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The Movement of Unitarian Universalism

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is not the Movement of Unitarian Universalism, rather a service organization for a part of that Movement… congregations.

For years I used to correct people when they referred to the UUA as “our denomination”, and I finally quit trying, for two reasons. One, it seemed to demoralize people when I tried to explain what the UUA was actually intended to be, and second because, it seemed to me that the UUA was in many ways acting as a “denomination”.

Now, that trend is changing. First, the UUA became the UUAoC (Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, a change that went largely under-discussed). Second, it developed new and distinct iconography for use by the Association and member congregations, to separate the corporate identity of the UUAoC from that of the larger movement of Unitarian Universalism. Third, the UUAoC began altering or ending its official relationship with organizations that were not closely related to its organizational mission of serving the needs of congregations. Fourth, the UUAoC pressured the two UU seminaries into merger talks, and when those failed has since announced its intention to cease or curtail direct funding for those seminaries. Most recently, we have seen this trend in how the UUA is re-thinking if and how it will fund national and international young adult leadership.

I am not passing judgment on any of this. In truth, all of this is probably a good thing, even if it is painful for some groups right now. The UUAoC is clarifying its mission. It is saying to the Movement of Unitarian Universalism “This is what we are called to do and to be.” It is up to the Movement of Unitarian Universalism to either change the mission of the UUAoC, or to find other ways to support those aspects of the Movement that the UUAoC is no longer supporting.

And, most importantly, the changes by the UUAoC are highlighting a very important lesson… the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is not the Movement of Unitarian Universalism. The Movement of our Liberal Faith is much larger than 25 Beacon Street. At least I hope it is… because if it is not then we are even smaller and more marginalized than our worst critics claim we are.

If it is not the mission of the UUAoC to fund Young Adult Leadership positions… then fine. Lets talk about how we, as a Movement, can make that happen. If it is not the mission of the UUAoC to help fund our two Unitarian Universalist seminaries, then fine. Let’s talk about how we, as a Movement, can not only fund but expand both of our seminaries (because we desperately need more than one). If the UUAoC is not interested in non-congregational ways of spreading the Gospel (Good News) of Unitarian Universalism, then fine. Let’s talk about how we, as a Movement, can fund, train, and support missionaries of our faith, both at home and abroad.

This might be forming a new organization… it might be forming many. Our Movement has a strong tradition not of large umbrella denominationalism, but of task-focused organizations of the Movement. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is an example of such a task-focused organization… so is the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association. Both are independent of the UUAoC, but both cooperate closely with them. I hold memberships in both. There are other examples… the UU United Nations Office, the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, The Society for Community Ministries, etc.

The key to this is that the UUAoC is not responsible for the health and vitality of the Movement of Unitarian Universalism and Liberal Faith… we are. The UUAoC is responsible for serving the needs of our congregations, and to a limited extent it may be responsible for serving as a “senior partner” among the many organizations that do and should make up the institutional part of Movement of Unitarian Universalism.

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This is, I believe, deeply in tune with our theological base as a faith tradition. Rather than being centered around a doctrine or creed, the Movement of Unitarian Universalism and Liberal Faith is centered around a continuing discussion between individuals and organizations that have committed to be in Right Relationship with one another, each serving different parts of a much larger movement. Because of that center on the discussion, that center is always moving… hence we are a Movement. Not an Association.

I would love to see our Movement of Unitarian Universalism create, fund, staff, and support a Unitarian Universalist Mission Board, whose purpose is to facilitate efforts to spread the “Good News” of our faith beyond the efforts that individual congregations make to grow. Some of this will be in founding emergent congregations, others efforts will be to spread the basic message of our faith in areas and groups likely to develop ways of practicing our faith outside of the congregational dynamic. Supporting Young Adult ministries might be something that would be supported.

Let us create, fund, and support an independent organization to provide national and international leadership for Young Adult Ministries.

Let us create, fund, and support an independent organization to support and facilitate some of those organizations that have recently come out from under the UUAoC’s umbrella and mission…

But, most importantly, let us, as the Movement of Unitarian Universalism, realize that the responsibility for our Movement lies in our hands… and not try to hand that responsibility off to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

To continue this discussion, check out these articles…

Limits of Unitarian Universalist Congregationalism


Yours in Faith,


6 Thoughts on “The Movement of Unitarian Universalism

  1. Pingback: Without members of congregations, UUism would die» Making Chutney

  2. I made the following response to the above linked article…

    I agree, wholeheartedly… which is why I said in the article you linked to at the beginning of your post that, the UUAoC’s focus on congregations will be a positive thing in the long run, no matter what the short term issues it raises might be. But whether Unitarian Universalism will survive was not my issue…

    There is a difference between surviving and being what we want to be in this world. We have shown that we can survive… even in times when the mainline denominations are losing membership, we are gaining (if rather slowly) in our congregations.

    We may see some increase in congregational membership out of the UUAoC’s clarification of its mission to congregational support. But the question I am asking is a deeper one than survival. Can we accomplish our goals for transformation of society and culture to be more in line with our values by operation only through our congregations?

    I think we need to have a broader reach than that… and the responsibility for that reach does not lie with the UUAoC. In truth, I think it lies with members and ministers of our congregations to come together in ways focused more outward than inward. The UUSC is a good example… but its focus is more action based than ideological/theological.

    What that is going to be… I dont know yet. I made a few suggestions. But while the UUAoC clarifies its mission, if we wish to keep those aspects that might not be essential to our movement, that effort needs to come from the members and ministers of our congregations… not from 25 Beacon street.

    And I would much rather operate from a place of abundance than a view toward survival.

    Thank you for the continued discussion!!!

    Yours in Faith,


  3. Just a friendly comment, that the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists is not an offshoot, by-product, or affiliate of the UUA. It is not even a Unitarian Universalist organization, in the sense that many of its members do not call themselves “UUs”, or even “Universalists.” It is a separate organization that aims at coordinating existing Unitarian and UU churches and religious associations, as well as locating and nurturing emerging churches. The UUA is a member (obviously, a very important and valued member) of the ICUU, and not the other way round.

  4. Jaume,

    That’s exactly the point I was trying to make without directly making it… sometimes I am too subtle. I included the ICUU in that list for exactly the reasons you mentioned. It is not an offshoot of the UUAoC… For that matter neither is the UUSC or the UUMA. My point is that the movement of Unitarian Universalism does not just consist of the UUAoC, its member congregations, and its “offshoots”. The movement is larger than this. The ICUU and the other worldwide Unitarian and Universalist organizations are, to my mind, part of a much larger Unitarian Universalist movement in the world.

    My goal with the post was to stimulate a broader conversation about just what makes up the movement of our liberal faith. The UUAoC is amazingly important… as a Military Chaplain Candidate I am directly related to the UUAoC in my ministry (my “Official Military Chaplaincy Endorser” is the Director of the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group at the UUAoC).

    I believe that, when we as Unitarian Universalists find something that we think is important that the UUAoC does not feel that it is their mission to support, then it is up to us as individuals and congregations to support those things.

    Thank you for making the point about the ICUU directly that I was trying to imply subtly.

    Yours in Faith,


  5. Thanks, David! Since I found your blog (via DiscoverUU) I have been greatly inspired by what I’ve been reading there, and by what you’re doing in support of “the movement.” I’ve been making very similar points at my UU forum ( — “Faith of the Free,” over at http://faithofthefree.informe.com –) mainly in the “Bigger than UUA” category area. I’ve also discussed at some length the criticisms of UUA that have come from Davidson Loehr, and the distinction he makes between authentic liberal religion and the attempts to encapsulate it into a single institution. I see a lot of John Wolf and Powell Davies in the words of Dr. Loehr, and there seems to be good reason for that, for Dr. Wolf has told me just how deeply inspired he was in his ministry by Powell Davies, and Loehr has written of how he was similarly influenced by Wolf. All of them saw a much bigger mission for UU (by whatever name) than creating yet another religious club. As another UU minister once proclaimed, we dare not fence the spirit!

    I really do see it as a movement, potentially the most “broadly catholic and radically protestant” of all approaches to religion…an ongoing movement of ongoing reform, continuous rethinking and progressive action for utmost human liberation and ultimate connectedness…a “legacy faith” in its own right, rooted in both the radical-Reformation and the Enlightenment…a still unfolding, never settled movement for the advancement of pluralistic mutual regard, meaningful global cooperation, social justice, eco-diversity and eco-responsibility. I believe that we have embraced not just religious liberalism, but a particular mode of it, one that has its own special “DNA” that distinguishes it from the rest. Duncan Howlett (in his book The Fatal Flaw) described it as the “new paradigm for religion” …one of “thorough-going” religious liberalism (firmly planted in the free and critically-thinking, boldly questioning and thoroughly nondogmatic—never completely settled–way of looking at and dealing with religion), instead of simply yet another “modifying” liberalism that seeks to constantly keep repackaging the old wines of worn-out creeds and theology. It doesn’t matter what name we give to this particular mode of liberal religion, as long as we remain true to its highest premises and priorities, and to its calling for utmost authenticity and progressive reform. Sometimes that means going beyond simply applying fresh bandages to adoption of more thorough, more systemic treatments of the diseases themselves. I believe that’s both our unique legacy, and our mission in every new generation.

    David, please do keep up the good work! I hope you don’t mind that I have used a few of your quotes for the “Quote of the Day” feature at my forum. Come and visit when you get a chance, OK? If you have ideas to improve it, just let me know. Thanks again!

  6. Pingback: Valuing Unitarian Universalist Communities

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