This comment appeared recently in response to this old post. I think it’s worth sharing with you all:
I discovered Kevin’s posts and this thread after I resigned my UU membership recently. I found Kevin’s views a bit cynical but interesting and noteworthy nevertheless. Maybe some UU congregations are beter than others. In recent years, the Sunday Services at my UU church had degenerated into a carnival-like atmosphere with antics such as guess the minister’s weight, someone turning cartwheels on the stage, and songs from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Every week there skits with people dressed in silly hats or animal costumes. One Sunday morning they had a belly dancer on stage. During one service members were invited to come up on stage and show off their tattoos. On a couple of Sundays, the minister tossed a beach ball into the audience and invited parishoners to bat it around during the service.
When I wrote the check for my pledge, I thought, I’m paying for THIS??? NOT! The church had become a spiritual wasteland and my soul was sad and starving for nourishment. I decided to get past my “Christophobia”, which originally drew me to the UU faith almost 20 years ago. The situation at my UU church made Christianity seem so much more appealing. My spouse is still a UU but is considering becoming a Quaker. There is only one UU church in our town. The UU minister was not open to input and there was little use of the democratic process. Members who dared to offer criticism were labeled “anti-clerical” and extruded from participation. It became a toxic, embittering place for me. I recently joined a Protestant faith community that feels like a spiritual home to me. What a breath of fresh air. I was reluctant to leave the UU church because it was my chosen faith of my adulthood, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.
First of all, I’m dumb-struck by the description of what is going on in this worship service. While joy and humor are, I think, essential to the healthy spirit of congregational worship, I believe these antics denigrate the very word “worship” and sound to me like excruciating efforts to be hip/cool/relevant in an entertainment-addled culture. In short, I’m horrified. Having heard recently about a congregation that collects its stewardship pledges in a so-called “Ark of the Covenant,” which is a big ark festooned with spray-painted Barbie dolls*, this was not news of our worship life I was ready to hear.
People resign from UU and other congregations for many reasons. We are too political for some people. Sometimes we are too traditional or “too Christian” (a comment I’ve gotten at my congregation by those who were too turned off by our traditional liturgical structure to realize that the content is highly non-traditional). We fight or discuss too much for some folks. Other are dissatisfied with our religious education programs. All legitimate, all understandable complaints. It’s all part of the balance: for every elated new member who proclaims with teary eyes that we are the spiritual home she’s been looking for, one goes away still seeking. But this report of beach balls and cartwheels and inane carnival routines… this is a really big bummer.
I’d like to speak a bit about the writer’s comment that she is “paying for THIS.” She’s right, but I want to speak a bit more about her decision to cut her pledge and to resign from the congregation. First of all, our pledges to our congregations do support the minister’s salary and the worship program. Beyond that, however, our pledges are made and fulfilled to support institutions that exist to uphold and incarnate our most cherished values for individual members and within the wider community. I sense that if our writer had felt that the democratic process worked in her congregation, she might not have quit the church and withdrawn herself and her financial support. Bad programming happens. It happens when a congregation loses its way, makes an honest mistake, tries something innovative that isn’t well-executed, or trusts people with leadership roles for which they may be ill-suited. Failure happens. However, when the congregation is not allowed to reflect on failure, to express when they feel it is occurring, and to feel a welcome part of casting a new vision (and an improved program), we cannot and should not blame them for leaving.
I haven’t paid my church pledge yet and I’m doing some nail-biting about it. This was an expensive year. Not only did I have doctoral tuition to cover, I traveled the world on a wonderful five-month sabbatical! But I’ll make sure that pledge is paid. Beyond my role as minister in the congregation, I am a member. I am in covenanted relationship with its people and our God (however we express that Ultimate). I am well satisfied that my most cherished values are being supported, promoted and lived with sincere intent by this generation of the Church, and if I have to scrape the bottom of my savings account to fulfill my financial commitment to this coming year’s programs and ministries, I’ll do it. And when I do, I’ll do it with extra gratitude that I can do so with a contented heart, and in sorrowful memory of this writer and others who have left our communities spiritually hungry and insulted in their souls.
The Church is a human institution and is prone to human error. May we be big enough to hear those who leave us on the way out the door and to consider what they have said.
* It’s not the campiness or the Barbies that I object to. It’s the co-opting of one of the most holy relics in the Jewish religion for cheap giggles that offends me and, I think, makes a mockery of our claims to be a respectful, mature people.