Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mixed Feelings About Membership

My minister recently told me, basically point-blank, that he wanted me to join the Church of the Larger Fellowship. The CLF is a "online" or "distance" UU church for all those UU's who don't have a congregation close enough to where they live.

I did go ahead and join - but mainly just to avoid another conversation with him about it, and not with a completely happy heart about it. I'm not sure why - other than the obvious "I don't want to do it just because you say I have to" - I'm reluctant. It did give me serious pause when it came to the point of designating my pledge to CLF, but that is mainly because I already pledge what I consider a substantial amount to the church which employs me as a Director of Religious Education, so making another pledge then has to come out of my personal spending allowance, based on the way my (non-UU) husband and I have set up our household budget. Since the personal spending allowance is for coffee, eating out, clothing, etc, and it's already a pretty small amount of money, making that pledge cut into my ability to get a massage once in a while or go out for lunch instead of packing one.

But, paternalism and money aside, why haven't I ever officially joined a UU church before? I've been a UU since I was 15 years old, but I've never been a member. That means I've never counted in the number the UUA tallies for the number of UU's in the country, because if you aren't an official member, you aren't an official Unitarian Universalist.

When I was young, no one even suggested I be a member - I might have been excited to be asked as a teen or a twenty-something. Of course, you generally have to pledge money in order to become a member, and as a teen or a college student I had very little of that to spare. So I attended two different UU churches during the years that I was too young to be considered for membership.

I started attending my current church ten years ago, when I was still an undergraduate college student. No one suggested I join or invited me to membership classes, although they did invite me to join the Young Adults group. I had been attending off and on for a couple years, and still was always being asked if I was a first-time visitor, when I was first "canvassed" for a pledge. That was hard - I was a stay-at-home mom of a new baby, with no income of my own, a husband who did not attend church with me, and I was asked what I could afford to pledge ... um, nothing? I couldn't pledge based on his income - he had no interest in supporting a church.

After that, the "interfaith marriage" became a major factor in my not becoming a member. It just never felt right to join, although I did start contributing a pledge as soon as I had my own income stream. Once I came close to joining, and took the membership class, but they had misplaced "the book" that members sign so at the end of that class no one could sign, and I took that as some sort of sign that it wasn't meant to be.

How many people are out there like me, that have slowly grown into congregational life and feel awkward about the official membership process? It feels like having a wedding after you've lived with someone for more than a decade ... why bother?

I basically understand why my minister feels membership is so important. Intellectually, I hear his argument that in a faith without doctrine, what we have instead is the covenant of membership ... instead of a statement of faith we are asked to enter into that covenant and that relationship. OK - but I still don't really feel it.

1 comment:

  1. I accidentally deleted this comment instead of approving it:

    "Mark D." said:

    I can empathize. When I was growing up membership was never a consideration mostly because my father was the minister of an independent inter-denominational church. Fortunately, the congregation I attend now has not pressured for membership but has identified the benefits...participation in the business side of the congregation. I think the right timing will be when I believe my voice will be important in shaping the future of the organization.