Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


From Year to Year— Did We Make It to 2013? — my minister’s newsletter column for January 2013

I’m writing this a few days before the end of the world, if you believe what some people believe about an ancient Mayan calendar.

Planet X is on its way to collide with us.  Can we stop it?

I don’t know why these “galactic alignment” rumors are so preoccupying—a laugh line for comics, and a real source of worry for many people.

NASA’s popular “Ask an Astro-biologist” web page received thousands of queries.  Many people are losing sleep over this.  “Are you guys covering this up?” one asks.

The saddest thing — many of the writers are 12 to 16 years old.  Some of these kids say they have contemplated suicide.   A mom asked NASA to talk to her young son by phone because he is having nightmares.

Which is worse?  The lack of good scientific instruction in their schools, or the fact that our youth are so distressed, anxious, inconsolable to the point of hopelessness?  This is heartbreaking, not funny.

There is plenty to worry about on this precious planet–in our global community, our country and region.  There is enough loss, disaster, deprivation and cruelty to make us lament out loud like the psalmists and prophets of old.   The December 14 Connecticut school shootings only add to our bewilderment and grief.   It makes grown-ups weep and wail; what does it do to kids?  Surely our violent culture is pressing down on the souls of our young people.

Perhaps the Mayan doomsday worries are a way to focus our free-floating fears and our sources of despair into one specific thing.  I’m not sure.

My heart aches for all who suffer grief and fear that seem too much to bear.  My prayers go out to all the ends of the earth that we might find our way to peace—on our planet, around our nation, in our neighborhoods, and in every single heart.

Yet my heart sings also.

It sings with joy at the winter light in the bare tree branches, and at every breath I draw when standing at the window to greet the new day.  It sings when I give thanks.

My heart is warmed also.  It warms up when I see the faces of our people on Sunday—our elders, our active retirees, our young parents, our youth and kids, our staff.

I gain hope at UUSS when I see a curious baby turning its head to take in all there is to observe.  I am nurtured by the embrace of so many of you:  kind souls and good huggers.

Whoever you are–whatever your own hopes or heartbreaks, your joys or doubts–please know that this congregation welcomes you in your full humanity.

It is good to be with one another in this place.

New Year’s Blessings,

Roger  

P.S.—Don’t forget this is the time to submit your donations for the February 9 Service Auction and to buy tickets for this great dinner event, A Rose in the Winter Time.

To read the rest of our excellent January Newsletter–the Unigram–click this link:  http://uuss.org/Unigram/Unigram2013-01.pdf

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The Hot New Trend in Religious Identity: Nothing in Particular

Topic:  The Decline of Church Attendance and Rise of the “None of the Aboves”

The Pew Forum’s research study has been blogged about, talked about, and featured in op-ed newspaper columns.  Here’s a quotation from it:

In 2007 Pew Research Center surveys, 15.3% of U.S. adults answered a question about their current religion by saying they were atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” The number of religiously unaffiliated respondents has ticked up each year since, and now stands at 19.6%.[2]

That is, the largest change in religious participation as a share of our population has taken place among those termed “Nones,” including atheists, agnostics, and nothing.[1]Unlike other commentators, I don’t speak of this group as the “The Nones” because it sounds like “The Nuns.”  The orders of women religious have their own problems with vitality and loss of members, but I won’t venture there. I call them the “None of the Aboves.”

According to Pew, the share of Christians in our population has declined from 78% to 73% even as the overall U.S. population has grown.  (This category includes Catholics, Protestants of both Evangelical and Mainline streams, plus Mormons and the Orthodox.)  The aggregate category of “other faiths” has grown from 4% to 6% of our population.  So the “unaffiliated” are more than three times as large as the grouping of “other faiths.”

Who Are the Unaffiliated? 

This is from the Pew Forum summary:

In terms of their religious beliefs and practices, the unaffiliated are a diverse group, and far from uniformly secular. Just 5% say they attend worship services on a weekly basis. But one-third of the unaffiliated say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives. Two-thirds believe in God (though less than half say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence). And although a substantial minority of the unaffiliated consider themselves neither religious nor spiritual (42%), the majority describe themselves either as a religious person (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%).

Where Did They Come From?

Pew says “the growth of the unaffiliated has taken place across a wide variety of demographic groups,” i.e., education level, income, and geographic region.  However, the most striking aspect of the unaffiliated is age-related or genearational.  The 2012 survey revealed these reported levels of no affiliation by the era in which respondents were born.

Younger Millenials      (born 1990-94):                    34% of them are unaffiliated

Older Millenials          (1981-89):                               30% unaffiliated

Generation X              (1965-80)                                  21% unaffiliated

Baby Boomers            (1946-64)                                  15% unaffiliated

Silent Generation        (1928-45)                                 9% unaffiliated

Greatest Generation    (1913-27)                                  5% unaffiliated

There is no earlier statistic than 2012 for those born in 1990-94, but in every other generational category shown here, the above percentages are higher in 2012 than they were in any of the prior years back to 2007.

Only 8% of Americans identify as not having been brought up in a religious tradition.  However (as noted above), 19.6% of Americans are now unaffiliated. This means most have left something behind.  Indeed, 74% of the unaffiliated report having had a religious background.

Politically, they are liberal:  24% of those who lean toward or are registered in the Democratic Party identify as unaffiliated. In contrast, only 14% of Democrats are Mainline white Protestants and 16%  of Democrats are Black Protestants.   Twice as many of the “None of the Aboves” say they are liberal (but there are still conservatives among them).  Nearly ¾ of this group supports the legal right to an abortion and same-sex marriage equality.  As you might expect, a chunk of the unaffiliated have some negative attitudes about religious institutions, but let’s consider that in another post.

What can we conclude from this trend?

a)     The growth in the “None of the Aboves” may hold promise for a spiritually inclusive, religiously eclectic, non-dogmatic and socially progressive congregation.   We may appeal to some of those folks.  After all, many of them are socially or politically progressive and are not drawn to strict or traditional views about God, human sexuality or gender roles. (This is a summary of Pew results not enumerated in this post.)  Many identify as “spiritual but not religious,” though there is no shared agreement on what that means.

Or…

b)    The growth in the “None of the Aboves” is a cautionary trend for all religious congregations, as it shows a decline in religious participation and attendance.  This reflects a growing loss in the decades-long American tradition of going to religious services and turning to congregational institutions for spiritual guidance, fellowship, and inspiration.

Which conclusion do you think is right: (a) or (b)?  Why do you think that?

Might both conclusions have some truth?  That is, the landscape in which we do ministry is changing.  Our population is growing, but religious participation is declining.  Whatever brand of religious community we’re selling, we cannot count on a reliable market for it.  Yet as the landscape changes, we have more opportunities for ministry.  If 19.6% of the American people are “nothing in particular,” and if we reach out to, attract, and embrace merely 1/19th of that demographic group, that’s 1% of the whole population.  We UUs would grow enormously.  The same goes for any denomination, but since we are smaller than the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jews and the UCC, it would be a bigger boost for the UUA.

“Are You Looking for a Religion that Would be Right for You?”

This question was asked of the “unaffiliated” survey respondents.  While 88% said no and 2% didn’t know or refused to answer, 10% of them did say yes, they are looking.  So if 10% of an estimated 19.6% of American adults  are unaffiliated but looking, I think that means 1.9% of the population is at looking, or least open to participation.

And this does not count those who might be surprised to find a religious community about which they can say, “I didn’t know how much I needed this until I found it,” or “I had no idea a congregation like this even existed!”  Both statements come from adults who have joined UU congregations in which I have been involved, but I can imagine a happy “seeker” might say the same thing after finding a congregation that has another brand name.


[1] To be sure, we have atheists and agnostics in UU churches but as a movement we are statistically insignificant no matter where our numbers would be categorized.

[2] See elegant summaries of the Pew results with background details at http://www.pewforum.org/Unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx – ranks

 


Christmas Eve Prayer 2012–7:00 p.m. service, Monday, December 24

by the Associate Minister

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Christmas Prayer

Please take a moment to feel settled for a time of reflection and prayer.  Feel your body in the seat, your feet on the floor.  Feel the breath of life rising in you, and then feel the breath reaching out and mingling with the air.  The air we breathe now joins us to all of life on this earth, in all its generations.  Feel the spirit of life, linking us to one another in this room and with all those beyond these walls.

Spirit of life and love, Spirit of many names, bless us this night and in the days to come.  On this Christmas Eve, we gather with joys and blessings on our minds, and likely also with grief and sadness at events in our nation and around our fragile planet.  In this time of national mourning, we gain a renewed sense of the frailty of human bodies and the precious gift of every human life.  We long for peace and healing.  We strive to give thanks for every blessing of life.

In a season known for frivolity, we acknowledge its bittersweet realities:  Feeling separated from loved ones by distance, travel hindrances, or by estrangement.  Remembering loved ones long deceased, or those we lost in the past year.   Dealing with unwelcome diagnoses, or declines in health or financial security for ourselves or those we know.  Feeling lonely or searching for a renewed sense of purpose.  May all of us find comfort and a greater sense of wholeness. On this holiday night, we extend wishes for serenity and strength to those who strive to stay clean and sober.  To those now suffering in the grip of addiction or oppressions of the mind and spirit, we extend prayers of care, courage, and freedom.

Let us call to mind those around the world who are in harm’s way—those who serve in zones of danger, and those who live there.  We pray for peace, and the courage and humility that peace requires.

Let us call to mind others working on this holiday—those providing food in restaurants, and shelters, transporting travelers, staffing call centers, protecting public safety, keeping watch in hospitals, giving care at nursing homes.

Some among us are blessed to be together again with friends or family members.  To them we extend good wishes for joyful and nourishing conversations, reconciliations where needed and possible, and safe journeys.  Some of us are staying put, offering a hand of welcome or a smile of kindness to all those we see.   Even while in familiar places, let us be open to surprises—fresh insights, renewed commitments, and new people to meet.   Let us bring warmth and curiosity to  the days ahead of us.

For the blessing of children and youth among us, and those around our globe, we give thanks.  May joy light up their faces, and may peace attend their sleeping and their waking.  On this night of music and light in the darkness, this evening of story telling and candle sharing, let us embrace the child that lives in our own hearts.

May our hearts open with joy, serenity and hope.  May we blossom with generosity and gentle kindness.   May our hearts be open to welcome light, wisdom and warmth from surprising sources.   Let us be open to share our own gifts of light and warmth with others known and unknown to us, on this night, and in the days to come.  Blessed be.  In the name of all that is holy and all that is human, Amen.



Details 13 Trends & Forces Affecting the Future of Faith-Formation: A Changing Church in a Changing World (Post 1 of 2)

This is my fourth post on the changing landscape for UU and other main line congregations in the coming decade.  Here I summarize the Faith Formation 2020 summary of trends and forces.

TRENDS

1.  Declining participation in congregations.  I devoted two other posts to this one.

2.  Growth in the number of persons declaring no religious affiliation This number has doubled from 1990 to 2009, from 8% to 15% or 16%, depending on which study you consider.  This group is called “The Nones,” as in “None-of-the-Above.”  I’ll talk more about The Nones later.

3.  Growth in the segment of the population calling themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  This portion has grown from 9% of the population in 1998 to 14% in 2008.  The figure is higher –18%– for those aged 18-39.  Of course, different folks mean different things by this term.  For some it means they have spiritual concerns and interests, but no attraction to organized religious communities.   For some it means a traditional belief in God, even in Christ as Savior, but a reluctance to be identified with rules, creeds, “boring” worship services, and the reactionary politics that has been marked by vocal expressions of religious faith in recent decades.  Yet I know UUs who are devoted to their UU institutions and their faith communities, and for them, “spiritual but not religious” means spiritual but non-dogmatic,  or spiritual but unconventionally religious.

In any case, this trend indicates less interest in participation in the congregational structures as we have known and loved them for the past century.  I did a sermon on “Spiritual but Not Religious” a few years ago.

4.  The influence of individualism on religious identity and community life.  Individualism as an aspect of identity and lifestyle  “touches virtually every aspect of American life.”  Choice and freedom are accelerating values, it seems.  As it affects faith communities, it is not just anti-religious individualism, but “privatized” religious experience and personal spiritual seeking.  The Faith Formation document says it “signals a loss of how religion is anchored in a sense of belonging…. [and] a decline in the perceived necessity of communal or institutional structures [for] religious identity.  If you know people in traditional service clubs and fraternal organizations, you may have heard of similar declines in participation.

5.  Increasing social, cultural and religious diversity in the U.S.  It can be tempting to make leaps of conclusions from some of these social trends to explain other social trends, like our declining attendance.  It’s important just to understand the context in which we do our ministries.  Faith Formation 2020 projects that Latinos or Hispanics will double their share of the U. S. population from 2005 to 2050, from 14% to 29%.  By that time, this country will not have an ethnic majority (i.e., 50% or more of one group).  In California we crossed that milestone a few years ago.

As of 2009, this was part of the U.S. religious composition:

Protestant:  51.3%,  Catholic:  23.9%,  Jewish:  1.7%,  Muslim 0.6%,  Mormon:  1.7%,  Buddhist 0.7%, Hindu 0.4%,  Jehovah’s Witnesses 0.7%.   Of course, it is not clear how many of these self-described religious identities include people who are secularized Protestants, Jews, Hindus, etc.

6.  Growing influence of Hispanic/Latino religious faith.  Faith Formation 2020 says that  the rapid growth in the Latino population AND the ways most Latinos express their faiths are “transforming the nation’s religious landscape.”  One effect is the growth of ethically oriented congregations, not only (and not always) in the features of Spanish-language programs or staff, but in a “broader and more lasting form of ethnic identification.”  While 68% of Latinos identify as Roman Catholic, 15% are born-again or evangelical Protestants.  I think this includes Pentecostal Protestants.  There’s been fast growth of Pentecostalism among U.S. Latinos and in other Latin American countries.  Moreover, according to Faith Formation 2020, 54% of Hispanic Catholics describe themselves as charismatic Christians, which means their expressions of faith in their Catholic worship is more spirited, “Spirit-led,” and Pentecostal-influenced than the standard Mass with which we may be familiar.  In other words, their churches are alive!

This is enough for today.  Trends 7-13 will come tomorrow.



Associate Minister’s January Newsletter Column: From Year to Year— Did We Make It to 2013?

I’m writing this on December 15, before the end of the world, if you believe what some people believe about an ancient Mayan calendar.

Planet X is on its way to collide with us.  Can we stop it?

I don’t know why these “galactic alignment” rumors are so preoccupying—a laugh line for comics, and a real source of worry for many people.

NASA’s popular “Ask an Astro-biologist” web page received thousands of queries.  Many people are losing sleep over this.  “Are you guys covering this up?” one asks.

The saddest thing — many of the writers are 12 to 16 years old.  Some of these kids say they have contemplated suicide.   A mom asked NASA to talk to her young son by phone because he is having nightmares.

Which is worse?  The lack of good scientific instruction in their schools, or the fact that our youth are so distressed, anxious, inconsolable to the point of hopelessness?  This is heartbreaking, not funny.

There is plenty to worry about on this precious planet–in our global community, our country and region.  There is enough loss, disaster, deprivation and cruelty to make us lament out loud like the psalmists and prophets of old.   The December 14 Connecticut school shootings only add to our bewilderment and grief.   It makes grown-ups weep and wail; what does it do to kids?  Surely our violent culture is pressing down on the souls of our young people.

Perhaps the Mayan doomsday worries are a way to focus our free-floating fears and our sources of despair into one specific thing.  I’m not sure.

My heart aches for all who suffer grief and fear that seem too much to bear.  My prayers go out to all the ends of the earth that we might find our way to peace—on our planet, around our nation, in our neighborhoods, and in every single heart.

Yet my heart sings also.

It sings with joy at the winter light in the bare tree branches, and at every breath I draw when standing at the window to greet the new day.  It sings when I give thanks.

My heart is warmed also.  It warms up when I see the faces of our people on Sunday—our elders, our active retirees, our young parents, our youth and kids, our staff.

I gain hope at UUSS when I see a curious baby turning its head to take in all there is to observe.  I am nurtured by the embrace of so many of you:  kind souls and good huggers.

Whoever you are–whatever your own hopes or heartbreaks, your joys or doubts–please know that this congregation welcomes you in your full humanity.

It is good to be with one another in this place.

New Year’s Blessings,

Roger  

P.S.—Don’t forget this is the time to submit your donations for the February 9 Service Auction and to buy tickets for this great dinner event, A Rose in the Winter Time.

To read the rest of our excellent January Newsletter–the Unigram–click this link:  http://uuss.org/Unigram/Unigram2013-01.pdf



The UU Religious Landscape: Growth and Decline in the UUA

More about growth, decline (and neither) in UUA congregations.

Size of congregation and recent growth and decline.

Our average congregation has 148 members.  That’s up by 4 people since 1998, but down by 3 from 2007.   That’s a resilient size number for many organizations, and we have many of them with about that many members. Yet as an average, it includes many churches with fewer than 100 members and a handful of those with 300, 400, 500, and just a few with 800-1,000 members.

Congregations send certified membership numbers to the UUA every January.

From 2011 to 2012, 28% of our congregations reported growth in membership of 3% or more.  Yet 33% reported a membership decline of 3% or more.  Most of the growth was in larger, program-oriented congregations.  The Rev. Stefan Jonasson, the UUA’s Director of Growth Strategy,said in the UU World that our recent losses are not indicative of much, but are more like “nibbling around the edges.”  Our gains, he said, may reflect only that a few members invited their friends to go to church with them, and some have joined.  I might add that our elders are sturdy people, by and large, and Medicare means that all of them have health coverage, so we have not had a major drop off in members, even though every year we do bid a prayerful goodbye to some of our beloved ones.  But our average ages are usually higher than that of our local communities.

Looking for a minister:  What the marketing documents show.

A quick study of the Congregational Records posted online by Unitarian Universalist search committees from congregations now looking for a new minister shows many vital UU faith communities.  Yet most of them have fewer members now than they did 20 or 30 years ago.  Many of them have 150 members or fewer.  Many of them are offering only 3/4 time ministry positions, even 1/2 time positions. [Such congregational search documents are visible only to credentialed UU ministers, not the general public.  It’s like computer dating.]

The histories depicted in some Congregational Records show a pattern of short-lived ministries:  clergy come and go every few years.  This may be an acceptable dynamic for some congregations, and no reason to panic.  They may realize that in their location and economic context, they will be a “first ministry” for a series of eager, energetic newly minted ministers, and feel okay with that.  Or they may enjoy a long-term but casual relationship with a 1/4 time minister who is past retirement age but happy to spend one weekend a month leading worship, holding pastoral meetings, or facilitating a board retreat.

Others may still be seeking the “right match,” the candidate that will love them and lead them to new days of glory.  Such hopes, when not met, can be costly.  That is, it can cost as much as  $10,000 to move a minister’s household across the continent, after spending almost as much to do a continent-wide search for a minister (with travel and lodging for the 3 or 4 preliminary candidates, plus the cost of focus groups, surveys, consultants, congregational marketing packets).

Next posting will cover more of the “driving forces” affecting congregational life and ministries in the coming decade.



The Changing Religious Landscape includes Declining Attendance in the UUA

Faith Formation 2020 cites “a steady decline in the number of people attending worship and participating in church life.  In 1990 about 20.6% of the U.S. population was in church on any given weekend, today only 17.3% are in worship.  If current trends continue, by 2020 …. more than 85% of Americans will be staying away.”

Most of the students at Pacific School of Religion (where I am in a doctoral program) are in master’s degree programs to become clergy in various Protestant denominations.  Many of these young and second-career ministers-to-be are inspiring, bold, brave and creative people.  I would be happy to have them as my preacher and pastor.

Yet all their denominations have had major declines in attendance and membership in the last few decades. There are fewer and fewer full-time pulpits in their denominations.  A United Church of Christ official told us in chapel that he urges aspiring clergy to be prepared for bi-vocational ministries, or for entrepreneurial ministries outside churches, as fewer congregations can pay a full-time minister.  Many congregations are close to closing their doors, or selling their now-oversize facilities, or merging.    Main Line denominations dominated the social landscape of our nation the past century, and especially when the Baby Boomers were growing up and causing churches to burst at the seams.  They are still a presence but they have declined.  (In the last few decades, the largest mainline denominations have lost more people than even exist in my 160,000-member Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.)

Pentecostal and evangelical churches did grow in the same period but arguably are leveling off.  Catholic congregations have grown mainly from immigration of Catholics from other countries which has more than offset those who have left the faith of their upbringing.  [Sorry I don’t have a citation for you, but I’ve been reading this stuff for years.]

So what about us?

In October, USA Today gave us  publicity:   Unitarian Faith Growing Nationwide.  That’s odd… because in May, our UU World magazine reported that we were not.  In fact, while adult members in UUA churches increased a bit from 2011 to 2012, Religious Education enrollment declined again.  To me, this is not about losing “the church of the future,” as many of us fret sentimentally.  [Few participating adult UUs grew up in a UU church, and not many other folks stay in the denomination of their upbringing.] This is about a loss of participation, maybe lost ministry opportunities to families and to kids and youth.  Or it may be a loss of the relevance of current congregational life to the kids, youth and younger parents in our communities.

The Rev. Stefan Jonasson is the UUA’s Director of Growth Strategy.  He has consulted with my congregation, and calls our size category (larger mid-size, 300 to 500 members) an awkward one.  In the past decade, some in our category have lost lots of members, others have grown.  It’s a vulnerable size to be.

On his growth blog, Jonasson reports that in the past decade 12.7% of UUA congregations reported declines of 10% to 20%.  Another 22% have declined in membership by more than 20%. That’s a third of our congregations that have had more than “nibbling around the edges.”

In 1960, the United States had 179 million people.  The 2010 Census reflects 309 million people.  So our population has nearly doubled, but UUA congregations have declined or stayed the same.  This reflects the trend quoted at the top:  declining church participation.

If you’d like to read more opinions and more statistics about membership and attendance changes, here is the UU World article.