Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Church of the Larger Fellowship is the Largest Congregation in the UUA: The Answer to Today’s Trivia Question

Congratulations to Cilla Roughley, who correctly guessed that the Church of the Larger Fellowship is the largest congregation in the Unitarian Universalist Association. It currently has approximately 3300 members, more than double the largest “physical” congregation.

The Church of the Larger Fellowship is in some ways an extension of the old Post Office Missions. As for CLF’s actual founding, it is best dated to 1944, when the American Unitarian Association created the Church of the Larger Fellowship; the Universalists followed with their own version in 1947. However, it is worth noting that the CLF was intended as a resurrection of the Church of All Souls, the Unitarian congregation for geographically dispersed individuals founded in 1903, which had become defunct by 1944.


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UU Trivia Question of the Day #16

So far we’ve had a lot of questions about the UUA, but not so many about UU churches themselves.  Therefore, Unitarian-Universalist congregations will be the focus of this week’s questions.

In terms of members, what is the largest Unitarian-Universalist congregation?

Extra bonus question: when was this congregation founded?


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Universalist Quote of the Day #51

“[Rev. Power] says, that the system of faith and doctrine, that I have the honor of defending, is a system of faith that stands opposed to all the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, and is opposed to all other systems.  But, you, who are intelligent and informed on this subject, know this is not the fact.  We do claim to have the best faith and the best hope of any department of the Christian Church.  And why?  Not because we suppose our system is opposed to all others, but, because it embraces all the good embraced in all the other systems, all the truth and righteousness, and goes farther–it embraces the glorious doctrine of the final Restitution of all things–the ultimate holiness and happiness of every individual of the human family.  And this is the cardinal point on which we differ.  We agree on all the practical points held by others; but, we go farther.  Our system is more extensive.  It stands on the broad platform of universal benevolence and Christian philanthropy.”

–Rev. Nelson Doolittle, in A Discussion of the Subject of Universalism, Held in Laport, Lorain County, Ohio; from July 29th, to August 6th, 184: Between Rev. N. Doolittle, Universalist Minister of Akron, Ohio, and Rev. John H. Power, Methodist Minister of Delaware, Ohio, Reported by Mr. H.H. Whetmore, Oberlin Ohio, and Revised by the Parties.  Columbus, OH: Tribune Office Printing, 1846: 12-13.

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Local Church Mergers Could Point Way to Future of UUism

We’ve been discussing mergers here lately, especially between Unitarians, Universalists, and other denominations.  But there’s another level to this discussion that ought to be acknowledged: local mergers.  From time to time a UU church merges with a church from another congregation, sometimes resulting in novel combinations.  Given the congregational polity of UUism, there’s nothing to prevent this from happening: each church has power over its own affairs.  Nor is this a recent phenomenon: some local Unitarian and Universalist churches combined forces well before the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America consolidated into the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961.

In fact, these local mergers are what led to the UUA in the first place.  Raymond Hopkins, the first Executive Vice-President of the UUA, provided the plan for AUA and UCA combination that finally broke the years-long deadlock over the legal impossibility of merger.  His own church was born from the consolidation of a Unitarian and Universalist church in the early 1950s, and the UUA was able to use that same model to get around the legal roadblocks on the denominational level.  Without that insight from the local experience, the creation of the UUA would have been delayed even longer than it was, and therefore potentially might have never come about (one can wonder, for instance, if a merger would’ve happened if the black empowerment crisis of the late 1960s had occurred within the American Unitarian Association, rather than the UUA–consolidation with such a volatile, and financially precarious, denomination might’ve given the Universalists major second thoughts).

Today the most common local combinations are churches that are jointly affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.  Even more interesting combinations also exist: for instance, All Souls Bethlehem in Brooklyn is a Unitarian-Universalist UCC Disciples of Christ church–that’s three for the price of one!  It also weaves together the four strands that have historically most often figured in merger speculation: Unitarians, Universalists, Congregationalists, and the Christians.

Yet another possible item for this discussion is the fact that non-UU churches could join the Unitarian-Universalist denomination.  For example, Philocrites mentions that an Ethical Culture congregation is considering becoming a UUA member.  Ties between Ethical Culture and UUism have always been pretty healthy and the trend continues: for instance, Rev. Richard Nugent, a UU minister who has served many congregations, has been serving an interim term as leader of the Ethical Culture society in D.C.

Either of these could be the model for future mergers at the denominational level.  For example, if individual Ethical Culture societies join the UUA and find it a positive experience, this could eventually lead the entire denomination to join.  Likewise, if enough UU and UCC churches combine on the local level, eventually pressure might develop to merge them at the top as well as the grassroots level.  This would recapitulate the Unitarian and Universalist experience to some degree, and there’s no reason to think that future developments in liberal religion will necessarily begin as top-down movement.


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Congregationalists and Christians Were Potential U/U Merger Partners: The Answer to Today’s Trivia Question

There have been several good guesses today.  It’s actually hard to declare a winner, since it somewhat depends on how you parse history.  Basically, the two main groups that were considered for merger were the Congregationalists and the Christians.  But it’s all part of how you define things.

For example, SophiaSeeker guesses that the United Church of Christ was one of the groups that the Unitarians and Universalists considered merging with.  That’s sort of right, but only if we think of the UCC as the main inheritors of the Congregationalist legacy.  But by the time the UCC was created in 1957, not only had it combined with German denominations that the U/Us had never flirted with, but the talk of possible merger was past.  This seems to be what StevenR had in mind in his comment.  Both the Unitarians and the Universalists considered merger with the pre-UCC Congregationalists at times, but the Universalists were significantly closer to an actual plan to do so.

Meanwhile, Philocrites correctly guessed the other, actually much earlier group that the Unitarians especially considered merger with.  Even his answer technically needs some unpacking: in the early 19th century a broad movement called the Christians appeared that included a number of strands in it.  The ones that the Unitarians worked with tended not to be the actual ones that directly gave rise to the Disciples of Christ, but again, this was a multi-faceted and protean movement, so it isn’t a wrong answer.

For post-UUA merger, there are two groups that have popped up repeatedly in UU circles (and sometimes on the other side of the fence as well) as potential future merger partners.  Both happen to appear in StevenR’s speculations about groups that might merge with the UUA.  One, predictably, is the UCC.  The UCC and the UUA share common roots, although the Congregationalist UCC forbearers were actually bitter enemies of both the Unitarians and Universalists for quite some time, even actively persecuting them (especially the Universalists) in their New England stronghold.  Of course, the idea of UCC folks persecuting anyone is so odd that it just shows how long ago all this was.   A merger is not outside the bounds of imagination, though it might’ve worked better if the UUs had become the Liberal Christian Church as planned at one point, rather than the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The other possible merger partner is, believe it or not, actually the one that has been more strongly considered: Ethical Culture.  Dana Greeley even speculated that such a merger was desirable and looked forward to the day that it might happen.  But will either come about?  Probably not in the short term, at least.


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Who Should the Unitarian-Universalists Merge With?

Today’s trivia question asks who the Unitarians and Universalists considered merging with before they ended up combining.  A logical follow-up would be to ask: who do you think the UUs should merge with today, or in the future?

Mergers have been a major story in American religious history, just as schisms have been.  With the marriage of the Unitarians and the Universalists seemingly on divorce-proof ground at this point, it might be fun or interesting to speculate on who else might join the club.

Which religious groups would you like to see the UUA merge with?  Why?  Idle speculations and outright fantasies are welcome here, but if you think there’s an actual chance of merger, please outline your thoughts on it.  What might the next step in liberal religious union look like?


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UU Trivia Question of the Day #15

It wasn’t inevitable that the Unitarians and the Universalists would get together. There was a long process of flirtation and withdrawal before they actually managed to combine forces in 1961. And this was not the only possible merger, which leads us to today’s question:

What other religious groups had the Unitarians and/or Universalists considered merging with prior to the 1961 creation of the Unitarian Universalist Association?

Extra bonus question: what religious groups have been considered for additional merger with the UUA since 1961?

[Edit: the extra extra bonus question, which upon reconsideration isn’t really trivia, is being removed and made into it’s own post]

Please feel free to tackle whichever of these questions you like and ignore the others if you don’t have a guess.


Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism