A couple of centuries ago, had I been a General Baptist — a group later folded with the Unitarians — I might be at the annual conference, held in London each Easter Monday. This Easter Monday I want to revisit my relationship with the Unitarian Universalist Association. You may see your experience in my words.
First, I’m not storming off in a huff, but hasn’t this last week been a challenge? Or is that the last year? Last decade? But there is this malaise, and it’s only improved by not thinking about the UUA.
In fact, not being in a pastorate since 2003, I’ve had little functional connection to the central institutions of the UUA, but had thought it better to stay as engaged as possible. I felt that was my responsibility. Even now I have some forms on my desk to fill out. So I follow the programs, read the Board minutes, stay informed and attend General Assembly when possible. But even though there aren’t fewer words, there’s less to read. Theological conversations? Engaging with counterparts overseas? A new hymnal? (New churches for that matter?) I look at the work of the UUA that appealed to me twenty years ago, and see less every year. Much of what continues has been sourced outside the UUA (or dropped), and with unseating of the independent affiliates (and the undermining of the Commission on Appraisal) that “outside” is also sidelined. GA workshops, save the UUCF communion service, are worthless to me. (Lunch is always an option.) If I seem farther away from the center, maybe it’s because the scope of the UUA has shrunk, and I’ve spoken to others who feel the same way.
Instead, so much of the work of the UUA seems invested in maintaining the UUA itself. And the language of “your UUA” and “our saving faith” (definition forthcoming) seems to replace program with identity. But as Universalist Christian, that’s a non-starter. I could use programs, but the majority identity, itself under stress from demographic changes that all the old mainline churches face, actually makes it harder to make a claim a place in a theological federation.
So, what’s left that mostly works? Ministerial credentialing, the retirement plan, and (for those in search) settlement. I read the UUWorld, and I really like Elaine McArdle‘s writing. If everything else magically vanished, I might notice, but might not care. (Others will have other lists, of course.) If the other work is meaningful, it would find a new home anyway.
There are, of course, friends and colleagues who do good work, and I want to support them; I can do this directly. There’s a vacuum (vacUUm?) that will needed to be filled. But there’s no reason I should examine UUA membership data if it’s clear from the outset that the outcome is “smaller.” If the UUA does not make communal religious life easier and richer, then others will find a way to do it better. Maybe the next president — I have no opinion about who that should be — will improve things, and if that happens I hope someone will tell me. In the meantime, I will focus on the innovators, the activity at the fringes, co-workers in the ecumenical world and my personal friends. I don’t have time to worry about the UUA, and so that’ll be the last I have to say on the subject.