Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Why UUs Take The Summers Off

I got a UU newsletter in the mail the other day and groaned aloud when I saw their back page article. It was called "WHY DO WE CLOSE CHURCH IN THE SUMMER?" or something along those lines, and among the snappy-happy little reasons listed were:

1. We've been doing this since the 1800's, when everyone spent their summers down on the Cape!
2. Small churches can't afford air-conditioning!
3. God can trust Unitarians to take the summers off!
4. 'Cause we like it that way!

Before I whipped this puppy into recycling, I wryly translated to myself:

1. Most members of this church are privileged enough to have summer homes, and if you don't have one and are sweltering up here, too bad for you!
(insert Simpson's kid "HA HA" sound effect here)
2. We don't feel like paying for air-conditioning because ... remember, WE'RE ALL PRIVILEGED AND HAVE SUMMER HOMES ON THE CAPE!
3. Church just isn't that important to us, and we don't need one another's ministry for three months out of the year! Also, we're superior to all those other hacks who need to keep praying and worshiping all year 'round. SUCKAS!
4. We don't want to change... or grow!

C'mon, say it. I'm listening. Let's say it all together:
"But PeaceBang, we all worship in different ways. I myself worship in the garden, and I worship by walking on the beach!"

Darlings, so do I. I'm every bit as Transcendentalist and groovy as you are, and believe me, I'm not complaining about my nine weeks off from preaching. I need it badly. But that doesn't mean we should all close the church and stop offering a ministry of hospitality and care to those who need it.
Closing the doors in the summer says loud and clear, "Church just isn't that important to us. It is not an essential part of our lives. In fact, we can do without it for months at a time."

Some of my laypeople and I were curious as to when this "ancient" practice of going on summer hiatus really began. People I casually asked pretty much figured we've done it forever, but a little bit of research revealed otherwise. In fact, it was only within the past three or four decades that the church shut down after Father's Day and kept its doors closed through Labor Day (now we have lay-led services twice a month, and I'm thrilled about it).

Blessed are those who keep church going even in the hottest months, who set out the programs and who pour the lemonade and who fan themselves patiently through the humid hymns and sermons. Blessed are you who welcome the seekers and who set out the folding chairs and who forego the beautiful Sunday morning in the garden or on the boat. And blessed are you, dearly beloved, who release your own ministers from duty in the summer months so they can attend church elsewhere as a worshiper, and to refill their own possibly dry wells of liturgy and poetry, faith, hope and pastoral empathy, and rest, rest, rest.


Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I've read some studies and articles (like this one) about pastors and they have really high rates of stress! I was SHOCKED. Maybe having the summer off would do some of them (and their families) some good.

For a lot of people, UUism may not be the center of their life. Or more precisely, their church/congregation might not be the center of their life.

I read once that one of the signs of a cult is how much time it requires of you - the cult keeps you engaged in cult activities every day - hours per day sometimes (or more). It dominates your life. I think that's common point in more mainstream religious communities, too, not just cults. If all of your friends go to your church, and your kids go to the church school, and you volunteer in the church office, and half of your social activities take place at church, well of course it cannot close during the summer.

I don't think UU congregations should close up during the summer; people still need community. We have this idea that people just won't show up in summer, but I'm not convinced. I'm still at the "chicken or egg" point of that question.

I attend church in summer with same frequency as I attend the rest of the year. But in my church, the senior minister always draws the biggest crowds, and she is not usually preaching during summer, so the crowds are naturally smaller.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

As to your comment about going to church with the same frequency in the summer as you do in the winter, I can only say, "Yes, and wonderful! Because it's THERE for you to go to!" And no one worries that the crowds aren't as big.

This winter I made it over to the church during a blizzard. About four people came, and one of them was a man whose mother had died that morning.

Church is community. Right.

As far as the article you reference, I think it's full of fallacious claims. That doesn't mean that pastors lives aren't stressful, it just means that if it's the article I think it is, it's full of sloppily gathered data.
I'll hit your link now and see.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

I take that back! The study you linked wasn't the one I thought it was, which was a very hot one making the rounds a few months ago.

I don't know about this one, but it certainly seems legit.

Blogger Errantfrogs said...

My church, for the second summer in a row, now stays open all summer, and I'm so glad we've made that shift. Since most people move into Oak Park in August, most of the church shopping is done before Labor Day. With several other liberal congregations in our community, I'm sure we've lost many people to the UCC churches across and up the street ... not to mention the Methodists, ELCA, and MCC. (I used to attend one of them in the summer when my church USED to be shut down.) Surprise... they did some pretty darn good churching too.

I'll never forget the summer my father died unexpectedly and at an early age. How I could have used my church community. How grateful I am that it's there for others during the summer so they don't have to go through similar periods of mourning alone.

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

The only UU congregation that I attended that took a break for the summer was in a college town in Georgia. And that was over 25 years ago.

The other UU congregations I've attended (South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, etc) have offered Sunday worship during the summer months without interruptions.

Perhaps this "going to the Cape" thing is regional? Especially since Southern UU congregations would be using their air conditioner for half of the year, the summer months aren't that different from April, May, or September.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

I think it is very regional, Steve. I look forward to hearing folks weigh in from other regions in the U.S. and Canada, as this has been very interesting.

Blogger Nikkiana said...

While I've never been to a church that shuts down for the summer, per se, I have noticed that a lot of churches tend to "take it easy" over the summer... Choir doesn't practice, other subministries of the church don't meet... All because people might be away.

I always found it kinda amusing because it never seemed like anyone ever went away on vacation (and if they did, it was rarely over a Sunday).

Blogger Rev. Sean said...

I couldn't have been prouder than when our website began to state at the top of the "upcoming services" page:

"We are a year round church! There will be a service every Sunday of the year."

And there is. Yes, some areas of church life have a summer break, most notably the choir. But the board, most major committees, our small group ministry...all continue through the summer.

I take July off, but make a point to be in the pulpit by mid-August for church shoppers. (I take 2 weeks of my study leave in February.)

I'm so with you on this one, PB!

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

Oh, I forgot, but you reminded me Rev Sean. At my church, YRUU does break for the summer. And the choirs are not as intensive (we have like, half a dozen of them), but there is still plenty of service. We drop from a 9 o'clock and 11 o'clock service to just one: 10 o'clock.

Summer is always a good time for the 9 oclockers and the 11 oclockers to finally meet each other! LOL

Blogger Chalicechick said...

Yeah, that's about what my church does. YRUU ramps way down (thank goodness, I love those kids but during the school year I have very little free time thanks to them) to one activity a month and the choir doesn't seem to meet. We have more lay services, too.

To be honest, I attend church less in the summer, but it is there if I need it.


Blogger SC Universalist said...

anybody know the percentage of UU Churches that close in the summer?
(I was once the leader of a non-church group that took summers off - most of the members were teachers who were gone during the summers.)
I have to admit that when I vacation near an UU Church, I go in on Sundays (doing that again this Sunday).
Concering airconditioning, I know an UU Church that is in the south - meets weekly for the past 100 years - and doesnt have air conditioning! It relys on that old almost gone south tradition of the funeral home fan - BiB should know that church rather well! If the South can do it, why not the North?


Blogger CK said...

My church in STL moves into the chapel for lay-lead services during the summer. There's also a cutback in the RE program--just one, which is concurrent with the chapel service (we normally have 2 service times).

We tend to go less frequently, only because of travel plans. Okay, and sometimes because we're lazy.

Blogger Joel Monka said...

My church in Indianapolis is year-round, but my attendence is very spotty in the summer- not because I have a summer home, but because the guest speakers are usually so far left they'd have Karl Marx saying, "Wait a minute, let's not get carried away now..." And that's the lay speakers- the guest ministers are usually worse.

Blogger Obijuan said...

I hated taking the summers off. My UU church was my lifeline while I was a miserable corporate wage slave. Summer months on the job were the worst, the time I needed the lifeline most, and it went away.

Now, I'm thrilled to contributing to UU summer ministry, leading Frogs' church for ten weeks (while I prep for the MFC, exactly the sort of grounding I need).

Blogger Donald O'Bloggin said...

Around here (SE Michigan) the churches are open all year. Now, the summer slows down, but that's been changing since I was little too, and the churches have much more programming than they used to.

In general, I don't like things being on a "Acedemic" calendar. Some things might change a bit in the summer programming, but that's because the bahavioural patterns of the people change.

Blogger UUpdater said...

I think it was roughly 8 years ago when my wife and I felt a longing and started exploring churches. The church we found was on a summer schedule, but we showed up at the normal church year time. Fortunatly coffee hour was actually a pretty nice introduction to the congregation. The following lay lead services which we actually attended convinced us to join. Had the doors been closed for the summer I am not sure we would have discovered UUism.

I am a big proponent of keeping the doors open for the summer. Reduced activity is fine, but few things are less inviting to a new comer than locked doors.

Blogger boyinthebands said...

Yes I do know such Southern churches. My pastorate -- which only worshipped monthly, "allowing" me to pick up preaching as I could -- had/has a 1903 building without air conditioning.

We met in the detached fellowship hall in the summer, but they used to take it off when I first got there.

Summer-off churches are rather rare any more. Ditto "meet at the LWV hall" lay-led fellowships. (Perhaps that's because there are so few new starts?) Yet they loom large in our idea of Unitarian Universalism.

Blogger Jamie Goodwin said...

UU Church of Akron meets year round, as most do in this area. (North East Ohio).

The choir does take the summer off, and this year was the first for our 2nd Service and we also took the year off. RE programming is specialized for summer, more like activity days than any real programming, and our minister takes time off for her own spitirual needs.

We also do not have air conditioning in our Sanctuary, last year we moved services to our new air conditioned fellowship hall but many people didn't like it, so this year it is back to the sanctuary for services.

Blogger seeking sophia said...

I have ministered to 4 congregations in 15 years and was a lay UU in 2 congregations. All held church in summer. Granted, my teeth gnarled at some of the summer offerings, but over time the quality improved tremendously in all the churches. Three were in the south, three in the mid-Atlantic. As a matter of fact, my preaching resumed in August in all the churches I've served.

Having recently arrived to upstate New York, I'm surprised that so many churches up here do shut down for the summer. I guess I assumed that this was something that UU's got over during the past two decades or so.

I think a lot of people church-shop in the summer. And my guess is that we do lose prospective church seekers to those who do remain open.

This is something that I will gently work towards in my ministry here. But I anticipate lots of resistance as well.

I think your reasoning is on target, Peacebang. Too bad for us. And we wonder why people aren't flocking to us!

Blogger ogre said...

We're all year-round, and as far as I can tell (from comments from some founders), we've always been. We were entirely lay led for many years, and we aren't giving up some of that legacy. Our minister only gets 3 Sundays a month, as well as the summer "off." But we go roaring right on with what are remarkably high quality services, mostly preached by members of the congregation.

Many people are church shopping in summer, and frequently seem taken with what they see and hear of our community at that time. Our new minister (I'm going to probably have to stop saying "new" shortly, since she'll be here two years come August) is intent on starting to be present and in the pulpit for the last half of August because of that church-shopping.

The idea of shutting down seems to strike folks here as... well... slovenly. Morally enfeebling. Or something like that. The choir does slack off, and attendance is down--families are camping, people are vacationing and visiting.... There's a distinct seasonal quality to summer, a more casual feeling, perhaps. But the slight down-shift is good. It allows the transition from board to board (and so forth) to happen at a time when things are nominally "down" a little.

Not that it's been that way this year or last....

Blogger Mama G said...

Our church is a year-round church too. (Hey, Joel, I'm in Indianapolis too. I attend UUI.) Anyway, our summer services are always lay-led. In the past I haven't always attended in the summer just because I find the lay-led services are often too flaky or cerebral for my tastes. But I'm often there because I'm on the RE committee so I spend my time with the kids.

Our church is going through a difficult time right now (maybe I'll post about that on my own blog one of these days), but we've noticed that RE attendance has actually been UP the last few weeks. I think the reason is that as a congregation we are trying to work thru some problems so several long-time members who hadn't been there for a while are making an effort to try. I'm quite impressed actually. Or maybe it is because the minister is gone. :-( I don't know.


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