GA 2007: Thursday morning

OK, I’ll confess that part of me wants to be in Portland. You want to be where things are happening, even if you’re not keen on how they progress or what the goals are. Despite what people say about change being at the margins, you have to come to market to get a hearing. St. Paul knew that.

As for the blog reportage: there are a few more blog posts, but I think weariness among the attendees has set in the time my Wednesday morning post and now. ChaliceChick hates her hotel situation. Others are catching up with old friends and colleagues. Do see Dan Harper’s second video update, which conveys some of the first-day buzz: always hopeful, energetic and a bit unformed. (Today will seem more settled in and probably sluggish, for those who’ve never been.)

I watched the second half of the opening plenary, starting about the time I should have been going to bed, which reminds me of why I don’t miss General Assembly. So much of GA is invested in the planning to do (and the reports of the plans) that it really eats into the doing. I won’t even tear into one report — not related to any of the bloggers I’ve mentioned, by the way — which was as overwrought as a telenovela. Bombast, true-believer’s zeal and jet lag don’t mix well. Remember, friends: eat well, don’t get thirsty or cranky-sleepy and know when to slip out of the Plenary Hall.

There was one report that gave me pause: welcoming new congregations. I recall GAs a several years back when there would be a big monitor — if there was one in Portland, I couldn’t see it — focusing on where the congregations admitted in the last year were. Welcome the X Unitarian Universalist Congregations of Y — from here. And the Z from here. And so on. Five or six new congregations anyway. One of my favorite parts of GA, so I was glad to catch it in streaming video.

But two new congregations. Two? Portland, I think we have a problem. The UUA needs to grow at at least a modest rate just to replace those congregations that merge, disaffiliate and die. At five or six, we were treading water. Two new congregations is troubling. Worse was an innocent line from the president of the Thomas Jefferson District, introducing one of the two inductees: the Unitarian Universalist Peace Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina. She said how happy she was to be present on the day the congregation voted to affiliate with the UUA “after only four years as an emerging congregation.” Four years? I’ve heard of long engagements. What kind of assumptions does that have about evangelism? And without blaming the Peace Fellowship, they only reported 44 members, about the default size for new congregations so it isn’t like they were waiting to be a “program-sized church” (I hate that language) before affiliating.. (The other one, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Hot Springs, Arkansas, does not have its membership listed at

But the worst part was the assembly’s reaction. If someone who was there can add information, please do, but I noted very little cheering at the news of the affiliations. By contrast, the “bring your own water bottle” and “all the wheat is organic” in the green report was loudly applauded.


By Scott Wells

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


  1. Those of us who watch and study church growth may want to wonder about the Hot Springs, Arkansas affiliation. I can’t remember this precisely, but either (1) they’ve also been “emerging” for a long time, or (2) they were a re-start of a previous defunct congregation. I simply have a strong memory of there being a UU congregation in Hot Springs about 5 years ago.

    In terms of church planting, Scott is right that 2 new congregations per year is dire in an association where 4-6 disband, merge, or disaffiliate per year. I think we need to re-examine extension work, and be open to planting new congregations of various sizes using a diversity of resource programs. Perhaps lots of little grants for new small fellowships, some medium sized grants for more ambitious things, and maybe one big grant per year for projects like Pathways Church (in TX) or Wellspring Congregation (in PA) (although I have doubts about how useful large church starts are for a dissenting religious movement like UUism). A diversity of methods for a diversity of new congregations, in an association that insists it is diverse.

  2. Derek is right. Actually there were two Hot Springs Churches that were meeting back when I was in seminary and went to do worship and growth work with them. One. the larger, met in the Hot Springs Village, a gated community retirement folks, and the other met down in the town itself. The town one was smaller but had kids. Hot Springs Village, private owner the Cooper Communities as I recall, offered free land to them if they wanted to build; they were meeting in the community center; the town group was meeting in the chapel of a nursing home if memory serves. I will check on which manifestation this is. And I will update my blog and the annual GA snipe hunt for church planting conversation; there is some, but it’s a stretch.

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