“Though I agree with your stance that a changing culture requires new ways of bringing efforts to bear,” replied the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, trustee, “I worry that undue emphasis on change in culture may be a dodge for the fact that many of our churches are inadequate churches. I’d hate to see us avoid the work of strengthening the church.”What do we do about the churches that are not doing well: the churches that don't ever grow, the churches that sit on franchises; the churches that chew up ministers; the churches that teeter on the age of failure; the churches that need some kind of help from somewhere. They are the identified patient of our system.
Note the way that Eller-Isaacs frames this: work with people outside our system (you could call it evangelism) might be 'a dodge' from fixing the inadequate elements inside our system.
Just who is supposed to fix the inadequate congregations of our association? And how?
The UUA has been organized for that task for much of its life. Isn't that what all the investment in district and regional staff has been for: the support of local congregations? Trainings, workshops, interventions by skilled staff. There has been no shortage of those. And the other potential source of help has been our flagship churches, like the one Rob Eller-Isaac serves. But, those churches are more resented for their success, rather than seen as a resource.
The experience suggests that the work is very difficult. Stuck systems tend to stay stuck. There is no shortage of money, or innovative ideas, or enthusiastic ministers for congregations that want to thrive. There is never enough for congregations that are stuck. Our most stuck congregations resist the UUA, resent the nearest successful congregation, and externalize their anxiety about survival. That anxiety ping-pongs around the Association as this pervasive sense that anything anybody does is really work avoidance.
I think the angry response to the Administration's report, as recounted in the World article, is part of that bouncing anxiety: we are not sure what the UUA should be doing, (planting new churches, fixing old churches, modernizing, preserving, rooting out racism, recruiting new ministers, placing old ones, but generally doing more with less), but certainly not whatever it is now proposing!
The experience suggests that many of our "inadequate" churches would just like to be left alone. They might among those typical American Protestant churches which do not last much beyond the lifespan of their founding generation. Nothing lives forever and not all trees grow to the sky.
Maybe it is an act of non-anxious self-differentiated leadership to suggest that we turn outward now, rather than anxiously obsessing about what we think we should be doing, but have no idea how to do.