Friday, February 6, 2015

Rev. Sean Dennison to Give the Oldest Lecture Series New Shine

Rev. Sean Parker Dennison preaching at UUA General Assembly
A few days ago the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois let it be known that he has been selected by his ministerial colleagues to present the annual Berry Street Lecture at the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) meeting this summer in Portland, Oregon.

Back in 1820 the Reverend William Ellery Channing called on the liberal ministers of Boston and its environs to gather at vestry of his Federal Street Church to discuss mutual support and ways of advancing their advanced theological perspectives.  The Boston ministers and their congregations had long drifted away from the strict Calvinism and Puritanism of the main body of the New England Standing Order—the Congregationalists.  The Boston ministers, almost to a man, rejected predestination, the inherit depravity of man, the view that Jesus Christ was one of a tripartite Godhead, and argued for the use of reason in interpreting scripture.  They were slowly, painfully edging toward complete separation from the old body of the New England church.  Within a few years that separation would be complete and Channing would acknowledge it while accepting the once derogatory name of Unitarian to identify the new grouping of like-minded churches.
Rev. William Ellery Channing.
Channing welcomed that first gathering by presenting a paper or essay in which he called for a “bond of union among us.”  The assembled ministers agreed and set up a few simple rules of governance and decided to assemble annually.   

Because the Vestry door opened on Berry Street, these annual meetings became known as the Berry Street Conference.  The meetings were the beginning of an organizational thread that would lead eventually to the formation of the American Unitarian Association, the Unitarian Ministers Association, and ultimately to the Unitarian thread in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the UUMA.

At each Berry Street meeting a member minister was invited to present an essay to set the tone of the discussion.  Those have become known as the Berry Street Lectures and have been presented annually ever since making them the oldest continuous lecture series of any kind in the United States.  Today the Berry Street Lectures are presented at the annual meeting of the UUMA held in conjunction with the UUA General Assembly.  Being selected as the annual essayist is one of the highest honors UU ministers can bestow on one of their own.

Rev. Dennison, who came to Tree of Life in 2012 shortly after the former Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Woodstock, relocated from its century old home to a new location in near-by McHenry.  Since that time he has led the congregation in re-imagining itself in its new home and in a new age.  His ministry has been highlighted by inspired preaching and boundary stretching innovation.
“I’m incredibly honored and humbled to be chosen as this year’s essayist and to have the privilege of sharing with my colleagues what inspires and challenges me in our shared ministry,” Dennison said.  He has informed his colleagues that his topic will be, Mission Impossible: Why Failure is Not an Option.

Rev. Dennison was born and raised in Iowa and became active as a Unitarian Universalist lay person the UU Fellowship of  Ames  before deciding to enter seminary at Starr King School for Ministry in California.  The then single mother had to come to grips with gender identity. He described the sometimes wrenching process of transitioning to male in a sermon The Integrity of the In-Between in an introductory sermon at Tree of Life.

As a transgender man he was called to serve the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He successfully led the congregation for seven years in a very conservative state not only helping the congregation to grow and thrive, but to become a social justice beacon.
For the two years Rev. Dennison served as interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Louis Obispo in California.

He has been a leader in the UUA serving as President of the Mountain Desert District UU Minter’s Association, a member of the Star King Board of Trustees, and was a co-founder of Transgender Religious Professional UUs Together (TRUUsT).  He has also been a facilitator for UU diversity programs and is a sought out speaker at District and UUA General Assembly meetings.  In 2012 he preached at the annual Service of the Living Tradition celebrating UU ministry and last year co-led a morning service at the GA.

Rev. Dennison was a well-known presence on the web with his highly regarded personal blog Ministare and has been a pioneer in the creative use of social media.

On May 31 Rev. Dennison will demonstrate his innovative ideas for a Cabaret Church as an experimental congregation committed to art, compassion, and resistance at a special all day event hosted by Tree of Life.

The Congregation is extremely proud to share Rev. Dennison and his gifts with the wider Unitarian Universalist community.

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