A young adult ministry

Here at the office following an amazing experience. Four college-aged persons arrived unannounced at the church door, wanting a tour. They were from the Columbia, Maryland suburb, and one of the four knew about Unitarian Universalism. (Her parents had been married in a San Francisco Bay area UU church.)

They were interested and keen, especially when the talk moved from the architectural to the theological. (We have a John Murray memorial window, and I tell his landing story, with the “Not hell, but hope and courage” ancedote.)

Seems they are part of a collegiate ministry to the city, and they wanted to pray with me for the church, my ministry, “that you Father might send [me] a new word” and the city.

They were positive, affirming, and open for us to participate in the ministry to disadvantaged children in a local park. I liked these people, and they seemed to appreciate an open door.

But there’s another lesson here: connections — and especially the ecumenical contact that so many Unitarian Universalist Christians crave — will follow the same rules as the post-Constantinian church. The connections will be lateral and personal. (Not unlike this blog.)

We don’t have to wait to be welcomed by the ecumenically-assertive denominations (indeed, it may never happen) but contact may be as close as the front door.

Open inquiries

So, there are two lines of thought I’ll be following in the next few months, and both have practical sides.

  • What is the purpose and meaning of confirmation?
  • On what basis would a newly constituted Universalist Christian church be founded?


Back from the breather

Had to take a few days away from the blog to get two other Movable Type projects underway. The first is UUChristian.net which will host several blogs by UU Christians, and when I point UniversalistChurch.net over there, this blog, too. Fish Bowl is the first of the blogs, and something of a training ground.

[2009-08-13. UUChristian.net and Fish Bowl are long defunct.]

The other action is the church website, which now uses MT as its management tool. See Universalist National Memorial Church at Universalist.org.

This later action was inspired by one of my favorite blog, which anyone with a hand in church or charity related web-building should read: Heal Your Church Website.

Would being many be harder than being one?

David Soliday asks in a comment at this entry to expound on my thoughts.


I really believe that Unitarianism and Universalism were re-tooled in the years after the Second World War, and leading towards consolidation in 1961, to be a joint theological “other” from what had existed before. Some examples. In those early years, the Unitarian fellowship movement, heavily tinctured by materialistic humanism, got started; the Universalist General Convention was denied membership in the National Council of Churches for being insuffiently Christian (and thus leaving only one natural source for fellowship, the Unitarians); the Massachusetts Universalist Convention spawned the hell-beast known as the Charles Street Meeting House, as a field lab for a rather heady, if lyric, form of syncritism; and ministerial exchanges between the Unitarians and Universalists sealed the deal.

Its a shame nobody told the Christians, who have been acting as a rump parliament in both traditions ever since. (The organization which became the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship also dates to that period. I’ve noticed it is among the Christians that you are more than usually likely to find a “Unitarian” or a “Universalist” and not the double moniker.)

Donald Harrington’s 1960 General Assembly sermon, Unitarian Universalism: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrowwe had a new theology, but didn’t really tell us how we got there, except perhaps by de-emphasizing Christianity as past and passe. We did get a new identity, that is, Unitarian Universalism qua sect, and a rather triumphal (“America’s fourth religion”) and gnostic (“Are you a Unitarian without knowing it?”) at that. It would be inconceivable to think that one of our own would be invited as an ecumenical delegate to a hypothetical Vatican III, but James Luther Adams was there for Vatican II. (Of course, Rome has moved too.) We’re not in the American consciousness, and it isn’t exactly because we were pushed off the map. We jumped.

I might believe that syncritism, as Unitarian Universalism has made it, and as I dub it “world-religionism,” might work if the self-congratulating, distant, and (at times, the worst ones to be sure) xenophobic sectarianism we’ve inherited didn’t really say that we’re not serious about a theological interface from many sides.

First, it is because we have nothing like peace about God, and without God, any serious engagement with monotheism or polytheism is moot. (How many times have you heard Buddhism lauded and defended because it isn’t theist?)

Second, I believe that to understand other languages you need a deep understanding of one with which to have a point of reference, and “garden variety Unitarian Universalism” (my term) doesn’t allow that depth to take place.

Third, we are wed to the priviledge of class (that is, middle posing as upper) embolded by education, and overfed self-praise, and that makes it almost impossible to exhort anyone to do anything. Have you noticed that Unitarian Universalistm, for a group that’s putatively interfaith, is indifferent to theological developments outside its own borders, and has no institutional will to cultivate spiritual disciplines among the rank-and-file?

I’m not sure what the best option for a future for Unitarian Universalism is, but I don’t think our present trajectory is viable. I am in this dialogue to develop a set of solutions when the ears are ready to hear.

There are many reasons I became a Christian — I wasn’t one when I entered Unitarian Universalism — but high on the list was spiritual self-preservation. Without an “other” to reach for, and lean on — that is, God, Jesus Christ, and the Church Universal — I would have been adrift, and out the door.

Remembrance of sermons past

Later this month, a lay preacher will give one of my predecessor’s old sermons. Seth Rogers Brooks (d. 1987) was minister of the Universalist National Memorial Church from 1939 to 1979, and leaves quite a shadow. He was one of the leading voices against the 1961 Universalist and Unitarian consolidation, and this hasn’t helped his legacy.

In looking for a re-preachable sermon to pass along, I have found one, and perhaps two sermons addressing his opposition to consolidation. Since I’ve never seen this side of the UUA’s history addressed with primary source documents, I’ll try to get it (or them) scanned for the historical record.

Back from Rome

So, no, I didn’t post from Italy, and I’m not convinced that anyone even noticed. (This
is something of a specialized weblog.) Yes, the wedding was lovely. And, yes, Rome was grand (and quite hot, but
better that than the perpetual rain and mist that typified Spring 2003.) Perhaps I’ll
get a few pictures up in time, but only after General Assembly and my wedding have passed.
(Chris a.k.a Philocrites says essentially the same thing.)

One thing that is different than when I last wrote is that it may be possible for my partner
Jonathan and I to actually get legally married in Ontario, even if that marriage would not then
be recognized when we returned to the relatively liberal environs of the District of
Columbia. No need to make links, it is the big news related to Toronto, squelching the SARS story.

Rest in peace.Two very different men died today: my great-uncle Israel “Pat” Coatney, and
former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, who died nearby. May God bring them, and in time each of us, home and close to one another.