The State of Unitarian Universalism

My favorite UU blogger is Rev. Victoria Weinstein, aka PeaceBang. Yesterday she posted a long essay that started on the recent UUA Presidential election and quickly moved into the state of Unitarian Universalism. While it’s not all gloom and doom, she raises enough issues – and enough issues that hit home with me as a local lay leader – to make me wonder about the future of our religion / denomination / movement.

In particular, I have to wonder if any religion or religious subset can survive (much less thrive) without a common spiritual center. Yes, we all believe in free thought and inquiry and in building a world that’s more compassionate and just. But so do most Mainline Protestants and Buddhists and Humanists and the ever-growing “spiritual but not religious” crowd.

Further, what in all our common beliefs and activities helps a person get through the week? What helps a person get through a serious illness, or the death of a loved one, or her own impending death? For the seeker who walks through our door who knows he needs something but doesn’t really know what, what do we offer? A cup of coffee and a political speech?

After reading PeaceBang’s essay, a question occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of in the 6+ years I’ve been a UU: if it wasn’t for CUUPS and my Pagan practice, would I still be a UU? Would there be enough religious substance, enough depth, enough spirituality to feed my soul once the “I’m so happy to be here” phase wore off?

Unitarian Universalism has been very good to me. It’s given me a spiritual home, a safe place to practice my religion in a group setting (the whole reason I went looking for a CUUPS group in the first place), some great friends and some wonderful opportunities to learn and grow, to lead and serve. But does it have a future beyond the current generation?

Are UUs capable of creating a common spiritual center? Could we ever stop protecting our individualism long enough to agree on anything? I don’t know.

I do know this. If Unitarian Universalism is to develop a spiritual center, it won’t come from committees or focus groups whose primary goal is to include everyone and satisfy no one. It will come from individuals and small groups who have developed vibrant spiritual practices and who share them, articulate them, and promote them.

The prophet Ezekiel told the story of dry bones living again. It was a metaphor that said the exiled Hebrews would return to their promised land after captivity in Babylon and be an independent nation once again. A people who thought they were dead would indeed live again.

The bones of Unitarian Universalism are awfully dry. Is there an Ezekiel in the house?

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  • I read her post with interest, too.

    Last summer, a group of UU lay leaders went on a conference cruise to Mexico. There was a time slot devoted to open questions for our district executive. A former southwest UU lay leader (now in Washinton) begged for there to be more religious training for lay leaders. The woman said once we get past UUism 101, there's really nothing else, unless you want to go to seminary.

    I agree whole-heartedly. The lack of a deeper understanding of our UU traditions and religion has created difficulty for lay leaders who lead worship especially. When you don't have a deeper grounding in the faith, how do you create worship that communicates the depth of our tradition to seekers?

    It's both a riddle and a crisis.

    At least the Southwest UU Conference is evolving into a clearinghouse for lay leadership training. That's a start.

  • You raise a good point about the lack of lay religious and theological education – it's definitely needed, and I'd sign up for it in a minute if it was offered.

    But you ask "how do you create worship that communicates the depth of our tradition to seekers?" I'm wondering just how much depth there really is in Unitarian Universalism, at least as it's practiced today.

    Voltaire said "if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." If Unitarian Universalism did not exist in 2009, would anyone invent it?