The Black Sheep

Unitarian minister Joel Miller finds out it's hard to lead the wrong kind of church in southwest Jefferson County

Miller is going to invite every church in his part of town to participate in helping to create the labyrinth. He intends it to be a place where people of all faiths can come to pray.

"My dream is that all 48 churches in the area could work on this together. I'd also like to see us all meet once a year," Miller says. "We don't have to worship together, but to not meet sets a bad example. Here we are, worried about our children; it seems like the least we could do is get together despite the fact that we have profound religious differences."

Five young children stand before the congregation, fidgeting and giggling in spite of themselves. Not quite in unison, they chant the church's affirmation, their lilting voices stressing each syllable.

"Welcome to the Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church.
"We are Unitarian Universalists.
"This is the church of the open mind that calls us to fight injustice.
"This is the church of the flaming chalice that lights our search for truth.

"This is the church of the loving heart that helps us share our joys and sorrows together."

The Reverend Miller steps aside from the podium after making announcements and reading blue index cards on which people have written joys or sorrows they want to share with the congregation. All eyes are on a group of preschoolers who clap their tiny hands and circle their arms above their heads while singing "We've Got the Whole World."

The sanctuary could be mistaken for a kindergarten classroom: Kids' scribblings plaster the walls like the haphazard placement of drawings on a proud parent's refrigerator. Origami cranes hang everywhere--a gift from kids in an Oklahoma City Unitarian Universalist Church, who passed along the Japanese folk story "Sadako and the Thousand Cranes." It's the tale of a sick girl in Hiroshima who writes down her dearest wish and seals it in an envelope; she won't open it until she has folded a thousand paper cranes.

As the legend goes, Sadako dies from leukemia before completing the cranes. Her friends finish the task, thinking she had wished to get better; instead, her greatest hope was that no one else would die from harm inflicted by others, like the atom bomb that had once desecrated her homeland. The birds, crafted in primary yellow, blue and green paper, were sent by Japanese children to Oklahoma City after the federal building was bombed. After the Columbine shootings, the kids in Oklahoma mailed them to the Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church, who will keep the cranes until human tragedy strikes again. When it does, they will send the paper birds to another church, in another city, as their small way of reaching out to someone else.

Perhaps they should send them to the nearby evangelicals.

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