Cast Out into the Wilderness

This is about community.

Five years ago I joined the local Unitarian-Universalist church. I’ve never been even remotely religious, but I felt I needed to be part of a community. Several friends of mine had died over the preceding few years. I could see I needed to fill the gap that had opened up.

I got involved. I showed up for the Sunday service every week, played music (usually cello) in at least a dozen services, helped out with the audio system a few times, gave a couple of lay sermons, and served on the music committee. I consider the people in the local congregation my friends, and that means a lot.

But then came the double whammy. First, Covid. Suddenly there were no in-person services on Sunday, it was all Zoom. The services themselves had never been meaningful to me, and Zoom just wasn’t a viable substitute for what I was seeking, which was social interaction. I’ve helped with the Zoom music a few times, but it just isn’t the same.

In-person services have now resumed, but in a hybrid format. The Zoom option has continued. As a result, at least half of the already small congregation isn’t there on Sunday. Maybe 20 people show up. And there’s no live music, not even live hymn singing, because handing out the hymnals would be unsanitary and people would be breathing too hard while singing.

Our congregation is aging rapidly. We’re not attracting younger people. To be honest, I’m not sure what we can offer that would attract younger people. Church attendance is down throughout the U.S., but UUism is a small denomination to start with, so the impact is felt more keenly. And ours was never a large congregation. So the local church is sinking into inertia and irrelevance.

On top of which, during the past couple of years I have become increasingly aware that Unitarian-Universalism itself has changed, and not for the better. Historically, UU congregations have been autonomous, and that suits me fine. Most individual UUs, who tend to go their own way, may not even be aware of what’s going on in the national organization, or may not think it will affect them. But the people who run the denomination through the UUA office in Boston have become quite authoritarian, dogmatic, and anti-democratic. They’re not just pushing through some changes; they’re actively excommunicating a few people and driving members of congregations to leave.

The deeper I’ve gotten in reading about what’s going on in the UUA, the less I like it. As a denomination, Unitarian-Universalism has become toxic. I’ve blogged about this fairly extensively; it will come as no surprise to the five regular readers of this space. I may post some fresh links tomorrow for folks who would like to know more.

It’s all very sad, and from a personal angle not much else can be said about it. I could rant and rave about the awful changes in the UUA, but nothing I say will change anything. From what I’ve read, young ministers-in-training at the two UU seminaries are being indoctrinated with a radical ideology based on critical race theory — and even if they have private reservations about what they’re being taught, they’re surely aware that they had better not voice dissenting opinions. If they look, for even a moment, less than fully committed, their chances of ever having a job as a full-time settled minister will be damaged, possibly beyond repair. The UU ministers’ association quite clearly demands conformity. They’re not even subtle about it.

I’ve joined the Satanic Temple. Their values are similar to traditional UU values. But they don’t have a local congregation here, and for my purposes the whole point of being a member is to meet and engage with local people.

The cultural trend that is tearing Unitarian-Universalism apart is not limited to our own little subculture. It’s part of a broad and ugly movement in U.S. culture, a movement away from tolerance and toward fear, anger, and blaming. I don’t want to try to connect the dots on that today; it’s too big a topic. But it comes home to me because I no longer have the connections to a living community that I was hoping five years ago to establish.

Sic transit gloria mundi and all that.

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