The Reverend Michael F. Hall has been the settled minister at the Keene Unitarian Universalist Church since the summer of 2012. From the outset, Rev. Michael (or just plain Michael, if you please) has sought to build a “Multigenerational Culture,” by creating an atmosphere where each generation is engaged, included and reverenced for its unique and timeless contributions to our unified community.
Among his most treasured memories of congregational life in Keene are the beautiful, poignant community vigil in 2016 to honor the memory of the 49 lives lost in the horrible violence at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the joy-filled service the church put on when he was installed as its 23rd settled minister on St. Patrick’s Day 2013—what a celebration, complete a jazz combo and chocolate fountain; and the annual process he shares with lay-leaders in creating the innovative, whole-church experience known at KUUC as “Month of Sundays.”
During his time in Keene, Rev. Hall has also served as chair of the Keene Interfaith Clergy and the United Campus Ministry to Keene State College and is a member of the City of Keene’s Martin Luther King/Jonathan Daniels Committee. Michael also was honored to participate in the presentation, “Learn, Love, Act: The Morals of the Minimum Wage” at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Providence, RI in 2014.
Michael took his first sabbatical in 2018 which he spent studying historical Universalism in the Monadnock Region. His sabbatical also emphasized contemplative practices and the captivating, restorative powers of Nature. He is currently deepening his own contemplative practice as part of the first class of the Genesis School for Contemplative Living in Westfield, Massachusetts.
Michael is a native of the Bay State, and his first career was in “living history” at a well-known museum in Plymouth, MA. He also spent several years as a Case Manager on the Dual Diagnosis Unit of detox where, among other duties he developed spirituality-based group therapy sessions. He lives in Keene with his wife Jill and their three children.
Sharing Ministry Moment: May 2021
“We profess not to know a book which demands a more frequent exercise of reason than the Bible” ~William Ellery Channing, “Unitarian Christianity” May 1819
Among the many notable anniversaries for Unitarian Universalists in the May, anniversaries which include births (Florence Nightingale, Ralph Waldo Emerson & Jared Sparks) deaths (Mary Livermore, Theodore Parker & Toribio Sabandija Quimada) and important works (The consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, the formation of the Church of the Larger Fellowship & the presentation of the 1st Humanist Manifesto) many could be a fit subject for a story or a sermon. All of these anniversaries are part of our shared story, and some we will explore more deeply in our May services and through “The Weekly Chat.” As I know that so many of you enjoy history, perhaps you might take as a challenge the fact that I haven’t explained why some of these people made the list, nor explained why the works that I named should be thought of as “important,” and try to learn more about them? Believe me, I left a lot of really important people and crucial events off the list entirely—“Hello Paul Revere!”
As important as any other items in the above list perhaps as concerns our denomination, and liberal religion in general, was the so-called “Baltimore Sermon,” or, “Unitarian Christianity,” of William Ellery Channing, given at the installation and ordination of the above-mentioned Jared Sparks to the First Independent Church of Baltimore, MD on May 5, 1819. Up until that point, the question of whether the nature of God within orthodox Christian congregations in America, should be taught and understood as a trinity—one god of three co-equal and ever-present “persons” —or, as Channing and other liberals saw it, “…one God and Father of all… (Eph. 4:6).
To Channing and many Christians to follow, there was only one God, and Jesus, though Saviour, was one of us. As Channing describes him:
“We believe that Jesus is one mind, one soul, one being, as truly one as we are, and equally distinct from the one God.”
The death of Jesus therefore is no divine subterfuge, as God is no trickster. As a fully realized human being, Jesus suffers as we would, fully, not just in body but in total:
“It is our belief that Christ’s humiliation was real and entire, that the whole Saviour, and not a part of him, suffered, that his crucifixion was a scene of deep and umixed agony.”
As there is an enormity of things that can be said of this sermon, including what it says for, and to, Unitarian Universalists, and especially UU Christians, today, I will settle on but a few. The first being his rigorous declaration that God is ultimately the exemplar of perfect morality. In Channing’s view there is perhaps no greater offense given to God than a theology based on interpretations that lobby for God’s omnipotence, and downplay his moral perfection. This is of the greatest importance. As Channing says it:
“They [the orthodox] have too often felt as if He were raised, by his greatness and sovereignty, above the principles of morality, above the eternal laws of equity and rectitude, to which all other beings are subjected…We believe that his almighty power is entirely submitted to his perceptions of rectitude (righteousness); and this is the ground of our piety…We cannot bow before a being, however great and powerful, who governs tyrannically.”
However, it is Channing’s clear defense of human reason as a useful spiritual tool, and his assertion that it was given us by a loving God, a God that was not trying to confound us but help us to understand, that still resonate with many today—though many UUs have left the God part, loving or otherwise, out of the equation. Reason is by no means the only power we have developed, or attribute we have been given, but it is essential to guide us as we explore and come to better understand the nature of our humanity, the earth, the interconnected web and the Cosmos.
Some would say we use reason too little; if that is true it is because we allow it to be overruled by fear, arrogance greed and violence. In 2021 piety is a quaint notion, morality is often made a slave to passion and a synonym for narrow-mindedness. Yet, I think reason and morality and even a loving God—or at least a vast and creative force that holds all of it together—lives on in many of us. We use love and reason, curiosity, contemplation and piety (lived morality) to learn about and live beside each other, and to restrain us from abusing our neighbors. We hope the advance of our scientific breakthroughs and technologies are enough preserve, if not save us; considering the immensity of all that we don’t yet understand, we need help to avoid bringing about the elimination of the interconnected web of life and the gaping expanse of the universe.
I realize I have taken some time speaking of a sermon delivered 5 years before the founders of our congregation, liberal Christians all, split off from their original church down the road. Channing, make no mistake about it, was a devout Christian, as devout as any other in his day or ours. Yet, I like to think that we also follow him: in believing that reason and curiosity is critical to body, mind and spirit, in respecting whatever we deem holy with reverence and gratitude, and living our beliefs with an abundance of loving-kindness, our fair share of humility and a little bit of fire to light our way.
Yours in Faith, Hope and Loving Service.