Friday, March 20, 2009

Who are Our People?

UUs show subtle class markers that exclude some from our churches. But they are also part of the way that we bind ourselves together into a coherent community. Therefor, evangelizing UU beyond enclaves we already serve is hard and tricky work.

Lizard Eater started a discussion of UU Classism, which ChaliceChick continues. I opined that
Individual attitudes aren't strong class markers, but collections of them are. Our averaged UU attitudes towards NPR, abortion, Sams Club, vegans, water rights, Fox news, polyester, reparations for slavery, handing out condoms in OWL, Lincoln Towncars, Mexican immigration -- this constellation of concerns is a class marker just as much as is driving a Lexus, wearing Prada or having a fancy zipcode.
Surely, UUs have no completely uniform opinion on these matters. It's more like we're (usually) interested in talking about these things, and it doesn't seem weird to us if these matters are coffee-hour conversation. We may disagree, but we don't walk away disgusted or bored.

Class isn't just a top-to-bottom scale. Within US culture, pluralistic and diverse as it is, there are many little tribes of interest and identity. Between any given pair, neither may obviously outrank the other in status / dominance / prestige. But they're still different. Describing UUs as white-collar, and the people we exclude as blue-collar, is waaay to broad a brush, and not even that accurate. Plenty of white collar workers visit us and turn away thinking "Nope, not my people" and some blue collar workers feel right at home from day one. I wrote
Years ago, a woman named Debbie attended my church for about a year; then she fell away. I ran into her at a store. She said that she'd felt welcomed in our church, but that she never felt like she fit in. She had an engineering degree and a civil servant job, but somehow that didn't make her feel like she was in her element. I've seen other folks like Debbie come and go from our churches.
Let me underscore this. Debbie felt welcomed. She was on board with us theologically. But, somehow, she didn't feel like she belonged. How can we include Debbie and her kindred in our churches?

I think this becomes easier as a church gets larger, if the church does it right. When a church hits the 200-250 member plateau, it doesn't feel so much like a family any more. Lots of churches get stuck at this level; the steady stream of new members balanced by the folks leaving because it doesn't feel like home to them. To break through this growth barrier, a church must become a community of communities. If I have 10 peers in the church - folks who I look at and say "Yeah, they're like me," then I can still feel at home, even if the class markers of the larger congregation still seem kind of weird to me.

Having a group in which Debbie feels at home can be hard for a 120 member church. It can be feasible when you're up to 300 members. Especially when you've got an expanding small-group ministry.

I hope I run into Debbie again. I'd like to invite her back. There are some people I'd like to introduce her to.

1 comment:

  1. Yes.

    What you point to may be among the best reasons for a church to want to grow, and to work to create active sub-groups, be they great books reading or devoted to the study and practice of a theological tradition, or...

    More places for more of us to fit in and be part of the community.