Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What Do UUs Need To Go Deeper?

In addition to whatever else is going on in this post, it's a good place for you to comment on my recent UU World column That Elusive 'More'.

If you didn't chase the link, here's what you need to know from it: Half of this year's Association Sunday money is going to fund projects in Lay Theological Education. I'm on the task force that is figuring out what to do with the money.

Now, on a purely superficial level the task force knows exactly what it's going to do: We're going to look at proposals from a variety of UU organizations -- churches, districts, seminaries, etc. -- and give some grants. But there's also a discussion that needs to happen, and it would be great to get as many voices involved in it as possible. Namely: What should the programs we fund be trying to accomplish?

Getting a little more specific, we're looking at this situation: Imagine someone who has already taken the first steps into Unitarian Universalism, belongs to a congregation, and may even be a leader there -- committee member, RE teacher, and so forth. S/he listens to sermons, goes to discussions, takes the occasional adult RE class ... and wants something deeper.

Now, several things might happen at this point. Sometimes we lose people here; they find another faith community with a better-defined spiritual path. Some people go exactly the opposite direction; they decide that the way to go deeper as a UU is to go to divinity school and maybe even become a minister. Some augment their UUism by taking some other kind of training; Buddhist meditation, pagan ritual, Christian prayer group, etc. Some just stay vaguely dissatisfied. Some find what they're looking for in UUism through an idiosyncratic path. (My own idiosyncratic path is what my column is about.)

Ideally, what would come out of the projects that get funded by our task force is a different set of options for such people. Something more intense than, say, your typical adult RE class or one-day district workshop, but not requiring the kind of drop-everything-else commitment that divinity school represents.

So what I'd really like to hear -- either in comments here or on your own blogs or at the task force blog -- is your reaction to this image of an individual UU at a plateau. (I guess I've mixed up and down in my metaphors. If you're at a plateau you need to go higher, not deeper. But you get the idea.) Somebody who is happy with their UUism as far as it goes, but who wishes it went further.

Have you ever been in such a place? Did you start growing again? If so, how? If not, do you have a sense of what is missing? Do you look at some other faith community and say, "Damn! Why can't we do that?" If you've seen other people at this point, what do you think they need?

If you want to tell your story, but don't want it exposed to the whole Internet, send me an email at the task force address: uulaytheology@gmail.com


Diptherio said...

I attend a small Fellowship in Montana. We've never been able to afford a minister on anything more than a very part-time basis.

I'm interested in "going deeper," and have considered seriously going to seminary. But if I go to seminary, it doesn't help my Fellowship at all. In fact it harms it. The most dedicated get sucked off to theological school and don't ever get replaced with theological school graduates. My Fellowship loses the person with the broadest theological background and doesn't get anyone back. Meanwhile, I feel like I've abandoned my spiritual community to pursue my own goals.

Small congregations get left out in the cold by UUA when it comes to helping provide congregational leadership. On the one hand we're too small to afford a "real" minister. On the other hand, if a congregation happens to spawn a member with ministerial aspirations, that persons gets siphoned off to seminary and then to a larger church afterward. Do you see the problem here?

So how about a correspondence course for "lay ministers" in small congregations. Ideally inexpensive. There could be some sort of certification, less than being fellowshipped by MFC, of course, but more than nothing, which are currently the only two options that I'm aware of. I, personally, would like courses in UU History and Polity and in Pastoral Care.

Thanks for your time working on this. I hope these resources are well used. Please don't forget us little guys (congregations)!

Elz said...

Doug, here is where we UUs are frustrated by our Reformation-era Mom-and-Pop (Preacher and DRE) ministerial model. If we started moving into more task-based ministries -- trained, ordained and paid -- our layfolk would be getting this in their congregational settings, on a much more equal basis. That is, someone could sit in the back pews and soak in all this spiritual depth, while someone else could use it to chair the appropriate committee.

I appreciate Diptherio's point about fellowships -- and as a Vermonter, am currently attending one myself from time to time. What I see there is that district-based professionals like myself, through the Society for Larger Ministry, allows them to grow and deepen spiritually on a regular basis. In fact, I once wondered, in looking at their year-long worship list, whether they might be able to have MORE spiritual depth because they are not stuck in the old Mom and Pop rut.

Although I support lay empowerment,I believe that educational opportunities like this one are premature. We must first re-denominationalize and diversify our intra-congregational ministerial model. Until then, opportunities such as the one on which you are working will only continue to shrink our congregations, as leadership training leads either to seminary or burn out, while the membership as a whole feels starved for diverse spiritual intelligences and continuall regroups around the one ministerial voice they are allowed.

Elz said...

Diptherio, I didn't properly answer your post. The correspondence-based support is an excellent idea. As for History and Theology, let me show you how that applies to "task-based ministry." History of WHAT? Minsterial tasks include pastoral care, liturgical expression and inspiration, social justice and community leadership, interfaith dialogue, congregational polity, denominational polity.

A lawyer goes through two years of general training about the law and in the third year specializes in some area. Her practice will then follow that out, and she will refer clients with other types of problems to her colleagues. That is why law firms are partnerships instead of Platonic wise monarchs with devoted courts.

I realize that in Montana, your fellowship is isolated in the way that ours, in a small state, is not. The UUA probably needs a budget for larger ministries that would bring us specialists into congregations like yours for weekends of in-depth training and reinspiration. As it is, we cannot afford to live and the fellowships cannot afford to pay us -- even though all of us would like to come together in common purpose.

Doug, thanks for your work, and please excuse my exploitation of your Comments for this dialogue.

Atom said...

While I'm relatively new to the UU movement (so much so that I can't say that I've "gone" at all much less to a measurable depth) I see a fundamental problem in having to relate to religion in a different way than I would relate to any other aspect of my life.

IMHO, life is about consumption with the majority of that being material consumption. Undoubtedly an explicit statement such as the previous sentence threatens the sensibilities of pop spirituality, but to truly hone one's intellectual development a stark sense of self-awareness is nonnegotiable. At heart, the human experience is one of self-preservation. This intuitive instinct should be embraced. Until I can justify my own inherent worth to both live and enjoy life via unashamed materialism then I have no ethical or philosophical grounds to assist others by material means. The faux pas of religious modernity is its lack of emphasis on material pleasure. Spiritual anarchy, an attitude most of us would embrace, necessitates monetary abundance to tangibly manifests itself in art, body modification, books, music... indeed, the sustenance of our congregations themselves.

None of this is to suggest that UUs approach to charity should be lessened. Poverty relief is important, as is compensating for a thousand other blights of mismanaged capital. But to be individualistic means to embrace a libertarian credo that each of us is (by all pragmatic terms) the god of our own universe and the deification of our consumption is our divine right to hedonism.

kim said...

When we talk about going deeper, are we talking about a UU theology? Like, maybe, for instance, this article about repentance?: