Lost churches sought

So, I wanted a list of Unitarian Universalist member congregations and the years they were organized.

Not just an idle curiosity, but to see what proportion is less than 30 years old, to see what era (other than the Fellowship Movement obviously) produced surviving churches, and which areas have a better recent experience of welcoming new congregations. (Culture and expectations matter.) I’m about three-quarters done with the list.

As a side-effect of my search, I discovered the UUA keeps information about former congregations online. The disbanded, disaffiliated, merged and mysterious. I don’t know how far it goes back, or if its complete within that unknown date range. But the reportage of ex-member-congregations has, in twenty years, gone from routine to almost nil.

And without this missing news, how can we mourn our dead? How can we be thankful for their ministry? This tribute matters. It shows that we respect the life cycle of congregations and, like trees in a forest, have to plant the new to replace deadwood. It shows we replace the connections. It shows we respect the work now finished, or at least finished with us or in their former incarnations.

We cannot let these lost congregations go silently, any more than we would let our own loved ones go unlamented and unpraised.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Scott, thank you for this important work. At our annual congregational meeting each year, we mourn the dead and celebrate the births & new members. Absolutely we should be doing the same as an Association.

    This seems like another instance in which the UUA would ideally be acting more like a congregation, with the congregations (and beyond) being like the members. We keep track of them, mourn them, celebrate them, assist them, help them heal, challenge them, give them resources, and send them out into the world to live the mission.

    And how can we know who we ARE if we don’t understand who we are losing, through death or attrition?

    Again, thank you. I can’t wait to see your amazing list!

  2. A related question that always sparks tons of inner wrestling is how many congregations relocated into a place where a new one might successfully have been started, to escape a “more challenging” neighborhood. You have screened for that somewhat, in your consideration of places where a congregation might profitably be started, but the relocation issue raises separate questions. It’s rather like examining the economic prospects of a baby without making reference to the wealth of its immediate family, as well as the income regularly accruing to its parents. Relocated congregations have wealth. They have established leaders, traditions, hymnbooks and curricula. They also have an established treasury of relationship skills among themselves, which ground the move and deflect its stresses.

    New starts are like babies born into hereditary poverty. They do not lack God’s love, they do not lack talent, they do not even, in many cases, lack hard-working parents with good social instincts. But these parents have nothing to back them up, and they’re planting in dirt, not soil.

    In many cases, new starts are in neighborhoods that established congregations have fled precisely due to the disappearance or dilution of said resources among its residents. This means the congregation lacks any of the social capital and, in our case, denominational support, that would make it a tool for the good people of the neighborhood to achieve their personal and familial goals. Thus, far from enjoying the synergistic mutual support of a relocating congregation in an economically solid area, a new start in a declining area sets up a match which at best is zero-sum.

  3. Not easily,as it’s not one page but one per congregation, and I’ve surely missed some.

    The following Google search — site:my.uua.org “Not a Constituent Congregation” — should pull them up. Should, but don’t. (You get other ministry settings and Canadian congregations; that is, live organizations, instead.) But it shows the kind of thing you can find if you know (or can guess) the old UUA church ID numbers.

    But even that breaks, for newer congregations, which uses a much longer string.

    For example: https://my.uua.org/directory/congregations/01357-079-0445026 (the presumably “second” Dorothea Dix congregation.)

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