The cold returned last night, and a raw damp wind. Snow showers at eight in the morning. Uniformly gray sky. As I walked to the church this morning the bank thermometer said 29 degrees. My glasses fogged up as soon as I got inside the damp church. My mood was damp and gray.
After the worship service, some of us were chatting in the Parish House over coffee when two men passed by whom I had not seen in the worship service, not seen before. This happens sometimes in an urban church. I introduced myself, partly challenging and partly welcoming: Hi, I’m Dan. The tall man, quiet and shy with stooped shoulders, said his name; the shorter man, bluff and hearty said his name. It turned out they were from the homeless shelter across the street, so I welcomed them and said, Now you know, I have to invite you to come to the worship service first next time. They nodded, asked what time it started, and that formality was out of the way. We chatted for a bit. They kind of wanted me to let them get out, but they were kind of glad to chat.
Walking home from the church the bank thermometer said 26 degrees, the wind now damp and bitter. I saw a man walking towards me with his face covered by a scarf, the way he was dressed he might have been homeless. I was just past where the Franciscan friars live; the friars leave their worship space open from early morning to late at night; perhaps this man was headed there. We don’t let everyone in, at any time; we do not have a resident community to supervise our building; on Sundays we have to worry about the children of our church community. But at least we let a couple of men take cups of coffee on Sunday morning. That’s maybe as much as we feel able to do, but it was enough to lighten my mood.
A few years ago, I heard Ruppert Lovely speak. He was the long-time minister at the Countryside Unitarian Universalist church in Palatine, Illinois. He said that he believed the main task of a minister was to do theology with his/her congregation. Other tasks of ministers are incidental to doing theology. This seems to imply that the main purpose of the congregation is also to do theology.
At coffee hour here at our own church this morning, I found myself involved in a number of theological conversations. People here like to talk theology. My guess is that that’s why many or most people stay with this church — so they can talk about the ultimate nature of reality and the meaning of life, what happens after death, what the nature of humanity is, what people ought to do with our lives, whether there is a transcendant reality — all those great theological questions.
So how about this statement: every part of church life should be shaped by theological questions. Why can’t that be true, too? Which would mean that committees should figure out the thological grounding of their work. Finance people should understand the theological nature of their work. The Board should shape overall policy of the church based on theological considerations. I’d even argue that we already do this much of the time in Geneva — our founding covenant, which we still say each week in worship services, and which we read at the beginning of Board and Council meetings, frames our work together in theological terms.
Since we’re Unitarian Universalists, someone is bound to argue with me and assert that theology is not at the center of church life. Admittedly, I would be surprised if were entirely correct about this. Nonetheless, I’ll bet I’m not too far from the truth (whatever truth is).