As I thought about the service marking the 30th anniversary of our congregation’s chartering in January of 1987, connecting it with the idea of a “Service of the Living Tradition” to echo the one at the UUA’s General Assembly each year, I found myself reflecting on what it means for our larger community that there is a Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks. What’s our role as part of the religious and spiritual landscape of this home of ours?
Many UU congregations refer to themselves as “beacons” in the regions where they’re located. “A Beacon of Liberal Religion,” they might say; “A Beacon of Free Faith” or “A Spiritual Beacon of Freedom, Reason, and Acceptance” in their community. Aside from its connections to Beacon Hill, home of our Association’s Boston Headquarters for many years, and to the image of the Flaming Chalice lighting the search for truth, I like the “beacon” metaphor because it conveys hospitality, guidance, and caution all at the same time. A beacon shines out in invitation and promise that a welcome will be found; it offers assistance for those charting their own course, and it may help guard against the danger of foundering against known hazards on the journey. All appropriate to the life and work of a religious community!
What would it mean for us to be a beacon of liberal religion in the Outer Banks? In a sense we already are; as in many UU congregations, those who find their way to our door often speak of gratitude to discover a place where they are accepted and embraced as they are, where their spiritual search is honored, and where they’re invited to continue on the path in good company. But does our light shine brightly enough for all to see? I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t people we haven’t met yet who would be as glad as we are, as glad as I was myself once, to learn that religion doesn’t have to mean what we thought it did—back when we decided that it wasn’t for us. People who need the gifts of religious and spiritual community, but who think there’s no place where their way of being religious would be welcomed. Do we shine brightly enough for them to see?
In a time when intolerance, unreason, and lack of compassion seem to be driving forces in our public life, when an illiberal vision is dominating the national climate, being a beacon of free faith seems very important to me. I hope we’ll find more and more ways in the days to come to let our light shine. Let’s share the “good news” of a religion that trusts in Love, works for Justice, honors a free quest for Truth, and celebrates the whole tapestry of an undivided Human Family. We are needed, and we are ready.