The version of the flaming chalice currently used as the logo of the Unitarian Universalist Association. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is no secret that the Unitarian and Universalist movements, which have merged in the United States into the Unitarian Universalist Association, had their origins in Christianity. Therefore, people who are inclined to reject Christianity will often reject the UUA too, without considering that non-Christians have been welcome in it since it was founded in 1961.
There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
I see nothing negative about that. If religion can be stripped of its irrational dogmas and focused on its social aspects alone, how can that be a bad thing?
The Unitarian faith in Great Britain has a long and storied past, dating to Joseph Priestley and the religious dissenters who preceded him. The challenge now is to ensure that it has a future.
Unitarian congregations in Great Britain—and they are all Unitarian, rather than Unitarian Universalist—have dwindled to a point where their survival will take a major effort, maybe even a culture shift.
The average Unitarian congregation in Great Britain has 21 members. There are only two congregations with more than 100 members. In the whole country there are 3,600 Unitarians in 173 congregations. Compare this to the time around World War I when there were approximately 50,000 Unitarians.
There are many reasons for the decline. Some of them will be familiar to North American Unitarian Universalists. People are comfortable with their small intimate societies. There’s a lack of visibility for many congregations. There are too few ministers. Worship services can be uneven. Then add the fact that religion is just a much smaller part of the common culture than in North America, even though Great Britain has a state-sponsored religion, the Church of England. An estimated 6 percent of people attend church regularly in Great Britain compared to around 40 percent in the United States.
Unitarianism should be different from other religious movements, but that is not reflected in the fact that it is declining along with religion in general in Europe. Meanwhile:
Membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association was flat last year.
The Association reported 160,100 members and 1,048 congregations in 2013, a decline of 1,407 members and six congregations from last year. But almost all of that drop in membership took place in one congregation—the UU Church of the Philippines.
If the Philippines data are excluded, the 2013 numbers look different, showing a statistically insignificant decline of 181 members, or 0.1 percent. That translates into 159,086 members in 1,047 congregations.
In both Britain and in the United States, there needs to be an effort to swell the ranks of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists. I think the best way to do this is to use this website of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (an official congregation of the UUA that includes over 3000 people isolated from traditional UU churches) to reach out to the unchurched that are also open minded:
This is its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CLFUU
This is its YouTube account: http://www.youtube.com/user/ChurchLargerFellowsh?feature=watch
Yes, it is the UU version of televanglism. Check it out anyway!
See this too:
Then the next step would be:
Once we get about a dozen or so UUs gathering in a certain place, it might lead to the founding of a new UU congregation.
We just have to find a way to break the back of both religious fundamentalism and atheist bigotry around the world and offer people a way to fellowship without having to deal with either extreme in religion. Let it be so!