Host a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room!

Elephant in the roomI am so proud to be part of a denomination that is focusing much of its social justice energy on the Movement for Black Lives. How proud? Proud enough to have hosted a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room with my own congregation along with our county’s Interfaith Network.

 

She’s big, she’s blue, emblazoned on the side of her body in bold letters is the word  RACISM, and she cannot be ignored. She’s heading out on a coast to coast tour, and she would love to come to your community. There are lots of ways to use her.

 

This is how we did it: At our local Gay Pride Festival this summer, we set up some comfortable furniture (and the giant pachyderm) and simply invited people to talk to each other. Some white people wore blindfolds that said “White Privilege”, a literal way to experience being blinded by white privilege while trying to understand racism.  

 

elephant-solidarity-22When the Movement for Black Lives called for a national day of action focussed on law enforcement on July 2, we answered the call by bringing the Elephant to our local police station, displaying signs to passing cars with messages in Solidarity. Many were uncomfortable with this action, maybe a bit too “edgy”. Ultimately it resulted in an ongoing positive dialogue that helped build relationship with our local police department.

 

That’s what’s happened locally, and my local action has been inspired by what’s happening denomination wide. At Portland’s 2015 General Assembly, the Movement for Black Lives was a focus through the whole week, ending in the dramatic final plenary session where we struggled to agree on the wording to the Action of Immediate Witness titled “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement”. I was privileged to participate in the die-in where more than 200 of us were in the street, closing a busy intersection for 4 ½ minutes representing the 4 ½ hours that Michael Brown’s body was left lying in the street in Ferguson. It has not been a part of my Unitarian experience to be involved in nonviolent direct action to such an extent. I know it has been part of our history, but I’ve only been a Unitarian for 15 years!

 

I couldn’t make it to the Columbus GA in 2016, but I followed it online. And there was Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost at the Closing Worship, leading thousands of Unitarians singing “Get Ready. We Comin’”, and yes yes yes, I felt the Spirit.

 

If you feel it too and would like to bring that Spirit into your community by hosting a Community Conversation about the Elephant in the Room sometime in the next twelve months, follow the link to sign up!

 

 

This is an Action-in-a-Box project of The Backbone Campaign in collaboration with SURJ, and soon, Unitarian friends across the country! The “box” will be shipped to you with everything you need to stage a successful Conversation on Racism event. Click here to express your interest, explore dates and get your questions answered http://www.backbonecampaign.org/organize_a_beyond_denial_installation. And feel free to contact Jo Walter with questions
The #BeyondDenial Racism is the Elephant in the Room Action-In-A-Box is a terrific tool to engage in transformative dialogue on racism and white privilege, how racism continues to seep into the structures of society and manifest in our communities, engage the larger public to make commitments to do racial justice work, and practice showing up as better allies in the movement for racial equity.

 

____________________________

Jo Walter is a lay leader of the Kitsap Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bremerton, WA

How to Find Your New Best Friends – Outreach Entry Points

I bet your congregation changes lives. That’s why you keep coming back, right? So if it’s true that your congregation has something amazing to offer, how do people get to know about it, and how do they get connected?

doorwayWe know how people find out about Unitarian Universalism. They stumble across our awesome websites, they see our fabulous blog posts, they hear about our justice work in the news. Every day, I help congregations use social media, branding and other communications tools to reach new audiences. But once those new people find out about you, what happens next? How do you translate that awareness into longer-term engagement?

Entry points are a great way to introduce your congregation to new people and help them learn how to get involved. Think of an entry point as doorway into the life of your congregation. In the past, simply inviting someone to visit next Sunday might have been enough. But today, as Americans are becoming less religious, we need more ways to connect with our community that don’t feel so church-y up front. Give folks a chance to see what your congregation has to offer before they take what can feel like a big step – showing up for Sunday services.

An entry point can be any activity, program, event or opportunity where you invite new people to connect with your congregation. Here are a few key features of successful entry points:

bite sized missionBite-sized mission – Entry point opportunities should be explicitly connected to the life and purpose of your congregation. Lots of churches host yoga classes, day care programs and recovery groups, and those are all really important. But if you can’t say clearly WHY an event is a core part of your congregation’s mission, then it doesn’t work as a true entry point, and it’s just a nice but unrelated event.

friend testPass the “Friend Test”  – Would you invite your friend who is not a UU? If not, your entry point opportunity has failed the “Friend Test.” Your entry point could be too insider-y (the weekly Women’s Circle that’s met for the past 20 years) or too high commitment (a ten-week adult faith development class). You want someone who is not currently “church shopping” to feel excited to come.

Probably not Sunday morning – Though most congregations have a welcome script during Sunday worship services, the focus on visitors often stops there. For visitors, going to religious education classes can be confusing, coffee hour can be clique-y, and joys & concerns can run long. So it’s usually better to create entry points where the visitor experience is central to the design and planning (and they don’t even have to be in your building, like doing a park cleanup!). Special Sundays can be decent entry points, like an all-ages holiday service, if they are planned and advertised well.

Once you’ve got an entry point planned, promote the heck out of it! Whenever I talk to congregations that are planning to spend money on advertising or direct mail, (and I hope more do!) I always tell them to include an invitation to an entry point event. This gives you a reason to reach out, a call to action, instead of just saying “hey, we exist!” At the UUA, we’re actually working on a promotional toolkit for congregations, hopefully to be released fall 2016, so stay tuned.

Here are some examples of super cool entry points:

  • Seedy Saturday, annual event to celebrate and learn about gardening and environmental issues (Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga, ON)
  • Luna Rising, community celebration of women and girls (UU Church of Charlotte, NC)
  • Hogwarts/CampUU, Harry Potter-themed summer camp for ages 6-11 (First UU Church of Austin, TX)
  • For the Love of Tiny Houses, showcase of the tiny house movement as a response to the lack of affordable housing (UU Fellowship of Redwood City, CA)
  • Play GroUUp, weekly gathering of toddlers and parents (UU Congregation of Las Vegas, NV)

Remember, entry points can be really valuable for current members as well. All these examples listed here involved members of the host congregation. If you think about the Spectrum of Faithful Relationship, events and activities planned for folks on the left side of the spectrum (your fans and friends) can appeal to those on the right side (your core members and leaders). But it doesn’t work the other way around; events planned for congregational leaders have a much narrower audience.

My final piece of advice for congregations planning entry point opportunities – always have a “next ask,” or an upcoming event you can invite people to. This gives you a reason to collect email addresses and follow up with attendees, one of the best ways to build trust and engagement. Make sure your follow-up event is connected to the theme your entry point event, which shows that you take your congregation’s mission seriously. For example, if you do a panel on the tiny house movement, then do a tiny house tour two months later (good job, UU Fellowship of Redwood City!).

So get out there, start scheduling entry point opportunities! Get the word out, have fun, and collect some email addresses. Got great ideas for entry points from reading this post? Add them to the comments below.

Water Communion Offering

water-communionA few years ago, our community was impacted by floods.  We learned quickly how devastating floods can be, especially to the most vulnerable in our community.  Though we are not near the ocean, we are surrounded by rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and know both water’s capacity to bring life, as well as destruction.  This is one of many reasons we were moved this past Sunday to use our water communion service – where we ritualize water’s healing grace – to acknowledge and hopefully offer some of that grace to our friends in Baton Rouge.  Our entire offering plate will be shared with the UU Church in Baton Rouge.  They will use it to support whatever they may need as they support their community, including directing it towards a local community organization they as they see fit.  We will be sending over $2100 from this one Sunday – a Sunday where we were honoring the gifts possible when we join together in shared community, and the ways we come into community so that we can go out and bring more love into the world.

If you haven’t yet celebrated your Water Ceremony or ingathering service, or even if you have, maybe you and your congregation will join us in taking an offering and sending it their way.   It is one small yet powerful way we can bring our water communion to life.

Unitarian Universalists from outside greater Baton Rouge want to know how to help from afar.

1.  “UCBR Flood Fund” is receiving funds to assist Members and Friends of our church in flood recovery, especially those without flood insurance coverage.   Send to Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, 8470 Goodwood Blvd., Baton Rouge LA 70806.

2.   Send contact information if you are available to make a trip to this region and assist in the actual cleanup of homes.  Local persons can send contact information if you have space to host a volunteer.

3.   Financial contributions to the Together Baton Rouge fund will help anyone who has been affected by floodwaters and who completes the survey.

 

___________________
GretchenRev. Gretchen Haley loves serving, praying, laughing, creating, discovering and collaborating with her congregation, the Foothills Unitarian Church, in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she began as senior minister in July, at the start of her fifth year with them (work that out….).  She was lucky to join them in what they called their “3rd year of a 5 year culture shift from scarcity to generosity.”  She looks forward to being a part of growing and strengthening this vision with them as they live into their new mission statement of unleashing courageous love in Northern Colorado, and beyond.

Study Guide for UUWorld Article: Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Mission peak jeremy candleCongratulations to the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Fremont, CA), for being the newest UUA Breakthrough Congregation! Each year the UUA’s Congregational Life Office recognizes a handful of congregations that have “broken through” barriers to achieve exemplary goals.

UUFCO is highlighted in the current edition of the UUWorld, as well as the 2016 fall print edition. The following study guide is intended to accompany the article about the  congregation. We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders.

 

Questions for Discussion and Deeper Study

 

mission peack cong

Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fremont, California, attributes much of its success to a willingness to try new things.

 

  • What are some of the “new things” that have been tried in the last few years in your congregation?
  • Do you think of your congregation as a place where it is safe to fail?
  • Congregational Life Staff in one of our regions has coined the term “experifail.” Has your congregation had some “experifails?” What did you learn?

 

mission peak mine craft

Mission Peak has a history of being involved with and supported by programs and services of the Unitarian Universalist Association. One such program, Leap of Faith, provided mentoring from another congregation.

 

  • How does your congregation intentionally stay connected with our Unitarian Universalist Association and other congregations?
  • What are some new ways you might find to deepen your congregation’s collaboration with other Unitarian Universalists?

 

Mission Peak committee

A former minister, the Rev. Chris Schriner, refers to the “good vibes” between people of different theologies.

 

  • What are the ways different theologies are acknowledged, welcomed and explored in your congregation?
  • What other differences are notably welcomed?
  • What intentional ways have you learned to engage in dialogue across differences?

 

mission peak children

The Rev. Jeremy Nickel stresses the importance of opportunities to live our values.

 

  • When there is behavior in the congregation that is not consistent with our values, does your congregation have processes for calling people back into right relationship?
  • What are some of the ways members of your congregation are supported in living out our values in the larger world?
  • Are there ways for members of your congregation to act together in the world?

 

mission peak art supplies

 

_________________________

Jan

 

Rev. Jan Christian serves as Congregational Life Staff in the Pacific Western Region of the UUA.

 

 

Six Key Mistakes for Recruiting Volunteers in Your Congregation

Volunteering-SVG-800pxThe following article was translated from an article from Thom S. Rainer, a Christian growth strategist called Six Terrible Ways to Recruit Ministry Volunteers in Your Church.

The following are examples of what NOT to do:

  • Make a general announcement that you need someone: You will likely get the folks who already do too much, or folks who have no skills in the area where you need the help.
  • Wait until the last minute: When folks are asked without proper lead-time, it makes the project seem unimportant. Your volunteers can feel overwhelmed, undervalued, or even feel like asking them was an afterthought. We want to show how we value the work and the volunteers.
  • Ignore unique gifts and abilities: People have different schedules, skills, and interests. If someone is put in a position that doesn’t work for who they are, no one wins. Your volunteer might quit because they can’t actually follow through or they might just do a terrible job.
  • Pour on the guilt: Doing the work of our faith can bring people fulfillment and joy! But if they are only doing it because they felt guilty about turning you down, they will likely feel angry, frustrated, and burned-out.
  • Don’t follow up: Not checking in later can make it seem like you were just filling spots on chore chart. Mark your calendar to check in after the first month, and then again at three and six months. Ask how they are doing and what they need? Your volunteers will feel so appreciated and valued!
  • Forget the spiritual: As religious leaders, we don’t want to leave out the spiritual discernment involved with filling our volunteer positions. Take some time to pray or meditate about your people and your programs. It can really help you with clarity.

___________________

red door sarah2 (1)The Rev. Sarah Schurr serves the Pacific Western Region of the UUA as Congregational Life Staff.  Sarah has years of experience working with small congregations who rely heavily on volunteers. In addition to her small church expertise, she works closely with ministerial transitions in the region.

Spiritual, But Not Religious, My Hindquarters!

blog pictBoston, we have a problem. We UU’s are part of a religious movement that can’t seem to embrace religious ritual.

 

Yeah, we execute events and programs like Coming of Age, and Bridging, and the occasional holiday service, but when it comes to spiritual practice, we have some serious deficiencies. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the proof:

 

Last December, I organized and presented a webinar for religious professionals called “Sunday Morning Best Practices.” In preparation for this webinar, I interviewed eight demographically different congregations from around the country, from Alaska to NY to Florida and places in between, to identify the hallmark attributes of thriving congregational youth programs. Through these interviews, I was able to pinpoint nine positive characteristics of healthy youth programs in a UU context. Aspects like topical flexibility, a commitment to faith in action work, and a youth program woven into the larger ministry of the church were identified and reported in the webinar.

 

But, sadly—and it broke my heart of hearts, there was also one glaring absence. None of the eight congregations regularly engaged in spiritual practice when their youth gathered. Not one.

 

Let me be clear, when I refer to spiritual practice, I am referring to exercises which help us connect with the holy, go deeper, and / or provide us with a reflective experience that transcends the ordinary. Meditation, prayer, mantra, yoga, lectio divina, examen, etc. are examples of practices of this sort.

 

And you may be wondering, “So what? Why should we commit to endeavors of this sort?”

 

For starters, religious ritual and related spiritual practices, are the only offerings that our religious institutions have to contribute that the wider world cannot. Though worthy and worthwhile, philos-political discussions and forays into social action, which are each enterprises that are heavily emphasized in our congregations, are both activities that can be regularly and easily accessed through secular channels.

 

Secondly, when youth exit our religious education programs, will they be equipped with the much needed skills and tools to navigate a complex, and arduous life? Where will their spirit go when they lose a loved one? How will they cope with the losses that life inevitably serves up? What internal space(s) will they access when they experience a transcendent moment? With what methods will they express deep remorse, or gratitude?

 

Ever wondered why so many of our youth don’t return to Unitarian Universalism after bridging? Why we are in constant triage mode in regards to our young adults? I believe firmly that it is because they leave our churches lacking these most critical tools, and also without the religious identity that they indelibly impart upon the user. Spiritual practice is an expression of salvation in this life, and it calls us home.

 

And let’s be clear. Our youth groups are exceptional microcosms of the larger congregation within which they reside. If the congregation is squeamish about spiritual practice, or religious language, or (insert characteristic here), you better believe the youth group will very accurately personify those very qualities. This holds true for positive attributes, too, like commitment to justice, an emphasis on inclusivity, and upholding the search for meaning.

 

So where do we go from here? I recommend that we begin a conversation about how we might intentionally incorporate and embrace spiritual practice in each and every space that UU’s gather. Whether it is a Sunday service, or a meeting of the Board, there should be a purposeful element that reminds us, as Parker Palmer asserts, “That spirit is at the center.” These are religious undertakings, and we are called to be our highest, best selves throughout their span.

 

In my work and to this end, I have put together a multigenerational event this September 23-25th in Portland, Oregon, called the Youth Ministry Revival with the theme of “Engaging Spiritual Practice.” About 80-100 youth and adult teams from congregations around the country will explore how we may more deeply connect to the divine—internally, interpersonally, and community wide, through the art of practice. These teams will be charged with bringing back new tools, skills, and learning, not just to their youth groups, but to their entire congregation. Perhaps you will join us?

 

 

_________________________

Bliss photoEric Bliss is the Youth Ministry Specialist and Congregational Life Staff of the Pacific Western Region of the UUA. Aside from his Youth Ministry Specialist duties, Eric is currently a member of the Fahs Collaborative Guiding Team and is on the UUA Youth Ministry Roundtable.  He is the loving father of two beautiful boys, named Hollis and Ozwell, is an avid soccer fan and coach, loves skateboarding, playing guitar, and exploring the outdoors.

 

Commissioning: Called to Care

 

At First Church in Sterling, we trained 18 folks to be members of our “Called to Care” team (a training created by the UCC). When their training was completed, I had a private ceremony for the team, touching them each on the forehead with water to use their gifts for blessing the world. In our public worship service, I used the following words to commission them, and anointed their hands with oil.

Commissioning

 

Commissioning of Call to Care Team

 

 

Robin: I ask the members of the Called to Care Team to come forward and stand at the front of the church.

 

There are many ways that together we provide pastoral care here, because as just one person, I can’t do it all. And so we must always widen our circle of caring, if we are to make it possible to care for our over 300 members and friends with focused pastoral attention. We are called to love one another, and so the pastoral ministry of this church is not in my hands, but in ALL of our hands.

 

And so we have Debbie Gline Allen, our minister for children, youth and families. We have the diaconate who have monthly caregivers on duty headed up by Carol Hoffman, and our meals ministry headed up by Paula Fogerty. All of these groups are a part of the Diaconate, which is chaired by Head Deacon Roy Lane. We have small groups like Aging Gracefully, and our young adult group, and our women’s fellowship, and our youth fellowship. We have a welcoming team for our newest members and visitors. We have a knitting group that makes prayer shawls. And so much more.

 

And today we commission our new Called to Care Team, also a ministry of the Diaconate, and an extension of the pastoral ministry of your professional ministry team.

 

Along with myself, Sherri Direda and Dave Russo are the leaders and trainers of the Call to Care team. The team consists of: Vicki Gaw, who coordinates our activities, Judy Doherty, Judy Conway, Barb Dumont, Clyde Hager, Vern Gaw, Marianne Powers, Jan Patten, Robin Harper, Liz Salo, Carol Hoffman, Cathie Martin, Heather Cline, (Ronna Davis) and Toby O’Reilly.

 

The Called to Care team works very closely with me. They went through several hours of training and mentoring this year by me, Dave Russo, a pastoral psychotherapist and deacon, and Sherri Direda, a licensed social worker and clinician, to learn how to provide one-on-one, confidential pastoral and spiritual care. They will continue to meet monthly with their training team for advising and continuing education. They take this commitment seriously.

 

Dave: There are many reasons why you might want to talk to a lay minister from our Called to Care team. Some reasons include major life transitions like the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, financial strain, and chronic or terminal illness. Other reasons might be that you are seeking someone to have conversations about spirituality, or that you are continuing to struggle with a longstanding circumstance, or maybe you just want a soul friend, a friend who can listen, ask meaningful questions, and care for your spirit in a unique and gentle way.

 

Lay ministers provide a listening, caring space for reflection about your emotional and spiritual journey. Each of these people were chosen or recommended because of their long-term commitment to our ministries, and their particular ability to listen and to be present. This is their ministry.

 

Let us now commission the Called to Care team in their role as spiritual leaders and listeners.

 

We ask,

 

Friends, are you committed to offering and encouraging pastoral care within this congregation?

 

Will you lead by example in your actions and in your words, in your pastoral prayers and in your personal spiritual life?

 

Will you reach out to those in need, with open minds and open hearts, seeking always to be a healing presence: God’s hands and feet in the world?

 

If so, please say “I will, with the help of God.”

 

Robin: Congregation, will you place your trust in these people?

 

Will you allow yourself, even push yourself, to ask for their care, and to receive their care?

 

Will you honor them with the role and responsibilities of lay ministry?

If so, please answer, “We will.”

 

Robin: In response to, and as a sign of, this affirmation of your call to service I follow the ancient tradition of anointing you with oil that has been blessed in the name of God: in the name of all that is beautiful, true, and good. As this oil absorbs into your skin, may you absorb into your soul all the love and good wishes which surround you in this moment. Let it be an outward reminder of God, who calls you to this work.

 

“May you remember that your hands are God’s hands to those who need your care.”

 

Amen.

 

Called to Care team: We thank you for your faith in us, and vow to do our best to live up to the charge you have given us. We promise, also, to remember that the ultimate responsibility for our church lies with all of us, for this is our home, our community. May we all do what we can to make this a community where we are gathered in the spirit of Jesus, and where we endeavor to create heaven here on earth.

 

Amen.

 

Photo credit: Linda M. Davis.
Photo credit: Linda M. Davis.

 

Robin preaching
Photo credit: Linda M. Davis.

Robin Bartlett is the pastor of a progressive Universalist Christian multi-denominational church that includes, but is not limited to, the UUA in Sterling, MA. She was born, raised and ordained UU and has dual standing in the UCC. Robin firmly believes that every thing, every one and every event deserves a blessing.

I Reach Out to You; Will You Reach Out to Me?

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania, has become a place where “everyone in the congregation feels empowered,” says Jody Malloy, a member of the church’s executive team. It's just one of the reasons Delaware County was named a 2016 Unitarian Universalist Association "Breakthrough Congregation."
Photo from UUWorld article on The Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania, which was named a 2016 Unitarian Universalist Association “Breakthrough Congregation.”

One could be overwhelmed with the sadness and the violence that is all around us. I can only imagine what it must be like for others who have experienced it first hand. What can Unitarian Universalists do to fight against the hate that is going on in the world today? I think a lot of the hate is born out of oppression. It leaves people feeling powerless and desperate, with nowhere to turn. Hate is invited in when you are oppressed, unloved and have little to loose. What I suggest is, love. We need to radicalize love.

 

Where do we begin? It seems to me that the only place we can begin is with our own hearts. I must begin with myself. Am I willing to allow love into my heart? Am I willing to look at creation lovingly?   Am I willing to manifest more love in the world? When I fail to be as loving as I should be, am I willing to forgive myself? Am I willing to forgive others? Can I set loving boundaries around behaviors that I find draining or destructive? Can I remain firm, yet act lovingly as I set healthy boundaries?

 

How might radicalized love help me to be in deeper community? It is in community that we will have our greatest impact. I am not talking about a community of like-minded people, or a social club, or a discussion group. I am talking about full mind, body and soul community.

 

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict. This is beautiful and it seems to be so far away.

 

I went on line and looked up The Beloved Community. I found a wealth of information. Josiah Royce is quoted, as is Dr. King. There are sermons from all across our Association. It is compared to The Kingdom of God, Utopia, Nirvana and the harmony of all life. We say that we are growing Beloved Community but it is easy to mistake a community where I am comfortable for Beloved Community. A community that is merely comfortable for those already there runs the risk of being the walled city on the hill.

 

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision. We cannot get there in small pockets. Therefore, the Beloved Community cannot happen merely inside a congregation. Inside the congregation is where we are fed so that we can carry out the real work in the real world. Inside the congregation is where we practice the loving promise – our covenant. Inside the congregation is where we are challenged to become, and become and become yet again. Inside the congregation is where we can lay our burden down for a moment and find comfort, but only for a moment. We must go out into the world and love there too. Our congregations do not exist in isolation. Our congregations exist in this world, this imperfect human world. This imperfect world where basic needs go unmet. This imperfect human world where oppression is the water in which we swim.

 

In this world of imperfection, what can we hope for? What is to be done? How can we make a difference? Where do we begin? What can we change? Again, we begin with ourselves, as we are. We begin with a change of heart. I reach out to you; will you reach out to me?

 

___________________

ConnieConnie Goodbread is a credentialed Director of Religious Education, has held every lay congregational leadership roll you can imagine and has served our UUA in Northern New England, St Lawrence, Florida and Mid-South Districts – all while living in Palm Harbor Florida.  The commute was amazing.

 

Starting a RACI Conversation

Photo used and cropped with permission: http://tinyurl.com/j4ygsuh
Photo used and cropped with permission: http://tinyurl.com/j4ygsuh

At first glance, it seemed like the evening news did a good job of covering this year’s Pride Parade. After all, the Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Anytown was given a ten second sound bite (they even spelled her name right!). However, no one watching was really able to identify the involvement of the rest of the congregation because they were marching and waving behind the Grand Marshall and the camera eventually zoomed in on a Chihuahua sporting a rainbow-colored vest. There was nothing that indicated who they were or where they were from.

What happened? Earlier that morning, Fred left the banners and signs at the church, thinking Norma (chair of the Social Action Committee) was going to pick them up. Norma, however, thought Mary (chair of the Communications Committee) was going to bring it directly to the parade after working on the messaging to make sure everything is consistent. Thus, 40 people from the congregation became anonymous marchers and blended right in with the rest of the crowd.

Unfortunately, this comedy of errors plays itself out quite often in congregations where there’s confusion as to who’s in charge. Sometimes, the allergy to authority gets itchy enough that it can even paralyze the entire organization. How do we prevent such a dysfunction from happening while still empowering everyone to do their jobs well?

One way to clearly assign roles is to come up with a RACI chart.

  • Responsible: Who is the person/group/committee responsible to get the task done and carry out the process they committed to?
  • Accountable: Where does the buck stop? Who is ultimately accountable and whose job and reputation is on the line if stuff doesn’t get done? The Rs are accountable to the A and the A can delegate responsibilities to the R or the A can be the R as well.
  • Consulted: Who is consulted before a decision is made? Perhaps not every decision on every single thing, but ones that are complex enough that warrant extra thought and consideration. The Cs may have some kind of skin in the game or may be an expert on the matter at hand.
  • Informed: How is the communication loop closed and who is informed after the decision is made? These are the ones who may be impacted by decision, so to some degree, they are a stakeholder.

In our example above, what might an RACI chart look like?

RACI grid

There are obviously others involved and other tasks performed in order to make something as seemingly simple as a Pride Parade go off without a hitch. In smaller organizations, less people have more responsibilities and in larger ones, it is even more important to come up with this chart.

Some may argue that as UUs, we don’t need such a hierarchical system because it’s antithetical to our the(x)logy. I would argue that RACI works very well with our fifth principle because the democratic process is used to determine who has which job and includes more people in the implementation of the tasks. It also ensures no wheels need to be reinvented and no volunteer is burned out in the process.

The collaborative process is still in play here because the A doesn’t and couldn’t possibly carry out all the functions alone. What is implicit is the ultimate A is the mission of the congregation and our faith writ large. Everything we do is in service to our religious mission.

Why not try this out yourself? The Pride story is just a fun example. RACI charts are usually done on a higher level, such as Staff, Worship, Religious Education, or Pastoral Care–where the real power struggles take place. In these circumstances, make sure you’re clear about the process, especially the part about which body gets to have “final” say—whether it’s the Board, Executive Team, or Council of Leaders. Yet be flexible enough to revisit it a year or two later. Who knows, next time Pride rolls around, you may actually steal the camera away from the Chihuahua.* Or not.

*No animal was harmed in the writing of this blog.

 

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JonipherRev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong proudly serves as a Congregational Life Staff for the Pacific Western Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Part of his key area of ministry (though by no means is he an expert) is to be a coach (or more like a cheerleader with pom-poms on) for innovative, experimental ministries. He is an entrepreneur by heart and an out-and-proud Unitarian Universalist Evangelist.

The Myth of the Perfect Match (or the importance of being disappointed)

 

match logoIn the summer of 2011, I did something I said I would never do — I joined Match.com.

 

A lot of guys knew exactly what they wanted: A woman just as comfortable climbing Mt. Everest as she is at an Inaugural Ball. Someone who is not religious, but has the Buddha’s equanimity and Jesus’ capacity for love. Someone who can travel to Europe with no checked bag and no emotional baggage. I was tempted to post that I have all of my own teeth.

 

Match.com reminds me a little of the ministerial settlement process or the search for a home congregation. There is talk of chemistry and the right match as if the right match means it will all be smooth sailing.

 

Fortunately, in that summer of Match.com, I had completed nine years of ministry with our congregation in Ventura, California and they had taught me a bit about love and what it takes to make a relationship work.

 

What sustains a ministry or a marriage or a friendship or a membership in a congregation are things like respect, patience, forbearance, generosity, flexibility, forgiveness, a sense of humor, and, when all else fails, sheer will power.

 

Decades ago, a loving friend listened to my harangue about the incredible stupidity of the general public and then turned to me and said, “Don’t you just hate it when the world doesn’t live up to your expectations?” Well yes, I do. And I also hate how I put my unrealistic expectations on the world and some of the people I love the most, including myself.

 

It puts me in mind of the guy rescued after decades of living alone on an island. The rescuer asked him about the three buildings on the island. “That one on the left is my church and the one on the right is my house.” “But what about the one in the middle?” the rescuer asked. “Oh,” the man said, “that’s the church I used to go to.”

 

When the going gets tough, when we are disappointed, when we are not feeling the love is exactly when the true test of any kind of relationship emerges and when we have the opportunity to deepen our connections if we will take it. When we are disappointed, we have a chance to look at our own expectations and our deepest longings. When others are disappointed in us, we have the chance to lean into their pain and learn new ways of going forward.

 

I think of this as so many ministers and congregations are beginning new relationships this fall or simply beginning a new year together. As we prepare for a great church year, may we resolve to love ourselves and one another through the disappointments. Let us resolve to begin again in love and repeat as necessary. This is the way of transformation. It will not be smooth sailing, but we have places we need to go that we cannot go alone.

 

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JanRev. Jan Christian serves as Congregational Life Staff in the Pacific Western Region, and lives on the central coast of California with a guy she met on Match.com in the summer of 2011.