The Deistette and I took a visit to another UU church Sunday. I haven’t been to my home congregation on a Sunday morning in probably two months at least but I feel a strong sense of loyalty to my home congregation so this felt kinda… i don’t know, adulterous?
I’ve been so busy with keeping the HOA deed restriction wolfhounds off my back as well as doing other handyman work for neighbors that I’m either too tired or involved in working on a project to get to church on Sunday.
But I humored my wife and went to this other UU congregation, which on paper seemed pretty damn awesome. It has an engaging children’s program, a number of opportunities for adults to grow spiritually as well as activities to participate in social justice.
I told her not to get too excited about it because on paper a church is much different from what you experience when you get there. The minister might be dull, the people clickish, the sanctuary uncomfortable or it may just lack that “x” factor that tells you “THIS is a church I could see myself being a part of.”
She agreed but she was practically giddy come Sunday morning. She was on the phone with her mom that morning as we were getting ready and because of her excitement was able to convince her mom to come with us and spend the morning and afternoon of her only day off… at church. Full disclosure: it was mentioned we would be going to IKEA afterward. : )
So we get there and it was a nice service. The people were nice. The music was nice. Everything was… nice. But it was just so generic and lacking in what felt like any spiritual experience that we all left… well, disappointed.
We talked about it as soon as we were in the car. After about 15 minutes of conversation my mother in-law finally says, “did I miss something? I mean it was a nice service but there was not one thing said that made me feel inspired or give me something to think about the rest of the week.”
We ate lunch at IKEA and for another 40 minutes or so we continued with trying to figure out what went wrong from little things about that particular congregation to big picture things about religion as a whole as well as shortcomings with UUism.
One thing my mother in-law asked me was “is it hard for a UU minister to give a sermon?” The way she asked it and given we were talking about the sermon being rather lackluster made me think she asked the question because she thought the homily sucked. Plus she knows any one UU congregation can have as many spiritual paths to address as there are members. In that regard she asked do all UU ministers speak with that weird cadence with obviously scripted pauses. Are they all kind of obnoxious, fake, overly dramatic? In my experience… yes. Yes and I don’t know why.
She asked me what is it about UUism that appeals to me. What is it that makes it a right fit for me.
She asked if I thought of it as a religion? She also asked if I thought ANYONE in a UU church believes it to be a religion considering the way they dressed and carried themselves portrays a lack of self respect. I think her point was if they can’t dress in a way that shows they respect themselves how on earth do they respect anything else, particularly the place where they worship?
And then she asked, how on earth has the UU church had any success or continued as long is it has?
I think these are questions that are asked week after week after week by visitors to a UU church. I think the UU church has such a potential to be a real, valid, significant, legitimate, truly meaningful and substantial voice on the world stage regarding human affairs if we could just get our shit together.
I have been a UU for only 10 years… actually I’m about six months shy of that. But it seems I have always heard some sort of conversation about growth.. the lack of.., the need for…, mechanisms on… growth. This conversation has in fact been going on for decades in the UU church.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we will always be a speck on the religious radar. We always be will be a punchline. We will merely be a voice of misfits that is never really taken seriously. Oh we’ve had a one-off success here and there but you know what… you give a monkey a typewriter and enough time… it’ll tap out a word or two.
The fundamental problem with UUism and why it will always be relegated to the outer fringes of the religion landscape is because we don’t have a singular passion as a collective religious people. We don’t believe in something collectively with burning passion. We have let the genie of “believe whatever you want to believe” out of the bottle long ago and allowed our theological center to scatter to the winds.
Bring it back ministers. Bring back our theology. Preach from the pulpits and the street corners and everywhere in between the idea that we are all One… we all have a spark of The Divine and as such ARE One.
AND, more importantly that there is such a thing as unconditional, undeserved Love that tells us we belong despite are our shortcomings.
You do this, and you’ll create disciples that will have a burning in their heart which lead them to spread a message that can save souls and heal communities.
I found this post on Twitter, and I really enjoyed it. We attended our local UU church for a couple of years, but we stopped a few months ago for pretty much the reasons you state here. I remember that one of the members of that church once stated she thought of UU as its own religion, and like you, I think it has a lot of potential. But there was nothing inspiring in the sermons. And sometimes they would just make jeers at other religions, and that is not what I’m going to church for. I want to go to church to be inspired, and I want church to make me a better person. This UU was all about being an activist, yet as parents of young children, we are so exhausted, and our finances stretched so much, that we cannot be activists at this time, and we’re not that interested in politics – something else I don’t want to go to church and talk about. I know there are a lot of atheists in the congregation, and while I “embrace the mystery” and question the existence of a God, I want something spiritual at church and meaningful. I want the good that religion – any religion – has to offer but without the “everybody else is going to hell.” Unfortunately, we live in an area that doesn’t offer many other religious alternatives. We haven’t decided whether we’ll go back to the UU church or not. Anyway, thank you for your thought-provoking post. I think UU churches need to consider these things.
“The way she asked it and given we were talking about the sermon being rather lackluster made me think she asked the question because she thought the homily sucked.”
Careful now Julian or you just might find that you and/or your mother-in-law are served with a cease and desist demand letter from the UUA accusing you of sexual harassment of the “less than perfect” Unitarian Universalist minister in question.
No joke. . . 😉
My favorite novella, JD Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters has as a subplot the story of a wise man in ancient China sent out to look for horses who looked beyond the superficial to see real worth. Does your mother-in-law like to read? Might be an interesting story for her–or perhaps having been raised UU I find the story compelling.