Lost and found

“Mine is a theology of right relationship, in which we week a loving connection with ourselves, each other, with the earth and with a loving God.”

This is part of a statement from a candidate for ministry at a Unitarian Universalist church, as presented in Search, a splendid novel by Michelle Huneven.

The search committee rejects the candidate as being too Christian. Guess that leaves me out of the running, too.

For a short time in college, I attended a UU church with my girlfriend. Later, but before I got into ministry, I also was a guest speaker at a couple of UU churches. The church I attended briefly had a gorgeous Tudor style sanctuary with white walls and dark wood accents. It had a Sunday “service,” but I’m not sure you could call it a “worship” service.

The organ was strong and loud, but the hymns were dreary, and I thought they lacked substance. We definitely were not singing to any deity, nor was “God” ever mentioned, that I recall. I don’t remember any prayers either. There were several readings that, lacking context, had little meaning. The sermons were supposed to be uplifting, but I was never moved beyond the usual wondering, “What’s for lunch?”

The congregation was welcoming in the usual churchy way – which is to say, guardedly. (How else do you welcome new college students whom you’ll probably never see again?) After several weeks, we gave it up. I am not sure what she was looking for. I was fleeing the horrors of a fundamentalist Baptist church. I needed some assurance that Jesus was not a colossal jerk. I had never been in a United Methodist church.

My girlfriend and I did spend many evenings studying in the Wesleyan Center on campus. We camped out in a small room dedicated to John Wesley. The walls of the room were lined with books by and about Wesley. I had never heard of him, and I never cracked a single book besides the ones I brought in to study. Sometimes I wonder how my life might have changed if I’d read from Wesley then, knowing nothing else about him.

Hardly anyone else was ever at the Wesleyan Center, and no one ever said boo to us. Though the place was always open, there didn’t seem to be much happening. It was easy to slip in and out unnoticed several nights a week for a full semester. And then we were gone.

But not quite for good, at least for me. Six or seven years later, I fell in love with a different young woman, and 47 years ago today, we were married. She introduced me to the Wesleyan way of following Jesus. I immediately was hooked, and 30 years ago I committed to ministry in the United Methodists Church.

Michelle Huneven’s book Search kept me up far too late a few nights ago. Relatively close to the end, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. The ending is tragic. It’s not at all the ending I wanted. But if you know anything at all about the way churches work (UU or Methodist or Baptist or whatever), it’s painfully realistic. (Damn, I hate realistic books. Give me a happy ending any day.)

          Though he didn’t last long in the running, I really liked the candidate I quoted earlier, because he sounds exactly like me. “Mine is a theology of right relationship, in which we week a loving connection with ourselves, each other, with the earth and with a loving God.” Amen to that!

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