Yesterday’s installment in my think-piece was all about as much as a threatened church planter could do in a day, only concerned the institutional set-up and was theologically-neutral. But very quickly you have to think about what your church stands for and how it stands for it.
This is where I think Unitarian Universalist church planting runs into the rocks. With our history of the geographical parish, there’s a presumption that there’s one parish that accommodates all the would-be Unitarian Universalists in its area. (You see it in our church naming conventions.) Which is exactly backwards to preaching the Gospel within a particular tradition and with a particular charism (gift) and gathering people to that church. Little wonder then that Boston — which was outside the parochial system — had and has a wider diversity of Unitarian and Universalist churches than anywhere else. Let’s consider Boston as “the metropolitan model” in contrast to the parochial model and work thence.
I was brought up thinking theologically that Maria Harris, the religious educator, could do no wrong. Her curriculum for a church’s self-expression is certainly a great place to start. (The Unitarian Universalist Association has, in fact, published a guide by Gaia Brown about Harris’s Fashion Me a People which may be downloaded as a PDF here. I do fault it for replaying the we’re-not-Christian-we’re-different saw again. Is it so hard to accept a Christian’s scholarship without reacting defensively?) This means I’d want to get a standard of worship down.
Easy peasy. I’d choose the simplified Protestant liturgy seen across the mainstream. “Emergent” worship practices — while hip right now — are likely to age as badly as parachute pants. Since hymnals are heavy and expensive, I’d forgo them in favor a hymn printing license from one of the larger non-“praise” licensees, like OneLicense. Because so much of the liturgical reform since the 1980s has worked under the unspoken rule of “more words is better” I would seek out slightly older, leaner texts to shape worship. In a move away from liberal Christian practice, this would mean looking before the Vatican II-inspired changes and also ditching the Revised Common Lectionary (and its assumption of church member who never miss worship and who can follow a three-year arc.) Give me, instead, the briefer traditional one-year lectionary and an opportunity to learn from the Old Testament in a more interactive environment. And before you ask: yes Unitarians and Universalists did once use this lectionary and the vast majority of the matching collects. The Anglican church in Melanesia has a version of the collects (with that lectionary) in simplified but dignified modern English. And they’re in the public domain.