THE UNITED PROGRAMS
Merger efforts have been culminated in two instances: by merger in federal union form in the Council of Liberal Churches and by outright functional merger in the Liberal Religious Youth. Although the latter merger preceded the former by a brief time, attention will be turned first to the Council of Liberal Churches.
THE COUNCIL OF LIBERAL CHURCHES (UNIVERSALIST—UNITARIAN)
The original conception of the Council of Liberal Churches was that it would gradually supersede both the A.U.A. and the U.C.A. There was a hope that other liberal denominations and liberal wings of orthodox denominations would accept membership and give cooperation and support. The concept of organization was a federal union merger, wherein each member denomination would have a strong, representative voice. The C.L.C. initially was to operate the merged functions of religious education, public relations and publications. If these moves proved successful, sentiment favored expanding the merger to the departments of extension and of ministry. Following much study and a plebiscite, the Council of Liberal Churches was voted at the joint assembly in Andover, Massachusetts, in August, 1953, and incorporated in Delaware in October of that same year. Its governing board, known as the Council consists of eight members each from the A.U.A. and the U.C.A., and by virtue of this membership and the budgeting control of the two denominational boards, the C.L.C. is in effect jointly owned by the two denominations, even though it is legally independent.
The Division of Religious Education of the C.L.C. began functioning in 1954, and since then has been in continuous operation with its efforts well appreciated by the churches of both denominations. In 1955, a Public Relations office was opened in New York City with a director. After six months this office was closed because adequate support was not forthcoming from the denominations which reflected the inherent impossibility of conducting public relations and promotion for two separate bodies in a single operation. Only a very limited amount of a general public relations program thereafter has been carried out by the Administrator of the C.L.C. Although it was hoped that the merged publications function, and especially a joint denominational magazine, could early become operative, exploration between representatives of both denominations discovered major stumbling blocks in finance, staffing, and control. It was then decided that the merging of the publications function would be postponed and the situation remains currently in this state.
A Joint Interim Commission was established at the 1953 Joint Biennial Meeting at Andover to evaluate the work of the C.L.C. and to study and recommend the next Steps in Federal Union. This Commission reported its findings at the 1955 meeting in Detroit:
The record of our Joint Division of Education since its establishment, July 1, 1954, demonstrates how productive united effort can be. Despite appropriations lower than had been anticipated, our devoted and creative staff have exceeded our bright expectations.
C.L.C. general administration has been economical, but federal administration is at best cumbersome. A third national board and further duplication of committees are inevitably costly. This is one reason why we will not recommend expansion of federal union in additional divisions.
The Commission believes that the delegates at this time should authorize a step—by—step procedure whereby the member churches and other local groups of both denominations may democratically determine whether the A.U.A. and U.C.A. shall be merged, and if so, in what manner.
We recommend the establishment of a Merger Commission to accomplish this end.
Thus, to all intents and purposes, the C.L.C. has been confined to conducting a joint religious education program for the two denominations. The possibility of the usefulness of C.L.C. as an instrument for gradual union seems to have been eliminated. Moreover, there appears to be a growing feeling in both denominations that a C.L.C. which is in effect only one headquarters function — religious education, cannot go on because of the cumbersome top level machinery necessary to keep it in operation.
Although the organization and limited scope of the C.L.C. is under criticism, the religious education program which it operates has generally enthusiastic approval. The policies, finance, program and staff are considered next.
The general policies under which the C.L.C. operates are:
1. Equal religious education service, without priority or prejudice, for all Universalist and Unitarian Churches on the basis of demand.
2. Creation and dissemination of unified, modern educational materials.
3. Maintenance of high quality service through competent, trained and experienced leadership and staff and by use of recognized curriculum consultants.
4. Financial support of the program by the A.U.A. and the U.C.A. on the basis of their willingness and ability.
5. Service to local churches regarding educational problems through a field staff and by correspondence, including loan materials through the C.L.C. library.
The annual budget of the C.L.C. comes from the United Unitarian Appeal and the U.C.A. via the latter’s Board of Trustees. The latter guarantees the amounts it approves while the former usually appropriates less than the amount requested; frequently, the C.L.C. has had to ask for a supplementary appropriation in order to obtain the amount required for its carefully considered annual budget. The amounts given by the respective denominations in each of the last four years follow:
Net Expenditures for 1957—1958 were:
Gross expenditures amounted to nearly $95,000 with the C.L.C. receiving approximately $12,000 income from sale of materials and rebates of various kinds.
The C.L.C. serves churches and fellowships of both denominations. The total possible service area in church school work is indicated by data on page 26, which shows a total of 564 schools and approximately 44,300 members in the two denominations collectively in the year 1955. Since field service is on a request basis, the C.L.C. does not serve all church schools, except in the direct mail service which goes to all church schools.
The C.L.C. prepares numerous kinds of curriculum materials for children and adults and maintains a library of films, slides and books which are available for loan. The professional members of the staff spend a considerable part of the year visiting and working with various kinds of church groups. They have been putting special emphasis on the development of church school programs for the junior high age group, on leadership training and on adult education programs. Highly skilled effort has gone into the development of the Beacon Curriculum Series for Church Schools, but not all church schools in either denomination in 1957 used these materials:
It is believed that the more traditional churches in each denomination prefer to use materials other than the Beacon Series. Some liberal religious groups outside of these two denominations are interested in helping develop the Series and using the materials.
The administrative staff consists of the director, secretary and an administrative assistant; a field staff of four very experienced persons is assisted by two secretaries and a librarian. In addition, there are several who serve as needed under the director: a consultant, four editors and a curriculum coordinator.
The general consensus is that the religious education work and service have been of high quality. This common program has helped to further mutual understanding and appreciation, at least in some areas of the nation.
LIBERAL RELIGIOUS YOUTH
The young people who form the Liberal Religious Youth take pride in the fact that they have pioneered in the complete merger of youth activities of the Universalist and Unitarian denominations. The first annual meeting of the L.R.Y. in the summer of 1954 followed the third Annual Joint Convention in 1953 of the American Unitarian Youth in its fifty-seventh Annual Meeting (organized originally as the Young People’s Religious Union in 1889) and the sixty-fifth National Universalist Youth Fellowship Convention (organized as the Young People’s Christian Union in 1889).
At this very first meeting they passed with rising acclaim this resolution:
“WHEREAS many young people now active in L.R.Y. contemplate entering the liberal ministry, and
WHEREAS there are no substantial differences in training methods or religious philosophy between the Universalist and Unitarian denomination
BE IT RESOLVED that we urge the Departments of Ministry of the Universalist and Unitarian denominations to move toward merger under the Council of Liberal Churches.”
Membership in the L.R.Y. is restricted to persons aged fourteen through twenty-five. Membership is mainly through local groups of which there were in the spring of 1958 some 245 reporting; of these 200 were paying dues.
The L.R.Y. national quarters at the Universalist Headquarters building where the Director, his secretary and the office manager have their offices, is a busy place. The president of the L.R.Y. has an office and there are always groups of young people around either conferring with members of the staff regarding the work of their fellowship or doing various volunteer tasks.
The age span covers the college years, but the college age youth tend to drop out, except in those groups which are organized at the colleges. College graduates are too old to be compatible with the usual high school groups, and this group, as in most denominations, has no real place where they belong and have responsibility.
The first of two major aspects of the program aims to promote and develop youth groups and their programs in the local churches. One part is the preparation and distribution of materials by the national office for study and discussion. These materials cover a wide range from “Boy—Girl Relationships” to “The Quest for a Future”. Some are informational and others are suggestions for activities. They are developed by a committee of young people, by people of special experience, and by the staff, and seem mature and helpful. Another part is field work, that is visiting churches and youth groups to stimulate interest, assist in organization, and counsel on problems. The Director spends part of his time at this, but the bulk of the field work is done by the young people themselves. Teams are formed usually at or as a result of a conference and they go about in their districts helping local church groups.
The second major aspect of the program is conferences. Throughout the Fall, Winter and Spring, some twenty weekend conferences, stimulated and assisted by the national office, are held in districts and regions. During the summer some fifteen conferences of a week or more duration are held throughout the country at convenient places. The purposes of these conferences are inspiration, study, acquaintance and the interchange of ideas.
One of the conferences is combined with the annual Continental Convention where official delegates hear reports, carry on their business, and elect officers and the council.
The receipts and disbursements have run in the neighborhood of $25,000. The receipts are primarily from the united appeal of the two denominations, (U.U.A. cir. $13,700; U.C.A. cir. $4,500). The expenditures are usual for maintaining headquarters and carrying on the program described.
OTHER UNITED PROGRAMS
The Senexet Conference is a completely unified effort. Its composition and functions have been described in the chapter on the Ministry.
The Joint Biennial Meeting is an expression of common concern and interests and the recognition of the common base for attacking the respective problems of the two denominations. In addition, several regional and state conventions are collaborating on common problems. Denominational executives testify to the increasing spirit of cooperation, particularly in the Midwest and to some degree in New England and other sections.
Universalist and Unitarian ministers have joined together in a number of local and regional associations. There have been twenty-nine Uni-Uni combinations of local churches. Merger is not solely a present day idea, but one which has been thought about and discussed for many years.