Perhaps you recall the Hundredth Monkey effect popularized some years back. Essentially it says that when enough critters start repeating a certain behaviour it suddenly spreads throughout the whole community instantaneously.
We might be seeing that in our North American Unitarian Universalist churches with this Digital Reformation stuff. As I started to prepare for my sabbatical six months ago I was concerned about how to serve present needs and preferences and yet prepare our congregation for the needs and preferences of a younger generation. I wasn’t aware of very many people talking about it or writing about it in our movement, but maybe I wasn’t looking.
I made my plans and then discovered that Meadville/Lombard was offering two courses right on this topic. So I went. In the pre-course Learning Convocation, I attended a seminar by Rev. Terasa Cooley of the UUA who outlined the shifting needs of the millennials detailed in an earlier post.
Then last week, Rev. Peter Morales, President of the UUA issued a strategic ‘white paper’. The bold premise?
“We have long defined ourselves as an association of congregations. We need to think of ourselves as a religious movement. The difference is potentially huge.”
The document, Congregations and Beyond has received wide circulation within the UUA, but I have included a link in case you haven’t seen it. I think it is a profound and concise piece laying out a strategy exactly in keeping with current church trend research (see my next post).
Peter wants to retool the UUA to also serve that elusive group (of all ages) who never become part of our congregations – you know, the kinds of people who are “Unitarians without knowing it.” And they way he hopes to do it includes some of the ideas I have been discovering in class and trying to kick around in this blog. If you haven’t read it, do so. I have a feeling this will be a profoundly important document quoted often in history books yet to be written.
But, while Peter is embracing the future, he is not leaving the past behind. He celebrates his own parish ministries and his love of the congregational community as well :
Creating ways of engaging people who are not members of our congregations is not a threat to congregations. Quite the opposite is true. We can help lower the walls between our congregations and the larger world. This can help make our congregations stronger.
I also agree. Congregations have been the foundation of UUism for nearly 200 years in North America. Nothing in this document negates or diminishes the role of the local congregation. But it does dream of a wider and more inclusive vision.
It is an exciting time.