What Does the Growth of Unitarian Universalism Mean?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 3, 2012 — 62 Comments

There’s a certain truism that’s been adopted by commentators and analyzers of religion in the United States (and more broadly in the West), that liberal Protestant Christianity is in a demographic death spiral, and thus liberal forms of Christianity itself are in danger of winking out of existence. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat, author of “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” made waves this past Summer by asking if liberal Christianity could be saved.

“…if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves. […] Liberal commentators, meanwhile, consistently hail these forms of Christianity as a model for the future without reckoning with their decline.”

Andrew Sullivan recently declared that Christianity itself was in crisis, and several scholars and writers have read the demographic tea leaves to see what happens as the “nones” grow and the generational shifts start to change the makeup of religious bodies. So it is within this atmosphere that I read about how the decidedly post-Christian Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has actually experienced growth in congregants over the past ten years.

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

“De Lee is one of a growing number of Unitarian Universalists, a group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine. The denomination grew nationally by 15.8% from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Although they remain small in total numbers with about 211,000 adherents nationwide, Unitarians believe their open-minded faith has a bright future as an alternative to more exclusive brands of religion.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise since, according to UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, the UUA is perfectly situated to appeal to those apprehensive of traditional Christian religious organizations, especially those claiming “no religion.”

“The great irony here is that these “nones” are very much aligned with Unitarian Universalist values. They are accepting of ethnic and sexual diversity. They are open minded. They also seek spiritual community. They present a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for us.”

Also of note is that the UUA is experiencing a lot of their growth in the South, not just the traditionally “liberal” coasts and open-minded campus towns.

“The denomination, which started in New England, has been growing more in the South than in other parts of the country, said Rachel Walden, a public witness specialist from the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association. […] In Tennessee, Unitarians grew by 20.8% from 2000 to 2010. During the same time frame, they grew by 22% in Georgia and by 42.5% in Colorado.”

Religion scholar Diana Butler Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening,” recently said in an interview that she feels that America is in the midst of a spiritual awakening, one that isn’t necessarily centered on Christianity or even monotheism.

“…when I talk about the fact that we’re in an awakening, I believe we are in a period of intense cultural reorientation or revitalization, and that during an awakening, politics, worldviews, religion, education—the whole way a society approaches being community, and connecting with one another, and understanding their God or their gods—it all changes.”

So what does this growth auger? What I think this means is that liberal, New Age, and Pagan faiths are perfectly positioned to benefit from the growing distrust and disillusionment of rigid one-true-way monotheistic forms of religion. They no longer care to wait while church organizations grudgingly admit the humanity of their gay friends, or litigate birth control yet again. Liberal Christianity is diminishing, yes, but what we’re seeing now is almost a slow-motion alchemy as these adherents search, seek, and often find a home with faiths outside the dominant Christian paradigm. So we see Buddhists grow, and Pagans grow, and yes, we see Unitarian Universalists grow.

The long-mocked theological flexibility of the UUA, which allows Pagans and Humanists alike in their pews to worship alongside the UU Christians  may turn out to be a secret strength that allows it to weather the post-Christian cultural transition that many Christian religious bodies seem unprepared for. Indeed, just a year ago journalists were questioning whether Unitarian Universalists would survive far past their 50th anniversary, with three years of “dips” in membership. Now the narrative has flipped, and suddenly we’re talking about their growth. While the UUA may never become a dominant demographical heavyweight as some denominations are today, their very nature may allow them to thrive and survive while other falter. They may even turn out to be a natural nexus point for liberal religon as it grapples with what the future holds.

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  • Rory

    I am a member of UUA and affiliated with the local UU because I found pretty much every Pagan organization I’ve tried to be part of over the past 25+ years to be flaky beyond functionality. Although I consider myself Pagan first and foremost, I am simply tired of bullshit and want to ally myself with someone, pretty much anyone, who does not hate me and can keep it together long enough to buy a building and run a freaking Sunday school. How tough can this be, people? Too tough for Pagans, apparently, at least in my experience.

    UU denominations are structured enough to be worth paying for, and open enough to accept sane Pagans. Insane Pagans and flakes will show up a time or five, as they always do, but not be coddled. I encourage more Pagans to consider attending their local UU and perhaps helping to found or strengthen a CUUPS chapter. It is more like standard American religion than I ever wanted, but also more like a real, sustainable polity than anything I have personally seen in almost 30 years of Paganism. It’s actually kind of embarrassing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/christine.smith.9638718 Christine Smith

      I agree. I don’t have very many Pagan friends and I have been solitary for over 20 years. I have been a member of a UU church for 16. It has been a great place for my boys to grow up.

    • harmonyfb

      My (Christian) husband and I tried the UU church as a religious compromise. He left after the first sermon attacking Christianity. I stayed for a couple of years, where I taught Sunday school, organized fundraisers, was active in CUUPs, sat on the board, and was continually insulted and abused to my face because I had the gall to believe in the Gods as real and present. From the pulpit, in person, (I was called a ‘superstitious ninny’ to my face), and by deed.
      I tried a second UU church in the area. The minister once again insulted Paganism from the pulpit, and me, to my face, when I introduced myself. :(
      Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend the UU church.

      • paganuugirl

        I’m sorry you had those experiences with UU. My UU fellowship has held both Christian communion services and Samhain services on Sunday mornings. Everyone is welcome and made to feel that way.

      • Ursyl

        That’s beyond unfortunate that those congregations have not yet matured past the need to insult faith in general or any in particular.

        There have been instances at our UU, but we work to nip that attitude and encourage real support for everyone’s search for meaning.

        Our congregation was founded by a group of humanists, which might be what can lead to that.

      • Rory

        The UU model (like that of most Pagan and Jewish groups) is one of “congregational polity,” which means that different congregations may vary widely, for good and for ill. From what you say I would not recommend the UU congregation(s) you describe, either, but I hope they are not representative. Certainly my own UU experience is not like that, and I’ve heard horror stories from Christian-identified UU’s who felt thumped on in more humanistic congregations.

      • pagansister

        harmonyb: It’s a shame that both you and your husband had unpleasant experiences in different UU Churches. The ones we raised our children in were nothing like what you described. As with all religious institutions, even Christian, Jewish etc.none are exactly the same. They are made up of different people which tends to make the atmosphere different in each one. Unfortunately for you, the UU churches in your area seem to have followed the same mold.

    • Fritz Muntean

      What’s ‘flaky beyond functionality’ is the (still, somehow) pervasive belief held by many Pagan organizers that we should and could become an organized religion just like all the others, with weddings, funerals, bar witzvas, ‘seminaries’, prison ministries – even official Pagan graveyards!
      But we’re a Mystery religion, not a Civic religion. The very idea that any religion can fulfill all the spiritual needs of all its members is, itself, highly disfunctional – and IMO a millstone around the neck of Western Civ from year one on.
      Compare the Chinese model: Everyone is, simultaneously, a Buddhist (for meditative practice), and Confucian (for societal order), and a Taoist (for magic and martial arts). [Now add Christianity (for weddings). The Chinese love Christian-style weddings. Go figure].
      Compare religious organization in the Classical Pagan world: Civic religious services were held in public, in the daytime – with processions, sacrifices (large and small) and celebratory feasting. Attendance (and support!) was obligatory. In contrast, Mystery religions were celebrated at night, in private, and participation was limited (and sometimes quite expensive).
      Me? I look to my Pagan practices to connect with sacred mythic narratives and to develop the complex interplay of immanent divine forces. And (of course!) to dance naked around bonfires in the forest.
      And I’m an active member of my local Unitarian church – for professional leadership and a stimulating intellectual environment. And the opportunity to sing in a real choir. Not to mention somewhere to take the grandchildren for Sunday School.
      I don’t expect Paganism to provide me with any of these latter services. That’s not the kind of religion we are. Neither should the Unitarians (or any other Protestant denomination) be expected to host skyclad services.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I don’t see Paganism as a (collection of) Mystery religion(s).

        I see that, historically, pre-Christian religious beliefs in Europe were very much civic. There were temples, graveyards, communal rites and festivals…

        Yes, there were also exclusive cults, but the ‘everyman’ was more likely to participate in the civic aspects of religion, rather than the mysteries.

        • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

          Yes, thanks. You beat me to it.

        • Fritz Muntean

          Yes. There were all the elements you list (and more), typical of civic religion. But it’s the inner focus of the mystery religions (eg, the Orphic, Bacchic, Eleusinian) on which contemporary Paganism is based. The search for mystic union with the divine, the dramatic recounting of sacred story cycles (I could go on) are typical of mystery religions, not civic.

          • Nick Ritter

            I think the mystery religions are the basis of some of contemporary Paganism, but certainly not of all of it. As a Germanic reconstructionist, upon what mystery religion is my religion based? No, my religion, along with many others under the rubric of “Paganism”, is based on public (civic) and household religion.

          • Fritz Muntean

            You’re absolutely right. Not only about Germanic, but also Celtic reconstruction. These are civic-style religious movements — because virtually everything we ‘know’ about the beliefs and practices of Germanic and Celtic religions has been filtered through the expectations of the Christian monks who wrote it all down. And, of course, Christianity is, essentially, a civic religion. QED.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I was comparing to the historic situation of the average person, as you suggested.

            As Nick has said, not all follow the ‘occult’ path of Mystery.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        I think the popularity of “Christian” weddings is due to the influence of Hollywood. Weddings are often prominently featured in movies and tv, and those are the primary forms in which western culture has invaded the psyches of the rest of the world. The same phenomenon is reported in Japan, which has otherwise been extraordinarily resistant to Christian influence.

    • Guest

      Sunday schools are for those who want to indoctrinate and teach children. Your expectation is based on a different model.
      As for having buildings some groups do have them. Whether said groups would hate you depends on you.

      • Ursyl

        Interesting generalization.

        How does teaching the students about every faith we can find information on, taking them to visit different places of worship, and encouraging them to figure out for themselves what they believe indoctrinate them?

        Because that’s what we do in their Coming of Age year, with exposure to different ideas in the earlier years of Religious Education.

      • Rory

        Sunday school can be a terrific survey course in world religion and responsible exploration of history, cosmology, sociology and ethics. Many of the young families I see joining our local UU seem to be doing so out of self-defense, and there are young people who want to “go to church” as a recreational activity. I was never one of them, but I think it is important that there be non-authoritarian, sane spaces where that can happen. As a young person I was always fascinated by religion and theology was a casual hobby of mine from 15-19, for which I am grateful. I can hold my own against most seminarians and thump on fundamentalist preachers pretty much at will.

        Not all religious training is indoctrination. Author Chris Hedges is one among many intelligent folks trained within respectable traditions.

        • Fritz Muntean

          I agree completely with both Sarenth and Rory. When I was a back-to-the-land Hippie in the 60s & 70s, the Jesus Freaks would blow through our communities on a regular basis, bullshitting their way into the spiritual lives of — guess who? — people who had never been to Sunday School. Rather than ‘indoctrination’, Sunday School (or equiv) proved a fairly reliable remedy against religious misinformation.

      • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

        Sunday schools are great transmitters of knowledge, and in my experience as a youth minister, are places where questions can be asked in a safe environment. Sunday schools, both in my experience as a Catholic, and as a Pagan, are oriented around grounding the child in religion, giving them the tools to understand ritual, the cycles of the year and festival days, in addition to a lot of theological concepts within the group that might not otherwise reach them. Religious instruction has its place, and it is demonized at Paganism’s detriment.

        • Deborah Bender

          The Reform Jewish Sunday school that I attended more than fifty years ago did the things you list, plus it taught Jewish history. Because of the great expanse of time and geography that Jewish history entails, I received a more balanced view of Western history than most of my non-Jewish public school classmates. I got the very useful experience of rooting for the Indians instead of the cavalry in several historical contexts, such as Muslims vs. Catholics in Spain.

  • http://www.paganawareness.net.au Gavin Andrew

    I suspect UU offers many pagans the opportunity for a more cohesive community and better opportunities to participate within mainstream religious discourse. That is attractive to many, and understandably so. Less so to those whose paganism is inspired by the practice of witchcraft or ritual magick (which has almost always been at odds with orthodoxy throughout history) or other kinds of antinomianism. I am happy to be corrected, but I doubt for example that a UU church will be holding a sky-clad Beltane rite any time soon.

    Possibly this is the chief dilemma facing the (Wiccan-related) contemporary pagan movement today – we demand tolerance and even a place at the table, but at the same time want to continue to do the kinds of things that mainstream religion has always found intolerable. Which we should.

    • Maudite

      Hey, if you’re in Boston next Beltane, you’re welcome to come hang out with my congregation. We can’t go skyclad (public services=no public nudity, and also sticking to velour pews is… awkward), but we manage all the same.

      • glaukopis

        Er, if I can ask, what is your congregation? I’m in the Boston area and have been hoping to find a UU church w/an active pagan contingent.

    • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

      I think the bigger challenge facing Wiccans is that they are a mystery religion that is, for the most part, closed to outsiders. It’s hard to demand tolerance for something that is secretive and unknown. Wicca 101 books aside, actual Wiccan practice with a group or coven isn’t easy to get involved with and groups tend to be inward looking. Those Pagans who aren’t Wiccan may find it easier to interact with larger UU congregations and get their “place at the table” I’d think.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    There is a Unitarian congregation in my town. Just looks like (yet) another Christian place of worship.

    I am not Christian, nor do I want to be. I do not believe that ‘all paths are one’ and (perhaps most importantly) I am not particularly tolerant.

    This article (good as it is, as always) reads more about politics than about spirituality.

    Christianity is based on the collected writings known as The Bible. It isn’t about evolving and adapting to and ever changing society. As such, I can understand why there is a rejection of liberal Christianity. When a religion is based on the teachings gleaned from a book, it is not easy to deviate far from it.

    I accept that I am a fundamentalist at heart, but I see no problem with that.

    I think that the appeal of Unitarianism is that people feel a need for social connection through the spiritual, regardless of whether they feel the spirituality being espoused is one they agree with.

    If it works for people, that is good. I just don’t feel that it is actually universal.

    • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress/ John A Arkansawyer

      If I’ve read your location correctly, your perception is probably accurate. The Unitarians in England, much like the old-line Unitarian churches in the northeast of the United States, tend to Unitarian Christianity. This is not the case in most of the rest of the United States.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Yeah, I’m in England. In the South West – heartland of New Age Paganism – Stone Henge, Avebury, Glastonbury… All local, Hel, I can even see a White Horse (Westbury) from my bedroom window.

        Funnily enough, there are very few Pagans in my locality.

        • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

          That’s a shame. I would think there’d be more there.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            So would I. It’s one reason why evangelistic Paganism has appeal.

          • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

            I’ve never been a fan of evangelicalism. While it is good at growing numbers and there is something appealing about there being more Pagans, there is the issue of quantity over quality. That is to say, I’d rather see less Pagans who came to their spiritual views by honest means and their own desire than a bunch of people who are just following what’s popular and what they’ve been told. I feel a better approach is to simply be up front and honest about who we are, what we stand for and be counted. Unless that’s what you mean by evangelicalism. I’m not sure it would even work for most Pagan religions or Paganism in general as we don’t have a dark and fiery place with which to threaten would-be converts. Fear is a more powerful motivator than love and joy when it comes to the human race, sadly.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I have lost count of the amount of times I have walked through a town and heard a street preacher, or been approached by persons asking if ‘I have a moment to talk about God’.

            How cool would it be to walk through a town centre and hear a scop or skald recounting the exploits of Þunor/Þórr or a Bard telling us about Find mac Cumail?

          • Nick Ritter

            “How cool would it be to walk through a town centre and hear a scop or skald recounting the exploits of Þunor/Þórr or a Bard telling us about Find mac Cumail?”

            I could get behind that.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’d be happy to get involved in something along those lines. of course, I’d need a collective to be part of, first.

            In the absence of a community, those who desire one must make their own.

          • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

            Here in Calgary, I’ve rarely had that problem. People like that are generally asked to “move along, sir”. It would be very cool to hear a skald telling the story of Thor’s exploits to get his hammer back.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’m guessing they have some kind of permit to do it, here. The government does like its permits.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Last Christmas we had four or five guys in burlap-&-twine mockups of shepherd dress trying to evangelize downtown Oberlin. They had the ill fate to try me first. We got into a discussion about whether Jesus was the Son of God or a neglected Jewish prophet. A good time was had by…well…me.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I tend to go down a more ‘history of theology’ route, myself.
            It confuses them when they find out I believe in YHWH, but not The One True God(TM).

        • CrystalK

          Yeah, just recently joined the local UU in my town. There is no minister, but a president who is Wiccan. It’s held in a house with fold up chairs- no pews. Very little Christian iconography unless you count a bust of Mark Twain (was he Christian?). The last two presentations-no sermons- was one on Haitian Vodou and a presentation from our local roller derby team on its impact on girls’ self esteem. Cool place I think.

          • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress/ John A Arkansawyer

            That’s a more typical US UU church, very typical of the smaller churches though a little less so of the larger ones.

            P.S. The other typical small US UU church is “flat-earth humanist”. Pagans will not be treated any worse than Christians there ;-)

        • pagansister

          L.Sceadusawol: As an American of English (Irish,Welsh,Scottish) heritage I had the pleasure of visiting Stonehenge 4 times, one time inside the Stones. Family history says an ancestor of mine owned the land that the Stones are on, and sold it to the man who ended up either selling it or donating it to Country. Amesbury is the town my ancestor was from. From what I understand he was an important person in the town. Having visited Amesbury, I saw his name in many places. Beautiful country!

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            That’d be ‘British’ rather than ‘English’. The distinction is extremely important, with the rise of devolutions and regional identity.

        • http://www.facebook.com/dopollard David Pollard

          There is a group for Pagans in British Unitarianism called the Unitarian Earth Spirit Network, and there are a *few* churches that celebrate the Wheel of the Year,

  • Fritz Muntean

    If anyone’s interested in a history of how the Unitarians seem to be thriving in comparison to other progressive Protestant denominations, here’s a capsule summary. In the
    mid-19th century, being liberal Christians as well as fierce defenders of
    Enlightenment thinking, Unitarians declared reason to be the infallible test of
    belief. Faced (no surprise) with differing opinions about the reasonableness of
    particular elements of traditional doctrine, they responded by embracing
    individual freedom of belief and the acceptance of differing views. In 1894,
    Unitarianism issued its declaration against creed, and rational Christianity
    became no longer our unifying doctrine, but one options among many. From that
    time, and through the 1920s and 30s, Unitarianism flourished.

    ¶ A quarter century later, in 1966,
    the Unitarian Universalist Association undertook an analysis of its combined
    membership.

    ¶ At that time, 53 percent of the
    respondents identified themselves as humanists; 44 percent defined God as a ‘natural
    process within the universe, such as love or creative evolution;’ while 30
    percent deemed a concept of God either ‘irrelevant’ or ‘harmful’. Only 3
    percent professed belief in God as a ‘supernatural being’.

    ¶ That’s the good news. The bad news
    was that coincident with publication of this study, Unitarian membership in N
    America began a precipitous decline, falling from a high of 281,000 in 1967 to
    a low of 171,000 in 1982. Though the liberal Protestant denominations suffered
    severe membership losses over the same period (averaging 20 percent),
    Unitarians’ staggering 40 percent decrease appeared to threaten extinction.

    ¶ But — good news again — Unitarian
    membership subsequently bounced back, growing to 204,000 by 1993. It still
    continues to increase at a modest rate, during a period when liberal Protestant
    church populations in N America continue to decline.

    This recovery was due in large part to a growth strategy, adopted by UU leaders in
    the 1980s, targeting the ‘60s generation and their children, and opening
    Unitarianism to the countercultural values of this generation. These include
    ‘direct experience and intuition’ over ‘abstract reasoning’, awareness of the
    ‘true inner self’, and ‘the assumption that all life is united and all
    existence is one’. These values find expression in a wide range of New
    Religious Movements that share a mystical theology of spiritual interdependence
    and divine immanence.

    ¶ But in fact, Unitarians actually
    assimilated only a particular set of related belief systems: American Zen, New
    Age, Native American Spirituality, and Neopaganism (the latter including
    Goddess Spirituality and modern Wicca)
    ¶ Here endeth the lesson.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      This is a really interesting and valuable thumbnail sketch – thanks! But it looks like all of these stats (and the ones referred to in Jason’s post as well) don’t take into account the huge increase in the U.S. population over this period, during which it has gone from slightly under 200M in 1967, to over 300M today. During this time the absolute numbers of UUs has just barely held steady at right around 200K, which actually means a significant decrease as a fraction of the populace as a whole.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cyndi.simpson Cyndi Simpson

    It is important to be clear on this – Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian religion, liberal or otherwise. We used to be. Both Unitarians and Universalists had left Christianity by the turn of the 20th century.
    It is also true that one of our ugly little post-WWII behaviors was to become incredibly anti-Christian. Back in the 60s, 70s, 80s and even into the 90s, you could even hear this nonsense from the pulpits. Thank the Goddess that over the last 15 years or so, this is changing as our congregations change. We are attempting to no longer be a private social and debating club for liberals…but a genuine faith. We are not based on creed or dogma, but on covenant. We covenant with one another around who we will be with each other in this world, the one we are in right now, the only world our present selves can ever know.
    Our Christan Protestant heritage is in our DNA, to be sure – you see it in the structure, though not the content, of our Sunday morning worship. We received much good from our heritage, and have certainly continued to grow beyond it.
    Many blessings to all.

  • Zagone

    Conservative Christianity and non Christian “liberal” religions are all growing. We are losing the middle and growing polarized. I do not foresee a new golden age. Christianity has the money and guns. I foresee authoritarian government and the boot of the Lord as they fight to maintain control.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      It’ll be messy, but I don’t see ‘them’ winning it.

      • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

        As long as we have the internet, “they” won’t.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I wasn’t speaking figuratively. The internet would likely be an early casualty of any global conflict.

          • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

            This is true. It’s also the greatest threat to dictatorships both religious and secular.

    • Obsidia

      Zagone wrote: ” I foresee authoritarian government and the boot of the Lord as they fight to maintain control.” That might be the “probable” future, but the future is not set in stone….there are many “possibilities.” I like what Caroline Casey says: “As prophecies and predictions rise, remember to vote for reality with your imagination. Honor dark likelihoods not by ignoring them, but rather by using them as catalytic incentives to dream up something more desirable.” Once we have these “more desireable dreams” it is up to us to ACT (either alone or with others) to bring these dreams into the world in which we live. We have POWER in the PRESENT…why not use it to bring in the future we desire?
      BTW, Gypsy’s wonderful song “We want a world” (from her “Enchantress” album) is a great blueprint for a world of the future that I AM voting for!

  • Guest

    Local Unitarian churches have hosted Pagan-sponsored and Buddhist events within their buildings as well as being (as pictured) at the forefront with Gay Rights acceptance, and this fresh openness towards diversity and focus on hospitality is probably why they’re growing :)

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I’m almost glad I came late to this discussion because I could witness from the outside this yeasty discussion of UUism and how it has impacted different commentators in different ways. Yes, there are intolerances withing UUism, both of Pagans and of Christians. Pobody’s nerfect.
    About UU Sunday School: both the one I attended as a kid 50+ years ago and the one in my current UU congregation strive to expose the kids to many religious thoughts and traditions, and to tease out of them what kind of spiritual development they are coming up with already (and they are). On three occasions the Pagans in the church have been asked to provide the Sunday School with either a lesson on Paganism or help in a Sunday service put on by the Sunday School. I think it would be a safe and fruitful setting for Pagan parents’ kids, especially because I daresay most Pagan parents would like their kids to find their own Path, and that’s what a UU Sunday School is all about.

    • Ursyl

      That’s how our congregation works too, except that the Pagan members are so interspersed within it that there’s no special asking of us to teach a lesson. I’m running the Coming of Age program for the junior high age students this year.

      Using Prothero’s “God Is NOT One” as the core of the program.

    • pagansister

      Married a born UU ( I was raised a Methodist) and raised our children in the UU tradition. They have chosen their own paths, and I’m glad for that. The SS introduced them to the many faiths in the world—-and they are better adults for that education. Happy to hear there is a positive growth in UU attendance. Good news indeed!

  • http://twitter.com/RobinEdgar Robin Edgar

    That USA Today article’s headline, subtitle, and other questionable “info” aka misinformation is very misleading. Sadly, it would seem that you yourself are misrepresenting the facts here. . .

    I expected better from you Jason.

    Most ironically, much more reliable UU “growth” statistics are available on the official UUA website itself,http://www.uua.org/documents/i…and the following tellingly titled UU World article -UUA membership and attendance declined in 2011http://www.uuworld.org/news/ar…It may well be that people who self-identify as UU by checking a box in US census forms increased by almost 16% between 2000 & 2010 but that did not translate into actual 16% growth in congregants over the same time period, as you *pretend* here. Far from it. . . There was only around 3% “growth” in terms of actual UU *congregants* between 2000 & 2010 and that minimal “growth” has stopped and UUA membership is currently stagnant or in decline. Certainly, as a percentage of the overall population of the USA Unitarian Universalism has been in decline since Day One in 1961. In fact the Unitarians and Universalists decided to merge precisely because both churches were individually in decline in the decades prior to 1961.

  • Amanda

    My husband and I just started going to our local UU church. Only been to three services, but so far so good. No Christian bashing. They do like to quote Buddhist stuff a lot in the sermons, but nothing Biblical yet. The people that go there have been extremely friendly and welcoming. They seem to be involved in a lot of LGBT rights stuff. The few members we’ve chatted with so far are all disgruntled Christians (one older lady said she grew up Mormon, then left and became Lutheran, then left that a couple of years ago when they turned more conservative and started preaching Creationism and that wives should submit to their husbands), but I’m holding out hope that there may be some pagans (or pagan-curious folks who might like to give it a try).

    My in-laws go to another UU church in a neighboring town that has some pagan members who lead pagan rituals sometimes. I went with them to their church’s Christmas Eve service last year, and that was nice but much more Jesus-y. But it was Christmas after all. Their town is more conservative than where we live, and their UU church is actually bigger than the one here. I’m not at all surprised that UUism is growing more in the South. Maybe, in conservative areas, it’s all the more important for liberals to band together in some sort of organization, for mutual protection. My in-laws’ church has actually been the target of vandalism and hate crimes!
    I was never a Christian to begin with, so I don’t have this kneejerk hostility to “church” or “congregations” or “organization” that some pagans seem to have. I’m perfectly fine with having a church to go to once a week, where you sit around and discuss what it means to be a good person and lead a fulfilling life, raise money for some charity, and have a potluck from time to time. I do think the UU’s are a little too generic, since I am a *pagan*, and wish there were some *pagan* churches to fulfill this role, but there just aren’t. At least none around here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.mitchell.1276 Tim Mitchell

    The only problem I have had with the UUs is that for as open-minded as they try to be, they are still operating under the organizational model that was established by the Christian church, a model that I believe is not conducive to progressive, open-minded thinking in the long term. Promoting intra-religious dialog can be a good thing, but promoting tolerance strictly for the sake of promoting tolerance–something that the UUs excel as–ultimately goes nowhere. One the other hand, I’m not surprised that the memberships of liberal Christian sects are in decline, because it appears to me that many liberals are finding out that the monotheistic imperialist ideology that is Christianity isn’t as progressive as they were initially led to believe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.miley.54 David Miley

    Everything you say is technically true. But the dirty little secret is that the UUA is pushing the denomination toward judeochristianlite in a deceitful campaign of corporate rebranding. Yes, if you want to grow it’s easier to grow with by poaching from the 75% who are sort of Christian but growth on what terms. I am fed up with being an inconvenient UU.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      That’s an interesting comment. In this same discussion others have complained that there are elements in UUism that are too “anti-Christian”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hyacinthlandry Hyacinth Landry

    I am very proud to be a member of two UU churches. In Manchester New Hampshire, USA, and a very vibrant congregation and community in a virtual world called Second Life! If you would like to attend a service, and are shy about walking into the local church, please feel free to visit us online. We welcome all.

    Visit http://www.secondlife.com Sign up, it’s free! Then look for us in the Featured Sites, or simply search for UUtopia. We have our regular services every Thursday evening, 6PM Pacific Time, and lots of other events during the week, such as meditations, social dances, open mic coffee hours. Hope to see you there! :)

    http://slurl.com/secondlife/UUtopia/70/89/26