The Or-Else Church, part 2

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.

One Reply to “The Or-Else Church, part 2”

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post which I saw on FB.

    I couldn’t make the link to the Brown guide work, but was able to find the PDF on

    As a decidedly non-Christian who struggles against Christian hegemony, I’m grateful for translations of religious language that isn’t mine such as provided by Brown. It saddened me that there were so many Christian texts in my seminary curriculum and the MFC Reading List. I’m glad the MFC removed “Fashion” from its new reading list and substituted UU writings.

    I wish you every success in planting a UU-Christian church.

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