Where else to plan #2: liberal Christian deserts

I’ll keep this short. The conventional wisdom says the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church — sometimes the Lutherans and the Disciples — have filled the ecological niche of liberal Protestantism that once included Unitarians and Universalists, thus we don’t need to form new Christian churches, or perhaps only benefit from planting those that speak from a very tight theological perspective.

Missological concerns aside, the original premise isn’t true. Denominations have regional clusters and variations. I think Unitarian and Universalist Christian churches have room in empty ecological niches, say where the Congregationalists did not go, and where the Episcopalians skew conservative.

The upcountry of South Carolina comes to mind; also central Virginia?  Western and southern Illinois? Pittsburgh?

Besides that I’d scan the late-to-ordain-women Episcopalian diocese and areas with strong UCC attachment to the ostentatiously-named Biblical Witness Fellowship.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Central Virginia has a pretty strong Episcopalian presence. The Diocese of Virginia is (one of?) the largest in the country, with especially strong presences in Charlottesville and Greater Richmond. The UCC is not really here, though.

  2. Actually, I think I see what Scott is getting at. There are vaible places where the Liberal Christian niche is empty. Some examples that come to my mind…

    Noblesville, Indiana. A fast growing ex-urb of Indianapolis. It has no UCC church. The Episcopal Church and the Quaker meeting in that town both trend in very conservative directions.

    Manchester, Indiana. A nice sized college town. The Congregational church is so right-wing it never joined the UCC. The Episcopal Church is VERY right-wing and homophobic. The Church of the Brethren there is progressive, but on visiting I thought it would be hard to get into if you didn’t already have a Brethren background.

  3. The anecdotal claim is made here in southern Illinois that, while there are definitely liberal Christians – even personally liberal Christian ministers – in these remote reaches of our state, that there are no liberal Christian congregations outside Carbondale, which is a university town. Carbondale has liberal UCC, Disciples, and ELCA churches, in addition to a UU church.

    I don’t know of any way to verify this popular assessment of my region, but that’s what people think the reality is…

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