April 5, 2010

Ethnic UUs

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:42 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

To be a Unitarian Universalist we say you must be a active member of a UU Church.  Except, according to recent Pew Center polling, people who call themselves UU but are not part of a church outnumber the church members two to one!

I have long noticed the people who are married to UUs, but rarely darken the door of a church unless their child is in a play or something.  Are they UU? I meet many people who tell me “We were married in a UU Church,” as if that makes us related; yet they have never joined a congregation in the twenty years since.  There seem to be almost as many people who “used to go” to the Muncie UU church as those who regularly participate.

The other day a young woman asked me to conduct her marriage ceremony. In talking I mentioned that the process for non-members reserving the church building is different than for members. She looked a little confused and said, ” I have always thought of myself as a UU. I know I haven’t attended much in the past decade, but I was raised in that church and I would never think of going anywhere else.” I asked if she ever remembered signing a membership book. “No” she protested, “but I still think of my self as part of that church.”

One problem is that many of us have long defined our “movement” as synonymous with all liberal religion, or mere cultural liberalism in general, especially as it appears in North America. This is a definition almost without boundaries, one that encourages anyone who thinks that tolerance, open-mindedness, and a desire for freedom and  justice are good enough for a shared identity.  I think it is related to our problems with racial diversity. That we have a particular ethnic identity: middle-class, liberal-minded, well-educated, white-people.

In my church we make a clear distinction between Members and Friends.  We like our friends, we want them to be part of the church, they have permanent name tags and can even lead committees .  In a sense all of our children in the RE program are Friends.  Membership on the other hand takes commitment, a covenant, to follow our principles and  struggle with them, and to fulfill to the church a pledge  of one’s energy, time and money.

It is more common to think of ethnic Catholics or Jews, but there are many people who are connected to UU congregations in a similar way; on the edges but not on the fence. What does our connection to those people mean? What duty or responsibility do we have towards those persons? How do they change our own self-image?


  1. John said,

    Very interesting post. I often come across others on Beliefnet or other blogs who say that they took the “Beliefomatic” religion quiz and came up as a Unitarian Universalist. Now if we could get them into church, that would really raise the numbers.

  2. Lizard Eater said,

    My comment grew too long, so I took it to my blog:


  3. Bart Frost said,

    Rev. Perchlik,
    I found your post from Lizard Eater’s post about her lapsed UU family members, and as a child of a former DRE and the grandson of a retired minister I feel the need to say that the answer to your questions aren’t being answered. I wish I had an answer, as I’ve given UUism a percentage of my life greater than most of those currently active in the religion. Yet, for some reason, I find my religious and spiritual experiences in UUism dominated by those who FOUND UUism to escape a previous religious life. I’ve been through or read most of the RE curricula, I’ve trained UU youth and adults to be chaplains/been a chaplain to them, and I’ve been in leadership roles meant to empower UU youth and young adults…but my faith is stuck defining itself with negatives (Not Christian…Not Restricting…Not Hateful) when I (and my Youth and Young Adults friends) are constantly defining it with positives.
    If you ask me what religion I am, I will tell you UU with a smile on my face and show you the permanent tattoo that represents my faith.
    If you ask me the church I attend, I’ll tell you I’m a member of the Church of the Younger Fellowship because my local congregation on holds services on Sunday, doesn’t have a worship service schedule on the web, and provides no support services to Young Adults even though there are TWO universities, one being a well-know liberal arts school.
    The majority of UU young adults are Born UUs, and (I don’t have numbers) from those I know attempting to become ministers, we carry the faith. We carry it marked indelibly into our skin and hearts. The Principles are not abstract ideals to live by to us, instead we look at them and say “What does this actually mean?” We are taught to question religion, but grow up spiritual and then find that our faith is still questioning religion while not addressing our spirituality. And then we drift…and supposedly we are supposed to come back to be married, or to spiritually educate our children, but why would I want my kids to go through the limbo I am going through now?

  4. […] wonders if there are “ethnic UUs” who are “on the edges but not on the fence. What does our connection to those people mean? What duty or responsibility do we have towards those persons? How do they change our own […]

  5. emily p. said,

    I think part of the problem with young adults is that we are in limbo in general. There is usually not a good way to connect to a new congregation in a meaningful way for a short period of time. I personally am uncomfortable making commitments I cannot follow through on.making the commitment of membership is an important one as you note. It is uncomfortable to make such a commitment if you might move somewhere else in a year or two.
    This is where people get lost not being a member of a church for years at a time. There is no spiritual halfway house for uu’s you are in or out. There’s not a good way to hop from fence to fence for the world traveling youth. Most churches don’t provide an easy way to tap in via young adult or social action projects. Committees and discussion groups often feel like long term committments. What of the non member who puts something in the basket every sunday they come as opposed to committing a pledge?

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