I am often asked by more evangelical or Catholic relatives and friends why we call ourselves a church at all and to a degree it is a valid question. My answer generally is that when I go to my Unitarian church, I see and feel much the same as I did about my small town midwestern Lutheran church. People put the coffee on, meet and greet each other with warmth and affection, join together in thought, word and deed, and together create a place in which the life of the spirit can be nurtured and acted from.
In yesterday's excerpt from the book, "Boston Unitarianism 1820-1850" was this line which, I think, is a good starting point. The founding generation of Unitarian ministers were described thus:
"It was their office to create an atmosphere rather than to advance a cause, to diffuse a spirit of liberality rather than to promote the interests of a system of thought, whether doctrinal or philosophical. "
Maybe. when it gets down to it, a religious denomination's main function is to "create an atmosphere" and if that is true the question becomes, what kind of air are we breathing today?
We pride ourselves on our liberality but that is not the spirit that many encounter when they walk through the doors of our churches. At best (as I myself have felt in more than one Unitarian Universalist Church) we are more like a bundle of conflicting illiberalites all wrapped up by a feeling of intellectual superiority to other less enlightened souls.
I am blessed and honored to serve a congregation that truly has created "an atmosphere of liberality" and, I am sure many others do as well. Perhaps to the degree that we can promote this spirit congregation by congregation, despite (or because of) our many conflicting theologies or philosophies (and as long as people continue to put the coffee on each Sunday) we can hold on to more people that walk through our doors.