Monday, October 30, 2006

November Worship: The Future of the Liberal Church

My colleague Rob Eller-Isaacs, co-minister of the Unity-Unitarian Church in St. Paul, MN, wrote these words in his October newsletter column (see page 2):

“My hope is that progressive organizations, liberal churches included, will soon experience a growth surge which echoes that experienced by the religious right in the past 20 years. My fear is we won’t be ready.

“I could offer you a laundry list of ways that liberal churches are ill prepared to welcome all the ‘longing, thirsty souls’ who may soon come our way. I could berate us for thinking so small in a time when the need is so great. I could bemoan our tendency to take pride that we have influence far beyond our numbers. We’ve been proud to be the leaven long enough. It is time for us to be the bread.”
Rev. Eller-Isaacs sees crisis, but also opportunity. Perhaps the opportunity he sees is overstated, is too optimistic, is too unrealistic. But can we do anything else but act as if the opportunity is there? We can’t afford to think that he might be wrong.

In my November newsletter column (see page 2), I wrote about the growth we’ve seen at SMUUCh over the past few years. In all four services during the month of November, we will explore “The Future of the Liberal Church: Its Crisis and its Opportunities.”

On November 5th, I will preach “A Word for Certainty.” My title is a reference to the recent book by Paul Rasor, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology is the 21st Century. Rasor’s book explores how twentieth century liberal theology tore down the old assumptions and conventions. Having torn down, we are now called to build up. My sermon will be a challenge to us to construct anew.

On November 12th, I will preach a sermon entitled, “After the seeking, what next?” Having talked about a new theology the week before, this week will deal with a new spiritual development and a new ecclesiology. It is possible to find (and be found.) And when we do, we can lead, build, and transform.

While some perceive the crisis in the liberal church as a sign of opportunity, others want to usher in the demise of all religion. My sermon on November 19th will be a response to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. This morning I will offer a “Letter to Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.” If you are interested in reading responses to Dawkins and Harris, you might consider Doug Muder’s review of Harris or Warren Ross’ interview with Harris in the UU World. You may also wish to check out Gilead author Marilynne Robinson’s review of Dawkins in Harper’s Magazine, “Hysterical Scientism: The Ecstasy of Richard Dawkins.”

Finally, on November 26th we will be visiting the town of Holmes’ Prairie, Kansas where through allegory and parable we will be revisiting the themes of this month.

(P.S. Robinson's essay in Harper's is brilliant!)