Independent affiliates: not a rival to congregations

LT (The Lively Tradition) says much of what I would say about the independent affiliate situation. Read here and here.

I’ll add a few bullet points, which I may expand if I get the chance.

  • The Unitarian Universalist Association has been deeply ambiguous about whether its core identity is that of a cooperative service organization (more Unitarian) or a unitive ecclesiastic body (more Universalist). It has functions of each, typified by its publications arm and ministerial fellowship powers respectively.
  • Affiliates take on roles the UUA can’t and wouldn’t want. The UUCF, for instance, has a role in Christian ecumenics. Does the UUA want to keep that relationship alive? Can it?
  • Unitarians and Universalists have had affiliated organizations to take on special, trans-congregational projects for centuries. I’m thinking of the Evangelical Missionary Society and the Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society — these are so old (and local to Massachusetts) that they have no need to be official affiliates. But the money still flows from them and don’t tell me the UUA would say no to either. The relationship is there. (The UU Urban Ministry — a.k.a the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches — is nearly as old and still survives as an affiliate.) This insistence on congregational purity is misplaced.
  • And misstated. There’s nothing about recognized ministries that dilutes the power of congregations. If anything, affiliates help them. Such organizations cannot take upon themselves powers reserved for congregations, like ordination. Indeed, much of the power the Unitarian Universalist Association itself has devolves from the idea of the power of cooperation. It isn’t a congregation either.
  • So where’s the “for the congregations” rhetoric going? While I doubt it is the intent, it looks like a power rivalry to me. Since ministers are heavily involved in nearly all the affiliates, ministers are going to end up making choices as to which organizations to help and support. The UUA Board of Trustees may discover that the affiliates have a lot of loyal members who will choose.
  • And while we’re with the ministers, how do we come out in this “all about congregations” thinking? Are we hapless, subordinate and obedient to the will of congregations, many of which are dysfunctional and some abusive?

LT’s image of an ecosystem is right-on and the risk of a mass extinction is more than our general fellowship can take. Time to fight it, one way or another.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. I’m afraid that what’s going on is that Boston feels they don’t have enough control over these organizations, that they won’t toe the lines set out by the Social Justice arm and the Washington Advocacy office, just to name two. What they want is diverse groups that will nonetheless dutifully send out mass emails about the next filibuster, or whatever Boston decrees. I’m afraid that what will come out of the GA is new official organizations the formerly independent affiliates will be expected to join lumped together by subject- such as “UU Christians, Theists, Pagans, and other God-talking nuts”. I hope this is only my raging paranoia- if not, this could become my tipping point, and I don’t think I would be alone in this.

  2. There might be so paranoia going on, but I usually believe people are more jealous for money, attention and warm bodies than who does or does not support externalized policies. In that way, the IAs are a rival.

  3. Perhaps confessional affiliates should work together more closely and building on common ground, rather than organize their little tent for their own particular believers under the UUA umbrella, thus turning the Association into what Carl Scovel called “a federation of faiths”?

  4. Another consideration as to why this “UU Spiritual Walmart” won’t work – is polity. If this merged IA is expected to be run democratically it’s going to be swamped by CUUPS members. While CUUPS membership appears to have tapered off in recent years (from around 750 to approx. 400) This will still seriously out number the much smaller theologically oreinted IAs.
    I doubt the other faith traditions really want Earth-centered UU having *that* large a say in how their views are expressed, nor do I realy think the UUA board *intends* to put the fate of all faith-based IAs in the hands of a Pagan majority (or at least large plurality) – – – but it’s REALLY hard to tell what the UUA Board intends.

  5. Large plurality, at most. (The last time I checked the UUCF had several hundred members.)

    I do think “disaffiliates” can help one another by sharing meeting room costs, if off-site space needs to be had for next GA. (Or more accurately, concurrent with next GA.)

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