“I joined the Unitarian Universalist Association”

“I joined the Unitarian Universalist Association” is a common enough comment, quickly followed by the rejoinder (said nicely or not) to the effect, “No, you joined a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association; individuals can’t be members.”

And this is true, and a proper reading of the polity, but I don’t think reflects the experience of some (I’m guessing not a majority, but a conspicuous minority) of Unitarian Universalists.

Some of this impulse comes from the branding, programmatic, and publicity efforts of the UUA secretariat. I’m tired of arguing that Bill Sinkford is not the “head of communion” because our polity doesn’t recognize such a position. (Again, things would be different if there was a more traditionally Universalist polity, but one has to repsond to the reality at hand.) In this vein, it is easy “to be a member of the UUA” down to your flaming chalice t-shirt and subscription to the UU World.

Which is where we come to my point.

If you think you’re a member of something that provides benefits — material or spiritual — the flow of benefits has to continue. There’s a sociological benefit; that is, the theme of belonging, mythic returning, or finding one’s true place that’s so much of the Unitarian Universalist shared story, but people will usually identify that with whatever congregation they join. The much-maligned “GA Junkies” — a detestable term if vivid — are the exception, though their numbers seem to grow.

The recent decision to cut the UU World from six issues a year to four is worrysome. If it been a part of a growth process, I might not think so, but readers can’t help but notice that costs have already been saved in the production quality of the magazine. It and General Assembly are the two most visible “member benefits” of the UUA; cutting one back will not help the institution.

But I shant weep. Access to the word in print has long been a means of controlling power in low-church denominations. As I’ve advised others, so long as you publish, all sins are forgiven and all honor is yours. We respect words to the point of fetish.

Now, as others have noticed, the access to the press has changed radically. First, a couple of generations ago, in a local way with duplicators and then photocopiers. The Internet age amplified this phenomeon. I don’t now submit articles because I don’t have something to say, or out of fear that they won’t be read. No: I publish myself (here) and relieve myself of being vetted. The technology has become so accessable and cheap that little wonder that the dead-tree pubs are beginning to follow suit.

That sounds like good news for bloggers and other online writers, in the UUA’s orbit. But perhaps not great news for the UUA itself. Still, there’s little that can be done to alter the situation, but provide the best content possible. So far, so good.

Now, I have to wonder what’s next? Loosing access to the content providers, of course. Unless there’s money in it — doubtful — what’s to keep me from producing my own resources and keeping control and copyright over them. I think we’re already seeing this among the religious educators and RE-track ministers who are already a conspicuous online presence. Ditto the independent affiliates. It won’t be eons before these start providing services — faster, better, and more reponsively — than the UUA will be able to.

And that’s when things will really begin to change.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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