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The Citizen Shift

By Rev. Carol Bodeau


Dear Friends,

This message finds us nearing the end of another congregational year. In UU churches, we follow what you might call a ‘school year’ schedule. Our fiscal year, as well as our thematic year, is from July 1 to June 30. This means that we have a sort of reset each summer, after the busy work in spring of creating the next year’s budget. In fact, for a long time it was traditional for UU ministers (and many UU churches) to simply take the summer off. This has changed in recent years, but we still consider the summer a time to sit back and rest a bit, and then kick off the next church year in early fall, when school starts up again.


But this doesn’t mean that each year is completely separate from the one that went before, of course. And now that UU congregations more often continue to do their usual work and ministry during the summer, we generally have themes or intentions that carry over from one year to the next. And this is true for us at Westside.


As some of you may remember, a few months ago I introduced the concept of shifting from ‘subject’ to ‘consumer’ to ‘citizen’ in our way of understanding ourselves in community. This model comes from UK based New Citizenship Project and is detailed in their 2015 report “This Is The Citizen Shift.” You can find it as a PDF here:

And you can find it summarized by one of its authors, Jon Alexander, in this article in the online platform Medium.com.


Both the report and the article include a fabulous chart that identifies the differences between communities where we understand ourselves as ‘subjects’ and those where we see ourselves as ‘consumers’ or as ‘citizens.’ And these differences are thought-provoking, to say the least. This will be a topic we will be spending a fair amount of time on in the coming months, as we explore what it would mean to be true ‘citizens’ in the ways they understand it.


Here are some of the key differences:


Whereas the subject sees themself as dependent, and the consumer as independent, the citizen sees themself as interdependent. The subject is focused on duty and obedience, while the consumer is focused on rights and making demands. The citizen, however, is focused on shared purpose and participation. The subject receives; the consumer chooses; the citizen creates (and co-creates). The subject-oriented leader (or lord) makes commands; the consumer-oriented leader serves others needs and requests; the citizen-leader facilitates group process towards shared visions.


You can check out the report or the summary to get more details, as these things also correlate to different types of technology, modes of communication, and decision-making modalities.


What would it mean for us, as individuals and as a collective, to shift towards a truly ‘citizen’ based interdependence? What would the challenges and gifts of such a shift be? And could we commit to such a change?


These are questions we will begin discussing this month, in our service on May 19th, and will continue to explore throughout the coming church year.


Looking forward to sharing the journey with you,

Rev. Carol


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