If You Just Change The Key, It’s Still The Same Old Song

If you’ve listened to Mark Morrison-Reed’s Minns Lecture, or read “Black Pioneers in a White Denomination”, then you know about the survey (questions were asked about various aspects of worship and spiritual life) that was done in 1989 for the Commission on Appraisal. There are some striking differences in the responses.

When asked what they saw as the very important aspects of worship, white UUs chose “intellectual stimulation” and “fellowship” as their top two (at 74% and 65%, respectively). African American UUs, however, chose “celebrating common values” and “hope” as their top 2 (at 69% and 60%, respectively). Now, “fellowship”  is the third highest aspect for African American survey respondents (at 56%), and “celebrating common values” is the third highest for white survey respondents (at 60%), but if one looks at the entirety of the results, there is a noticeable difference.

The rest of the top five very important aspects for white UUs were “personal reflection” (53%) and “group experience of participation” (44%). The rest of the top five very important aspects for African American UUs were “music” (50%) and “intellectual stimulation” (47%).

When I was first thinking about this post, I thought it would be another one in my maybe-series about worship. While I will probably write about worship specifically later (the ten percentage point differences in the “music” and “personal reflection” answers deserves a post of their own), the survey  answers to the worship question point to a much larger thought.

We go to church for different reasons.

Let’s sit with that for a moment.

If white UUs are looking for intellectual stimulation and fellowship primarily when looking for a congregation, yet African Americans are looking for a celebration of common values and a place that gives hope when looking for a congregation; what does that mean when creating a space/place that is inviting to all?

So here are the questions…..

Why do you go to church? [and, by extension, why did you choose the congregation you chose]

What does the “beloved community” look like when what we are seeking are different things when we gather?


*the survey in 1989 only broke the answers down by white and black respondents. if the survey were being done now, I’m certain that the racial/ethnic breakdown would be more expansive.


3 thoughts on “If You Just Change The Key, It’s Still The Same Old Song

  1. So I serve a predominantly white congregation that grew up with Bill Murry and Scott Alexander — they are steeped in humanism primarily. But only a certain demographic….and even those folks come primarily for the fellowship. I have noticed, even at RRUUC, that newer folks are coming for similar reasons that folks of color were looking for almost 30 years ago, which indeed is a generation. My colleagues voice similar experiences in the different generational groups. So maybe there is hope…BTW, the answer to you question about how one goes about creating Beloved Community is to teach folks to ask the question, “why is it that other people, some I know and love well, look to church life for something entirely different? I wonder why the difference? I wonder if I am missing something?

    • hi Gabrielle!
      Thanks for the answer to the question about beloved community. I’ll sit with it.
      And it’s interesting to hear the generational angle. Makes me wonder if they did that demographic breakdown in the survey.

  2. I was given two gentle mandates circa 2005–to become a unitarian universalist church planter in Whitfield County Jorga…perhaps borrowing brink and mortar board from the United Church of Christ denomination—-my alleged co-conspirator and her dad have shown up in my dream life….

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