I’ve been thinking for a while that a new church than only meets to worship only serves its original constituency and is unlikely to prosper. The lost heritage of Universalist societies, based on occasional preaching, that quick rose and fell come to mind.
A successful church needs something else. (“Why” is too big a subject here.) Here are the basic options.
- Children’s religious education. The bedrock of the fellowship movement. Depends on there being kids; for me, a child-free resident in an area with few children, this would be a non-starter. Adequate facilities costly. Benefits to later church doubtful. May encourage “graduate from church” mentality.
- Social service. Needs facilities, labor a new church may not have. May be seen as dilettantes by the pros.
- Socializing. (May be) Interesting to new members, especially in an area with much social turnover.
- Mutual aid. More common in German-ethnic (Mennonites, Brethren, Lutherans) churches historically. Personal, spiritual and material support. Can be keyed to local needs. Probably housing in D.C., but food security, childcare, job seeking, and life skills acquisition are other options. Perhaps transportation. Many a synagogue started with a burial society, and congregational credit unions come from this impulse, so add end-of-life care and financial planning and resources.
I’ve thought mutual aid is probably the most appealing and practical for adults my age (44) and younger in growing urban centers. I’m also inspired by the mutual aid experiments in the economically-ravaged edges of the Spanish and Greek economies.
So, lo and behold, I was thrilled to see an emerging congregation (I do a scan every so often at UUA.org) that leans into it, by name, no less: Mutual Aid Carrboro (North Carolina), UU. Its founding minister is Nathan Alan (Nato