How to test for what’s Unitarian Universalism today

When one — say, me — complains about the failings of Unitarian Universalism, it’s easy to get hung up on national-level ministries. And that’s a problem.

For one, it’s a single point of attention, which can skew perceptions. Also, the national ministries attract participation, and that work also concentrates good and bad behavior; that might misrepresent effort. Plus, it’s in the nature of national organizanions to represent their interests as the interests of its participants, even if the participants in the provinces are in fact ignoring the national office. Lastly, if one did want to change the focus, it seems unfair to highlight the work of a particular congregation, because that means also pointing out its faults; that can be hurtful, which is itself unfair and counterproductive.

But Unitarian Universalism is (or ought to be) more than the work, though and opinion of the UUA, UUMA, the two recognized seminaries and a handful of other organizations that may or may not be functional.

I think an interesting test would be to see what people are hearing in Sunday services.

So I propose to find twenty-five congregations: five from each of the new regions, and distributed in size, chosen as randomly as possible. I will look at their October services and see what themes emerge, if any. I’ll also see how wany services are led by professional staff and what is led by visiting ministers or lay people. This might give us a clue about how congregations staff. October is good because it’s not the summer (when programs often become more informal), not “starting up the new church year” and not near Christmas or the other December holidays.

It’s the kind of survey that might take some time, and certainly one that will reveal failures in sampling part the way through. But this is informal, and still might be useful.

Is there anything you would like me to keep an eye on?

2 Replies to “How to test for what’s Unitarian Universalism today”

  1. I would like to see the presence or absence of “open mike” joys & sorrows, and the presence or absence of spoken announcements and whether these factors can be correlatedvto growth or attendance.

  2. Were I to do this test via what I see in RE conferences (in terms of what people demand, and what they do as presentations) I see much more emphasis on “forming a UU identity”. I see less emphasis on the classical pillars of liberal religious education: liberal Biblical scholarship, ethics, world religions, science and religion, and UU history.

    Not sure what to make of the shift from content areas to issues of identity. But at a gut level it doesn’t feel healthy to me. Or at least there is something underneath the surface that we are struggling to resolve.

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