Minister’s Column January 2023

Dear Ones:

The numbers 2-0-2-3 feel somewhat inauspicious to me as far as years go. 2023 is no 1999 (“party like it’s…”), 2000 (new century) or 2020 (pandemic, George Floyd, etc.). It certainly doesn’t have the smooth, quarter-century feel of 2025. Nope, 2023 feels like a non-milestone year. Meh. Blah. Ho-hum. Except that for Unitarian Universalism, it’s a big year, in a funky, congregational way. 2023 is the year when the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly (Pittsburgh, third week of June—anyone interested in joining me there?) debates wholesale changes to Article 2 of its by-laws. (Actually, as members of a member institution, they are OUR BYLAWS!) Article 2 is where the 7 UU principles live. Article 2 is where the sources of our living tradition live. And if the new Article 2 proposal passes, both the principles and the source language will disappear.

Our ministry theme for January is Finding Our Center. There are, of course, many ways to approach this theme. In my January 8th sermon, I’ll be talking about the concept of “shared ministry,” which is a critical “center” for our congregation. At our January 15th Sunday service, Gina and I will talk about the 1963 “Children’s Crusade” to end segregation in Birmingham, AL. We will emphasize another important “center” of our congregational life: social justice activism. And in my January 22nd sermon, I will be preaching about the proposed changes to the UUA’s Article 2. Certainly, the seven principles and the sources live at the center of Unitarian Universalism. They have lived there comfortably for many years. We should not give them up lightly. We should feel confident that the new language serves just as well as an enduring and inspiriting center for our faith.

I am persuaded that the proposed new language, if accepted, will indeed serve as such an enduring and inspiring center for our faith. I am most heartened by the way the writers of the Article 2 proposal have put love at the center of Unitarian Universalism. While I am deeply committed to the 7 principles, I’ve always felt that the absence of any reference to love is problematic. To be sure, I have some concerns about the new proposal, which I will discuss in my January 22nd sermon. But my support for the changes far outweighs my concerns.

Regardless of why I think about feel about the changes, I recognize that this change may be unfathomable to some of you. While a small number of you were Unitarian Universalists before 1985 when the current Article 2 was adopted, the vast majority of you became Unitarian Universalists after 1985, and you have never experienced our faith without the principles and the sources at the center. Hear me: this is a HUGE change. It’s important that we pay attention to and, where possible, participate in the Article 2 conversation in the larger UU community.

I’ll leave you with a reminder about the nature of liberal religion. As liberal religious people, we recognize the reality of change. We recognize that change is inherent in the natural order. We agree that “change alone is unchanging.” We do not preach an unchanging theology. We allow our theology to change in response to changes in society, culture and the natural world. The UUA’s Article 2 is written with the assumption that it will change over time, precisely so that our center can continue to respond to our times. And that is the question I leave for you as we search for our center. Does the proposed language for Article 2 respond more effectively to our times than the current language? As we move through this month and through the first half of the year toward the General Assembly in Pittsburgh, I invite you to share your thoughts with me. How do you answer this question?

With love,

Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek