Monday, June 25, 2007

Organic Church Conversation followup and more GA

I had a great time talking with folks, and especially my co-panelist Susan Smith, about this thing we do called organic. emergent, etc. at the General Assembly workshop in Portland this past Saturday. Hello to any from there who are coming to the blog after first hearing about it at the conversation. Always wish we had a full afternoon or day. Most of the folks there, some 90 percent, raised hands when asked if they were born before 1963 and hence had the churched culture image of church as their default mode, the rest were born between 1963 and 1975, and none were there who were born after 1975 (maybe they were out doing organic stuff besides sitting and talking in a workshop! I hope so). But people were receptive, if left dazed, about what all church could be and still be church.

So much I wish I had said. Thanks for the questions which always help me to better understand myself and my ideas anyway. I will try to get to them in the weeks ahead as I return after vacation.

But one question and conversation in some depth afterwards led me to wanting to emphasize something here, especially for any who were at the GA event and heard me talk about what we do now through "a third place" and the Living Room Church, and why: The other default mode that most people had at the meeting that we didn't expose at the time was the default mode of the demographics that go into people's idea of UU church. One questioner was wondering about the emphasis on service and mission and the assumption was that so many church members are already doing that, and what they need is a focus on religious matters to help sustain them what they are already doing. This was afterwards. It dawned on me that no, my folks in at least this first site in our poly-site vision, do not do this already. They aren't the typical church volunteer of the 50s through 70s. They aren't involved in service, in other volunteer groups, and they for the most part don't have the disposable money and disposable time that perhaps the demographically typical UU church does; they don't feel their own power in engaged community service; they aren't cultural creatives; they don't have college educations, or not yet. I think that this approach does work with the typical UU demographics, but it is a good question in that context, and I have written elsewhere on this post about the difficulties inherent in church planting among the better educated and the more well-off financially. Just wanted to add this in as a continuation of the conversation started at the meeting.

Speaking of GA, the Kathleen Norris lecture was tremendous. Great apologetics in a humorous vein, in a moving spiritual vein, and a great turn-out. She said it was one of her largest audiences ever. The communion service the day before is still being talked about, as is the mini-Revival hymn sing the night before.

Go to the GA section of the site and you ought to be able, or will be soon, to order the tapes of all the GA programs sponsored by the UUCF. Since I am on vacation if someone wants to find the link and post it here as a comment, go ahead.

Also, if anyone knows anyone on the UUA Board and knows what action was taken on Monday by them in regards to the applications for the Independent Affiliate statuses, please let me know too even by email at End

53rd Birthday in San Francisco

Hello from San Francisco and the intersection of Geary and Larkin. I wake up tomorrow, the good Lord willing, and I will be 53 years old and I hope before the day is out to be standing at the foot of the giant Sequoia trees more than 2000 years old. Nuff said.

Birthday presents to myself belatedly will be Fantastic 4 and Spiderman 3 (note I did say I was 53 and still have my 1960s originals of those comic books). And I will then commit myself to trying not to act like a superhero but to embrace the blessings of imperfection and my God-given finitude. End.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Theology Redux and GA 2007 Notes

Carl Scovel, minister emeritus at Kings Chapel in Boston, God love him, gave the address to the ministers at the UUA ministers day from the 50-year in ministry perspective. The full comments will be published by the UUMA I am sure, but he had at least a roll of us UU Christian ministers Amen-ing and nodding, and his comparison with ministry then and now had a lot of support it seemed to me though the address was part "scold" in general and part 'blessing." The scold was at no one or no group in specific just all of us I guess for how we sacrifice vocation for profession, how we seek to make ministry about us and our journeys (well maybe it was a scold on Emerson, after all, or at least how UUs have used Emerson). He had lots of great examples and others I trust will pick up and blog on them. Once it is published somewhere I promise to republish it and hope others will too. He didn't want to return to the old days when he entered ministry, of course, and made the sins of the fathers clear. But...

Perhaps the line that got the most applause, at least from our corner, was his statement that at the merger two theological traditions tried to merge and weren't able to and we didn't know then who we were theologically and evidence through the years is that we still don't know who we are theologically. He compared the traditions and called them inclusion vs. universalism. Universalism is the focus on how God's love is for all. Inclusion, if I understood him right and I will try to ask for clarity, is about us (people) trying to welcome and incorporate all. One focuses on God and the other on a set of people. If you begin from and focus on God's love it will create the spirit of hospitality but do so from a theological center; if you begin from and focus on our ability to be welcoming because of who we are, and make that the theological basis, then you end up with continuing fragmentation theologically. I am not saying this as succintly as Carl, and maybe partly my own thinking spurred by his, and it is nothing new but he said it very very well this time and I can't wait for the full text. Especially as there was much more that was good in it.

Carl's 50-year address was preceded by Barbara Pescan's eloquent 25-year address. But when the full text of both of these come out, theologians among us need to point out for others the two strands and their ramifications. My hunch at the moment is that Carl's nailed the Universalism tradition and Barbara's nailed what he called the Inclusion tradition.

He also said that the fact that charismatic conservative Christians are now adopting and promoting the Universalist tradition is proof that God has a bad sense of humor.

Theology has been on my mind before and so far at GA.

One: I have been thinking how we seem to have lost even theological conversation on a national front. I am not sure the Commission on Appraisal rethinking of the UUA Principles and Purposes can even, it seems, spur it on. Maybe it is me but that seems to be not picking up steam the way I once thought it would. We have shifted so much to sociological basis for our identity that I am not sure we can mount theological debate. I find myself missing it. I find myself wondering what happens when people are too tired or too distracted or whatever to be able to say, for example, as I would say (and this is just me talking, just me, not my employer, just me), that UUism not only needs to put God front and center in our purposes, but that it's not heresy to say that Jesus should be (of course I know he isn't) the central spiritual touchstone of our tradition. Central here means center but without a prescribed circumference. I think following Jesus should be the future of the UU church and not just its past. That I think I am right and I think others are wrong (of course I know I might not be; that doesn't mean I can't maintain it) does not make me a bad UU. For our reworked P&P I suggest a slightly modified 1935 Washington Universalist Avowal that tempers some of the "we can bring about the kingdom" hubris.

Two: Theology has been an undercurrent in the controversy over Independent Affiliates. See The rhetoric has been that the focus needs to shift to the UUA being identified with congregations and not with various and sundry and especially small independent affiliates. So only those are likely to be approved who can show a major link between them and congregations. But also, any with a specific theological perspective, are suspect on that grounds alone no matter how connected they are to congregational life. I asked if for example, the Council of Christian Churches within the UUA could apply as an independent affiliate, not that they would or would want to since they in the past expressly decided against it, but they are a group of congregations themselves binding together to work for congregations; and I was told by the UUA Moderator that I was suggesting a kind of "end-run" around the issue but that it would prompt an "interesting discussion" as they hadn't thought of that before. That's because congregations having a specific theological orientation don't fit into the UU model; when the very basic core of congregationalism and our polity in history is that our congregations have not only the right but the responsibility to decide their theological orientation, be it whatever. We should be doing all we can to encourage our congregations as congregations to take theological stances and to be able to justify them and defend them and of course always be open to the movement of the Spirit as it may lead them to change. It is why people went to the stake, and why they journeyed here.

I don't know what the action will be from the Board about the UUCF or others with applications pending; I like others am not so worried about the effect of all this on the UUCF as I am on the UUA itself. The decision will be made by the Board on Monday. The upshot of the hearings seems to be that the Board wants independent affiliates to figure out how to work together in order to have access to things like the UUA website and only an umbrella group consisting of the various affiliates, such as those with theological orientations, will meet the new criteria. This is not a new suggestion but came up at the St. Louis GA in hearings and conversations. There is a lot here and will be visited by many others and by me later too after more reflection. I am curious about whether the suggestion will increase or further decrease the presence of theology on an associational level; I am curious if the bylaws will be changed to drop the "UU organizations" part of the misson of the UUA along with the stated service to congregations, or if UU organizations are only what the Board says are UU organizations (I still favor congregations making that distinction and think you could put a percentage of congregation support level into the criteria); I think that this issue has much more beneath the surface which over time could be interesting to explore. Here I will just say, in the vein of this post, that it is interesting how theological groups among us are lumped into the same mix as all others---call me biased, but I think the religious association should be biased in favor of theological groups, and that its leaders should be able to draw lines and say yes, this theological group is part of us, and so is this one, but should the need arise also be able to say no this other is not.

Oh well it is late and as you can tell I am need of communion tomorrow, and look forward to Brother Tom Schade's pentecost-themed sermon "Gathered Into Many Bodies" 10:45 a.m. today in Convention Room C123-124. And tomorrow night's hymn sing. We are going to have our biggest dinner and hymn sing turnout---75 plus.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Emergent Organic Conversation at GA this week

It will be Emergent/Organic, Church-Planting, Mission-Minded, House-Church, Lay Fellowship Movement Redux but more Connected, Church Turned Inside Out, Multi-Site 101 and Vision Conversation Time. Saturday, June 23, from 2:45 to 4 p.m. in Portland OR Convention Center Rooms D139-140, sponsored by the UU Christian Fellowship. What all this can teach UU churches, much of which we were once good at way back when. Conversation featuring Rev. Ken Brown, district executive of the Pacific Southwest District, Rev. Susan Smith, district executive of the Southwestern Conference of the UUA, Rev. David Owen of MicahsPorch, and me.

Hope you are there too. There won't be much time to do more than hit the basics, but that can be pretty revolutionary, and spur on continuing conversation. Wouldn't it be something if each year we had a panel or two of representatives of new churches, new emerging missions, giving a report on the risks they are taking, what they are finding out on the ground. There are the "Breakthrough Church Conversations" which have been started, and I am sure they are helpful, but I would like to see some on "Risk-Taking Missions."

But if you get a chance also go to Rev. Christine Robinson's workshop on "How About Video as a Way to Grow"? Not sure that title will accurately capture the ground-breaking nature of what she is trying to do in New Mexico. It is Thursday, 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. in Ballroom 203.

Also Ken Brown and Angela Merkert will be doing more on multi-site and more at "New Visions for Growing Congregations" Friday, 2:45 p.m. to 4 p.m." Ballroom 253. Others that you know might be worthwhile for the organic planter to know about?

Oh for the GAs of the future and the packe houses for "Growing Visions of New Congregations".

It might come up during the ministry days; I will try to keep my ears peeled but you readers who will be there do so too since I will also be busy setting up the booth for the Christian Fellowship. And don't forget our BIG SATURDAY and SUNDAY at General Assembly. Communion Service with Tom Schade and Victoria Weinstein Saturday 10:45 to Noon Convention Center C123-124; the emergent workshop; then Dinner, Hymn Sing, Testimonial, Annual Meeting of the UUCF from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. at First Church Portland, Fuller Room; then Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. KATHLEEN NORRIS in the Oregon Ballroom speaking on "Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith". More at

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Annual GA "Church-Planting Snipe Hunt"

For those of you who are going to the UUA General Assembly in Portland this coming week, as will I, drop me a line if somewhere sometime you hear, either officially or unofficially, ANY talk of church planting. Looking over the GA program I see where it MIGHT come up here and there, but there was nothing explicitly stated. Of course with the Open Space Program used this year, maybe it will bubble up from the grassroots. One could hope, but then, given who attends the Assembly, those fairly contented with the status quo, I am skeptical. But a good time will be had by all as we crowd the upper decks of the Titanic.