Twentieth-century Universalist records available online at Harvard

I’d known for some time that the run of printed Unitarian Universalist Association directories were available to be read online from Harvard Library’s site, so I wondered if any of the hard-to-get and not-public-domain (1924 on) Universalist directories and records, prior to the 1961 consolidation, were available there.

Indeed, there are. Here’s what I found in chronological order, and I’ll add more if I find any. Note that except were stated, the resources were published on a biennial basis.

Another easy-to-use census data tool

I do love census data. I’m no geographer, but it helps me understand something of a place, when I look its demographics. A few days ago, I mentioned one tool, and tweeted about it.

That led a participant in another not altogether different project point out his: Census Reporter. Which is funny, because I had run across it at Day Job before, and really liked it then. So thanks to Ian for reminding me, and now I’m sharing it with you.

And (fun fact) you can embed it’s charts. Here, for example, is commuting data — a proxy for how and how far people will go to get to church — for Ocean County, New Jersey, where Universalist pioneer John Murray landed in the New World.

Mapping demographics: an online tool

Remember those expensive demographic surveys — Precept, Proscript, something — that the districts provided for church planting, say, 15 years ago.

OK: perhaps not. After all, they were expensive.

Well, I learned today that ESRI — and no particular endorsement for ESRI, by the way — has a map-based zip code look-up tool. Not the same thing, but it does suggest where you might want to target in-person (or postal ?) outreach activity, and what the people who live in that zip code likely value.

Oh, I’m sure it’s a gateway to more refined data, at a cost, I’m sure. But we’re hardly ready for that kind of granular data (for new churches, anyway) yet —

In the meantime, here is a link to the demographic profiles and segmentation overview.


Lost churches sought

So, I wanted a list of Unitarian Universalist member congregations and the years they were organized.

Not just an idle curiosity, but to see what proportion is less than 30 years old, to see what era (other than the Fellowship Movement obviously) produced surviving churches, and which areas have a better recent experience of welcoming new congregations. (Culture and expectations matter.) I’m about three-quarters done with the list.

As a side-effect of my search, I discovered the UUA keeps information about former congregations online. The disbanded, disaffiliated, merged and mysterious. I don’t know how far it goes back, or if its complete within that unknown date range. But the reportage of ex-member-congregations has, in twenty years, gone from routine to almost nil.

And without this missing news, how can we mourn our dead? How can we be thankful for their ministry? This tribute matters. It shows that we respect the life cycle of congregations and, like trees in a forest, have to plant the new to replace deadwood. It shows we replace the connections. It shows we respect the work now finished, or at least finished with us or in their former incarnations.

We cannot let these lost congregations go silently, any more than we would let our own loved ones go unlamented and unpraised.

Wanted: a comprehensive list of Universalist, Unitarian and Unitarian churches

No April Fools, but an honest request. One of those resources that other communions have that we do not have is a comprehensive list of every Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist church that has been: the living and the dead. At the very least it would help establish a frame for a missiological history and might surface some “hidden histories” that challenge received narratives, say, around the success or failure of the midcentury Fellowship movement. (Which the Universalists also had, with a non-competative arrangement  with the Unitarians, details to come. Or that gold mines, oil wells or a-bomb plants attract Unitarians.)

We can start with something easier? Say, all churches in existance in 1959 (to account for those that rejected consolidation and didn’t join the new UUA; another one of those histories) and onwards?


Commuting zones: strawberry runners

So, if you think the best option for developing an unreached area is to plant an initially-subordinate extension from a large, existing congregation, you will want some place that’s

  • got its own commerical (for space rental) and community focus
  • yet is close enough for church staff and volunteers to support it, but
  • far enough away that saying “come to us” expects a very high level of commitment

Using (now 14+ year old) commuting zone data, to obvious place to center new activity is south and north of Charlotte, North Carolina. (New data, using the successor to the commuting zone, is due out next month.)

Specifically, York County, South Carolina. With an estimated population af 234,635 in 2012, the county serves as a bedroom community to Charlotte. It has been growing fast: up from 85,216 in 1970. At 27 miles, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte is nearest congregation York County’s largest city, Rock Hill. (All milages from city hall.)

View Larger Map

I was going to refer back to my micropolitan survey that suggested Salisbury and Lexington, North Carolina were ideal places to launch a new church, using a similar analysis, but lo and behold, the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, Charlotte has since opened a branch “gathering” (their term) in Salisbury.

So I feel vindicated. York County, anyone?

These commuting zones are empty zones for Unitarian Universalist

Last time –and this was a while back — I talked about commuting zones was using them as a proxy for communities where a new Unitarian Universalist church could rise up. I have to admit I was wondering if I was being naive by drawing this conclusion. After all I don’t have any sociological, mapping or civic engineering experience. But once around the numbers, some of the gaps in the Unitarian Universalist map became perfectly clear and when I tested my findings against the UUA congregation locator map, I felt my process was valid. (If this post gets significant traffic, I’ll write about the process.)

Looking at the gaps, there are two ways you could read them to see where a new congregation could be planted. On the one hand, it makes sense to reach to the nearest unserved zone: a place where a large existing congregation might put a satellite. On the other hand, it might make sense to stage concerted effort to reach a large area with no nearby Unitarian Universalist presence.

Let’s call these the strawberry runner and airdrop methods respectively. This week, I’ll look into each.

Is your Unitarian Universalist congregation certified?

[countdown date=2014/02/03-21:00:00]
Just [timer] until certification closes.

I’ve been noodling on UUA statistics; it’s the season, as it’s also the time Unitarian Universalist Association-member congregations need to certify, if they are to send voting delegates to General Assembly this summer.

Here’s the notice:

Congregations must log in and submit their membership/statistical data by 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time on February 3, 2014 to be certified for General Assembly. No extensions to this deadline can be offered unless your congregation petitions to the Secretary of the UUA and receives approval for additional time in the case of extenuating circumstances.

[countdown date=2014/02/03-21:00:00]
Just [timer] until certification closes.

That’s longer than usual, because of the weekend. And in the the time of to write this (and walk the dog) certifications have gone from 699 to 710. But that’s far from everyone.

Mapping congregations: commuting zones

I think my next step for mapping United States Unitarian Universalist congregations is to assign each congregation to a commuting zone. Three years ago, I identified Unitarian Universalist congregations by micropolitan area — where appropriate. But commuting zones cover the whole United States, and since they “are geographic units of analysis intended to more closely reflect the local economy where people live and work” (source, USDA Economic Research Service), they are more likely the show the organic relationships congregations do or could make. (Outside of eastern Massachusetts anyway, given its particular history. And how traces of seventeenth century boundaries survive.)

Might also show what’s the “natural” core of a rural outreach; say, one that’s legitimately too small, remote or both to expect a congregation to spontaneously gather.

It may be worth analyzing some of the assumptions I made. I don’t like them all, but I think this is where we Unitarian Universalists are.