Sandy Day blogging

I’ve not bothered to see if Hurricane Sandy has degraded to a tropical storm (or been upgraded in colliding with that winter storm) because all evidence is that it’s terribly fierce. I hear the wind, rain and sirens of emergency vehicles.

But we’re better off than the Jersey Shore; remember its people and our beloved Murray Grove in prayer.

I wrote about hurricanes in 2003 and you can find some resources there.

A sad look into a Pacific Congregationalist Church

Please remember in prayer Charles Jessop, who died of hemorrhagic dengue fever, on the island of Niue leaving behind a wife and small daughter. This is the first death there (at least in recent years) from the disease; pray for the people, too. Here is a news clip, beginning with Mr. Jessop’s funeral in a congregation of the there-dominant Eklesia Niue, or the Congregational Christian Church of Niue.

Niue, an isolated island country in free association with New Zealand, has about 1,400 residents. These news casts are in interesting window into this community, and this clip a rare look into one of its churches.

A short film of hope for dying congregations

I was searching online, clicking links and reading tonight when I found this charming, touching and pleasingly funny film short. It’s about a Jewish congregation in the East End of London trying to keep a minyan on Yom Kippur. Spend ten minutes and — if your congregation is in peril — hope.

“The Tenth Man”

And the punchline, for this blog? The Sandys Row Synagogue, where it was filmed, is a real place. And this is the actual building, in another age then known as the Parliament Court Chapel, where a spiritually-conflicted John Murray and his first wife, Eliza, heard the Universal Gospel from James Relly. In other words, this is where the “father of American Universalism” became a Universalist. It makes me think, and tremble a little.

Who's really central in the UUA?

After a quarter-century as a Unitarian Universalist, I can say with conviction that our largest problems have little to do with money or even membership, but with deep unresolved issue of identity. The continual plaints — and curiously distributed — circle about who is or is not welcome, with tones more fitting for a Dickensian workhouse door. Mewing and poormouthing is sure to bring a comfort SWAT team — which even more obvious online — which soothes the complaint but (1) doesn’t discover if it was based in fact nor (2) does it resolve the underlying tension.

Nor do I intend to; indeed, I think the Ship of Simple Solutions sailed a long time ago.

The question I ask above — Who’s really central in the UUA? — is quite literal and is a response to calls for selling the UUA’s historic and central properties and finding other accommodation. One failed idea would have kept the offices in metro Boston, but other calls would have ’25’ move to the less-expensive middle of the country. I don’t advocate for this, considering the disruption to staff and their experience, the doubtful cost savings and the loss of morale from a move (however framed) made from lack.

But I also like to fiddle with UUA data and want learn more about optimization and mapping. So using this method, I figured out the geographic center of the UUA membership. That optimal point, as the crow flies, for all UUA congregation members to meet up. Well, not all. I’ve only included the North American congregations and have excluded the non-local Church of the Larger Fellowship for obvious reasons. And the data’s a year old. But that shouldn’t put us too far off.

So where? A field outside of St. Anne, Illinois, about 75 miles due south of Chicago. (But I suppose Gary and South Bend are more economical options.)

Western Conference Unitarians are entitled to say “I told you so.”

And that then would make the congregation at the center of the UUA the Unitarian Universalist Community Church, Park Forest, Illinois. Congratulations! (But is there room for 160,000-odd people for coffee?)

Worship: once a year (or as needed)

Please excuse a moment of somewhat-silly ecclesiastic conjecture. Regular readers know I am considering working with a congregation that will meet for worship once a month. I know what you’re thinking: Once a month! Why so much? Geez. Slow down! Don’t you have anything else to do?

Well, I do know of some churches that meet once or twice a year. Why?

  • It’s a associated with a legal membership meeting or other requirement of an otherwise dormant church. (I know of a Universalist church in Canada that meets four times a year for this reason.)
  • It’s a religious observance associated with a family reunion. (I know of and have preached to a dormant Universalist church like this; the church has a cemetery, which I suspect is the compelling reason for this annual service.)
  • It’s an extended ministry — perhaps to a small expat or linguistic community — and is dependent on overstretched clergy support.

This last case seems to be the case of some non-English-speaking Lutherans in the United Kingdom. (Don’t ask what got me reading about these.)  Consider the Icelandic Lutherans in Hull, who only worship in Advent and early June. Or the Latvian Lutherans in Swansea, seen twice a year. Or the Icelanders in Edinburgh who only meet (once) in Advent.  Likewise the Norwegian Lutherans in Cardiff and Bristol, who also get a tree-trimming party as a part of the package.

There are two other once-a-year worship services I can think of: the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship communion service at General Assembly and the Sunday morning ecumenical Christian service at the U.S. Esperanto Landa Kongreso.

These two in particular make me think of how a once-yearly service might be helpful, say for Unitarian Universalist Christians and Esperanto-speaking Christians (and others of course): to start a religious presence, rather than wind one down. One, of course, can lead to more and little is better than none. But there’s something to be said for a yearly service here, and one a couple of towns over, and so forth until a network is created.  And unlike a more frequent service, a yearly (or twice- or thrice-) service can also be the basis of a regional invitation. A weekend or even longer: a conference rather than a single Sunday morning.

Now, if once a year, when? The Advent dates above suggest a pre-Christmas — so as not to conflict with more regular congregation — observance, but All Souls or Rally Sunday (first Sunday in September) have their appeals. So also the last Sunday in May, to take advantange of the Memorial Day weekend, especially if the intent is to restart a church with a graveyard. Week of Christian Unity (in January) or World Communion Sunday (in October) might be better for the Esperantists, especially since December is already in play for the language’s founder’s December 15 birthday.

Chinese prisons keep slavery alive

It’s hard to see the “reeducation through labor” prisons in the People’s Republic of China and not see slavery. These laogai prisons not only detain people — including prisoners of conscience, including in Falun Gong and Christian believers — but then sell their products overseas. So some of those cheap Chinese goods come not simply from an artificially depressed Chinese currency and at the expense of Chinese workers, but from real, live modern slave labor. The EU has no effective law, and the US is toothless.

A documentary on Al-Jazeera — a part of their Slavery: A 21st Century Evil series(watch it online) — brings it home. Or if you’re in Washington, D.C. you can visit the Laogai Museum and see more yourself. I’ve been — it’s north of Dupont Circle — and is worth the visit.

Laogai Museum
1734 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009

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Perhaps instead of “Black Friday”/Buy Nothing Day?



Occupy: D.C., New York, Davis or where-have-you

I’d hate for my readers to think that my few comments about the Occupy movement suggests I’m uninterested. Far from it. Indeed, I’m very mad and deeply concerned about yesterday’s pepper-spraying of student demonstrators at University of California Davis. Google for it, if you’ve not seen this now-iconic photograph.

But I comment mostly by Twitter,, Google+ and Facebook.  And if you have the means to support your closest Occupy encampment, I encourage you to do so.