A Place for Me and Thee
I just read this incredibly moving reflection in the Washington Post from John Fountain, actually written back in 2005: “No Place for Me” .
In it he reflects upon why he, a black man raised in and inspired by religious community through all his younger years, no longer feels the church relevant and meaningful in his life. The loss he feels is palpable. And I wonder what his reflections today would be.
There are many aspects to this that could be explored. What’s most relevant for what I am reflecting about right now is the indictment of the church that it’s core mistake has been to turn inward, concerned mostly with the perpetuation of itself, reflective of materialistic values rather than spiritual, serving the needs of the people already in the pews rather than facing outward to the needs of the community surrounding it.
Every congregation needs to take this charge seriously. Every denomination needs to take this charge seriously.
For me it begins not with the question of “is there a place for me” but with the question “is there a place for thee?” By this I mean how much are we focused on creating spiritual communities that speak to basic human need, rather than to meet my particular needs.
How I apply this to my work in our institutional structure is to take the institution out of the center of our ministry. As much as I would like to think I am essential to the work of Unitarian Universalism — I am not. My role, and I believe the role of all of our staff and institutional structures is to create a structural way for ministries to connect to one another, not to create it and then hand it out to others to implement.
When institutions find themselves thinking about how to serve constituencies, they fall into the kind of materialistic, consumeristic mentality that creates the inward, empty focus that Fountain bemoans.
It requires a certain kind of spiritual discipline to resist the seduction of “please make me happy by providing this service for me.” Turning aside these requests can feel like laziness or ineptitude. But by saying, “how can we help you achieve this ministry?” we are achieving something much more important.