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, April 05, 2006

The UCC, Dual Standing, etc...

Now, I'm not saying that my Blogcation is completely over, but...

A few of things have happened lately that have gotten me thinking about the UCC. One of these is Scott Well's "Church Search" that most recently lead him to a UCC congregation. Another is the current readjustments at the Mass. Conference of the UCC. They are changing their structure and laying off a few employees. One of those who is being let go is the Rev. Laura Lee Kent, the Central Association Minister. For you UUs;the UCC has an extra level of management. Laura Lee is roughly similar to a District Executive. I will miss her. She has been a good leader and a great help to this church as we begin to explore our relationship with the UCC. Also, on a personal note, if it wasn't for her kindly badgering I would never have finished my application for Dual-Standing in the UCC.

Yes, that is the third thing. I--for as long as I am the minister of the Eliot Church--am to be treated as one of their ministers. This is an interesting experience and one that has gotten me thinking about the condition of Christianity in the UUA.

Every once in a while a minister or seminarian leaves the UUA for the UCC (here is Pearlbear's excellent post on her journey). Sometimes they retain their fellowship but attend and even join congregations affiliated with the UCC or some other denomination (Society of Friends as been popular in the past). The reasons given often concern the rather unfortunate tendency of many, many UUs to question the Liberal Christian's continued fellowship with the UUA. Strangely, many of my UCC colleagues ask me the exact same question. It came up before my Dual Standing interview as " are Christian and a can do that?" This was a sincere question, I might add, based upon their own experiences of Unitarian Universalist ministers and congregations. I told them that it is certainly possible, but it is hard.

Another reason is, of course, that the other community of faith is just a better fit.

My heart goes out to those who leave. I sympathize with them and wish them the best. However, even with (or because of?) my new affiliation, I will be staying UU for now.

Here is what keeps me in the UUA:
I like the freedom both theologically and structurally. I am allowed to explore my Christianity without having to worry about anyone watching over me to ensure orthodoxy. I also like the fact that the Eliot Church and churches like it are able to participate in the life of the District and of the UUA. I enjoy the challenge of spending time with people who disagree with me and, when they are willing, having good, healthy discussions about these disagreements. I enjoy spending my time with my fellow UU ministers (this is not a small thing).

What I do not like, however, is that sense of superiority that many UUs have about their faith. A sense, I might add, that often implies (or explicitly states) that my faith is inferior to theirs. Interestingly, one of the things I have observed is that my actually being a UU seems to be the most objectionable part. I have spent time with UCC colleagues who serve UU/UCC churches and they rarely have the same experience when attending UU events. They say people are more polite to them. Hmmm.... Maybe I should start telling people I'm a Congregationalist and let them figure out what kind.

Also, there is a triumphalism to some UU rhetoric that is remarkable for a group professing to be liberal. I have written here before about the offical from Beacon street who informed his audience (including me) that the UUA was the only thing between the religious right and total domination. This, no doubt, would come as surprise, not just to the UCC, but to Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the unchurched, etc. Needless to say, they mostly missed this thunderous declaration and continue to do good toil on...

I should say, also, that the UCC has its issues. If you follow the links above, you will see that there is a great deal going on locally that, at least for the short term, will make some things rather confused. Also, our congregation is a mix of perspectives and people best served by both organizations.

So this arrangment works. I meet, from time to time with ministers and laypeople from both groups and I sometimes run into ministers of churches like mine at these meetings (particularly meetings of the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA and the Ecumenically Shared ministries group in the Central Association, UCC). We receive the support we need from the people who speak our theological language, whoever they may be.