Emerging church update

Looked through the congregations marked "emerging" at UUA.org yesterday and noted a couple of newcomers since May 2011, the last time I made such a review. Note: some emerging congregations may have gone defunt, but I haven't looked for these. And it can be hard to tell as directory listings can last longer than the congregations lived.

I've included websites where known.

Unitarian Fellowship of Marshalltown
District listing page: http://www.psduua.org/Congregations/IAMarshalltown
Marshalltown, IA 50158-2844
Church ID: 553236

UUs in Covenant
Website: www.uucovenant.org
Greensboro, NC 27401-2188
Church ID: 550224

Olean UU Community
Website: www.oleanuu.org
Olean, NY 14760-9701
Church ID: 536153

not necessarily new; had been listed at the district site previously

Tree of Life: A UU Congregation
Website: www.tlcuu.org
Dayton, OH 45404-1549
Church ID: 556970

Schuylkill UU's
No site, but a hopeful sign
Cressona, PA 17929-1339
Church ID: 557747

West Fork UU's
Website: wfuu.wordpress.com/
Clarksburg, WV 26301-4041
Church ID: 554314

I had written about this one before.

New Unitarian Universalist group organizing in West Virginia

Three cheers for the West Fork Unitarian Universalists, centered on Clarksburg and Bridgeport, West Virginia, who are not only starting "a new work" but are doing so in one of the unserved micropolitan areas I wrote about early this year.

(Reviewing the archive holdings list at Harvard, I think Clarksburg had a fellowship in the early 1960s.)

Meetings, with simple worship, dinner and study, start September 25.

Let's give them the support they deserve. Hurrah!

New churches? do what you can

In my last post, I mentioned two things that cheered me, and that the second was a lunchtime conversation with an office mate.

He helped me process a basic conflict I have with my planned new church start which, if the conflict continues will surely mean nothing will come of it.

On the one hand, I need help to get this thing started. The weekly lectionary lessons exercise shows that I don't have the surplus time to work on this church, and I have no intention of giving up my very fulfilling day job. Serious help comes with the expectation that the church would be "full service": an infelicitous term, better applied to gas stations, intending to suggest paid staff, complex programs and buildings. And I could make the leap to "go there" if -- this is the other hand -- I had faith that there would be the help I needed. But since those who care about such things are still talking about the need to change Unitarian Universalist culture, I don't think I can rely on the general fellowship to come through. And then there's the baggage of expectations -- with money comes influence, even if indirect -- which means I might have to compromise my vision to get support.

Thus the feedback: in essence, do what you can. Something is better than nothing. Something can be built-upon (unlike nothing). Not rocket science, but it needs to be said.

A new fellowship: a thoughts and an outline

I was thinking there were lessons -- good and cautionary -- when I read the fifty-year-old Whittier (Ca.) Havurah, the first Jewish "fellowship" (one translation for ḥavurah) was winding up its affairs. (Jewish Daily Forward, "Whittier Celebrates the Last Hurrah of America’s First Havurah," July 13, 2011) Generation-locked, under-organized, perhaps too inventive being the downsides of youth-oriented, free and creative. Little wonder many of the newer ḥavurot blend orthodoxy, egalitarianism, participation and tradition in a way that's neither/nor, and not Whittier's model but still new. I'd seek one out -- D.C. has its choices -- were I Jewish.

I've written how this movement (and here) has appealed to me, so I won't labor that. Instead, I'll lift up Kim Hampton's pointed "who's planting?" concern. Sure it would be nice if there were different kind of church planting and all were well funded. So whether the desired form of church, or the best under the circumstances, consider:

  • a congregation of twelve to twenty that aspired to well-crafted worship, individualized spiritual development and mobilizing a pool of helpers to accomplish social ministry.
  • where worship is something shared between the members and had wide participation as a stated value.
  • not affiliating with the Unitarian Universalist Association, but staying in communication with the district and nearest congregations, and in other ways minimize administration
  • assisting new, like groups spring up in unlikely places or among unlikely populations.
  • develop its own leadership, but cooperatively develop the resources to do so.
  • be prepared to disband -- as an option, not a failure -- when and if the times demand.



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 code of conduct

With the prospect of a new church and one with a conspicuous online element, a clear upfront set of participant (much less member) expectations will have to come together almost immediately. But why draft one from scratch when -- and this is a benefit of the free culture and liberal licensing, another intended value -- when others have paved the way.

I'm thinking of the Code of Conduct of the Ubuntu operating system community. Not a perfect match, and it says nothing about contribution expectations. (Perhaps it shouldn't. Haven't got my head around that.) But it gets much of the way there and -- thank God -- lacks much of the ponderous, overwrought language that deeply theological people cannot escape.

I'll keep my eye out for others.

New church: small sermon, long sermon

The new church is still in the conceptualization phase, and so I'm taking the time to consider what unquestioned habits in everyday church life were developed when communication, city life and transportation were very much different than they are today. Habits which, however loved, make less sense in a church getting started.

The conspicuous and central Protestant sermon is one of these. It made sense in a education- and resource-poor (and frankly, entertainment-poor) age, but if I held forth for twenty minutes or more every Sunday, I expect to be regularly challenged (perhaps mentally, and in an unspoken way) by people who would Google for facts during my oratory. Another option is to take the high-flown or superstar route, but that so often leads to a lack of substance. For those who can manage extraordinary weekly preaching with integrity, at what opportunity cost? (It's worth remembering that colonial preachers exchanged far more than ministers today, and I'm sure time management for preparing sermons was a part of the calculus.)

At the same time I thought about that fossil: the pastor's printed book of sermons. I can hardly think of a printed genre that goes staler, and I hope its age is past. But it did make me think of the future. It might make sense for a minister to preach briefly -- tightly, eloquently, perhaps around a single point -- to the "live congregation" and have it spelled out later in another way. Not print necessarily, but perhaps a podcast or video, or forgoing these perhaps a live event more in common with an interview or discussion than fighting with hymns and prayers for attention.

Interested in giving feedback? Looking for help with new church

As you may know, I'm planning a new Universalist Christian church, and I'm working on a document that describes it shape and mission, particularly in light of the by-laws revision that passed at General Assembly this year. It'll take a second passing vote -- pretty darn likely -- and conceives of non-local congregations within the UUA. (PDF; see page 1, line 131.)

I am, admittedly, thinking of a hybrid. So with the distinct theology that this new congregation brings and a generally dormant culture of evangelism, I thought it a good idea to gather a team to reflect and advise me.

Your thoughts?

New church shall be born with …

Here's my thought -- it makes more sense to construct a plan (not unlike a business plan) as a basis for organizing a church than to try to gather people and see what you have in common, which in so many words is (or was) the conventional wisdom for forming Unitarian Universalist churches. And because I intend to reach out to people who don't know a Universalist from a ukulele, I figured I'd better state some standards that we might otherwise take for granted.

The following is an outline. I'm going to fill in each plank, but I'm trying to make this process as open as possible so you get the see the work-in-process, too. Still trying to work up some language for a pro-environmental plank, plus one that means "jerks aren't going to be encouraged". The "membership and leadership" references I hope aren't too coded, but are to describe full participation in congregational life.

Second Universalist Church shall be born with the following characteristics:


  • It shall be a Christian church.
  • It shall be a Universalist church.

Regard of persons

  • It shall be democratically governed and accountable to its members.
  • It shall regard women and men as equal in membership and leadership.
  • It shall regard bisexuals, gay men and lesbians, and intersexed and transexual persons as equal as others in membership and leadership.
  • It shall actively protect children and vulnerable adults.
  • It shall not abuse the religious beliefs of other people.

    Institutional culture

    • It shall expand its outreach and intends to help form new churches.
    • It shall use, promote and produce words, ideas and media that can be distributed and reused freely.

    Three tasks for the new church

    Time to get serious -- pen to paper -- about the church start. Over the next week, I hope to accomplish the following:

    1. A plain but functional site -- the point now is to build the non-public side for managing church functions and future memberships.
    2. Create a list of features -- if you'll excuse the software metaphor -- that the new church will be born with.
    3. Create a list of characteristics -- largely around its theology and the scope of the membership, I think, but not exclusively -- that need solutions.

    I want these done and ripened well before General Assembly.