For a Healthier Unitarian Universalism

The Band-Boy asks:

what would it take for Unitarian Universalism to be healthier, so that would could meet some realistic goals for improving the material and spiritual estate of this corner of liberal religiousity? If we’re going to fight, it might as be for something epic. If we’re going to struggle, it should be more than topping up the endowments.

He also says

So how are we to be healthier? One sign of bad health is that, as an Association, we seem incapable of holding more than one model of anything at one time, or for very long. In a great arc, some great cause sweeps the landscape, obliterates other options, the failings appear, and it is discarded. The Fellowship Movement is one example. I think the Big Plant church start — a late-adopted darling from the 1970s — is already showing sign of strain. I wouldn’t get too attached to the Carver Model.

My thoughts: (1) give up "terminal uniqueness", (2) one way to get better is to stop assuming that you're sick (3) promote excellence in worship (4) let ministers be religious leaders again.

(1) UUism is just one survival strategy for liberal, cultural Protestantism as it confronted an increasingly secular society. Other people chose other strategies. We are better positioned to respond to the increase of personal spirituality as a replacement for organized religion. But nobody has the whole problem figured out -- we will rise and fall with others.

(2) Our internal story is that UUism should be huge (after all, "so many people are UU's without knowing it".) so our question is "what is wrong with us that we are not what we think we should be?" Focus on failure and ignore what we do well.

(3) Each of our churches and congregations has "a worship tradition" which includes such things as content boundaries, formality, musical taste, congregational participation level, production values etc Some worship traditions are very strong and serve their congregation well and are a real service to the larger community. Some are weak, promote anxiety and conflict in the congregation, exclude the larger community and are exercises in organizational self-promotion. If there is any "one big thing" we should be focusing on, it is strengthening the worship tradition of each local church/congregation/society.

(4) A religious movement should be led by its religious leaders. We should learn how to recognize excellence among our ministers and allow ourselves to be influenced by that excellence. The role of bloggers? Excellence in ministry tends to be focused on the local church primarily -- hedgehogs. Bloggers are foxes, and help break down the isolation of local churches, and carry the news back and forth, and recognize excellence at work and raise questions, and argue about things that are too much for a sermon.


  1. On your third point, I recently came across Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd's "Best Practices" document, tidbits from their many, many visits to different UU congregations - it's a place to start. :-)

  2. Barlow/Dowd were at the church I serve this last summer, and I remember looking over their Best Practices document then. They have probably seen more different UU congregations at worship than most of our ministers or national staff.
    But the whole "best practices" approach carries an assumption that we ought to be moving toward some more uniformity, presumedly by adopting the best practices. I am more in favor of each congregation becoming more different and more distinct by developing its own worship tradition with more depth. Another unavoidable flaw of the Barlow/Dowd Best Practices is that, because they are content-providers, they can't really see the content boundaries of the local worship tradition. After all, everywhere they go, the worship service, strangely enough, is about the Great Story. Yet, the heart of the worship tradition is in the content area -- not only what can and cannot be discussed, but the level at which subjects are approached, emotion vs intellect, enthusiastic vs above-it-all, populist or elitist, etc.
    Nonetheless, the Barlow/Dowd Best Practices is a good place to start thinking about the questions about worship -- its more empirically based than almost anything else.


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