We are here. We are here as friends, as strangers, as teachers and students. We are here, united in one word…seminarian. A word that speaks of the “seed” of life. We are the seeds of life of our united Unitarian Universalist movement. We come from all over the country, all over the map theologically, culturally, economically. Yes, we are here.
But remember, we won’t always be here. There will come a time when we will no longer be able to call ourselves “seedlings” but rather we will bud as flowers, trees, shrubs, forests…our ideas and our efforts will have taken root, even in small ways and we will carry the direction of our shared faith as leaders, ministers, chaplains, counselors, activists. We will not always be here.
So for as long as this lasts, as long as we are germinating and stewing in the process of formation, and as long as we are together in this shared space over these few days, let us give thanks and presence to the fact that we ARE here and able to grow side by side in the rich soil of community, that holds the nutrients of mentors, and educators, funders, family and friends…a seedbed embrace that drinks deeply of the fountain of love.
– Call to worship for CGUUS 2013
“What was that?” I find myself asking. The first Continental Gathering of Unitarian Universalist Seminarians (CGUUS) over the weekend of October 11 – 13 was a group of about 50 people ranging in ages, races, orientations and social locations that descended like a tsunami on Harvard Divinity School and First Church Boston where we shared and learned and taught and explored many of the various sides of where we are headed as future Unitarian Universalist ministers. Then just as quickly, we all left…headed back to our individual and unique paths. I am writing this on a crack of dawn flight back to San Francisco where I will spend the rest of my day at work and then attempt to make my 7:30pm pastoral care class, because that’s what we do. We left in our wake a trail of upended archetypes, broken barriers and the fragments of the ‘old school.‘ If this tiny but mighty storm of energy is truly representative of the body of nationwide Unitarian Universalist seminarians, it is clear that we see ourselves and our faith evolving into something completely unlike its past and different from how it looks even today. In fact, a vision for change may be one of the strongest uniting factors we have. For unlike other faiths where tradition and the ‘institution’ may require that one must be ‘called’ by the diocese or display encyclopedic amounts of Biblical reference knowledge or practice extreme self sacrificing piety or possess a family pedigree in the church, the only thing that Unitarian Universalism seems to ask of its future clergy is that we be completely different from one another and have thoroughly contrasting needs and goals. That, and a bottomless pit of love in our hearts for people, the world everywhere and the work of ministry.
The weekend blew by. We delighted in a spirited world cafe kickoff, workshops with UU theologian Rev. Thandeka and newly installed minister of First Parish in Malden, MA, Rev. Christian Schmidt, discussions about the purpose, shape and direction of the Unitarian Universalist movement and the next CGUUS gathering. This was all woven together with exquisite and moving worship and carefully and lovingly planned meals which meant that Friday evening until Sunday morning was very full and fast paced. Maybe too full. This was a first for all of us where we had the opportunity to intentionally meet and exchange face to face with people from other schools and other parts of the country and experience our differences first hand specifically as seminarians. I have lived on the West Coast and in the South for much of my adult life but I grew up in the Boston area surrounded by Unitarian churches. Yet, I was still unprepared for how different from “Bay Area UU-ism” “Boston Unitarianism” looks and sounds from the student perspective. There were lifelong UUs, recent converts, ‘Evangelical’ UUs, Pagan UUs, Christian UUs…I heard conversation about the depth of the commitment to Humanism that permeates some of the midwest and learned that Canadian UUs regardless of their school affiliations are proudly united as Canadians above all, which was a great lesson in American-centric UU regionalism. There was so much to experience with each other and we all wanted more time together to learn and explore.
But there was also specific work to be done. Originally, the Reverend Thandeka had been invited to lead a weekend workshop at Harvard Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Students (HUUMS.) The focus of the event grew and evolved into a broader vision that ultimately became CGUUS, but Thandeka was always intended to be a crucial part of the experience. She brought a grounding and a connection to those who are already established leaders in our field and a sense of mentorship that gave the weekend an important context as it looked to the future of our faith. Her work and perspective, which can be deeply inspiring for some and challenging for others, was a reminder that we come from an expansive history of exploration and deep thought around liberal and/or progressive religion. She was the perfect reminder that although we have innovation and change on the brain we must take time to pause…for many reasons, if not to actively engage the powerful visionaries who have come before us. You can’t really go anywhere if you don’t know where you’ve been.
This was just a beginning. There have been other UU seminarian led efforts in the past (Zero, Aspire) and we come from a tradition of placing importance on the education of seminarians. It was fitting that we started this at Harvard where some of the luminaries of our tradition began their journeys. Still, the transitory nature of our status as seminarians presents challenges. But today, we are uniquely positioned through the combination of how our faith looks in the modern era and our access to many, many modes of communication and interaction to build on what we’ve begun. The best example is how the planning committee for CGUUS 2013 was spread across the continent including Canada the West Coast, East Coast and Mid-West (and yes we looked to include the South, Southwest and even the Caribbean to no avail…next time!) Yet, we managed to communicate through Google Hangouts and email and telephone calls. We coordinated logistics, website registration, financial arrangements and even some pastoral care for one another, without ever being face to face as a group. Truly, when we did realize that we were all in the room together for the first time, it was more like a reunion than anything else. This thing has both living and digital legs.
So here we are now, looking at next steps. All of the participants are on fire with the potential that has been unleashed. Whether this continues as just a stand alone event, or whether it blossoms into regional gatherings; whether we emphasize education or networking or if we simply become a foundation for support and collegiality; or if we become all of the above, the Continental Gathering of Unitarian Universalist Seminarians is now a reality. We are here.