UUA supports alternative congregations

Delegates at the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix, held June 20–24, approved a change to the UUA bylaws that was requested by the UUA Board of Trustees. The change relates to how congregations are referred to, and it opens the way for the creation of congregations that are not tied to a particular location.

Delegates approved changing all bylaw references to “churches and fellowships.” That phrase will be replaced throughout the bylaws with “congregations.” In addition, the word “local” will be dropped in bylaws in reference to congregations.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, the UUA trustee who introduced the amendment at GA, said that removing “local” will support the creation of congregations that are not based in a particular building or location, such as the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which meets online and at GA. “We can gather as intentional religious community with people we do not share a particular geography with,” Ritchie said. “The board believes it serves the cause of justice to expand the definition of congregations.”

The term “congregation” is also more welcoming to many Jewish UUs than “church.” Congregations may, of course, continue to use whatever name they choose. The bylaws change simply changes how the UUA refers to congregations and provides space for the creation of other types of congregations. Youth and young adults have been especially supportive of the creation of non-traditional congregations.


The rise of the ‘nonreligious’

The March 12 issue of Time magazine featured ten trends changing American life. One of them was the rise of people who mark “none” on surveys asking them to identify their religious affiliation.

The article, “The Rise of the Nones,” notes that about seventy-five percent of Americans between 18 and 29 consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” and that traditional forms of Christian practice have sharply declined from previous decades—including church attendance, Bible study, and prayer.

The entire article is available by online subscription. A longer essay on the same topic can be found on the Los Angeles Times website where author Philip Clayton could have been talking about Unitarian Universalism when he wrote:

In my experience, the nones are not rejecting God. They are rejecting doctrinal requirements that they no longer find believable, along with the rigid structures of many organized religions. For that reason, the rise of the nones may well be a new kind of spiritual awakening, one in which doubters are welcome.

In the Christian tradition, for example, the Emerging Church (meeting in homes, bars, parks, and churches) invites participation from all who find themselves attracted to the teachings, actions, and person of Jesus. It isn’t crucial that members call themselves Christians, or that they believe Bible stories literally (rather than metaphorically), or even that they are believers rather than agnostics and atheists. As long as people want to sincerely engage with the teachings of Jesus and with the communities that seek to live by those values—”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “Love your neighbor,” “Blessed are the peacemakers”—they are welcome.

The discussion also complements the UUA’s current dialogue about what constitutes a congregation and how to connect with the many people who say they are UUs, but don’t attend a bricks-and-mortar congregation.

Congregationally focused articles, December 2011 to March 2012

InterConnections is not the only source of useful information for lay leaders. Check out uuworld.org for articles about UUA changes and congregational activities. Here are some recent ones:

• In December the UUA signed on as a friend of the court to a Supreme Court religious freedom case [Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC] regarding a disabled woman who was fired from her teaching position at a religious elementary school. She filed a claim for discrimination. At issue was whether a secular government had the power to resolve religious disputes or select ministers. In its brief the UUA said the school should not be exempt from discrimination laws. (12.19.11)

[Note: the court ruled in February 2012 that secular governments lack the power to resolve religious disputes or select ministers. Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone.” A USA Today article has more information on the decision.]

• An article on Gathered Here, a denomination-wide listening campaign initiated by the UUA Board of Trustees and administration. (1.16.12)

• Article on ways that various UU congregations are preparing for General Assembly 2012, including education and advocacy around immigration issues. (2.15.12)

• Profile of an all-ages book group at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, Illinois. (2.15.12)

• Article on ways that congregations responded to the “Thirty Days of Love” Standing on the Side of Love campaign between Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Valentine’s Day. (2.27.12)

UUA looking beyond traditional congregations. Article on ways of identifying and including people who may not be part of “conventional” congregations but who identify as UU. (3.12.12)

• Congregations encouraged to study Doctrine of Discovery. The premise that European Christian explorers who “discovered” other lands had the authority to claim those lands and subdue peoples of those lands will be a topic taken up at General Assembly 2012. (3-26-12)