Posted by: Sue Spencer | November 14, 2007

UU? Episcopalian?? Monastic journey???

To many observers, the categories “Unitarian Universalist,” “Episcopalian,” and “monastic journey” seem mutually exclusive. I know this, in part, because of the questions I’ve been asked over the years.

The easiest to answer is this: “Are there really monastic communities in the Episcopal Church?” Quite simply, yes there are – quite a few, actually! Banished from the English church by Henry VIII, Anglican religious life underwent a restoration during the 19th century, and communities are now found in many parts of the world. Those in the western hemisphere are linked together through the Conference of Religious Orders in the Americas (CAROA); the Community of the Holy Spirit is part of this.

Another question is, “From UU to Anglican – isn’t that quite a stretch?” My best response is, “Well, yes and no.” On the one hand, the two traditions (or rather, streams of tradition) are set apart by differences in history, polity, liturgy, and approach to doctrine. On the other hand, at the intuitive level, they seem to have some things in common. Both, in my experience, make room for the rational AND the mystical. Both value the life of the mind. Both embrace theological diversity. It is these commonalities, I think, that have allowed me to find a home in both places.

Perhaps the most complex question is this one: “But how can you be BOTH a Christian and a UU?” This one has been coming to me for the last 25 years, ever since my conversion while still in seminary. It comes from two directions: from trinitarian Christians, aware that “unitarianism” was long ago labeled a heresy, but also, more discouragingly, from UUs themselves, unaware of their own religious history. If the question is asked with an open mind, it can lead to rich conversation. I used to answer it in historical terms, but these days I’m more likely to speak personally, about my own journey. 

Here’s one final question: “Unitarian Universalism and monastic life: Are they even in the same ballpark?” On a practical level, this may turn out to be the most urgent one. Over the years, Unitarians and Universalists have placed a great emphasis on individualism, and too often it’s been to the detriment of community. This is, in many ways, old news to me, as UU congregations walk this tightrope on a daily basis. Now that I’m actually LIVING inside a community, however, the tension greets me at a deeper and more intense level. Individualism, I am quite certain, is destructive of community. But what about individuality, a different matter, I think?

Anyway, these are some of the questions one person is living, on her UU, Episcopalian, monastic journey. 



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