How to increase church attendance

A recent academic study examined 20,000 United Methodist churches between 1990 and 2010. Most experienced declining attendance from 2000 on.

Except multi-racial churches: on average, their attendance increased. “There’s a rising demand for opportunities to interact in diverse settings,” said [lead author Prof. Kevin] Dougherty [of Baylor University]. And racially diverse churches in predominantly white neighborhoods had the best attendance.

I’m willing to bet this trend holds true for Unitarian Universalism. That would help explain why most UU congregations have been in decline since about 2005. I don’t have access to the full text of the study, so I don’t know the authors’ criteria for determining when a congregation is racially diverse, but I’m guessing we’re looking at 30-35% non-white attendance; there are very few UU congregations with that level of racial diversity.

Assuming your congregation is interested in reversing decline, how can we change our UU congregational cultures to become less white?

Crystal DesVignes is pastor of the United Methodist church “CityWell” in Durham, N.C., a congregation that’s 45% non-white. She points out that you have to embrace an increase in the level of conflict, which can enable people to “come out of our comfort zones” and “be honest and vulnerable with each other.” And then she says you have to be willing to learn: “It’s one thing to say, ‘Come in and be just like us’ [but] it’s another thing to say, ‘Come in and we’re willing and open to be changed by your very presence.’”

Link to the abstract of the study.

Prince Philip on paganism

Prince Philip, the U.K. royal who died recently, was known for his commitment to environmentalism. Religion News Service reports that in 1990, Prince Philip compared Neo-paganism and the Abrahamic religions:

[Prince Philip said the] “ecological pragmatism of the so-called pagan religions” was “a great deal more realistic, in terms of conservation ethics, than the more intellectual monotheistic philosophies of the revealed religions.”

Though this statement proved controversial at the time, I have to say he was absolutely correct. In fact, I’d say it’s still pretty much true. 

The Unity Society of Palo Alto

An excerpt from a history of early Unitarians in Palo Alto. I haven’t made much progress on this project, due to the long hours I’ve been putting in dealing with the pandemic. With luck, I’ll be able to get back to it.

The Unity Society, 1895-1897

In November, 1892, the very first issue of The Pacific Unitarian, a periodical devoted to promoting liberal religion up and down the West Coast, declared that a Unitarian church should be organized in Palo Alto:

“The University town of Palo Alto is growing fast. Never was there a field that offered more in the way of influence and education than this. A [building] lot for a church ought to be secured at once, and the preliminary steps taken towards the organization of a Unitarian Society.” (1)

Organizing churches in college towns had been a standard missionary strategy for the American Unitarian Association (AUA) since the denomination had funded a Unitarian church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1865. These “college missions” were seen as “one of the most effective ways of extending Unitarianism,” (2) and many of them resulted in strong Unitarian congregations.

But who had the time and the skills to organize a Unitarian church in Palo Alto? The Unitarian church in San Jose was the one nearest to Palo Alto. In early 1893, the two ministers of the San Jose church, Revs. N. A. Haskell and J. H. Garnett, organized two new Unitarian congregations in Los Gatos and Santa Clara, ignoring Palo Alto. (3) Support for a new Palo Alto congregation would have to come from somewhere else.

Continue reading “The Unity Society of Palo Alto”

Story of Easter

Sharpie, Rolf, Possum, Muds, and Nicky want to hear the rest of the story of Jesus in Jerusalem, the way Dan’s Unitarian mother used to tell it.

Click on the link above to view the video on Vimeo.

As usual, full script below the fold.

Continue reading “Story of Easter”

Seat at the table

I’m following the story of how workers in an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are currently voting whether or not to join a union. The management of early twenty-first century Amazon warehouses sound a lot like the management of early twentieth century cotton mills: speed up work until the workers break, fire anyone who raises safety concerns, do anything to keep the unions out.

A BBC article on this story quotes Peter Romer-Friedman, a civil rights lawyer:

“The key question in America at the moment is are we going to have fair treatment of workers in the businesses that will dominate our future? … The concept that workers get a seat at the table is a radical concept for people in Silicon Valley.”

In fact, the assumption that workers should not have a seat at the table is a cornerstone of the Silicon Valley business model. Tech firms have been leaders at offshoring, outsourcing, using “contractors,” and requiring their few actual employees to put in 10-12 hour days as a matter of course. So why would they give workers a seat at the table?

The problem for workers: if you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re on the menu.

Living in a sick world

Gospel singer Deitrick Haddon has released a new single in which he takes on pandemic deaths and grief. Listen to Haddon’s soaring, swooping gospel voice over a compelling trap backing track: “Sick World” by Dietrick Haddon.

What I especially like about this song is that Haddon gets the way grief is additive. All the grief we’ve experienced since the pandemic began gets added to all the grief we’ve experienced from COVID deaths and COVID-related deaths. Haddon specifically mentions Kobe Bryant’s death, and the official music video references the insurrectionists storming the Capitol building: these and many other events get added to the people we know who’ve died because of COVID. Here are some of the lyrics:

“We’ve got kids killing each other in Chicago,
Detroit just ain’t the same no more,
And it ain’t getting better on the West Coast —
Tell me why we treating each other so cold.
People would rather put faith in a vaccine
Than wearing a mask, keeping their hands clean,
And this will all go down in history
That thousands have died cause we cannot agree, yeah.
Living in a sick world, but I’m praying you are well,
We can’t stand to lose nobody else,
Can’t stand to lose nobody….”

I don’t listen to much gospel or hip hop any more, but the powerful lyrics and the high level of musicianship make this song worth a listen. And yes, I am praying that you are well.

Story of Palm Sunday

Possum, Rolf, and Nicky, want to hear the story of Palm Sunday — although Dr. Sharpie and Muds are skeptical of that old story. So Dan gives them the Unitarian Universalist version.

Click on the image above to view the video on Vimeo.

The full script is below the fold.

Continue reading “Story of Palm Sunday”

YouTube is evil

I’ve hated YouTube for a long time, but they finally went too far. I’m going to start moving the videos I make for kids to another platform.

What was the final straw that’s causing me to ditch YouTube?

I created a children’s video for this Sunday’s online worship service. I was careful to use either my own content, or public domain content (e.g., music), or Creative Commons content (e.g., sound effects) I have a great respect for the rights of authors and creators, and I don’t want to violate copyright.

YouTube has a new process whereby when you upload a video, they scan it for copyrighted material. Fair enough. The scan of my latest video claimed to have found copyrighted material on my video. That’s not fair, but that happens because YouTube relies on machine algorithms instead of humans to review copyrighted material, and they give free access to the algorithms of known copyright trolls. So while it’s not fair, I can deal with it. I’ve dealt with it before — you submit a claim showing why the copyright claim is incorrect, wait seven days, and it goes away.

But as it turned out, this time not only did I get a message telling me that there’s a claim, but for the past two hours there’s been another message freezing the video because, so they say, they were still scanning for copyright violations. The effect of this is that YouTube has given me no way to contest the claim. Which is utter bullshit. And don’t tell me to contact customer support. YouTube is notorious for having no customer support at all — because, hey, we’re not customers, we’re the product they’re selling (or more precisely, our data is the product).

There are plenty of other reasons why I hate YouTube. I know they’re collecting unbelievable quantities of user data and using that data for purposes I don’t approve of. I don’t mind so much for myself — I’m going into this with my eyes open — but I’m making videos for kids, and I simply do not trust YouTube with kids’ data. Plus YouTube video compression sucks, producing inferior audio and video quality. Remember, their business model is to provide the absolute minimum of quality, with the least amount of paid human time, while selling the absolute maximum amount of data to advertisers and others; their sole goal is to make tons of money, with no apparent effort to provide any redeeming social value. By saying this, I don’t want to denigrate their workers, who work incredibly long hours and work software engineering miracles; but YouTube’s corporate management is, at best, amoral.

Do I need to add the fact that, as is true of all Big Tech employers, YouTube has insufficient numbers of women, people of color, and people over the age of 40 working at the company? The Big Tech firms are notorious for their sexism, racism, and ageism; YouTube is no exception.

I’ve known for some time that I need to move the children’s videos I make to a paid hosting service. So I finally bit the bullet and opened a Vimeo account. That’s where I’ll be posting all future kid’s videos that I make. Eventually I’ll move older videos there, though that will take time.

It’s been a relief to take this step. I’ve long been uncomfortable with YouTube’s exploitative business model. I’m glad I can stop feeling morally compromised.