A new UU blog, Transient and Permanent, has an interesting perspective on the idea that there are two different kinds of Unitarian Universalism. The unknown author of the blog has posited the following:
"One (type) retains some of the classical Unitarian and Universalist theology and is more overtly Protestant-ish in worship style and language, and often architecture, art, and other aspects as well. The other is more experimental and protean, with no clear theology and less consistency in terms of worship."
As I understand the position presented, s/he sees New England churches as being more often in the first group, with a strong grip on the history and Christian liturgical elements of earlier Unitarian and Universalist congregations. Other churches, often newer and perhaps born of the Fellowship movement from the mid-20th century, differ strongly from those older, longer established churches, in that there is less awareness of the past, liturgy is more varied and worship style less dependent on a minister.
This is a very truncated synopsis of a longer piece that reminded me of something I've noticed about Unitarian Universalism, and that is the difference between East Coast UUism and West Coast UUism. (Don't ask me about the middle America states, because I have less experience to draw on there. I'd be interested in points of view about it, if you care to share.)
Many years ago, before I entered the ministry, I was a candidate for a District Executive position and flew to Boston for an interview. It was the first time I'd been to Boston and I was enraptured by the historic buildings and parks and places I'd only read about in my history books. (And Filene's basement, of course, though that wasn't in the history books.) I tromped all over the place, soaking up the ambiance and learning to use the subway.
My interview was with several high muckety mucks from the UUA plus the chair of the search committee, and I felt pretty well prepared for it. I had a lot of counseling and group experience; I was familiar with denominational politics and processes; I had good references and a lot of denominational leadership experience. I knew I was a good candidate for the job and eager to give it a shot. Whether I got the position or not, the trip to Boston was an exciting moment in my life.
The DE position was in a Western district. I was a Westerner, born and bred, never living anywhere else, and I guess I must have exuded something because one of the UUA folks tossed me this question: "So, Kit, what is it about Westerners? How come Unitarian Universalists in the West are so different?" I'm not sure how the chair of the search committee related to that question, but I was taken aback.
The questioner went on to remark on the maverick nature of Western UUs, the fretfulness of many Fellowship-type congregations west of the Mississippi, the many conflicts in Fellowship-type congregations, and the lack of many longterm settlements among ministers in the West. It was news to me, but I stuttered out something about the Frontier and pioneers and adventurers and freethinkers all being drawn to the new territory out West. I don't think I answered the question to her satisfaction but we went on and I tucked that bit of curious information away to be chewed on later.
I didn't get that job, which was okay because I was getting close to being able to go to seminary anyhow, and they gave it to an East Coast person, who lasted a few years and then left in a bit of a kerfuffle.
But when T & P revealed that s/he thinks there are two types of Unitarian Universalists, I was intrigued. I do get the significance of that UUA staffer's question now. I read blogs and other writings by East coast folks and do see that there are different ways of being UU. There is a more formal aspect, it seems to me, to Eastern UU congregations and their ways of doing things. Western UU congregations are all over the map.
When I read Beauty Tips for Ministers, for example, I'm aware that PeaceBang is advocating for a much more decorous way of dressing among clergy than would be typical of clergy out here. We rarely wear robes in the pulpit in this district; some do, if they are serving large congregations where that is the norm. Most of us don't. I don't wear a stole or robe unless it's a fairly formal occasion such as a child dedication, wedding, or memorial service. We do robe when we process in an ordination or installation, so we do know how to do it. We just don't often choose to.
Our daily attire is less formal too. I don't often wear jeans and sweatshirts to meetings with congregants, but my folks probably wouldn't mind. On home visits, I tend to wear khakis or cords with a t-shirt under a pretty long-sleeved shirt. I suspect Boston would not approve! But this isn't Boston, it's an island where doctors wear jeans to the office.
So what does anyone else think? I wonder what others' experiences are.