The neighborhood of Boston, mapped and planned…

From the October 20, 1921 issue of the Unitarian Register.

Unitarian churche within 25 miles of Boston, 1921.


The map is familiar; the idea of a program launching after a 90 minute meeting is pheonomenal. But why should it be so? What might a group of people, meeting over a long lunch say, accomplish or at least propose?

The Boston Circle

The twenty five mile circle drawn around the Boston State House contains two elements of profound significance: first, it has the largest permanent population of any similar district in the States; second, it has more Unitarian churches than any similar area in world. What is the obligation of churches to this population?

To answer that question the ministers of the twenty five mile circle were called together May 25. After an hour of discussion it was voted that the chairman, Rev. Eugene R Shippen appoint a committee of seven to promote an intensive membership campaign…

A map of British Unitarian churches forthcoming

The annual meeting of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches took place recently, and (to mark the occasion) I have taken to reading the annual report (for 2012, PDF). Minister and blogger Stephen Lingwood referred to it in early March. Grim numbers. So little wonder I had a parallel concern with the persons interviewed in the UUWorld magazine (“British “Unitarians rally to save faith from extinction” by Donald E. Skinner) about the fate of British Unitarianism. I had already been putting together a map, not unlike the one I created for UUA member congregations last year.

And I discovered is how difficult it would be for a newcomer to find many Unitarian churches, based on their web sites. There’s often plenty of information about teas and their seventeenth-century history, too many lack basic directions, maps, visitor expectations, parking or transit information. So I hope my map in addition to being a visual tool for understanding prospect for new church development — see my earlier concern about a lack of a church in Milton Keynes — can also be useful in helping newcomers find a church that already exist. A good website isn’t everything, but why make it harder for vistors than it needs to be?

And because as was suggested in UUWorld article I believe what’s happening with the British Unitarians is a bellwether of what’s to come in the United States. We’re larger, but by no means large and the same thing can happen to us.

The map is quite a labor but I hope to have it up later this week.

Valuing volunteers

On Sunday I re-joined Universalist National Memorial Church, where I was the pastor and a member in the early 2000s, on Sunday. I’m now ready to contribute where I’m needed — if I’m able. Perhaps that’s why I noticed this new financial valuation of volunteer service by Independent Sector. In D.C., the average dutiful soul is worth $34.04 an hour. Nationwide, the figure is $22.14. By this, the lesson geos, we are better able to appeciate the value of volunteers and thu impact they make.

From a churchly point-of-view, this also means that the generation-on-generation loss of homemakers’ time — long undervalued, until it was no longer there — as a steady workforce is particularly stinging. Paid work and other activities have proved deeply rivalous. Treating volunteers as a financial resource (even if you dispute Independent Sector’s numbers) can help frame how a congregation can deploy its resources or decide to put aside struggling church activities, like newsletters, “forum” series, thrift shops, bean suppers, certain kinds of fundraisers or what have you.

A Unitarian Universalist wish list

Sometimes it helps to ask: “what would you like to see? what resources do you wish could exist? what connections do you wish existed? what problem would you like to resolve?” Think about issues that might concern many congregations, but may or may not be normally handled by denominational staff. I’m thinking within the Unitarian Universalist milieu, but not exclusively. I’ve got a bias towards “projects” (read that loosely) that others can build upon or modify to suit particular circumstances.

Ideas, anyone?

How far are you from church?

Years ago, and I don’t know if its true anymore, there was an unwritten rule that someone would go as far as a work commute to go to church. So I guess it’s important to know how far someone will commute and now?

Two considerations are important.

Some studies (referenced here)suggest that the phenomenon of the ultra-commuter is overstated, and that there is a near-universal 30 minutes maximum average commute in US cities.

Also the number of younger adults driving continues to fall, with the pickup of public transportation use. The cautionary tale is not that we will become more dependent upon transit for Sunday service attendance (though I would be if I didn’t walk to church) but that young adults increasingly substitute driving/in-person  experiences for online experiences.

The result is the same. Unitarian Universalists too often have regional congregations — and many of these are small — that I wonder if many “covered areas” are in fact unevangelized. This also suggests that some in-town neighborhoods in major cities are completely unserved.

All Souls, Miami, now "emerging"

Thanks to a reader who today pointed out to me that All Souls Church, Miami — a liberal Christian church — is seeking membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association and is now — despite having been around for a while — “emerging.”

I wrote about them in 2009 and now hope to meet some of them at a General Assembly when admitted to the general fellowship. Best wishes.

If every place was like Vermont

And I don’t mean, “full of Ben and Jerry’s.”

Ran some numbers: if every state (including D.C. and the Virgin Islands) was as densely populated with Unitarian Universalists as Vermont (in the #1 position), there would be more than 950,000 members in Unitarian Universalist congregations today. Think of it as food for thought rather than a meaningful fact. States aren’t fungible.

I’ve left out Puerto Rico because, unlike the others, there are no Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations there, though there is an emerging congregation.

The 52nd position? Hawaii.

Do join the Chalice Lighters program

A word to the Unitarian Universalists out there. It’s no secret I ride Unitarian Universalist evangelism and church planting inadequacies pretty hard, but there seems to be one consistent bright spot that I’d like to promote: district-level Chalice Lighters programs.

These are, in brief, individual donation subscription pools to support growth initiatives like building acquisition, improved signage or access for first time hires or ministerial calls. Because they are at the district (regional) level, it’s an added burden to promote them, particularly to those who don’t attend a local church often. But since I intend to apply to to program some day, I’d better start giving. And promote it.

My own district, the Joseph Priestley District — from mid-New Jersey through eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia and northern Virginia — is the largest in the Unitarian Universalist Association and has the largest Chalice Lighters program, or so I’ve been told. And if it doesn’t, it need to be. Fortunately, the powers-that-be make it possible to sign up online.

Go forth and do likewise.

If you have a success story, or know of a similar link in one of the other eighteen districts, please comment below.

The Wired guide to evangelism

When we got our copy of Wired magazine this month at the office, I made an “evangelism note” to myself to revisit it. The suite of cover articles relate to towns — it’s not just Silicon Valley any more! — that have grown new tech-related jobs. I wondered if there’s a vibrant Unitarian Universalist presence in each of these. This follows the little-spoken-of folk wisdom I heard a quarter of century ago in the first congregation I joined that where you find a nuclear bomb plant, you find Unitarians nearby. (In our case, it was the tritium.) Let’s go right to the featured map. Southern Indiana? Tennessee Tri-Cities?

That, and returning to Wired and its little review of renewed, livable downtowns of small cities. Unitarian Universalists are — I think — too dependent on suburban congregations, and that’s one reason we’re caught in particular ethnic, class and (above all) generational silos. These cities deserve examination for new church starts. Ideas here.