I love the smell of Unitarian Universalism in the morning . . . .

The Rev. Davidson Loehr, of Austin, Texas, wrote a scorcher of a letter to the UUA Board of Trustees about the Pathways church project, the role of spin, staff accountability, and what make (or doesn’t make) Unitarian Universalism a religion. A must read, even if you don’t reach the same conclusion he does. (And I seldom do with him.)
I would love to read the messages on the large church ministers’ list he references. Were ministers in less august churches (or none) so informed? I missed my memo.

This link gets you the letter, in PDF. [2008 June 5. Now at archives.org]

This link gets you the page where all the reports may be downloaded.

Later. The letter from Bill Sinkford and First Unitarian, Dallas, senior minister Laurel Hallman that Loehr mentions — I assume this is it — may be downloaded as PDF here. It is a memo to “all those interested in the Pathways ‘fast start’ congregation.”

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Davidson Loehr’s letter, while harsh, strikes me as truthful. And while some may not like his tone, love for Unitarian Universalism without hard, critical thinking is a sham.

    It is astounding for me that the population at Pathways is much less than I was led to believe. I had been told that attendance was 135, when it is really 110, and only about 52 people did not come from other UU churches.

    What Loehr brings out as new for me, is the connection between Pathways’ “failure” (I would say mediocrity), and the lack of a center in contemporary UUism. What he terms “The 7 Banalities” has long felt to me as bland and too secular, and I have found the 7P’s are often used in UU communities like a creedal test for good UUism. Personally, each day I grow fonder of the Quaker testimonies (peace, simplicity, integrity, equality), which are a different approach to non-creedal religion.

    Leaving aside what the center of UUism would be, how could we ever find it? Who or what has the authority to articulate a center for UUism? Or in abandoning a center, have we also abdicated authority to a meaningless stew of hyper-individualism? Have we become an over-vaunted individualized religious process, with no clear purpose or product?

  2. The lack of a relativizing center is what has always bewildered me about what you term “non-hyphenated UUism”—the slogan Loehr talks about (“putting faith in you) just highlights the problem. You cannot have religion without some kind of hard center to cling to and grow in. That is less an issue of orthodoxy than of having something solid that relativizes you and your practice. That’s where the hyphenated folks have an advantage—they have grounded themselves in something that permits actual spiritual growth rather than just picking up religious bric-a-brac.

  3. Davidson Loehr’s letter is basically the application to a practical case his criticism of UUism as a “new religion”, as expressed in what should normally be an issue of high controversy in the denomination, i.e. his sermon/essay “Why UUism is dying”. I don’t know anything about Pathways and its outcome, but I agree in the centrality of the individual self in current UU thought, which could be negatively expressed as “narcissism” as DL says, but could also be a “person-centered approach” to religion if wisely designed and put into practice. The problem is when our “radical welcoming” means “anything goes”, i.e. no challenge for the seeker. Some transformation is required to make the journey worth it.

  4. Actually the Unitarians were growing and thriving at the time of merger. I was there, in 1961, in Boston. Davidson was not, and he is wrong on that point.

    But Davidson is right on a lot of what he writes. Pathways is a disaster, and was built on ideas that are only sand. And earlier “successes”, like the supposed success in advertising in the Kansas City area, took no account of what the natural gains of new members would be if no special effort would be done. Instead, these “studies” attributed all membership recruitment to the campaign, of “A Different Denomination”.

    I’m reminded of the perhaps apocrophal story of the two nuns who went into the Unitarian church of my childhood, the First Unitarian Church of Chicago. Inspired by the minister, the late Von Ogden Vogt, and designed and paid for by one member of that congregation, Morton Denison Hull, that church is a wonderful example of gothic architecture. One nun is said to have looked, noticed where the “sacred presence” is, in more traditional churches, and to have seen, only an empty niche. She inquired of the other Sister. The response: “This is a Unitarian church, and that is the sacred absence”.

    I am thrilled with what my Unitarian background HAS DONE for me. I even have three biographies, on the UUA.org www site, or three famous 20th century Unitarians who I was priviledged to know. Do a google search of Keohane Douglas to get one on Sen. Paul Douglas to start you all.

    With what I see of the UUs today, I see no particular attraction in your churches. I’d rather go to a bakery with my wife, and sometimes I will go to my favorite Lutheran church, because I like the ritual, the music, and the reliability there.

    Best regards,

    John Keohane
    5702 Wynona Avenue
    Austin, TX 78756
    (512) 371-3853

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