Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beyond Congregations

As far as I can tell, and I am not as close to it as others, the "Beyond Congregations" conversation is a mess.

Like many of our conversations are messes.

A brainstorming free association session is not a conversation.

If everyone enters into the conversational space to grind their own traditional axes, then a messy conversation will result.

If I understand it correctly, the subject of the beyond congregation conversation was whether there were other forms of organization that would allow us to meaningfully engage people who, for one reason or another, would not be likely to join one of our existing congregations, nor would they be interested in starting a new one.

Somehow this got crossed with the observation that there were many people who identified as UU's, but don't belong to congregations.  Which, in my book, is fine and is not a problem.  They are, for the most part, happy with their present relationship to UUism.

Some of them do reveal the kinds of people and the kinds of life situations where our congregational structures don't reach, which is useful.  The lack of a way for college students to have a spiritual home in UUism is a problem already well known.  The same with non-college and post-college young adults.  There is a problem there and people are working on trying to sort it out.

But the number of people who like to go to UU summer camps and conferences but not attend a UU congregation?  That's not a problem.  That's like saying that people who come to Christmas Eve services and not to anything else represent a problem.  That's just where they are at. Let it go.

But now the conversation seems to have taken the turn that since we are talking about "beyond" congregations -- then every grievance against congregations is on the table.  Some are not friendly.  Some are very insular and don't seem to care about the great UUA and its many programs and services and the APF.  Some are weird.

And every congregation includes certain kinds of people and repels other kinds.  Which is why we are having this conversation, which is a mess right now.

To me, the key questions are these:

1.  What are the forms of UU ministry that could reach people who are not likely to join our congregations?  Just some examples:  campus ministries, study groups, SSL groups, UU Occupy groups, social justice action groups, support groups for people in particular life circumstances, missions in particular locales. theologically underserved religious liberals.

2.  How do we deploy ministers and lay people to form ministries in those situations?  Do our present congregations deploy them?  If our present congregations were interested in and capable of such missional work, we wouldn't be having this conversation.  If not the congregations, then who?  District Staff?  the UUA itself?  Groupings of ministers and/or congregations?  Or do we just create a climate that encourages anyone, let a hundred flowers bloom and sort them out later?

3.  Is this a strategy to grow UUism or is it a strategy to grow grassroots liberal religious ministry?  Is "beyond congregations" leading us to a place of "beyond denominationalism"?

I myself would like to see all of our ministers and laypeople be turned loose to create "no-logo liberal religious ministries"  wherever they can.  Let our congregations keep doing what they are trying to do.    Out of all that ferment, something new will emerge.




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