To have more UUs, improve general health?

I’ve been thinking: what would it take for Unitarian Universalism to be healthier, so that would could meet some realistic goals for improving the material and spiritual estate of this corner of liberal religiousity? If we’re going to fight, it might as be for something epic. If we’re going to struggle, it should be more than topping up the endowments.

I think the problem is one of general internal health. I remember reading recently about a study in sub-Saharan Africa where rate of HIV transmission and infant mortality remained high despite heathcare efforts to address both. The study found that unless the quality of life of those in the affected areas was projected to improve, the infection and mortality rates didn’t improve. Without a hope, says the Proverbs, the people perish. The same goes for hope: not simply one conceived mentally but acted upon practically.

So how are we to be healthier? One sign of bad health is that, as an Association, we seem incapable of holding more than one model of anything at one time, or for very long. In a great arc, Some Great Cause sweeps the landscape, obliterates other options, the failings appear, and it is discarded. The Fellowship Movement is one example. I think the Big Plant church start — a late-adopted darling from the 1970s — is already showing sign of strain. I wouldn’t get too attached to the Carver Model.

I think the bloggers can help as proxies for what were once advocacy organizations. Let there be more than one way of doing something without having to fight over operating expenses and the UUA Board of Trustee’s blessing first.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. I would also be skeptical of the Carver Model of governance, and I have already begun to see its strains. When I was on a District committee our District moved to the Carver Model of policy governance. The Board set policies that were WAY out of step with the committee’s capacity for action. The committees did little to achieve those end-goals, and voila, NOTHING was accomplished.

    For example, the Board set a policy for the Extension Committee that there should be one new church plant per year. The Committee debated endlessly about how to make this a reality. Four years later they may still be debating how to get this done, and no new churches have been planted. I got fed up with the attempt to craft a perfect plan of action, and quit the committee.

    Church planting has a certain zen to it. At some point you have to let go of thinking about it. There is no policy that will perfectly match the reality. There is either do, or don’t do.

  2. Oh boy, did you just say a mouthful.

    It has been a serious discipline of mine not to have my head spun around by every Latest Thing promoted by the Association. It’s very tempting, because to jump on whatever bandwagon is going by is lauded, and you get to feel like a real insider and team player. But most of what’s out there — however well-meaning– is ephemera. Meanwhile, the deep and sustaining practices and ways of thinking that can strengthen our ministries are not regularly explored. Or if they are, they’re perpetually re-packaged and given some snazzy new name. It’s all distracting and linguistically confusing and very little of it strengthens congregational life and faith practice.

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