by Rev. Robert Francis Murphy
“The church is not a democracy.”
If you were raised as a Roman Catholic, you may remember these words. If you were raised in some of the other religious traditions, you may have heard a similar message. There are many religious organizations in the world, and some do a lot of good, but most follow familiar patterns in their administration. At the least, organized religion is usually paternalistic. At its worst, religion can be dictatorial. Somebody is always “the boss.”
The Unitarian Universalists are unusual. We have a principle that affirms “the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” Church leaders (including ministers) are elected by church members. Every congregation is independent, although we are joined together in a national alliance that provides some support for congregations.
Living with democratic institutions can be a challenge. For the Sunday service on March 24th, the main topic is democracy and religion. How and why do we join together in covenant? How do we make decisions about church projects and programs? What are some of the problems that develop with democracy? After the presentation, we’ll have a discussion. Come to the meeting, to share your opinions and suggestions with other people.
March 25th will be Greek Independence Day. For a bunch of reasons, our church is enthusiastic about Greek culture, philosophy, and festivals. The ancient Greeks prepared the foundation for modern democracy, modern science, and modern humanism. Greek immigrants created much of Tarpon Springs. For many centuries, heroic Greeks have resisted the different forms of tyranny. Including Italian and German fascism, during the Second World War.
The agora was the gathering place in ancient Athens. “Forum” is the Latin word. Our congregation is creating a new forum room, for several purposes. Quilters will make quilts, and we’ll have some art displays, and we may have a holiday marketplace. Different opinions will be heard, on a variety of topics. Think about some of the topics that need attention. We’ll look at “national emergencies” and the proposals to build walls on our nation’s southern border. Climate change will be discussed. And the conversation about LGBTQ rights will remain important. How do we create a community that’s respects LGBTQ people?
Several church members would like to focus more attention on economic justice. What’s happening to the haves and the have nots? We’re concerned about the young people who are entering the job market. Also, we’re concerned about the older people who need a secure retirement. Elder empowerment is one of the topics that needs more attention in our region. Community people can be invited to meetings and exhibits that will provide helpful information. Guest speakers can answer questions about transportation, housing, legal services, and other matters.
Tarpon Springs doesn’t have an agora or forum space. Some discussions are “too controversial” for public schools and libraries, and renting hotel and restaurant space can be difficult for some groups. Always, our church tries to be helpful in the community. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs will provide meeting spaces, for many of the individuals who need assistance. We can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but we’ll do our best to support the spirit of democracy. Your support for the good work of our church is needed and it’s appreciated.