I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The United Church Thing

The UUA is counting its members and congregations once again. Thom Belote is keeping track over at Philocrites. Eliot church has already registered. We figured we would get it out of the way now so that we could get down to the rather elaborate reporting we need to do for the UCC (it has been a while since we sent them stuff).

If you go to the list, you can find us in the Mass Bay District with 57 members. Don't panic people! We, have, of course, twice that many. When a United church reports its numbers it has two options, it can kind of guess how many of each denomination they have, or they can just divide the membership by the number of denominations. A Federated church keeps records of who is what. We do not.

Sure, this doesn't seem like a big deal, but this little membership fiction illustrates one of the sticky hurdles in United church/Association (or denominational, the UCC requires the same thing) relations. I understand the reasoning. It is, after all, about the money. How else to figure out how much we are supposed to contribute? I do not mean to be sarcastic, either. Money is important.

However, there are some problems that are underlined by the count:

First, if I was a UUA/UCC or District/Conference Official, I think I would want a more accurate picture of the size of the church than that. Maybe I'm wrong, but I would approach a church with 57 members differently from one with 114. Also, I would look differently at a church with 10 members than I would at one with 250. There have been churches like that in the past, too. Our count doesn't always reflect our reality.

The UUA has done something about this in our reportage. There is now a category for "Multi Denominational Members". This is a step in the right direction. Thank you.

Second, the theory, I realize, is that we pay our contributions based on the number 57. This theory in reality only works when the two associations have the same rates! The UUA and the UCC as well as their respective Conference and District offices have different rates and requirements. Since, in reality, we take our funds and send the same amount to both the UUA and the UCC, one group (UCC) gets more than they ask for and one group (UUA) gets less.

What does this do to our relations with the Mass Bay District and the UUA? Well, it probably doesn't help. We may very well appear hostile when we are just trying to be balanced. I have no concrete examples so maybe I don't need to worry about this. However, as a Christian Church in the UUA, in many ways Eliot has a consituency outside our congregation that doesn't need any "bad press"...

Third (and this may be a small point), since the UUA is so small, wouldn't it want to count all the members of a united church if only for boasting rights? The other 57 members have the same minister, sit on the same committees, and hear the same sermon as the "CertifiedUU" ones (again, we didn't even count actual people). They, too, are a part of our movement...

Anyway, none of this is earth-shattering to our daily operations. However, it is one of the things I must consider when I go to meetings, express interest in District assistance, and other related things. Incidentally, if you are wondering about the size of some of these churches, look at the RE program. If it has more kids than the Congregation has members, you are probably seeing an entry for a United or Federated Church...