This thought began as a comment over at Peacebang’s blog. Once upon a time when you set off to Sunday services at a Unitarian or Universalist church, you could expect to encounter a basically set liturgy (or at least liturgical patterns) for every regular service, with a set text from which to quickly snatch readings if necessary (i.e. the Bible), and a straightforward congregation of Unitarian or Universalist Christians gathered to hear a fairly specific message.
But now in Unitarian-Universalism there is no common praxis, congregants demand a wide variety in the types of services they’re presented over the course of a year, there are many (sometimes mutually incompatible or even antagonistic) differing constituencies in the pews, and the Bible is verboten in many circles. So Sundays have come to demand immeasurably more time and tinkering, even as other factors have dramatically reduced the amount of time ministers can devote to preparing for complicated modern services.
The move away from Christianity (and, more recently, Humanism) in Unitarian-Universalism has many positive sides to it. But it’s worth noting the damage it does too, albeit unintentionally. Few comparable denominations in North America require nearly so much time week in and week out designing services. Not having the Bible as canon would seem to allow ministers to choose from a far wider range of inspirational literature, yet this doesn’t necessarily result in time saved. Being able to preach on non-Christian subjects likewise doesn’t make it easier to come up with sermon topics. Rather, it seems that ever more is demanded of UU ministers as they have to please ever more diverse constituencies, with each sub-group at times jealously measuring how much weekly/monthly/yearly inclusion it receives on Sunday vs. the other sub-groups of the congregation.
The clock can’t be turned back. But at least we can try to show our appreciation to ministers who are essentially being called upon to do an ever-more difficult job. It is compounded by the way in which many UUs hold very high expectations for each Sunday service–not only that it is the central part of their religious week, but how they want to be spiritually moved, educated, challenged, and comforted all within a single hour, without encountering anything they don’t like (such as God, or maybe the absence of God, or polytheism, or the assumption that there is only one deity, or that there are any deities at all, etc, etc, etc).