Unitarian-Universalism and Paganism

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 17, 2006 — 13 Comments

Sometimes, all it takes is one crank letter to show the ideological cracks in Unitarian-Universalism. The Humanist/Theist divide is one that has been simmering quietly in the background for some time. Is the addition of modern Paganism going to be the step too far? Is it possible that the famously ever-tolerant association of liberal churches could finally splinter along Theist/Humanist lines?

UU Humanist ‘Chalicechick’ shares her own thoughts about Pagans in the UU church.

“This isn’t sneering, but I always dreaded Beltane when I was in a congregation with a critical mass of pagans. I didn’t like the costumes or the chanting or the maypole or the Queen of the May election all out on the church lawn in a big festival. I always thought it made us look sort of silly. And whatever the pagans do is reflected on us. As I sat at the toasting table and tried to play along, I was nervous as I watched people walk by on the sidewalk and stare.”

Meanwhile, conservative UU Theist Joel Monka calls UU Humanists out.

“I’ll tell you old-school UU Humanists out there something: you should thank Bertrand Russell that you don’t always get what you wish for… if all the UU Christians and UU Pagans left, the average age of the average congregation would approach triple digits, and the membership list would drop down to double digits- and half of them would be Buddhist. We irrational, superstitious psychotics are keeping your doors open; the least you can do is sneer at us behind our backs instead of right in our faces.”

When the story ran at Witchvox, several Pagans shared their bad experiences with UU congregations.

“I have been to one Unitarian Universalist church about 15 years ago where I received about as warm a welcome as if I’d wandered into a Baptist church! Luckily, that is the only one I’ve run into like that in the past 20 years, but some individuals within the UU churches are, shall we say, less open minded than others.”Dee Moonhawk

“I produce the annual Witches’ Ball in Denver. For many years I also produced a Beltane event called the Magickal May Festival in conjunction with the Womens’ Spirituality Group at one of the local UU churches…I got caught in the middle of a turf war between some unhappy Unitarian Humanists and the Unitarian Religious…Anyway, these particular Unitarian Universalist Humanist old-timers didn’t like the fact that a bunch of religious newcomers (Pagans, Buddhists, etc) were usurping their control of this congregation. They wanted all of these newcomers to go away and let them go back to being the familiar, small, congregation they had been in the past. They made life very hard for some of us before they were through.”Living Goddess

“When I attended a local UU church, I was called a “superstitious ninny” to my face, and regularly had my religious preferences (and that of my husband, who is Christian) insulted during the sermon…”Harmony

“I think some churches forget that without the Pagans entering the congregation, most of them would have stagnated years ago!! From the two congregations I’ve been affiliated with over the years, the majority of new members have been Pagan, have young families and are very active within the church…If you look at the average age of the average UU church, it is probably somewhere near 70. Without the influx of Pagans into the congregations, the churches would eventually just die off.”Cheryl Grant

In the comments section of a previous post, one Pagan Pride organizer discusses why she believes Pagans might want to hold their events at the local UU church.

“Location for PPD is complicated – having been part of the PPD committee locally this year, I was around for a lot of the site decision discussion. For us (and I’d assume for a lot of other places), it’s often a question of picking the best combination of trade-offs. Public park would be nice – but weather can be a concern. Plus, the city park systems have some restrictions on vending and other activities that would be problematic. (and reservation systems can be problematic in our local parks.) Plus, with a larger gathering (the Twin Cities Pagan Pride is up in the upper hundreds), it can be hard to arrange multiple classes/rituals in an accessible/findable way that doesn’t mean hiking all over creation to get to stuff (mobility issues for some people.)”

According to the Pagan Pride Project web site, twelve Pagan Pride events are taking place in Unitarian-Universalism churches this year. It is difficult to say if the majority of these are merely situations of convenience or if it might denote a trend towards a congregational preference. I’m hoping that in the next few days I’ll be able to interview someone from the Pagan Pride Project about these issues. In the meantime I’ll keep my readers posted if any conversations about Pagans in the UUA appear in te UU blogs or discussion lists.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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