Promise of Beyond: Utopian Influence in our Movement Today

“In his 2012 essay, Congregations and Beyond, UUA president Peter Morales challenges our denomination to consider itself a religious movement, and asks how it might reach people beyond a congregational setting. The heart of his essay seems to ask what it means to live as a Unitarian Universalist in community, and what various forms such communities might take. This is not the first time members of our faith have experimented with being in community beyond a church setting. Historical examples include:

• Rakow, an intentionally anti-trinitarian Christian community In the mid-1500s, in what was known as the Kingdom of Poland;

• Brook Farm, founded in 1841 by Transcendentalist Unitarian minister George Ripley and several others; and

• Hopedale Community, also founded in 1841 by Universalist minister Adin Ballou on the principles of Christian non-resistance and Christian socialism

UUs are still grappling with the question of community. In his 2003 GA address, Rabbi Harold Kushner identified Unitarian Universalism as more of a “bridging” denomination than a “bonding” one. Kushner quoted from Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, which defines bonding communities as “inward looking” groups that “tend to reinforce exclusive identities … they heighten distinctions between insiders and outsiders;” and bridging communities as “outward looking and encompass[ing] people across diverse social cleavages.” However, because of their “bridging” nature, Unitarian Universalist congregations may have members who fall away more easily, or who do not always remain as committed to the care and support of those beside them in the pews.

Unitarian Universalism may indeed be more of a “bridging” denomination. However, UUs continue to work toward the creation of intentional communities. There are examples on both coasts of the United States, and our historic utopian communities certainly were bonding ones. What wisdom might utopian experiments offer to Unitarian Universalism today, both in evolving brick-and-mortar congregations and in congregations without traditional walls and borders? How might these inform our present journey, at a time when our population is mobile and shifting, lifestyles are changing, and affinity and identity may figure as prominently as geography in American religious life?”