Is this Movementarianism?

I went to Raleigh, North Carolina, and participated in the Mass Moral March, along with 80 thousands others, including some 1500 Unitarian Universalists. If you are social media savvy enough to read this blog, you have already seen pictures and videos. I don't have any more interesting than you have seen.

Before so many converged on North Carolina, we were discussing this difference: 

Thinking of the UUA less as an "association of congregations" and more as a religious movement focused on cultural transformation...
So, is that what we saw in Raleigh?

The Boy in the Bands has cleverly dubbed the latter position "Movementarianism", a neologism that I think will stick.

So, was Raleigh "movementarianism": Unitarian Universalism of the future?

Yes and No.

Churches and congregations will continue. It is not, repeat NOT TRUE, that a UU staffer recommended burning all the churches and plowing the earth where they stood with salt. Nor are they to be converted to Obamacare Death Panel hearing rooms.

In the future, I suspect that there will be a greater identification made between UU congregations with the social movements for change. There will be more participation by churches, as congregational activities. I hope that there are more non-congregational and extra-congregational groups of UU's operating in and around centers of cultural transformation.

But I also think that you could probably predict who is going to be a "congregationalist" and who is going to be a "movementarian" by looking at:

  • where they are in terms of stages of faith
  • where they are in terms of life-cycle development
  • where their age cohort is in terms of their historical experience.

Taking myself as an example:

I am now a de-institutionalized baby boomer. I left the parish ministry, which means that I am transitioning out of a very social and institutional setting, the parish. There, I was fulfilling the generative tasks of my middle ages. I was building an institution, taking care of people, taking care of business. I had to balance my personal needs to the needs of others with whom I shared this thing we were building together. I was even arranging and editing my thoughts to what I could preach. I was very institutionalized and socialized; probably more than I had been in since high school.

Having left the parish, I am now in a period similar to being in college. My institutional role is open to the future, if I even am to have one. I am free to decide for myself what I think -- what I really think. I am in a process of self-identification and self-clarification, which often presents itself as questions about with whom and where I will ally myself.

Because I am a baby boomer, the idea that I would make these decisions about who I am in the public drama of mass protest, by going to Raleigh, is perfectly predictable. Not just predictable, but appropriate. I noticed that there were a lot of young people on Fayetteville Street, and a lot of folks my age. And not just among the yellow-shirted, but among all participants.

Faith development is a process much like breathing -- there is an inward motion -- individuation and differentiation -- which alternates by necessity with an outward motion -- coalescing, joining, identifying, taking action.

It is appropriate and predictable that many younger ministers in the 40's and 50's would tend toward the "congregationalist" side of this polarity. After all, they are in that generative, institution-building phase of life. And they have a different history, one in which mass marches and protests were not just going out of style, but being suppressed by ridicule.

Ten years ago I would have viewed this call to Raleigh as a distraction from the real work of the church -- preparing good worship, tending to the institution and that list of pastoral visits and calls I should have been making. I would have wanted to go, but would have viewed it as a self-indulgence.

My hope is that what changes between now and ten years from now is that we see this not as a contradictory understanding of UUism but as polarities that all of us are moving through over time. I hope that our commitment to movements beyond ourselves that express our vision of a transformed culture becomes part of what identifies us, but does not ultimately define or limit us. I hope that our ministry speaks to people at all stages of faith development, lifecycle, and social and historical circumstances.


  1. Tom,

    I'm planning to take a break from parish minister for at least a year after I finish here in Chapel Hill. I'm sure it does force one to differentiate oneself from the institution, which is probably a good thing, but also discombobulating I imagine. Enjoyed seeing you in Raleigh,


  2. Ah being a movement is not fully grasped, in some corners of our faith.

    But what creates institutional vitality? We say being focused on mission. We also say that congregations that focus on their own needs, on their own institutional maintaince are going to die. To use the old timey language, is that spirit of love thing just for your pew sitters? is the service that is your prayer just for pledgers?

    Most chapters of the UUMA made this turn years ago. The Standing on the Side of Love was big on the West Coast,Southland, now and it is coming to the snow belt.

    Look where our faster growing congregations are located. And look what they are doing about making love real in the world? So I think it isn't just generational, it is geographical. But from what I see it will be a nation wide change in our movement.

  3. Tom, I think you are Wicked Smaht.

    This is an interesting perspective, especially for a person like me who is not quite 40, was raised by boomers, and currently sits in the number two position in the congregational system.

  4. I'm a semi-institutionalized boomer, but do not ascribe it to some natural transition. Yes, many folks relish those harvest years of travel and self-discovery and don't want to hear about stewardship opportunities and why we should do this or that. But others of us would love to still have those regular little assemblies to reflect on this stage of the journey. If we had specialized ministries and small groups for the stages and milestones of adulthood --as we do for our children and youth -- we would see regular attendance among adults of these ages as well. Quite simply, caregiving for a partner in Stage Four is not the same as parenting a toddler, despite the similarity of the toolkits. But neither is having this particular disease the center of our lives, so our disease-centered support group doesn't necessarily nourish our religious souls.

  5. Movementarianism or activistism? I think the argument translates well.


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