One way we put our values into practice is in the way people become members of our congregations. There is no litmus test for what one must believe. There is no committee to meet with to establish ones worthiness of belonging. This is because the congregation does not decide if the individual is suitable to join them. Rather, it is the individual who decides if the congregation is right for them. This is a simple yet profound difference in establishing membership.
If you decide that this fellowship is for you and your values are not in conflict with ours, you are welcome to join us. We don't require you to make any creedal confession or belief statement to join, nor is it necessary to revoke your previous faith. Like many of us who have taken this path, you will find that there is an implicit acceptance and openness offered by the congregation. This does not mean that all members will like each other much less agree with each other in matters of theology or justice. It does mean that the members agree to walk together in their separate and joint journeys of life.
Part of participating in a liberal church is the opportunity to expand our vision, re-examine our prejudices - it is an often unparalleled chance in a human experiment - how tolerant, broad-minded, non-judgmental can we actually be? How much can we love each other even though we disagree? A liberal church offers a place to practice such tolerance and diversity in an atmosphere of trust.
The Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has adopted a general UU tradition in receiving members, by signing the membership book. When an individual chooses to join a congregation in a formal way, they simply sign the book - how and when they do this varies among congregations. Some UU congregations have a book permanently, publicly available so that anyone who wishes to can sign at any time. Oftentimes it is located in the lobby or sanctuary. Other congregations acknowledge joining members during the Sunday Service and invite new members to sign the book in a special ceremony. The Brisbane Fellowship has often formally received new members during the annual fellowship retreat as well as acknowledging members during one of the regular Sunday services.
What happens once a person becomes a formal member? From the congregations point of view, it means the person now has the right to vote in business meetings. Beyond that, much of what happens depends on the person because commitment to a UU congregation or any other faith community is paradoxically an act of commitment to ones self. It is a commitment to ones one spirituality as well as to the spirituality of others. It is about what we will learn or what we will gain for ourselves and also about what we can teach and what we can share with others that circles back to what we will learn and what we will gain.
Such a commitment sets in motion a path that ultimately leads to a discovery that ones spiritual journey is not a solitary experience after all. Rather it is a journey that encompasses every person, every animal, every plant one encounters, every experience one has, every lesson one learns and every lesson one shares. It is in joining with others, giving to others, learning with others that we learn most about our deepest, truest selves. It is in moving beyond our own interests that our understanding expands. It is when we become full participants that we gain the deep, connecting, meaningful experiences that we desire.
Life seems to offer us endless paradoxes: It is in giving that we receive. It is in moving beyond ourselves that we find ourselves. It is often in embracing what we most wish to resist that that we find what we most need. It is often in committing to a community that we also commit to ourselves.
It is well to remember that signing a book does not make you a member. The book is merely the outward sign of an inward reality. An inward reality that says I want to be here, I care, I want to serve and be served, to teach and be taught, to love and be loved.