Yesterday, I read “Elite: Uncovering Classism in Unitarian Universalism History” by Mark W. Harris. Published earlier this year, it is relatively short 129 pages, but full of names and stories from our tradition’s history. I recommend it to anyone interested in either our history or, frankly, our future.
We have recently celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the consolidation that formed the Unitarian Universalist Association or UUA (out of the older American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America). In addition, the congregation I serve is gearing up to celebrate its centennial. Such anniversaries cause us to reflect on our history. This is a wonderful thing and even more valuable if we are willing to look at the things of which we are not so proud alongside the things of which we are proud. This gives us the opportunity to be intentional about what we carry into the future. It also gives us the chance to be intentional about what we will not carry into the future. What will we set down, either because it no longer serves us, or perhaps because it has never served us?
As Harris’ book makes clear, we have a mixed history with regard to class issues. Deeply woven into certain strands of our history are assumptions about the socio-economic level of our members. At the same time, there have been other strands that highlight a deep longing to be a diverse and truly inclusive movement. My personal experience in our congregations confirms both of these threads. At times, I find both threads within myself.
Since my first call, I have tried to be mindful of the assumptions that I made about the people in our pews and in our committee meetings. I have served congregations where almost everyone brought organizational and management skills with them from their jobs. I have served congregations where almost no one did. I remember noticing that most of the resources provided to congregations assume a certain level of skill. I realized that we were missing a great resource if we were not prepared to meet people wherever they were, and give them what they need to be successful in congregational leadership.
More importantly, I am clear that higher degrees and bigger pay checks do not necessarily strengthen a person’s value system, guarantee clear thinking, or signify a more compassionate heart. I believe that the things that I hold most dear about my faith, and its expression in Unitarian Universalism, will resonate with people of all classes and cultures.
I am grateful for the appearance of Harris’ book at this time. I hope it will provoke dialogue among us about what we most value and about what just might be unnecessary distractions and unhelpful assumptions.