Deeply bad news for the UUA

I don’t have time to write about it now, but Sue Phillips announced this morning that she is withdrawing from the race for the presidency of the Unitarian Universalist Association. This is bad news for her and for the UUA, and it sets up a crisis for the new and untested process for selecting a new president.

It also creates an unequal power relationship for any candidate that may now come forward, and privileges established power centers that might want to put forward a candidate.

I’ll be writing more on this subject later, and as the news develops.

UU congregations: three more days to certify

Wednesday, February 3. The deadline was pushed back, so today is the last day to certify, if you’re in one of the 148 remaining congregations!

I’m fond of certification time for the UUA. It’s when I get new data to analyze. But for congregations, it’s an important annual task. Without it, no voting representation at General Assembly. And I’ve noticed that churches that don’t tend to register are often not long for this world. Don’t tempt fate; certify.

All congregations must have filed for certification by 5 p.m. PST on February 1, 2016, in order to be certified for GA. Only certified congregations may send voting delegates to the 2016 General Assembly.

There are 383 uncertified congregations right now. I know many will certify over the weekend. Don’t let yours be left out.

The how-to for sampling Unitarian Universalist culture today

I’m taking some time off work next week, and one of the things I’ll do is review the 100 data points I’m collecting. That is, 100 Sunday services for the four weeks of October 2015 from 25 congregations, five each from the five new UUA regions, distributed by size. This is my method.

I downloaded this year’s certification numbers. Now, this rules out the 41 congregations that did not certify, but since these tend to be overseas congregations (and not in any region anyway) and I’ve noticed before that non-registration is sometimes an early tell for congregations disbanding… well I think the certification list is a suitable list to take a sample from. The Church of the Larger Fellowship, also in no region, is an outlier and reasonably excluded.

So, I filtered by region, sorted by size, numbered the congregations and calculated how many congregation would be in the smallest 40%, the next larger 40% and the largest 20%. Then I generated a list of random numbers (YouTube video) from those three ranges. Looked up the congregations by the assigned number. Checked its website or Facebook page to see if I could find the Sunday services in October. No? Then I moved to the next on the list. Once I got two from the first group, two from the second group and one from the third group, I would move to the next region.

I collected as much information as was practical, including whether the congregation had its own minister and if the minister led the service, or a guest or affiliated minister, or a lay speaker or speaker. Plus the title or theme of the service, of course, and if there was a theme for the month.

So that’s the collection method. I’m almost done. Next, putting some numbers on the framework.

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?

Congregation count at the current UUA Board meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association is in the middle of its October meeting.

No great thought on my part, but I did note that there is a net loss of two congregations, per the Changes in Congregational Status (PDF) report.

The First Universalist Society of Salem (MA) has merged with First Parish in Beverly (MA).
All Souls Church UU (Durham, NC) has dissolved.

Does anyone know how true the musings I’ve heard that All Souls, while not paricularly Christian itself, came out of the aftermath of discussions in the early 1990s to start a Christian church there?

Sobering news in any case, and my best wishes to the parishoners in their new settings. (The All Souls website resolves to the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship site.)

Universalist polity persists today

A couple of weeks ago, I was batting back and forth with an informed Unitarian Universalist friend about our polity, when at one point he zeroed in at the settled clergy vote at General Assembly, at which point I had to stand up for the Universalist contribution to our polity.

This is my side of the discussion, which I admit was a bit of a monologue at that point. I don’t have his permission to share his side, but if commenters want to continue the conversation, I would consider it an honor.

I was wondering what the future holds…

With the one-way push to regions, will there be an opening for devolution of connection authority? — congregational membership, mission planning, ministerial fellowship [at the regional level] — now that there aren’t 19-22 districts.

[After all,] There’s a lot more embedded Universalism in our system than we sometimes credit.

[And then the push about General Assembly votes.]

It’s about fellowship, not credentials per se. Makes more sense in the Universalist sense if the other piece was still in place.

That is, the fellowship of the parishes.

That’s because, from a Universalist frame, the UUA acts (imperfectly) as a national church, something the Unitarians would never have.

[My friend opined that this result is sub-optimal.]

[Today’s system is]neither-nor.

The names tell you all. The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America.

And why scant resources went to build a Universalist National Memorial Church, but the Unitarians never did.

To finish my thought, the churches were (supposed) to have a parallel relationship to their conventions that the ministers did, supervised by the same committee.

And both ministers and lay persons served on them. Not that I’m all rah-rah retro Universalist.

The half-time service requirement for fellowship renewals — a thorn in my side — is a re-write of a pre-consolidation Universalist rule.

The page turned to GA 2016

I stumbled across the webpage of the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, which talks about — in broad terms — next year’s convention.

It’s in Columbus, Ohio.

It’ll certainly be less expensive for more people than last year’s (Portland, Oregon) and possibly than 2017 GA in New Orleans, as Columbus is a lower cost city for hotels and nearer the population centroid for Unitarian Universalists, which is in Illinois.

I hope to be there. So what great plans can we make with the opportunity?

A fee to see the MFC?

So, I’ve heard through the grapevine that ministerial candidates are being charged $250 to see the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Said grapevine is not happy about that.

I would love some commentary about that, but first I would like confirmation and (better still) a statement of reasoning. Or perhaps this is old news — I met the MFC a very long time ago — but if the story’s making the rounds, then it’s worth discussing it plainly and in the open.

Does anyone know?

An unlikely word about convention economy

The World Congress of Esperanto (Universala Kongreso, or UK) started its meeting this evening in Lille, France.

I’m not there; perhaps next year in Slovakia. But to mark the occasion, I looked up the official World Esperanto Association (Universala Esperanto-Asocio, or UEA) and found this page, incongruously written in English, and thus the title of this blog post. It’s meant to explain the UK to “partners” presumably to include local government and tourism authorities, who are more likely to read English than Esperanto.

Now, I’ve found Esperantists to be thrifty in their arrangements, and this passage sums up the reasoning in a dignifed way:

As a non-profit NGO, UEA is a very budget-conscious organization and so is the Congress of the Association. This congress has many special charms, but sober treatment of the financial matter is required. The delegates pay expenses from their own funds and usually are price conscious. Many of the delegates come from developing countries, and there are significant proportions of retired people and students among the participants. This is a people’s congress for ordinary people, not an elaborate meeting of executives financed by corporate funds.

I think you could say much the same about General Assemblies. Ours, and from the #CampbellCon plaints, others, too. Just because you’re clergy doesn’t mean that our basic meetings are affordable, or paid from expense accounts.

In case you wonder about the costs of going to the UK, see this registration cost page. Early registration for a typical member from a rich country is 180 euros; a member with a disability from a poor country would pay 60 euros; and a person under 21 would pay nothing. For some hotel options, see the Dua Bulteno (Second Bulletin; the First is the invitation with registration info) with lodging info, from page 9, including student accomodation, much like the Unitarian Universalist use of college dorms. Or here. I also like the meal ticket (see page 12), for example six dinners — two courses, cheese, dessert and tap water for 54 euros, but this may be an opportunity of meeting in a French college town. (Another Esperantist custom — the amasloĝejo; “mass-dwelling” — is often only BYO sleeping bag crash space; a hard sell for most people. But the Lille local committee did try to find a place, without success. I did have an attendee crash on my apartment floor the one year I lived in a GA town.)

You may also note excursions (from page 13) and a banquet that show that some Esperantists have the means and will to spend more.

And you may also note that the flight from North America would double all of these costs. But there’s something to learn here if we try.