At root, new churches

I try — I really do try — to put the best face on my affiliation with the general fellowship in the Unitarian Universalist Association. At heart, I fear that whatever I do will come to naught and I will leave for some other fellowship, probably the United Church of Christ, whatever its warts.

But what would be the tipping point?

Not “getting” a church? No, for a lot of ministers don’t “get” churches, and the UCC in this area is hardly Eden.

The politics? No, not hardly. I’m a good lefty, and appreciate what UUs do institutionally, even if the methods leave me cold.

Theological unity? No, because for all our warts I’m free to believe what I will, and the “you can’t be a UU and believe that crowd” is well under control. (Who did they think they were?!) What that leaves to believe (who do we think we are?!) is another matter.

No, I think the breaking point will come if and when I plant a church. The history of planting Christian churches in the UUA, and the history of Christian churches in the UUA staying Christian is pretty poor. Some of that is due to the way churches were imagined or led. Some if it has to do with the “niceness” and timidity that Christian Unitarians and Universalists held their faith; it didn’t keep its boundaries very well.

I’m worried that I will envision a church that will apply for membership in the UUA and get rejected — perhaps because its necessary form would seem un-UU — and that the rejection will unsettle or detroy what I tried to build. (I can’t imagine the UUA would be putting in any money.)

I could explicate, but it comes down to this: acceptance in theory has to be matched with acceptance in fact. Because I’m unsure how I’d be received in fact, I’m not quite sure I’m really accepted in theory. And I won’t stay for that.

Now, take that writ-large. Who wants to offer a bold direction in church growth — say, a really sexy, sexy urban Pagan residential community — only to have their efforts undercut because it isn’t “UU enough.” I have to think that this is part of what diminishes entrepreneurial efforts and makes new churches rarer and rarer.

8 Replies to “At root, new churches”

  1. I had a conversation with the Rev. Justin LaPoint (former director of Murray Grove), who called this the “franchise mentality problem.” Instead of being locally covenanted churches, there is a mentallity that our churches are supposed to be branch franchises of something called the UUA. To the extreme this would be like Christian Science polity, where all local churches are simply local branches of the Mother Church. Each branch has the same sermon on a given Sunday, and largely worships the same way, and ultimate governing authority rests with the Mother Church.

    Having been part of a new Christian church in the UUA (Epiphany – Fenton) I’ve seen how the UUA has so little to offer a liberal Christian church in terms of publications, consulting services, youth ministry programming, and RE materials. Heck, Epiphany even has a hard time finding liberal Christian pastors from UUA sources in the Mid-West. Our present interim has joint credentials from the Presbyterian Church USA, and the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. What the UUA offers in resources is mostly theologically inappropriate; or worse yet designed to “mainstream” a liberal Christian church into a “real UU church” (read something non-Christian). Diversity is nice for us to talk of in theory, but in practice our UU Association is designed to cultivate a spiritual mono-culture that weeds out both a Universalist Christian church, and an overtly Pagan urban community (no matter how attractive, liberal, and well organized such Pagans might be). So Scott, why even try to affiliate a new church in DC with the UUA? Might this be like tilting at wind-mills? Or planning in advance to martyr your ministry?

    In my own opinion, if were to plant a new Universalist Christian church, I would probably affiliate with the UUA only for the value of fellowship with the historic lineage of Universalist churches; and I would also take a dual affiliation with another (congregationally governed) church body that could be a strong liberal Christian resource. The NACCC, UCC, ICCC, and Alliance of Baptists all come to mind as possible candidates. Or I might just preach a Universalist Christian theology without the Universalist label, stay clear of the UUA stressors, and plant my church independently or under the auspices of one of those aforementioned Free Christian denominations/associations.

  2. Has the UUA ever actually rejected a church from affliating???

    Is the UUA actually doing church planting (other than the recent attempts at megachurches)?

  3. Good question Steven, but I suspect that any “really out there” new start — and would my hypothetical church be such? — would be sifted out befre it got to Board action.

    And — subject to correction — I don’t think there are any UUA-spearheaded new starts, since much of that has been devolved (nominally?) to the districts. But for years, I’d gauge the normative source of new starts is local committees of lay people.

  4. I’d love to talk about this with you. I think it depends a lot on what affiliation would mean for your new start. More than UUA support (because I don’t think they’d reject the application from a Universalist church), I wonder about the relationship with other local UU congregations. It’s not monetary support or even resources I think you’d need or desire so much as good fellowship with other congregations, and can you get that with UU congregations?

    Still, what a thrill to start up a Christian Universalist church.

  5. well yes, if you take an odd name (and I am thinking like the Charleston SC 1840s church ) you might ring some ‘wait a second” bells – as i dont note many funny names on the latest directory i have —
    In my experience, “emerging congregations” are mostly left alone, you cant affliate untill you have 30 dues paying members –
    the plus and minus: you dont pay anything and you dont get anything. (well you do get in the list of congregations – which does help a little).
    there are still UU churches with a portrait of Jesus at the ‘altar” – admittadly these are birthright churches, but they havent been kicked out……so why shouldnt there be a place for you?

  6. Derek writes:

    >I’ve seen how the UUA has so little to offer a liberal Christian church in terms of publications, consulting services, youth ministry programming, and RE materials.

    Umm, Derek, I’m not sure the UUA has much to offer *any* UU congregation right now in these last two areas. RE materials? –UUA hasn’t really published anything of value in over a decade, aside from Our Whole Lives (which was developed in cooperation with the UCC). Youth ministry? –lots of congregations, of all theological persuasions, have been finding little of value in district and denominational youth programming. Come to think of it, I really don’t find myself reading much in the way of UUA publications these days — I go straight to Alban Institute materials. And I’m using the services of an independent consultant right now.

    I think Peacebang is right on when she talks about the “good fellowship with other congregations.” And my experience in Mass Bay District, where there were several Christian churches, was that good fellowship could happen across theologies. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what denominational affiliation provides — connections between congregations.

    Scott writes:

    > Who wants to offer a bold direction in church growth… only to have their efforts undercut because it isn’t “UU enough.” I have to think that this is part of what diminishes entrepreneurial efforts and makes new churches rarer and rarer.

    Scott, all you say may well be true. However, I can also find other explanations for what diminishes entrepeneurial efforts. E.g., it’s harder to start a church right now because property values and staff salaries have outpaced inflation and so you need a larger number of people now to be financially viable than you did fifty years ago. E.g., most liberal ministers have little or no training in entrepeneurial efforts.

    In fact, I believe the single biggest mistake the UUA has made in the past five years is discontinuing extension training for ministers. Maybe the extension program as a whole didn’t work –I don’t know — but every minister I talked with who took the training said it was excellent and very useful.

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  8. It is indeed a thrill, and a heartbreak, and a steep and wonderful learning curve, and that’s just from extremely part-time volunteer efforts, but hey the water is really fine and the sharks aren’t the ones you think you have to watch out for, and one of these days soon I am going to take a few days off to write the “what i have learned so far” post. But everywhere I go I keep getting the same comments about the Spirit gathering people together on this subject for prayer, sharing resources and stories and networking, vision casting, and next steps, so I believe it will happen. Stay tuned all. P.S. Your comments too have been right on.

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