This is less blog post and more notepad, to record on-the-ground observations from attendees of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly. They’re meeting in Columbus, Ohio now, and the Unitarian Universalist Association will meet there next June.
Convention Center seating leaves something to be desired.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly began today in Columbus, Ohio under the theme “Soar!” I noticed a bunch of my classmates flying cross country, and then I noticed they were going to the city the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly will be next year: Columbus, Ohio.
But what keeps my attention is a playful and cheerful parallel hashtag. If #DisciplesSoar is for the serious business, the #CampbellCon is for the fun stuff, for the relationship building and a knowing recognition that our awkward, wonky church conventions bear more that a passing resemblance to comics and sci-fi fandom. (The hashtag is a reference to Alexander Campbell, a wild-haired founder. It would be as if we had a hashtag #BallouBoatHome. But I’m sure we could do better that that.)
I mean, I wish we could be so playful. There are a few of us, but we’re on the magins. If we Unitarian Universalists, who suffer from debilitating earnestness, could put up with Twitter accounts like
Even though I didn’t go to General Assembly this year — there was a very nice family wedding the same time — I tried to keep up with the news as best I can.
And saying that, I’m glad I didn’t go. There seemed to be a lot of feeling there — and camaraderie — but (as I’ve suggested elsewhere) I can meet my friends elsewhere (online included) and the amount of forward motion the UUA generates doesn’t seem to justify the effort of GA. (Indeed, a lot of the work of the UUA seems to be solving problems of our own creation.) That and there seemed to be a good bit of grievance cultivating there. Enough.
But if you were there, perhaps you have other experiences. Better ones, worse ones. And perhaps you have a special way of actually participating in General Assembly. (I think the attend-every-possible-session approach is certain death.)
Feel free to share your thoughts.
And as of now, I do plan on attending the General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio next year.
There has been some buzz, both associated with the #sustainministry theme and the fear of shortages in the ministry, that there should be some intermediate ministerial status. To which I noted to those within earshot that the Universalists once licensed ministers, and that we could consider doing so again.
There were licensed ministers — holdovers from before consolidation — within my time as a Unitarian Universalist. They even had their own section in the UUA directory, but year by year their numbers declined by death.
In time they were all gone; I don’t know who was the last. The right the UUA reserved (or at least claimed) to recognize such licensed ministers seem equally a dead letter, so it was cleaned out of the bylaws at a General Assembly.
When? More recently than you might think. The year 2000.
I was present at that GA and was both sad at the moment passing and thought that without a prior claim, any church was free to so license ministers. And I still feel this way.
effective June 28, 1999
The Ministerial Fellowship Committee may also with the approval of the Board of Trustees make rules pertaining to the status of, and recognition by the Association of, lay preachers and the granting of licenses to them.
So, I was reading through the Unitarian Universalist Association Board packet for the June meeting — as one does — and see that All Souls Miami is (alone) scheduled to be voted upon for admission to the UUA.
I’ve never never seen an application go this far and not be accepted, so I’ll offer my confident (if premature) congratulations. I welcome all new members to the UUA of course, but All Souls Miami is special to me because it’s Christian: the first Christian church admitted since Epiphany Church, Fenton, Michigan, joined many years ago and has since disbanded.
Before the #sustainmininstry thread fades (presumably to revive at General Assembly) I wanted to meditate on how our ancestors coped. In my last blog post, I opined that ministerial shortages were practically a tradition. So is coping with meagre funds. This theme cropped up continuously when I worked on my never-finished master’s thesis — golly — about a quarter century ago. But those lessons learned over microfilmed antebellum newspapers made an impression.
Have a sideline. Perhaps seasonal. Perhaps not farming.
Your sideline? Call it media production. There was a reason why there were so many Universalist newspapers. (Which inspired me to create my first websites.)
But don’t expect to get paid. Those minister-editors had a terrible time getting their subscribers to pay.
Seminary may not be in reach, but an apprenticeship may be.
If you can’t get a minister full time, perhaps you can be in a circuit. Some little societies only saw the minister every few months. But it was consistent. Ish.
Be ready to pool your resources to memorialize a dead minister, or to support surviving dependents. But people may still mumble and grumble about the expense…
Plant churches to make better use of public transportation. Who can afford a carriage, horsed or horseless?
And follow migration patterns. When church members move, start a church where they go.
Inactivate churches when there’s no minister, leadership or money. Call them dormant, but don’t lose contact with with a would-be reorganizer: it may be re-started.
Use home hospitality at conventions. Well, I guess that one never really went away.
In case you wanted to see the printed services used at First Universalist Church, Providence, held over General Assembly, please download this PDF (4.2 Mb). I created this not out of the 1941 edition of A Book of Prayer for the Churches that First Universalist, Providence, uses, but the 1957 edition printed by the recently defunct First Universalist Church, Woonsocket, Rhode Island. (I got it on eBay.) Just to be clear that the tradition isn’t a nineteenth-century re-enactment, but long-held. And there’s a difference.
But the text for morning prayer and vespers in the two editions is the same. Note: we prayed vespers and not evening prayer. Evening prayer developed from vespers (the evening service) and compline (the service before bed) so that raises the question: why does the book have both? I don’t know, except to think that some churches used one and some the other. I’ll have to analyze their differences.
A word about how they ran. The pastor of First Universalist, Providence, lead the services making “micro-alterations” and applying local, customary ceremonial. We were supported in our singing and chanting by organ and organist. With readings (Old Testament and Gospel in the morning; New Testament epistle for vespers), sung responses, psalm, a brief address, and a hymn (vespers only) the services ran about 20-25 minutes in the morning and fifteen for vespers.
One feature of the opening ceremony at General Assembly is the welcoming new congregations. Normally — and perhaps I’m dating myself — there are several welcomed into membership. Except this year there was only one congregation, the lowest I’ve ever seen. Congratulations to Original Blessing, Brooklyn. But when I asked the question does it matter? The answer is undoubtedly yes.
Not all young congregations survive. Not all young congregations encourage the ministerial college by providing employment. Not all young congregations contribute talent for common work, or funds. Not all young congregations reflect well on the common fellowship, or add to mutual encouragement.
But all congregations do depend on the strength that new growth provides. Some congregations have gotten larger over the last few years, and some have gotten smaller. But nothing lives forever. To keep from shrinking, we need new congregations, and one isn’t enough. We need leaders with experience to foster new congregations, and one isn’t enough to found them.
So, again, I’m happy for Original Blessing. I only wish it had some cradle mates.