Why Did Channing Go To Baltimore?

The living tradition we share includes words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love. We’re having an important conversation in the “Engaged Spirituality” class that meets once a month on the second Tuesday evening. (The next one will be Tuesday March 13, 6:00pm). We’re talking about what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, what is the nature of liberal religion. It’s our own version of, "Why did Bodhidharma come from the west?" Why did William Ellery Channing go to Baltimore?

William Ellery Channing, 1780 - 1842
Channing was a Boston minister. In 1819, we went down to Baltimore to deliver the manifesto of a new denomination, and thus the Unitarian church in America was born. Why? What if he hadn’t? What is it for? What difference does it make?

Two centuries later, we are the inheritors of this liberal religious movement. It has evolved a bit since Channing’s time. It comes to us in its present form: what are we supposed to do with it? What does liberal religion ask of us?

We gather here in Gainesville, and in about 1,000 other rooms across the continent every Sunday morning. We are Unitarian Universalism today. So what? What do we do with this tradition bequeathed to us? What is ours to do? We need to have that conversation.

You might say it’s an ongoing conversation that is never finished, and you'd be right. It’s a conversation that has periods of intensity, creativity, and discovery, and periods of settling in. We need to be having the more intense version of that conversation for about a year or two. We need to hear each other, develop a deeper familiarity with where the people sitting around you on Sunday morning are coming from – and coming for -- when they come to liberal religion.

We need to hear the sometimes surprising things we find our own selves saying in that conversation. There is no book that can tell us who we are, what we’re here for. There are some wonderful books, and they’ll give us the information to think about, and tools to think with, but we have to get together ourselves and arrive at what all this means for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida, established 1952.

We are the word made flesh. Clarity about our meaning and our mission is no simple matter of amalgamating our opinions. It’s a matter of creating an understanding together that none of us has, or could form, alone. We don’t need a good wordsmith to draft us a mission statement. We need to discover in each others’ faces and stories – in each others’ words and each others’ hearts -- who we are. Then we’ll know what we’re here for.

When we know it viscerally, beyond words, then we’ll be able to find some words that will remind us of that deeper, nonlinguistic awareness.

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Part 3 of "Transforming Power"
Next: Part 4: "Flip Sides of the Same Coin"
Previous: Part 2: "Buddhism, The New Buddhism, and Unitarian Universalism"
Beginning: Part 1: "Our Unitarian Universalist Story: James Luther Adams"

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