Assistant Minister's Corner - Rev. Monica Dobbins

01 May 2019

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love history – and so you can imagine how much fun I’ve had this spring teaching UU History, with my co-teacher Christine Ashworth. The best part about it (besides the enthusiasm of our students!) has been rediscovering the stories of some of our best-known ancestors in faith: William Ellery Channing, Olympia Brown, Theodore Parker, and more. 

It’s interesting to me how often we hear stories about our great ministers from history – and certainly, I feel that I, Rev. Tom, and our colleagues in ministry have impossibly big shoes to fill. But we rarely build religious education curricula around the great laypeople of our faith: people like Lucy Stone, Martha Sharp, and Clara Barton. Maybe someday I will make time to create just such a curriculum!

It’s such a useful exercise to imagine what were the values that inspired these historic UU laypeople to act for justice, beauty, or love, and to transform the world around them. I like to make a distinction between values and principles. Having principles is important – that’s why we have seven of them that distinguish our multi-cultural, multi-religious faith tradition. But principles arise out of values. To me, values are what’s important to me, even if my values remain unexamined and under the surface. 

In my household, my spouse values cleanliness, while I value togetherness. So I find that I just don’t have time to clean if I haven’t had time to relax with my family; while he finds that he can’t relax if things aren’t clean and neat. Neither of these values is really better than the other, yet we each find that we prioritize one over the other without giving it much thought. Working together, we find some balance in our complementary values – and sometimes we clean together, which means both of us are satisfied! But when we try to distill those values into principles, we can end up at odds. 

There’s never been a more important time for us to examine our values as people of faith and as participants in democratic institutions. I find that it’s very satisfying for me to support a local congregation, both with my time and with my money, because I value institutions that are truly democratic: owned by the members, run by leaders chosen by the members, and in which people have a say in what happens. The values that inform this support are democracy, equity, and participation. 

In our society, institutions like that are rare, and those that exist are under threat. Most institutions are ruled by much different values: profitability, efficiency, power, are some examples. 

During the next few years, our congregation will be weighing its collective values, and perhaps even examining some of these values for the first time. As part of that process, we may discover that some of our values seem to be in conflict. Do we value history, or forward thinking? Authority, or equality? Buildings, or programs? Of course, there’s no reason why, in each of these examples, we can’t have both – and indeed, we will have to find ways to have both, in ways that honor the needs of the whole congregation. Now is a good time to think about what you value, so that when the time comes, we can apply that knowledge to our community’s future planning. How do we want to show up in the world, and how can each of us be a part of that future? I am honored to be a part of it with you.