Starting a Local Chapter
Are you interested in starting your own UU Christian Fellowship Group at your church? Let us help. Here are some steps you might consider taking in order to start your own group:
- If your congregation has a minister, meet with the minister and see if they are agreeable to a UUCF group starting up in your congregation. If they are not, invite him/her to call our Executive Director, Rev. Jake Morrill.
- After gathering a group together, determine what format you want to create for the group.
- Will this be a Bible study? If so, how will you decide what to study?
- Will it be devotional or intellectual in content—or both?
- Will there be a worship component? Communion service? If so, how often and who leads it?
- Will you lead it like a small group or covenant group, or more like a book discussion group?
- Discuss the expectations you have for the group and let the group create its “norms.” Click here for some sample outlines for other UUCF groups.
- Establish regular meeting dates, time and if possible, place.
- Advertise your group’s existence in your church’s newsletter, web site and/or other venues. If you meet considerable resistance to advertising your group, please contact the Executive Director for advice and counsel.
- Set the tone of the group early. Experience has taught other groups that forming a UUCF group should be grounded on the heartfelt desire to grow in one's faith as a Christian, or to explore liberal Christianity without dogma.
- Register your group with the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. Encourage your group members to join the UUCF soon after joining, so that we may put your group on the UUCF Chapter section of this website. You may never know who is looking for just such a group in your area!
Here are some Small Group Resources to aid you in starting and growing a UUCF group:
- Starting a UUCF Group
- How to Start a Local Chapter
- Growing a UUCF Small Group
- Emerging Small Groups, The Jesus Way: Reflections and Resources
- 25 Things Your UUCF Chapter Can Do
- What Can You Do Alone? A Personal Approach
- UUCF Sample Group Outlines
- Morning Prayers and Meditation(.pdf file)
The UUCF will provide pamphlets or study materials (see the publications list) and will notify UUCF members in your area if you want to start a local group. Experience has shown that it is helpful to have a minister or seminary student as a resource person, but it is not a necessity (the earliest Christians were without benefit of clergy). You should definitely work with your own minister, and share your plans with him or her. Most importantly you should be flexible, relaxed, and patient. Christians are not made overnight. If you'd like to talk to someone about starting a UUCF group in your church or in your area, email our Executive Director.
The text below was taken from a brochure published in 1988. Now dated, it still provides some useful information about groups that formed, some of the struggles that went along with their formation, and what these particular groups did to sustain them.
The Chicago chapter began when a minister and a layperson, each feeling a need for a gathering of UU Christians, served as catalysts for each other to begin organizing. Announcements were sent to all Chicago UU churches. It was emphasized that this group would be a supplement to the local churches, an opportunity for discussion and worship in a Christian context.
The Chicago Chapter of the UUCF met regularly, usually the third Thursday of the month. With a membership of around 50, we had an attendance of fifteen, more or less, at every meeting. We continue to meet at Meadville/Lombard Theological School, with occasional special services at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago. The Second Unitarian Church also holds its own regular services on the north side, but those members still participate in the meetings of the metropolitan group as well. The pattern of the service has been a discussion followed by a communion service. We have found that we all enjoy the discussion and have great fun testing and teasing each other in our ideas; and we grow in our faith and understanding by doing so. But what holds us together, and what brings us back each month is the communion service with its mystery and power. It may mean somewhat different things to each of us, but its core message and its assurance is universal.
For our services we have devised several different texts. Some are based on those done by other UUCF members, such as Tom Wintle and Judy Hoehler. Some have been done by our own members, such as one done by Duke Gray. And some come from those traditions we find sympathetic, such as the United Church of Christ. Our members come from the entire metropolitan area of Chicago, and include theological students from Meadvile/Lombard, Chicago Theological Seminary and McCormick Theological Seminary. We all have noted the growing interest in the Christian foundation of our faith in our respective churches and seminaries. The old antipathies of the past seem to be waning, and a genuine revival of the Christian message seems to be endemic among our fellow Unitarian Universalists in large part. In short the seed has been sown and we hope to gather the harvest in a myriad of ways in the years to come.
There have been special occasions to note. The annual Advent service has been a joy and inspiration to us all, to use an old but true expression. John Godbey did a series of discussion lectures on the gospels. Joe Bassett stopped by when he was in Chicago to give a marvelous talk on his involvement in the continuing investigation and evolution of the lectionary. Carl Scovel did a prayer service before his sermon at First Unitarian. Every member who has expressed an interest has been given an opportunity to do his or her own service. We have been enriched by each of these contributions.
We have worshipped, we have studied, we have grown. Our concern for the New Year is to expand beyond our faithful core and spread the gospel of Christian Unitarian Universalism to that receptive multitude that we all sense is out there awaiting the invitation.
- Neil W. Gerdes
New York City
THE UU Christian group in New York City was formed in the fall of 1980, on the initiative of Nick Abrams and Dianne Arakawa, who personally contacted people on the UUCF mailing list and placed notices in the newsletters of All Souls and Community Church. Since then the group has been meeting once a month, at the homes of various members, for discussion followed by a short worship service.
The group has been re-examining concepts in traditional Christian theology, using the Apostles’ Creed as a starting point. The first three meetings were devoted to the three Persons of the Trinity; subsequent subjects included the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, resurrection and life everlasting.
The group’s structure is, by choice, very informal. There are no officers, no bylaws, and no formal business meetings. Different members volunteer, at the end of each meeting, to host the next meeting, to open the discussion, and to lead the concluding worship service. Although a number of members belong to UUCF, this is not a requirement, and people need not identify themselves as Christians in order to participate. Most of the members of the group are UU’s, but there are also several liberal Christians from other denominations.
- Guy C. Quinlan
When I put a notice in our church bulletin in the fall of 1982 announcing a meeting to consider “the spirit of Jesus” and the role of Christianity in our congregation, I feared that I might be the only one attending. I could see myself, sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by a sea of empty chairs. But there were about a dozen enthusiastic people present, and the UU Christian Fellowship at First Unitarian Church, San Francisco, was born. The months that followed were often difficult.
Many church members were offended by our group.
We were accused of attempting to divide the congregation.
At some meetings, attendance dwindled to four or five.
Our minister attacked Christianity from the pulpit, and the congregation erupted in prolonged applause.
Yet, some seven months after we began, I could look around me at a reception our fellowship gave for Judy Hoehler and count among us more than 30 of the most active and dedicated members of our church, including half a dozen current and past members of the board of trustees.
Certainly we were not a fringe group.
Certainly we are not dividing the congregation.
It will be several more months, I think, before we can say that we have a success story in San Francisco. New ideas and programs often attract the attention of our congregation and then play themselves out and disappear.
Yet, there is little question that we have laid a good foundation on which to continue to build. I have tried to analyze how that foundation was constructed, and have come up with several observations that may be useful to others.
The decision to offer a worship service, including preaching, has made all the difference. Discussion groups and special programs can enrich a church, but weekly Christian worship is what makes our fellowship worth sustaining.
The willingness to allow our fellowship to evolve without defining purpose or insisting on what it means to be a Christian seems important. When members expressed interest in communion, it was instituted. When members felt communion was being overemphasized, we started doing it less frequently. This need to be flexible is often frustrating, but I can’t imagine that a more dogmatic rigidity would have worked at all.
Maintaining good relations with ministers and the larger church community has been essential. Although our senior minister is not a Christian and is actively opposed to orthodox Christianity, his advice and consent have been sought every step of the way. Fortunately, he recognizes the importance of pluralism and inclusiveness in our denomination.
Patience and a willingness to live with uncertainty and adversity must be important in any organizing effort. We have frequently been tempted to soften our message by changing our name, or, in the other direction, to sharpen the offense by challenging the secular humanism that dominates our church. However, we have for the most part gone quietly, and resolutely, about our business, witnessing in appropriate ways to the power of the faith.
Finally, the role of the spirit and the grace of God has been anticipated and accepted. I do not know what the ultimate mission of our fellowship is. It may simply be the joy and satisfaction I see on the faces of a few of our members. Or it may involve a restoration of our denomination to a position of leadership as the spiritual and social conscience of Christianity. Our Christian Fellowship is preparing us to go where the spirit leads.
Notes on what has worked. Nuts and Bolts…
Leadership: Our services were led by The Reverend Martin Skewes-Cox, a former Moderator of our church who divided his time between private business and a part-time, volunteer ministry; Todd VanLaningham, David Keyes and a trustee of the church. We take turns conducting services.
Building Committee: Monthly special evening events help us reach out to new members and socialize with regulars. Potlucks in members’ homes, special chapel services, etc.
Our own St. Paul: We are fortunate in having the ministry of David Rankin as part of the heritage of our church. We read excerpts from his sermons (So Great A Cloud of Witnesses, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pa.) for personal inspiration and as part of our worship services
Being Ecumenical: Learning about what other Christians are doing for peace and justice, realizing that the dogmatic, mean-spirited churches that so many of us left have changed too.
Information Hunger: What seems most satisfying is Christian worship, but so many also want Bible study skills, a perspective on Christian history, process theology or liberation theology made understandable. Development of a strong education program is a priority for our second year.
-A Handbook for Christians In Non-Christian Unitarian Universalist Churches, Spring/Summer, 198, Volume 8, Nos.1-2, pgs 16-20.