05 February 2006

Fixing Unitarian Universalism -- Implementation Tips, Part II

Instead of commenting on the relative merits of the various proposals on Chalicechick's blog about reforming the UUA, I'm going to look at how we would go about implementing the various suggestions. This is a hypothetical exercise to explore how one would make changes within Unitarian Universalism and the UUA.

These proposed reforms probably would not require amending the UUA bylaws:
Given the obstacles involved with implementing change through bylaws amendments, any reform that does not involve bylaws changes will be easier to implement. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, "Reform through bylaws amendments isn't for the faint-hearted."

I've only got a few additional implementation tips for just a few of the proposed reform suggestions:

"Meta-Tips" for Any Proposed Reform Idea -- Be prepared to answer the following questions:
  • "How does this proposed reform help Unitarian Universalist congregations?"
  • "Is this proposed reform coming from a member congregation of the UUA or is it coming from an individual?"
These questions relate to our polity and you need to be prepared to address them if you're looking at obtaining UUA Board or UUA District Board support.

A few years ago, I witnessed my district's board rejection of an Eastern European UU heritage trip proposal for UU youth in our district. The stated reason for rejecting this proposal and not providing any district sponsorship, endorsement, etc was that it was proposed to the district board by individuals and not congregational representatives.

So ... if our reformers pay attention to polity concerns and address them in promoting their proposed reforms, their work will be easier and they may find their work easier by gaining of institutional allies.

Found a UU Monastery -- Setting up a full-time UU monastery that would provide a place for Unitarian Universalists (and others) to spend months or years in a calmer lifestyle with time to explore this unique faith would be very hard to start up from scratch.

Scott Wells recently mentioned an article by Guy Kawasaki on the problems of startup ventures ("Bootstrapping a church" is Scott's article ... Guy's article is "Let the Good Times Roll").

I would recommend that we should look at starting small with realistic expenses and cash flow for this venture.

Rather than focusing on creating a "24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365.25 day a year" full-time UU monastery, I would suggest looking at creating short-term monastery opportunities. Single day workshops, weekend workshops, week-long workshops, and multi-week workshops would be one way to gauge interest.

Instead of building a permanent monastery facility at first, look into using existing Unitarian Universalist congregations and camps first. This could be done in cooperation with the Council of Unitarian Universalist Camps and Conferences. An additional advantage of this could be trying out various locations of North America for temporary monastery events before finding a permanent monastery location. This will help prevent locating a UU monastery in a region that has little interest in UU monastic practice.

Build an Association of Free Faiths -- This is a good idea that has been tried repeatedly in the past. Here are some historical timelines showing our previous attempts to create a free faith association:
And here's our past experience with trying to implement this idea in Unitarianism and Universalism:
  • 1865: Resolution offered in the American Unitarian Association to establish a higher council consisting of denomination bodies and other members. Christians, Universalists, Methodists, and Congregationalists were approached. Nothing came of this effort.
  • 1867: The Free Religious Association was formed, with at least six different religious groups represented; about half were Unitarian ministers. Very few Universalists affiliated. This association apparently lasted about 25 years. Its chief product was a liberalizing influence, principally on Unitarianism.
  • In 1908 the National Federation of Religious Liberals was formed. Its membership included the Unitarians, Universalists, Religious Society of Friends, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The organization ceased its existence with the advent of the Free Church of America in the 1930s and was of minor significance in Unitarian-Universalist relations.
  • In 1923 the Universalists received overtures from the National Convention of Congregational Churches. Each body established a Committee on Comity and Unity. In 1927, the Universalist Committee met with an interested group of Unitarians with the thought of establishing a Congregational-Universalist-Unitarian structure, but the whole move was defeated by Universalists, who felt that the best course would be Universalist-Unitarian.
  • In 1931 a Joint Commission of the two churches was formed and began meeting, but this commission soon concluded that the time was not ripe for merger. Instead, in their May 1932 report, they recommended that an organization be formed that would include all liberal churches. This resulted in the formation of the Free Church of America, which was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1933. The Free Church movement did not attract as many liberal churches as hoped, and it held its last annual meeting in 1938.
Knowing why this reform has not worked in the past may give us some clues on what we should do differently if we try again in the future.

Develop a UU Yoga -- I'll admit that I'm not a yoga practicioner, but this idea would seem to complement the proposed UU monastery. It would make sense for the yoga reformers and the monastery reformers to look into cooperative ventures.

That is about all that I can say at this time. Good luck.

[Sunday evening, 5 February 2006 -- note: the spelling error that I didn't catch was corrected. Thanks, Scott, for mentioning this.]


boyinthebands said...

I'm only mentioning it because you picked up an idea (that didn't do much for me) that I thought had submeged --

it's spelled monastery

Steve Caldwell said...

Scott, it didn't excite me that much either. I was just looking at how one would implement this idea within the framework of existing UU resourceses (congregations, camps, etc).

And thanks for the spelling input. I'll go back and fix it tonight.

I used the spelling from the original suggestion and blogger's spell check didn't catch the error.

I suspect that we already have a UU camp that is serving in this role for Unitarian Universalists today.

I would suggest that Murray Grove is the closest thing we have to a UU monastery today.

The camp staff can assist you in individual or group retreats. And Michael Masters (Murray Grove Assistant Director) has " ... extensive experience in individual retreats, and a strong commitment to contemplative living" according to their web site:


This assessment of Michael and Murray Grove is pretty much what I thought when I co-led an OWL workshop there last August.