Study Guide for UUWorld Article: Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church (Hartland, WI)

chaliceCongratulations to the Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church (Hartland, WI), 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.

Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church is highlighted in the current edition of the UUWorld, which will be hitting Unitarian Universalist members’ mailboxes at any moment. The following study guide is intended to accompany the article about the Lawrence congregation. We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders.

 

Questions for Discussion and Deeper Study

Rev. Shaw states that at Lake Country you can “walk in on day one and know that is your house too.”

 

Questions for Discussion

  • What are some of the ways in which Lake Country conveys this message?”
  • In what ways does your congregation convey this message?
  • What else can your congregation be doing to state this message loud and clear?

 

The congregation is firmly committed to demonstrating its values to the surrounding community.

 

Questions for Discussion

  • What are some examples of how Lake Country does this?
  • How does your congregation reflect its values in the community beyond your walls?

 

Lake Country prides itself on its diversity, including political diversity.

 

Questions for Discussion

  • How diverse is your congregation politically?
  • In what ways can you make additional space in your congregation for people along the political spectrum?

 

One of the congregation’s charter members points out that “You never arrive. You keep changing.”

 

  • Is your congregation trying to “arrive’? What would that look like?
  • In what ways is your congregation continually changing?

 

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Bernstein MarkThis Study Guide creator is Mark Bernstein, Congregational Life Staff with the Central East Regional Group. CERG offers many excellent growth resources. Please check them out! Thank you, Mark, for so generously serving our faith.

House of Cards & My Holy Envy of Sesame Street

House of Cards

“This Emmy-winning original thriller series stars Golden Globe winner Kevin Spacey as ruthless, cunning Congressman Francis Underwood, who will stop at nothing to conquer the halls of power in Washington D.C. His secret weapon: his gorgeous, ambitious, and equally conniving wife Claire (Golden Globe winner Robin Wright).”

I’ll admit it freely, House of Cards is on my calendar.  The third season of House of Cards goes live today on Netflix.   It’s a binge-watcher’s delight.

What delights me even more than this over-the-top-brain-vacation is Sesame Street’s spoof. Click on the picture below to watch it.

Sesame Street House of Bricks

 

Have you seen Sesame Street lately?  I grew up on it. And disclose publicly that I still watch it, and that I would tune in even if I didn’t have a 6 year old. Why? Because it’s one of the most brilliant things on television. Sesame Street is the intersection of up-to-date learning theory and the wider world. (See where my holy envy is creeping in?)Sesame wolf pict

Sesame Street is in such dynamic relationship with current events and pop culture that it is easy to pull me in as an adult and keep me sitting next to my son. We laugh at and are enchanted by the same things, but from our own developmental stage on the spectrum. Sesame Street is multi-generationally dynamic and relevant to our current lives while still feeding our minds and hearts.

Can you imagine congregational life like that? Let’s go there!

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Tandi cedar shinglesRev. Tandi Rogers has been known to binge-watch Sesame Street videos.  Her favorites include:

Magical Mail Month

mailI love mail.  I love writing letters, stumbling across the perfect card or postcard to surprise a friend with, or creating a thoughtful gift or care package.  I love that moment when the mail truck pulls up in front of my house when just for a minute, anything seems possible.  There might be a letter from someone I haven’t heard from in a while.  There could be a picture of a friend’s new baby.  There might be that book that I ordered, or maybe there is a check I didn’t know would be coming.  The mail is in the mailbox for no longer than 10 seconds before I stop whatever it is I am doing to go outside and retrieve it.  It really is one of the highlights of my day.

 

I have fond memories of writing and receiving letters.  From exchanging letters with close friends who moved away, to receiving cards and care packages when I went off to college, to hearing from family and friends when I was serving in the military, the practice of writing letters or sending mail has been near and dear to me for as long as I can remember.

 

Magical Mail Month began in March 2014 as a way to get through the end of a harsh New England winter by using letter writing as a spiritual practice.  It soon turned into a form of ministry that permeated several aspects of my life. Morning coffee became a time to send a note to a distant friend; staff meetings were started by writing thank you notes to volunteers and leaders; grocery shopping was now an opportunity for my kids and I to leave anonymous love letters and notes of encouragement underneath the boxes of cereal or crowns of broccoli.

 

During Magical Mail Month, you might send notes to congregants you haven’t seen in a while just to check in, thank you notes, or invitations to community members to join you in worship or other events.

 

You might look through the newspaper for examples of people/organizations that have stood on the side of love and send them a thank you note.

 

You can write notes with Unitarian Universalist quotes or messages of hope and leave them in library books or in mail2random places while running errands.

 

No matter how you choose to participate, Magical Mail Month has become a way to spread the Love and Grace of Unitarian Universalism out in the world.  You are invited to join the fun from March 1-31, 2015 for the second annual #magicalmailmonth.

 

Here are some resources to get you started:

Love Letters to Strangers, a TED Talk

CLF’s Prison Letter Writing Ministry

The World Needs More Love Letters

 

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ksKimberly Sweeney serves as the Multigenerational Ministry Director for the New England Regional Staff Team of the UUA.  If that doesn’t pan out, she’s pretty sure working for the post office would be a solid plan B.

 

The Caveat of Membership

Mark's churchThree times per year First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City (“The 1UC in OKC” as we like to call ourselves) holds a new member welcome as part of our worship service. These welcomes usually occur early in the service, the Sunday after we hold our “Path to Membership” course—which is offered either as three weekday evenings over three weeks or a half day Saturday,

 

The ceremony acknowledges the covenantal bonds that connect the congregation with new members affirming their intent to stand with the members of the church and existing members acknowledging every new member changes the church. During this ceremony, we also “open” the membership book to others in the congregation who have been attending for a while and think that this is the right time for them to make a commitment.

 

After we have opened the book, welcomed new members and acknowledged our covenantal bonds, we do one more thing that lifts up an important part of church life. We offer the new members, and the existing members, something of a warning. “Churches are not perfect,” we tell them. “Neither are the members who fill its pews, staff its committees or work to bring to life the vision we hold in common.”

 

What does this mean? We tell them that, “If you hang around this church long enough, one of two things—and likely both—will happen to you. Eventually you will disappoint the church or the church will disappoint you.” I used to tell people that eventually the church would “break your heart or you will break the church’s heart” but I softened the
language at the urging of some our longer-term members—but the sentiment remains. It is entirely likely that at some point, the church will fail you or you will fail the church.

 

“A time may come when the church doesn’t do something that you believe is important. We may fail to act on an issue or even act in a manner opposite of what you would desire. At the same time it is possible that you won’t do something that the church asks of you or you will not do it in the way that other church members hope and expect.”

 

This is quite natural, we tell them, and while it is sad, it is part of being imperfect people banding together in an imperfect way to create an imperfect institution. The most important part of this message is what comes after this warning. We tell them, “It isn’t that what happened isn’t important (pardon the double negative). It is, but what is more important is what happens next. If our covenanted community stands for anything, it stands for being together, through our imperfections and working to improve our church and world with every opportunity. If we can live in this kind of community then the church we build together, new and old, is alive.”

 

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MarkThe Reverend Mark W. Christian serves the “1UC in OKC,” aka First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City. When asked how long he has been there, Mark answers “Somewhere between 14 and 57 years.” He returned to lead the church he grew up in back in 2001. Mark has a long list of UU leadership positions serving as a Congregational President (before going to seminary), Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Chapter President, on the SouthWest Unitarian Universalist Conference Board (twice now), on the UUMA Exec as Secretary and as a Ministerial Settlement Representative. He takes great pride in the 1UC’s youth programming and community organizing work.

Grace Under Fire

Sometimes growth occurs in unexpected and not always desirable ways. Take the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mountain Home, Arkansas, for example.

Mountain Home is a quiet little town tucked away in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. With two massive lakes, three rivers and beautiful mountain scenery, it ranks as one of the country’s top vacation and retirement destinations. In fact, Where to Retire magazine named the area an ‘Undiscovered Haven’ and perennially ranks it as a Top 100 Retirement Community in the United States.

Organized in 1981, the UU Fellowship is led by the Rev. Alice Hurley, lay minister. In June of last year, Rev. Hurley published a letter in the local paper letting the community know that they welcome everyone at their church regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Referring to the pending decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage, Rev. Hurley wrote in part:

“Once the state ensures everyone is represented equally, then individuals are free to choose, within the bounds of law, whom they befriend and what organizations hold their loyalty or membership. Individuals can be open to learning about different people and cultures, choosing to be inclusive and tolerant of their neighbors in a community, or they can choose to be insular and discriminatory. We at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mountain Home choose not to discriminate. Our Fellowship Hall is open to all truth-seekers, regardless of race or sexual orientation. Please feel free to visit our fellowship and consider becoming part of our family. We respect the right of people to choose their marriage partners for themselves, and are happy to perform, for members or non-members, commitment ceremonies and same-sex marriages, as soon as the state of Arkansas realizes it cannot discriminate and must ensure that all of its citizens are equal under the law.”

In response to this letter, the following note was sent to the President of the congregation, Mr. Bill Rhodes (warning: this letter contains hateful language and violent images):

Grace Under Fire

 

In addition, the church windows were shot out around the same time although Rev. Hurley isn’t sure that the two incidents are related. The church sits by a traffic light, she points out, and teenagers with a BB gun might have “just popped off a few shots.” Regarding the letter, Rev. Hurley thinks it was just somebody blowing off steam. She wished that that writer would get in touch with her. “I’d arrange for him to have five to ten minutes of time to speak at our service Sunday. We’d be happy to listen to him. I won’t say we’d agree with him, but we’ll listen.”

Rev. Hurley told me recently that the benefit of all this was an increase in membership following the publicity associated with the letter and the shooting. As she put it, “On the bright side, after all the fuss died down, we went from an average attendance of 15 to 25! And four of those have signed the membership book. We had been looking for a way to get our group known in the community; this isn’t the way we would have preferred, but it did bring in new members and most of them were young people.”

Growth in our congregations occurs not just in the number of people who fill the chairs on Sunday, but in our commitment to our principles; in exercising grace under fire; in standing up for what one believes in; for being a beacon of love and tolerance in one of the best retirement communities in the United States. Thank you, Rev. Hurley and the good people of the UU Fellowship of Mountain Home, Arkansas, for reminding me why I love this faith so much.

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markMark Bernstein is a member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region of the UUA. He hopes someday to retire in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

 

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Photo by Keith Allison
Photo by Keith Allison

When I ran into Tandi Rogers this week, it was with utmost sincerity that I passed along my condolences for her Seattle Seahawks losing the big game. Any lifelong Patriots fan, in all seriousness, had a great deal of empathy for Seattle: we know what it’s like to be let down by Pete Carroll, the current Seahawks head coach. Carroll was the New England Patriots head coach from 1997-1999, before leaving to successfully coach college football at USC, and eventually make his way back to the pros, and the Super Bowl, with Seattle.

 

Both coaches in this year’s Super Bowl struggled in their first head coaching gigs. In fact, since 2000, only 6 of 16 Super Bowls have been won by teams with a first-time head coach. Being ecclesiology geeks, Tandi and I immediately wondered what this means for the culture of our congregations. How should this inform the cultures of our congregations? How should it inform our approach to figuring out what works and doesn’t in this time of rapid transformation in our faith communities?

 

After Carroll and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick suffered ignominious stints in their head coaching roles in the 1990s, they followed similar paths. Each then took a demoted position (Carroll as a college coach, Belichick as an assistant), overcame their fatal flaws (Carroll being too much of a “player’s coach”, Belichick being brusque to the point of inefficacy), and led teams to Super Bowl victories in their subsequent positions. Those in-between times were crucial: Carroll and Belichick didn’t quit coaching, but neither did they keep doing the same thing as before. I have been involved with Unitarian Universalist youth groups since Carroll left the Patriots, and immediately recognized this pattern as one that I am familiar with: in each of the three youth groups I have led as a youth or staff member, we have seen a need for change, fixed what was flawed, and come back stronger than before. The innovations have included routine walks to the local coffee shop during youth group, collaborating with a neighboring congregation, and pairing youth and adult facilitators, but there are many variations that would have met our needs. I would encourage folks to brainstorm liberally if you are contemplating a change to your congregation’s youth group format, or to any other congregational program.

 

There comes a time with some NFL head coaches when their fan bases are so frustrated they begin rooting for the team to lose, just so it will get rid of him. Patriots fans were there with Carroll in 1998. I think we can get to that point with programs sometimes in our congregations, where we begin hoping they will fail because we are tired of putting emotional and physical energy into them. Sometimes that means we are ready to let them not happen, sometimes it means we need to shrink or radically rethink their roles in our congregation. But to the extent that we can be Carrolls and Belichicks about them, to the extent that we can learn from our failures, retool in ways that allow us to work on on our flaws, and reemerge better than ever, we will be successful in creating invigorating and inspiring programs. Even in the high-pressure, outcome-oriented, zero-sum world of the NFL people can “experilearn”; the sky’s the limit when we do it in our collaborative, process-oriented, value-adding communities of faith!

 

In the meantime, don’t forget to check your air pressure :)

 

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head shotRev. Jonathan Rogers currently serves the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta as Youth Programs Coordinator and is Co-Facilitator for the Young Adults @ General Assembly group. He loves playing the Rubber Chicken Toss with his staff team, but he would still have them run the chicken on second down at the goal line.

 

 

Note from Tandi:  I promise no more football blog posts until next year.  Baseball season is coming up quickly!

 

On Wholeness and Worship

yarnSomething is shifting. Either out there or within me. I’m not quite sure. But I see babies and toddlers everywhere in UU-land. More babies and pregnant people and waiting people at UUA headquarters (in Boston) than any other time in our history. And here at the UU Ministers’ Association Institute, where I am reporting, there are glorious babies and toddlers interspersed throughout community.  I believe this is a real, measurable, sign of health. We are becoming more whole.

 

During worship I had the opportunity to sit next to someone under 5. He turned pretzels into little trains. I shared bits of thread from my crocheting and he turned them into worms. It was delightful. This little teacher gave me a reality check.

 

That’s nice, but what I really want you to know is that this new friend of mine was in worship and listening. When people applauded by putting their hands in the air and shaking them, he asked what people were doing. His mother explained the sign (language) for applause and he enthusiastically joined in.

 

I leaned into his sweet chatter to discover that he was weaving in words from the sermon into his play. Every so often he asked his mom what a particular word meant. It occurred to me that this tot was listening more closely to the sermon than I was… He was absorbing the entire experience more profoundly than I was.

 

What would the Sunday experience be like if we threw out all preconceived notions of what worship ought to be like and had permission to start over? (Not all at once, but at a pace that is tolerable.) What would our Sunday experience look and sound like if we believed ourselves responsible for the brain-heart-spirit development of our people of all ages, cradle to grave?

 

Let’s go there.

 

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red glassesRev. Tandi Rogers keeps silly putty and other items to help wiggly hands during worship. She likes to share.  Look for her at worship, no matter your age.

Interview with Carey McDonald: the UUA.org launch

Carey in conversatioTandi interview with Carey ADid you know that a fabulous, brand-new website for the UUA is almost here? I sat down (virtually) with UUA Outreach Director Carey McDonald to talk about the project.

 

TR: So, tell us, why is the UUA working on a new website?

 

CM: Well, as anyone who has gone to UUA.org recently can tell you, our site could use a refresher. And UUA.org is really the front page of Unitarian Universalism – it’s the first thing that shows up on Google searches, it gets over 1 million visitors a year and 90% of those visitors are finding our site for the first time. So improving UUA.org is a key part of reaching out to new audiences.

 

UU leaders all over the country also use the site every week for worship resources, religious education curricula, and more. We’re making the site simpler, cleaner, and easier to navigate and better features so that these professional and volunteer leaders can do their jobs better.

 

Overall, we’re creating a stronger foundation for the future of our online work and ministry. Our new site is on a great, open-source platform called Drupal that will make things possible which we never could have imagined on the current site.

 

TR: Wow! Sounds like a lot of work to make it happen.

 

CM: No doubt! Every staff group in the UUA has been updating their pages, and the Web Team in particular has been working all out for months.

 

The project is happening in three phases, with the first phase planned for February with the launch of the new site. We’ll be adding features, retooling menus and other things in the months after launch in Phases II and III.

 

TR: So what can we expect when the new site is launched for Phase I?

 

CM: The first thing you’ll notice is our awesome new design, bringing the UU brand identity to life. There will be a great new homepage featuring people, stories and congregations, and updated info for first time visitors (our “who,” “what” and “where”).

 

We’ve got a new site-wide theme-based tagging system that will help us connect content and resources that have always been limited to their own silos – Worship Web submissions, General Assembly workshops, UU World articles, Tapestry of Faith activities and more.

 

Finally, look for a bunch of great new pieces on Worship Web, which is one of the most heavily-used sections of UUA.org.

 

TR: What’s your favorite part about the new site?

 

CM: It’s so much more visual, so much more personal, it’s telling the story of our faith in a compelling way. Right now, our site is basically an enormous filing cabinet. The new UUA.org has so much possibility for dynamic content, connection and inspiration. It’s really going to make UU’s proud for this to be their homepage.

 

TR: I can’t wait to see it!

 

CM: Well, no IT project is perfect right off the bat, but remember our February launch is only the beginning! We look forward to hearing from our users and continuing to improve their experience as we envision what is possible on the new site. We always talk to congregations about the importance of having a great web presence, so we’re trying to practice what we preach. As soon as we go live, you’ll be the first to know, Tandi!

What Congregations Can Learn From The 12th Man

The following blog post was first published last February 2014.  Minor changes have been made.

 

SeahawksYes, I’ve drunk the electric green and blue Kool-Aid.  I’ve gone belly up to Seahawks mania out here in the Pacific Northwest.  And while the pronoun is not my preferred, I am the Seahawk’s12th Man And while the metaphor is not perfect, I have come to understand that there is so much congregations can learn from the 12th Man.  I want a congregation full of number 12 jerseys standing in the pews. And if Skittles end up all over the sanctuary carpet, so be it.

 

First of all, Seattle didn’t make up the 12th Man.  The concept originated at Texas A&M in 1922. Seattle readily recognize this and the Seahawks will end up paying a breathtaking amount of money to Texas A&M for the use of the title. We made the model ours by adding Seahawk quirk and noise.   We don’t have to be the clever ones to make everything up.  We are fine adapting the best of what works.  Congregations, take note about the adapting other ideas, but don’t get caught up in lawsuits over it.

 

In this metaphor I’m thinking of the 12th Man as the congregational members.  The board of directors and key volunteers are the players on the field.  The head coach is the minister. Specialized coaches are other key staff.  Work with me here.  It’s not perfect, but don’t get hung up on that or you’ll miss the lessons.

 

  • Our job as 12 is to cheer our team on and create a vibrant, buzzy culture where success can flourish.
  • We do not assume we know more about football than the players and coaches who have been practicing and preparing and have special training.
  • We do not jump to the conclusion that because our tax dollars and our ticket fees help play for the coaches and players salaries we should get to vote on the plays.
  • We do not email the players with suggestions on how to play. We are not Armchair Quarterbacks. That is not our job.  We cheer.  We make a joyful, booming noise.
  • We do not pout at the coach’s choice of plays and suggest to the other 12th Men around us that we could do a better job at coaching.
  • We do not run on the field.  Even if we tried out for the team and were not picked this round.
  • If our team is down and the strategies seem unclear from our view in the stands, we do not throw our water bottles on the field.  We do not boo.
  • We do not call our beloved #25 a “thug” because of impassioned outbursts that don’t hurt anybody. We know there is so much more to #25, and we stand by him.
  • Texas A&M’s 12th Man example taught us, we stand for the game, symbolically ready for coach to put us in. We stand ready to serve if called upon. And until that time comes, we cheer until we are hoarse and our face hurts from smiling.  We shout and whoop to make sure our coach and team knows we’re right behind them through thick and thin.

 

I want that culture in our congregations, too.  I don’t even like football, but I’ll wear the #12 and shout for my team, because in the Pacific NW it’s become less about a sport and more about a unified community.  We are all the 12th Man, whether you’re wearing a silk Seahawk tie or your earplugs are neon green or the number 12 is drawn in the mud on your truck.  The 12 is about coming together to cheer on something larger than us.  I want that for our faith tradition.

 

So please pay attention to the 12th Man this Sunday during the Seahawk-Packer Game.  And don’t worry if the Seahawks don’t win the game.  We’ve already won.

 

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Loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium Seahawks-13Rev. Tandi Rogers has enjoyed walking around around Tacoma feeling more connected through the common number 12. Come Sunday afternoon she will be covered in Seahawk bling and making a joyful noise.  On Monday she will be hoarse.  A special thank you to Susan Tusa, former president of Tahoma UU Congregation in Tacoma, WA who helped her write this piece.

Mission in Black and White

Rev. Peter Friedrichs of the UU Church of Delaware County (Media, PA)
Rev. Peter Friedrichs of the UU Church of Delaware County (Media, PA)

Stephen Covey wrote…”your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.” So too in our congregations, a mission statement must be more than a plaque on the wall or an accessory to adorn your website home page. It must be the solid expression of your vision and values, to be lived out in everything you do and aspire to do.

The challenge is finding ways to make the mission statement a living document and to keep it out front so that members of your congregation see it and feel it and experience it all the time. My home congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania, has found a unique way to do this.

Our mission statement, Engage in Loving Community, Ignite Personal Growth, Serve with Integrity, forms the outline for the agenda in each Sunday’s Order of Service. We begin by “engaging in loving community” through morning songs, recitation of our covenant, greeting our neighbors, call to worship and chalice lighting, and a brief presentation from a member of the congregation on what engages them about our congregation and our Unitarian Universalist faith.

Next comes “Igniting personal growth” which includes the reading, a personal reflection related to the sermon theme by the worship associate, stones of joy and sorrow, the pastoral prayer, the singing of Spirit of Life, a period of sacred silence, and the sermon.

Finally, we honor “serve with integrity” by asking the congregation to take a few moments to reflect on the questions, “How have I lived out my Unitarian Universalist values and principles this past week? and “What are my intentions for the week ahead?” We then share one open service opportunity and invite the congregation to serve in this capacity. The service ends with the offertory, a closing hymn and a benediction.

Our order of service, then, enables us to live out our mission statement every time we come together to worship. Of course, living our mission requires more than following the order of service every week, but it serves as a wonderful, concrete reminder of who we are and what we stand for.

For more information about our worship service and its relation to our mission statement, please contact the Rev. Peter Friedrichs, Lead Minister, at minister@uucdc.org.

 

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markMark Bernstein is a member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region of the UUA and has been a loyal and loving member of the UU Church of Delaware County for over 21 years.   He has never met an order of service he didn’t like.