Okay. Before I get to the main point of this post (increasing the Spirituality Quotient of the average UU congregation), I’d like to offer a couple of great resources that can help congregations that may be putting a “greater emphasis on social service programs or church committee work than on promoting spiritual growth” (see yesterday’s post for what that’s all about). The first resource is called “The Spirituality of Service.” The second resource is called “Spirituality & Service.” The first is an article by the Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom about how “giving our time to our congregations can be spiritually transformative.” This resource addresses the lack of spirituality in committee work. The second resource is primarily for young adults, but I think it would be great for anyone looking to deepen the spiritual aspects of social service programs and social justice work. Taking these resources seriously could help almost any congregation turn committee work and social service programs into opportunities for spiritual growth.
But on to the real point of this post: offering congregations with little or no emphasis on spiritual growth something from our tradition that might help them bring spirituality to the fore. It’s a resource that I’ve been aware of since the mid-90s, and I really find it odd (and a little disheartening) that it isn’t used more often. I’m talking about “The Roots of Unitarian Universalist Spirituality in New England Transcendentalism” [PDF] by the Rev. Dr. Barry Andrews. As I said, I’ve been familiar with this article since I started working as a religious educator in Bloomington, Indiana, and the first thing I did when I discovered it (I believe it was printed in a REACH packet with an introduction by Judith Frediani) was to develop an adult religious education class so others in the congregation could benefit from Barry’s wisdom.
I’m not going to go into much detail about the article because I really really really want you to read it (and check out Barry’s website on Transcendentalist Spirituality while you’re at it). But I’ll tell you what I think the coolest thing about it is: the spiritual practices of the Transcendentalists (Emerson, Fuller, Thoreau, et. al.) that Barry describes are 100% applicable to the 21st century. In fact, the religious education class I developed gave participants a contemporary example of each one. Here there are: excursions in nature, contemplation, reading, journal writing, conversations, simple living, and social reform. The class I developed took about three hours, with a half an hour or so devoted to each practice (with some practices doing double duty, like an abbreviated small group ministry session on simple living). I could easily see expanding the experience so that it would take several weeks, with a session on each practice.
At any rate, I could imagine an adult religious education experience like this being part of the membership journey offered by UU congregations. It would introduce newcomers to Unitarian Universalist history and theology, and give them a taste of the spiritual practices that the congregation might offer on a regular basis, like book groups, small group ministry, field trips, etc. All of these sort of things can become opportunities for spiritual growth if we let them. And if they were good enough for our Transcendentalist forebears, they’re good enough for me.