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Monday, December 22, 2003

The Church of ——.

Will Shetterly writes that the name "Unitarian Universalism" "is great for people who love history, but for the general public, it's too long, too obscure, too easily confused with latecomers like Unity, and too far at the back of the alphabet." He proposes some alternatives, like "The Church of Choice." I'm not fired up about it, but the process of thinking through alternatives is helpful.

The Liberal Churches of America, Frederick May Eliot's preference some 60 years ago, seemed like a promising alternative to me — and the name might force us to be more clear about what we mean by "liberal." Which just happens to be the subject of the review essay I wrote for the January/February 2004 issue of UU World, in your mailboxes this week and online by Christmas (knock on wood). Or how about "The Churches of the Free Spirit," for which the joint Unitarian-Universalist collection Hymns of the Spirit (1937) was prepared?

If you were to pick another name, which would you choose? And what would you be giving up with a change? And please note: This is strictly a thought experiment here, not a clarion call to change the Association's name.

Update: In the comments below, Will Shetterly clarifies that he's brainstorming for his congregation's new name, not advocating a new name for the UUA. (I jump back from my hasty conclusion . . .)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 22 December 2003 at 5:44 PM

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December 22, 2003 07:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

My suggestion will likely elicit outrage, but what about just "Unitarian"? ("Universalist" sounds too hippy and/or wishy-washy. "I'm a Universalist, man.") I can't imagine a new name I'd prefer.

However, if we really wanted to be cutting edge, we'd realize that we have entered a post-denominational age. (Post)modern seekers are not attracted to denominational labels, but individual church communities. The successful growing churches are dropping denominational labels from their names. Here in Kansas City, the fashionable church is "Church of the Resurrection" which carries the tiny subtitle "a United Methodist congregation." Similarly the UUA's new venture church down in Dallas is calling itself Pathways Church, subtitle: a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

All the talk about denominational names seems terribly passe to me.


December 22, 2003 10:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

RevThom wrote: (Post)modern seekers are not attracted to denominational labels, but individual church communities.

Hear, hear! This is partly why I like a denominational name that points back at the congregations — "The Churches . . ." in my two examples — rather than inviting the churches to think of themselves as franchises of some ism.


December 22, 2003 10:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm with RevTHom. It's a post-denominational world.

When I was still with UUCongregation of Fairfax (now, there's a mouthful) the argument over the road sign took years, but to this day the parishioners call it Fairfax Church. How much simpler it would have been for everybody to just call it Fairfax Church. It's right next door to the LDS stake, and I don't think anybody would have confused the two.


December 22, 2003 10:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

I always liked the name of that old and defunct group the Free Religion Association. Though Free Religion may be just as confusing as UUism for a title. Not sure...but the call for a free faith, free inquiry...I'm sure there's something to that word.

Will Shetterly:

December 23, 2003 01:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

Uh, guys, unless you're talking about disbanding the denomination, its name matters. Of course it's a subtitle. The UU Church of South East Arizona may be changing its name soon, and if it does, I'll prob'ly vote for something without "UU" in the name. But that has nothing to do with what we call our association.

Will Shetterly:

December 23, 2003 03:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Sorry for the confusion created by my previous post. I do think the denomination should change its name, and I think my local church should change its name as well.

What I meant to say above is that even if you think the denomination's name is only a footnote, it matters. Will you be using the denomination's song book? Will you mention the denomination when people ask you what kind of church your little church is?

What does it mean to have a "post-denominational" church? Should the UUA do like some big corporations and have stealth franchises, essentially trying to fool people into thinking a corporate church is a mom-and-pop one?

Emphasizing the unique identity of each church in the denomination makes sense to me. Ignoring the church's allegiance does not.


December 23, 2003 04:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Having spent part of yesterday explaining that Unitarian Universalist does not necessarily mean Christian (or even specifically Unitarian or specifically Universalist, for that matter), nor does "church" = Christian, I'm thinking of identifying me and my cohorts as Respectful Heretics - but I fear that sounds more like a rock band than a proper moniker for a congregation. Maybe I'll use it when I get around to forming my klezmer-meets-Vaughan Williams doo-wop group one of these years. *grin*

Jay Lavelle:

December 25, 2003 10:44 AM | Permalink for this comment

The urge to change the past (or just to ignore it) is a strong temptation. We don't like our parents so we change the name they gave us; we don't like our country being embodied by Ronald Regan or George Bush so we become "Citizens of the World"; we don't like that Unitarian Universalist refers to one god and his overwhelming love and mercy so we look for another name.
To me the "church of Choice" sounds like an amalgam of abortionists and mercy-killers, while the "Church of Free Spirits" sounds like people who would paint their faces blue and worship trees like my Celtic forebears did a millenium ago.
It is interesting to note that of all the recent, upstart churches -- the most successful and respected tend to have the oldest-sounding names: Church of jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses -- even the Rosicrucians (I mean, doesn't The Ancient & Mystical Order of the Rosy Cross sound holier than the Pope?) And even if you knew nothing about H. Ron Hubbard wouldn't you instrictually place more trust in "Christian Science" than "Scientology"?

Joe Perez:

December 26, 2003 09:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

" I'll prob'ly vote for something without "UU" in the name." Hmmmm...

The Church of Buubuu
The Church Formerly Known as UU
Congregation of UU2
The Church of UUnderdog (everybody loves the underdog)



December 28, 2003 11:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, I just had to add this:

The Church of Paradox


Richard Hurst:

December 30, 2003 06:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh just think of all those cleverly-named Affiliate Groups that will have to change their names ... HUUmanists, CampUUs, LUUciferians, SLUUTS, etc.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

January 1, 2004 11:07 AM | Permalink for this comment

Good point, Richard. My personal favorite is OUUCH, or Organized UUs for Consenting Hierarchy.
This is a yahoo group I found while looking for something else. (I assure you.) It was founded because, in the words of their leader, "there are UUs who are into bondage and discipline, sadomasochism and dominance and submission and they have no forum for expression." Poor things, being stifled like that. Thank goodness they now have a place to take that gag out of their mouths to say they have a right to put it back in!


January 2, 2004 11:45 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm hoping you didn't intend to be snide, Matthew, but comments like that help clarify for me why groups like OUUCH exist. The name _is_ hilarious, don't get me wrong, but I'm imagining some of the loneliness and frustration folks in that group have probably experienced trying to find like-minded souls. If a minister-to-be feels free to mock them (which is how the comment came across to me). . .

Thinking about it - I hear laments all the time from religious liberals (not to mention the merely religious or the merely liberal) about how isolated they feel from mainstream America (whatever that is). I've seen tension amongst UUs grappling with the whole affiliate group issue - my own church is working on defining its relationship to a CUUPS (Covenant of UU Pagans) chapter, and it's been interesting watching people sort out their reactions, which have ranged from anger at the UUA for allowing affiliate groups (i.e. what feels like forcing our church to accept a group whose goals may not truly complement those of the larger congregation) and suspicion (i.e. are these people becoming UUs just to recruit more pagans) to hope (more members! more events and resources for pagan members!) and a good deal of self-evaluation (i.e. "Would I feel this way if a group promoting Christianity or Islam or polyamory or Republicans requested affiliation with this church?"). Lots of questions. (The task force is still struggling with the answers.)

Getting back to my original point, there is an incredibly diverse range of perspectives and parameters in the world of bdsm - just as there is in glbt politics and practice, just as there is for folks whose sexual preferences are more conventional. So while I don't happen to belong to that particular world, it makes sense to me that the people who do would be yearning for a safe venue for discussion. So it troubles me when it sounds like you're dismissing them out of hand.

(But perhaps I'm reading too much into a joke? I've been known to do that - you can take the girl away from U of C, but not the U of C. . .)

Matthew Gatheringwater:

January 2, 2004 12:49 PM | Permalink for this comment

Sizzling Servetus! Yes, Peg, I did mean to be snide, in a mild kind of way. This minister-to-maybe feels free to mock anything trotted out into the public square. If ministry means one cannot laugh at the ridiculousnesses of life (and sex is so often ridiculous), it must be a dreary profession indeed. It isn't as if I'm advocating genocide, for heaven's sake. I'm just making a wry observation about the absurdity of the perceived need for "safe space" for sexual fetishists within the Unitarian Universalist community. What on earth do dominance and submission, tit clamps, and black leather masks have to do with Unitarian Universalism? From my point of view, this is an extreme example of the dangers of identity-based ministry: people so intent on finding "like-minded souls" that they select themselves into more and more narrowly defined groups in which identity is more important than ideas.

I think OUUCH is one of the funniest acronyms I've ever come across and I think the group has every right (if not any good reason) to exist. But my growing definition of ministry doesn't take away my right to laugh at it. So-called safe spaces are the nurseries of the mind.


January 2, 2004 03:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

While I certainly think ministers ought - need! - to have a sense of humor, I also feel that they ought - need! - to be careful who or what they're calling "ridiculous." When you start talking about "good reasons" (or not) to exist, why have groups for UU poets, UU chess players, UU knitters, UU people of color, or even the UU gatherings that are men-only, women-only, YA-only, GLBT-only. . .? What do _any_ of those have to do with religion other than that their members happen to be UUs?

To be clear, I personally tend to steer clear of such groups - in fact, I'm convinced some of them do more harm than good in promoting, as you put it, identity over ideas. But I can also see where someone might feel compelled to examine their sexual interests with/vs. their religious values (such as, can non-monogamous relationships truly, realistically co-exist with the first and second principles?), and want to do so where they aren't automatically pigeonholed as freaks, be it for professing religious values at all or unconventional sexual interests. And to me that _does_ seem as valid and potentially valuable a ministry as any of the other UU identity/activity-themed groups.

This is not to say OUUCH necessarily covers such territory - for all I know, they could well just be trading notes on books, movies and speculations on the sex life of hobbits and elves. :-) Which, of course, then circles back to the questions about whether such groups actually serve a particular need, what they have to do with Unitarian Universalism, etc. This whole conundrum of why and when people congregate can be such a mind-bender. . . ;-)

Mileage varies, of course. Of course you have the right to laugh at what you find absurd - but that comes with my right to question the dismissive tone. Even though I fear my (over?)reaction puts me in that dread category of Painfully Earnest UU (my minister recently mentioned that she made a comment about loathing spiders in a sermon - and was then confronted during coffee hour by a congregant who proceeded to describe the wondrousness and usefulness of spiders to her. . .) :-)

Richard Hurst:

January 2, 2004 04:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, yes, the Church of the Holier-Than-Thou Masquerading as Overly-Sensitive. That would be a good name, wouldn't it? I have a really good idea, how about "The Puritan Church," seeing as how so many of us are really all about testing the political correctness of others so finely and so accutely? That would be historical *and* amazingly accurate is so many ways.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

January 2, 2004 07:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

I fear we are hijacking Philocrites' blog, but I appreciate your response, Peg. Would you be surprised to know I scored a zero on the Enneagram's assessment of the Peaceful Person? I like a good fight, but only in the sense of friends who box with each other for exercise. In that sense, you've hit me right in my sensitivity solar plexus.

I think you are right, of course, that a group formed to examine issues of sexual practice in the context of religion would be a perfectly legitimate church group, latex underwear or no latex underwear. Your example of UU knitters was particularly apt. I knit. I would think creating a safe space for UU knitters would be absurd, but I *have* participated in church workshops about knitting as meditative practice. So I guess the joke is on me. Just don't tell the members of PEUU, or it may cause a stink.


January 2, 2004 07:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hijack away! I'm delighted that the comments feature has turned the site into a forum!

Scott Wells:

December 6, 2004 09:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

I was looking up websites that mentioned churches using the publishing software LaTeX -- a seriously geek-intensive pursuit -- and found this posting, or rather Matthew's comments.

Small world.

Martin Crim:

June 26, 2006 10:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

There are a few reasons why a UU group for BDSM is less ridiculous than a UU group of knitters. For starters, people tend to look at you funny if you say you like to tie your lover up, or be tied up, whereas people don't have that reaction to knitters. More importantly in the UU context, there is a serious and I think fruitful discussion to be had about the essential worth and dignity of every person when you like to spank and humiliate your partner.

So what is/are SLUUTS? Google only lists 2 hits for that term, this page and a MySpace page that doesn't explain the term.

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