Workshop: Do congregations need walls?

A workshop Friday sponsored by the UUA Board of Trustees and titled “Redefining Congregations” struck a chord with young adults and others who are interested in ways that congregations can exist without having four walls.

Participants named a number of ways such congregations already exist. There is an online UU congregation in the virtual world of Second Life. (See UU World‘s 2007 story about the congregation.) A member of the continental group Covenant of UU Pagans, noted that members of that group often gather without benefit of a building. Youth and young adults talked about the meaningful worship services—and durable communities—they have created at annual gatherings and at UU camps. And the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the UUA’s largest congregations, exists primarily online as does a companion congregation, the Church of the Younger Fellowship.

Suzanne Bernardi of Portland, Ore., said she’s not a member of any congregation with a building. She is a leader of the young adult group C*UUYAN and she cited its worship methods as a meaningful way to create congregations without buildings. “The young adult movement has been very empowering,” she said. “We do circle worship in intentional gatherings. We can put out a call and 50 people will come to a worship that may include food, family, and the sacred. We’ve done it over and over.”

She added, “There is so much that could come from that that is really exciting. This faith is so important that we want to connect. Yet we don’t have a voice [here at GA]. We are not delegates. But this is really important.” She said that although she does not belong to a conventional congregation “I still get together and worship with people. It’s more about a style of worship.”

Tim Atkins, a young adult from the UU Congregation of Atlanta, said he believes large congregations have a “duty” to help create congregations without physical homes. “I think large congregations have a moral duty. For me, an online connection is just as meaningful as one in person. There’s a person I’ve known online since I was a sophomore in high school, yet we’ve never met in person. I like my brick and mortar congregation, but I’m all for expanding the definition of a congregation.”

“This is a long overdue conversation,” said Abbey Tennis, a delegate from First Unitarian Church in Portland, Ore., and an incoming student at Starr King School for the Ministry. “There are a whole lot of people who have UU values [yet don’t belong to a traditional congregation]. That limits our ability to change lives and affect the world. I’m excited about creating new communities that are recognized as valid.”

(Watch Peter Bowden’s interview on the subject with Abbey Tennis.)