The ghost of Charles Street

In case regular readers missed it in the comments, Roger Kuhrt asks:

Scott: Just curious–I have given some thought to the creation of a new plant Universalist Congregation (more after the model of The Charles Street Universalist Meeting House than other U churches). My question is this: who would one affiliate with nationally? Given my overt criticism of the UUA I doubt I would want to head off in that direction. Thought seriously about using the Center for Progessive Christianity as a National “place.” What do you think?

Funny, given my overt denunciation of the theologically (and financially) bankrupt Charles Street Meeting House, you might be asking the wrong person. But your question begs a few more, and a couple of comments besides:

  • First, The Center for Progressive Christianity isn’t a denominational body. It claims no ecclesiastical or disciplinary power over either its church members or ministers attached them. It doesn’t support or recognize missions, but is a special-interest service organization. But even if it was a denomination, Charles Street Meeting House wasn’t Christian. Why would an heir join a Christian body? Why would a TCPC-like denomination accept into membership?
  • Second, of all concerns to bring into a church planting plan, why start with national affiliation?
  • Third, the Charles Street Meeting House anticipated much of what is the unquestioned mainline of Unitarian Universalism: a psychologically-steered materialism, prone to harvesting attractive elements in other religions, and operating with a middle-class consumerist ethic. (To its credit, mainline Unitarian Universalism has resisted Ken Patten’s anthropocentric tendencies.) My point is: I doubt the UUA powers-that-be would really care about your criticism. I’m easily as much as a critic, with a plan that calls for an atypical church, and nobody’s thrown a wall up at me. Then again, I’m not asking for money, and they’re not offering. Now if non-affiliation is your deal, that’s more than I can comment on.


  1. – Ecclesial affiliation is rightly not a big concern for a new church-plant, and in our post-denominational world it may be even less important to prospective members. BUT… unless you are going to be completely independent, you need to wonder about where the resources (not simply the financial ones) are going to come from. And here I am talking about the resource of mutual edification.

    Where then? TCPC if all you are looking for are ecumenical liberal publications. But do you need more? Where might future ministers come from? Do you want a Chalice Lighter grant someday? Consultants to talk to? Other congregations to cooperate with?

    And if you are really going to go the Charles Street Meetinghouse route (emotional Humanism, with comparative religion), maybe you should consider the American Ethical Union ( The folks at Ethical Culture are dying to grow. In this past year they’ve already lost their Cleveland, OH and “Iowa at large” congregations.


  2. Well, and WOW Scott–I don’t disagree with your assessments about Charles Street, but I do embrace his (Patton) inclusive vision of a Universal Religion. I think that TCPC would receive folks entering the salvific presence by whatever “door” they choose. To prefer Jesus/Christ/Holy Spirit, but to maintain non-exclusivity about that is the key to a bridging of religious systems and becomes the Ground of both Meaning and Cooperation. I guess theologically I would tend toward Bob Keck’s expressions in Sacred Eyes and Sacred Quest–I would take that same approach to Evolutionary Emergence. I have a hunch (maybe wishful thinking) that the TCPC clergy will someday opt to pull their selves or their congregations out of . . . . and into TCPC as a kind of denomination–this as Derek mentions as well as yourself–this is a word/concept that goes begging in our time.

    I am not sure that I would any longer identify such a congregation as Universalist (I think I am simply beguiled by my own research about the Park Street Universalist Church in Tacoma, WA during the very early 1900’s)–Universalism is probably in the same “crapper” as denomination, etc. I still favor my selection which was first: “Church On the Edge” and have since revised to “Church At the Edge.”

    Derek your mention of Ethical Culture/Union affiliations is interesting since we have a newly birthed Puget Sound Ethical Culture group in Tacoma/Seattle, WA. I was asked to do Platform Address early on (one of the founders was in my UU congregation in Tacoma which I served for 19 years) and when I left so did he. I am not sure those folks are “ready” for the kind of Worship Innovations I would desire–live, loud music, multimedia images, movement, etc. I would want to appeal to much younger folks than these persons are at this time. And I am more of a generative visionary and at age 62 I doubt I have the energy to sustain the creation of such a congregation. Or to meet its needs pastorally, but I still dream.

    By the way Scott there is a group of folks here in Tacoma, WA attempting to “save” a downtown Baptist Church (ABC) by creating a new start Ecumenical Congregation which would be called “The Church Off Broadway.” They have yet to secure money from the Judicatories of the Mainline, but they do have some nibbles and a stering committee. I had often thought of suggesting they contact you as a potential minister–if things develop positively I will let you know privately, but have no idea if you want to “go West young man!” And in these areas UU Christians are scarce and Humanists still dominate the landscape. However, we are also not entrenched is hundreds of years of history–morelike just a few decades which can be overcome.

    And Derek, as for affiliation–that is an up in the air option. Certainly, while Chalice Lighters is a great short term program, the UUA has little if any interest in small congregations. However, if one could BEGIN with a gathered congregation of at least 300 then affiliation might be a roadblock so I remain in a quandary about that. Thanks for bringing it back into consciousness. I am so emmeshed within UUism that I doubt I have any objective sense of what it would be to actually be outside its tenticals of influence.

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