake hands, and feeling both feverish and foolish as I did so. At the same time, I didn’t have much of a better plan. I really didn’t want anyone to spend their next few days as I had my last few.
I was trying to keep people safe – not long after having donned a rainbow clown wig and capered for my faith in one of the most highly attended services of the year. Foolish and feverish. That’s a great metaphor for ministry – but trying to keep people safe is less so. You see, ministry is not about appearance or being cool, and it’s also not about trying to keep people “safe.” It’s more about sharing your gifts as fully as you can, learning to love past differences and disappointments, and it’s about taking some risks together. Being bold in Love. Being brave in the face of injustice. Trusting one another enough to be silly, to create an environment where both laughter and tears are welcome and embraced.
Of course, part of our covenant is to create a safe space for one another in that fullness of relationship, and a safe space for children and other vulnerable people among us. But “playing it safe” isn’t ministry. Real ministry – the kind that changes people and the world – requires a little foolishness, a little feverishness, and a whole lot of brave, wild, Love. Thank you for walking along that path with me, UUCC. And if I owe you a hug, a high five, or a handshake – I hope to see you soon and pay with interest.
See you in church -
To those rejoicing: let it well up as a spirit of joy and gratitude; to those mourning: let it be a quiet place of discerning wide enough for hope to enter in; for all of us together, let all emerge from a spirit of Love.
For all who are weary, worn and waiting…for all who are hungry, cold or displaced…for all who have lost what they love, but not yet lost hope…we stand with you, we wrap you in a quilt of love, we are ready to lend hands and what help we may. This is our prayer.
NEW MINISTER AT HELM OF CHEYENNE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CHURCH
By James Chilton
CHEYENNE — A study released this week shows that nearly 20 percent of Americans now consider themselves part of no organized religion.
That could be good news for Rev. Audette Fulbright.She is set to be installed as the new minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne later this month, and she’s eager to see her congregation grow.And that may be what happens. According to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, national Unitarian Universalism membership grew nearly 16 percent from 2000-2010 even as more conventional faiths lost members.“There are more folks that have an open-minded approach to religion and life than are really being served here,” Fulbright said. “‘Nones’ (people who profess no specific religious faith) are a big, growing group. It’s a huge proportion of the U.S. and one of our biggest (sources of new membership).”Formed in 1961 through the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America, Unitarian Universalism has Judeo-Christian roots.But it now incorporates teachings from a wide range of other religious traditions and philosophies.“We’re a non-creedal faith; we gather around a set of seven principles rather than creeds and doctrines,” Fulbright said.“We believe the world is full of interesting philosophies and religions. There are men and women in this world who, all the time, are showing us new amazing things through their lives and teaching us how to live and become better people.”
Rather than adhere to the teachings of a single holy book or a rigid hierarchy, Fulbright said Unitarian Universalism is decentralized. It does not provide the solutions to life’s answers.
Instead, the church takes a broad look at many different doctrines and invites adherents to make their own conclusions.
“It’s spirituality without certainty, if you will,” she said.
“We have a huge number of people who would call themselves humanist in one way or another. Probably the largest percentage would identify themselves as religious seekers.”
As such, Fulbright said her congregation is a mash-up of people with a wide range of underlying beliefs, from nominal Christians and Buddhists to earth-centric faiths and even agnostics and atheists.
But the one thing that unifies them, she said, is that they are open-minded and willing to discuss the things that bring them together rather than drive them apart.
“Our theology is to practice how to be together with very diverse understandings of religion,” Fulbright said. “We still act together, we still love together and we want to listen to each other and learn from each other.”
Originally from South Carolina, Fulbright said she wasn’t raised with any particular religion, her parents encouraging her to make her own decisions. But she added that she always considered herself a religious person. The question was, which religion?
“When I was young, I wanted to be a religious professional,” she said. “But I hadn’t seen any women religious professionals, and I couldn’t find a community of faith that worked for me.”
Fulbright said she joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation while she was in college, where she studied psychology.
But as she was preparing to take the Graduate Record Examination, Fulbright had a revelation.
“I was walking into a hallway, and when the light flipped on, the ‘light’ flipped on,” she said. “I just understood deeply that I needed to be a UU minister. So I applied to seminary.”
Fulbright finished that in California in 2000 and served as a minister in Roanoke, Va. throughout the 2000s and into this year. As she was preparing to move on, she began looking at congregations around the country and found herself drawn to Cheyenne’s.
“The one here was the one I found the most affinity with,” she said. “(It) has been very active in the community both in serving people who need to be cared for and in being advocates for justice. They love each other; there’s a palpable sense of welcome when you go there.”
While Fulbright will be formally installed as the new minister at 4 p.m. on Oct. 21, she has been conducting services there for about a month.
She said on a typical Sunday her services can look at any of a number of religious texts, from the Bible and the Quran to her personal favorite, the Tao Te Ching, a text fundamental to Taoism.
“Most of the time, if people have been to any other kind of Protestant church, they don’t find the format wildly different,” she said.
“But it’s different in the ideas that are included in the service and their source material.
“It’s not just the Bible; it might be a poem by Maya Angelou or a reading from the Bhagavad Gita. It could come from any tradition or science. I love quantum physics and I tend to talk a lot about it.”
Ultimately, she said, Unitarian Universalism is about affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person, regardless of background or belief.
Whether one is an agnostic looking for a likeminded community, a Christian seeking a less dogmatic atmosphere or a Buddhist searching for a place to meditate, Fulbright said all are welcome under her roof.
“‘Give them hope, not hell,’ is our religious tradition,” she said.
“Our faith is built on the belief that we need not think alike to love alike, and that’s what I deeply believe.”