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A Unitarian on Faith Formation

Since the Unitarians are a creedless faith, The Rev. Peter C. Boullata took up the charge of hoping that they haven’t “institutionalized narcissism. He talks about the challenge to do faith formation in their denomination. I was both excited and troubled that they have some of the same problems that we Catholics do at times with proclaiming “Just who they heck are we as church anyway and how do we teach others to proclaim that?”.

Rev Peter writes in post entitled The Liberal Church Finding Its Mission: It’s Not About You:

A good deal of this slippage comes from a lack of opportunities for faith formation in our congregations, especially among adults. A disciplined search for truth and meaning takes effort; it takes discipline. Being unencumbered by doctrine ought not imply that doctrine is not examined for the truth it may contain. Indeed, not being constrained by creedal formulations seems to have been translated into an abandonment of theological reflection altogether. We offer a non-dogmatic approach and context to religious inquiry without equipping members of our communities for the search. Discerning your spiritual path is difficult without tools, without support.

Faith formation is not simply adult religious education. Run a couple of classes on building your own theology and spiritual practice and then you’re done. Formation involves worship and preaching, mission work and governance. It’s the work of the entire enterprise of being church together. It takes place collectively, mutually as well as individually. We are also formed as people of faith in conversation with the tradition, with our historic testimonies. The tradition speaks to us and we respond. We respond lovingly, critically, thoughtfully–but recognize that our historic context has a voice shaping today’s conversation about who we are and what we’re about.

At times, I think we Catholics too tend to overlook our creed in favor of highlighting a God of love and casting “what we stand together on” to the wind. Obviously, even within churches people have healthy disagreement and even dissent at times–a church this big is bound to see that. Yet, we can’t just be a “God is love, now draw a rainbow” church. We also can’t just highlight the social justice aspects without some theology to back up why the heck we care about the poor. We also can’t afford to not help people with their own personal spiritual journey. How do people come to know God and form images of God–and most importantly, how do they let God be God and work on them so that they might become all that God made them to be?

A final comment from our Unitarian friend:

Inasmuch as Unitarian Universalist communities continue to neglect discernment, theology, discipline, spiritual practice, faith formation, vocation and engagement with our historic testimonies and tradition, we will never be a missional religious movement. As long as we are known as the church of individual seekers we will never have the kind of impact that a missional religion has on transforming the world. It should go without saying that the chronically self-involved have no interest in serving the needs of others.

What would it take for us to be known in the wider community for some of the traits, characteristics and perspectives we hold in common and that we continue to share with our historic legacy? What would it take for our communal calling as a faith community to become as important as our much-vaunted individual spiritual journeys?

What do people say about your church as they drive past it to others? Are we the church where they believe that we should serve the needs of the poor because Jesus held them in special regard? Are we the church that encourages people to explore their relationship with the divine and to talk with others about that? Are we a church with a mission to change not just the world but also our own prejudices, biases and other shortcomings? Are we a church that encourages dialogue and yet can hold on to truths we’ve come to know in a dynamic tension?

I hope we are. But I fear sometimes, we just have people, especially young people to draw a rainbow and call it a day.

A hat tip to my favorite Unitarian Peacebang

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