Worshipping online

At First Parish in Cohasset, where I serve as minister, 10-15% of our Sunday congregation each week attends online. This percentage is probably typical of most Unitarian Universalist congregations.

A recent study shows that in Black churches, the percentage is much higher. As reported by Religion News Service (RNS): “According to the Pew Research Center, Black Protestants outrank all other U.S. religious groups in choosing to worship outside of brick-and-mortar locations, with 54% saying they took part in services online or on TV in the previous month.”

African Americans were hit hard by the COVID pandemic, and many remain wary of in-person worship services. Although J. Drew Sheard, a bishop with the Church of God in Christ who was interviewed by RNS, points out, “That fear does not seem to prevail when they go to sports activities or the mall…. But they have been invoked with fear that you can catch COVID at church.” I can relate. I still have many COVID-related fears, and I’m still wearing my mask in church; the fear is still there. I completely understand why some Black churchgoers don’t want to show up for in-person services

Besides, I really do like online services. I like being able to attend Sunday services while sitting on a couch in my jammies drinking tea. That’s about as good as it gets. On the other hand, my favorite part of Sunday morning is social hour, and I don’t care for online social hours. So personally, I like having both options available: both online and in-person services.

I’m betting that online access to worship services is here to stay. W. Franklyn Richardson, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in New York, puts it this way: “The impact [of the pandemic] is not over yet but we see signs of church being normal…. [But] normal is a fluid word. Normal is change. Change is normal.”

The bookstore that should not exist

This Twitter thread tells about one of my favorite bookstores anywhere: Renaissance Books in the Milwaukee International Airport (MKE). It’s unbelievable to find a used bookstore in an airport. On top of which, they stock a deeply eccentric collection of books, as noted by the author of the Twitter thread.

I particularly appreciate their wide selection of mid-twentieth century pulp novels. I was just in MKE a week and a half ago, and bought a 1960s paperback reprint of Ian Fleming’s thriller Casino Royale from 1953. Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, is a wonderful example of mid-twentieth century pulp fiction: you simply can’t believe the amount of sexism and implicit racism, the plot creaks, and there are weird dominance and submission games going on throughout the novel. It reveals the strange paranoiac Zeitgeist of the 1950s better than any history book. But I digress.

Basically, it’s a bookstore that should not exist. So it kind of feels like Spider Robinson’s fictional Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, except that it’s not a fictional place. Here are some key excerpts from the Twitter thread to explain:

“On my way home from Milwaukee yesterday I did a triple take when I saw an ancient used book store, IN THE AIRPORT!!! I felt like I walked through a portal to a world where everything was a little bit cooler. I was so enthralled I went up to the register and was like ‘hey, I’m fascinated by this place, can we chat?’ A man with an orange hat, orange glasses, and an orange shirt pushed aside his laptop and said ‘oh, heavens yes.’ His name is Orange Mike, and he’s worked here since 1979. Every employee of the shop, including Orange Mike, makes exactly ‘8.125 dollars’ an hour to keep this place going. They are also all in their 60s. Orange Mike himself comes from the local pen & paper community, and used to review games for Dragon magazine. The stock here is eclectic and weird and not remotely curated. Half of it is giant history books that have probably been here since the 80s….

“The store’s existence comes down to the airport taking bids from local bookstores to occupy the space, and accidentally including used bookstores in the list. The owner shrugged and submitted the high bid. The airport tried to stop it but after six months of legal spats failed…. This store just shouldn’t exist. The airport doesn’t want them there, it makes no revenue, they have a hard time moving product, and all of its underpaid employees are at retirement age. And yet it persists. AT A MAJOR AIRPORT. I am blown away by this place existing. If you’re ever at MKE, go check it out while you can. It seems like something way too good for this world, which means it may not be there next time if you skip it.”

I spent four hours at Renaissance Books one day last year, due to travel plan complications. That bookstore turned what was an otherwise unbearable trip into something almost enjoyable. I was so grateful that now every time I’m in MKE (which is not very often), I spend as much money there as I can (the limitation always being: How many books can I fit in my carry-on luggage?).

Hand holding a paperback book, with bookshelves visible in the background.
Me holding a reprint of a mid-twentieth century pulp classic in Renaissance Books. God, I love that place.

Non-standard process

This morning, the members of First Parish in Cohasset voted to call me as their next settled minister. We followed a non-standard path to this vote, and did not follow the UUA’s suggested contract-to-call procedure.

Actually, somehow the lay leaders and I both missed the fact that there was a recommended process. After we had all decided to proceed with a vote this spring, I discovered the UUA’s contract-to-call process. It’s thorough and complex, but it requirs many hours of volunteer time. Our congregation is small enough that following the UUA’s contract-to-call process would have left us with insufficient volunteer hours to complete other key tasks. Now that I’ve read it, I’d certainly recommend the UUA’s contract-to-call process to mid-sized and larger congregations; small congregations like ours might want to think about whether they have sufficient volunteer capacity.

Since our non-standard process might be of interest to others, here’s what we did: I was originally hired on a one-year contract which ends this June. In January, the board and I began to talk about whether they wanted me to continue. We considered various options together, including an open-ended contract; a call vote in the second contract year; a call vote this spring; or terminating the contract either this spring or next. The board held congregational meetings where they reached out to nearly every member, and based on feedback from members they decided to proceed with a vote to call this spring. Today’s vote was unanimous, implying some kind of consensus about this decision; I give all credit to the board for listening carefully to everyone before proceeding with a vote.


On the one hand, I’m not a big fan of the proposed revision to Article II of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) bylaws. On the other hand, the current UUA “Seven Principles” sound old and fusty, like they were written forty years ago (oh wait, they were written forty years ago). I’m the opposite of the stupid old mule paralyzed between two bales of hay that appear equally appealing, I’m like the stupid old mule paralyzed between two bales of hay that smell equally unappealing.


It appears that some amount of controversy is emerging about the proposed Article II revision. Our congregation here in Cohasset received an email which says in part: “A group of concerned UUs from across the county have created a website (www.savethe7principles.org) to share our analysis of this proposal and why we oppose it.” This email had only twenty names signed to it, so I guess it’s not a large movement. Nevertheless, we definitely don’t have the kind of consensus in 2023 that we had for the 1983-5 revision.

I just hope the Article II revision doesn’t turn into an extended “discussion” at General Assembly. I’m probably going to be a delegate this year, and I find extended arguments incredibly frustrating. On the other hand, I dislike it even more when honest conversation gets cut short. Either way, I have a feeling this is going to be a testy and tiresome General Assembly.