It’s the middle of the 20th Century. There are these two denominations, the Universalist Church of America, and the American Unitarian Association, and each of them has a powerful and impressive history. Each of them can trace their theological history back to the earliest days of Christianity. Each of them has an impressive and robust theological culture, appealing message of hope and good-will to all, and high name recognition.
And each of them have been, essentially, kicked out of the community of US Christendom. And each of them has seen membership dwindling. So, these two widowed denominations start a courtship culminating in a marriage in 1961 officially called consolidation.
And then things get strange. But I think I’ll hold off on the strangeness for the next post, on “the contemporary UUA side of things.”
But about this marriage that happened… It’s not that the Universalists and the Unitarians are all that obvious a fit. Yes, they were both religiously liberal. But that’s a pretty thin reed to hang a merger on. After all, there are, right this minute, religiously liberal Universalists and religiously liberal Unitarians who are not members of a UU congregation. This is something I hadn’t really though of before I started this blog. There are Christians who are not UU’s who are members of Christian denominations and congregations with no formal (or, likely, informal–some of them, anway) connections with the UUA despite holding either or possibly both Universalist and Unitarian theological beliefs. I wonder how they feel about UUism and the UUA? But I digress. Maybe I’ll come back to that in a future post.
Anyway. Just because two denominations happen to both fall under the umbrella of religious liberalism doesn’t mean they’ll have enough in common to come into association, much less covenant. But they did, they found a way to do it, the people of the UCA and the AUA. And then they went about proving all those people who said they weren’t Christians right by, over the next few decades, stripping any lingering attachments to Christian theology out of the UUA’s operational documents, thereby becoming the Bonnie and Clyde of US religions. (If only…)
Consolidation can’t have been smooth, and I suspect both denominations lost congregations and members during the process. I’d like to know more about that, and the subsequent growth history of the association. But consolidation happened in 1961, which means it’s been a solid 50 years of the UUA. The UCA was formed in 1866, and the AUA in 1825, so it’s already lasted a fair chunk as long as its predecessors. I’d also like to see a document that simply shows the antecedent documents that are now the UUA’s bylaws. I want to watch, from a bird’s-eye view, the transformation of each denomination’s beliefs into today’s principles and sources–but not necessarily the nitty-gritty of who advocated what, why, and how.
Next time: contemporary strangeness!