So, knowing that the vicar of St Peter's parish church will be retiring in April this year, I was interested in an item that I came across in the November 2009 newsletter published by Brewster's First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, part of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
In Brewster, it seems, they've been looking for a new minister for some time now, and it's a quest which has involved much heart-searching.
I'll return to that matter of political conservatives in a few minutes.
I'd say that the field is not just "fairly open", but wide open thanks to the approach taken by the Committee. On November 8, they invited church members to attend a sponsored programme which included the Sunday service, lunch, and an three-hour afternoon workshop. The aim was to persuade the congregation to move "Beyond Categorical Thinking" in the search for a new minister.
For it seems that "a surprising number" of members questioned in the survey had revealed some narrow-mindedness. "One survey respondent honestly reflected, 'Wow – I must say I need to look at some leftover prejudices I still may have...'" noted the Committee.
The newsletter itself contained a questionnaire with the following introduction. "Ministers come in different shapes and sizes and with a variety of characteristics," it explained. "The search process should be as free as possible from biases. However, sometimes we find it difficult to accept or feel comfortable with ministers with certain characteristics."
Respondents were asked to consider the list of characteristics and reflect on their feelings about having a minister with this characteristic, and then to consider what the congregations's response would be.
The characteristics covered just about everything.
How would you feel about having a white male minister aged between 30 and 55? people were asked. Or from a different age group? Or female? Or a male/female of color? Or an individual with a visible physical disability? Or blind/with a speech impediment/deaf/or with hearing impairment? With English as a second language? A married/single/individual who has been or is in therapy/on anti-depressant medication/recovered or recovering from an addiction? A gay or lesbian, partnered or otherwise? With Christian/Humanist/Muslim theological perspective? A smoker or obese individual with long hair and earring(s)/with visible and/or multiple tattoos? From a moneyed/blue collar background? Even "an individual not in UUA ministerial fellowship"?
And, more surprisingly, even a minister with a "conservative political perspective," in spite of the Committee's earlier expressed distaste for such an individual. For it's pretty clear that this church is proud of its open and friendly attitude.
Respected by Brewster's UU church
Seeing the splendid building in which the UUs gather for their services and meetings, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a church of neatly ordered theology, conservative outlook and rigidly enforced rules.
Many UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of the "spirit of life" that binds all life on earth. UUs support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of spirituality."