Whiteness’ Supremacy and Reaching Out

White supremacy. Patriarchy. These are hard words to hear fully, even more difficult forces to challenge, and yet we cannot be the Unitarian Universalist faith that we want to be without confronting them. Our liberal religious tradition — proud, historic, vibrant, ever-evolving, and deeply flawed — is right now wrestling with the roots of white supremacy and patriarchy in our faith. On that, our tradition is surely not alone. Yet the power of our faith’s principles also calls each of us, and particularly those who are religious leaders and those who identify as white, to not flinch from that reality. In this time in the United States, we can only be a beacon for hope and justice if we demonstrate the integrity of our principles through our actions. Inspired by our friends in the UUA Youth and Young Adult Ministry office, our team wants to tell you the ways we have fallen short of this integrity so that we can act differently in the future.

Our team is three Unitarian Universalists – two people of color: one man who is the staff supervisor, and one woman who is a religious educator; and one white woman who is an ordained minister. We help Unitarian Universalists build new relationships with people, and make it as easy possible to share the gifts of our faith in the wider world. Some of our jobs include overseeing the content and design of UUA.org, curating the site’s WorshipWeb section, editing the weekly Braver/Wiser message, managing creative and digital strategies at the UUA, leading workshops and trainings for congregational leaders through our Outreach Revolution network, and publishing this blog.

The face of Unitarian Universalism

In many ways, we are responsible for defining the face of Unitarian Universalism. Who do you see when you land on the UUA homepage? What text do you read? What information do you encounter? We try to balance the reality of who we are as UU’s – older, whiter, more liberal and more educated than our neighbors – with our aspiration for who we want to be – multicultural, multigenerational faith communities. We neither want to whitewash the diversity we do have, nor do we want to fall into the “college brochure” trap of showcasing a diversity that exists only in our fantasies.

We know we get this balance wrong sometimes. We’d like to hear from you when we do. But more importantly, we have been making these decisions in a vacuum, relying on our own best judgement. In the future, we commit to working in ways to do this more honestly, openly, and accountably.

The voices of worship and inspiration

Sunday morning worship is at the heart of our faith, and it is interwoven with a culture of white supremacy — not only its content, but its shape, its patterns, its sights and sounds, and its unstated rules. Our theology compels us to create experiences in which, to quote Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout,  “there’s a larger ‘we’ each time we worship,” but few worship services live up to that standard. Our congregations are filled with white folks who, despite their best intentions, often fail to recognize that when they approach people of color, they are attempting, again quoting Dr. Rideout, “to partner with people for whom love is not an automatic privilege.”

WorshipWeb and Braver/Wiser are widely-used tools for planning worshipful spaces, and we can and will do more to use them to de-center whiteness in Unitarian Universalist worship life, lifting up the voices of people of color and reconsidering our basic assumptions about what feels most spiritual and profound.

The “growth” mindset

We describe our work as helping Unitarian Universalists build relationships with new audiences, to help our saving message reach more people. We are careful to say that, yes, this relationship does not necessarily translate into membership, that it may take place outside your congregation, and that we can do ministry at many levels no matter who we are. But the truth is that we have also allowed the UU’s we train and advise to believe that, really, it’s about getting more members on the books and more pledges in the bank. We need more of “them” to join “us,” more brown and young people in the pews. We as a team sidestep this assumption which separates “us” and “them” even before we welcome newcomers through our doors. We allow it to persist, choosing to believe in good intentions rather than leaning into our discomfort and the higher calling of our covenants.  We have avoided interrupting conversations that perpetuate both conscious and unconscious beliefs in the white experience as primary, normative, “better than,” and dominant (just look at the title of this blog).

Our churches often hide the best parts of our faith inside our congregations, and use it as a lure to become a member. We do this knowing that, as a predominantly and culturally white faith, people of color must make ourselves uncomfortable and endure our own marginalization to access the Unitarian Universalist spiritual wellspring. The UU need to grow, to prove our value by claiming others, can be traced to a Puritanical, colonial impulse to control.

Do we have the spiritual strength to give away the best that we have? At the recent Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism gathering, all main events were livestreamed for everyone. How many UU spaces and congregations would be willing to do the same? How many would be able to liberate their principles from the membership growth mindset? We as the outreach team have failed to bring this multicultural strength and value forward, fearing being seen as “too radical” or feeling that such changes were beyond the realm of possibility.  We can and will name this truth in our work going forward.

 

Who do we serve: our mission and our principles, or our institutions? This is not an intellectual exercise for our team. It is physical and emotional and visceral, and our livelihoods are connected to it. When we whitespeak to pass as educated, competent and respectable, and center white audiences in our writing, we are not living up to our calling. And we say now, publicly, that we are committed to doing better, because we believe our faith depends on it.

We applaud and support the work Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) and Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) are doing for our collective liberation. We urge you to support the #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn by signing up here and donating to BLUU and DRUUMM.

 

With love,

Anna Bethea, Erika Hewitt & Carey McDonald

Outreach: Do they need us, or we them?

by AJ van Tine

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

The current social and political climate presents Unitarian Universalists with an opportunity, as well as a challenge. We are overwhelmed by the need to reach out to support those affected by recent racist, heterosexist, transphobic, and Islamophobic policies, and counter with our Unitarian Universalist message of radical love and beloved community. In times like these, how do we stay grounded in our core purposes for reaching out and not get swept up in the latest news cycle, as relevant as it may be. Why do Unitarian Universalists want to reach out?

girl looking out from door
Photo via Pixabay

One reason to reach out is to be loud about our values of love and justice – to evangelize. Evangelism isn’t about recruiting; it says that we have good news for the world, and that we should spread it! We have a truth to share because it may benefit others. Unitarian Universalism may not have a single creed that we want others to adopt, but we do have a message of hope. Our principles describe a vision of an equitable, peaceful, and justice-filled world. We can call this the “they need us” approach, although we know more accurately that they do not need you and me as individuals, but they need the message that we share.

On the other hand, there is a “we need them” approach. This is the seventh principle kind of “we need them.” More than the practical logic that we can accomplish more together than separately, it is the recognition that we have always been inherently interconnected to one another. When we try to achieve our vision of diverse and equitable community with only the people we already know, through networks and methods we are already familiar with, we fall short that very vision which calls us on. The act of outreach is not merely a means to the beloved community, but it is actively how we create it.

Of course, the truth is that these two approaches are not opposites. They are deeply intertwined aspects of outreach. I strongly believe Unitarian Universalism proclaims a saving message that our country is in dire need of today.  If we are to stay true to the content of this message and spread it far and wide, we have to be on guard against talking only to ourselves. Opening our hearts and doors to create vibrant relationships with new people and their communities is both the method and the message.

This isn’t easy. It requires being brave and putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable, and we always want to articulate our message as clearly and powerfully as possible. The good news is you are not left on your own! Here are some social media graphics you can use to spread the good word.

Why outreach? Because it is by building relationships and diverse community that we can transform ourselves and the world. If it is true that we should be the change we wish to see in the world, then our congregations can start the process by practicing radical hospitality within our walls and by preaching love outward into the larger society.

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AJ van TineAJ van Tine is a field education student completing an internship at the UUA. He is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from Virginia with an aspiration for ministry, and in his second year at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife Ada, who is also a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.

More Like a Marathon than a Sprint

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

Growth isn’t always about numbers and getting more people in the door, as has been the premise of this blog all along.  But there’s no denying that the act of growing Unitarian Universalism will always require us to focus outward while simultaneously nurturing capacity and spirit inward.  As more UUs ramp up the exercise of living their values in the political world, the Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto shares the results of some studies that will train us for a marathon.

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Unitarian Universalists by the hundreds and perhaps by the thousands participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and in sister marches in cities across the United States to stand up for our shared values of compassion and justice for all people. I suspect this was the largest Unitarian Universalist public witness since the 1963 March on Washington. A weekend later, Unitarian Universalists across the country participated in demonstrations again at our nation’s airports.

Will this level of participation continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead, or will it fizzle? It may depend on three things:

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Let’s Roll – Reaching out like never before in the age of Trump

The 2012 inauguration of President Obama

From the Outreach Revolution Series:

What if this moment, this time in American history, is the reason we’re here as Unitarian Universalists? That’s the thought that popped into my head with the dawn of 2017, on the heels of a very rough 2016. Religious leaders have been put on notice by the decline in church attendance and the rise of the “spiritual but not religious,” yet in many ways our engagement with these trends as Unitarian Universalists has been about us – what we want, what we hope for, what we feel. Right now, the world needs us in a different way, as the fear-filled national election and the incoming administration’s political agenda are sure to demonstrate. It’s why attendance has spiked at UU congregations across the country. We have to push outside the four walls of our congregation because the call to ministry has never been stronger, and it’s happening in the streets. I, for one, feel that this call to action has started to, er, trump our other ideas about the future. Over the last few years we’ve also started waking up our activism with the movements for black lives, immigration reform and gender equity. And now it’s time to level up.

Are you doing something for the Week of Action, January 14-21st? I hope you are. It includes a National Day of Action for Immigrants, Muslims and Refugees, the week-long #Fast4Power, the Women’s March on Washington with sister marches nationwide, the J21 Teach-In on voting rights at All Souls Church Unitarian in DC, and the beginning of our own 30 Days of Love. Here are four ways to maximize your outreach that week, wherever you are:

Be loud
Resist the pressure to normalize the Trump administration’s agenda and the way it will target people of color, queer people, women, and anyone with minority status. The whole world will be paying attention, and it matters that we as a denomination with historic stature begin to resist this agenda. Proclaim your values from the rooftops. People are starting to hear us, so don’t stop now.

With this month’s Outreach Revolution virtual care package, you can download four customizable images to promote the themes of 30 Days of Love. Share them on your personal or congregational Facebook page to show what relationship, covenant, transformation and sustenance mean to UUs who join social movements.

Find friends
Have you reached out to your community partner groups? Interfaith groups and neighbor churches? You’re going to need one another for what’s coming next. You may even need to reach out to each other as members within your congregation, to break down some silos and just make sure your fellow congregants are doing ok. Who in your community will be on the frontline of harassment from the Trump administration and its allies? You may be targeted, or you may know others who will, but in either case you will need friends in a whole new way.

Do stuff
Be out in public this week. Follow the Week of Action links to find an event near you, or maybe you already know of one! Wear t-shirts, carry banners, find a way to express your hopes and fears for the country, your community and the world. Help people who are reconnecting with your community get plugged into these actions. Remember, we need to show the love, not just say the love.

Do more stuff
Keep it up, there will be plenty of opportunities and needs. For all the people who you turn out for the Week of Action and 30 Days of Love, have a next event ready in the coming weeks or months that you can invite them to. Get in that “next ask”! Show your involvement during the Week of Action isn’t a one-off event.

Stay strong, friends. We’re headed towards tougher times, things will get worse. But maybe that’s what we’re here for, and the calling of our times will help us as UU’s become who we were meant to be. As nonprofits, religious organizations are allowed to talk about political issues and needs,* so let’s make the most of it! I believe that if we answer this call, it will lead us to the purposeful and faithful future we’ve hoped for. We’re just getting started.

Let’s roll.

 

*See the UUA’s Real Rules for more information on the actual limits of political activity by religious nonprofits. You may be surprised how much we can do!

Passing the Flame

Ignite the Moment by Stuart Williams

In this darkest time of year it is my pleasure to pass the flame that is the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog to my good colleague Carey McDonald.   I know his added breath and vision will fan the flames even brighter.

 

I started this blog in January 2012 as a platform for the UUA’s Growth Office. Back then Rev. Stefan Jonasson was the head of Growth Office, and the two of us were pretty much given carte blanche to think outside the box regarding UU growth.

 

The blog’s original mission read:

We will use this blog to share research, review resources, articulate strategies, identify good practices, present guest commentaries, and share stories from the field—all in an effort to stimulate Unitarian Universalists’ passion for sharing our faith and growing its congregations.

 

The first blog post explained our framework for growth, taken from Loren Mead’s book More than Numbers: the Way Churches Grow:

  • Organizational Maturity
  • Spiritual Vitality
  • Faith in Action
  • Associational (addition made by Jan Gartner)
  • Numerical Indicators

 

It’s worth stating (over and over) again that the numerical indicators are only important in checking your perception and assumptions. It helps you see what’s really going on. Misused, numerical indicators can distract or induce shame. When congregations and Covenanting Communities focus on the other four kinds of growth, their vitality grows. What the world needs are more UU groups alive and awake in the world. Perhaps the most important blog post I ever wrote offered a tool for congregations to discern their Call in the world.

 

Getting up on the balcony and looking at the last four years of Growing Unitarian Universalism blog, we see some trends in writers, types of posts and topics of posts.

 

Over the years we invited colleagues from other UUA departments as well as leaders from the field to guest blog.

 

 

Readers craved tools, examples, and stories.

 

 

Growth and data topped the topic chart.

 

 

No more blogs about the 12th Man, Seahawks, and football. Those brought the most ire from readers.

 

My top 10 favorites (in no order):

  1. Curious Facebook Phenomena & Thanksgiving Assignment
  2. Holy Envy: #DunkintheDark
  3. Dog Poop and Congregational Adaptive Change
  4. Beauty and Play as a Growth Strategy
  5. An Innovative Learning Circle of Your Own…
  6. The Magic of Empty Chairs
  7. “What now?” What’s next?”
  8. On Wholeness and Worship
  9. Road Tip! We’re better together!
  10. Holy Coffee Making

 

I’m stepping down from Growing Unitarian Universalism for two reasons:

  • This fall I joined the Pacific Western Regional staff team.  I honestly don’t have time for the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog. My plate is full.
  • I am also a fervent believer in leadership succession planning and not hogging the potential. Religious work is a spiritual practice. When we claim a position for too long we rob others from the experience and those the position serves of refreshed perspective.

Carey McDonald, my colleague and sibling in faith and good friend, I officially pass the flame. I know you will tend it well and guide us on our way. I am thrilled and grateful you said, “yes!”

 

Over 100,000,000 views of 228 posts about growing our Unitarian Universalist tradition and amplifying love and goodness in the world. I’d say that’s a good run.

 

Happy New Year!

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Rev. Tandi Rogers now serves the UUA as the primary contact for congregations in Alaska, Washington, and Idaho as well as shepherding the emerging ministries and the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministries program throughout the Pacific Western Region. She is also adjunct faculty with Meadville Lombard Theological School, teaching Religious Education for a Changing World. Tandi’s personal blog is Putting Religious Education in Its Place.

Xmas CTA: Engaging visitors during the holidays

This post (and its customizable social media graphics!) is offered through the monthly Outreach Updates. Sign up here to get your outreach virtual care package each month. 

It’s hard to believe it’s already December, after what’s been a grueling November for many of us.  And yet, time marches on.  The holiday season calls to us, asking us to lean in and integrate our current circumstances with the joy and abundance that usually highlight this season.  Your congregation will also see an increase in visitors, especially for special holiday services that appeal our neighbors who aren’t regular churchgoers.  They come to you because you help them bridge the gap between tradition, cultural expectations, and a liberal worldview.

An outreach mindset asks us to open ourselves to the experience of meeting people where they are.  Especially now as people are looking for groups which will uphold hope and love for diversity in beliefs, culture, and identities, we as Unitarian Universalists can meet that need.  But an outreach mindset also asks us to risk our own comfort, to show that we’re interested in their welfare beyond just a holiday encounter.  We have to invite them into a mutually transformative relationship.  That’s where an XMAS CTA comes into action!

Use this and other UUA-branded backgrounds for your messaging and event announcements. Click the picture to download from Google Drive.

A Call to Action (CTA) is anything that invites someone to deepen their engagement and relationship with you.  And they’re essential for you to plan thoughtfully ahead of time.  When someone’s looking for a faith community to celebrate the holidays with, we want them to have an open and clear invitation to your congregation.  When they’ve come to visit, you want them to walk away knowing a little bit about who you are and what you offer that fits their ongoing needs.  After they visited, they need to know that you’re looking forward to seeing them again – that they’re wanted and welcome.

 

Before…

  • Social Media Engagement.  Whether people decide to attend a holiday service, you can engage your members, their friends, and your wider community through your congregation’s social media presence.  Being a strong voice for liberal values in your community this December will help sow goodwill and merriment in your community, while also building awareness about your congregation.  You can use these ideas and adapt them to other holidays or specific to the types of services or events your congregation has planned.
  • Schedule Your Posts.  Make a Facebook event.  Use our free holiday graphics to post a visually appealing invitation to your service or event with clear information.  Schedule them or make sure to post several times… a few weeks, a week, and the day before.  Engage your members and ask for commitments from some of them to share and invite their friends on social media or personally.

During…

  • Have a Specific Ask or Invitation.  Don’t overwhelm your guests with a lot of announcements or tell them all about your committees.  Decide with greeters, staff, and other lay leaders to make one specific call to action.  If it’s relevant, you can highlight any new sermon series or themes you’ll be exploring in January.  Be consistent in your messaging.  Fewer choices often help people feel comfortable with a clear path to engagement.
  • Plan a Specific Event for Holiday Visitors.  If you can, plan an entry point event in the near future that will meet the needs of your holiday visitors.  Although inviting them to a specific church function is better than nothing, you want your visitors to feel that you’re there for them.  The more barriers they feel in learning the UU lingo or having to get comfortable in a sea of strangers, the less likely they are to come back.  Think about if you were visiting your congregation for the first time during the holidays, what would you be most inclined to come back for?  Your congregation may already be engaging in post-election actions for justice, so that’s a great place to start. Or what about a newcomers or Intro to UU group starting in January?  A coffee  and tea gathering with the minister?  A new parent group with childcare?  Find where your unique offerings and ministry can provide, and match it with the people you’re most likely to meet during the holidays.
  • Invitation to Reflect and Connect.  Perhaps during the service, or through visitor cards, ask people what their needs are.  Acknowledge that the holidays sometimes ask a lot of us, and that we’re here to listen and find ways to meet those needs.  During the December holidays, many people are looking for warmth.  If you’re providing a New Year’s related service, you may also have them reflect on their skills and strengths, and how they want to contribute to the world around them.  In January, people are often ready to be transformed and develop healthy and life-giving habits.

After…

  • Offer a Gift.  Buy or ask volunteers to donate some baked goods, candies, cards, UU CDs, books, or any other small, inexpensive gift.  The Principles and Sources bookmark or the new UU World Seeker Issue may be good choices if you don’t have something available locally.  Attach a card with your congregation’s service times or invitation to a specific event for visitors.  This lets people know that you consider it a privilege that they chose your congregation to visit.  It’s a way to thank them for sharing themselves with you, even for a short visit.
  • Follow Up.  Setting up a series of 2 or 3 short automated email follow-ups lets visitors know that you’re still thinking of them and would like to connect again.  It’s also helpful for staff, who may be taking time off for the holidays and won’t be able to follow up until January.  Include a specific invitation in these emails, as well.

 

As always, practice empathy and make adjustments based on a visitor’s individual needs.  Understand that you’re holding space for complex needs.  Some are there to celebrate.  Some are hopeful.  Some are weary, tired, or at wit’s end.  And most are likely holding some combination of these at once.  We’re here to walk alongside, listen, and work toward a dream of what we want our lives and communities to look like in the future.  Next year, you’ll have an even better idea of who your congregation attracts during the holidays.

Don’t Panic! The 4×4 Outreach Plan

Overheard by a Unitarian Universalist congregational lay leader recently: “I know Americans are going to church less, all the ‘spiritual but not religious’ stuff, but I’m not sure what to do about it. How are we supposed to respond, how can my congregation adapt? How do we reach out with our saving message? Where do we start?“

calming-manatee-memeDon’t panic, dedicated UU leader! Hopefully, you already know there are lots of guides, curricula, videos, templates, tools and resources to help you do better outreach, available through the UUA at uua.org/outreach. But for most congregational leaders I know, especially volunteer leaders, it’s a lot to digest. Integrating social science research, theological reflection, event planning and Facebook posting into a single overarching strategy is a lot of work when you’re just trying to keep things running week to week. I totally understand.

So we’ve created the 4×4 plan for outreach in your congregation. The 4×4 Plan is a simple, easy and low-cost way to help your community connect with your congregation, integrating all those tips and suggestions into four basic steps. If you don’t know where to start with outreach, start here!

4x4 planThe 4×4 Plan
In one year, the 4×4 Plan asks you to do the following four things in your congregation. They don’t need to be done by one person – in fact, it’s better to spread the joy around! But two or three dedicated folks can knock this out if they want to help their congregation reach out in love. Are you ready? Here they are:

  1. Conversations – Talk to four people in your community (other faith leaders, community leaders, friends, local business owners, etc.) to get some feedback about your congregation. Take them to coffee, ask them what do they know about your congregation? What niche could you help fill in the community? This is the beginning of mapping user experiences, it will give you a valuable outside perspective, and it helps build your network in the neighborhood.
  2. Opportunities – Offer four “entry point” opportunities for people to get to know your congregation. Typically not on Sunday morning, entry points can be events, programs, speakers, concerts, forums, book clubs, play dates or classes. Make sure they connect to your congregation’s mission, and they pass the “friend test” – you’d be willing to invite your non-UU friend.
  3. Content – Create four pieces of original content which can be shared online that relate the life and mission of your congregation to something going on the world. Write a letter to the editor or a blog post, create a shareable holiday image or a short video, put up a piece of art on your front lawn and tell the world on social media. Get creative! Make it something you are excited to share.
  4. Promotion – For each of those opportunities and content pieces, promote them in four different ways. Example – for a community workshop for parents, you could email info to community partner groups, boost a Facebook post for $10, put up flyers at local day care centers and coffee shops, and add it to your local weekly newspaper’s calendar.

Now, while I can’t guarantee that using the 4×4 will instantly generate a flood of new members for your congregation, I can promise you will learn a great deal about how to reach out and make new connections in your community. Give it a try! And if you do, be sure to let us know how it goes in the comments section below. Or email us at outreach@uua.org, we’d love to add a postscript to this post with some stories.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.