It was a big deal when my UU Coming of Age class, (the two of us), took our first trip to Boston, MA for our trip to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s headquarters. I remember the narrow hallways; the old murals of names I had heard in my RE classes; the way the building sat atop a hill that seemed to overlook the city. Years later while preparing for one of my first interviews to enter the ministry I vehemently studied the test questions from previous Aspirants: Who was the first woman to be ordained and by which denomination? (Olympia Brown, the Universalists). What is Congregational Polity? (To be governed by the people rather than a hierarchy). What is the address of the UUA? (25 Beacon Street).
No matter how old or what stage I was in my formation, the UUA headquarters was always a coming home and a reminder that there was something bigger than I knew in my small lay led fellowship; something with a legacy that I inherited and a promise that I did and could fulfill. Past President of the UUA, Bill Sinkford has said of the site, “It’s as close to a mecca as we’re going to have.”
For many Unitarian Universalists 25 Beacon Street has been a point of deep contention in recent months, if not decades. The most recent UU World magazine explains in full the struggle that currently divides much of our denominations leadership: to stay in the historic building without much hope for updates or good use of resources, or to sell and begin again in a much more modern and updated building that can only tell the stories of our histories. On March 14th our denomination reached a new stage in its history and put an end to the debate: the UUA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to purchase 24 Farnsworth Street in Boston for its new headquarters and to sell 25 Beacon.
Now, whether you agree with those that 25 Beacon Street had become the “golden calf” of the faith (current President Peter Morales), or others who said that “in the absence of a common theology, it’s all the more important that we have a common history,” (past President, Rev. John Buehrens), I find it interesting that much of what this conversation has asked is, How are we being stewards of our tradition, of our finances, and of our future?
Stewardship is most commonly thought of from the Greek word epitropos found frequently throughout the Old and New Testaments, meaning “one to whose care or honor something has been instructed; a curator or guardian; an overseer or manager”. To be a steward is to participate in the shared responsibility of caregiving. As the Annual Giving season comes to a close you have heard us speak about this some; as we consider our Capital Campaign, our new building’s ecological footprint, the debt that our budget avoids or pays down, or in April’s theme of Earth, you will hear this word even more.
The reality of 25 Beacon is that without the $6 – $10 million renovation, the building, while a beautiful landmark and physical symbol of our legacy, will continue to deplete our ecological, and, not without mention, therefore our financial resources. If our faith is one that speaks of the interdependent web, to the good of all creation, to the Earth as our home to be cared for and not abused, holding the UUA’s headquarters in a building that calls on the earth for more than we can give back to is a difficult fight.
And not just because it sounds or looks bad. It’s a hard fight because we, (humans, North Americans, North American Unitarian Universalists), are not very good at Stewardship. I don’t mean this to be insulting; we are a stubbornly individualistic people despite, I believe, our want and need to be otherwise. It is also what makes us bold and forward thinking. But stewardship asks us to trump our individual wants, sentiments, and comfort for the good of the whole. And in a tradition where our dogma is to be without a set dogma; where we uphold and affirm individual beliefs and creeds; where places of purpose are different for each person; we hit up against some real challenges when it comes to making hard choices like 25 Beacon and its usefulness, its timeliness, and its responsible ownership for the generations of UUs who will inhabit this planet in the hopeful centuries to come.
As our Association moves into a new place and time in its history, I wonder how we may learn to be stewards, how we may answer the hardest charges, in caring for one another, for our faith tradition, and this one miraculous Earth whose resources are limited. In saying goodbye to that beloved space, I have had to learn that stewardship is a lovely sentiment and a heavy charge. I could use your help in answering to the call.
The UU World article discussing the divide can be found here: http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/284039.shtml
And the decision can be found here: http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/284714.shtml