“Ask Me Anything” Live Oak Version June 25

On June 16, we held our annual “Question Box.” Those present were invited to submit questions and I answered as many as I could in the amount of time given. There were so many great questions left, so I’ll be answering them in today’s and upcoming columns.

Question: How is Unitarian Universalism a religion for someone who doesn’t believe in God?

So first, let’s get into what does “religion” mean? Its etymology comes from the Latin word religare which means “to bind.”

Unitarian Universalism is one of several religions that do not require a belief in a deity. Buddhism, certain sects of Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Confucianism, certain sects of Christianity (such as Quaker) do not center their faith in a required theist belief.

(I’ll note that it is because of Christian hegemony that we often, without question, assume that their creedal definition of religion is the definition.)

So what is it that binds us together as Unitarian Universalism? It is covenant. This is the center of our faith. On the congregational level, we have a church covenant – if you become a member of Live Oak, you are effectively signing this when you sign the membership book. Our promises to each other are what we commit to, and what connects us.

We are also connected to other UU congregations through covenant. Our UU ecclesiastical governance and polity are derived from the 1648 Cambridge Platform. We are both independent congregations and interdependent with one another. We have explicit covenants with one another, found in the UUA bylaws, and in the covenants of affiliated organizations, such as the UU Ministers’ Association. I would argue that we are also bound together through a common history and values. This past week, we decided as an association of free congregations to be more explicit about those values, putting love at the center.

What does the Pastoral Care Team do?

First, WHO is the pastoral care team? Answer: It’s you. If you are a member of Live Oak, you serve on the pastoral care team, because we all give care to one another. We periodically send out a questionnaire so that we can narrow down where you most feel comfortable serving, e.g. phone calls, running errands, sitting with someone, etc.

When you have a need, you reach out by emailing pastoralcare@liveoakuu.org or by calling the church. Our “dispatch” coordinator then calls you to find out what kind of care you are seeking. From there, Dispatch contacts the members who have expressed willingness to help in that particular way and signs up one or more people to provide care.

What we do not do: for the protection of everyone involved, there are certain types of care we do not provide, and we coach volunteers about these boundaries: we do not provide medical care nor help with intimate needs, such as dressing or bathing (but we will be happy to refer you to companies that do). We do not provide psychological therapy – we DO provide a listening ear.

More importantly, and perhaps sometimes frustrating for well-meaning friends: we do not provide care that is not asked for, or is declined. We honor the agency of each person. I find that we often assume others want the same type of care that we ourselves want. If we would welcome a visit to our hospital room, we assume others will. (Having been thrown out of hospital rooms in my early years of ministry, I promise you this is not a good assumption!)

Sometimes, the most important pastoral care we do is not for the person undergoing a crisis, but for their friend who feels anxious about what is happening. They may turn to us, wanting us to DO something. (And underneath it all, what we all really want is for someone to “fix” the bad thing happening. And many times, that’s not possible.) And so we have a deeper conversation with the friend about their role: what are they willing to do, what does it mean to honor what the other person wants, and how do they sit in the deep discomfort of knowing someone they care about it hurting.

And this leads to probably the most important pastoral care that any of us can give: our self-differentiated and willingly-given presence (when welcomed). To simply sit with someone who is suffering, not trying to “fix” them, not trying to talk them out of their sadness, is ministry, and it is ministry we are all called to master.