Correct me

There’s no such thing as a free-range UU. I took the position that one must be a member of a congregation to be UU at the end of my “What does it mean…” series. Looking at the way the terms are defined and cross-referenced, it seems to me that the only way to be UU is to be a member of a congregation that’s accepted as part of the UUA.

I don’t like such a hard-edged opinion, even if it has the same sort of hard edge as a snuggly down comforter: warm, generally comfortable, and–while not difficult to find–difficult to actually pin down.

But my opinion is not that to be UU, one has to belive X, Y, or Z, or durf, qrtsh, or 8igw:. Or anything. One just has to accept the congregation one is in, and be in a congregation that’s in the UUA.

I don’t even have any particular prejudicial conception of what a congregation has to be. Could there be a congregation of One? (Given the unitarian heritage of the UUA, it seems it should be possible…) Conceptually, I’d have to say–yeah, of course. It’s far from my place to say how there might be a single-individual congregation that could meet standards of UUA associationalism (to make up a word). And doesn’t ‘congregation’ mean, at least in part, ‘more than one?’

There’s already the Church of the Larger Fellowship, so there’s no conceptual reason why there can’t be congregations of membership rather than gathering. To use a dumb-ass model as an example, Blackboard (which some universities use to supplement or substitute for classroom interaction) makes it possible for congregations (if you will) to meet and do their missional work. Which means the obstacles to individuals joining congregations are circumstantial rather than conceptual. On the one side of the relationship maybe the UUA isn’t properly positioned as an organization to cope with congregations that don’t meet someplace. On the other side, maybe notional-but-unaffiliated ‘UUs’ aren’t finding membership congregations because there’s not enough outreach, or they’re not looking to join a congregation of any type (so outreach wouldn’t work), or who-knows?

So correct me. Help me see a way that an individual, outside of a congregation, can be a UU in a way that doesn’t make a hash of what it means to be UU. And in what way is the UUA currently unable to cope with “congregations of membership without place” as opposed to typical congregations?

(Note on old UU posts.)

4 thoughts on “Correct me

  1. But I keep finding UUs who ARE freerange. Last close encounter with a UUFI (Unitarian Universalist Freerange Identity) was last week. Who are the UU Freerangers? I've had contact with lifelong Young Adults who have UU identity and are in transition, adults who have moved near crappy congregations (yes, they exist) and don't attend, those who work on Sunday mornings and therefore aren't connected because the congregation's ministry is Sunday-centric, and on and on. Whether or not it is the ideal situation, I think we have to accept that there are thousands and thousands of people with UU identities who are in transition and as many who are not being served by our existing ministries. My grandmothers were a UU freerangers. Attended for years, served their congregations as lay leaders and presidents, then lost mobility and after no contact from congregation and/or minister for a decade dropped their membership.Maybe it is a *great* thing for somoene to claim a UU identity and are hanging out in limbo long enough for us to get our act together and so they can re-connect. Note that I'm a lifelong UU, married to a minister and work professionally as a consultant supporting congregational life — I love congregations. But recently my social media presence has made me it easy for the freerangers to reach out and say hi. Great question! Thanks for blogging about this issue. Given we lose most of those raised as UUs it is a critical issue.


  2. Thank you, Peter. To be clear, I don't like idea that freerange UUs impossible, and I don't actually believe it. But an extreme formulation of an idea, and all that… Firstly, of course, there are freerange UUs, and you outline a bunch of reasons why that's the case.Secondly, it seems just really, REALLY strange that UUism would be more strict about who gets to (retain a) claim the identity than, say, the Roman Catholic church (where I came up).Personally, I know that I have no place saying who is or isn't UU. And I'm likely to fall into freerange status if I were to move somewhere where the nearest UU congregation is more distant than the one we currently attend (my wife & I, and our young son).For discussion purposes, I still like the strong formulation I posited, but I think my actual question is: what are some ways UU identity is expressed by freerangers? For instance, the story of your grandparents strikes me less as one of freerangers so much as one of congregational dysfunction. From what you presented of their story, I imagine it could have been a very difficult change for them. I would want to consider someone in that situation still a UU even after letting membership lapse, but as you indicate, the congregation often has work to do to (re-)engage.There's something useful in an umbrella term like 'freerange UU' in that it encompasses a wide swath of people in the community who aren't fully engaged. But it also encompasses such a wide range of possible reasons for that situation that it can obscure structural problems with solutions by hiding them amid, oh… more contingent reasons. Or something. What I mean there is that it might be easier to engage elders with mobility problems, or people with Sunday-schedule restrictions than, say, young adults feeling their oats. Or, to abstract a bit, if there's a population with a shared challenge it might be easier to engage them than if there's a cohort in which each member self-identifies as particularly unique.Thanks for helping me refine my thinking!


  3. This conversation amazes me. I haven't lived near a UU church for years, and for significant periods of time when I was near enough to churches to go, I didn't. Many reasons for that. I would miss aspects of “being churched” when not – the joining of human spirits in worship, sharing a presence in one time and one place – for me, particularly in and through the music. But during these (non-membership) years I had other priorities/needs for my time and energy. Today I belong to the CLF, and am delighted and thankful that it exists, though it is not the same as being able to sit down in one time and and place with others in worship. What has come up for me through not just the experience of CLF, and also the ability to “worship at a distance” with podcasts of entire services rather than just sermons, – but also from a repeated experience over the last thirty years of finding/meeting/interacting with folks who when they heard of my “UUism” would say they felt an affinity to that “culture” of being.Its not about a church, or even a certain agreed upon set of beliefs or principles, its about a felt/sensed culture of being. These folks weren't church folks, but they'd run into UU church folks repeatedly at various programs or activities in their communities, and came to feel themselves connected to that culture as part of their “extended” identity in being. So we're not just talking about folks who grew up UU or who became disenfranchised with the concept of membership for whatever reason or by nature (not a “joiner”), or who don't have a church available. We're talking about a whole extended web of folks who share with us a culture of being (if not a need or desire to pin down any mentalized/worded list of beliefs). The more such folk are exluded from the table, the discussion, the active embrace of the UUA, the more likely it is that the UUA will dry up from within – in my perspective. The more we make it about words and signatures, and definable boxes of whatever kind, the more we're going to be losing not only from within those who thirst for the spontaneous expanding evolving web of shared being, but also those around us who consider themselves “related to us” in culture, in nature, in “way of being” but who are not signing up for any form of box – church or other.Sara


  4. Hi Sara, Thanks for your comments. I like how you say this: “The more we make it about words and signatures, and definable boxes of whatever kind, the more we're going to be losing not only from within those who thirst for the spontaneous expanding evolving web of shared being, but also those around us who consider themselves “related to us” in culture, in nature, in “way of being” but who are not signing up for any form of box – church or other.” At some point, of course, there are people outside of the box, if for no reason other than they really don't want to be in the box. But I completely agree that there should be some way of understanding the box so that it's big enough for those who really want to be in it.-SM


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