Interfaith Tension – Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken

26 Mar

Yesterday I went to visit one of our Unitarian Universalist campus ministers, MaryHelen Gunn in an office she shares with other Spiritual Advisors   at Northeastern University .  There was another UU minister there as well, Bonnie-Jeanne Casey, visiting from Simmons College just a few blocks away, where she is Director of Spiritual Life.

We took a tour, the three of us, through Northeastern’s Sacred Space .  We got permission to walk through from two students finishing up with prayers, passed the chalkboard with a meeting agenda scribbled on it, and headed out through the back of the open, multi-purpose space, treading quietly past the silent prayer/meditation nook to peek at the ablution station complete with low faucets for washing feet, as is practiced by many Muslims before daily prayers.  I was really impressed and pleased.  We all agreed it was the kind of worship space every campus should have for the 21st century; one that meets a wide variety of needs and provides space that can be fully sacred in multiple ways.

Rev. Casey commented on the small victory of their ablutions space at Simmons, recently added to their worship space.  “It’s not ideal.  It’s in the back; you have to enter and then walk through the sacred space before you can do ablutions, but I had a certain budget and that’s what we could do.  The students were on board and they understood. Those are my victories, this is why I’m doing this work.”  Though there is not distinctly Unitarian Universalist group at Simmons, she said she feels she’s truly living her faith in her current work.

Later, as I lunched with Rev. Gunn we touched on the topic of Our Whole Lives , a successful sexuality education curriculum authored jointly by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) .  The lessons are based in the shared progressive values of the UUA and UCC, and contains understandings of sexuality that are not shared by all religious leaders.  Rev. Gunn noted that her UU students hoped for her to bring a workshop from Our Whole Lives to a retreat for the Center for Spirituality Dialogue and Service at Norhteastern, but she was hesitant, knowing it would alienate some attendees, wanting to be cooperative and careful about how she approached loaded topics.  Multifaith ministry is both liberating and limiting.

What a beautiful complicated tension we live in, we who are grounded in one particular religious tradition and who also desire to work in multifaith settings.  I find myself sitting in this tension all the time, though I work on the national level and not on a particular campus.  On the one hand, I believe Unitarian Universalism is a life saving faith, uniquely suited to serve the needs of seekers and more pluralistic believers.  I want a UU presence on campuses, I want more people to know about us.

On the other hand, I know God didn’t call me to an exclusive ministry.  God didn’t call me to go find more members for “our team.”  Nor would my own tradition have me engaging in a ministry that prioritizes promotion of our name over spreading our values.

As I hold the truths in both my hands I wonder how to navigate the beautiful tension.  This is an open question and it’s one I wrestle with in many aspects of my work.  I wrestle with it when a UU identified student calls to ask if I’ll support her campus ministry even if it’s interfaith and not UU.  I wrestle with it outside campus ministry, in my work with our other forms of emerging ministries, as we try to set boundaries on who we are, on who we claim and who claims us. One answer I’ve come to is a phrase – “grounded in Unitarian Universalism.” We support ministries, regardless of their title, which are grounded in Unitarian Universalism.  This is a partial answer, but it isn’t a whole answer.

How do you answer this question?  Where do you find balance between promoting your particular tradition on campus and ministering out of your tradition to those of many faiths?  As Interfaith Youth Core says, it’s true that we’re better together.  Better when we bring our unique selves, particular faiths and better when we make room for one another and cooperate.  Somewhere in the tension I believe there is a balance, a dance, ways of being together that bring the best of our different traditions for the benefit of all.   Let us continue to seek that balance together.


Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and 
currently serving as the Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the 
Unitarian Universalist Association. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: