The Sunday Assembly has been getting a lot of press recently, and a lot of Unitarian Universalists are wondering what they are doing right and why we aren’t doing better. After reading several posts from UU thought leaders including Rev. Tom Schade, Rev. Tony Lorenzen, and Carey McDonald, we wanted to offer some thoughts. Do with them what you like.
The Sunday Assembly offers people who sometimes feel left out a chance to gather and to be a part of something. It allows them to celebrate their (lack of) beliefs together. We could do that, but people don’t know what we have to offer or where to find us.
The folks of the Sunday Assembly are willing to be evangelical and to make sure that people know that they are coming to town and why. They have people talking. They are getting interviews. They are being bold about their message.
At the same time, they are also willing to offend people. They know what they stand for, and they are making firm statements. People find that attractive, and it is one of the reasons that evangelical religion will never die.
Ultimately, we Unitarian Universalists can do these things, too. We can do so much more, though. The Sunday Assembly doesn’t have chaplains and ministers to help people deal with life. It celebrates science without religion, but it does this in a church environment rather than a lab; they don’t have sustainability. The message is sort of hollow, and many people in the US are restless before the event is even over, because there is no depth to it.
The Sunday Assembly isn’t actually growing. It is spreading, but it isn’t creating a sustained excitement or engagement in many of the places they have visited. This is where we have the advantage. We need to make our case. We need to be bold and make our communities more inviting. Welcoming is a good thing to be, but you can’t welcome people who don’t show up in the first place.
So, rest assured that Unitarian Universalism can learn as much from the Sunday Assembly as they can from us, but we are in the superior position to take advantage of their press in the long term. We have the tradition and the infrastructure that would support the kind of accepting and non-dogmatic community many of these people are seeking. Sure, some of them will be turned off too much by our “God language”, but others just need to know that we are willing to not only welcome them, but embrace them and let their participation change our way of doing things. They need to matter for more than demographic reasons. If we can allow that to happen, then we could learn from the example of the Sunday Assembly, and maybe NPR would be talking about Unitarian Universalism, too.