Eighth Principle: Learning From Our Past to Prepare For Our Future

So my Mid-Hi students at First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque are leading our delegation to the local Pride Parade in May. It is a challenging endeavor for them, as they range from sixth-to-eighth-graders- which can be a giant gap as far as maturity and leadership qualities are concerned. As part of this project, they decided to design banners featuring each of the Seven Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, to carry as standards in the parade. The best part- we’ve been dissecting the main idea of each and selecting wording that makes sense to our group.

Principles of Unitarian Universalism

The work of the Mid-Hi UUABQ youth, dissecting the Seven Principles, as described above.

I recite the children’s version of our Principles each night with my five-year-old. Periodically throughout the year, I give the adult version a good read-through, and I hear our ministers’ interpretations of them on the odd occasions I’m in the sanctuary. The experience of evaluating them with our youth has been unique and enlightening, forcing me to constantly view the words through fresh eyes.

It is valuable to truly parse through the sometimes dense and stodgy Unitarian language, and consider the ramifications of applying each word by living them. What does it mean to “encourage spiritual growth” and why is the limiting language of “in our congregations” applied in Principle #3? How might “the goal of world community” in #6 look in real life? Our youth decided to make one edit that is HUGE- changing #1 to read “the inherent worth and dignity of every BEING” instead of “every person.” I see it as a living example of recognizing the right of conscience of our youth- a change made from a millennial/gen-next mindset, but one that may be ready for its day in the sun.

I’m certain there are some Unitarian Universalists that wouldn’t approve of a change of that magnitude. I believe it is a valuable extension of our ideals to give these youth true ownership of the Principles of Unitarian Universalism. We need to allow new generations to put their stamp on the stuff of our faith if we want to retain them through their teen years, into young adulthood and beyond. After all, our Unitarian Universalist Principles are not Commandments Written In Stone, but a living document that sometimes needs room to breathe.

There are even true gems to be mined from looking into our past. Consider the six Original UU Principles. We need to bring some of this language back! Consider Old Principle #5: “To serve the needs of member churches and fellowships, to organize new churches and fellowships, and to extend and strengthen liberal religion.” While this statement is enshrined as the “Purpose of the UUA” out of the mission of individual congregations in our Bylaws, not many of us hear it invoked often, certainly not enough for the words to be familiar. The idea of “extend[ing] and strengthen[ing] liberal religion” takes us to a place many individual UU churches have abandoned in order to insulate themselves from controversy on the battlefield of what religion should and can be.

I, for one, think it’s high time for us to re-enter that fray.

That’s why I am advocating the addition of an Eighth Principle of Unitarian Universalism. First of all, I love the word “extend”. Remember the limiting language from current principle #3 I mentioned above? If our goal is to “extend” our values to affect the very ideal of a religion, we should not be limiting ourselves, in what is essentially our mission statement, to acceptance and encouragement only within the confines of our congregations. Old #5 extends that encouragement and plunges us into the world, to dare I say, spread the good news that there is an alternative available for the “spiritual but not religious” who long for community but reject traditional churches.

I also love the fact that Old #5 places a focus on developing new churches and fellowships. Perhaps a new #8 could stretch that idea into developing new ways to make church happen- embracing technology and meeting potential UUs where they are instead of expecting them to find us. I have read about different ways of “doing church” popping up in Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country, but placing an official endorsement and making it part of our mission as UUs seems valuable to me.

Perhaps Unitarian Universalist adults, who for so long have preferred to push ministry down to youth, can allow for some successful ways of worship to percolate up. So how about it, I Am UU community? Let’s get in the mud, get dirty and draft it together, in the comment section of this humble post- I await your thoughts…

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One Response to Eighth Principle: Learning From Our Past to Prepare For Our Future

  1. Carey April 23, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    I think you’re on to something. I’ve had a problem with the language of the principles since I first read them. The drive to be as open and accepting as possible resulted in something that reads like a legal argument. Of course, we’re going to be seen as overly intellectualized and snobbish! I know from experience that it can make new readers feel confused and intimidated. I also like the idea that our youth should be allowed to shape their own statements and share them. Having a sense of ownership of the religion is one of the missing keys to making Unitarian Universalism a permanent part of their lives.

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