04 May 2004

Unitarian Universalism, Congregationalism, and Congregations
My first "real" post here will look at congregation life, how we form our religious communities, and how we govern ourselves. Given our strong congregational roots, what I suggest below might sound like Unitarian Universalist heresy.

While how we form church communities and govern ourselves may be an extremely dry topic for some, there are some social justice implications surrounding congregationalism. I'll state up front that congregations are essential for long-term stability and continuity in Unitarian Universalism.

But I'll disagree with the suggestion that the only way one can be a Unitarian Universalist is in a congregational setting. And I'll suggest that the reason we have some non-congregational UU groups may be a sign of failure within our congregations in that we are not always welcoming to all persons who desire to live within a covenental religious community.

If our congregations were fully welcoming to all who sincerely desire to join, there would be less need for special non-congregational UU affinity groups for Christians, people of color, BGLT folk and their allies, conservatives, polyamorous folks, young adults, youth, etc.

In chapter 5 of the UUA Commission on Appraisal's report on membership, the authors write about "The Ideal of Pluralism vs. The Reality of UU Congregations":

"Our conversations made it clear that numerous people who identify with Unitarian Universalist principles and values do not find strong support or welcome in their local congregations. It is now apparent to the Commission that many who resonate to UU theology or beliefs do not identify their congregations
as their primary connections with the movement. One person with whom the Commission talked spoke for many: 'It's hard for me to sit in our congregations. I feel so completely invisible, calling myself a member is problematic. I cannot be fully who I am in a congregation.'"

So ... instead of getting upset that some UU groups with no obvious congregational grounding can now ask for "a place at the table" using structures and processes available to both congregations and non-congregational groups, perhaps we should ask why our congregations are failing some UU individuals who are joining non-congregational affinity groups. What pastoral needs are being met non-congregational groups and can our congregations learn to meet the needs currently being provided for by non-congregational groups?

For those of us within congregations, an exploration of the needs being met by non-congregational UU groups is an opportunity for congregational growth ... both incarnational and numeric growth ... that seems to be overlooked by those in congregational leadership positions and those who promote congregational life as the best, ideal, or only way to be a Unitarian Universalist.

Rather than complaining about non-congregational UU group, perhaps those of us in congregations should be asking some hard questions about how we can create more welcoming congregations that can meet the ministerial needs currently being met in non-congregational UU groups.

Disclaimer: In addition to being a member of All Souls UU in Shreveport LA, I'm also a member of some non-congregational groups as well ... LREDA, Interweave, and UUPA.