Communion of the Saints

So, I am searching around on the internet trying to find out why so many UU congregations are named All Souls. There is All Souls NYC, All Souls Tulsa, All Souls Boston, All Souls DC, Grand Rapids (MI), Greenfield and Braintree (MA), Indianapolis, New London (CT), Kansas City, Watertown (NY), Colorado Springs, Bellville (OH), Brownsville (TX), etc. I don’t find the answer I am looking for, but I do find an interesting article on one of the two Louisville, KY UU congregations’ websites, entitled “What Are Our Sibling UU Congregations’ Names?”

The article was written about a year ago, before this particular congregation chose its new name. Now they are known as All Peoples, the only UU congregation that seems to have that name, although there is a UU congregation that calls itself Peoples Church in Cedar Rapids, IA.

The article I find says that most UU congregations are named for where they are and most often not much else. These names of UU congregations include cities, towns, streets, counties, regions, geographic or natural features. The author of the article I found on the All Peoples’ website says that of the slightly over 1000 UU congregations, 852 are named exclusively for the name of their location. There are a few of the over 1000 that don’t even mention any geography at all, and no descriptor other than maybe “A UU Society.”  

There are a few UU congregations who use an historic UU figure in their name, like Emerson or Thoreau.

There are apparently 197 UU congregations that use a numeration in their name, like the First UU Church of Louisville or wherever. Twenty of those only use their numeration like First Church.

And, of course, as you may have guessed by now, the most commonly repeated name is All Souls, related to the Universalist idea that all go to heaven, all are saved, all are worthy, all belong in the Communion of Saints.

I kind of like All Peoples as a modernized version of All Souls, which in its heyday was a modernized version of All Saints. 

As I mentioned, there is a UU congregation in Cedar Rapids called Peoples Church, which I find confusing. Is it Mr. Peoples Church, some Peoples? Those People? I need more info!

Apparently, I am not the only one who thinks that, as there is a growing number of UU congregations that use descriptive names for their communities. There’s Open Door, New Hope, Sacred Journey, Beacon, Spirit of Life, Chalice, Mosaic, Pilgrims House, Tree of Life, Wellsprings, Pathways, and others.

I think it is good to say something descriptive. Perhaps we will soon hear about UU congregations calling themselves Justice Seekers, Planet Keepers, Covenant Creators. For now, it seems that All Souls or All Peoples strikes the right descriptive chord for those we seek to welcome in, giving an idea of who we are with our name. 

The All Souls churches in DC, New York, and Tulsa are among the larger congregations in our UU world. I have seen no article yet, though, on whether the name makes them so large.

All Souls: All people welcomed into community, into a gathering of those who seek to be guided by both the head and the heart, by the mind and the spirit, gathered to keep making this world better than it is.

I am convinced the world needs us. Needs our message, our way of being in community together, our way of joining with all souls to make the world a more just and equitable place for all.

The world seems to need us more than ever as the forces that seek to maintain long-lived inequitable divisions, or that seek to use fear to maintain privilege as if only a few deserve the “freedoms” that belong to all—these forces still need to be vanquished.

My colleague the Rev. Erica Hewitt put her thoughts and feelings on Facebook the other day. Perhaps you can relate to what she had to say.

“Back when we were struggling through the first wave of the pandemic, no matter how selfishly and pettily our fellow humans behaved, we could point to The Vaccine as our salvation.

“Remember when we all hung on, waiting for the vaccine, because we hoped it would save us?

“We now know that the vaccine doesn’t do a great job against the Delta. The Lambda variant laughs & spits in the vaccine’s face. Both of these variants are snaking their deadly path through the US. The vaccine alone—while important! Get it if you can!—doesn’t provide the salvation we needed.

“The only way we’re going to get through another wave of the pandemic (‘Lockdown: the Sequel’ is not far off) is through our choice to save each other. The ‘us’ is going to have to matter more, and to more people, than our cult of individualism: ‘My’ freedom, ‘my’ comfort, ‘my’ entitlement (meaning ‘if I want something enough, it makes me an exception’).

“I’m not sure I have faith in my fellow people to put the ‘us’ first. Not anymore. Too many …lies and other forms of overwhelming evidence suggest that—when we reach another turn around the downward spiral—we’re going to fail to pull one another up and out.

“Like all clergy, I took religious vows to hold the hope in times of hopelessness. The hope here, from my perspective, is in softening what’s coming; Companioning now and future grievers; celebrating small kindnesses and connections.

“We’ll do that… but it’s broken my heart that a killer virus has turned out to be less lethal, and less destructive, than my flesh-and-blood human kin.”

A day after this post, Rev. Erica apologized for being so pessimistic.

I have been watching Godless, a Netflix series with a great cast. It is a modern take on a western and there is a lot of death and human meanness, lawlessness, and tragedy. But there is also light and love and expectation of a better day. A lot of the action takes place in a frontier town peopled primarily by women, because a ruthless band of bad guys killed almost all the men. This town is in the process of building a chapel and awaiting the clergyman’s arrival. Very near the end of the series, when the preacher finally arrives, there is poetry, a reminder of why this hard life is so worth living:

’Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch. 
A fearful thing to love, to hope, to dream, to be—to be, 
And, oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
A holy thing to love.
For your life has lived in me,
Your laugh once lifted me,
You word was a gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
A holy thing, to love what death has touched.

Yehuda HaLevi (1075-1141)

Our hearts may be broken. It may be very clear that we are not all saints. The truth may be there is not one soul free of the lies that we tell ourselves and often each other. Yet there is this place and other communities like this place, whatever their names may be, where we can companion each other, where we can celebrate kindness and connection. Where we can “return again” to where all souls, all people, are welcome, are treated as beloved.

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