Monday, October 22, 2012

predictions for unitarian universalism

While I was writing my sermon for Sunday on the changes I see in the offing for churches, I went off on a two page tangent of predictions for Unitarian Universalism.  I really have no basis for these beyond my observations, trends, some knowledge of history, and my understanding of human behavior.  Thus, there isn't anything to link to in order to make anything clearer or to inform anyone of what I'm thinking.  They're the written equivalent of doodling.

If I had to offer up predictions based on history and the trends I see, they would be at best educated guesses. No one could have seen the development of UU into what it is fifty years ago and likewise no one can guess what our grandchildren will make it. But if I had to these are my guesses.

For our faith: I suspect we’ll either disappear almost completely, except for a couple thousand adherents scattered among big cities or we’ll be subsumed back into liberal Christianity. The disappearance would likely be for the same reasons as the disappearance of the Universalists, that our basic premise of treating each other well in the here and now, irrespective of an afterlife or a deity, will have become so ubiquitous that there won’t be a reason for something exclusively devoted to it. Alternatively, we could find ourselves needing to merge with another religious group in order to continue and the ones I suspect we would have the most points of contact with would be the United Church of Christ or the Disciples of Christ, although both of those groups might also find themselves in the same straits we would be in.

For our corporate body, if we continue on our own: I’m pretty certain there will be no brick-and-mortar UU fellowships or churches, again with the exception maybe of some of the larger congregations in big cities like Boston or St. Louis where the membership might still number a thousand or more. But the rest of us will likely meet through the auspices of something like the Church of the Larger Fellowship, an umbrella group that prepares and delivers services, probably over Skype or something like it. We tend to like to be together physically and we like to eat so we might return to the early Christian church tradition of gathering as an eating society. Imagine that, an entire denomination whose worship revolves around potlucks. I suspect we’ll be one of the first groups to give up Sunday morning services as that is proving to hold a lot of congregations back: worship and Sabbath, which were exclusively single-day events, are religious concepts that are proving most vulnerable to the need for individual rather than group definition. If I had my druthers services would be more like AA meetings in bigger cities: there’d be one happening somewhere in an area three or four times a day and you attend the one closest to the time you’re free and you attend as many during a week as you feel you need.

Our ministers: Not so long ago one of the professors in my UU polity class mentioned in passing that at the current time there are only roughly 700 UU ministerial jobs available. By that I think he meant parish jobs, full and part time, and only in the US, so if we include chaplains and congregations in Canada and Australia and other commonwealths, that’s likely to add a few hundred more. But the point is clear: there are fewer positions to be split among greater numbers of people. Places like United and Union, Starr King and Meadville Lombard, are no more likely to cut back their graduate recruitment efforts than any other graduate school. We’re fast approaching a glut on the UU ministerial market similar to the one on the English teacher market. Ministerial work will continue but it’ll look less I think like Protestant ministerial work—parish-focused—and more like the Catholic orders—socially focused, working with addiction and the homeless and the elderly and children in crisis. If I’m wrong about the coming ubiquity of UU principles in mainstream religions I think we’ll be needed in these positions more than ever.

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