“Love, yes, love your calling,
for this holy and generous love will impart strength to you
so as to enable you to surmount all obstacles.”
~St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
In the late 1820s, a “change in inner conviction” led the Rev. Dr. Theodore Clapp to begin preaching universalism in New Orleans. This change inspired the Mississippi Presbytery to try him for heresy. The vote was for excommunication. Rev. Clapp returned home to New Orleans after his conviction in February 1833 and attempted to resign as pastor. Instead, a new church was born when the majority of the congregation voted to leave the Presbytery with him. Since 1833, this congregation has survived yellow fever epidemics, the Civil war, fires, fire-bombings, bankruptcy, and church-planting-through-schism. Born out of a conviction that all are loved, this congregation has been re-born, re-created, time and time again.
Eight years ago this May, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans was on the brink of a break through. Membership and pledging levels had reached modern era highs, a new minister had been called, counter-oppression work was going on within the congregation – the excitement was palpable on a Sunday morning.
Then there was a burglary in June. And then another in July, along with a Tropical Storm that knocked out power. In August, the local School District chose not to renew its lease with the congregation, creating a vast hole in the budget. And almost immediately thereafter, Hurricane Katrina came through town and the levees broke.
The church sat in 4-5 feet of water for almost 3 weeks. The congregation was scattered across the country. The newly called minister and her wife found themselves digging through muck, trying to pull their dreams out of the destruction, standing on the side of love with a congregation they barely knew.
Knowing its own history, being in relationship with the larger denomination, and living into the mystery have certainly played large roles in this almost miraculous continuity of Unitarian Universalism in the city of New Orleans. And perhaps as significant as all of the above is the thread, woven throughout each incarnation of the congregation, of loving, yes loving, the calling to be a liberal religious presence in the Deep South.
I invite you, in this season of contemplation, to think about the calling of your faith community, the calling of your life. Revisit your history, your most sustaining stories. Be in relationship – locally, regionally, nationally, globally – with all who share some of your story, your faith. Live into the mystery that is each new day with an open heart and a curious mind. And love, yes love, your calling as a person of faith in a world hungry for the conviction that all are loved.
May this holy and generous love impart strength to you as you are born and re-born again into a universe whose only constant is change.