Friday, July 27, 2007

Building Your Own Ecclesiology

The title says it all, right? Well, it does after it's defined: ecclesiology means "theory of church".

This is a big hole in UU adult religious education. We have "Building Your Own Theology" to help individuals figure out what they think about the big questions of individual human life. And occasionally we have workshops to help churches find a mission statement, or arrive at some other expression of their collective purpose. But there's no introspective what-I-think-about-us course. We need one.

As some of you know, I'm in the process of writing a UU 101 book for Skinner Press. Most of the time I'm just putting words around stuff that is widely known and understood. But when it comes to ecclesiology -- what a church is about and why you might want to be part of one -- I'm having to wing it a lot more.

And that speaks to a disconnect I find at my local church. On the one hand I sense a hunger for deeper involvement in a lot of people. On the other hand, there are a lot of things not getting done. There's a gulf between the people who are waiting for volunteers and the people who would like to be invited to participate in something important and meaningful. There's not a widely held vision of church that makes it natural to jump in here or there, or to create something new that the church needs.

So I picture BYOE like this: It presents a lot of different visions of what a church might be and the role it might play in someone's life. And then it asks you to claim such a vision for yourself: What do YOU think is going on here and how do you see the you/church relationship? What role could the church fill in your life and what role could you fill in the church's life?

Doing this in a group would have an added advantage of providing perspective. Somebody who is looking for allies in social action will be in a group with somebody who is looking for support in spiritual growth and with somebody who is looking for a village to help raise a child. Each of them could be inspired to envision a more holistic church than the one that fulfills their personal needs. (And that, I guess, is part of my ecclesiology: Church pulls us into something larger than ourselves.)

At the end you don't write a credo (I believe) you write a sumus: We are.


Matthew said...

"There's a gulf between the people who are waiting for volunteers and the people who would like to be invited to participate in something important and meaningful."

In my experience, people who need volunteers have the best luck if they go to individuals in their church and ask them ... "would you like to help with this?"

Simply pushing people together in a group or making generic requests for volunteers never seems to work as well as one person asking another person, "would you like to help with this?" It shows the person that they are perceived as capable and gives them an opportunity to be helpful.

Steve Caldwell said...

Two resources that touch on Unitarian Universalist ecclesiology are the following:

Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity (1997 Report from the UUA Commission of Appraisal) -- there is a link for this report on the COA web page but it's broken. This link appears to work:

Unitarian Universalist Identity" by Kate Tweedie Erslev uses a "house" metaphor to explore various aspects of UU systemmatic theology.

You can find this "house" described in greater detail on pages 19-28 of Katie's curriculum which is online here (Adobe Acrobat PDF document):

Katie's summary of Rebecca Parker's description of UU Ecclesiology is the following:

UU Ecclesiology: Laying the walls Our UU ecclesiology began in the 16th century when the Protestant Reformation reconceptualized the church from the hierarchy of the Pope to being formed by free human beings who make a promise (a covenant) to each other. Our walls are characterized by a more democratic concept of the term “church.” Our neighbors in this “free church” tradition are the Baptists, Disciples of Christ, and Quakers.

Another characteristic of our ecclesiology, our walls, is that we are profoundly distrustful of pronouncements from “on high.”

Symbolically, if the Catholic hierarchy might be symbolized by the walls of St. Peter’s in the Vatican, our walls might be symbolized by….? (clapboard, or hand hewn logs, or recycled tires perhaps?

I adapted Katie curriculum for use with our Middle School group as part of our exploration of UU roots in the Protestant Christian tradition. A summary of this along with photos of the newsprint pages can be found online here:

Hope this helps -- good luck.

Steve Caldwell said...

Another resource from the UUA Commission on Appraisal is the following online self-study course for the Interdependence report:

hafidha sofia said...

Thanks, Steve, for that last resource!

Using it now.