First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

It seems like we’ve been running an unplanned experiment on the value of a spiritual community that cannot gather in person. A faith community that doesn’t come together seems almost like an oxymoron.

As with many traditional societal forms, it may be that this time signals a transformation on how we gather and support one another. This recent crisis may only be accelerating a transformation that was already underway.

A recent Pew report indicates that the number of religiously “unaffiliated” adults has grown from 16% to 23% of American adults since 2007. For millennials, the number now stands around 35%, more than any other type of affiliation. An earlier Pew report indicates that at least 88% of millennials aren’t even looking for a Church or a religion. 

The report says, “Overwhelmingly, these people think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”

So, here we are, nominally a “Church”, though we think of ourselves as a unique community of faith, support, and justice. We are nonetheless pretty conventional in terms of the forms of institutional religion: white church in the Town center, Sunday morning service, membership, coffee hours, committees.

Where do we go, what is our fate? Like all other Churches, following the trend line, are we doomed to oblivion? And in these days of the pandemic when we cannot gather, how do we define our value to each other and to the community?

John Buehrens once quipped, in response to an idea about this kind of disruption, “No chalice, no flame”.  The physical Church, he implied, anchored by the Sunday morning service, was the chalice that supported the flame of spiritual inquiry, community, and social justice. 

But much of that flame is no longer in the chalice. It’s glowing in any number of non-religious spiritual, activist, and community-oriented organizations. But its embers are fading inside traditional Churches.

For the UUA, the percentage of people who identify as Unitarian Universalist, but do not affiliate with or attend Church is 77%. There’s a lot of flame outside the chalice. And the size of the UUA Diaspora will only grow in the time of the Pandemic.

This month’s Big Question Forum asks a Big Question: what is the fate and trajectory of First Parish in the face of such headwinds? How do we retain community, how do we continue to stoke the flame of our shared chalice, in a time when religion is a declining brand, and when there is gathering doubt about gathering at all?

We certainly all have questions, concerns, and insights about the future of our community. What are yours? We look forward to hearing your perspective, so please join us Tuesday, July 28th at 7:30 to engage in this timely topic! Zoom meeting information will be sent to the BQF mailing list; contact Tad Staley, Tony or Amy Cicala if you need it.