Monday, March 02, 2009

Does UU have a mission?

This question began as thoughts from the discussions about UU chaplains and Transient and Permanent's question, Do Unitarian-Universalist Ministers Have a Calling? , and finally crystallized while rereading notes from a writing class. What made the penny drop was a lesson about "the story question". If you haven't had that class, it goes like this: your book can be broken down to a simple question and a simple answer- just two simple sentences... if it can't, it's too complicated to handle in a readable book. It struck me that this lesson- very difficult for a beginning writer, believe me- carries into life as well.

The simple question for a faith- NOT the religious organization, but the faith itself- is "what is your mission?" Most faiths, it seems to me, can answer with an equally simple sentence. For Christianity, it would be "To save your soul from eternal damnation." For Buddhism, it would be "To awaken you to the causes of your suffering." For many NeoPagans, "To reunite you with the natural world you have separated yourself from." Others might say things like "To achieve balance with the universe", "To connect with God".

What is the mission of Unitarian Universalism?

20 comments:

Chuck B. said...

Good question. Please clarify: Can a plurality religion such as ours answer that question? Is it relevant to the UU experiance?

It seems to me, and this is why I want clarification, that any informative answer would predispose a unified ideology.

The teleology of UUism seems to be self-affiriming with a kind of warm fuzzy hope that people will do good in their spiritual quest. But even that slightly snarky definition is not inclusive enough.

I look forward to comments about this. Also, well done bringing this prior to Easter.

Chalicechick said...

"For each individual to figure out a meaningful spiritual path and traverse it."

Suggests she who is on lots of cold medicine.

CC

Joel Monka said...

Chuck- "Can a plurality religion such as ours answer that question?" In that writing class, the answer "My story cannot be reduced to such simple terms" would receive the reply, "Then you are unlikely to produce a publishable book." Could that be part of our problem?

"Is it relevant to the UU experiance?" Doesn't that beg the question "What IS relevant to the UU experience?" And isn't that kind of the same question?

CC- "For each individual to figure out a meaningful spiritual path and traverse it." If that is indeed the mission, why are suggestions that we should, as a regular function, teach adult RE courses so poorly received.

A further thought occurs... if that is the mission, and we succeed, is that why so few people stay? Could it be that they find a path, and leave to pursue it? I have heard speculation that that is why those raised UU often attend other churches when they grow up.

Anonymous said...

Hi

'For Christianity, it would be "To save your soul from eternal damnation." '

I grew up in a Congregational church and eternal damnation was not in the lessons. How many mainline protestant churches preach hell and eternal damnation? Maybe it is different in your part of the country.

Do Christian UUs believe in eternal damnation? I have never met one in person, but I believe they do not.

I guess many UUs have had really bad experiences with Christianity, and that is why they view it as you do. There are other aspects. You might want to check it out sometime.

best wishes

Dudley Jones
jonesdudley@hotmail.com

Joel Monka said...

Dudley, Perhaps I painted with too broad a brush, but I think I'm not too far out of line; Catholics believe in Hell, as do the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, The Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, United Methodists, and a good many other protestants- statisticly the vast majority of Christians. Certainly anyone who adopts the Apostles Creed. If you are a Christian, and do not so believe, and were offended, I apologise.

I am curious about this sentence: "I guess many UUs have had really bad experiences with Christianity, and that is why they view it as you do." Did you think "To save your soul from eternal damnation." was in some way a perjorative description? It was not meant so, and no one in my family- good Baptists all- would think so either. I wonder why you do?

Just for the record, I have had no bad experiences with Christianity, and harbor no bad feelings- I simply don't believe that Jesus was God, and so am not accepted as a Christian by those who do.

Anonymous said...

Hi

I have been in and out of UU congregations for decades and I have never actually met a live UU Christian. Have you ever met one? They attend the GA, which I have never been to.

Have you ever talked to liberal Christians from any of the mainline denominations? If so, did they talk about hell and damnation?

(I have zero credit hours in religion, and only my very limited personal experience to go by.)

Best wishes

Dudley Jones
jonesdudley@hotmail.com

Joel Monka said...

"Have you ever met one?" Quite a few, actually. One member of our congregation also belonged to a Methodist church, and attended both services.

"Have you ever talked to liberal Christians from any of the mainline denominations? If so, did they talk about hell and damnation?" Spending as many years in politics as I did, I met a goodly number of Christians from mainline denominations who were quite liberal politically, but I don't know about their being liberal Christians. Believe it or not, even here in the Bible Belt, one can talk to someone for quite some time without Hell ever coming up. I've never attended services at a known liberal Christian church- I had stopped being a Christian for years before I was permitted to stop attending Baptist churches.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel wrote:
-snip-
"The simple question for a faith- NOT the religious organization, but the faith itself- is 'what is your mission?'"

Joel,

Dr. Rebecca Parker (President - Starr King School for the Ministry) has suggested that one of the problems with the shared core theology in Unitarian Universalism is that it's implicit.

If we had an explicit statement of our faith, it would be easier to explain and easier to examine critically.

Dr. Parker's suggested description of our theology of salvation is that we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

I have offered this suggested description of our theology of salvation during UU sexuality education workshops as one possible reason for our churches to offer sexuality education.

I suspect there are other things we do in our churches that offer this type of salvation described by Rebecca Parker. For example, I have heard youth at bridging ceremonies talk about how the YRUU youth ministry program "saved my life."

Perhaps our mission is to offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole?

ogre said...

Dudley, I know that over 25% of my congregation (a fellowship full of and founded by atheists, humanists, agnostics...) identify as Christian. Most of them--like most UUs--don't JUST identify as Christians. But there it is.

I know who several of them are. Which is what I could say about our Buddhists, Pagans, Humanists, etc.

This is, I believe, a pretty normal number (on average).

As for core faith statements, I'm inclined to adopt the one that David Bumbaugh has presented; I know it's been found acceptable by Theists, Atheists, Pagans, Buddhists and Humanists, so far. Sort of a modern "Things Commonly Believed Among...".

With his permission, I extracted it from a larger presentation and posted it here;
http://sparksinthedark.blogspot.com/2009/02/journey-to-center-of-uuism.html

Chuck B. said...

Joel:

It seems you are saying that our mission may be to set people on their path. Now that's a pretty interesting concept.

It reduces our faith to a service, but it absolves us from being activist. Under that idea we have no duty to aid our fellow man based on our faith, because the job of our faith is only inward seeking. If we aid our fellow man, that's certainly nice, but has little to do with being UU.

uucamper said...

I believe our mission is to be a community of seekers. The emphasis to be on community. In the process of creating the community, we demonstrate (humanly and imperfectly of course) the inherent worth, the web of life and the value of the principles. As a community of action, we demonstrate that we act, not just check out our belly buttons...that actions speak louder than words. Seeking is a process, not passive.

The mission expands from there but at its core is to be a community, seeking, supporting and acting together as we walk our individual paths.

Joel Monka said...

Steve- "Perhaps our mission is to offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole?" I really like the sound of that- but where do abortion rights fit into that description?

Ogre- that core list is excellent; I was nodding along with all of them. But it is a description, not a mission... it would be like my describing the device in the garage as a small, portable motorised device- perfectly accurate, but not an answer to "what is its mission". The answer to that is, "to cut the grass".

Chuck- I'm not saying that's our mission, I'm asking if it is.

uucamper- that one resonates as well as Steve's- I like it. But it may be too broad.

Great comments, all!!

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel wrote:
-snip-
"I really like the sound of that- but where do abortion rights fit into that description?"

I would check out the Religious Institutes open letter on abortion as a moral decision:

http://www.religiousinstitute.org/letters/Abortion_OpenLetter.pdf

First, I feel that this decision should be left to the woman who is experiencing the unplanned pregnancy.

Second, the question isn't that black and white. We're not just talking about the life and development of the fetus. We also have to consider the well-being of the woman (physical and mental health). We also have to consider the effect that an unplanned pregnancy carried to term would have on the woman's life and the life of her family. Here's a quote from the Religious Institute letter:

"Religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, often according greater value as fetal development progresses. Science, medicine, law, and philosophy contribute to this understanding. However, we uphold the teaching of many religious traditions: the health and life of the woman must take precedence over the life of the fetus."

Third, the most-effective way to reduce the number of abortion is to reduce the demand for them through lifespan comprehensive sexuality education and access to safe and effective contraception.

Finally - for some women, the decision to have an abortion may be the best available choice for their circumstances and would represent the choice that best fits with the description of UU salvation offered above.

Chalicechick said...

(((If that is indeed the mission, why are suggestions that we should, as a regular function, teach adult RE courses so poorly received.)))

They are poorly received?

My impression is that nobody OBJECTS to adult RE, it's just that adult RE and children's RE usually share a budget and that when the two compete for resources, the kids usually win because, parents advocate for children with greater enthusiasm than adults advocate for themselves.

((A further thought occurs... if that is the mission, and we succeed, is that why so few people stay? Could it be that they find a path, and leave to pursue it?))

I couldn't persue my path anyplace else, that's why I'm still here. At the same time, the major spiritual paths do work for a whole lot of people and it's not surprising that many people who explore a major path that suits them discover that it's close enough.

CC

uucamper said...

Thanks for everyone's comments.

I continue to think that each thread comes back to the mission being to develop a community of seekers.
Rather than being overly broad, each of the "what abouts" points to a weakness in the community.

People who find a vibrant community don't leave. Perhaps they want religion on a plate but if the want a place to seek and the congregation is a strong community, I believe they will stay.

Adult and children's RE is strong in a community that is energized and enthusiastic about being seekers. I doubt money is the key but volunteer time and participation---people volunteer when it fulfills them....community again.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
-snip-
"My impression is that nobody OBJECTS to adult RE, it's just that adult RE and children's RE usually share a budget and that when the two compete for resources, the kids usually win because, parents advocate for children with greater enthusiasm than adults advocate for themselves."

CC,

I don't think this is a budget issue in my congregation. Other than buying a curriculum from the UUA or (even cheaper) downloading a free curriculum, the costs for adult RE are not the reason that adult Re classes are scarce.

The last minister our congregation had offered adult RE classes with low attendance. Our DRE has offered adult RE classes with the same result.

Back in 2002, another trained Adult Our Whole Lives sexuality education curriculum facilitator and I offered to teach the curriculum in our church -- again no interest (we ended up teaching in a nearby fellowship that was looking for adult RE classes instead).

Adult OWL would probably be the most "expensive" adult RE offering that most churches would offer ($78.00 for curriculum plus training two facilitators which would cost about $350 to $450 depending on what the district charges for the training).

Other adult programs are free to very cheap to provide in your congregation -- I doubt it's a budget issue where selfish parents are "taking away limited RE resources for their children" in your congregation.

The other costs associated with adult RE (chart pads, markers, etc) are trivial costs and adult RE classes can share these trivial costs with the children/youth RE programs.

Our district executive commented recently in a workshop about a common misconception among Unitarian Universalists -- the idea that one can almost instinctively intuit what it is to be a UU. This attitude is reflected in the old UUA ads with the "are you a Unitarian Universalist and you don't know it" tagline.

Adults in my congregation seem resistant to adult RE because they don't see the need for it.

And this attitude is reflected in the different standards that one sees in new member classes for youth and adults.

For adults in many UU congregations, it may be 1 short "new member class" and sign the book -- and that would be a "high expectation" membership process when compared to the "hey -- sign the book" churches.

For youth who do "coming of age" programs, we expect them to complete a church year's worth of program before they can sign the book.

This high expectation that we place on youth new member candidates is something that I've never seen a church ask of its adult new member candidates.

David Throop said...

My ~300 member UU church has a robust Adult RE program. There are a lot of things that go into making it a success. But let me point out one especially.

We have a great Wednesday night program. We serve dinner at the church ($6 adult/ $2 kids) 5:45-7. We have a small Vespers program 6:40-7. At 7pm choir rehearsal starts and the classes start. Some committees and councils meet. The Maj Jongh game starts. There is childcare provided free.

The dinner and the childcare make a huge difference in getting people to come to our adult RE. We often have about 50 for dinner (incl kids.)

Dinner is prepared by a team, usually 4-6 people. There's some expense for the extra custodial service and the childcare, but it is a small item in our overall budget. We have received generous gifts to upgrade our kitchen; they came from the same volunteers who put on the dinner. The benefits of the Wednesday night program do a huge amount to build our community.

Joel Monka said...

Sounds like you have a great program going there, David! My congregation, though triple the size of yours, can't seem to keep anything like that going, despite repeated starts.

David Throop said...

So Joel,

I'd like your critique of this as a mission statement.

1.1 Mission

The mission of the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church is: to provide an open, diverse, religious community which encourages individual spiritual growth; to provide a joyful environment which respects the free and responsible expression of ideas and offers nurturing, compassionate fellowship; and, to reach out beyond ourselves, enacting our principles to improve the human condition in our community and the world.


What do you think of it? How does it stand up to your test?

Joel Monka said...

David, seems to be a very good one for a congregation- I can see why it was adopted. For the purposes of my test it's a bit long; I would remove the colon and replace the first semicolon with a period- the second subordinate clause is implied in the first.

The third clause- "to reach out beyond ourselves, enacting our principles to improve the human condition in our community and the world."- is more problematic. It is too broad for the purpose of my test... does it mean firing off faxes to Washington? Sending missionaries to Africa? It is this kind of looseness of language that allows Rev Sinkford to send letters to my congressman stating what UUs believe; he has GA votes that can be stretched and interpreted to back him up.