I felt Unitarian Universalist blogger Bill Baar (Pfarrer Streccius) shared some of my concerns about formal, rigorous membership in his blog post today, where he quotes the current issue of the Christian Century. Or at least, shares my thought that sometimes you have to try something new without the approval of the powers-that be.
I was going to reply at his blog, but the Blogger blog platform is having some kind of problem and it threw an error when I tried. Here's what I wrote about his comments:
Very interesting, and not at all surprising. But in addition to the mid-century church organizational style, I noticed some of the hurt voices in the body and comments of that Christian Century article also get lost in a kind of ecumenical jargon that dates to the same era. Body of Christ, for example, among mainline Protestants, but Unitarian Universalists do it too withÂ covenant. Insider language for insider ideas, and no sense of irony with respect to evangelism.
So what's the alternative? For one, perhaps, to build in an alternative meaning of membership. At this point, I started to write the patented Scott Wells review of parishes and churches in the Unitarian and Universalist tradition, but erased it all. The short version: it might be worth modeling what we see in the United Church of Canada and the Uniting Church in Australia, in a congregationalist way. Make a role for non-joiners (each call them adherents; that sounds too much like a bandage to me) and give them decision-making power on financial matters, if they are donors. This isn't too different from what Universalists did a hundred years ago from what I can tell.
I'm also thinking of the way Providence has allowed the universal gospel to be spread from a single, even impersonal point of contact.
So, even shorter: recognize the non-joiner and allow for alternatives in word and deed.