‘We are not here to implement iChurch’

“We are the iChurch,” said the Rev. Dr. Fredric J. Muir in his 2012 Berry Street Lecture, “From iChurch to Beloved Community: Ecclesiology and Justice,” in which he offered a strong critique of what he sees as a disturbing commitment to individualism within Unitarian Universalism today.

In addition to individualism, Muir also pointed to Unitarian Universalist exceptionalism, and an “allergy to authority” in our congregations as trends he believes are stifling growth and may lead to our decline and eventual demise as a viable religious movement in the 21st century. “Will we lose control of our future?” Muir asked the assembled clergy.

Muir was careful to separate the valuing of individuality from the idolatry of individualism, a corruption of the ideas Emerson espoused in his Transcendentalist writings such as “Self-Reliance.” “Individualism is not sustainable nor sustaining,” said Muir. “We are not here to implement iChurch.”

In response to the challenges of individualism, exceptionalism, and authority, Muir urged church leaders to embrace covenantal life as the foundation for building the beloved community as envisioned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Don’t you see that your congregation is the beloved community?” asked Muir. He lifted up what he called the four pillars of justice ecclesiology: multiculturalism, environmentalism, sexual values, and right relationship as methods of creating the beloved community within our congregations and nurturing the prophetic spirituality that is our religious heritage.

UUA President Peter Morales responded to the lecture by saying, “If we are going to lead change, we ourselves need to change.” Morales predicted this would be difficult for many ministers as they have “been trained to maintain the status quo.” Morales continued, “I’m talking about real culture change. We are called to move beyond our comfort zones.” The potential for growth and vitality brought about by these changes could be great. “The hunger for a progressive faith like ours is palpable,” Morales concluded.

The Rev. Kimberly Tomaszewski, assistant minister for congregation life at the Unitarian Church in Summit, New Jersey, also offered her responses to the lecture by asking ministers to examine their own complacency in the perpetuation of individualism, exceptionalism, and issues with authority. “We have given away the authority we have been called into,” said Tomaszewski. “We have become individualized when we need each other most.”

The Berry Street address was established by William Ellery Channing in 1820 as the Ministerial Conference at Berry Street. It is the longest running lecture series in the United States and is now traditionally offered at the conclusion of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s “Ministry Days” conference. The presenter for the 2013 Berry Street address will be the Rev. Don Robinson.

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