Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Uncommon Denomination

Gini Courter said that the UUA lacked a 50 year vision, but bounced along with 4-6 year visions that were based on denominational elections and were tactical and strategic only.  She said that the problem was that congregations and the General Assembly and the Board were not doing their job in developing that vision.

I suggested we should look to two sources for that vision-casting: first, our ministers, especially the ministers most respected by other ministers as visionary.  The second was to people already showing visionary leadership.

Regarding the ministers -- well, this is where I got out of line and where I need, apparently, to be hammered back into my proper position.  Sorry, I am unrepentant, and I am willing to argue about this at length.

Here's the incident that got me started on this track.

Remember the Uncommon Denomination advertising campaign.  As Gini said that it came and went, no one ever knew if it was successful.  Whether it moved people out there or not, I don't know.  I do know that if there was a body of ministers who thought it was great, I never met any of them.

It wouldn't preach. Most were not enthusiastic about making that the theme of a worship service.  It might have been resonant with some newer UU's, in that first flush of UU identity, but for everyone else it would have been a bust.  For people really outside of us, it would sound arrogant and triumphalist.  And for more mature UU's,  it was a message that was actually not good for their spiritual development.  It did not invite them deeper, but reinforced a sense of our own specialness. It did not point to a deeper truth

How could the UUA come up with such an inappropriate and unhelpful advertising campaign?  I asked, and I was told that it had come about through a consultation between UUA staff and a very respected outside marketing consulting firm, who were not UU's.

A light bulb moment, for me.

Here were over a thousand people, UU Ministers, whose life's work was to explain Unitarian Universalism to people and they were not asked about this.  These were people who got up in the pulpit every week to explain our faith to the visitor, to the new UU, to children, to youth, and to the elder, loyal faithful.  They were charged to make our faith alive and relevant at the birth of a child, at the death of a child, at a house blessing, a wedding and a memorial service.  They were asked to explain UUism at Board meetings of community non-profits and at city council meetings and at rallies and picket lines and vigils.  They were ready to pick up the phone at any time day or night and account for their hope to random strangers who got their number out of the phone book.

There were not part-time UU explainers; they did it full time, all the time, and at any time.  Explaining this faith was what they signed up to do, what they went to school to learn how to do, what they practiced at the internship and applied in CPE and why they submitted themselves to an inspection by the MFC to prove that they were capable and responsible enough to do.

You would think that a group of them could handle evaluating billboards and bumper stickers.  Well, we know the results.

I have gotten feedback that somehow I am slighting, or disregarding, or even disrespecting the contributions of lay people in the visioning process.  Of course, I have said no such thing.  We live in a world where people take every positive assertion, and read it as an aspersion on everything else.  To say I like orange juice is to imply that I hate cranberry juice.  To question a war is to say that I hate the troops.  To say that we should look to the ministers, especially our most respected ministers for help in visioning is not to say that they should have all power and the laity be ignored.

It is evidence of a deep and abiding anti-clericalism that clergy and laity are imagined on a see-saw, that for one to rise, the other must fall.  If you think that we are passed that stage, just look.

I have gotten feedback that ministers are well-represented in our governance and visioning already. True enough, but not as ministers per se.  And not as ministers chosen by their peers and accountable to them.  In most cases in our governance, ministers and laypeople are interchangeable.  And in most cases, that is appropriate.  But in the imagination and articulation of our religious and spiritual mission, I don't think that it is.

Do we think that our ministers are religious and spiritual leaders, or not?

Now, the question is whether Gini Courter has it right or not.  You cannot both passionately agree that Unitarian Universalism has a missing vision in its future, and that our processes for developing mission and vision are working just fine.  

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