Ministerial and Congregational packets often contains much of the same content since our churches and our ministers often share many of the same issues affecting our broader denomination. Certain issues challenge most of our congregations. The following comments reflect my beliefs on how we must address them as Unitarian Universalists.
Churches express many reasons why they wish to grow. Some derive from the sense of general decline in church participation facing many American denominations. I believe that one justification for growth as an institutional goal represents an essential, healthy commitment by a congregation, and a right relation with visitors and guests. We should grow because we offer the world and each person searching for religious community and spiritual growth a saving message. We should also grow because too many people live anxious and pained lives and they desperately need the intentional and principled community we offer. If we grow primarily for these reasons, then the other positive consequences we seek will accrue.
Nearly every Unitarian Universalist congregation wishes their demographics represented greater racial diversity. As recent events show, however, our Association still has much work ahead to address matters of privilege. If our congregations will not embrace people with theistic ideologies and find ways to live our commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression, then racial diversity will not grow. There simply are not enough atheist, humanist, middle class People of Color to change the makeup of our churches.
One approach requires us to address the too frequent hostile attitudes Unitarian Universalists express toward Christianity. Another approach calls us to take bold stands on social justice issues relevant to racial minorities. We can also pursue active partnerships with traditionally Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native churches.
Engaging Young Adults
The 20th century church model cannot work in the 21st century. Wages stagnated for decades. Most adults now work – often more than one job – while trying to raise children. Many potential congregants in their 20’s and 30’s bring with them crushing student loan debt. Churches cannot expect Millennials to volunteer and contribute financially at the same levels their parents did. Churches must find more efficient ways of reaching out to current and potential congregants, using the most modern and effective tools. This requires both electronic and physical presence in youth groups, campus ministries, and coffee houses. And we must pay more attention to the needs of parents for childcare and other forms of family support.
Wither Goest Religious Education?
Weekly Sunday School attendance for most of today’s children is nearly impossible. Conflicts for time on Sunday mornings, split families, and decreasing leisure time continually limit our ability to address our religious education mission. Engaging today’s children effectively requires new pedagogical models and delivery systems. Also, we must end the “basement” culture of religious education, committing to fully engage our children in the life of the church. Most important, our curricula must present necessary and meaningful material so that our children go into the world prepared to face religious plurality with the tools of critical thinking and intuitive judgment.
Social Justice Identity
Unitarian Universalist churches long served the role of “haven” to people alienated by our nation’s religious environment. While useful and necessary, this attitude creates a barrier preventing us from performing a critical function of any religious body – hands-on charity. And Unitarian Universalist congregations derive a special calling from our principles – to serve as advocates for justice in public policy. Now, perhaps more than ever in the past 50 years, our congregations should embrace resistance to immoral public agendas that oppress and demonize people on the basis of their identities. Our religion uniquely affirms the democratic process as essential, and we must Side with Love on the front line of that conflict.