I’m gearing up to be a guest on a local radio program (on a low-power local station that says–on the side, of course–we have ‘tens’ of listeners at any given time) to represent the Unitarian Universalist point of view. With me will be the minister from my home congregation and perhaps a member or two of the congregation. I’m a little worried about how I represent to those ‘tens’ of listeners. We live in an area where there are most likely at least two hundred people who might attend a UU church if it were a) convenient, and b) religious.
There is only one UU church in this region and we are it. Since I started attending nearly 9 years ago, our population has changed quite a bit–in faces but not in numbers. I live 20 minutes from the church in a community that has a church on every corner downtown, as well as a number of very large churches cropping up on the edges of town (where more property is available) and in the surrounding areas. Heck, there’s even a Baptist church in my own backyard. There is a private religious university in the town I live in and a number of different churches in that denomination.
People in this area want to attend church. They want to worship and they want to contribute to a vision of a better, kinder community. Doesn’t that sound like the kind of place where Unitarian Universalism ought to flourish?
We are having a visitors Sundays service this weekend (there’s also a weather warning so I wonder how that will impact our turn-out), which is being urged by our membership committee. As well-meaning as they are, I think we are not ready for this right now. I don’t know what our congregation has to offer these people other than warm hospitality–which we are pretty good at.
I joined the worship committee a few years ago because I felt that our services were anything but worship. I wanted a little more reverence, a little more pomp and certainly some circumstance. It was a blessing that when I walked onto the committee, I was met with a group of people who felt the same and were scrabbling with ideas to create a more dignified (is that the word I’m looking for?), more complex, more challenging and yet more sustaining worship experience, especially with regard to those 30 Sundays each year which are lay-or guest-speaker led. We have made great strides, together, I think. And yet….
I’m not inviting anyone to visitor’s Sunday … on purpose. Those people who I know to be UU in their heart of hearts (the ones that tell me, as the host of the program I’m about to be on said, “I’m probably more in line with you guys, but I’ve found a place I can make a difference at the church I currently attend”), are not interested in driving 20 minutes to worship. Many of them are like the host I just mentioned, not looking for creed or dogma, but looking to do good work, to help, to create the beloved community. And so, they attend church where they are because it is a close fit and they have found a way to make it work for them. The gentleman who will interview us on Monday goes to his church, sleeps through the sermon, but keeps going because they let him build houses each year for Habitat. This is where and how he worships.
Our church isn’t ready to receive this type of UU in a non-UU church. We aren’t walking the talk … yet. And, until we can talk the talk that motivates us to walk the walk, I fear we will continue to peak people’s interest, but not keep them returning to our church.
Another person I know to be a UU at heart attended our church a few Sundays and even attended our first-hour adult discussion group. When I asked her why she wasn’t interested she said what I’d been feeling for some time: “I never really understood what you all were worshipping during the worship service.”
So, if we aren’t ready to give voice to what we worship and we aren’t ready to give back to the larger community, what is there to attract all those people in this area who long to be involved in religious life–both in worship and in service?
Responses would be appreciated, but, honestly, I’m just thinking out loud and wondering, just wondering, if there is anyone else out there grappling with similar questions.