I was born and raised a Unitarian, and, while I didn’t participate in church for a good deal of my young adulthood, I always still said I was, and felt like, a Unitarian, in part because I never saw the need for another religious affiliation as a way to help explain and experience the world. In my 30s, however, I did feel a growing need for a spiritual community, and, partly for reasons of past experience and proximity (I lived on Beacon Hill), I found myself becoming an active Unitarian and in time a member of KC.
Theologically, Unitarianism offers what to me is a perfect blend of faith and reason, and it also allows for and actually opens the door to the mystery of religious experience. In blending faith and reason, it brings together and reconciles the material and spiritual worlds in which we all live, the ying and yang of existence, and it does so in a way that encourages a continuous search for meaning. This is particularly true, I think, in the way Unitarianism has been practiced and has evolved at King’s Chapel.
The faith component of Unitarianism is vital for me, because so many of the major questions of life and belief seem to defy quick and easy answers. They demand a commitment to the journey toward insight over time and a willingness in the meantime (and perhaps forever) to live and feel comfortable with the essential “ambiguity of things.” But of equal importance to me, Unitarianism is an open-minded, non-doctrinaire, inquisitive faith, willing at its best to draw on and learn from the teachings of all the world’s great religions, ethical systems, and philosophies of life, together with insights from poetry, literature, art, music, and science, all the better to understand what it means to try and follow the example of Jesus and live a Christian life in the here and now. For me, this openness to and trust in the “many roads to God” idea, side by side with a belief that the Christian story still holds fundamental truths to live by, has been among the most appealing aspects of the Unitarian way since my earliest days in the church school of the First Parish (Unitarian) in Cohasset, MA.
The reason component of Unitarianism is equally important to me as it calls on us to use our mind and our capacity to think critically to wrestle with the text of the Bible and to draw on and integrate insights from the other sources of inspiration and explanation noted above. It calls on us, moreover, to think for ourselves, and to know in our hearts that while partners on our spiritual journeys are good and very welcome, we need no intermediaries to get where we’re going. God, the ineffable, and the holy are directly accessible to us and in fact part of us. There is indeed a unity to it all of which we are an integral part, allowing us to use the power of human thought and imagination to approach and appreciate the sacred.
The appeal for me of how we practice Unitarianism at King’s Chapel is that it brings to all of the above a discipline and seriousness of purpose, rooted in a traditional Christian practice, that nonetheless somehow remains open and welcoming to everyone, wherever you are on the path, as our ministers regularly say. So while some might look at the Prayer Book and hear the liturgy and consider us a rather stodgy and restrictive group, the blend of tradition, critical thought, and open-mindedness that defines KC – via the marriage of faith and reason that I began with – actually makes us, in my view, a “big house” church where almost anyone can find a comfortable place to sit and listen and learn and share. The Unitarianism of KC encourages a community of free thinkers who worship in accordance with a structured service and with a devotion to the “freedom of the pews” as much as the “freedom of the pulpit.”
To be sure, the liturgy provides a structure, but not one so rigid that it must be heard, read, and understood in one way alone or the same way always. For me, it’s a flexible tool for prayer and mindfulness that often provides comfort and at its best a path to unexpected insights. As in the service of communion as practiced at KC (especially in the Transylvanian style) , all are welcomed to the table to share in what is almost always a powerful and gratifying act of community in faith, but one that can also be a deeply and intimate spiritual experience.
And then, of course, there is that community of parishioners mentioned above, who, with their many different perspectives and varied histories, make up the eclectic living church that we call KC. Over the years, many of them have helped me more than they can imagine, which is really, in the end, what church, Unitarian or otherwise, is all about. A community of faith in which each member supports the others and the wider world as best they can. May it always be so.
Statements of Religious Belief
In the spring of 2015, six parishioners of King’s Chapel wrote statements about their personal religious beliefs that were published in Between Sundays in conjunction with the Sunday Forums on “The Religion of King’s Chapel – A Living Legacy.” The forums were a series of lectures on three major religious roots: Anglican, Unitarian, and Independent. The lectures were given by the Reverend Dr. Carl Scovel, Dr. Daniel McKanan, and the Reverend Joy Fallon (recordings of the lectures are posted on the KC website under Education). The statements of religious belief were produced by Denton Crews, Julie Hyde, Louise Perkins, Charles Perry, and Peter Sexton.