I find it difficult explaining who I am in 25 words or less, particularly about religion. As a minister, however, I know that I must develop good “elevator speeches” to answer those small questions like, “What do Unitarian Universalists believe?” That said, what are my labels?
Atheist – For many years, I resisted calling myself an atheist because of the stigma American society places on the word. I hemmed and hawed with agnostic and even nontheist. But, emboldened by other groups who have reclaimed pejorative words, I think it is time that we atheists embrace our moniker. Ironically, I fully embraced the term after a phone conversation. The person was explaining to me how he would structure an experiment to prove the existence of God. After hanging up, I thought for a long time about what proof I would be willing to accept of God — burning bush, eclipse, parting seas, voice from the skies. I found that I could imagine nothing that would convince me that the cause was exclusively due to the presence of God. At that moment, I knew that I had ceased to be an agnostic.
Humanist – This poor word has so many meanings, that its use demands explanation. My first exposure to humanism was the Humanist Manifesto II, written in 1973.
Although a third version has since been written, my preference is for the second for a number of reasons. It is more explicit about nontheism. In fact, it is more explicit about most of the key points of humanism. And, there is less naturalistic humanism, a point of view I have some difficulty embracing. I find the distinction between secular and religious humanism divisive and unimportant since I do not see support of religious institutions as problematic. In fact, I embrace a term coined by Professor David Bumbaugh from the Meadville Lombard Theological School of “high church humanist.”
Now the big one.
Minister – Honestly, I consider myself a minister already. I have yet to complete the Master’s of Divinity coursework or the field education requirements. I have yet to go before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee or become ordained. But, I believe that “minister” is truly a way of living and not merely an occupation. Those requirements are the gates through which one must pass to work as a minister. I think that living one’s life as ministry is all that is required to be a minister. My call to live my life as ministry has been growing for nearly 15 years, as a religious educator and as a youth advisor. Now, as I preach and counsel, officiate at rites of passage, and am just generally present, I consider myself a minister.
Are you doing ministry right now? Maybe you have for years, but just hesitated to use the term. I think that one knows if they are a minister or not. Earning the professional credential is worthy if one has the financial resources and the time. Becoming fellowshipped is something I look forward to. But, I do not view it as defining of who I am.