Really, I had already known for at least a year or so that the Unitarian Universalists were “my people” — mostly “old” people (it was Southwest Florida, after all). But the first UU sermon that I ever heard was preached by the Rev. Josiah Reed Bartlett — past president of the Starr King UU seminary, and essentially the founder of the UUA’s interim minister program. He preached with a humility, humor, and grace that revealed to me a truth about how a person might choose to be in this world. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, I barely remember what he said, but I’ll never forget how he made me feel. I wanted to choose to be like him.
But the rest of the story is that I went off to boot camp, graduated, and was moved around to various naval communities in the USA, visiting UU churches whenever I could. I spent the most time, almost a year, at First Unitarian Universalist in Orlando, Florida, listening to another UU celebrity minister, the Rev. Marni Harmony. And then I moved overseas, and was a Unitarian Universalist only through our “correspondence church,” the Church of the Larger Fellowship. I was “in community” only via an email list-serve group (something rarely done these days). The result is that I mostly learned how a UU community works via the written word. I’d like to say I spent the entire fifteen years overseas in that community — but I eventually stopped reading the emails as my career and relationship concerns took over.
Then five years ago, a family crisis brought me to Virginia, where I joined UUFP. Slowly, with the gentle encouragement of some long time members, I began to become more involved. I facilitated a Sunday Morning Forum, and I began working with the youth. And I began seeing what in-person UU “congregational life” was all about — with all the little dramas, triumphs, and tragedies. Eventually, somebody thought it would be a good idea to send me to UU leadership school, known as SUULE (Southern Region Unitarian Universalist Leadership Experience). I went in 2017 — a full twenty years after I first signed the book in Florida. It changed everything.
They call it a “Leadership Experience” because if you let it, it has the power to transform the way you see the world. This is what I let happen to me. My partner from UUFP in this experience was our beloved and recently passed Sarah Pierce-Davis. She and I, in moments of quiet conversation, had what I can only describe as “moments of clarity,” where we suddenly understood some of the social and psychological processes that underlie the community of UUFP. We could identify the “pockets of health” and some of the areas of anxiety at work. We were introduced to what they call the “balcony view” of our Fellowship, rather than the more familiar “dance floor” view. After twenty years of being a Unitarian Universalist, I suddenly felt as though I had “levelled up” in the game — perhaps akin to the sort of religious initiation experience that Joseph Campbell often wrote about: In a sense, I could now see the “faces” that were previously hidden behind masks. I’m not a better UU now. But I am a very different UU.
Starting this spring, the UUA’s Southern Region is offering a version of the Leadership Experience for our Tidewater Cluster of congregations: The Tidewater Cluster Extended Leadership Experience (TExLE). I would encourage every UUFP member that is able to attend to sign up. It will require four Saturdays of your time: The first Saturdays of March, April, May, and June. The cost is $120 for the whole series — but if you find that is out of your budget, let me (or the Rev. Andrew, or Henry Chambers) know and we will try to find an accommodation for you. We will also likely car-pool to the sites:
Session One: March 7, 2020, Williamsburg
Session Two: April 4, 2020, Glen Allen
Session Three: May 2, 2020, Richmond
Session Four: June 6, 2020, Newport News, here at UUFP
I would urge you to consider it not as a “leadership/motivational seminar”, but rather as a path in your Unitarian Universalist faith development. The more people among us who can identify the patterns that move us, the more powerful we will be as a community and as individuals. Register at this link, and then let us know that you did: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/extended-leadership-experience-tidewater-cluster-registration-53689713378