Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why UU churches are small

I asked a district representative why 80% of the churches in the UUA have a membership of less than 100 congregates. She said simply, "Because congregations don't know how do handle conflict."

This answer resonated with me but didn't seem to be very helpful because it left me wondering how congregations might be helped to better resolve conflict. Conflict resolution and mediation workshops never did much for me. Having learned the gimmicks and techniques of active listening and negotiation etc. I still felt these gimmicks and techniques weren't getting to the crux of the matter which is how groups best function to begin with. Having grown disillusioned with the experience in my own small congregation I have finally found an explanation which I find much more relevant and meaningful.

To be continued


  1. Which small UU congregation are you talking about David?

    Your first one, second one, or both?

    Strangely enough I am quite sure that I have seen a very similar assertion about UU congregations being small because they don't know how do handle conflict, or perhaps it was about the whole wide UU World being small.

    BTW It is not just UU congregations that do a poor job of dealing with conflict, the UUA administration at 25 Beacon Street in Boston has a pretty dismal track record too, perhaps especially when it comes to responsible dealing with UU clergy misconduct.

  2. Dear Robin:

    Why do you think this is? Have they put the UUA ahead of the people they profess to serve like the Roman Catholic Institution put its clergy head of the victims their clergy sodomized?

    It seems that there is something perverse about the nature of institutions that once formally constituted they value self preservation over their avowed mission. This seems to be the case with UUA President Peter Morales' statement that the UUA would be better off marketing itself as an ideology, i.e. a movement than a service organization for its member congregations. Is this new direction a betrayal of its mission? Perhaps it is this inherent conflict over mission and vision which President Morales articulates that leads to a lack of credibility and support for UUA congregations. Edwin Friedman, the disciple of Murry Bowen, calls this ambiguous fence straddling position among the leadership of organizations i.e. "emotional systems" a "failure of nerve".

    It seems Robin as I have read your critical essays over the years that it is this failure of the UUA to take a clear stand on clergy abuse and malpractice that has infuriated you and lead to passionate criticism. It may be the naive enactment of the 5th principle, "The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and society at large" which has lead to the absence of any coherent consensus of the best ways to carry out our espoused mission. As the bumper sticker says, "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything." It is not clear what the UUA stands for nor the local congregations which have been loosing membership slowly over the last few years.

    Thank you Robin for your comment. Much of the time I feel very lonely as like I am talking to myself. It makes me perplexed wondering who is crazy here, me or them. I get the feeling, Robin, that you understand, at least in part, what I am trying to describe.

  3. Most organizations have problems handling conflict, but before we point fingers at particular causes, we should remember that most congregations of any sort, not just UU ones, have less than a hundred members. So the question has to be why most churches are small, not why UU congregations are small, and the answer is probably pretty uninteresting - half the population of the country lives in small towns or rural areas. A more interesting question would be why UUA has such a small market share.

    (And UUA/UUMA does have a spotty record of dealing iwth clergy misconduct, but I'm not sure (rrom observation, I don't know of hard data, and suspect it would be hard to some by from the nature of the problem) that UUA is no better or worse than most Pretestant denominations.

  4. If you don't know the hard data LdeG it *might* be because the UUA is not very forthcoming with providing it. . . The UUA actually admitted that its (mis)handling of clergy sexual misconduct complaints was "worse" than some other denominations in its official apology to UU clergy sexual misconduct victims that was delivered during the 2000 UUA GA in Nashville Tennessee.

    Here is the pertinent quote -

    Let me say this as simply and unequivocally as I know how: the Association has largely failed the people most hurt by sexual misconduct, the victims and survivors. Other denominations have done better. These brave and bruised people have, more often than not I suspect, been left lonely, confused, afraid, angry and betrayed. Un-ministered to.

    To answer your question David, there is really little question that the UUA, and individual UU congregations, have in fact place their interests above those of the people they profess to serve in a manner that is very similar to how the Roman Catholic church institution put RC clergy ahead of the victims their clergy abuse. This is true for all forms of UU clergy misconduct, not just clergy sexual misconduct.

    Anyone desiring more information about the UUA's "terrible track record" in dealing with clergy sexual misconduct should enter into a free and responsible search for the Truth and meaning of the information available on the UU Safety Net website and/or UUgrrl's Speaking Truth To Power blog.


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