Showing posts from June, 2013

Area UU Minister Has What the Nones are Looking For

Rev. Joseph Abner, down at the area UU church, announced yesterday that he had discovered what the "nones" are looking for.  The "Nones" are the name religious leaders have given the almost one third of Americans who say that they have no religious affiliation.  Religious professionals have been engaged in intense and sometimes acrimonious discussions about what will attract these folks away from the lives back into the church.

Rev. Abner says that what "the Nones" are looking for is "Naturalistic and Paradoxical Spirituality". "After years of coffee hour discussions, I have found that "Naturalistic and Paradoxical Spirituality" seems to be how most people in this congregation would like to refer to "the great and eternal mysteries of life, death, and the meaning beyond meaninglessness."   At least, it is a way of thinking that makes the fewest of them feel that they will "be losing their church".  "It'…

Estate Planning for Dying Churches

Is your congregation currently successful at attracting new members who are between 20 and 40?

Not just recognizing the need to, or thinking about a strategy to, or hoping to... but actually successful at attracting new members who are younger than 40.

If not, your congregation needs to start thinking about estate planning in case your congregation dies in the next 25 years.  Because it is entirely possible.

Your congregation is aging.  It's going to be harder to recruit younger members next year, and the year after that, and so on.  Every year the gap between your leaders and the people you need to recruit is going to be wider.

I read somewhere that the average lifespan of a mainline church congregation is 70-some years.  From founding to foundering in 70-some years.  The pace of cultural change is too rapid for institutional continuity.  After a certain number of years, the leaders of the congregation are no longer able to change the institution to accomodate the newer and youn…

The Parable of Pandora

My good friend, Rev. Jennie Barrington, tells a story about Pandora, the internet radio service.  I will let her tell it.

I love Pandora! I began with a Colin Hay station. His song that just stopped me in my tracks is called, "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin." It's very prayerful. I mixed in a lot of Eddie Vedder. The song of his I love is called "Rise," also very prayerful. But over time I hit "like" for so many different songs, and added in so many different artists, that I never got to hear Colin Hay nor Eddie Vedder anymore, unless I listened to that station for several hours. So then I created a new station from scratch.

Things Churches Could do Without

What if a church eliminated all of its centralized communication functions, beyond its webpage? No newsletters, paper or electronic, no advertisements.

The congregation relied entirely on members' social media and live word of mouth to spread the word about activities, events and ideas.  They would need a webpage to refer people to, but the responsibility for the presence of the church in the community would lie with the congregation.  Internal communication integrated with external communication.  Every person "U-vangelizing" in their personal network.

Our Dream in Reality

Every UU church or congregation shall possess an attractive building which is completely accessible, well-maintained and well-cleaned and on the cutting edge of environmental sustainability.

Every UU church or congregation shall have at least two, maybe three, full-time religious professionals -- a minister, a lifespan faith formation director, and a music director -- each of whom is well-paid at a middle class level in the community they serve.

Every UU church or congregation shall have additional members of the staff, each of whom is equally well-paid; it is a matter of justice.

Every UU church or congregation shall go above and beyond the law in providing benefits to all employees, particularly health insurance and retirement benefits.

Every UU church and congregation should give about 4% of its total budget to the UUA, and additional funds to the District and/or Region.

Every UU church or congregation will also make additional contributions to the Unitarian Universalist Service Co…

Why are We Broke?

UU's are broke, institutionally.  Not really broke, but Downton Abbey broke.  There's an endowment, and some nice real estate, but not much cash on hand at any one time.  Not enough for innovation, or new church plants, or funding new ministries.

The situation is often noted.  The problem is posed and the solution seems, always, to be so obvious.  We should all be more generous.

We are good Calvinists in all things.  Why are there difficulties in the world?  Because we are not as good as we should be !!

The flip side of generosity is sustainability.  If we cannot match our ability to raise money with our expenses, we are always going to feel too broke for any new expenditure.

Maybe we are over invested in our buildings?    Maybe our staffs are too big, in the local congregation?  Maybe we duplicate staff across individual churches? Maybe our budgeting and fundraising is out of whack, so that increased giving goes to expenses invisible to the donors.  For example, the church…

Crowdfunding for Innovation

Peter Bowdon and others have started a fund in honor of Gini Courter "to power new creative and innovative ministries that are just too small or weird or risky or whatever usually leads these important experiments NOT to be funded."

You can donate here:

Closely associated is the creation of crowdfunding platform, like Kickstarter, where people can browse, learn about and donate to a wide variety of potential UU ministries.

This could be a very important structural innovation in the Unitarian Universalist environment. For all of our money; it always feels like we are broke. We have an endowment, and we are the recipients of enormous generosity of various funds fed by the Veatch investments, and yet we are unable to get money into the hands of entrepreneurial ministers and projects.

Crowdfunding can be a way to break through some of the administrative barriers and let people fund promising projects all over.  No telling what might happen.  I know that people around the countr…

Thinking about Worship

I have been rolling with the UU's for the last 24 years (my life has been 20 years in as a child and youth, 20 years out as a young adult and 24 years back in as a adult).  I have seen the way we think about worship go through several stages.

When I came back in 1989, it seemed that the battle over gender-specific language was coming to an end.  You could still smell the smoke; but very few shots were being fired.

The next area of concern was "Quality of Worship."  Poorly conceived, poorly executed and very secular lay-led services were not serving the faith well.  Endless, TMI-stuffed Joys and Concerns were off-putting to visitors and outsiders.  The ministers worked for more leadership over the worship service, including the services that they were not leading, with the aim of a high quality worship service every week the doors were open. J's and C's were limited to smaller churches, or converted to candle rituals.

When the anti-racism multiculturalism movemen…

In the Midst of It

Yesterday, the Supreme Court crippled the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Last night, the Texas State Senate adopted a draconian anti-choice bill over a valiant and heroic effort of one Senator, Wendy Davis, to filibuster the bill, a filibuster which culminated in an extraordinary People's Filibuster as thousands of citizens tried to stop their legislature from doing such harm.

Today, we are hours away from more Supreme Court decisions which will either affirm marriage equality for all, or place it further away.

The Voting Rights Act was the legal response to the Selma campaign of 1965.  It carries the sweat and blood of Unitarian Universalists; the hundreds of UU ministers who went to Selma, the Detroit laywoman Viola Luizzo  and the Rev. James Reeb who were each killed in that struggle.

A group of Texas Unitarian women attorneys played a leading role in the Roe v. Wade case, which made abortion legal.

And Unitarian Universalists raised the rainbow flag over that iconic American spac…

Does Louder and Prouder Work Any Better?

Rev. Lillian Daniel was the theme speaker for the UUMA Ministry Days.  She's a UCC minister, an author and a great presenter.  She had a lot of fun with us, the UU ministers, teasing us about our unhealthy anxiety about John Calvin and how he ruined everyone's life.  She was clever, bright, charming and very funny.  She deftly lampooned the shallow, self-centered "spirituality" that we hear these days, about walking in the woods, seeing God in the sunset, yadda, yadda, faces of children and so forth.  Religion, she said, was what was needed - religious community through which difficult wisdom passed, wisdom that might be hard to hear.  When Spiritual But Not Religious is not enough, then Religion itself was needed.  So how do we as religious leaders convince people of that.

I think the key line she said was to the effect that she wasn't going to apologize for a church she didn't belong to.  In other words, there is a branch of Christianity that is politicall…

Tripling Twitter presence in 60 days.

I have been watching my partner, Sue, develop her Twitter presence and I think that her experience would be useful for UU ministers, and others, who want to have a Twitter presence but don't know how to go about it.  
Her situation:  She is the CIO of a large Academic Medical Center.  She has several hundred people in her organization.  She also has a national presence among other people who do her kind of work.  In that way, she is like many ministers who have local congregants and colleagues across the country. 
She went from 150 Twitter presence to having 450 followers in about 60 days.  Here's how:
1.  She defined her Twitter presence in her profile; her profile lists her position AND her passion.  For her, her passion is connecting to young people entering her profession and starting their careers. Twitter is an excellent way to make contact with that group of people.
2.  She defined what she would be tweeting about: (1) What she is doing (2) what she is thinking/reading abou…

Ministry Days 2013

Leaving today for Louisville for 2013 UUMA Ministry Days.  Our theme speaker this year is Lillian Daniels, the author of "When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough".  

If you have been following this blog, you would know that I am not sure I agree with the premise of her book.  Maybe "being spiritual" is enough for a person, while "being religious" is really good for religious institutions.

I will report back on what I think.

One Word for Today

It's the end of the church year in UULand.  Don't ask why our year ends in June, but it does. Something to do with the academic year, I am told.  That may have been the original reason, but I also think it is the stale hot and humid air that gathers in old New England churches during the summer.

The ministers are tired.  The religious professionals formerly known as RE Directors are very, very tired.  The musicians are tired.  Congregational leaders are tired.

The hardy go to GA for one last UUpalooza for the year, and then it's blessed withdrawal.  Reading, rest and relaxation.

Everybody thinks it's terrible, unwelcoming, unfriendly and unserious.

Yet, it persists.

The word of the day is "sustainability".

Is the way that we do Unitarian Universalism sustainable?  I don't just mean "sustainable" in the environmental sense, although that is part of it, but "sustainable" in terms of money, time and people power. I don't mean just …

The Intention and Perception

A while back, I proposed that congregations consider adopting the sentiment above to name for themselves their intention toward a generational transfer of leadership.

I meant it then, and I still believe it is crucial.

There is a lot of talk, though, about generations in church: the Boomers, GenX and the Millennials.

What is becoming clear to me, though, is that Generational analysis can turn into Generational Labeling.  It becomes part of the great identifying machine of culture: this all pervasive borg that decides that what is important about you is X (gender, race, age, body shape, sexual attractions and practices, looks, whatever) and that therefore, you are X.  

And like every form of socially determined identity, it has usually has a payoff of some type, along with a lot of dues to pay.

Baby Boomers were the second generation to be so labelled.  (The "teenagers" of the 50's were the first, but they were a smaller group and it was a negative label.)  But Baby Boo…

A Closer Reading of "I Call that Mind Free"


William Ellery Channing's sermonic prose poem defining, and honoring, the free mind is a prophetic call to all people to reach for freedom.  Possess yourself as the first step toward living a life of virtue, compassion and spiritual growth.

It is an overlooked classic, its wisdom hidden behind 19th century prose.  Yet, in its way, it speaks to all the internal and external forces that bend us toward passive acceptance of the status quo.

It was first in a sermon.  I have included the sermon text in italics.  The red letters are the portions that have been edited into a Responsive Reading in Singing the Living Tradition.  My commentary is indented.

William Ellery Channing, from “Spiritual Freedom” (1830)
It has pleased the All-wise Disposer to encompass us from our birth by difficulty and allurement, to place us in a world where wrong-doing is often gainful, and duty rough and perilous, where many vices oppose the dictates of the inward monitor, where the body presses a…

Just in Case....

there is anyone among my scores of readers who are not among the thousands of hers, this should go in your special scrapbook of good stuff...

Post-Humanist Religion

Andrew Sullivan, reporting on a 2007 interview with Barack Obama:

He was brought up in a nonreligious home and converted to Christianity as an adult. But—critically—he is not born-again. His faith—at once real and measured, hot and cool—lives at the center of the American religious experience. It is a modern, intellectual Christianity. “I didn’t have an epiphany,” he explained to me. “What I really did was to take a set of values and ideals that were first instilled in me from my mother, who was, as I have called her in my book, the last of the secular humanists—you know, belief in kindness and empathy and discipline, responsibility—those kinds of values. And I found in the Church a vessel or a repository for those values and a way to connect those values to a larger community and a belief in God and a belief in redemption and mercy and justice … I guess the point is, it continues to be both a spiritual, but also intellectual, journey for me, this issue of faith.” For the post-humanis…


Clyde says in a comment on a previous post:
What I observe in your recent ponderings on theology and in your case study of Peter's short homily is a move away from a cosmovision. I read you as saying, the Christian way of doing theology based on "idea of god" and an "idea of the human condition" resulting in an "idea of salvation" by "an idea of a witnessing church" is impossible for UUs given our lack of consensus relative to God.
Can we not make even the basic statement witnessed by Carl Scovel that "the heart of the cosmos is good intent." That the creation in which we live and move and have our being is (created) good, and we are called to live in awareness that we children of that goodness?
Clyde, I am saying that the "Christian way of doing theology" is impossible, but for a different reason.  You think I am saying it because "UU's ... lack...consensus relative to God."

It's not just UU's.  The…

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism: Another Case Study

In response to one of my earlier post, Rev. Peter Morales, the UUA President, sent me a copy of a sermon that he gave in 2012 to the Arlington, Virginia congregation.  I suspect that he gives versions of this sermon in many of the places that he speaks.

It's called Beyond Belief.  Here is the heart of it. 
True religion is about what we love, not about what we think.True religion is about what you and I hold sacred. The practice of true religion is faithfulness to what we love.The key religious questions you and I must answer are these: What do we love so much that we are moved to tears? What gives us unspeakable joy? What brings us peace beyond understanding? What do we love so much that it calls us to action? What do we care about so deeply that we willingly, joyfully, devote our lives to it?When we focus on what we truly love, we ask life’s essential questions. We ask questions like, “How shall I live?” When we ask the question together in community, it becomes, “How shall we …

Fantasy Politics

Both the Left and the Right engage in fantasy politics of insurrection.  Someday, they imagine that they will be the vanguard of the People who have risen up against the government of the United States of America.  That the People now appear to be apathetic sheep is a problem, of course.  They appear to be not very interested in revolution, and not hungering for a vanguard to lead them in one.  But the magic mechanism that will turn today's sheeple into tomorrow's heroic freedom fighters is government repression.

So a few ideas clump together into one ideological fixation.  The actions of the government right now are laying the groundwork to repress the coming Revolution; the people must be warned; and present actions, which may be reasonable, must be opposed to preserve the future feasibility of the great revolt.

For the Right, the gun registration and background checks, no matter how reasonable they are today must be opposed because they will, on that great getting up day …

Tamara Payne-Alex

I am endorsing Tamara Payne Alex for UUA Moderator.

We need to pass the leadership of our Association to younger leaders.

I do not have extensive experience with either candidate for Moderator.  I served on a small task force with Jim Key, and he is a wise and gracious man.  Our group did all our work on the phone, so I have never been in his presence. I have known Tamara for a long time; she was on the MFC when I met them.

Most of us do not have a lot of experience with either candidate.

That said, I believe that it is crucial for the leadership of our Association to pass to the next generation of leaders.  I don't think that we should do this because it will look good, or make us more attractive.  I think that Baby Boomers like myself no longer bring an innovating energy to our work.  We bring a perfecting energy to what we do.  We want to make our institutions and organizations work better, be more effective, and have better governance.  Noble goals and entirely appropriate to …

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism - Humanism, Theism and Derp

The essential thing to remember is that both Humanism and Theism were valid and authentic responses out of American Protestantism to the crisis that Modernism brought to Christian orthodoxy.  If Christian orthodoxy was not true and factual, what could one do?

The theologically realists went to Humanism.  The theologically non-realists went to theism, including creative reinterpretations of Christianity.

The fundamentalists denied modernism altogether.

The differences are less than what they seem and certainly less than what late 20th century people thought.

We are all post-modernists, in that we understand now that humans are not particular rational or consistent in their thinking.  We construct our most important thoughts, about politics, romance, religion, culture and science, out of a mish-mash of actual facts, myths, stories, experience, our personal psychology, our social location, and cultural influences.  We each have a powerful 'will to believe' our most basic belief…

What makes UU theology?

After saying that a UU reinterpretation of Christian theology is not quite a UU theology, I think I better say what I think a UU theology has to cover.

First of all, it cannot be just be a celebration of theological diversity, many-paths-one-mountain, everybody-on-their-own-journey, or a list of all the possible brands.  Sorry, that's just the way the world is, and it is good that UU's recognize that.  It's a good thing, but it is not enough.

Secondly, a UU theology has to make a thoughtful analysis of historic Unitarianism and Universalism as liberal Protestant Christian theological tendencies.  What was the essence of their divergence from the Christian mainstream, not just in terms of doctrinal content, but in terms of who they represented.  Both were born in the early, and idealistic, days of the American Republic.  How was their Christianity a Christianity of their times?  It's not enough to note our social prominence in the past, or lift up only the Boston Unitar…

Rev. Marilyn Sewell's Take on UU Theology

Back in 2011, Rev. Marilyn Sewell, published a post on Huff Post entitled "The Theology of Unitarian Universalists".  In summary, we Unitarian Universalists do have a theology: We believe that human beings should be free to choose their beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.We believe that God is One.We believe that revelation is ever unfolding.We believe that the Kingdom of God is to be created here on this earth.We believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and that other prophets from God have risen in other faith traditions.We believe that love is more important than doctrine.We believe that God's mercy will reconcile all unto itself in the end.
Peter Bowden recently asked for "a reality check" on this formulation over the UUGrowth Lab Group Page on Facebook, and the comments are pouring in.

My take:

First of all: her s…