The end of summer slow-downs

This is a busy time of year for many of us who serve congregations as paid staffers or lay leaders. The summer slow down is over, and it’s time to ramp up to the regular schedule. It can be a stressful time of year in congregational life.

And for the first time, I’m feeling impatient with the stress. Why do we even bother to slow down in the summer? I know I have pretty much the same religious needs all year round, and the summer slow-down doesn’t make sense to me.

Not that I don’t value seasonal changes in congregational life. I used to love summers in the Unitarian Universalist congregation I grew up in because the senior minister would get other ministers to preach there while he was on vacation; we’d have several weeks of a rotating cast of characters preaching their best sermons from the past year. (Mind you, I have also been a part of a congregation where the summer services were led by ill-prepared and unskilled speakers; one member of that congregation called summer services “amateur hour”; but that’s a whole different blog post.)

But this idea of partially closing the congregation down in the summer no longer makes sense to me. Sometimes it seems like the only thing the summer slow-down accomplishes is increasing my stress and my workload in the month of August. I just want to put an end to summer slowdowns.

This year’s Berry Street lecture

The text of this year’s Berry Street lecture is now up on the Web. At the Berry Street lecture this past June, Rev. Dr. Deborah Pope-Lance spoke for over an hour to some six hundred Unitarian Universalists on the topic of clergy misconduct. I found it to be a riveting lecture in June, and it is well worth reading the text of the lecture, if for no other reason than the link to the Web page that discusses whom Carly Simon might have been thinking about when she wrote the song “You’re So Vain.”

After Deborah gave the lecture in June, I was one of the many people who crowded around her, wanting to shake her hand. She shook my hand, and all I could say was “Thank you.” I meant: Thank you for telling the truth of clergy misconduct, and for doing so with grace and humor, and in such a way that rather than provoking resistance perhaps we can deal productively with the aftereffects of misconduct. And now I would add: Thank you for pointing out the role of narcissism in clergy misconduct, and thank you for pointing out how “clergy misconduct is nested in an ecology that either promotes or inhibits breakdowns in the ministerial relationships.”

But enough of this. If you weren’t at the Berry Street lecture in June, now is your chance to go read this important document.

Church in summer

Diane, a Lutheran pastor and blogger, writes about going to church in the summer. Common wisdom is that it’s not worth going to church in the summer because there’s “no Sunday school, and no choir, and plenty of other things to do.” But, says Diane:

I saw a smile on the face of a woman who told me that she wanted to give thanks for three years being cancer free. I saw tears on the face of a woman who wanted me to pray for the family of a friend of hers who died last week. I saw a teenager walk into the sanctuary by herself, sit down by herself, and then move to sit down next to her mother’s best friend, and her friend’s mother….

It’s a reminder that there are people who go to church, not for Sunday school or choir or out of habit, but because it really does something for them.

What was the “sexual revolution”?

If we’re going to talk about the impact of the sexual revolution on Unitarian Universalism in the 1960s and 1970s, we’re going to have to have some understanding of what it was. David Allyn, in his book Make Love Not War: An Unfettered History of the Sexual Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown, 2000) tells us that the phrase was coined in the 1920s by Austrian psychoanalyst William Reich. As applied to the events of the 1960s and 1970s, Allyn points out that the phrase “sexual revolution” had different meanings at different historical moments for different people:

In the early sixties, the “sexual revolution” was used to describe the suspected impact of the newly invented birth control pill on the behavior of white, middle-class, female college students. A few years later, the term was employed to describe the sweeping repudiation of literary censorship by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was borrowed to characterize developments in the scientific study of sexual behavior, most notably by Masters and Johnson. In the late sixties, the “sexual revolution” was invoked to refer to the new candor in American culture, especially the sudden acceptance of nudity in film and on stage.

By the early seventies, the “sexual revolution” was taking on new meanings with each passing year. It was adopted to describe the showing of hard-core sex films in first-run theaters, not to mention to opening of private clubs for group sex. It was used to capture the new spirit of the swinging singles life, as well as the popularization of open marriage. For those in the counterculture, the “sexual revolution” meant the freedom to have sex where and when one wished.

In the highly politicized climate of the late sixties and early seventies, the “sexual revolution” was given a range of meanings. Some student radicals used the term specifically to refer to the end of the “tyranny of the genital” and the arrival of an eagerly awaited age of polymorphous pansexuality. Young feminists equated the “sexual revolution” with the oppression and “objectification” of women and saw it, therefore, as something to stop at all costs. Gay men considered the “sexual revolution” to mean a whole new era of freedom to identify oneself publicly as gay, to go to gay bars and discotheques, to have sex in clubs and bathhouses.

Events and developments shaped popular perception of the “sexual revolution.” Sex-education courses in schools and colleges were radically redesigned to replace euphemism and scare tactics with explicit visual aids and practical information. New books suggested that women were as eager for one-night stands and other sexual thrills as were men. Many states repealed their sodomy laws and introduced “no-fault” divorce. And in 1973, Roe v. Wade ended a century of criminalized abortion. Once again the “sexual revolution was reinterpreted and redefined. [pp. 4-5]

Historical document on the sexual revolution within UUism

For some years now, I’ve been looking for documentary evidence about the way the sexual revolution played out in Unitarian Universalism from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. I have lots of anecdotal evidence, stories told to me by people who saw, or in a few cases experienced first-hand, the “open marriages,” the “wife-swapping,” the sex games, etc., that took place in Unitarian Universalist congregations and other Unitarian Universalist organizations such as camps and conference centers. These decades-old memories are of definite historical interest, but documentary evidence is also essential to a fuller historical understanding of this topic.

Recently, I realized I had one such document, which I uncovered a dozen years ago when I was working on a contract with the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Youth Office to write a training manual for youth advisors, and I’ll include it in full here. Continue reading “Historical document on the sexual revolution within UUism”

Worship can erupt anywhere….

Check out this new blog on the Fellowship of Fools, which is “a new congregation, a congregation without walls, a home for Fools of the Diaspora, existing within the structure of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.” It also involves chocolate kisses, flash mob prayers, and blowing bubbles. And what I want from this blog is lots of photos of their “worship which can erupt anywhere.”

From the big picture, to day-to-day operations

Below is a presentation I did at our Board retreat this morning. The presentation is titled, “How to take big-picture goals and spread them through every aspect of congregational life.” I’m posting this here both in case any of our Board members want to review some of the things I said, and in case any of my other readers are congregational leaders with an interest in this topic. (If you were there yesterday, you’ll see I didn’t follow this script exactly.) Continue reading “From the big picture, to day-to-day operations”

A key concept

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about an article on the Alban Institute Web site which introduces the concept of distinguishing between that which is foundational and that which is accretional within a religious tradition. The article focuses on foundational and accretional practices in worship services, but the concept can be applied more widely. A good bit of Harvey Cox’s latest book, The Future of Faith, is his attempt to show that belief is an accretional practice within Christianity, whereas faith (in his careful definition) is foundational. So this has gotten me thinking about what is foundational and accretional within the liberal traditions of Unitarian Universalism. Liberal traditions tend to embrace the surrounding society, so my feeling is they accumulate lots of accretional practices — and as shed lots of those accretional practices as time goes on. This raises the interesting question of what, exactly, is foundational to Unitarian Universalism; a question to which I have no firm answers yet, but I’m thinking about it.

Liberty and democracy in liberal religion

From Gary Dorrien’s new book, Economy, Difference, Empire:

What would a just society look like? What kind of country should the U.S. want to be? For more than two centuries U.S. American politics has featured two fundamentally different answers to these questions. The first is the vision of a society that provides unrestricted liberty to acquire wealth. The second is the vision of a realized democracy in which democratic rights over society’s major institutions are established. In the first vision, the right to property is lifted above the right to self-government, and the just society minimizes the equalizing the role of government. In the second view, the right to self-government is considered superior to the right to property, and the just society places democratic checks on social, political, and economic power. Economy, Difference, and Empire: Social Ethics for Social Justice (Columbia University, 2010), p. 143.

Unitarian Universalists would seem to align themselves with the second vision, the vision of a democratic society, given that the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) claim a commitment to democratic process. However, it is not clear to me that this is the case — the major attraction to Unitarian Universalists for many people in our congregations is that no one can tell them what to believe or do, and this too is enshrined in the bylaws of the UUA, in the claim to a free and responsible search for truth, which is often restated in colloquial terms as “no one can tell me what to believe.” This last attitude is in close emotional alignment with the attitude that the government shouldn’t tell individuals what to what to do with their property.

Thus I see a built-in theological tension within Unitarian Universalism between theological liberty on the one hand, and on the other hand a commitment to democratic theological community in which the right of self-governance is superior to the right to believe whatever one wishes. There is a difference, however, between Unitarian Universalism and wider U.S. society: it is much easier to remove oneself from Unitarian Universalism. There are many people who feel themselves in complete alignment with theological Unitarian Universalism and more specifically with the principle of a free and responsible search for meaning without a creed, but who also find themselves unwilling or unable to submit any of their individual theological liberty to the demands of being part of a democratically organized congregation — many of these are the people who call themselves Unitarian Universalists on national polls but who aren’t part of a local congregation.

One last note on this topic: Historically, Universalists were more committed to theological liberty than were the Unitarians, and the loose structure of their national organization reflected that commitment to liberty. The Unitarians, by contrast, affirmed theological liberty and had, on the face of things, fewer theological restrictions than the Universalists; but beginning in the late nineteenth century the Unitarians poured far more of their energies into their democratic institutions. When the two denominations consolidated, the Universalists felt themselves out-organized at nearly every step of the way; and the new denomination has ever since then invested more energy into its democratic structures than into theological liberty.

Notes from a fundraising workshop

Below are my notes from a fundraising workshop led by Kim Klein, author of Fundraising for Social Change, at Starr King School for the Ministry, Monday 25 April 2011. My notes are just a bare outline of the presentation. perhaps the most important part of the presentation was Kim Klein’s straightforward, easygoing, no-nonsense, humor-filled approach to talking about money. She was not in the least uptight when she talked about money. In fact, perhaps the most important thing she told us was that it’s OK to talk about money, that we have to un-learn all the taboos and social constraints we have around money.

That being said, here are my notes:


The key questions nonprofit organizations must ask themselves before beginning fundraising:

— What does your organization most believe? You want to have a short memorable sentence describing what you believe. Example: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
— What does your organization do? You want to be able to talk very coherently about what you do.
— How well have you done? — your track record
— How much? — sources of money: Who gives?

The purpose of fundraising is to build relations.

“We don’t want a donation, we want a donor.” So you build relations with people who will be ongoing donors. Continue reading “Notes from a fundraising workshop”