Examples of a dependent-mission church structure

It didn’t take a lot to start a Universalist society in the early days; that is, even as late as 1866, and perhaps a bit later. There aren’t many accounts of how they got started, but reading between the lines, you can tell they organized around a core, perhaps an individual, who discovered the faint by reading, and organized to “have preaching” from a minister, often on a large circuit.

They rose up, and many failed. In time, those that survived built buildings and established ministries, but the ministerial shortage was chronic and — given that so many of those volunteer churches organized in remote rural areas — unsolvable. Financially vulnerable, most of them perished by the end of the Great Depression, though rural depopulation would have surely accomplished much the same.

But it’s easy to be romantic about this easy-going start-up culture. At least they organized churches — the papers had constant announcements — and that’s not what we have today.

It’s possible to do better — since we’re essentially starting missions from scratch — with an estabished model; that is, dependent missions, that I think get lumped in with the current rave, multi-site ministry. The model is old (think: minster) but I keep running into it, particularly among traditions that are only a generation or two old in the United States.

In each case, the dependent community receives services — paricularly worship and ceremonial leadership from clergy — from an established parish, rather than from a more central body. They are geographically clustered. I’ve runinto two lately.

  1. Most of the Christian Communities (the North American branch of the Christengemeinschaft) have “affiliate communities”

    Affiliate Communities do not have a priest working full time, however the sacraments are celebrated at a somewhat regular interval by a priest visiting from one of the established communites. The link is to the community from whence the priest visits.

  2. The Coptic Orthodox Church has had a church presence in the United States only about fifty years, but Diocese (one of three) of the Southern States has thirty-eight churches and twenty-eight communities.

All Souls Miami set for UUA admission vote

So, I was reading through the Unitarian Universalist Association Board packet for the June meeting — as one does — and see that All Souls Miami is (alone) scheduled to be voted upon for admission to the UUA.

I’ve never never seen an application go this far and not be accepted, so I’ll offer my confident (if premature) congratulations. I welcome all new members to the UUA of course, but All Souls Miami is special to me because it’s Christian: the first Christian church admitted since Epiphany Church, Fenton, Michigan, joined many years ago and has since disbanded.

So, again, congratulations to All Souls Miami. You can read their application packet here. (PDF)

Also thanks to the formerly emerging Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Austin, Texas, which has dissolved, as reported in the packet.

A modest thought: standing for worship

Something lighter today. In some old Universalist baptism rites, we hear this traditional question with Satan taking on a new guise.

Renouncing, therefore, the fellowship of evil, will you endeavor to learn of Jesus Christ, and co­operate in the study and practice of his religion?

Fellowship of Evil? Sure I’ll renounce it, especially if it means I don’t have to move folding chairs. Members of fellowships will get that one.

I hate folding chairs. I hate moving them and having them bang my shins. I hate the noise the metal ones make. I hate time it takes. I hate how uncomfortable they are. But they’re pretty darn common for new churches (and some old ones) and I want to make operating a new (and probably small) church as easy as possible.

Here’s a radical thought. Do without them and stand. OK, a few chairs for those (no judgements) who need to sit; perhaps already in the borrowed room. A few wingbacks or the like in the Garden Club room the congregation rents, say.  Plus prime reserved space for wheelchair users. Cushions for small, collapsing children? (No need to wrestle with strollers!) Everyone else, up.

Not so strange a thought. In my experience, people often stand for an hour or more after the service to enjoy one another’s company and a cup of coffee. And we Protestantish types do have standing services, though we don’t often think of them as such: graveside services, small weddings, devotions at campgrounds.

But we think of church and we think of seats, if not pews. Why? Many Orthodox Christians don’t, of course, so perhaps that’s the influence of reading Orthodox missological works lately. (More about that soon.)  But as I’ve written before, it was only a few generations back that owning or renting “a sitting” was highly identified with church membership itself. And those days are over. Of course, you would grow weary in the second or third hour of worship, and would want a rest, but again those days (for Unitarian Universalists) are past.

Provided people are warned, a standing service has some advantages:

  • a wider variety of meeting space available
  • time and volunteer labor saved moving chairs; perhaps a saving of fees, too.
  • standing worshippers take less space
  • freedom of movement fights fatigue
  • standing worshippers can, as a group, better shift to accommodate newcomers. (Think of how people self-organize in an elevator.)
  • likewise, they can better shift to focus attention away from how few there are in a large space

It is, however, strange. And there would be pressure to keep the services briefer than usual. (Is this bad?) But it’s worth an experiment. And I’d like to hear if anyone has tried this.

Be sure to fund Original Blessing

Easter Monday has a long tradition of being a day of church work: no time to rest after Holy Week and Easter Sunday. But I’ll make it easy for you: pledge money to Original Blessing, the newest member of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The fact that they’re in Brooklyn and New York is terribly under-served should be a good enough reason, but they have an Indiegogo campaign going with details of the work they’re doing.

Give generously.

New congregations: neither airdrops nor strawberry runners

Even though we have data and options for forming new Unitarian Universalist churches, I didn’t present  “airdrops” nor “strawberry runner” models for serious consideration. I said the Fellowship Movement era was over without any desire to duplicate it.

The reality is that the Unitarian Universalist today have few resources for church planting : economic, appropriate talent, organizational culture. This may change, but we don’t have it right now.

One of the things we do have is a historic surplus of ministers, and an undersupply of parish ministries. Should we wonder when we see little, “emerging” congregations coalescing around a minister from day one? (Did you notice this in the recent UUWorld article about emerging congregations?) Planted not in the “ideal” place, but one chosen for personal reasons, or from necessity. This may very well become the model for today. Will we let them go it alone?

Thoughts about the Kandahar fellowship

The UUWorld news about a Unitarian Universalist fellowship on the United States Air Force base in Kandahar in Afghanistan brought up two unrelated thoughts.

The first is bittersweet. New congregation development has ground as low as it ever has. Leave it to this “situational congregation” (I don’t get a sense that it’s intended to last past the deployment of US troops) to dredge up a much reviled mode of organization: the 10-member fellowship. (The branch church is another active model, but for another time.)

The second is more sensitive. The relative boom in Unitarian Universalist military chaplains doesn’t surprise me: military personnel and their families — and I grew up in a military family — need pastoral care; settlements are few; and there are surely affirming challenges and perks that the chaplaincy has that parish or other ministries don’t have. But it seems to me that Unitarian Univeraslists have followed the cultural rising tide with respect to the military, and with hardly a peep of introspection. More fodder to consider if Unitarian Universalism closely follows culture rather than speaking to it.

Another thought about missions

In the last post I wrote about a new British (Coptic)  Orthodox church mission in Windsor. Though it has only had one worship service, some decisions are evident that show wise planning.

  • a once-monthly service on a Monday night, at 6:30 pm. In other words, after work for many.
  • a time that surely allows for easier deployment of a priest and borrowing of church space.
  • the basic service isn’t the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist, Mass)  but one of the daily offices, surely Vespers. Easier to organize in borrowed space, can be led without a priest (presumably) and open to interested non-Copts to participate, so more missiologically welcoming. (Did you know Universalists have a parallel Vespers tradition?)
  • Looking at other missions, the daily office — which may not be long — might be supplemented with lessons and refreshments.
  • Since it is a taught way of prayer, one can be encouraged to personal (home) prayer with the same order, encouraging interest between public services.

Food for thought.

Starting a church with how many?

I looped back to read up on the British Orthodox Church, and saw news of a new mission in Windsor:

Father Peter had prepared to pray with one person he had been visiting for some months, but as the prayers from the Agpeya, or Coptic Daily Office, began there were eight people from a variety of backgrounds who had come together to begin this new service. And a further eight people had wanted to be present but were unable to do so for various reasons.

Let’s revisit that: “had prepared to pray with one person”. I won’t say that an intended one-person mission is the best way to make something last. And indeed, there are significant polity, historical and demographic differences between the kind of churchmanship the British Orthodox have and that most of my readers (the Indy Catholics perhaps excepted) but there is something about the audacious faithfulness about starting a mission this way is worthy of respect and perhaps adaptation.

Updated emerging congregations map

This is a layer-cake of data, but you should be able to see which congregations have “emerged” into Unitarian Universalist Association membership, those which disbanded and those that carry on. There are even a few that only have a relationship with a district, and might be thought of as “pre-emerging.” Surely many of the emerging congregations are as functional, large and institutional as they are ever going to be. Because there’s no membership reporting mechanism — indeed no requirement — to join the UUA, the law of unintended results puts a positive value (for some congregations) to merge but never join. And with the bad-mouthing of “those fellowships” and the meager benefits (voting?) a congregation gets with actual membership, why shouldn’t they?

View Emerging UUA congregations in a larger map