By Elaine Kresse, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, in Davenport, Iowa
The article "Sources of our Faith Inform MidAmerica" in the June 2014 MidAmerica Messenger pointed to statistics on religions practiced in our various MidAmerica states. Though that article explored the potential to connect with practitioners of faiths from which our UU faith draws, it also prompted me to ponder those who state that they are "Not affiliated with any of the above,"referred to as "Nones." I turned to bestplaces.net/religion as well as PEWforum.org.
Nationally, 48.78 percent of respondents identified themselves as having a "Religious" affiliation. (This likely does not include those who consider themselves spiritual.)
These were the outcomes by each MidAmerica state:
*Only in the Dakotas, from among MidAmerica states, does a Protestant group rival or exceeded Catholic: Lutherans.
How many "Nones" there are, is suggested by the chart. In Iowa for example, 46% did not show a religious affiliation. In Missouri, over 50% did not show a religious affiliation. Being a "None" does not mean a person is not spiritual or is not religious.PEW indicates that 1 in 5 respondents is "None"and PEW explains that 88% of those are NOT looking for a religious home. Why not? Many believe religious denominations (and so local churches) are too centered on money and power.
Terasa Cooley's article "Into the Beyond," in UU World, Summer 2014, made me curious. I asked a few Christians and several UU's who do NOT attend church two key questions: (1) "Why not?" The answers varied. (2) "Would you donate anyway?" Most said "yes," all suggesting a sense of connection to their UU faith as a reason they would do so.
UUA President Peter Morales in "Congregations and Beyond," says declining attendance/membership is not a problem, it is an opportunity www.uua.org/vision/beyond. It is a challenging opportunity. "Raised Unitarian but no longer affiliated" is a big group in our UU world. Parents who raised their children UU, who continue to donate to their local church but no longer attend, also make up a large group. Such families often do turn to the UU church for weddings and celebrations of life even if they do not remain otherwise actively involved.
One of those I talked with said that he thinks people attend church as (1) a place to fill a basic need for religion/ritual, and (2) a place to meet a social need for community. Neither he nor his wife attends. He was not experiencing those needs currently, and his wife has her needs met through a Healing Touch group. A 19 year old I talked with, who is leaving us for college in a town with a UU church, suggests the service or the sermon be a podcast that could be listened to at will and that the church be wide open all weekend for various activities, including a church service. He is one of four such youth raised in our congregation. Will the UU faith call him to the UU church in his college town? Or will the local church there never meet him when he becomes a "None?"
Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, author of Staying Sane in a Crazy World reflects, "Recognizing and cultivating beauty in our lives is a source of strength. Beauty nourishes our hopes in the same way that food nourishes our body. Realists seek out the aesthetic experience in the same way that mystics look for the spiritual. The 'aesthetic fix' keeps them going." Rabbi Wine considers sporting events to be contemporary celebrations of beauty which feed the human spirit with hope. "Much more than religion, they alleviate the craziness of a crazy world. That is why football games have better attendance than church services."
Peter Morales says there are 600,000 professed UU's and only 160,000 members of congregations. We better figure out a way to claim the 440,000 that already claim us without asking them to come to "church" on Sunday. If it is true that "sporting events feed the human spirit with beauty," what can our congregations do to help those who aren't "in the stands" with other UU's to feed their spirit with hope?