Have Faith: The journey within

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The Rev. Bill Clark asked to be photographed in front of this flag at the Unitarian Universalist church. - Sam Moore

The Rev. Bill Clark, minister to the congregation at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, is offering a “New to U.U.” course on Friday, Nov. 18, 7 to 9 pm, and Saturday, Nov. 19, 10 am to noon. This might just clear up a few questions that linger about what exactly is a U.U. My first foray into the church on Main Street in Vineyard Haven a few years ago left me nearly speechless (a true anomaly). There were Quakers, Jews, Catholics, and others all gathered together in one place on a Sunday. What I found out after a good conversation with the Rev. Clark last week is that Unitarian Universalists are on a journey. They don’t profess allegiance to creeds or one belief system, and it’s OK to bring questions to the surface.

“We are considered a non-creedal religion, meaning there’s no creed to adhere to or a set of beliefs that Unitarians have to abide by,” he said. “I often call it a working person’s religion; each person needs to work out their own belief system.”

There are seven principles the congregants try to live by, mostly to do with honoring the dignity of all human beings and the earth, and treating everyone with compassion, working for social justice, and respecting everyone’s journey to finding their truth.

The Rev. Clark said that he thinks the best of the U.U. church is its acceptance, openness, and freedom to do your searching in a safe and loving environment.

“We come out of Protestant Reformation,” he explained, “but we find wisdom in all world religions, not one particular holy book. We use the Christian Bible, Hebrew Bible, Buddhist dharma; sometimes I use poetry in my readings.”

I asked the Rev. Clark an obvious question: What do Unitarian Universalists believe? The answer was more complex and more thought-provoking than I bargained for.

Are they Christian? “If you mean following the teachings of Jesus like love thy neighbor and do unto others, then yes. If you mean accepting Jesus as your personal lord and savior, then no, that’s not us,” he said. “We don’t consider ourselves depraved; we are born innocent human beings.”

They don’t follow a lectionary, but they do light candles of joy and concern, and share both celebrations and heartache with one another. There is a sermon by the minister or a guest speaker, and a time to come together in song and in contemplation.

According to a guide published by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the faith tradition is interested in the here and now, in heaven on earth like the Lord’s Prayer says: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“We’re very socially minded,” he said. “It’s a walking our talk kind of thing.”

The congregation is involved in the Island’s homeless ministry, Houses of Grace, and it participates in the CROP Walk, community suppers, the Red Stocking Christmas program, and universal social justice projects.

The Unitarian Universalists recognize the journey that each of us is on, no matter where that person may be in the process. The Rev. Clark said his church helps to provide the tools needed to carry on that journey: “No matter what you’re going through in life, my friend, you’re not going through it alone. Whatever affects one of us affects all of us in some way.”

To register for the “New to U.U.” weekend course, call the church at 508-693-8982, or email uu.society.mv@gmail.com.

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This year’s Marian Medal will be presented to Margaret Penicaud of Good Shepherd Parish. Each year the pastor of every parish in the Fall River diocese nominates a recipient for the Marian Medal, recognizing their ongoing devotion and service to their parishes. Bishop Edgar da Cunha will present the medals at a prayer service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River on Sunday, Nov. 20.

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At the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center on Sunday, Nov. 20, from 10:30 am to 1 pm, Daniel Schaefer will lead the class “Modern Challenges, Ancient Wisdom: Jewish Perspectives on Social Need.” His topic is “Affordable Housing: What does the Jewish tradition have to say about the importance of providing shelter?” The class will address what Judaism teaches about housing and who is responsible for ensuring it, using the “lens of wandering, tzedakah, and communal responsibility” to discuss affordable housing broadly, as well as the specific challenges currently facing Martha’s Vineyard. Call 508-693-0745 for more information.

And happy birthday wishes go out this week to the Rev. Armen Hanjian, who leads the Chilmark Community Church alongside his wife and fellow minister, Vicky.