Monday, March 30, 2015

UU Growth: Alternative #5 to Community Building Strategy

Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.

Alternative Strategy Five:


We are a church that invites you to make the profound spiritual commitment to the health of the Earth and her people. The planet is in the midst of a catastrophic ecological crisis and she needs people to organize their lives around making a difference in that crisis. So the people in our congregation are doing what they can.  We are involved in public social movement building and legislative advocacy. We've installed solar panels and windmills on our property. We do clean-up projects in our community. Our children take part in scientific experiments and learn about where our tap water comes from.  We partner with communities, often communities of color, who are on the frontlines of pollution and contamination. We reflect on the ethics of earth-care and the spiritual sources of global solidarity.

When we worship we celebrate the interdependence of all life of which we a part. We read the writers who draw meaning from the natural world. We reflect on the ethical requirements of stewardship and the sin of seeking dominion over the Earth. We praise; we lament; we seek inspiration.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

UU Growth: Alternative #4 to the "Community Building Strategy.

Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.

Alternative Strategy Four:

We are a theological center of religious liberalism. Our purpose is to challenge all theologies and interpretations that oppress and bind the spirit, especially the dominant religions in our community. We teach the long history of insurgent theologies and equip people intellectually and emotionally to declare themselves independent of shame-based, punitive religions. We do not avoid the theological message that conservative religion is aggressively promoting, but engage it head on. We build allies with other religious liberals in other traditions and learn from them. Our culture has always conducted its most important arguments in the language of theology, and our purpose is to be in that conversation and our goal is to change minds. We are not humanists fighting against faith and belief. We are religious liberals fighting against oppressive forms of religion.

Our worship takes many styles: old-school, contemporary, participatory, contemplative, but the purpose is the same: to inform people, including children and youth in age-appropriate ways, about liberal religion, and to prepare them to make meaning out of the events of their lives from that perspective.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

UU Growth: Alternative #3 to Community Building Strategy

Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.

Alternative Strategy Three:

Our congregation is where you go if you want your children to grow up to be morally and ethically strong and clear AND open-minded and curious about the world of differences. We are really one big, all ages cooperative Sunday School. Our primary purpose is to help families form themselves around spiritually progressive values: multi-culturalism, gender equality, healthy sexuality, right relationships, arts and sciences, etc. Every member, adult, youth and child, contributes to our educational activities. We offer that education/growth experience to every family in our community, regardless of their religious affiliation or none.

Most weeks, we have family worship. Some weeks we have a group field trip. Some weeks we engage is a work/service project or an arts project with an artist. But everything is for families and children and the future. All ages and generations are welcome.


Friday, March 27, 2015

UU Growth: Alternative #2 to Community Building Strategy

Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.





Alternative Strategy Two:

Our church serves the community in which we live. People come to our church in order to work with the people of our community as they struggle to live and survive where they are. We run food pantries, and free stores, and build houses. We get involved in the local schools and the local library, if there is one. We know our neighbors and everyone knows our minister. Some Sundays we worship in our building, which we have turned into an incubator for community groups, grass roots businesses and other local faith groups trying to get started. Some Sundays we worship in a local park and some Sundays in a vacant lot. Some Sunday we worship with another church in our community.

Our children learn about the realities of their communities and the skills of service.

We don't count members and we don't count attendance on Sunday morning. We count acts of service, acts of kindness, lives touched and people drawn into service. We are more interested in activating volunteers than in converting people to Unitarian Universalism. We don't hide who are, and we always happy to explain our faith.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UU Growth: Alternatives to the "Community Building Strategy"

Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.


Alternative Strategy One: 

The purpose of our congregation is to your point of deep connection to the global movement for justice. Your UU congregation will be place where you will hear serious talk about the issues of global justice in all their intersected forms: on a local level, regional, national and global level.  Here you will be invited to participate; here you will challenged, inspired, and educated; here you will sing songs and clap your hands and here you will meet other people in your community who are similarly motivated. Here is where your children will grow into global citizens. We cultivate the virtue of solidarity.We are an institution with a purpose: to contribute to the global movements for justice.






Wednesday, March 25, 2015

UU Strategy: How that Working for Us?


For 40 years or more, UU’s have based on their strategy on this proposition: there is a deep hunger for community out there, and that if we built genuinely inclusive, democratic, welcoming communities, we will grow because we would be feeding such a deep hunger.

How many church websites feature a group picture of the congregation: cheerful smiles, many matching tee-shirts, a visual invitation "to come join our group"?
Abraham Lincoln UU Congregation


How many congregational missional statement explicitly say that their mission is to build a community where all sorts of good things happen?
UU Church of Nora 


How many sermons and worship services directly address the life problems of being in community?

Isn't our transformation strategy that we build a global Beloved Community by building a Local Beloved Community?
The Purpose Statement of the Unitarian Church of Calgary

You can see why UU's of the 70's/80's took up this particular organizational strategy. It is a strategy of the lowest common denominator and the path of least resistance. There was no way to resolve the  theist/humanist argument, without a higher value which could contain both. We needed a strategy that let us put that argument to rest and let us move on. The congregation as "community" was the goal that could contain both theists and humanists..

And in the 70-80's, UU's could not make social transformation that higher value.  We were not going to go all in on a prophetic social justice strategy. Too many Boomers in our congregations were suffering from a form of PTSD about the late 60's/early 70's. They were withdrawing from social movements en masse.  And younger people of the era, the emerging GenXers, were also repelled by the anxious combativeness of that early period. Being "stuck in the sixties" was seen as a kind of mild mental disorder.

And the aggressiveness of the cultural conservative movements had pushed us onto the defensive.

An organizational strategy of building communities/congregations fit with our non-creedal and congregational traditions.

Creating covenanted, healthy, spiritually nourishing, genuinely inclusive, peaceful, and safe communities became our evangelical and ecclesiological method. But now, the strategy of community-building has become so pervasive, it is unseeable.

My question is "How is that working out for us?"

Size-wise, we are about in the same place as we were when we adopted this strategy.

Demographically, we have not broken out of our particular culture. Creating a truly welcoming community turns out to be very hard; the prevailing culture of the founders inevitably shows through and either attracts or repels people who are different. 

It's true that we constantly take in new members, but more come and go than stay.

Further, it doesn't seem that people are actually eager to join the kind of high-commitment community that a typical UU congregation is. We like to think that our congregations are low-commitment communities, but actually they are not. To be a full insider member, you need to commit a lot of time, energy and money to the congregation. I would suspect that a majority of congregational members feel that they are too busy to fully participate in the life of the congregation.

We believe that there is a deep hunger for community out there, but is that really true?

Building community has its own value, but maybe it's time to reconsider whether, as a strategy,  it is enough to change our anemic growth trends.

In the next couple of posts, I will suggest some alternative organizational strategies. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Climate change and the Apocalypse: Who shall be saved?

As a global climate crisis bears down upon us, religious thinkers return to the questions thatdominated the Apocalyptic age: Is the present age doomed, and if it is, who shall be saved?

Salvation did not always mean eternal life in heaven after death. The redefinition of "salvation" as "healing" is even newer.

For a long time, salvation meant who will be spared from God's wrath when God writes the final chapter of human story, in fire and ice and blood.




Some scientists believe that the human
population was reduced to
a few thousand people
100,000 to 70,000 years ago.
There will be human beings who survive even the most disastrous collapse of human civilization. Human beings are creative, and adaptable, and ingenious. Even in the warm and watery future, some humans will survive, and their children will survive.




Who shall be saved? 






Armed Guard outside Davos Congess
Center, the site of the ultra-elite
conference, high in the Swiss Alps.
As it now stands, it is the global elite that will survive. They will migrate to the most habitable places; they will monopolize the resources needed for life; they will deploy the arms to protect themselves from the increasingly desperate masses. Everything we know about the modern arrangements of power tell us that this is true.
 The gated communities in our suburbs are emblems of the global future.





Consider the moral implications of believing that only a few will survive. Does it matter really then, if they die now, or later? If we imagine that even God is indifferent to their suffering, why should we care?

Unitarian Universalists are heirs to a religious tradition that disagrees. We believe in Universal Salvation: all of humanity is a single unit. Our faith is that we share a common fate. For us, the climate crisis is a struggle for global justice and solidarity.