I’m currently in New York City for a week of vacation following a week at the Southeastern Unitarian Universalist Conference held each year in Radford, Virginia — also known as SUUSI. The theme this year was “beloved community,” and I gave a talk for the opening worship service. I was surprised they invited me to do the opening since it was my first SUUSI, so I focused on the question of what it feels like to enter into beloved community from the “outside.” What are the subtle and not-so-subtle cues for belonging, what are the written or unwritten rules? I think of these things when I consider how visitors and guests join our community.
We often look to Martin Luther King, Jr., as the originator of the idea of beloved community. But King took his cue, or at least the language of “beloved community,” from the late-19th century philosopher Josiah Royce. For Royce, the formation of beloved community begins with loyalty, what he saw as the most universal interpretation of the Christian ideal of agapic love. As we mature and become more able to form loyalties, he proposed, we become more able to find devotion to things larger than ourselves, ultimately able to form what he called the Kingdom of Ends on Earth in the formation of “beloved community.”
But a “perfected” beloved community is not only about us. In our acts of loyalty to one another, the Kingdom of Ends is construed, in the language of Royce, not as regulative but operative—that is, as sustaining and useful. I encourage us to his challenge: that despite our individual inner lives, can each of us extend our present self to include the present life and deeds of all around us—in our congregation, community and world?