The April of religion

Back on October 13, 1885, Rev. William C. Gannett preached a sermon to the Illinois Fraternity of Liberal Religious Societies here in our little church in Geneva. It was later published as a tract in 1889, and republished by the American Unitarian Association in 1922 in the “Memorable Sermons” series. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Are there not seasons of Spring in the moral world, and is not the present age one of them?” asked Dr. Channing toward the end of his life — and he died in 1842. Doubtless many persons living then were saying, “It is a season of the falling leaf, the old faiths are dropping from the tree; it is November in religion.” People say that today. I feel, instead, that Dr. Channing’s question is pertinent again: ‘”Are there not seasons of Spring in the moral and religious world, and is not the present age one of them?” There come seasons when thoughts swell like buds, old meanings press out and unfold like leaves; seasons when we either need new words for greatening thoughts, or else new meanings, new implications, new and larger contents, frankly recognized in the old words. And I think the present age, which some call November, is such an April in the world of faith; that old words are swelling with enlarged meaning, and that that is what’s the matter. In religion April’s here!

While I’m not as interested in the rest of Garrett’s sermon, I like his metaphor — and I do feel a new season of April coming to liberal religion in our day. I feel a quickening of new life as we expand our theology to include not just humankind but other living things as well. I feel old words swelling with new meaning as we recast Universalism for a new age in which people hunger for our message of hope. I feel a season of spring coming when our liberal religion will show itself as an example of how humanity can create humanity without narrow creeds and doctrines.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. We really do have the capacity to transform the world around us. It’s time to be hopeful.

Update 13 January 2006: I’d now add that the emergence of eco-theology gives reason to believe that this is another season of Spring in the moral world.