Fix the UUA: Pay for what works

Money talks. You can complain and grouse, but money talks. It may not always be used well — and some volunteer or unfunded activities may produce profund results — but it shows what we value.

UUA leadership — staff, yes, but I’m thinking more of elected and volunter “true believers” — has been keen to talk about the “fair share” congregations ought to pay because the congregations are covenanted in community. That covenant cuts both ways with accountability to what congregations needs is less clear. Besides, congregations don’t have a covenant with the administration but with other congregations. (And I’ve heard grumbling from small churches that large churches have a fair-share formula option they don’t; it smacks of favoritism.)

But part of the problem is that, as a service provider, the UUA is almost a monopoly, and the overweening sectarianism that has grown up in the last couple of decades makes other options for service provenance less and less likely. Yet consider the Cathedral of Hope, Dallas, formerly the largest congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church, that went independent and has recently voted to join the United Church of Christ. Why? At heart, I believe because the UCC provides better services at less cost, and they’re more serious players. Money talks, and shapes how we fulfill mission. Even if the bulk of UUA member congregations won’t drift off for a better option — one may not exist — they (we) do deserve other options for service providing. That could be anything from consultants, companies, professional coops, website owners, multi-congregational agencies, ecumenical endeavors, independent affiliates, and the like. We could get radical and talk about alternate ministerial fellowship. (The MFC has the sole fellowship authority over the UUA, true, but since UUA members churches aren’t obliged to get MFC fellowshipped ministers, it follows there could be an indepentent fellowshipping process. Not likely, but it is possible, particularly in an underserved region, or small theological cohort.)

So here’s the point. Give, O Congregations, the Annual Program Fund what you think its services and value to the Association is worth. Fund what you use, even it isn’t something you have historically funded. Congregations, consider creating content (open licensed, of course). Oh, and Commission on Appraisal, you might want to look at this issue.

This is post #1200.

Antiochian Orthodox leave the NCC

I wonder what the United Church of Christ newsniks thought when they put the news of the Antiochian Orthodox Church’s withdrawal from the National Council of Churches (the news isn’t on their site — its isn’t official) given the UCC’s recent vote on same-sex marriage was accounted as reason for the departure.

“We just feel we don’t have much in common with the [other NCC-member] churches,” [spokesperson, the Rev. Thomas] Zain said.

While the denomination had considered taking up the matter with a larger body of Orthodox denominations in the United States, officials decided “to do it alone. We’ll see if others follow.”

Well, color me shocked. The Antiochians have done well attracting conservative Episcopalians and they only had the filioque to lose.

Clearly, this is another case where the Big Bad Lefties driving away Christ’s Own. Or perhaps not.

Doncha just love that church’s new moniker: The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. There’s a back story there, though I don’t pretend to know it all.

But consider the lack of an American (United States) Orthodox church, which is decidedly an anomaly. You could say they have their own “hyphenization problem” but theirs is ethnic and linguistic. The Orthodox Church of America, with its Russian roots, walks a knife’s edge in terms of legitmacy in Orthodox eyes, and doesn’t claim to be (nor is recognized as) the American Orthodox church. The Greeks are keen on this matter. It isn’t a secret that the Antiochian church — the Arab ethnic Orthodox church — has been rallying for pole position, thus the amplified name.

And I can’t but think this most-recent action is an attempt to improve their position. That’s all.

Later. Adam — who pastors a jointly affiliated UUA-UCC community church — also comments.

Watered down?

The discussion at that Matthew Gatheringwater started has grown like kudzu in a hothouse, and moved in many different directions. For the record, I am neither more nor less encouraged by the verve and tone. But then again, I’ve been doing this for more than half of my thirty-something life.

One term popped out, a definition of an undesirable outcome to the work the UUA might do (or, as I suspect, will talk about but substantively avoid by stonewalling neysayers.) A watered-down UCC.

And I keep wondering if “watered down UCC” is such a useful concept. Does that mean that the UCC, of all Christian churches, is the least Christian? The most dependably liberal? Or reputable but not overwhelming New England vintage? I don’t think any of these is true, or particularly desirable. Ironically, it is probably easier to be a full-bore confessing Christian (if loney) in the UUA than in the UCC, where there are more opportunities to have your faith tested. Hardly a bad things. That’s my impression anyway.

But, Christianity has at root a binary quality that doesn’t survive dilution. There are different kinds of Christian — determined largely by era and place — but Christianity isn’t like vanilla extract where more or less can be added to create a desired taste.

Hymns, stained glass, and hot-button terms do not Christianity make. A particular witness, confession, mode of servanthood, and set of relationships with God and human beings distinguish Christianity from other religions (to greater and lesser degrees) and — more from a mixed and muddled response than opposition proper — these are not shared in Unitarian Universalism. In time, you have to make a decision and stake out a path. In a Christian Unitarian or Universalist church I think it is possible to mature, but barely anywhere else in the fellowship.

By being lukewarm — by being dilute — Unitarian Universalism itself is digging its own grave. At this point I’d rather be written out and written off than be left hanging in the middle.

UCC begins Synod 25

Well, now that the dust has settled over the UUA’s General Assembly (GA), remote church convention watchers may focus on the United Church of Christ’s twenty-fifth biennial General Synod. (That’s sin-id, not sie-nod for those who aren’t into church jargon.) I know they’ll get plenty done, because without a car and a guide, Atlanta’s no place to skive off and have fun. Remember that Scarlett went there to make money for Tara, and the place hasn’t changed much since. And it’ll be hotter than two hells in early July. (Note to synod conferees: stay inside and work, but share a cab and get to Doraville for Vietnamese food some evening.)

Unlike the UUA GA, there’s lot of contentious and substantive business. If the resolution on gay marriage passes, the ethnically Hungarian non-geographic Calvin Synod has threatened to leave. (And they seem to be on the edge anyway.) Plus there’s a big measure on the ministry that I hope to see more of.

And programming, of course. One looks quite interesting: Biblical Self-Defence for Youth and Young Adults sponsored by the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.

If anyone from the UUCF leadership is reading, I was thinking it maight be a good idea to use the program spot to do something like that in a future year, and move the communion service (like the annual meeting and hymn sing/dinner) off program, or at least off-site to a neighboring church where at least the architecture would probably work.

Murder in the Philippines echoes history

Chuck Currie writes about the horrible murder of a conference minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Rev. Edison Lapuz. If there is a goverment connection, then let their action fall back up on them. In any case, it seems a terrible loss to his people.

Regular readers might feel a tug of recognition; the Rev. Toribio Quimada, the founder and president of the Universalist Church of the Philippines (now Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines; no website) was murdered in 1988 under not-dissimilar circumstances.

There is really quite little about the UUCP or Quimada on the Internet, but the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt’s review of Magilpay Universalist is helpful. (I think the reference to the unitarian Philippine Independent Church is a bit of a red herring, though.)

Joseph Lyons-Santos attended the fiftieth anniversary observances with the UUCP and has written about his experience. That’s worth reading.

Now UCC gets web syndicated news

Like the British Methodists, the United Methodists, and the United Church of Canada I mentioned before, the United Church of Christ now has syndicated news feeds. As I mentioned before, the UUA needs this big-time.

I will now get a steady stream of UCC news delivered to my Firefox browser, via the Sage plugin every time I update it. And that’s almost continously.

One problem: the link is not identified as “United Church of Christ” or “UCC News” but “Powered by Mambo 4.5.2.” — which suggests good sense in CMSes but less than pristine roll-outs. They need to change the favicon from the default orange Mambo “M”, too.

UCC News

Hat tip: Chuck Currie

Options for ordination: UCC

Chuck Currie forwards without comment a news release about a proposal that will come to the United Church of Christ General Synod (Atlanta!) this summer.

Since the subject of alternative formation and fellowship has come up several times before, I can’t help but be interested. Now, I have to wonder if there is a difference here despite the historical ties between the UUA and the UCC. We have a rare ministerial glut. Perhaps the UCC doesn’t. There’s also a different, semi-Presbyterial mechanism for ordination.

But, like the UCC, we have an underused “equivalent to M.Div.” proviso standard. We also have a history, via Universalism, of licensed ministers, though the use has morphed in a couple of small ways in local areas.

There’s a link to the proposal at Churck Currie’s blog or the UCC press release.

But a line makes me consider the purpose of the proposed change: to open up the ministry more effectively to ethnic and cultural minorities.

Episcopal bishop (for the American churches in Europe) Pierre W. Whalon wrote an article (read to the end) about how that would work under their alternative ordination Canon 9 and another on the importance of recruitment to the ministry. Both are worth a read.

SpongeBob SquareParishoners

Philocrites said in the comments of the last entry:

As for SpongeBob: Did it invite ridicule? Did the ridicule overwhelm the net gain in interest the stunt generated in the church? Did it make a serious point? What I’d really love to know about that particular stunt, though, is how the denomination managed the indignation of “serious” churchpeople within the denomination, of which I can only imagine there would have been quite a bit.

Well, stunt says it all for me, and I agree it was. It was a bit smug, too. The capital that churches have is trust and stunts always drawn down from the capital, though the amount of “debt” isn’t measurable. Perhaps there is a payoff, but I wonder what that would be. If someone is embolded to go to First UCC Bikini Bottom on hearing the SB welcome and then is met with the reality of parochial life — when whence the stunt didn’t arise — what’s the gain?

One of the reasons I didn’t jump to the UCC was that the divide between the parish and the “folks at the top” is much, much worse than what we have in the UUA. Indeed, it made me more sympathetic to those at 25, and glad for the congruence we do have.

So I suspect the “serious churchpeople” are probably just rolling their eyes and add it to the list of what they do on Euclid St. Or they ignore it. Again, if that’s the case, what’s the gain?

Churches shouldn’t make stunts; they should make clear and consistant testimonies, and admit one’s own failings.

My letter to NBC

Nothing profound, but each of us ought to take a tip from the right-wing “family” crowd (and recalling old Amnesty activism days) and express our outrage to the TV powers-that-be. Sent one to CBS, too.

If you’ve not yet heard about CBS and NBC’s refusal to sell air time to the United Church of Christ, (it has been very slow loading’ see their press release instead) read Philocrites’s blog, to whom I owe the tip. (You can get the email addresses there.)

My letter to the NBC chief:

Mr. Randy Falco, President
NBC Television Network

Dear Mr. Falco,

I understand that NBC is not permitting the United Church of Christ (UCC) to buy air time for its message because there is concern that its implied welcome to gay and lesbian Christians is controversial.

As a (non-UCC) minister, I think this is unfortunate and hypocritical. “Unfortunate” because I think the United Church’s message is worthwhile. “Hypocritical” because NBC has profited from gay and lesbian characters in programming, and gay and lesbian viewers.

By refusing the United Church, NBC gives an unfair hand to both right-wing Christians and secularists of all political persuasions. I hope you will bear pressure to change this position.

Yours truly,

(The Rev.) Scott Wells
Washington, D.C.