This morning (after the Easter Bunny made his annual appearance) my Mom and I attended Easter services at All Souls Unitarian Church here in Manhattan. If I was going to participate in organized religious services anywhere, it would be at All Souls. Unitarians are not Christians, contrary to what some might think. They believe that every human being was created from the same source, whatever that source may be. God is not an all powerful Being who lays down laws that his followers must obey or be damned, but a dynamic spirit or energy within and around us all. Unitarians believe that knowledge comes first, and faith follows. We should strive to know everything we can about the world, and then make our choices and follow our path accordingly.
I have only attended a handful of services there over the years, but each time I go I find myself nodding in agreement with what is said. Easter services are particularly amazing to me at All Souls. First of all, they have a choir that is second to none and hearing them is like getting to go to a professional concert for free. At the end of the service, the congregation burst into applause and cheers. Rightfully so. Second, where else will you hear a pastor stand in front of his congregation and say that Jesus did not literally rise from the dead? That Easter is about birth and renewal and love, but not in a ‘He is Risen’ kind of way? Unitarians refer to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth, never Jesus Christ. He was a man, not divine, not the Messiah. And his life is the more astonishing for it.
From 1978-2007, the senior pastor at All Souls was Forrest Church. (aptly named, wasn’t he?) I had the privilege of hearing him preach several times, including an Easter service in 2006. If you Google him, or look him up on Amazon, you will find his many books – all worth reading if you have any interest in an intellectual and open approach to religion and faith. On the All Souls website they have all of his sermons from 1995-2007 available to read. When we got home today I was browsing through them, and came upon one titled, “Religion and the Founders”. Now, my kids and I have talked off and on about the Founding Fathers, who they were and what they believed. My favorite story is that of Benjamin Franklin, who refused to join any church during his lifetime but donated money to every denomination, synagogue and mosque in Philadelphia over the course of his life, so great was his belief in the freedom to worship as one chose. And at his death, every preacher, priest, imam and rabbi honored him by walking together behind his horse-drawn hearse through the streets of Philadelphia to the cemetery.
But in Forrest’s sermon, I learned more history of the Founders and their beliefs than I ever knew; much of it astonishing and counter to what I would have guessed. I was reading bits of it out loud at home this evening, shaking my head the entire time. Sometimes history lessons – the messy kind full of contradictions (because that’s the only kind of real history there is) – are found where you least expect them. I’m not even going to attempt to paraphrase or pick particular quotes from his sermon. Instead I encourage you to read it for yourselves at this link:
Happy Easter everyone. As Galen Guengrich, the current senior pastor at All Souls said today, Easter is about the worst day of your life, and what comes after it. Because what comes after it may be spectacular.