Report Out from the FACT People Gathering, part 1

FACTAs it turns out, data geeks throw a pretty good party! Stefan Jonasson and I attended the annual meeting of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership last week. It was held in Chicago at the beautiful headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  About 30 researches from over 25 denominations or religious networks gathered to compare notes, observations, challenges, and excitement over current studies. I was downright giddy to be there!


I got to meet my counterpart from the Greek Orthodox community who attempted to replicate the study I had done a couple years ago on Free Range Unitarian Universalists. He and I spent many hours on the phone last year talking about how polity, culture, and many other variables effect translation of research instruments. Try to grock that for a moment. In the room of religious researches Alexei and I would be placed on opposite ends of the spectrum for so many reasons, and yet we could not wait to finally meet and break bread together.


Researchers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Church of the Nazarene and I excitedly swapped challenges of our fall 2015 study and checked our assumptions – Is that true? How would we know? What do you see from the vantage of your tradition?


I disclosed holy envy for the new, comprehensive and dynamic database that the United Church of Christ researchers use with the whole of their national and field staff. And followed them on break to take notes on the details of a study they are doing on Congregational Vitality. I want to borrow their instrument!


Some expressed holy envy at how Unitarian Universalists use technology with relative ease to break down barriers to communication. We are early adapters and adopters of technology. They looked at Stefan and I in wonder because we primarily collaborate across national borders through regular video conferencing.


Many of the researchers were equally fascinated that data analysis is a relatively small percentage of our Growth Office’s dedicated time. That most of our work is in actually actively using the findings to do ministry better, whether in direct service or in resource development. They had holy envy that our reports are actively being used by our UUA Board of Directors to make better decisions about our future. And that our field staff uses reports to determine priorities and check intended impact. I know many of our congregations do, too! “Give me those numbers so I can decide how to do better!”


And there was discomfort, too. When the researcher from the National Council of Churches pointed out that the historic Black churches were missing from our cooperative, I kept pushing the issue. Why? What are we going to do about it? And now we have an effort to examine who is missing and to actively invite those groups into the cooperative. Later my new friend from the LDS tradition observed, “Inclusion is very important to your religion, isn’t it?” Yes. Yes, it is.


In partnership with others similar enough to be able to communicate but different enough to challenge same-ness assumption is where I really begin to understand myself. My participation with the CCSP clarified for me that I come from the people of


  • Adaptivity
  • Relational Curiosity
  • Thinking to do
  • Working toward justice


I feel blessed to live in a time where I can work along side my cousins in faith and use quantitative and qualitative research to help see a clear picture of who we are individually and together in this 21st century landscape.


Part two of our FACT People Gathering report will focus on the actual publications of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and the most current survey taking place.



Stefan and Tandiat CCSPYes, Stefan Jonasson and Tandi Rogers pass notes in class and egg each other to make mischief for the good of the group. They were in their element at this particular gathering.


behave yourselfI hear these laments all the time.

“We can’t get young adults to join our congregation.”

“We have a congregational covenant, but there still seems to be a lot of conflict around here.”

“I can’t get anyone to serve on the Board of Trustees.”

“Our fund drive came up short again. No one wants to talk about money.”

These are some of the realities of congregational life. In their struggle to deal with them, leaders often ask the question, “How can I get people to change their behavior?” The answer, many of us think, comes down to more information and changing attitudes. We reason that if we can just give people the right information; if we can get them to think differently, then they’ll come and visit, they’ll readily volunteer, they’ll get along, they’ll contribute generously.

Well, social scientist Jeni Cross, sociology professor at Colorado State University, tells us that this reasoning is incorrect. She debunks two of the myths of behavior change, that education changes people’s behavior and that in order to change behavior, you have to change people’s attitudes. Instead, Cross contends, the most effective way to change behavior is to change behavioral expectations or to reinforce existing social norms. To put it simply, people are more likely to change their behavior if they see others doing it.

So, for example, if you want people to be more ecologically responsive, you won’t get them to do it by appealing to the need to save the planet. They’ll be more likely to respond if you display an ad showing George Clooney or Katy Perry tossing a plastic water bottle in a recycling can. If people are going to toss a dollar bill into the guitar case of a street musician, they are more likely to do so if they see other people doing it. We are more likely to change our behavior if we see that it is part of the social norms in the context of that situation.

In our efforts, then, as leaders in our congregations, it is not enough to just provide information. It is not enough to inspire and challenge and motivate potential and current members so as to change their attitudes towards the congregation and Unitarian Universalism in general. We need to do more. We need to change the expectations of their behavior. We need to create new social norms.We need to change the culture so that people respond because they see everyone else doing it.

So how do we do that? Hey, I’m not saying this is easy. But here are some things you can try in response to the lamentations I listed above. What they all have in common is that they are intended to demonstrate or reinforce expected behavior rather than relying on information or inspiration to get people motivated.


Can’t get young adults to join…or even to visit?

  • Post pictures of young adults on the home page of your website engaging in various activities related to congregational life.
  • Include one or two quotes from young adults on your website talking about life as a member of your congregation.
  • Encourage young adults to serve as greeters. Nothing is more impressive to a young adult visitor than walking into the building and being greeted by a young adult.

Got conflict?

  • Make it a practice to read your covenant at every Board and committee meeting and every other event at which members congregate (of course, make sure the covenant is short enough so that you’re not taking half the meeting reading it).
  • Look for fellow members who are living out the covenant and publicly and privately thank them for doing so.
  • Publish a story in each issue of your newsletter profiling a member who embodies the tenets of the congregational covenant.

No volunteers for the Board?

  • Publish a list of all past Presidents in the history of the congregation. Let your congregation see what a distinguished list of leaders it represents.
  • Ask current and past Board members to talk about their positive experiences in service. Either publish their comments in your newsletter or ask them to do a testimonial during a worship service.
  • At least twice a year, during a worship service, ask all members of the congregation who are in volunteer positions (any position) to rise. Chances are it will be a very large majority of those in attendance. You and the members of the congregation will see that serving others is more of a social norm than you might think.

Need to fill up the coffers?

  • Ask people to give live and written testimonials on why they give and how the congregation makes a difference in their lives.
  • Publicly acknowledge people who do pledge during the fund drive, with a ribbon that they can attach to their nametag (I PLEDGED FOR (CONGREGATION)) or by putting their names on a display that is shown prominently in the lobby for all to see.
  • Throughout the fund drive, continuously make the congregation aware of how many people and what percentage of the congregation has already pledged. You want members to see that pledging is the norm. Everybody’s doing it, so why not you?
  • Consider a “Pledge Sunday” where all members of the congregation are asked to step forward and drop their pledge in a ceremonial basket as part of the worship service.

None of these strategies is a quick fix. Effecting behavior change means changing the culture, and changing the culture takes time. Our congregations are not speed boats. We are more like big ocean liners and it takes a lot more time and effort to turn an ocean liner than a speed boat. So, we need to continue informing and educating. We need to continue inspiring and challenging. But we also need to be demonstrating and encouraging and reinforcing positive behavior. And where do we begin? With you, leader. Behave…Yourself.



mark bernsteinMark Bernstein is Congregational Life Staff with the Central East Regional Group. He always behaves himself and has never been on either a speed boat or a big ocean liner.

What Are Your Intentions?

The following guest post ran on the front page of the Pacific Northwest District website.  We thought it too good and timely to not share. An important part of growth is knowing when to tune out, slow down, and just be still.  ‘Tis the season.


RelaxWhen I returned from sabbatical July 7, District Executive Janine Larsen asked if I would be willing to write an article about relaxation. I had just finished fourteen weeks of it – surely I could do that! Problem was, I was too relaxed. Now after a full re-entry into my work, I can better reflect on how I actually achieved that elusive state.


I had no idea that the first step to full relaxation would be such a chore. But I am blessed with the best co-workers and boss in the world. I detailed my tasks for the duration and they jumped in and did them, as well as their own jobs. The amount of time it took me to prepare was daunting, but it netted me fourteen totally fret-free weeks. I am indebted to them all.

As a military brat I was familiar early on with the term R & R. I didn’t know what the letters stood for when I was a youngster, but I understood what R & R represented. Is that what my sabbatical would be? Why not. I was ready for a little Rest and Recuperation, thrown in with a little Recreation and Relaxation. (That second R always threw me.)

Rest. Instead of answering a 6:00 alarm, at home I could wake when I wanted and listen to entire Morning Edition pieces! I could loll in the shade by the pool in the sunny south, chill on a balcony overlooking the Potomac, and enjoy the scenery via a nearly-empty ferry in San Francisco.

Recuperation.  What did I have to recuperate from? I couldn’t think of a thing. That was before I quit using a computer keyboard all day long for over three months. Who knew the twinge in the wrist would go away?

Recreation. At home I could accomplish my errands by taking deliberate walks instead of stopping off en route from work. My travels with family and friends were filled with activities, but all were intentional. Even if someone would suddenly spring a change of plans, a simple change of attitude on my part turned it into serendipity instead of resentment.

Relaxation.  It dawned on me that this is not a distinct state. Relaxation is actually a combination of the previous three R’s – listening to Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne all morning; avoiding the computer; walking; biking; cooking; reading; kayaking; sewing. The key for me was keeping my activities intentional and accepting that intentional did not preclude spontaneous.

I recall a seminar from several years ago where the leader asked the group to list the demands that encroached on our time. Among the many responses were Facebook, other social media, aging parents, young children, cell phones, computers, Internet, work email, personal email – and one person even said 24-hour news channels! We then discussed suggestions for managing these demands. I waited and waited for the obvious, but it never came. So I offered, “Just about everything on Power_On_Off_Switch_redthe list has an off button.” Silence. Befuddled stares. It was added to the list. No discussion, except from those who said it was impossible. I thought at least one person might approach me after the session to say they were glad I mentioned that. Nope.

There are always forces trying to keep us from relaxing. The key is intentionality. Overwhelmed with new emails each time you glance at your computer or phone? Change the settings. Retrieve the messages only when you intentionally go get them; don’t have your new mail automatically retrieved. TV chattering away in the background? Turn it off until that show you really, really want to watch is on. I hear people complain of being inundated by Facebook posts. Can’t refrain from constantly checking? Cancel your account. As hard as it is to believe, life still goes on. (Trust me on this.) Be intentional.

John Lennon may have had a little chemical assistance in mind when he adapted existing lines for Tomorrow Never Knows, but the message is still pretty basic: “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream…”  No chemicals required.



Diane BrinsonSince 1994 Diane Brinson has served as District Administrator for the UUA’s Pacific Northwest District and believes there is no better place to work. She adores living with her husband, Randy, in their 1910 Seattle bungalow and being in the same city as their two grown children. Diane declares that when the time arrives, her epitaph should come from a P.G. Wodehouse short story in his description of the barmaid in the Goose and Grasshopper: “She was a well-nourished girl with a kind face.”

A Case for Evangelism

beach beaconI woke up this morning and my first thought was, I just don’t get it. I don’t get any reluctance to evangelize our faith. Remember proselytizing is different from evangelizing. Proselytizing is trying to get someone from another faith to change theirs to yours, evangelizing is just spreading the word about your faith so others are informed and can know. The world is at such a perilous place.


We have come so far in so many ways but unless we take great strides in making bigger advances to help the planet and unless we all can somehow turn the tide of fundamentalism and fear, we are in danger of the future that not only faces seven generations but maybe even ours.


That is why I don’t get it. If we truly believe in the power of this faith to change lives, if we truly try to practice the principles listed on our hymnals and websites, if we truly feel that our historical and theological lineage of love infused with reason, deeds over creeds and a desire for a just, kinder and more compassionate world, why is there anyone not wanting to grow and sing Unitarian Universalism from the highest mountains and the tallest peaks.


I say this in part those in our congregations struggling with growth. People who in their lives are clearly working for a better world but in their congregation don’t want to lose that “feeling of community.” That comment always sounds the same way to me, “now that I have found it, and it works for me, I want it to keep working for me the way that I like it.” This comment always strikes me the same way, well if you have found it and it is so important to you, how could you not want that for others who need it too?



And others need it. Others need to feel a part of a community that stands up, on the side of love, against the forces of marginalization and oppression of otherness. Others need to feel a part of a community that examines their own tendencies toward privilege and oppression as difficult as that can be. Others need to stop being others and belong to a community that encourages wholeness and bringing your full self to the table even when that challenges our own liberal understandings of tolerance, acceptance and unconditional love.


So that is what I woke up and just couldn’t understand this morning as I face this start of another congregational year. If your congregation is starting your year this week, next week or you will be starting soon, I wish you the best as we all navigate these tensions and as we work together, constantly and sometimes it seems, endlessly, to balance our own desires for the community that wraps us in the comforting blanket of familiarity, verses the loud, visible and vital proclamation of what this faith does and can do to help us all build a better world.



David Miller for blogThe Reverend David A. Miller is the minster of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito in Solana Beach, California.  Reverend Miller is a graduate of the Claremont School of Theology receiving a Master of Divinity degree with an emphasis in Social Transformation.


He participated in one of the Innovative Learning Circles this past year, exploring Congregations & Beyond experiments.

General Assembly: making it contagious

UUA General Assembly  2014Right about now <insert a glance at my wrist watch here> is when those of us who attended General Assembly finally catch up on our sleep and look up from our GA-Induced stupor.  Can I get an amen?  A week of intense, amazing worship services and new-idea-packed workshops and networking that even exhausts extroverts will do that to a person.  It takes us a good rest to re-acclimate.


And now it is time to strategize how to bring this GA awesome-goodness to our congregations and to keep those connections, energy, and sparky ideas going.  It’s time to make all that goodness contagious to your siblings-in-faith in your home congregation who did not attend.


Look through your notes.  Who could you invite for coffee to share what you learned and experienced?   Who did you network with that you could make a video-conference appointment with to keep the learning and support going?


What parts of General Assembly on-line could you share on your congregation’s FB page?  The UUWorld coverage could easily be shared via FB pages.  Perhaps there are pieces of GA that are so provocative and timely for your community that you want to gather folks to watch highlights together and then strategize how to use the message where you are.  Here are some of the highlights:


Event ID Event Title Smallscreen Video Library Page Page on
107 Opening Celebration and General Session I
107 Banner Parade
107 General Session I
107 Opening Worship
202 Thursday AM Worship
202 General Session II–2
273 Synergy Worship
302 General Session III and Worship
302w Friday Morning Worship
302a President’s Report
302b Moderator’s Report
302c Board of Trustees’ Report
302d Budget Report
338 General Session IV
338a Debate and vote on Congregational Study/Action Issues–2
338b GA Talk – Fossil Fuel Divestment
338c Beacon Press Report–4
338d Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Team report
338e Financial Advisor Report–3
357 SLT
402 General Session V and Worship
402w Saturday Morning Worship
402b Statements and voting to admit potential Actions of Immediate Witness to the Agenda
402d Introduction: Coalition of UU International Organizations
402e Celebration: Holdeen india Program’s 30th Anniversary (must sign in to see it)
402f Presentation: Distinguished Service Award
434 General Session VI
434a Debate and vote on business Resolution on fossil fuel divestment
434c GA Talk – Humanism and Theism in Conversation
434d Presentation: Angus Mclean Award
434e UU Women’s Federation Report
434f GA Talk – Living our witness@Waterfire
435 Ware Lecture
436 Worship b4 Waterfire
436 WaterFire – live streaming
503 General Session VII
503b UU Service Committee Report
503c UU College of social Justice Report
503d Debate and vote on Actions of immediate witness
503e Presentation: Presidential Award for volunteer service
503f Debate and vote on proposed amendments to C-2.3 regarding inclusion
503g GA Talk – YA@GA
503h GA Talk – Gathering for Purpose: The Future of GA
504 Sunday Morning Worship
505 General Session VIII
505a Debate and vote on proposed amendments to C-10.6 and C-10.7 regarding provisions concerning investments
505b Debate and vote on proposed amendments to C-3.6 to enable regions
505c Congratulations to the Current Delegate by Former Moderators
505d Invitation to GA 2015 in Portland
506 Closing Ceremony


Audio recordings of General Assembly (GA) programs are available for purchase as CDs or downloadable files at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Events CenterAnd for those of us who are very visual and want to relive the energy, the UUWorld captured beautiful pictures.


Keep General Assembly going. Make it contagious!


Tandi smilingRev. Tandi Rogers is keeping General Assembly going by “Follow, Share, Funding” innovative ministries through Faithify, which debuted at GA.

Become an Outreach Beta-Tester’re looking for a few brave Unitarian Universalist congregations for a little project – and by little, I mean potentially transformative for the future of our faith movement (not to oversell it or anything). Intrigued? Then you might want to join our team of beta-testers for the UUA’s new outreach efforts.


In the Spring issue of the UU World magazine, Rev. Terasa Cooley explained the new branding and outreach efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Recognizing the shifting landscape of religion in America, religious leaders of all kinds have realized it’s not enough to preach to the choir anymore. For the UUA, outreach started with a new look and feel, including an updated logo and some better ways of explaining what is so powerful about our faith to those who aren’t already “in the know.” A study guide has also been in the works, which will be made available to the beta-testers. These outreach efforts have uncovered some invaluable insights about our faith and its potential to reach new audiences, but much of this potential still remains in theory. It’s time to take the next step and to put that theory it into practice.


Over the next six months our beta-testers will explore how the UUA’s new outreach approaches can help congregations learn about the signals they send off, find their niche in their community, and represent an emerging shared identity of the wider faith. And the exciting part is… we don’t know exactly how this will turn out. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some pretty good guesses, but the truth is that our beta-testers will be co-creating, playing, discovering and experimenting with us to figure out how to leverage the key insights of the UUA’s outreach efforts to grow our faith and its impact in the world.


Click here to sign up to become a beta tester congregation. Beta-testers will attend a kick-off webinar at the end of the summer, receive a three-session study guide and get connected to other beta testers to form a learning circle. Congregations will learn about the UUA’s branding and outreach efforts and then identify one area of their congregation to apply those outreach strategies. Any UU congregations (or other UU groups, if you’re interested!) are welcome to join, as long as they can commit to the process.


Join us in the lab of faithful experimentation! For questions, email



cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the new UUA Director of Outreach starting July 1, 2014. The Growth Office could not be more excited to be working with him in this new way! 


StoryNetI am a story junkie.


More of a listener than a talker, I am happiest when my friends and family are telling me a bit of their past or an anecdote from their day.


I’m voracious reader of books and articles. The feel of turning pages is yummy! Fiction to Biography. Travelogue to Rhyming Couplets. Anthology to Annotated Version. Give me the details. Paint pictures in my mind. Layer on the backstory – or don’t – I’ll make it up for myself…


I gobble up rich television dramas and documentaries. I get pulled into the characters lives as though they are my neighbors. But even more, I love podcasts.


I love hearing from the household names and the forgotten folks. Real stories. Tell me what matters to you, what shaped you, what pulls on your heart, and what has given your soul wings. Stop me in my tracks. Make me drive past my exit, cause I am lost in your words.


Who’s with me? Snap Judgement, The Moth, 99% Invisible, Story Corps, and Fresh Air. RadioLab, Welcome to Nightvale, and of course, TED Talks! We love us some stories, because stories tell us who we are. Stories let us see ourselves in new ways and let us try on adventures. We are hard wired to make meaning from these stories – to make meaning in our lives.


How do we make meaning in our Unitarian Universalist story? How do we make sure everyone gets to add their perspective and memories to the record? All folks have a story to tell, and we want to hear YOUR stories!


StoryNet is a story collecting and sharing project from The Fahs Collaborative and Meadville Lombard Theological School that is launching at General Assembly!

Share a powerful story of when your participation in our faith has let you to think, love, or act in new and bold ways.

We have a portable recording studio ready to gather Unitarian Universalist stories of faith and witness. Individual stories will be archived and shared on an interactive online timeline of our collective UU journey. So add your voice!


How can you take part?


  1. Check out more information on our website.
  2. Think about the stories you want to tell.

3. Come to the StoryNet at Booth 400 in Exhibit Hall during General Assembly.

4. Sign up for a time and show up for it.

5. Start talking!


Special Star Interviewers will be there! We want to hear from all sorts of UU’s – so invite people who you know have a great story to share.


Not going to GA this year? No Worries! StoryNet is an ongoing project that will travel. This summer StoryNet will be at Ferry Beach RE Week and Star Island LRE Week. Look for announcements of where StoryNet is traveling in the Fall and beyond.


I can’t wait to hear your stories!



HalcyonRaised on Betsy Tacy, Car Talk, blank journals, and The A Team, Halcyon Westall looks for a story in just about everything. This led to a passion for history and a search for patterns everywhere which have been a perfect fit in her work as a religious educator, most currently as Assistant Director of The Fahs Collaborative. You will find her at Booth 400 during General Assembly – where an iced coffee would be greatly appreciated.

How Do We Compare?

How do we compare?

Stefan Jonasson and I tracked down the membership data for five other comparable liberal and mainline denominations and compared it with ours over a fifteen-year period.  For those faith families with several denominational bodies, we selected the more liberal representative groups for comparison — i.e., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America for the Lutherans, United Methodist Church for the Methodists, and Presbyterian Church USA for the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition.


Stefan and Tandi  Stefan and Tandi love to geek out over numbers and graphs.  Don’t judge.

Flipped: Hybrid Leadership Training

H-UULTI GRAPHIC with new uua logo and colorsLay leadership in a UU congregation can be a lonely journey.  Often leaders have to find their own way through the maze of challenges and obstacles that confront those who are out front and in charge.  But leaders don’t have to go it alone.  Both regionally and nationally, UUA staff are developing innovative ways to get leaders the information, inspiration and skill building they need to be successful in their roles.

One such effort in the Central East Region is H-UULTI, a year round community for leaders.  A brainchild of the Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant for CERG (Central East Regional Group), this comprehensive program includes online seminars, on-demand resources, virtual peer learning groups (called Process Circles) and local on-site in-person get-togethers (known as Communities of Practice.)  This combination of virtual and in person experiential learning results in a “flipped classroom” experience where participants learn online and then share their learning in person with other Unitarian Universalist leaders.

2014-02-08 10.22.11

This fall, H-UULTI (which stands for Hybrid – Unitarian Universalist Leadership Training Institute) will offer a variety of courses facilitated by experienced regional staff.  Courses include Healthy Leadership, Leading Change, Trends in American Religion, UU Identity, Theological Plurality and Marketing and Communication, among others.  The goal of H-UULTI is to help liberal religious leaders deepen connections, grow innovations and enhance their communities’ impact on the world.  And, with H-UULTI, leaders don’t have to do this alone.

For more information about H-UULTI, and to register, follow this link:


mark bernsteinMark Bernstein is the Regional Consultant for Growth Development with the Central East Regional Group. He never likes to go it alone and believes that the H-UULTI Leadership School will transform the world as we currently know it.  He is also not prone to exaggeration.

CERG offers many excellent growth resources. Please check them out! Thank you, Mark, for so generously serving our faith.

Claiming Emma

We love our Famous Unitarian Universalist Lists, don’t we?  Alcott, Dickens, Potter, Revere all have United States postage stamps, and that can feel like a stamp of approval.

Stefan Jonasson says on his personal blog: “Emma Watson set Unitarian Universalist hearts aflutter with hope and speculation (a couple months ago) when she came out as a Universalist, leaving people to wonder whether she had been quietly lingering in one of our congregations. Goodness knows, we like to imprint the names of famous Unitarian Universalists on our t-shirtsperhaps even tattoo them on our torsos, if we’re into that sort of thing — so I braced myself for a new wave of name-dropping and celebrity admiration in our congregations.
“Now perhaps you’ve been living in a bubble on the edge of the known universe and have no idea who I’m talking about. Emma Watson is the gifted young actress who came to fame as the character Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. As Hermione, she was the smartest character in both the books and the movies who wasn’t actually on the faculty of Hogwarts Academy — and she seems equally intelligent, thoughtful and charming in real life.
Interviewed before the release of the movie Noah, in which she portrays Noah’s adopted daughter, Emma Watson said, “I already, before I did the movie, had a sense that I was someone that was more spiritual, than specifically religious.” She then continued, “I had a sense that I believed in a higher power, but that I was more of a Universalist, I see that there are these unifying tenets between so many religions.
“Well, as it happens, these sentiments are commonly found in Unitarian Universalist congregations — and the sense that there are values that cross the traditional boundaries of religion, values that we might call universals, is strong among us. So strong, in fact, that many people today mistakenly imagine that that was what Universalism was always about. But as it turns out, that notion of universalism is a later development that emerged as an earlier understanding of Universalism — one that was concerned with the Christian doctrine of salvation, but little concerned with other religions at all — grew and prospered and, for all intents and purposes, won the argument … and therefore came to dominate most of the mainline and liberal churches, whether they called themselves Universalist or not. If you want to find an old-line Universalist today, you’re more likely to come across them in the United Church of Canada or an Anglican parish — or even a Lutheran congregation. But there was a day when an accusation of Universalism could have caused a scandal in any of these churches.”

So what if we claimed Emma as a sibling in faith?   This was discussed at some length on some of the UU Facebook laboratory groups like the UU Social Media Lab, UU Bloggers Workshop, and UU Growth Lab.  Many felt that the approach to claiming someone as Unitarian Universalist when they public espouse universalist spirituality or identify as universalist is a misappropriation. It is a violation of religious freedom, a violation of the claimed individual’s religious freedom to do so. One lab member said, “It is worse than offensive to say that someone was a UU but didn’t know it.”

What is that urge to claim about? Another lab member said, “I think it’s basically an attempt to aggrandize and justify ourselves by identifying ourselves with well-known people, as if to share in their reflected glory… It’s one manifestation of a regrettable attitude of self-celebration and self-congratulation that I think is too present in much of UU culture. I think it both inhibits our personal spiritual growth and makes us look shallow and self-absorbed to outsiders.” Ouch. And yes.  I wonder where might be better find an authentic source of self esteem?

Stefan is less harsh on us as a people, and chalks it up to the human craving to reassure ourselves that we are not such a peculiar religious minority after all.   We often undermine ourselves by getting caught up in esoteric history.  Again, Stefan:

“Historic Universalism is misrepresented when those who study our history superficially—even our ministers and scholars—then manufacture a revisionist story based largely on wild speculations emanating from reading the dictionary definition of Universalism with a few pithy anecdotes added for texture.  We are then too often left with a story that is divorced from history and mostly sentimental in nature, while missing the core teachings of our Universalist heritage: (1) that whatever else God may be or not be, God is love — and that even if we reject belief in God at all, we can still believe in the power of love; (2) that no individual or tradition possesses the whole truth, but that each grasps a piece of what is true, perhaps several such pieces; (3) that all people are somehow sacred, whether we call this an inner divinity or simply human dignity; (4) and that the same fate—whatever it may be—awaits us all.”
There are a number of celebrities articulating core universalist teachings (Pharrel Williams and Emma Watson), but I’m not adding them to our ranks until they claim us. And they probably won’t in the near future, if at all. However, I take this as a healthy indication there is a powerful universalism bubbling up in the greater culture – a reminder that out faith lives so much larger than self-identified-UUs or the walls of our institutions. The work of our tradition/ our people is to be in relevant, authentic relationship with the rising up of universalism.

Where do you see universalism rising up in your wider community? How could you/we be in a more dynamic relationship with universalism?


Tandi smilingRev. Tandi Rogers is starting a campaign to invite Pharrel Williams to be a future Ware Lecturer.  She doesn’t want to claim him so much as partner with him and continue to be inspired.  He makes her happy.