As is often the case, at a recent family wedding, the discussion turned to what I do for a living. Most people in my family know, but often there is a bit of curiosity as to what it actually entails. What exactly is ministry? Who are those Unitarian Universalists anyway? What do people believe in the congregation you serve? That last question is often the most fun to answer. I enjoy talking about our diversity and the many different beliefs in the room on any given Sunday. I love painting a picture that has followers of Jesus, Buddha, or Mary Oliver sitting next to each other in the chairs or pews. I enjoy digging into the details about ex-Christians, current Christians, cultural Hindus or Jews, and any number of other combinations we can and do experience. The conversation almost always takes an even more interesting turn when I bring up our varied earth-centered paths. The word Pagan often stops people in their tracks. You mean you have PAGANS? Witches?! Druids?! What is THAT all about?
This most recent wedding involved an even deeper probe into our theological diversity. We got to bypass the usual “so, what exactly is a Pagan?” conversation and get right to the point. I was asked, “What is the motivation for people in those traditions to become a part of a Unitarian Universalist community?” The question almost stumped me. Not because of the specificity but because I have been wrestling with the wider question of what draws us into the wider UU tradition in the first place. I know all of the stock answers: covenant, community, justice, spiritual depth, intellectual stimulation. But I struggle with the answers that don’t easily come to mind for me: ritual, identity, history, tradition. Being asked what brings a very broadly defined group of people into our communities leaves me wondering.
The struggle also goes beyond those broad categories. Is there a limit to the people that will feel welcome in our Unitarian Universalist communities? I often share my own opinion on this from the pulpit. I can’t help but draw the distinction between “being welcome” and “feeling welcome.” Of course all people are welcome to join us but will they feel it? Will someone that believes in any form of damnation find a place in a community whose tradition was (and I would argue, is) the refutation of damnation? Will a racist or sexist or homophobe fit in easily? Would a LaVeyan Satanist find a home in our pews? How about most political conservatives these days?
These questions all come bubbling up as well as the tension between “being welcome” and “feeling welcome” since the church I currently serve has one of the few outlets for earth-based and Pagan spirituality in our geographic location. We want to welcome that diversity. We see that diversity often. But what are the limits?
I have no concrete answers for the questions above – especially the one asked of me at this most recent wedding. So, dear readers, what are the limits? What are the things that have drawn you into a Unitarian Universalist community as a Pagan (or any other variation)? What has kept you around? What has pushed you away? Where do you see as the tensions? I can preach about my own understanding of Unitarian Universalist until I am blue in the face. I can draw parallels, point out tensions, and bridge gaps between our many intersectional identities within our communities of faith. But what good is that without your voice?