29 January 2006

One Room UU Sunday Schools -- One Possible Suggestion

Today, Scott Wells asked about this issue on his "Boys in the Bands" blog:
Do you know of any models, theories, or suggestions that could help the one-or-two child congregation? I'm guessing something that mobilizes parents ("as resident theologians" to recall one program) or incorporates the children organically into existing church functions like worship. Or perhaps a mentoring-based path. Whatever -- and from wherever. Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comments, or trackback to this post if you blog and would like to write (have written) on the matter.
Our family's had some experience with this situation in two places we have lived.

One was a household RE program when we lived in a small Northern Michigan town that was 2 hours away from the nearest UU congregation (Wurtsmith AFB -- near Oscoda, Michigan) and the other was in a small fellowship (Black Hills UU Fellowship, Rapid City SD).

In the small fellowship, we routinely had RE classes where 50% or more of the kids shared the same last name (50% or more of the kids were our two kids).

In both cases, the best workable solution we could find was using Church of the Larger Fellowship Religious Education materials. CLF materials that are designed for a household setting with parents and kids also work well with RE groups of 2-6 kids who vary greatly in age.

This suggestion is based on working with kids ages 0 to 8. For older elementary, middle school, and high school age participants, I don't know how well the CLF stuff would work.

Fixing Unitarian Universalism -- Implementation Tips, Part I (Bylaws)

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.

Based on what we know about how we do business in the UUA at the various levels (congregational, district, denominational), the following reforms would probably require UUA bylaws amendments in order to happen:
First, it's worth looking at the current UUA bylaws in Article XV -- the section that deals with amending the bylaws. The rules here will give one a sense of what is possible and how long it will take to implement a particular reform.

Bylaws can only be amended by a 2/3 vote of General Assembly delegates only if the proposed amendment is placed on the Agenda. However, there are two special exceptions to this 2/3 vote requirement ("C bylaws" and "C bylaws" in Article II) that will be discussed later.

Any proposed amendments to the bylaws can only be submitted by the following parties:
  1. The UUA Board of Trustees.
  2. The General Assembly Planning Committee.
  3. The Commission on Appraisal.
  4. Not less than fifteen certified member congregations by action of their governing boards or their congregations.
  5. A district by official action at a duly called district meeting at which a quorum is present.
So ... any proposed changes must go through one of these five "gatekeeper" bodies to be on the General Assembly agenda. And there's a timetable that congregations and districts must comply with (1 February submission of proposed change to the General Assembly Planning Committee for the typical June General Assembly). Getting a proposed amendment on the General Assembly agenda doesn't gurantee its approval. It's just the first step in this process.

This is how one starts the process to change a regular bylaw. However, there are certain bylaw sections where the section number is preceded by the letter "C." These are referred to as "C bylaws" and the process for changing them is slightly different.

For changing any "C bylaws" other than Article II "C bylaws," the process takes longer than it does for regular bylaw changes. It's also more complex, involving a two-step process. Amending, repealing, or adding a new "C bylaw" first requires getting the proposed amendment on the General Assembly agenda and must receive preliminary approval by a simple majority vote. Following this preliminary approval, the proposed "C bylaws" change will be on the next year's General Assembly agenda where it will then require a 2/3 vote for the final approval.

Article II "C bylaws" are a special case. Article II in the bylaws contains our Principles and Purposes, a denominational non-discrimination statement, and a freedom of belief clause that prohibits member congregations from imposing creedal tests. All four sections of Article II are "C bylaws."

Any attempt to amend, repeal, or add a new "C bylaws" in Article II first must be added to a regular General Assembly agenda. At this General Assembly, a simple majority vote means that the proposed change is referred to a commission appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees for review and study. This review must involve member congregations.

This study commission can take no longer than 3 years.

After the study commission has completed their work, they shall submit to the General Assembly Planning Committee for inclusion on the next General Assembly's agenda. This version of the proposal shall include the original amendment and any amendments to the proposed amendment recommended by the study commission.

However, this study commission process can be bypassed through a motion to dispense with the study and review process. This motion will require a 4/5 vote for passage.

All Article II "C bylaws" amendments must receive a 2/3 vote by the General Assembly delegates for final approval.

If the proposed Article II "C bylaws" change does not receive approval at this second General Assembly vote, this proposal (and anything that is substantially similar) cannot be placed on the General Assembly agenda for two years.

If no review of Article II has occurred for a period of 15 years, the UUA board will appoint a commission to review and study Article II. This commission will review Article II and will submit any appropriate revisions to the UUA Board. The UUA Board will review the proposed revisions and they may pass these recommendations to the General Assembly Planning Committee for inclusion on next year's General Assembly agenda. These proposals must go through a two-step approval process. Preliminary approval requires a simple majority vote at the first General Assembly and 2/3 vote at the second General Assembly.

Reform through bylaws amendments isn't for the faint-hearted.

It will require grass-roots networking, detailed preparation, and much patience. In an earlier blog post ["How To Implement UUA Reforms (Process Suggestion)"], I suggested that any proposed reforms that didn't involve bylaws changes would be easier to implement.

The proposed reforms that do not involve bylaws changes will be discussed in "Fixing Unitarian Universalism -- Implementation Tips, Part II."

27 January 2006

Long-Term UUA Religious Education Growth Trends

These questions come from Larry Ladd's report to GA last summer. He's was the UUA Financial Advisor until last summer when he completed his term.

Here are the growth demographic questions that he threw out for discussion in 2002 and again in 2005. So far, there has been no serious discussion about these questions:
For four years in a row I have written in this report that the declines in religious education enrollments should be "a warning signal for our movement." In my report in 2002 I wrote: "We need to identify the causes of the slowing growth in religious education enrollments. Is it that our adult membership is aging? Is it that we are becoming less successful in attracting young families and single parents? Is it other factors? Most importantly, this indicator likely predicts a decline in adult membership in the near future." For the third year in a row, I regret to report that, to my knowledge, there has been no serious discussion within our movement about the implications of this regrettable development.
RE growth is stagnant and we don't know why.

In regard to why it's not being studied, I suspect that congregational RE leaders are too busy with day-to-day parish RE ministry. My partner is a DRE and her life is just too busy with the short-term for this pressing but long term problem.

Any other thoughts?

24 January 2006

How To Implement UUA Reforms (Process Suggestion)

With the recent discussion on Chalicechick's blog and elsewhere about "Fixing the UUA," I wanted to point out a technical issue about how we do business.

Once this blog discussion has selected the top reforms, I would recommend dividing the reforms into ones that require UUA bylaws changes and those that don't require bylaws changes.

Any individual or group of individuals can come up with great ideas. The difficulty will be getting some of these ideas from the "brainstorm" phase to where we can vote on them.

Proposed changes to the UUA bylaws cannot be proposed by just anybody. There are only five possible pathways for getting these changes on a future General Assembly agenda:
  1. UUA Board of Trustees
  2. The General Assembly Planning Committee
  3. The Commission on Appraisal
  4. Not less than fifteen certified member congregations by action of their governing boards or their congregations
  5. A UUA district by official action at a duly called district meeting at which a quorum is present
Now ... if one can't convince the participants in any of these five possible pathways to the General Assembly business agenda, the proposed reform is dead in the water.

The following ideas would not require amending the bylaws:
  • Association of Free Faiths
  • Real Outreach
  • Abandon Our History
  • Inreach to the "Unchurched"
  • Ministry to Immigrant Groups
  • A Separate Non-Tax Exempt Political Organization
  • Less Talk About Emerson, More About Parker
  • Being Proactive in Best Practices Sharing
  • Social Justice Activities Should be Placed in a Religious Context
  • Celebrate World Day of Conscience
  • Develop a UU Yoga
  • Found a UU Monestary
  • Eliminate UU Hypocrisy
  • American Sister Churches
  • Move the UUA Headquarters
  • Lay Off One Third of the National UUA Staff
  • Hold GA in Las Vegas
  • Moratorium on Condemning Things at GA
Surprisingly (or maybe not), something as simple as changing our name requires a bylaws change.

The non-bylaws changes may be easier to implement. Even if the most popular reform is one that involves a bylaws change, one should have a worthwhile non-bylaws alternative reform in mind as well.

I hope that this process suggestion is helpful to our reformers.

The Dangers of Overly Aggressive UUA Reform

I'm really surprised at the negative attitudes being expressed by some bloggers about the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) on Chalicechick's blog.

I do hope that someone will sift through the reasonable and constructive reforms that are embedded on this blog along with the extreme and potentially destructive reforms being offered.

This concentration of negative complaints about the UUA staff, General Assembly, UUA social justice work, UUA Washington Office, etc is something that I've only observed in online forums and blogs. I haven't seen that in live face-to-face settings with Unitarian Universalists. This appears to be an internet-only phenomenon that isn't sustainable in non-internet settings.

I suspect that we're seeing a group of like-minded Unitarian Universalists forming an "echo chamber" online.

Wikipedia has a good explanation for the "echo chamber" metaphor:
Metaphorically, the term echo chamber can refer to any situation in which information or ideas are amplified by transmission inside an enclosed space.

For example, observers of journalism in the mass media describe an echo chamber effect in media discourse. One purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true.
There's an object lesson about the dangers of overly aggressive reform for Unitarian Universalists in our denominational history. It can be found in the transition from Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) to Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) in the 1970s and 1980s. This history example comes to us from Lela Sinha:
The life and death of LRY has a lot to teach. Obviously, the clearest lessons are to those of us in the denomination, but other organizations may face similar problems.

Situation: One of the most unfortunate side effects of the vilification of LRY by the UUA was that the new youth organization (YRUU) ended up reinventing the wheel a lot. When LRY was dismantled, most of the experience and materials produced over its 30 year tenure were lost or stored in unlabeled, unsorted file drawers. It was a tragic waste of time and experience. In addition, YRUU youth are rarely encouraged to seek guidance from LRY alumni in their congregations. Every time a new group has gotten started, the youth have had to find training from nearby groups, the UUA, or their own instincts.

Lesson: Any person or organization which is undergoing radical and painful change will probably be tempted to walk away and not look back. Some people say goodbye like that. For organizations, the transition time is a time of grave vulnerability, so the organization has a definite interest in keeping the transition as short as possible. Unfortunately, as in the case of LRY and the UUA, that kind of abrupt change can cause grief and hard feelings that will ultimately make the transition-incurred weakness last much longer.

That temptation to walk away can also lead one to repeat history and reinvent the wheel. A "clean" cut often leaves a mess behind: lack of materials, experience, and institutional memory. If there are existing program materials, for example, they need not be lost simply because the entity which produced them has fallen from grace. For LRY and YRUU this would have meant keeping the publications and experienced alumni available for incoming youth; for a church this may mean keeping old hymnals; for a school with a problem teacher it could mean firing the teacher but teaching some of her popular and creative teaching techniques to other teachers.
Bureaucratic or institutional memory is like plumbing, electricity, and other "infrastructures" that support organizations. The Unitarian Universalist Association is part of that infrastructure that many congregational leaders regularly use and depend on for congregational work. We expect it to be there ... something that we can always assume will be there. An overly aggressive restructuring of any organization can result in a fatal disruption of these resources.

And that is why I'm fearful about the overly aggressive UUA reform proposals.

22 January 2006

Reform for the "Reformers"

Recently, Chalicechick has started a discussion on her blog about how we can "fix the UUA."

My suggestion for this "reformation" within the Unitarian Universalist Association is the addressed to the reformers who have provided suggestions for reform on Chalicechick's web site:
Anyone who wishes to reform the UUA needs to study the applicable bylaws, rules, and other procedural guidance relevant to the proposed reform first.

Previous reform traditions within the Protestant tradition that gave birth to Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism involved scholarship and informed criticism. For example, Martin Luther was known as a scholar and educator within Catholicism before the Protestant Reformation. His criticisms were based on study and were not impulsive "shoot from the hip" suggestions.
For example, at least two suggestions for "reform" are already in place as current UUA procedures:

Actions of Immediate Witness should require a 66% vote

The UUA as a loose confederacy of churches

A quick glance at the UUA bylaws on the uua.org web site would have informed the reformer making the proposal that the "new reform" was existing procedure.

Additionally, during the comments to these discussions, various statements have popped up like "[General Assembly delegates'] power to set the agenda for everyone shouldn't be absolute."

In fact, the current business procedures for General Assembly resolutions currently require congregational inputs for setting the agenda. Anyone who wants to "reform" the current social justice business procedure should read "Social Witness Process Overview" on the UUA web site first along with the applicable bylaws that address this process. The power to set the General Assembly agenda is shared between local congregations working at home and the delegates that local congregations send to General Assembly to represent them.

So ... please do a bit of research before proposing reform ideas.

Thank you.

20 January 2006

Interim Report of the Ft. Worth GA Special Review Commission

The Interim Report of the Ft. Worth GA Special Review Commission is now available online. This report will require Adobe Acrobat Reader Software for viewing.

This report is a last-minute addition to the UUA Board January 2006 meeting pre-packet. The entire pre-packet contents can be found online here.

19 January 2006

Six Wise Blind Elephants

This joke is attributed to the prolific writer Anonymous. I found it while researching readings about Buddhism for a high school religious education class in my congregation:
Six wise, blind elephants were discussing what humans were like. Failing to agree, they decided to determine what humans were like by direct experience.

The first wise, blind elephant felt the human, and declared, "Humans are flat."

The other wise, blind elephants, after similarly feeling the human, agreed.
This joke parodies the Hindu parable about the six blind men and the elephant.

I'm thinking that there may a lesson from this joke that we can use when exploring world religions as Unitarian Universalists.

Like the blind elephants, we may accidentally transform and even distort another's religion into a form wildly different from the original through our exploration.

16 January 2006

Sundown Towns - New Book by James Loewen

For those who are fans of the Unitarian Universalist Historian - Sociologist James Loewen and his books on US History (Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong), he's got a new book out.

It's called Sundown Towns: a Hidden Dimension of Racism in America and here's the book summary from the author's web site:
From Maine to California, thousands of communities kept out African Americans (or sometimes Chinese Americans, Jewish Americans, etc.) by force, law, or custom. These communities are sometimes called "sundown towns" because some of them posted signs at their city limits reading, typically, "Nigger, Don't Let The Sun Go Down On You In ___." Some towns are still all white on purpose. Their chilling stories have been joined more recently by the many elite (and some not so elite) suburbs like Grosse Pointe, MI, or Edina, MN, that have excluded nonwhites by "kinder gentler means." When I began this research, I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois (my home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, I have found more than 440 in Illinois and thousands across the United States. This is their story; it is the first book ever written on the topic.
More on this topic can be found online in this Wikipedia article on Sundown Towns:
Sundown town
Sundown towns were towns and cities in the United States where non-whites were systematically excluded from living. They became common in America in the late 19th century. Sundown towns existed throughout the nation, but more often were located in the northern states that were not pre-Civil War slave states.

In some cases, signs were placed at the towns border with statements similar to the one posted in Hawthorne, California which read "Nigger, Don't Let The Sun Set On YOU In Hawthorne" in the 1930s.

In addition to the expulsion of African-Americans from many small towns, Chinese-Americans were driven out of towns where they lived. In one example, in 1870, Chinese made up one-third of the population of Idaho. Following a wave of violence and a 1886 anti-Chinese convention in Boise, almost none remained by 1910. The town of Gardnerville, Nevada blew a whistle at 6 PM daily alerting Native Americans to leave by sundown.

In addition, Jews were excluded from living in some sundown towns.

In some cases, the exclusion was official town policy. In others, the racist policy was enforced through intimidation. This intimidation could occur in a number of ways, including harassment by law enforcement officers.

Though no one knows the number of sundown towns in the United States, the largest attempt made to determine how common they were estimated that there are several thousand towns throughout the nation.

Sundown towns included (the below refer to historic sundown towns, not necessarily current ones. Also note that all Illinois towns below, unless specifically noted otherwise, have been confirmed as sundown towns by scholar James Loewen):
  • Anna, Illinois
  • Pana, Illinois
  • Ashland, Illinois
  • Casey, Illinois
  • Virden, Illinois
  • Pekin, Illinois
  • Cicero, Illinois
  • Vienna, Illinois
  • Berwyn, Illinois
  • Pinckneyville, Illinois
  • West Frankfort, Illinois
  • Edina, Minnesota
  • Myakka City, Florida
  • Kennewick, Washington
  • Vidor, Texas
  • Darien, Connecticut
  • Cullman, Alabama
  • Arab, Alabama
One of the more famous towns on this list is Darien, Connecticut which is prominently featured in the film Gentlemen's Agreement.

06 January 2006

"Six Feet Under" for Church Professionals and Their Families

The Book of Daniel is worth checking out.

You've got the drug-using artistic younger daughter who's struggling to find her identity (just like Claire).

You've got the son who has a family that is struggling with his sexual orientation (just like David).

And at least one character talks to a dead person repeatedly throughout the show.

And it's pissed off conservative Christians:
Book of Daniel Continues to Spark Criticism and Reaction
(AgapePress) - An official with the American Family Association says concerns about possible anti-Christian messages in a new NBC series are warranted. The hour-long drama The Book of Daniel, scheduled to kick off this evening (Friday, Jan. 6), is touted by the network as edgy" and "challenging." Critics, however, disagree -- some saying it "mocks" Christianity, others saying that it deals with religious subjects in an offensive manner. The show's main characters include Daniel Webster, who is a drug-addicted Episcopal priest, as well as his alcoholic wife, his homosexual son, his drug-dealing daughter, and his lesbian secretary, who has a romantic relationship with his sister-in-law. Also, there is Daniel's Chinese adopted teenage son who is dating a female bishop's daughter, and -- perhaps the most controversial character of all -- a white-robed, long-haired and bearded "Jesus" who appears to Daniel and holds discussions with him, often openly challenging contemporary interpretations of church teachings. While the Los Angeles Times reports that some Episcopal priests say the program "offers a refreshingly candid portrayal" of religious leaders and are encouraging their church congregations to watch the program, one pro-family researcher who was among a group of clergy invited to screen several episodes of the program earlier this week at the NBC affiliate in Memphis sees few positives. Ed Vitagliano, director of research for the American Family Association and news editor of AFA Journal, says concerns about the series, which he says mocks Christianity, were not unfounded. "The show is written by a non-Christian, but it's written about Christians that people are not going to recognize," says Vitagliano. "I don't know anybody this dysfunctional in my over 20 years of ministry."
Gee ... I didn't know the idea that Christians are humans with real problems was blasphemy.

In Memoriam: The Rev. Dr. Frank Schulman

Rev. Frank Schulman was a regular guest speaker at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana between 2000 and 2004 when we were without ordained clergy.

This obituary annoucement comes from the UUA-L press release announcement list:
The Unitarian Universalist Association announces with sadness the death of the Reverend Dr. Jacob Frank Schulman on January 4, 2006 from cancer. He was 78 years of age.

Dr. Schulman was born March 26, 1927 in Nashville, Tennessee. He had an outstanding academic life with degrees from the following institutions: B.A. - University of Oklahoma; S.T.B. - Harvard University; D.Min. and D.D. - Meadville Lombard Theological School; M.A., D.Phil.,B.D. - University of Oxford.

Mr. Schulman was ordained in the Unitarian ministry in 1954 at the Arlington Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts. He served many congregations: Arlington Street Church, Boston; First Unitarian Church, Worcester, Mass.; First Unitarian Church, Youngstown, Ohio; Emerson Unitarian Church, Houston, Texas; Unitarian Church of Horsham, West Sussex, England; and Huntsville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Texas. His last position before retirement was as Chaplain and Dean and Fellow in Theology at the Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford. Mr. Schulman was also named Minister Emeritus at Emerson Unitarian Church of Houston and at All Souls Church Unitarian Universalist, The Woodlands, Texas.

Frank Schulman was a prolific writer of books, pamphlets, and articles on topics from "Blasphemous and Wicked: The Unitarian Struggle for Equality, 1813-1844" (1997) to the pamphlet he edited, "Ralph Waldo Emerson Speaks." In addition, he was a sought-after lecturer, delivering the Berry Street Lecture (1981); the Minns Lecture (1982); and the Billings Lecture (1983). Mr. Schulman also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean War.

On learning of Frank Schulman's death, UUA leaders reacted with sadness and deep appreciation for his ministry. The Rev. William G. Sinkford, UUA President said, "I will miss Frank's presence so much. His scholarship, his wisdom about ministry and his commitment to our faith have nurtured me deeply in recent years. I will miss these gifts greatly. But I will grieve the passing on of a truly good human being. Like so many, I have lost a friend." The Rev. David P. Hubner, Director of the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group said, "We, the Rev. Dr. Frank Schulman's colleagues at the UUA and in our wider ministry, are keenly aware of what we have lost at his passing. He was not only a great minister to the many he served, but was to many of us a model of what a strong, dedicated, and engaged ministry should look like. His ministry was, and will remain, an inspiration to us. We feel the deepest gratitude for his life and ministry to us all and know that his example will live on for us." Kay Montgomery, UUA Executive Vice President said, "Frank Schulman used to intimidate me: so smart, so formal, so disciplined. But it didn't take long in his company to experience his warmth, his humor, his authentic devotion to our faith. He's left a big mark on Unitarian Universalism and will be sorely missed."

Frank Schulman is survived by his wife of 52 years, Alice Southworth Schulman, and three grown children. A daughter predeceased him. A celebration of Frank Schulman's life will be held on Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 2PM CST, at Emerson Unitarian Church in Houston. The Reverends Terry Sweetser, Rebecca Edmiston-Lange, and Mark Edmiston-Lange will conduct the service.

05 January 2006

Theology of Contemporary Unitarian Universalist Worship

On the Unitarian Universalist Association's Young Adult and Campus Ministry (YA/CM) web site, there's a portion of the web site dedicated to "contemporary worship." In this portion of the web site, Elisabeth Frauzel Bailey (2005 Meadville-Lombard graduate) has written a paper titled "Cresting From The Ocean: Creating Profound Worship."

Here's a summary of the paper from the YA/CM web site:

"In this paper, Elisabeth Bailey gives a theological basis to challenge what she calls 'minister-dominated, boring worship.' She then goes on (beginning on pager 9) to give some fairly concrete tips about how to design an embodied, spiritual, meaningful, community-centered worship experience. Elisabeth, our former Canada Regional Organizing Consultant, and a 2005 graduate of the Meadville-Lombard Theological School, calls on all of our congregations to make worship a community practice, and not something we endure to get to what really brings us together as a community.

One section from this paper captures the fundamental disconnect between children and youth in the RE wing and the adults in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings:

I believe that part of the answer to this question lies, ironically, in our noncreedalism. In a culture of religions that ostensibly define themselves by belief, UUs tend to cling a little obsessively to certain aspects of the religious tradition that ground them and help us be defined as the church. Famous historical figures such as the transcendentalists serve this purpose well—especially since a UU can say, “you know… Emerson and Thoreau,” and be generally understood. But I think that worship form also serves this legitimizing function. Because if on Sunday morning we have a prelude and a postlude and sing hymns and sit down facing a minister who’s behind a pulpit and might even have a robe on… well, that’s definitely a church, then! (The coffee afterwards helps, too.)

And yet this form clashes terribly with the beliefs that are represented in the pews. I know many adults who would be incensed to hear that their children’s RE classes were taught in a largely lecture style, yet will themselves sit in worship, reflecting individually on their spirituality while pretending that they are listening and/or know how to read music. In the meantime, a sacred opportunity for profound connection is lost.

To read this paper, you will need Adobe Acrobat or other PDF reader software.

Download Acrobat here.