Home » Future of Faith » Sunday Assembly Has It Backwards

Sunday Assembly Has It Backwards

Posted by Carey McDonald // January 6th 2014 // Future of Faith, young adults // 38 comments

I, like many UUs, was both excited and curious to learn about The Sunday Assembly, the latest trend among atheists and agnostics. Have you heard about these British hipster high priests of nonbelief? They’ve been growing a “congregation” in London that combines popular music and a funky style with thoughtful messages. They are receiving glowing press coverage and have a top notch website. Sounds pretty exciting for an aspiring religious organization.

sunday assembly 2

So on TSA’s recent 40 Dates and 40 Nights Roadshow worldwide tour of expansion, I absolutely had to go see their Boston event. And I was in good, if modest, company – half of the 80-person audience consisted of UUs I could personally recognize, or reporters. The event was in a Harvard lecture hall (talk about reaching the masses!) and started off well with a rousing power ballad. However, as the evening wore on the energy started to drag. Readings ran over and speakers meandered. There was no real theme, and transitions were sloppy. Even Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, the charismatic leaders, were having a hard time bringing the crowd back. As I walked out, a study group in the next room poked their heads out and said “Is this thing ending soon? It’s kinda loud.”

The irony is striking. Just as we UUs are looking to think outside the box of our post-war congregational norms, here comes a group with an enviable foothold among the nonreligious who is trying to build… a traditional congregation! UUs are often mentioned in articles about TSA, but no reporter has asked Jones or Evans why they think TSA will you succeed where UUs have not. Because my read is that the reason church lacks appeal to the Millennial generation isn’t theological or even political, it’s institutional. The structure and feel of church seems outdated, irrelevant, and unable to respond to a changing world. I almost laughed out loud when I heard about The Great Schism incited by TSA’s freshly planted group in New York City. Welcome to church, friends! The Alban Institute has some excellent  resources on conflict management that you may appreciate…

sunday assembly

I realize I’m coming off a little snarky in this post, and the truth is I am thrilled that more media-savvy people with creative ideas are trying to get into the religious organization business. We have huge opportunities and unmet needs among the nonreligious of all ages in this country and I, for one, believe that it’s critical for our national wellbeing to locate some spiritual grounding. But do we have to always reinvent the wheel? Must we pretend that no one has ever learned anything about how to create meaningful worship spaces or powerful liturgies or moving sermons? Do we really need to run headlong into the denominational politics that have stymied innovation among UUs and Mainline Protestants?

If worship can never bring your to your knees in revelation of the divine mystery, then what’s the point? If your organizational structure is bureaucratic and conflict-prone, then why have it? Turns out these challenges are not easy to overcome, and we UUs have spent decades struggling to figure them out in a way that welcomes diverse theologies (and if you want to know what innovative, high-quality worship looks like in this context, check out The Sanctuary Boston). I wish TSA’s leaders the best of luck but, if the experience of our congregations is any example, then they’ll soon realize there’s no room for mediocre church in America today.

The best thing about TSA is its tagline “live better, help often, wonder more.” Brilliant in its crisp simplicity. TSA’s leaders would do well to ask themselves “how do we really promote this in the world?” beyond riffing on a sermon sandwich-style service, however snazzy you try to make it (and its subsequent coffee hour). What about small group discussions,  life-transition rituals, volunteer service and reflection, and community action for justice? Coupled with meaningful worship, these are keys to the personal and social transformation that religious or reflective spaces seek to create.

So go bigger, Sunday Assembly! I’m not talking world franchise domination, either. Impress me with your new ideas, not just wacky twists on old ones. Don’t recreate what isn’t working, find something that will help us evolve into a new era of religious participation and spiritual exploration. And hey, don’t stop believin’.

About the Author

Carey is the Chief Operating Officer for the UUA.
38 Responses to “Sunday Assembly Has It Backwards”
  1. Carey McDonald says:

    Tom Schade has a similar reaction: http://www.tomschade.com/2014/01/atheist-church.html

  2. Steve Caldwell says:

    Most other religious groups have been in the game longer than the Sunday Assembly folks. A modern-day UU congregation has an in-depth collection of institutional knowledge to draw upon.

    If the Sunday Assembly folks are open to adaptation, it’s possible that this gap in experience could shrink.

    • Carey McDonald says:

      Steve – I do hope they learn from mistakes. But I also think that the model they have is fundamentally a bad strategy. It’s like they’re trying to build a sexier, more fun fax machine.

  3. June Herold says:

    I think the reason why church is unappealing and why UUs often find that new comers get involved, stay for a little while and dont come back is generational and the lack of an authentic multicultural way of life. If you go to church, you are looking for an institution…something organized you can rely on — anybody age 55 and younger who walks into a church understands this on some level. Except, the power structures, the governance, the entire infrastructure doesn’t fit the needs or accept the talents of people under 55 — meaning working people.

    I feel I’m more multigenerational and compassionate about the issues of our elders in the church than they are about the generations, right at home, inheriting what they will be leaving behind. We seem more concerned about fighting for the problems of so many people that we do it at the expense of our UU generations of 55 and under — except when it comes to pastoral care — especially for the aged.

    I also want to ask the following: Our Religious Education programs bring in more new people than anything else to our physical structures. It’s nice that our kids think for themselves, but are we instilling in them a sense of community? I don’t think so. They do not return as adults in the same large numbers that they are when they are k-8th grade.

    • Carey McDonald says:

      June – you raise some good points. It’s true that people coming to church, regardless of age, are looking for an organization. But are they looking for the feel of an institution? My read is that people come to religion wanting it to do something for them, awaken something or connect with someone, especially now that the social norm of going to church is eroding so quickly. Cross generational connections are one of the things church can do particularly well.

      I generally agree with you that relationships with people of all ages are a big part of why most UUs (and Mainline Protestants) who come through the religious ed system are uninterested in being adult congregational members, but would add that at the core this is b/c it doesn’t feel valuable to them/us on a spiritual level. I’ve written more about my take on this here (bit.ly/1gBWjIz) and here (bit.ly/19YPWgI)

      It’s not enough for groups like TSA to simply take the form of a church, and in fact I think the form of church is actually holding them back. I would say that we all need to be able identify what we want religious organizations to actually accomplish and the roles we want them to play, and then revisit our assumptions about the what, where and when of every element of church life to align it with those goals.

      • W. Lee Nichols says:

        Carey, I have been a UU since 1959, attended UU churches and fellowships in several countries and even co-founded a fellowship in Mexico City. Now, at age 73, I have the opportunity to attend many Unitarian communities across the nation. I have 3 within 30 minutes of my home here in North Carolina. In every circumstance, the fellowships are elderly, are more conservative, sing traditional Christian hymns, and follow a traditional format of service. There are no attempts to innovate with contemporary music, add cutting edge speaker forums, or develop creative programs to bring their future membership; the youth. Recently, I attended our ministers brunch to discuss issues with an open floor. The president and minister both answered that “there was a policy in place” to every innovative program offered. In short: the creativity that empowered UU’s in the sixties is dead. The Sunday assembly groups offer something new and it is attracting young people. To me, there is a huge need for this kind of creative innovation and it is only being filled because Unitarian’s didn’t fill the vacuum. It is wrong to be critical of new trends. It would be better to say “How can we rethink our vision and communities to fill some of these evolving needs of global spirituality.

        • Carey McDonald says:

          Lee – Respectfully, I have to disagree that creativity within Unitarian Universalism is dead. Here are just a few examples to illustrate my point, in addition to The Sanctuary Boston which I mentioned:

          The Sanctuaries (Washington, DC), a new multicultural movement of spiritually creative people [thesanctuaries.org]

          Awake Ministries (Annapolis, MD), where personal growth meets church [awakeministries.us]

          Create Meaning (Denver, CO and South Bay LA, CA), center for spiritual renewal [createmeaning.org]

          Not to mention the Standing on the Side of Love campaign [standingonthesideoflove.org] and our many Breakthrough Congregations [www.uua.org/growth/breakthrough].

        • Gina says:

          Lee, well said, and I completely agree!

        • Emily S says:

          Mr. Nichols, as a North Carolina native, let me say thank you for representing our state in such a positive way through your words here. I think you are spot on! I am 30 and have struggled with finding a spiritual “home” for myself for half of my life after discovering that I didn’t agree with everything I learned growing up in my Methodist church. I am impressed with what I’ve read about the basic foundation of UU but the bureaucratic aspect and the inability to find a NonChristian local congregation have left me dismayed. I commend both UU and TSA for their efforts to promote community involvement. From my personal experience with trying to organize a 55& under (over welcome of course!) community organization, people do want something out of it, or want someone to do all the hard parts for them. I can honestly say that I’d attend and support either “congregation” should they come to Goldsboro, NC!
          Thank you all for tolerating my random (and late) post!

  4. Aaron says:

    I think this is intended fundamentally to be very different from UU or most Secular groups. I hear them saying that they are neither interested in opposing faith as many secular groups do or creating openness for faith as UUs do. They seem to be intending to completely ignore faith or remove it from the equation, this I think does require a reinvention of the wheel as you put it, because it doesn’t fundamentally match other organizations. I have been a UU for about eight years now, but at my core I am an atheist and it is always fairly frustrating to consider myself as part of a faith based community when I don’t believe in faith of any kind. On the opposite I am not really interested in fighting the good fight with many atheist groups against religion because I don’t need that conflict in my life. So I see that this might be my fit.

    • Carey McDonald says:

      Aaron – I hear in your comment the difficulty of achieving a community that is truly welcoming to diverse theologies. My interest in TSA is actually not their theology or their perspective or personal faith, it’s their form and practice. I think it’s ironic that they are seeking to connect with athiests who don’t want to go to church by using a church-like format, and I think they would set themselves up for better success across America if they had some different ideas about how to structure the experience.

    • June Herold says:

      One of the things I think it’s very easy to forget is that we have UU ministers who say they are non-theisits. The BBC and The Guardian newspaper of London labeled. UU Minister Andy Pakula an atheist because he describes himself as a non-theist.

      Andy is an amazing creative minister. There is creativity going on at the minister and religious professional level. There’s creativity going on with lay leaders and congregants. Creativity isn’t dead per se, it’s just not spreading across all of UUism. We don’t seem to be leveraging awesome work going on. I believe there are fundamental infrastructure challenges to UUism that splinter it so much that spreading innovation is nearly impossible — unless perhaps you are ministering and worshiping outside of the U.S. I sense lots of creativity going on in Canada as well.

  5. Ian says:

    As a 10 year UU and organizer of Sunday Assembly-Los Angeles, I feel compelled to respond. Carey, I think many of your criticisms are valid. Trust me, these are the topics of long discussions among SA organizers. But, many UUs (including several in my home congregation) feel threatened by the advent of SA because, in point of fact, we are doing exactly what UUs have always tried to do and what you’re suggesting we should do.

    “What about small group discussions, life-transition rituals, volunteer service and reflection, and community action for justice? Coupled with meaningful worship, these are keys to the personal and social transformation that religious or reflective spaces seek to create.”

    Here in LA we are about to launch our small group discussion, some of us are getting ready to train as humanist celebrants to be able to offer life-transition rituals, we have several volunteer service opportunities we organize for our members (and a whole section of our website dedicated to them), a time for reflection in our “service”, opportunities for community action, and something you didn’t mention, a mechanism for members to create social activities for themselves to gather between monthly Assemblies.

    Obviously, we are a work in progress. The criticism that we need to eschew the church format may eventually prove to be true. At this stage we are experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. We start with the successful bits. If we find that following a model that has worked for other organizations doesn’t serve our demographic, we’ll be forced to abandon it and try anew.


    • Carey McDonald says:

      Hi Ian – Thanks for sharing about TSA-LA! I do know that it’s easy for some folks to get into turf battles, but I’m really on the “more the merrier” team. We are really talking about millions of young, semi- or non-religious Americans that have unmet spiritual needs, so we’re a long way from saturating the market.

      Glad to hear you are thinking about some new ideas, sounds like you may be moving in the right direction. If you and your planning group would ever find it valuable, I’d be happy to chat with you (virtually) about what resources we have that you might find useful. There’s a lot you can take advantage of that will speed up your “experifail” process.

      Good luck!



  6. Cate says:

    Please, please, please spell out your abbreviations at first use.

  7. Annemarie says:

    I truly don’t think I understand the nature or essence of your criticism here. What do you mean by “It’s like they’re trying to build a sexier, more fun fax machine.”? One of the last commenters says your criticisms are valid, but I really can’t tell what they are, specifically. You just think they shouldn’t bother b/c they’ll have all the same problems other liberal religions/movements have had?? I think the tone of this piece (as you acknowledge) is negative and maybe even condescending and I can’t tell to what end.

    Btw, I’m a UU. A very happy one…

  8. Elijah Coleman says:

    This is a UU blog so I won’t take you yo task for your bias. I think the point that this writer very squarely misses is that there is no atheist ministry. He and his UU crowd think they are the answer, yet he repeatedly mentions “worship” as if it’s something that everyone wants to do, and “spirituality” as if the word has any meaning.

    I went to a UU meeting once and felt very uncomfortable there. Their credo, “God is whatever you want him to be” grated against my atheism. There is no God and I don’t need or want him to be anything that he’s not, namely something. The tacit mandate to believe in “something” was still oppressive in my book.

    That’s why I’m attracted to the Sunday Assembly. It’s potentially a truly godless community, which indeed is a completely new thing.

    • Carey McDonald says:

      Hi Elijah – I’m sorry to hear about your experience with a UU service. Since we affirm a variety of theological beliefs our congregations vary widely in the language they use, and range from exclusively humanist to explicitly Christian and lots in between. Glad to hear you found a place with TSA, though a godless community is not at all a completely new idea. Unitarians and Universalists have been strong supporters of humanism and embraced freedom of theology for over a hundred years within church walls.

      We have humanist congregations like First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, founded by the leading humanist John Dietrich (firstunitarian.org/about-us/). We’ve had experimental churches that eschewed theology altogether, like the Community Church of Boston (communitychurchofboston.org/home/history/). In the 1950’s, literally hundreds of small, lay-led Unitarian fellowships were founded with a humanist identity (bit.ly/19VNHNy), many of which persist today.

      Just look at the signers of the Humanist Manifesto and you’ll see what I mean about the ways in which American humanism and UUism are interwoven: (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanist_Manifesto_I).

      And that’s just within UUism, we haven’t even mentioned the 25 ethical societies (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_culture) or the 186 local groups of the American Humanist Association (americanhumanist.org/What_We_Do/Local_Groups/AHA_Groups)

      I do not believe we UUs are the singular “answer” to massive trends in American religious thought or participation. I do think that we have some experience in trying to create a godless religious-style community that may be relevant to TSA. I also think that we will be able to learn from what TSA groups do differently, and in fact I’d like to see more of these differences beyond just the music that gets used. My hope is that TSA doesn’t just make our mistakes!

    • Neal Shankman says:

      Elijah –

      I’m sorry you had that experience at a UU event. “God is whatever you want him to be” is lousy theology and, as you say, is frankly insulting to the *many* humanists and atheists who attend our UU church in Chicago. I must admit I had a running argument about just that assertion with a UU friend before I joined; it wasn’t a very convincing or attractive idea for me, either.

      At our church, we make room for those who look to enter into covenant with us in good faith to build a beloved community and a better world, whether or not they understand the eternal spirit of life and love as arising entirely out of observable, scientific pheneomena. The focus of our worship isn’t on squinting our eyes until we can see a god we can all live with, but on using the wisdom of religious *and* non-religious sources to live the best lives we can, and to help each other and the world. We accept each other, theists and atheists alike, without trying to convince each other that we have all the answers about the nature of existence.

      This is why Sunday Assembly feels very familiar to me – UU and TSA are both gathering in worship that isn’t about our personal religious beliefs, but instead focuses on how we want to be in the world.

    • Sam Trumbore says:

      Elijah puts his finger on what I sense is the key difference that has been a burr under the saddle of UUism for the last 100 years or so. If you are “worshipping” God, atheists are going to be uncomfortable. If you never mention God nor use theological language, the spiritual UU’s don’t feel happy. And playing the middle of the road with metaphorical language (as many of my ministerial colleagues and I do) nobody is completely satisfied.
      The ideal for me is to “love God without believing in God,” living in the paradox of belief and unbelief. But sadly that doesn’t satisfy many people either and I don’t think brings many people into the congregation I serve in Albany, NY.
      If you want to look at this very pragmatically, I think the real growth potential is appealing to the non-religious/atheists and dump the whole spirituality drift of the the last 20 years. Return to a kinder, gentler more inclusive Humanism of the 50’s and 60’s that fixes the emotional deficit of those years and is much more feminist. But that is what I’d say with my marketing hat on.
      If I had my institutional hat on, I’d want continuity with the Transcendentalists and the Unitarian Christians and the death and glory Universalists.
      I appreciate the big tent approach, preach it every Sunday, but I think it will take another 50 years before the population comes around to it. I’m grateful we’re holding our membership numbers stable here in Albany and have a steady stream of visitors. We’re doing something right and much of it is the healthy community we’ve got right now. People can join here and not worry whether they are getting too much or too little God talk. Midsized congregations have many different involvement points to satisfy whatever needs people come with.

      • Neal Shankman says:

        Rev. Sam –

        I don’t think “spirituality” requires a belief in the supernatural (including omnipotent creator beings). I hope we can keep working to build UU communities where we can appreciate each other’s wisdom, even when it comes with references to far-out characters like God, or just the ordinary madness of quantum mechanics.

  9. Laurie Hagstrom says:

    Love this discussion! I belong to a very humanist-leaning UU church in Fort Worth, TX, (Yes, Texas!). Across town is very “spiritual” UU church. Every so often there is talk of a merger; but the merger never comes to fruition. As Sam says above, atheist/humanist types just don’t really feel comfy with Christian UU/spiritual types.
    I have been intrigued learning about the SA movement. However, when I read about the growth of Ian’s Assembly in LA I only see him listing items and projects already happening here at my humanist UU congregation. Thus, I understand where Carey comes from when he talks about the whole “been there, done that” thing and the need to share resources so as not to reinvent the wheel.
    I, for one, would love some SA folks to come on down to TX to visit and share. We still sing some worn out hymns and have recently lost our wonderful minister. We could use a shot of something new and some lively music………….”lean on me…….and I’ll be your friend!”

    • W. Lee Nichols says:

      Laurie, Your church among UU congregations is becoming more and more the exception. I was initiated into a humanist UU community and find it very difficult to find one today. I think the breakdown is due to UU leadership which has failed to attract the humanist and atheists among us. As a public speaker and author, I am amazed how few of my audiences know what the Unitarian church is or stands for. And, I dare say, should they decide to attend, the churches in my area of NC would only confuse them further. The discussion should not be why the Sunday Assembly has come to pass but why the Unitarian Universalist church did not expand to welcome that audience. The truth may very well be that our aging members and leadership are to smug with their old ways which in the 21st century has become the educated conservative.

      • Laurie Hagstrom says:

        Indeed! I worry for our faith if she continues meandering here and there down the path she seems stubbornly fixated upon.

  10. Bill Kennedy says:

    As a UU for the past five years, and a 66 year old Baby Boomer, I find this discussion both interesting and depressing. It is interesting because my humanist congregation in New Hampshire is going through all of the struggles talked about here. How to we appeal to a broader audience? How do we attract a younger generation? How do we put just enough “god” into our services to appeal to the theists while not turning off the humanist/agnostic/atheist/pagan members. How do we become not just a welcoming congregation, but an inviting one? Can we grow as a congregation? Can we proselytize, without proselytizing? It is depressing because we don’t know the answers to any of these questions and we have to keep asking them. And it is also depressing to realize that so many UU congregations are having the same problems.

    Over the years, my spiritual journey has taken a convoluted path, but each twist and turn brought me closer to what I now consider the closest thing to an ideal faith tradition (wth all of its warts and cracks) for me: Unitarian Universalism. If the TSA and UU work hard enough, one or both groups might become the faith that Carl Sagan dreamed of: ” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge”.

    • Laurie Hagstrom says:

      Awe. Carl Sagan. I heard him speak when I was young. He inspired by stressing, as you say, the magnificence of the universe as revealed by science. The science of the U sends us on a journey; it seems to meander, it twists and turns – but only because our minds are too small to perceive the grandeur all at once. Freakin’ AWESOME!
      For me, there is no god (or room for people who want to call the universe “god” or the “holy spirit” or any other fuzzy wuzzy name) in a religion stressing the magnificence of the universe as revealed by science. Science is Science. Fact is Fact.
      Gods and holy spirits are supernatural. Fine. I have nothing against folks who want to believe in such. I have friends (dear UU friends!) who believe in such. But, they need to stand up and own that. Don’t call god the universe or love, etc. Those words are already taken and defined in the dictionary. They don’t mean god.
      Sorry, pet peeve..
      The problem for us UUs is worshiping together, believer and non-believer. It’s not easy! We don’t go with the old majority wins theory. What to do?!!
      I’m also depressed, Bill.
      My mostly humanist congregation includes a fair number of theists/spiritualists. Our decidedly atheist minister and a worship committee (voted in by the entire congregation) always did their best to include everyone. It worked. Our congregation, led by our awesome minister grew by leaps and bounds for over 6 yrs. We’ll see what happens now he’s gone……his mantra was “the church isn’t me, it’s you.” We’ll see if we are up to the task of holding it all together for the next year or so while we search for a worthy replacement. My fear is that we will try so hard to be “nice” that we will bore ourselves absolutely to death. OR, that all will disrupt into a huge family feud.

      • Neal Shankman says:

        For my part, Laurie, I’m much more peeved when we bring out the God-talk and then someone tries to apologize for it by saying that I can just consider “God” to be whatever I like. My feeling is, give me some credit! I can still appreciate good guidance for living even when that guidance is attributed to a deity I don’t believe in.

        I worry that the Sunday Assembly values “godlessness” so highly that it would exclude thousands of years of theist religious wisdom from all over the world to appease people who won’t tolerate the mere mention of God. Like your former minister, I appreciate that UUs can choose to honor theist tradition side by side with humanist and atheist sources and not concern ourselves with stamping one or the other as the ultimate truth.

        • Ian says:


          As a UU and Sunday Assembly organizer (Los Angeles), I have to offer an insider’s perspective on your worry that “Sunday Assembly values ‘godlessness’ so highly”.

          It’s not that we value our ‘godlessness’ so highly. In fact, we don’t try to emphasize it that much at all. It’s the press that keeps harping on the “atheist church” idea (low hanging fruit for lazy journalists, in my view) and our critics in the athe-o-sphere that lambast us because the way we don’t believe in God is apparently not the right way to not believe in God (as an example, witness the split in the SA-NYC group already). In LA, we take it as a starting premise that if a person has sought us out they are already a nonbeliever (or close to it) and, therefore, there’s not a lot to talk about on the topic of godlessness, so let’s get on with the business of celebrating life.

          Do we value thousands of years of religious wisdom? Yes, but only to the extent that it can be reliably counted on through experience and evidence. The Golden Rule? A good one to live by. “Thou shalt not kill”? Excellent advice for a peaceful society. Jesus fed 5,000 with a loaf and two fishes? Probably not, and can be reasonably discarded.

          The most common question I get is, “What is the difference between SA and UU?” Having answered it dozens of times now, I’ve learned to say that in today’s UU environment, with its “big tent” approach, your “truth” and my “truth” are equally valued and respected, meaning there is no objective truth at all. When every perspective is equally valid, there is very little foundation left on which to build. And there’s no room for a discussion about it for fear of offending somebody else’s sensibilities (UU 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not make any other person uncomfortable.”) This is the very conversation I’m having with my UU minister and a UU Christian member of my congregation. In contrast, SA states up front our “godlessness” starting premise and then moves forward from there in embracing a naturalistic worldview. If somebody wants to bring their amorphous God=Love theology to SA? Fine. They’re welcome to join us. But don’t expect us to accept or respect that point of view.

          My $0.02 worth.

          • Neal Shankman says:

            From your public charter, I read that SA:

            “Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.”

            “Has no deity. We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.”

            “Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.”

            I’m having trouble squaring these with your comment that, “If somebody wants to bring their amorphous God=Love theology to SA? Fine. They’re welcome to join us. But don’t expect us to accept or respect that point of view.”

            I’m not sure how radically inclusive or welcoming that statement is. If I were an “amorphous” theist, hearing that, I might think I’m expected to keep my mouth shut on the matter.

            You say that in my church, “Your “truth” and my “truth” are equally valued and respected, meaning there is no objective truth at all.”

            I’d argue that the “objective truth” is bigger than anything you or I (or Einstein, or the Dalai Lama) have a handle on. There’s still lots to discover about our universe, and about how to get along with each other. In our church, I’ve heard the metaphor of drilling different wells down to the same great aquifer of truth. I don’t think you’ll hear anyone preaching from a UU pulpit to ignore the evidence of science, so there is *some* limit to our willingness to honor infinite “truths” – probably enough to keep us grounded in a shared reality.

            You say that “When every perspective is equally valid, there is very little foundation left on which to build. And there’s no room for a discussion about it for fear of offending somebody else’s sensibilities.”

            I disagree. So long as those perspectives don’t preclude us from working together on caring for each other and the world, it’s a great strength to allow us to disagree on things that cannot be proven, and to focus instead on what all our sources – including science and religious philosophy – have to teach and inspire us. Even within this, I’d say we disagree enough. Learning to disagree constructively is actually one of our biggest spiritual challenges, at least in our congregation.

  11. Rev.Joel Miller says:

    I can think of 5 congregations that would have been associated with UUism — except some UU with institutional influence found these grass-roots starts too Christian, too new agey, too LGBT… if we had encouraged the congregations that wanted to be born among us in the last 20 years, TSA might have already known they were welcome among us.

    They aren’t. That’s why they didn’t consult us.

    UUism has a long history of rigid, yet occult institutional boundaries, and these boundaries are difficult to discern and seem impenetrable to outsiders. That’s my observation as a soul whose very being depends on this Living Tradition. I love us, but we are astoundingly goofy sometimes.

    • Laurie Hagstrom says:

      Well said! I love my church too. However, and I hate to say this, but I don’t believe some groups ARE welcome when they present themselves to the “wrong” UU congregation today. Sadly, we are sometimes just as mistrustful, frightened, or just plain unwelcoming as the next guy when it comes to those who are different than we. I have experienced this first hand due to living in an area where there are several UU churches that sort of “cater” to different types. I have also traveled some and visited UU congregations. Whew! That’s an eye opener!
      When you walk into a UU church, you just never quite know what you’re gonna get……..

  12. jane says:

    Check out Allain de Botton and the School of Life in London. Pretty awesome.

  13. Daniel Kasnitz says:

    “If worship can never bring your to your knees in revelation of the divine mystery, then what’s the point?”

    I think this is a bias that may not be at all relevant to some, or even many folks. The experience of tremendous value, community, and spirituality, etc. is not at all inseparable from worship, revelation, divinity or mystery.

    “If your organizational structure is bureaucratic and conflict-prone, then why have it?”

    Because these organizational structures very often provide more benefit than they create debit. Anarchy and Libertarianism are rarely the best organizing principle for acts that require the cooperation of a great number of people.

    Thanks for the great article!

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