This and the next couple of non-lectionary blog posts are going to be about community, and particulary the role of community as the end (rather than as a feature) of Unitarian Universalist communities, er, congregations.
Having community is a frequently-mentioned reason for Unitarian Universalist congregations, and the Unitarian Universalist Association — formally a credentialing, coordination and program-providing entity — often serves as a kind of meta-community. But Â isÂ being a community the best use of the community itself? I think not. For one, it makes it, by definition, self-serving. (For example, the phenomenon of the Phoenix General Assembly is putatively an attempt to escape self-centeredness, but the discussions have been deeply inwardly facing.) For another, it means congregations have even more competition, not only from clubs, but social networks and very well honed marketing campaigns that depend on creating a sense of belonging through consuming. If it’s all about the community, then churches have to compete with Facebook, play groups and Apple. Good luck with that.
Liberal congregations, with the high value placed on non-coersion, tend to go that much farther and get very fuzzy about the goal of the organization. Add in the unresolved tension in Unitarian Universalism between the social left and the libertarian left (much less the right) who have very different goals, even within congregations, so much more muting the ability to create a community with achievable goals: those values put into practice.
Instead, far too often, we have larger congregations where membership exists in the context of identifying with the minister (a variation of the marketing phenomeon, really) or smaller congregations based on personal friendships. That’s not a formula for inclusion or meaningful being, much less growth. Indeed, formerly lauded goals, like human brotherhood (world community) have been conspicuously missing in the last ten years.
And other groups, social networks and companies are there to fill the gap. Worrying.