Anyone want to talk about Unitarian Universalist congregational data?

We’re in the season (until the end of January) when Unitarian Universalist Association-member congregations certify their statistics (like membership) to have a vote at the next General Assembly. It’s the great statistical roundup, and I’ve seen it as part of the holiday season! Numbers!

Three things to start:

  1. One can download CSVs of UUA certification numbers from 2013 back to 2004. Don’t know how long the CVS facility has been in place, but it made it easy (only a few hours) to normalize the 10 years of data, so I can see reported changes. I blame my Sunlight Foundation colleagues for making data normalization and analysis a recreational activity.
  2. One can see which congregations have risen and shut down. No easy way to identify mergers, and my memory doesn’t always work. Queens, N.Y. and Marietta, Ga. to be sure. Because of the moratorium on admitting new non-U.S. congregations and the 2002 independence of Canadian Unitarian Council, I’ll be focusing on U.S. congregations.
  3. Are you interested in this activity? Say yes in the comments.

The Unitarian center: UK edition

Last year I made a somewhat silly mapping thought exercise: locating the geographic center of the membership of the Unitarian Universalist Association. That’s one way to describe what holds us all together, I suppose.

This year, I’ve sought out and geocoded all the member churches of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, in Great Britain. I have some observations and a map like I made for the UUA, but there are some lingering choices for how to render the map. So instead, I’ll tell where the centerpoint — er, centrepoint — for UK Unitarians, based on the reported quota numbers. (With the understanding that this probably isn’t an adequate way to measure membership, much less participation.)

The proper location is on a farm south of Barton-under-Needwood, in Staffordshire, just off the A38. Hardly the place for 3,600-plus Unitarians and Free Christians, who’d about double the population. So let’s call it nearby Burton upon Trent, which has about 44,000 residents and at least has a train station on a main line.

To tell you the truth, I was hoping for Ashby-de-la-Zouch (for the name alone).

Map of Unitarian Universalist Association-member congregations

Voila! A map of Unitarian Universalist Association-member congregations — click in, if you’re on the main page —

Or click here. (You may need to zoom in a level to see the detail.)

For size, I’ve restricted the map to the continental United States and southern Canada — also, because I’m using a free-of-charge Mapbox account. (This one map takes up 80% of the free allotment.) It didn’t take as long to make this project as I feared, but that’s because I had already prepared the lat-long data. (Accordingly, it’s only as fresh as February.) Indeed, much of the time was just playing with my options.

Note: the purple circles are congregations, with the area of the circle scaled to the size of the congregation. So emerging congregations (having no reported members) and those with membership 12 and under appear as a single point.

Scout around it. I’d love to know

  1. what discoveries you make, and
  2. what features you would like to see in future versions

Unfellowshipped ministers in Unitarian Universalist congregations

There no reason (anymore, from a Universalist perspective) that a minister without ministerial fellowship in the UUA can’t serve a UU congregation. There are some denominational oddments around inclusions in directories — unimportant to the living — so I have to think the reason to note such in our once-print, now-online directory is to note who’s not in the guild. (The auslander clergy were marked with a # — alas, not in scarlet ink.)

Noodling around the online directory and the General Assembly certification numbers to re-set the UUA geographic epicenter — to come — I discovered the notation lives, and thanks to a customized Google search can see the list all in one place. More than I would have guessed, too. The term “Non UU” may not be quite fair — some of these ministers must surely be members of the churches they serve. Some are in federated and multi-denominational parishes; others are in out-of-the-way areas. But not all. Many emerited. An interesting mix.

See them here.

Chosing an e-reader

I wanted a e-book reader since I’m reading more these day, and particularly in time for General Assembly, including the bus ride to and fro. Discussed this last year, and had ruled out the Kindle as being too wed to a proprietary e-book format.  Interested, initially, in the newly-released Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch Reader — which seems to be poised as a basic Kindle competitor — until I held actually one and read the specs, and found them wanting.  In short, I thought it too wide (even if lighter) and I wanted to read not books and other documents, but also listen to music and I do appreciate the color images, if not the lower battery life. But the lack of PDF support was the killer.

So I bought the Nook Color, even though it’s more than $100 more.

But I’m still learning it and not completely sold. Indeed, I’m not Barnes and Noble’s ideal reader; for one, I’m more likely to download historic, public domain PDFs from Google Books or Archive.org than buy a new composition, for which I’m still prone to paper. And that’s the rub. It seems that the Google Book PDFs have encoding that make them unreadable, and must be altered — and I’ve got to figure out how to do that — first. Or the Google Books epubs, because they’re generated from a converted scan of the original are thick with typos and gemlins, which makes some practically unreadable.

So I may take it back and do without if I can’t come up with a good solution.

And if I do come up with some solutions, I’ll post them here. Also, I need a way to convert the documents I’ve published a PDF — minimally James Relly’s Union — as an epub.

Rapture post 2: follow the earthquakes

Here at Universalist Labs, we take data seriously. If you think Christ’s second coming will be occasioned by earthquakes, then perhaps you’d want to know where the earthquakes are, and how strong they are. (Helpful too if people suffer because of earthquakes and you want to know their extent.)

For a current list, see this one from the National (U.S.) Earthquake Information Center.

And if you’d prefer an RSS feed or a file with which you can map the ‘quakes with Google Earth.

Dirty numbers and the British Unitarians

I’m about to wade into deep water. I mean no offense, nor do I plan to come off as a pushy American. But I’m thinking about the stated executive goal of the British Unitarians to grow by 20% in five years. I found their 2010 (current) annual report, which for the first time has membership statistics.

The numbers, to me, say do or die. (The following calculations, while accurate, are naive of statistical analysis and independent confirmation; thus the title.)

The 163 member churches in England, Scotland and Wales have a aggregate membership of  3,672. The largest church is Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London with 168 members. But the second largest is Dean Row Chapel, Wilmslow, with 80. Sixty-one congregations have 10 members or fewer.

What would it take to get to 4,406, a twenty-percent increase? Well . . .

  • if each congregation currently with 60 members or more made a net increase of 5% per year, each year, and
  • if each congregation currently from 20 to 59 members made a net increase of 2 members per year, each year, and
  • if each congregation currently under 20 members made a net increase of 1 member per year . . .

the General Assembly would increase by 34% after five years.

But hitting stasis would be a laudable and difficult goal for some. As I’ve said in the United States setting, this plan calls for new congregations and an examination of where they’re missing.

But you can run the numbers yourself with this comma-separated values spreadsheet sorted by home country, city, congregational name (where needed) and membership.

Blog posts I'm reading today: our past and future

Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Elz Curtiss (Politywonk) writes movingly about the hagiographic and political misuse of Unitarian and Universalist history, and it power to misshape the truth about our traditions. Worth reading.

Unitarian minister and blogger Stephen Lingwood (Reignite) talks data — the size of congregations in the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (GA), our counterpart body in Great Britain (and a handful of congregations elsewhere, like the UUA) just reported in its Annual Report. (Can’t find it online.) Unlike the UUA, the GA doesn’t have a historical practice of publishing congregational size data, so this report is noteworthy, if chilling. He sounds the wake-up call, given the smallness by congregations and overall of the GA — only one of the GA’s 170 churches wouldn’t be classed as “small” in the UUA — and how many congregations could easily slip below the water line.

It also makes me think the Church Admin plugin for WordPress I noted might be more useful for the British churches of 15 to 60 members than the American ones I was imagining for a use case. (The developer is also British and that comes across in the plugin.) Since it’s in rapid development, I’ve not properly tested it, but I’d be willing to do so if any British Unitarians would like to examine it with me.

Single? No parish for you.

My husband sent me a link to an article in the New York Times. (With the paywall soon to go up, expect to see a lot of links to the Grey Lady, as it’s really — as a work colleague called it — a “paysieve” and links get through.)

It considers the poor professional prospects for single evangelical ministers, and notes the built-in rationale for church planting. (A preacher’s parallel to “publish or perish” — parish or perish?)

This phenomenon is rather different among Unitarian Universalists, but with the Hot Stove Report out — founded and reprinted by Unitarian Universalist ministers Hank Peirce (on Facebook) and Dan Harper (open web) respectively — I expect to see, as usual, a disproportionally large number of white, straight, married fathers be called to the larger churches in more desirable cities. (With white, straight, married mothers filling in generally.) But without the data, it’s hard to make that stick.

Unmarried Pastor, Seeking a Job, Sees Bias” by Eric Eckholm. New York Times. (March 21, 2011)

What I'm reading; all nonfiction

I have four three-ring binders on my desk. Each with a print-out of a book in it.

I shuttle them in turn between home and work, since peculiarly, they touch both on my work and personal — that is to say, church — life, and I thought you might be interested in these four nonfiction reference works which take up my lunch hour and early evenings.

The first two deal with organizing data and people in nonprofit settings. More or less.

The other two deal with accounting, and while referring to software systems, are useful for reinforcing accounting concepts.

All sound too dull? I’ve also got “Frederic Henry Hedge: Unitarian Theologian of the Broad Church,” the spring-summer 1981 number of the Unitarian Universalist Christian journal. But that’s for kicks, and — alas — not online.