Why Don’t Your Local Unitarian-Universalist Churches Meet Your Needs?

Still digesting the figures from the Pew study that show many more UUs in America than in UU churches.  A number of reasons for this disparity have already been advanced.  In the comments, Dave Pollard mentions the gap between what type of church a UU wants and what type of congregation is locally available to her.

There seem to be two issues here.  One is theological style.  For example, if one is a classical Universalist, but the only nearby UU congregation is dominated by skeptical Humanism, it may not feel like a good fit.  The other issue is worship style.  For instance, if you prefer a less Protestant model to Sunday service but the local church retains the Lord’s Prayer, organ-accompanied hymns, and everybody sitting quietly in pews while a robed minister preaches from the pulpit, you may find that you’re not having the type of experience you seek.

How widespread are these gaps?  Are you a non- or barely-affiliated UU who stays away because the nearby UU churches don’t reflect your theological or worship preferences?  If so, how do you maintain yourself as a UU in the absence of a gathered community?   Or is it more common that there simply are no UU churches nearby, and the Church of the Larger Fellowship just doesn’t do it for you?  What other reasons account for the gap?

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Why Don’t Your Local Unitarian-Universalist Churches Meet Your Needs?

  1. Often church is exactly what I need, and daily even. Yet the idea of really belonging often raises a serious bar around leadership. If you’re not in leadership, attending every Sunday, then (speaking for myself now) it is hard to feel like a whole member.

    Of course I’m coming from a seminarian cum minister situation, but am also drawing on my congregational involvement before entering Harvard…where I was on the Board for 2 years (seems to be a common experience among some seminarians I’ve met).

    I do think we need more places to “be UU” in addition to strictly congregational life.

  2. Charles Bowser

    I think its greater than that. What we do not have is a network that meets our needs.

    I’m a Harrisburg UU, who participates in his church and is a member of the board. I think the problem for us is that not enough of our churches offer themselves as the social center to the live of young families.

    Our message is wonderful, but we operate in isolation. We should have events ocurring between churches within our faith, regionally, so people may join one church but through a jamboree learn they fit better in another.

    In a world of required dual income families with overscheduled and high grade track kids, our churches should be oasis of spiritual and familial noursihment. We want families to turn off the boob tube and commit to our churches but not enough is done to make them feel part of a larger faith. If we did that. If we made it so families not only had pot lucks in their churches, but events where they could make other firends and network with other UUs, we would have a church that met our needs.

    Think of the repercussions of such a network.

    Families would save money from expensive materialistic activities and be able to gratefully donate it in stewardship campaigns for their church. Why? Because they would have a real investment.

    Ministers would be able to call on more than just their congregation for social action. Members of other churches would show up for events just because friends from the calling church would be there.

  3. For me, it’s not that local UU churches don’t meet my needs, it’s that church doesn’t meet my needs.

  4. Jeff

    Ms. Theologian, what is it about church that doesn’t meet your needs? Or, if this is easier, what are your needs, and how does church fail to meet them?

  5. One thing I did miss from my home congregation was not receiving a diet of Unitarian * Universalist messages that were understood as such. Part of this is the lay led church experience, but I’ve also heard this is evident in some congregations with fellowshipped ministers.

    As a lifelong UU, it seemed my best choice to scratch my faith itch was really to go to seminary. I say in part tongue in cheek, and I’ve heard it long before I went to seminary.

  6. Oh, if only I knew my needs!

    Here’s what I think my issues are with church in general:

    1. Time of Day Scott wrote about spending Sunday morning at the farmer’s market, and I have to admit that’s where I often spend Sunday morning. I like the community there. I like the values. And I don’t have to use the visitor’s cup for coffee.

    2. Programming that doesn’t interest me (and isn’t geared toward anyone in my demographic, frankly) Say I were to run down the church calendar, there’s family game night, beginning meditation, introduction to UUism, knitting, and folk dancing. This may interest people already in the church, but they don’t interest me enough to give up Sunday morning. What would I like? A bit of social action to start that is at the core of the church (as I think it was at the core of The Church).

    3. Child-Obsessions I can go through my entire life and not notice that I don’t have kids until I go to church and then it’s readily apparent.

    I think there’s also some post-seminary church blues stuff with knowing how to minister in some sense, but not being ordained. I don’t exactly feel like a lay person, but I’m certainly not a clergy person. It’s sort of a weird liminal space.

  7. Sister Quarterstaff of Undeclared Grace

    There are 3 UU churches in the city I currently belong to. One too far away, one much too small (25 people, minister only once a month), and the main one. I attend the main one because I like the people in the Young Adults Group. I haven’t joined (although I was a real member paying a sizeable pledge at my last church on the other side of the country–not that money is the point, I just mean that I take UUism Very Seriously and am more than willing to support it) because I can’t stand anything else about the church. How do I hate it? Let me count the ways:
    1. The membership is very anti-Young Adult. If a YA manages to get onto a committee, his/her input will be met with blank stares and then summarily ignored.
    2. The service format is absolutely, 100% rigid, timed to within 30 seconds, and all hell breaks loose if anyone suggests mixing it up even a tiny bit. Now, I’m particularly fond of ritual for being a UU, but even I feel straitjacketed by 11:00 Bell, 11:01 chalice lighting, 11:02 Affirmation, 11:03 Doxology, 11:04 Opening Hymn, 11:06 First Reading … and so on Every. Single. Service. One week, about 18 months ago, someone got off on a tangent during Joys and Concerns and wouldn’t stop talking for three whole minutes. Ever since then, we Do Not Do Joys and Concerns because (gasp!) what if that happened again? We are invited to light a candle before or after the service or during the offering. As long as we do it silently.
    3. A shortcoming that I often see in some UU sermons, but consistently at this church, is the desire to not offend anyone and so therefore the minister says nothing of any great weight or consequence. Our minister says that it’s because most of the membership comes to the church for “comfort” and doesn’t want to be disturbed. I like some comfort with my church, but every week is so similar and bland that I could sit home knitting and feel more challenged by it.
    4. I know not every UU church is rich, but it’s hard for me to have come from a more affluent church where (for example) the offering went 100% to charity, to a less affluent church where the calls asking members to give over and above their pledges are constant.
    5. You can’t find out what’s going on at the church unless you’re a member. When you first attend you get 4 issues (2 months’ worth) of the newsletter, and then after that you can only find out what’s going on by either paying for the newsletter (over and above your pledge) or by logging on to the website, using a password that only pledged members are given. So there may well be interesting activities going on at the church, but I have no way of knowing.
    6. The church is, quite simply, not welcoming. In two years of attending a church of over 800 people, only one of the three ministers knows my name, and no one outside the Young Adults Group does. In fact, only one person outside the YA group has *ever* made an effort to speak to me or my husband. One person! In one of the largest UU churches in the country! My last church had 180 people, but by God (if there is a God), by the end of my first month attending it, the minister and at least a dozen members knew my name, what town I lived in, my occupation, and that I prefer cats to dogs.

    Or in short, I hate the church I attend because there is no sense of community, or at least if there is a community, it is absolutely, 100% CLOSED to me.

    In response to my concerns, I’ve been told I should join the church so that I can work on changing these things, to which I say … I wouldn’t marry someone hoping I could change him after the wedding, and I won’t marry a church hoping I can change it after I pay my pledge.

  8. Charles Bowser

    Jeff:
    Is this a ministerial vission issue? Maybe the problem is not how the churches worship, but what the churches offer beyond worship.

  9. Sister Quarterstaff – wow; just wow. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  10. Pingback: Round-up of Pew Research on UUs, Americans’ Religious Liberalism « Transient and Permanent

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