“When you have come to the edge Of all light that you know And are about to drop off into the darkness Of the unknown,
Faith is knowing One of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or You will be taught to fly.” ~ Patrick Overton
These are exciting times. There are unsettling times. The seismic shock of change is disorienting. Just as you learn where the economy or technology or culture is going, it shifts. As the ad has it, “that’s so 37 seconds ago.”
The way we “do church” is similar. Across the religious world, everyone’s trying to figure out how to adapt the “church on the green, worship at 11” for those living nearby to an internet-connected, multi-cultural, multi-generational, even multi-dimensional, 24/7 world. The traditional church is so “50 years ago.”
This last month, our District’s reported membership approached 5,000, up nearly 200 from last year, reversing a 3 year decline. Even so, the very idea of “membership” is less salient – notably to the non-joining younger generations.The truth is, the “spiritual but not religious” population grows as religious affiliation falls precipitously. How do we adapt the ways we “do church” to serve this generation of seekers?
In recent weeks, our UUA President Peter Morales has put forward a “white paper,” Congregations and Beyond inviting us to think creatively how to reach the estimated 500,000 – 750,000 people who self-identify as Unitarian Universalists but are not in our congregations (See: http://uua.org/uuagovernance/officers/president/moralespeter/192145.shtml ). Rather than complain that they haven’t joined the local congregation, he asks, how can we reach these fellow travelers sharing our values to increase our witness for love and justice?
We know our commitment to personal freedom, human dignity, careful reflection on the religious life, and a commitment to serve others is what today’s young adults yearn for. They are hungry for a home for their spiritual questions and for a deep sense of community. Yet, many of our congregations remain rooted in idea of a church where people think alike and look alike. We are challenged to keep hearts and minds open to crossing our boundaries of assumption and comfort if we are to serve the thousands that visit — but too often do not stay — our congregations each week.
The Free Church has work to do. Our ministry remains valid, but like a good wine, it needs decanting and perhaps some new bottling. I eagerly await your participation in the District Assembly next month (March 23-25) in Jacksonville where we will engage these questions directly. I also am eager to hear your response to President Morales’ essay.
In faith that we are learning to fly or there is something solid before us, Rev. Kenn