Category Archives: Church start

New congregations: neither airdrops nor strawberry runners

Even though we have data and options for forming new Unitarian Universalist churches, I didn’t present  “airdrops” nor “strawberry runner” models for serious consideration. I said the Fellowship Movement era was over without any desire to duplicate it.

The reality is that the Unitarian Universalist today have few resources for church planting : economic, appropriate talent, organizational culture. This may change, but we don’t have it right now.

One of the things we do have is a historic surplus of ministers, and an undersupply of parish ministries. Should we wonder when we see little, “emerging” congregations coalescing around a minister from day one? (Did you notice this in the recent UUWorld article about emerging congregations?) Planted not in the “ideal” place, but one chosen for personal reasons, or from necessity. This may very well become the model for today. Will we let them go it alone?

Thoughts about the Kandahar fellowship

The UUWorld news about a Unitarian Universalist fellowship on the United States Air Force base in Kandahar in Afghanistan brought up two unrelated thoughts.

The first is bittersweet. New congregation development has ground as low as it ever has. Leave it to this “situational congregation” (I don’t get a sense that it’s intended to last past the deployment of US troops) to dredge up a much reviled mode of organization: the 10-member fellowship. (The branch church is another active model, but for another time.)

The second is more sensitive. The relative boom in Unitarian Universalist military chaplains doesn’t surprise me: military personnel and their families — and I grew up in a military family — need pastoral care; settlements are few; and there are surely affirming challenges and perks that the chaplaincy has that parish or other ministries don’t have. But it seems to me that Unitarian Univeraslists have followed the cultural rising tide with respect to the military, and with hardly a peep of introspection. More fodder to consider if Unitarian Universalism closely follows culture rather than speaking to it.

Another thought about missions

In the last post I wrote about a new British (Coptic)  Orthodox church mission in Windsor. Though it has only had one worship service, some decisions are evident that show wise planning.

  • a once-monthly service on a Monday night, at 6:30 pm. In other words, after work for many.
  • a time that surely allows for easier deployment of a priest and borrowing of church space.
  • the basic service isn’t the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist, Mass)  but one of the daily offices, surely Vespers. Easier to organize in borrowed space, can be led without a priest (presumably) and open to interested non-Copts to participate, so more missiologically welcoming. (Did you know Universalists have a parallel Vespers tradition?)
  • Looking at other missions, the daily office — which may not be long — might be supplemented with lessons and refreshments.
  • Since it is a taught way of prayer, one can be encouraged to personal (home) prayer with the same order, encouraging interest between public services.

Food for thought.

Starting a church with how many?

I looped back to read up on the British Orthodox Church, and saw news of a new mission in Windsor:

Father Peter had prepared to pray with one person he had been visiting

for some months, but as the prayers from the Agpeya, or Coptic Daily

Office, began there were eight people from a variety of backgrounds

who had come together to begin this new service. And a further eight

people had wanted to be present but were unable to do so for various


Let’s revisit that: “had prepared to pray with one person”. I won’t say that an intended one-person mission is the best way to make something last. And indeed, there are significant polity, historical and demographic differences between the kind of churchmanship the British Orthodox have and that most of my readers (the Indy Catholics perhaps excepted) but there is something about the audacious faithfulness about starting a mission this way is worthy of respect and perhaps adaptation.

Updated emerging congregations map

This is a layer-cake of data, but you should be able to see which congregations have “emerged” into Unitarian Universalist Association membership, those which disbanded and those that carry on. There are even a few that only have a relationship with a district, and might be thought of as “pre-emerging.” Surely many of the emerging congregations are as functional, large and institutional as they are ever going to be. Because there’s no membership reporting mechanism — indeed no requirement – to join the UUA, the law of unintended results puts a positive value (for some congregations) to merge but never join. And with the bad-mouthing of “those fellowships” and the meager benefits (voting?) a congregation gets with actual membership, why shouldn’t they?

View Emerging UUA congregations in a larger map

Emerging church update

Looked through the congregations marked “emerging” at yesterday and noted a couple of newcomers since May 2011, the last time I made such a review. Note: some emerging congregations may have gone defunt, but I haven’t looked for these. And it can be hard to tell as directory listings can last longer than the congregations lived.

I’ve included websites where known.

Unitarian Fellowship of Marshalltown
District listing page:
Marshalltown, IA 50158-2844
Church ID: 553236

UUs in Covenant
Greensboro, NC 27401-2188
Church ID: 550224

Olean UU Community
Olean, NY 14760-9701
Church ID: 536153

not necessarily new; had been listed at the district site previously

Tree of Life: A UU Congregation
Dayton, OH 45404-1549
Church ID: 556970

Schuylkill UU’s
No site, but a hopeful sign
Cressona, PA 17929-1339
Church ID: 557747

West Fork UU’s
Clarksburg, WV 26301-4041
Church ID: 554314

I had written about this one before.

New Unitarian Universalist group organizing in West Virginia

Three cheers for the West Fork Unitarian Universalists, centered on Clarksburg and Bridgeport, West Virginia, who are not only starting “a new work” but are doing so in one of the unserved micropolitan areas I wrote about early this year.

(Reviewing the archive holdings list at Harvard, I think Clarksburg had a fellowship in the early 1960s.)

Meetings, with simple worship, dinner and study, start September 25.

Let’s give them the support they deserve. Hurrah!

New churches? do what you can

In my last post, I mentioned two things that cheered me, and that the second was a lunchtime conversation with an office mate.

He helped me process a basic conflict I have with my planned new church start which, if the conflict continues will surely mean nothing will come of it.

On the one hand, I need help to get this thing started. The weekly lectionary lessons exercise shows that I don’t have the surplus time to work on this church, and I have no intention of giving up my very fulfilling day job. Serious help comes with the expectation that the church would be “full service”: an infelicitous term, better applied to gas stations, intending to suggest paid staff, complex programs and buildings. And I could make the leap to “go there” if – this is the other hand – I had faith that there would be the help I needed. But since those who care about such things are still talking about the need to change Unitarian Universalist culture, I don’t think I can rely on the general fellowship to come through. And then there’s the baggage of expectations — with money comes influence, even if indirect — which means I might have to compromise my vision to get support.

Thus the feedback: in essence, do what you can. Something is better than nothing. Something can be built-upon (unlike nothing). Not rocket science, but it needs to be said.

A new fellowship: a thoughts and an outline

I was thinking there were lessons — good and cautionary — when I read the fifty-year-old Whittier (Ca.) Havurah, the first Jewish “fellowship” (one translation for ḥavurah) was winding up its affairs. (Jewish Daily Forward, “Whittier Celebrates the Last Hurrah of America’s First Havurah,” July 13, 2011) Generation-locked, under-organized, perhaps too inventive being the downsides of youth-oriented, free and creative. Little wonder many of the newer ḥavurot blend orthodoxy, egalitarianism, participation and tradition in a way that’s neither/nor, and not Whittier’s model but still new. I’d seek one out — D.C. has its choices — were I Jewish.

I’ve written how this movement (and here) has appealed to me, so I won’t labor that. Instead, I’ll lift up Kim Hampton’s pointed “who’s planting?” concern. Sure it would be nice if there were different kind of church planting and all were well funded. So whether the desired form of church, or the best under the circumstances, consider:

  • a congregation of twelve to twenty that aspired to well-crafted worship, individualized spiritual development and mobilizing a pool of helpers to accomplish social ministry.
  • where worship is something shared between the members and had wide participation as a stated value.
  • not affiliating with the Unitarian Universalist Association, but staying in communication with the district and nearest congregations, and in other ways minimize administration
  • assisting new, like groups spring up in unlikely places or among unlikely populations.
  • develop its own leadership, but cooperatively develop the resources to do so.
  • be prepared to disband — as an option, not a failure — when and if the times demand.