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Friday, January 2, 2004

Meetup of the Larger Fellowship.

I was so distracted by the Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, and Dennis Kucinich Meetups — the candidates' supporters make up the largest Meetup communities in the world — that I didn't grasp the religious potential the software offers. Although there aren't enough people who say they're interested in a Unitarian Meetup in any one community to trigger the site's automatic scheduling feature, there are 295 people signed up.

But consider this: In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the American Unitarian Association's Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) identified individual religious liberals in far-flung places through its church-by-mail program. When a large enough number of people had been found in an area, CLF put them in touch with each other and helped them form local fellowships. The fellowship movement was Unitarianism's major new congregation initiative in the post-WWII period.

Lately I've been wondering how enterprising religious liberals might use Web sites like's Unitarian Universalist discussion boards, SelectSmart's Religion Selector (or its offspring, the Belief-o-matic, which seems to introduce a huge number of teenagers and college students to "Unitarian Universalism" — and yes, my friends, I still test "100% Unitarian Universalist"), and to help form part of the growth initiatives of the 21st century. Any ideas?

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 2 January 2004 at 8:46 PM

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Matthew Gatheringwater:

January 2, 2004 11:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm also intrigued by the connecting power of Meetup. I signed up for the Unitarian meetup after I saw the success of the Dean campaign, but I haven't yet been able to attend a meeting due to lack of response…which leads me to wonder if I've been going about this the wrong way. A Unitarian meetup is fine for Unitarians - but we already know there aren't many of them. If the aim is to introduce Unitarian Universalist theology and practice to people who don't already know what Unitarian Universalism is, then we'd have to organize a different kind of meetup.

Here is my suggestion: what about issue-oriented meetups? What if, instead of advertising a meetup for people who identify as Unitarians, we organized a meetup on topics of liberal religion? For example, I've wondered for some time why contemporary UUs have so little contact with other religious groups with Unitarian theology. Why not a meetup about the trinity? Or a meetup about grappling with the problem of evil? Or what do you tell your kids about God? Or "Can Atheists Pray?" What if, instead of treating meetup like a club, we treated it like adult religious education?

Richard Hurst:

January 2, 2004 11:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oddly, Belief-o-matic classifies me as a "Humanist" (100%) despite my own definition as a "Liberal Christian" (somewhere in the 70's). Ahh well. I pray to Jesus they're wrong. :)


January 3, 2004 11:41 AM | Permalink for this comment

Great idea, Matthew -- the consequences could be pretty surprising, too. I suspect there are a handful of issues (but they're probably not the Trinity or the fate of souls in the hereafter) that could help form the religious liberal equivalent of the house-church movement. We could try a Trinity Meetup, of course, but the reason we have little contact with other unitarian groups is that we have ceased to be primitivist Christians. As interesting as a conversation with the Jehovah's Witnesses, biblical unitarians, and some Pentecostals might be, I don't see much common ground for a new sort of movement there. I do think some enterprising evangelical universalists might find some traction with Meetup, however.

But what can we do with the Meetup-as-Adult RE idea? What questions are churches not adequately answering?

As for the Belief-o-matic: I identify as a liberal Christian (or Christian humanist), too, but find that the basic issues that motivate my religious life aren't on the quiz at all. I think it's time for me to start articulating those motivations, if I can. Hmm...

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