Entries by Thom Belote.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Fastest growing congregations in 2005.

Here are some of the fastest growing UU congregations in 2005-2006:

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Posted by Thom Belote at 05:44 PM | 7 comments

Large congregations addendum.

I had been asked to calculate the growth of large UU churches. Here are the results:

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Posted by Thom Belote at 04:05 PM | 0 comments

Monday, February 6, 2006

Final numbers from annual UUA certification.

I've crunched the numbers just about as much as I'm willing to crunch them. In case you haven't been following, I've been tracking the returns over at the on-line annual membership certification of UU congregations. The deadline to report was February 1.

Here are the results:

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Posted by Thom Belote at 10:59 PM | 7 comments

Saturday, January 21, 2006

UU growth update.

I've been following the progress over at the annual UUA certification of congregations. With about one quarter of all UU congregations having certified, it looks like growth is slower this year. Let's compare:

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Posted by Thom Belote at 10:04 AM | 12 comments

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Latest from UUA on-line certification.

As 2006 begins, we check in with the latest from the UUA on-line certification of congregations:

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Posted by Thom Belote at 06:21 PM | 6 comments

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And a decree came from 25 Beacon Street.

We're already a month into the annual certification of congregations, where UUA member congregations report their membership.

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Posted by Thom Belote at 09:18 AM | 9 comments

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Welcome back, Philocrites!

I received a note today saying that Philocrites has returned from his blogging sabbatical. And not a moment too soon: I was contemplating transforming this site into a retailer of imported prescription drugs from Canada, an epicenter of spam, and headquarters of the great UU pyramid scheme. (Bring a friend to church, keep 15% of their pledge.) Alas, so much for dashed hopes and failed dreams.

However, I did want to blog poetic about what I learned about blogging from these past couple weeks of being a guest writer.

Lesson #1: Philocrites must be obsessed. To turn out the volume and quality of material that he does on the range of interests that he has is something special. And it is harder than it looks. I was lucky to write three posts a week.

Lesson #2: Spam removal makes for great procrastination.

Lesson #3: It feels really good to get comments... even from readers who take you to task. (They're still readers!)

Lesson #4: The "Bill McKibben" piece was something new for mentioning members of my congregation (and then emailing them and telling them I had posted my thoughts on-line.) I am intrigued by the thought of a (well-moderated) blog within a congregation but visible to outsiders that discusses theology and ethics.

Thanks Philocrites for the opportunity to crash out on your cyber-sofa!!! (I've been invited to hang around for a little longer.)

Posted by Thom Belote at 06:47 PM | 4 comments

Flirting with Emergent, part IV (final part).

Before Philocrites returns to take his rightful place at the helm, I wanted to finish my series on "Flirting with Emergent." In late June / early July I attended Jacob's Well, a local Emergent Church, for three consecutive Sundays. Then I decided to blog about the experience of being a "mystery worshipper" and also ask some questions about the "soul" of Emergent and what UUism might learn from it.

I realize that in the previous entries, I've said a lot about the form and style of Jacob's Well, but not a lot about the content. So I want to briefly describe each of the three sermons I heard there.

The first sermon was on the subject of generosity. It was probably the most listenable stewardship sermon I've ever heard. It was not a sermon specifically about how the church needs your money. In fact, the preacher even said at one point (without a hint of suggesting otherwise) that the church was doing so well financially that it didn't need the financial assistance of anyone who gave out of any feeling other than a love of God. The sermon was based on 2 Corinthians 8 and reflected the Pauline theology of emphasizing the motivations and attitudes underlying actions. All in all, it was a challenging sermon that left space for me to ponder my own relationship with generosity. Rating: Excellent.

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Posted by Thom Belote at 06:22 PM | 3 comments

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Bill McKibben: 'How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong.'

Earlier this week one of my parishioners sent me a note recommending the essay by Bill McKibben in the current issue of Harpers. The title is "Christian Paradox: How a faithful nation get Jesus wrong." I was dismayed to find that I couldn't read it for free on-line, but elated to find that another parishioner had sent me a copy of the same article in the mail. (Thanks!)

McKibben exposes dangerous misreadings of the Bible by American Christians such as the apocalyptics who justify violence and militarism with a twisted reading of Revelations. However, McKibben really hits his stride when he argues that many American Christians have "replaced the Christianity of the Bible, with its call for deep sharing and personal sacrifice, with a competing creed" of 'God helps those who help themselves', self-absorption, and greed.

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Posted by Thom Belote at 11:42 PM | 9 comments

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Sermon illustration needing sermon.

I had lunch today with some mainline clergy friends including the homiletics professor of a local American Baptist seminary. During the conversation someone mentioned Portland, Oregon. I mentioned that I had lived there when I was an undergraduate at Reed College. The homiletics prof then mentioned that he had heard a story about my alma mater used as a sermon illustration:

Every Spring a liberal arts college known for its godlessness threw a wild campus-wide party, known to all for its hedonism and excess. This party was a weekend of debauchery, indecency, chemical experimentation, and free love. A group of local missionaries had heard about the party, and one day during a conversation they joked about evangelizing to the students at the party. The suggestion was offered in jest, but soon one of the missionaries was taking the joke seriously.

When the party weekend came, these missionaries dressed up as priests and set up a modest booth draped in black cloth on the campus. The sign out front read, "Confessional Booth." Soon enough, along came a student who had already tried many things for the first time over the weekend. Inhibitions lowered, the student saw the booth and thought, "Why not?" The student entered and sat down and said, "I suppose I should tell you what I've been doing this weekend."

"No," the missionary replied, "We are here to confess to you. The Christian Church has been guilty of many sins. We started the Crusades and many wars in the name of God. We burned witches and heretics at the stake. We conquered lands and forced our religion and values on others. We endorsed discrimination. We were the enemy of science. We taught people to be fearful of God and hateful towards one another."

The lunch conversation soon went off in another direction. I left without having the chance to ask the homiletics professor what the point of the sermon had been in which this illustration was used. So here's my question: What was the sermon that used this illustration about?

ps. It is frustrating to have gone to a school whose reputation is one of "out-of-control hedonism" when it is really an excellent, demanding academic institution with amazing teachers and classes.

Posted by Thom Belote at 04:12 PM | 10 comments

Friday, July 29, 2005

UUAWO rocks.

The Unitarian Universalist Association's Washington Office for Advocacy has released a statement written by Rob Keithan on the UUA position on John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination. I find it to be a well thought position. Nice work, Rob!

Posted by Thom Belote at 02:45 PM | 3 comments

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Flirting with Emergent, part III

When I left off with my last post I was about to describe the worship experience at Jacob's Well. But let me back up and describe the worship space. The sanctuary is typical of an old, main-line congregation. Lots of dark wood, stained glass windows, and pews. The sanctuary ambiance is an odd mix of old and new. Two large screens for power-point and showing video hang on either side of the chancel. The raised chancel is a stage for the band. To one side of the chancel there is a simple communion table draped in white cloth. The table also contains about a dozen white candles and some clay jars. A stark, wood cross stands behind the table. There is no pulpit. The preacher stands in the center aisle between the rows of pews towards the front of the sanctuary.

At 10:30, the band walks down the side aisle and plugs in. It is a six-piece band with a front man/acoustic guitarist, electric guitar, electric bass, fiddle, percussionist, and female back-up vocalist. They begin to play, words come up on the screens, and we're singing 15 minutes of praise-songs. But, these are a little bit different because the music is good and loud and has more of an alt. rock feel than other praise bands I've heard. Think two parts Dashboard Confessional and one part Death Cab for Cutie. They even do an emo version of "All Creatures of the Earth and Sky."

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Posted by Thom Belote at 11:30 AM | 8 comments

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Flirting with Emergent, part II.

Thanks to all, including some old (well, "old") buddies who've responded to the post on Emergent.

For three consecutive Sundays in late June / early July I was a "mystery worshipper" at Jacob's Well, located in Kansas City and one of the leading Emergent congregations in the country. Before offering my answers to the questions I asked about the possibility of a UU church adopting the "Emergent style", I want to comment on and describe the experienceb of worshipping there.

Jacob's Well is located in midtown Kansas City. It meets in the old Roanoke Presbyterian Church, which one would assume Jacob's Well bought from a dwindling main-line congregation. However, I've also heard that Jacob's Well's minister, Tim Keel, has Presbyterian connections so I would be interested to know the story behind its planting.

Anyways, the first thing I noticed when I arrived for worship...

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Posted by Thom Belote at 06:50 PM | 0 comments

Friday, July 22, 2005

Flirting with Emergent.

[Thanks Jason for kicking things off, and thanks Philocrites for the wonderful introduction and for letting me crash out on your internet sofa. For now I am going to blog about an experience I’ve had over the last month and reflect on connecting it back to UUism.]

Earlier this month I found myself in the unusual place of being in town but out of the pulpit for several consecutive weeks. So I embarked on an adventure. I had been hearing in some of the ministry circles that I run in about this thing called Emergent Christianity. And I had been running into hip young people in Kansas City who attended a local Emergent Church called Jacob’s Well. So I decided to be a “mystery worshipper” for three consecutive Sundays and see for myself.

Emergent Christianity is a movement fronted by Brian McClaren from the D.C. area. It is a theological and ecclesiastical style that is a response to inadequacies in both evangelical/mega-church Christianity and liberal/mainline Christianity. Emergent is post-modern, neo-orthodox, and hyper-culturally literate. You can read about it in McClaren’s New Kind of Christian books.

Jacob’s Well is one of the leading Emergent congregations in the country and is located in mid-town Kansas City.

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Posted by Thom Belote at 03:19 PM | 7 comments