Membership or Connection?
On Sunday I sat next to a friend of mine in church. She’s a young adult (late twenties, perhaps) and extremely active in the congregation. She volunteers in the church school, sits on committees, volunteers for different events and pledges money. And she’s not a “member” of the church. She said to me, “I don’t know what difference it makes to have my name on a piece of paper – how much more committed could I be?”
She also attends a UCC church on Sunday evenings. The two services bookend her week in a powerful way that she would not want to give up. They connect her to meaning and community and give her space for spiritual reflection.
There are many such people like my friend here. Some not quite so actively engaged, but who nevertheless feel connected to Unitarian Universalism in deeply meaningful ways. And who see their religious expression and commitment as one that is not defined by “membership.”
What do we have to learn from her story? Perhaps the future of Unitarian Universalism does not depend upon more people “signing the book”. Perhaps it depends upon us adjusting our understanding of what connection and commitment are. I say this not only because we need to attend to the changing perspectives of young adults (which we do). I say this because I believe it to be true of every demographic.
I heard a colleague recently adamantly assert that unless a person is a member of Unitarian Universalist congregation s/he cannot call her/himself a Unitarian Universalist. I understand why this colleague was so vehement, but I respectfully disagree.
We believe that a religious life requires commitment and sacrifice and finds its fullest expression when we join in community together. And there are many ways now to join in community together that can be just as powerful as signing a book or sitting in a pew.
Perhaps we can attend more and more to providing ways to connect, than getting a signature on the dotted line.