Gardiner, Maine church gets new (secular) life

I got an email from Doug Drown yesterday:

Several years ago I sent you a link informing you of the sad demise of the Gardiner, Maine Congregational Church (UCC), formerly the First Universalist Church — one of the handful of congregations that elected to affiliate elsewhere rather than be part of the UUA merger.   This article, from [the May 2] Augusta Kennebec Journal, tells  of what is about to become of the lovely old meetinghouse.

I appreciate the news. I hate to see churches die, but since the conversion by a cider maker will preserve the attractive building, I can’t complain.

Source: Hard cider company buys Gardiner church, hopes to sell cider by July – Central Maine

The anxious presence

A few days ago I experimented with my Facebook and Twitter feeds. This was about when the crisis in Baltimore was getting hot, and I could already see the signs. Unitarian Universalists — I’m thinking of ministers particularly, because that’s who I know mostly, but I see lay persons do this, too — would bring a particular intensity to, well, I can’t rightly call it a discussion.

It’s more like a frantic, often doctrinaire, echo chamber.

So I started muting people, leaving ministers who are close personal friends, old college mates, former co-workers and the like. Rather than falling into an insulated world of cat videos, the quality of discourse about Baltimore’s situation improved. Deep analysis and more varied voices, particularly from people who live or have lived there. (I do live an hour away by train, so this is also a regional story.)

What vanished was the anxiousness, the agita and the dubious logic of borrowed framing.

There’s a bad lesson in that. And I’m not sure I’m going to unmute the anxious presence. More importantly, who would seek it out?

ePub version of Relly’s Union

By request, I transformed the 9-year old file I made of James Relly’s 1759 Union: or, a Treatise of the Consanguinity and Affinity between Christ and his Church to the ePub format for book readers. This is the work that would later encourage a group of believers in Gloucester, Massachusetts to gather, which John Murray would subsequently pastor as the first Universalist church in America.

No guarantees about the beauty of the ePub; it’s a pure software transmogrification, but perhaps useful to you.

Union (ePub fromat)

A grim day twenty years ago

Twenty years ago today, Timothy McVeigh blew up a truck bomb in front of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

I was in the middle of my ministerial internship not so far away in Tulsa, and I was getting ready to go to church when the news came over the television. What I remember more than anything else that day was

  1. How quickly one of the national news anchors suspected Arab terrorists. That made no sense to me. In Oklahoma? I guessed it was a revenge act by someone who felt hurt by the government, like a bankrupted farmer, which was closer to the truth.
  2. I shaved my beard immediately. Tulsa had a decent Muslim population, in part from its petrochemical industry and training, and the mosque wasn’t far from where I lived. I feared for them — if that’s how the news went — and feared for me, since (for reasons I’ve never understood) I read Arab. And, indeed, had to escape a mob of drunk sailors, a couple of years prior. (Perhaps after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.)  But I don’t recall any violence in Tulsa that night.
  3. I do recall the sadness. Particularly at a gay bar I went to that night. Many of the patrons were EMTs and ER nurses. But the devastation was so complete that they weren’t needed in Oklahoma City.

Elhanan Winchester commemorated

Universalist minister Elhanan Winchester died this day in 1797.

Though less well known than “the father of Universalism” John Murray, Winchester deserves a place in our consciousness because he risked — and lost — a position of privilege and authority to follow a true sense of mission. That is, losing the pastorate of the First Baptist Church, Philadelphia and taking a rump congregation (the Society of Universal Baptists) into exile.

A word about his theology. It was based on God’s promises and so George Williams, when creating a typology of Universalist theology in 1970, described his as “future-oriented Universalism” with a particular focus on future punishment, a focus that would crop up as a deep controversy from time to time for more than a century following.



A church without all the trimmings

The Unitarian Universalist way of running congregations has a built-in contradiction.

On the one hand, we’re supposed to give money to support them; they are self-governing and self-supporting. And on the other hand, church members supposed to be a covenant people with a common ultimate interest, or mission. The two ideas do not necessarily go together, particularly if there are people of different incomes and conflicting interests about what is the proper level of giving and spending in a church.

The old parish-church distinction could remedy the contradiction with a parish serving the former role and the church serving the latter. Some would be members of one and not the other, but the conflicts between the two entities aren’t hard to imagine. The remedy might be worse that the disease.

I think that part of the subtext about how awful the Fellowship Movement depends on your view of church finances. Do you want a “full service church” and a budget to match? Can you personally afford it? And if you can’t? Well, I’d fight for my little group in a rented room with everyone pitching in, too. But I’ve never heard the conflicts put in such basic terms. It makes the membership allowances for those unable to give as richly as others seem down-right Edwardian.

The bigger problem is our heritage of territorial parishes, and the idea that in most places there’s only “room” for one Unitarian Universalist congregation. That’s a pretty limiting view. Can you imagine Methodists stopping at one? Little wonder were about 8 in 10,000 in the United States. And falling.

In just about every other private endeavor you can think of, there’s market segmentation. It seems to me that if there’s a desire to grow and reach out there needs to be a willingness to allow churches to prosper at different levels of spending.