Dear ones,

Recently, I participated in Congregational Conversation #3. One of the groups I facilitated focused on our mission statement: ‘People’s Church: a beloved community embracing and serving our diverse world.’ Someone asked, ‘what is beloved community, anyway?’ Here is an extended answer, cribbed from a sermon I preached in October 2018, when the current mission statement was new.

The phrase ‘Beloved Community’ was coined by Josiah Royce, a philosopher of religion and ethics, just over 100 years ago. After the death of his young adult son, Royce became interested in how we live together and began thinking about the nature of communities. He asserted that communities are formed by loyalty and that everyone is loyal to something. He writes, “My life means nothing, either theoretically or practically, unless I am a member of a community.” He developed categories for communities based on what kind of loyalty bound them together. There are communities that are bound together by vicious or predatory loyalty. These groups have clearly defined in-groups and out-groups and disdain for the people who aren’t part of their communities. These sorts of communities can be created around anything that insiders believe is the one truth, religious or political. There are communities that, in Joyce’s words, harmonize with a universal ideal, who do not create divisions between in groups and outgroups, who have everyone’s best interest at heart, not in a patronizing, we-know-what’s-in-your-best-interest-better-than-you-do sort of way. He calls these ‘genuine communities.’ We might know some of these communities in our lives and in our world. They tend to be humble, open to new people and new information, willing to adjust plans to do the most good.

Then Royce names ‘The Beloved Community.’ It is an ideal that doesn’t yet exist, though we might catch glimpses of it when genuine communities are at their very best. A Beloved Community is one in which all are loyal to love and truth and whose actions are always guided by love and truth.

Martin Luther King Jr. read Josiah Royce during his preparations for ministry. He borrowed the phrase ‘Beloved Community’ and expanded upon it, making it one of the central themes in his ministry. Over and over again, he shared his vision of Beloved Community, a society based on equity, love and justice for all, a world where there are no enemies, only temporary opponents who will one day be friends. In the Beloved Community, no one is left behind.

In 1956, after the successful end of the Montgomery bus boycott, he preached, ‘the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.’

Beloved Community is not about prevailing over others, but about doing the work of love and justice in big and small ways until everyone is transformed. The Beloved Community writes no one off and leaves no one behind.

The members of People’s Church were ambitious when they set Beloved Community as their aspiration in adopting this mission. May we continue to advance our mission.

Take good care,

Rev. Rachel


Leave a Reply