The job of a minister always involves counseling people and helping them through the challenges that life brings, both large and small. In the most pleasant and placid of times, it is a task which requires great listening skills, patience, understanding and an open mind. In times of upheaval and uncertainty, the minister's job can go from lighthouse in a storm to lighthouse, lifeboat and lifeguard all in one.
Rev. Edmund Robinson of Chatham's Unitarian Universalist Meeting House finds that although the UUMH is a religious organization and not a political one, the challenge of being a minister in a liberal faith has become exponentially greater under the nation's new administration.
“Our faith moves us to bear witness to those values which are increasingly under attack from the new regime, on a dazzling breadth of fronts,” Rev. Robinson explains. “We have worked too hard for too many years to make this nation, commonwealth and community fairer and more just to stand idly by as it gets swept away. We want our church and our towns to be sanctuaries for the immigrant, the marginalized, the oppressed.”
Rev. Robinson has served as minister at the UUMH since 2008. His background makes him uniquely qualified to speak on the subjects of religion, community, human rights and the law. Rev. Robinson was a trial lawyer in Charleston, S.C. before entering the ministry. He served churches in Wakefield and Belmont, Mass. and Staten Island N.Y. before coming to Chatham. He currently serves on the governing board of the Institute On Religion In an Age of Science (IRAS) and is Chatham town representative to the Barnstable County Human Rights Commission.
“We want our church and our towns to be sanctuaries for the immigrant, the marginalized, the oppressed,” Rev. Robinson says. “It is particularly short-sighted to deny U.S. entry to members of one religion. The 'clash of civilizations' idea which holds that Islam is inherently violent and hostile to the interests of other religions is the argument used by terrorist organizations as a recruiting tool; to have it adopted at the highest levels of U.S. policy plays right into their hands.”
Some in Rev. Robinson's congregation find themselves struggling with feelings of helplessness in the face of the new administration and its policies, which run counter to many Unitarian Universalist principles such as equality, acceptance, compassion, and a view of the world as an interdependent community. Some even find themselves at odds with or, worse, estranged from friends and family members who may not share their views. Rev. Robinson has words of guidance and comfort for those experiencing these challenges.
“Remember,” Rev. Robinson says, “we are all human. Try to follow Jesus' admonition to love your enemies. Try to understand how another person's support for a party may make sense to them. Understand that we all live in bubbles, and we each accept only the facts which support what we already believe to be true.”
Rev. Robinson recommends that those experiencing feelings of helplessness read and reflect from the deepest sources of insight and wisdom available to them.
“We at the Meeting House are asking ourselves how we can be most helpful in this time of high anxiety,” Rev. Robinson says. “I would like to connect with organizations dedicated to effective resistance. Many people are concerned about the limits of change, and what outside bounds the U.S. Constitution may offer in that. Many commentators have noted that the tactics employed in the present White House are designed to destabilize, to demoralize, to make us question whether there is such a thing as truth. As the old hymn says, 'What though the tempest 'round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth.' The White House effort is to create new fault lines and shatter old political alliances so that what once seemed the loony right will come to appear to be the only position with coherence.”
Rev. Robinson will facilitate a free course in Constitutional Freedoms at the Meeting House on Saturdays, Feb. 25 through April 15, drawing on his background as a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU. The course runs from 10:30 a.m. to noon and is open to the public. Don Bakker, longtime political science teacher at Nauset Regional High School, will assist.
In addition to his work supporting the congregation at the UUMH, Rev. Robinson is an accomplished folk musician and member of the All Worn Out Jug Band, in which he plays fiddle, banjo, concertina and jug. An enthusiastic contra dancer as well, Rev. Robinson coordinates a monthly contra dance on the lower Cape as well as the Meeting House’s Summer Concert series. In addition to his musical pursuits, he loves sailing and cycling. He lives in Chatham with his wife, pianist Jacqueline Schwab, well known for her work on the soundtracks of Ken Burns’ acclaimed documentary films. Rev. Robinson has two adult children, Luke and Sally.
Rev. Robinson’s sermons are posted on YouTube and most are accessible in both video and text format through the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House’s page on Facebook.