Reflection on Moving, Wisdom, Humility, and Reaching Out

Last week I took a quick trip to Boston to attend Terasa Cooley’s good-bye party and to meet, in person, with several colleagues who normally are only in my zoom room on my computer screen.  The weather was beautiful – cold, clear and crisp – which prompted me to spend time doing what I love best to do in Boston, walk around the city.

One morning I walked up to our old UUA headquarters at 25 Beacon Street to see what was going on.  “25” and the other two buildings that the UUA sold on Mt. Vernon Street and the former Eliot-Pickett Houses, were covered with giant “tents” out front, with a back hoe digging dirt and many construction workers scurrying around.  I took a peek inside 25 and saw that the main staircase has been torn down and much of the ground floor, as I remembered it, had been cleared away.  As I walked across town to our new headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street, I remembered with fondness walking up those stairs to see the MFC in 2000 and imagined all the lives that were touched and changed in the place the UUA used to call home.

24_Farnsworth

It has been less than two years since the UUA headquarters have moved.  The area has changed a lot and the many cranes and construction workers in our new neighborhood predict more change is on the way.  I love the modern feel of our new headquarters and the opportunities they provide for easier collaboration, more productive meetings and new ways to connect today while remembering our yesterdays.

“24” and 25 provide a metaphor for the work we must do as ministers in the future; a future that has virtual cranes digging up many of the practices and foundations of our past, while building up new expressions of community and spiritual practice all around us.   Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that my walk through the streets of Boston and UUA office history prompted my ponderings about the future of our work and our faith.  The weekend before my trip I was at the third intensive of our Beyond the Call – Entrepreneurial Ministry program learning new ways to finance and market innovation; and the importance, practices and “how tos” of cultivating and nurturing the eco-systems to sustain innovators and the organizations they lead.

We’ll be sharing the highlights of our third intensive in a webinar sometime in March.  Our guest speakers inspired and challenged us in many ways but one phrase stuck with me, especially while I was walking around the streets of Boston.  Greg Jones, the former Dean of the Duke Divinity School who worked closely with Greg Dees the “father” of social entrepreneurship, talked about “traditioned innovation” (https://www.faithandleadership.com/content/traditioned-innovation) as a practice for those of us in religious leadership.  The cranes of sociological, cultural and religious change are all around us digging up the old and building the new.  We stand, hopefully, with one foot in tradition and one foot in innovation dancing back and forth as fast as we can.

In these days of change, challenge and opportunity I pray we each have the wisdom and humility to continue to learn how/when to stand in each stream knowing that our spirits and our people need both waters to thrive.  And, most importantly, we reach out to each other so we don’t need to swim in these choppy waters alone.

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DonRev. Don Southworth is the founding Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association. He lived in the corporate world before ministry where he spent ten years in parish life before joining the UUMA in 2009.  He’s a bit on the old side of life but fights through his crumedgeony ways as much as he can looking for pockets of innovation and radical change that provide the main hope for religion in the 21st century.

In Spirit!

New Titles from Skinner House

 

 

Turning PointTurning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism

Edited by Fredric Muir (Skinner House Books)

 

In fresh, inspiring essays, 20 Unitarian Universalist leaders issue a clarion call for change. Unitarian Universalism is at a crossroads. Will we cling to individualism, exceptionalism, and anti-authoritarianism or will we embrace the promise of what we can be? Turning Point presents stories of innovative new types of Unitarian Universalist communities across the country and inspires faith that Unitarian Universalism can deepen and grow, meeting the aching needs of a new generation.

 

Fredric Muir serves as the Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Maryland. He is a board member of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland and the UUA ambassador to the UU congregations of the Philippines. He has written and edited several books, including The Whole World Kin: Charles Darwin and the Spirit of Liberal Religion (2009) from Skinner House Books.

 

Recent Announcements & Resources

 

New Bookstore Name!In Spirit

 

In order to reach a broader audience and to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism, the UUA Bookstore has been renamed to inSpirit: The UU Book and Gift Shop.

 

As inSpirit, the bookstore will continue to offer a wide range of books and gifts that reflect the values of our UU movement, including titles from Skinner House Books and Beacon Press, selected titles from other publishers, and fair trade items.

 

The name inSpirit is one that we ourselves have adopted for our series of “Meditation Manuals.” The series name changed in 2015 to the inSpirit Series, but the tradition lives on. The many rich meanings of the word inSpirit—including to hearten, to enliven, to bestow with strength or purpose, to fill with spirit—reflect the many ways these books and our bookstore tend to us and our faith lives.

 

We invite you to visit the inSpirit website and the inSpirit Series page for more information.

 

 

Selma Awakening Curriculum

 

SelmaThe Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society has awarded the UU History and Heritage Prize for Best Original RE Curriculum to the curriculum created for The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism by Mark D. Morrison-Reed.

 

“This is a deep and challenging adult education curriculum that invites participants to research their own congregations’ Selma stories and thus broaden our understanding of one of the most important events in twentieth-century Unitarian Universalist history.”

 

The curriculum is available on our companion resources page.

 

 

New Resources for Older Adults from the UUA

 

The UUA has just announced the creation of a collection of resources to enrich and support the journey of older adulthood. On the pages, you will find resources to support the older adult journey, whether you are an older adult yourself, a caregiver or family member, or part of a congregation engaged in ministry to and with older adults

 

Explore these resources to find books (including many Skinner House books), programs, videos, and further information on a variety of subjects particularly resonant to older adults. We are so grateful to those involved in creating this resource!

 

 

Resources for Teaching English with Islamic Stories

 

Jamish

We’re pleased to present a series of free lesson plans and videos to teach English to students from oral traditions. The lesson plans are linked to the stories in Ayat
Jamilah: A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents
. The lesson plans demonstrate the use of folk tales to show how narration provides a basis of recognition and response. Using oral language and storytelling, the lesson plans and videos will show how to later prompt students into reading and writing. The resource is available here.

 

 

 

Kayla

Trending in the UUA Bookstore  

 

The following have been particularly popular in the month of January:

 

 

 

 

 

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This Here Is Some Radical Polity

The subject of the email was:  “If we set a date, it will happen”.

 

It was sent to a small group of Canadian Young Adults who’d been talking in pockets and clusters for a while about how to “do Church differently”. This was back in 2012, when I was peripherally aware that the Top People of Unitarian Universalism had started holding big meetings talking about this stuff.

 

We knew we were not Top People of Unitarian Universalism. We were a small group that cared, meeting to hang out for a weekend in a Church basement and talk. No pre-planned agenda, no facilitators, no real plan beyond the basics of food and sleeping space. Funding would be accomplished by “do what you can”. So would cooking and dishes.

 

Friday night, we planned the weekend—we planned any topics or activities or worships that we wanted to make sure happened, and drew up a chore list.  Then, we got on with the stuff.

 

We sang a lot, and joked a lot, and prayed together and sometimes cried. We talked about a lot of things, including the question of what types of sustainable religious communities might thrive in the future. At some point that weekend, something clicked and we realized we were a sustainable religious community ourselves. We met all the criteria—deep connection, meaningful worship, fiscal responsibility (we covered our costs and had lots left over to donate to organizations we were connected with).  Some of us continued meeting by Skype for a couple of years.  There were other smaller retreats, and another larger one again last year.  This community has been a deep and profound part of my spiritual life and my formation as a UU. Connections I created there have nurtured my work and my life in profound ways, and have fed the work of UUism in Canada.

 

As a movement, we talk about thinking big. We also need to think small. We need mini-ministries. We need to encourage and equip people to create communities and experiences where they are and with what they have. We need to make sure our people understand that you don’t need to have a seminary degree or a big budget to make things that are real. The Gathering (as it became called) was sustainable but not self sufficient. It drew on connections created over decades in congregational and regional programming, and on donated church space. It also gave back to those groups in the leadership, connections, and enthusiasm it generated. Also, money. It turned out to be a reasonably effective fund raiser.

 

More than that, it interconnected us. People who were disillusioned with some aspect of their home church got a second wind. People with no home community for their UU identity had a place to explore and worship and grow. People from different groups collaborated and shared ideas. We built trust and connection and foundation. We got out of our silos.

 

This here, I found myself thinking as one group came in from a snowball fight while another sat in deep discussion and a third practiced a song for worship… is some radical polity. This here… this is something we need.

 

Communion Song
Click to hear The Communion Song, one of the many creative, spirit-filling happenings of The Gathering
______________________
Liz jamesLiz James is a seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School, in training to be a Lay Leader Extraordinaire.  She believes that Unitarian Universalism in the future will need a diverse and talented group of us—lay, ordained, and other professionals—passionately serving a variety of calls.  Liz is an animated speaker, a Facebook overlord, and an expert in thinking outside the box. Way outside the box. Sometimes she forgets where she put the box.  Some of Liz’s writing can be found at www.freerangeseminarian.com.

Meaning Makers

“The closest UU congregation is far away and I don’t have a car”

“There’s no UU group at my college”

“I work the brunch shift Sunday mornings but I still need spiritual community”

“I miss the peer connection of youth group.”

“I was raised UU, now I want to go deeper into my faith.”

 

Have you ever heard an 18-24 year old Unitarian Universalist say anything like that?  I know that I have heard, read and seen statements like these time and time again in my role as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Our emerging adults are hungry for connection and faith formation even as they face many obstacles to staying in or finding new UU community.  There are many ways to address this un-met need, from shifting our larger culture toward true multigenerational engagement to helping individual bridgers navigate the transition out of youth culture.

 

One brand new way our office is trying to help is with a program called Meaning Makers. Meaning Makers is a yearlong spiritual development program for emerging adults that combines in-person retreats, virtual small group ministry and mentorship.  The first class of Meaning Makers will meet June 6th-9th at UBarU Ranch in Texas.  From there they’ll meet monthly online to discuss the themes in the young adult meditation manual Becoming and also meet individually with a UU mentor, closing the year off with another retreat in June 2017.  They’ll explore what integrity looks like for them as they move into adulthood; who they are and how they can live their UU faith in the world.  

 

The application to join the program is due February 29th so spread the word!  I am so excited to see how this experiment works and what these emerging adults will bring to the experience. Thanks to the generosity of UUA donors, support from the Southern Region of the UUA and the fundraising work of UBarU this program should be accessible to a wide variety of folks including those with limited financial resources.  I cannot wait to be surprised by what questions and resources bubble up as we embark on this journey together.

 

Meaning Makers

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GonzalezMilliken_AnnieRev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken is a lifelong UU from the midwest and serves our faith as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She currently lives in Boston with her partner Lucas, their baby daughter Moira and two housemates.  A firm believer in both traditional and new ministries, she is a member of First Parish Dorchester, founded in 1630, and The Sanctuary Boston, created a few years ago.

MultiSite Ministries: Economies of Scale

The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA said, “Growth and sharing our faith is a moral obligation.” Beginning with the 2013-2014 church year, the UU Church of Canandaigua NY and First Unitarian Church of Rochester NY began a Partnership of staff and resource sharing to expand and strengthen Unitarian Universalism in north central New York. This Partnership was initially established for five years and will be evaluated for continuation beyond that date.

 

The UU Church of Canandaigua began its life in 1993 as an independent congregation and is proud of its history of supporting itself through the years. It has been able to offer a part time ministerial position, serving the UUCC as well as other congregations in the area.   Like many other small congregations, it struggles to pay for the staff, programs, and building which would increase its attractiveness and visibility.

 

The ministries and programming at First Unitarian Church of Rochester are welcoming and very attractive to people hungering for liberal religion, and have led to continuing growth in membership. This growth has created unique challenges for the congregation and ministries. Growth requires additional staff to maintain excellent programming. Yet, economic challenges make it harder for the congregation to afford the level of staffing needed to support dynamic and dependable programming.

 

Since the beginning of the Partnership,  UUCC and the First Unitarian Rochester have created ministerial and staff sharing arrangements that foster economic efficiencies, allowing the UUCC to remain an independent entity, yet part of a larger faith community, and allowing First Unitarian to develop creative and economical means to staff for growth.

 

Partnerships between churches are thriving in a variety of ways in many denominations, including our own Unitarian Universalism.  The Partnership between First Unitarian and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua is outlined in their joint Vision Statement which reads in part:

 

  1. We believe our congregations are called to share our message of liberal religion to the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. We believe that staff and resource sharing will enable us to fulfill this mission.
  2. We believe that staff and resource sharing is good stewardship. It allows us to take advantage of economies of scale and use our members’ financial contributions more effectively.
  3. We believe that staff and resource sharing will increase our congregations’ ability to attract and retain high quality ministry. By combining resources, our congregations can offer positions that are closer to full-time than either would be able to offer alone.
  4. We believe that staff and resource sharing can be done in a way that preserves each congregation’s unique identity. We believe that shared programming, organizational strategy and staff can be creatively adapted to each congregation’s particular character, history and circumstances.

 

The partnership between First Unitarian Rochester and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua is yet another model for collaboration and sharing within our faith tradition –  a model that is already inspiring other congregations in New York state and beyond to help share and strengthen Unitarian Universalism.

 

 

MSM video KAnderson 016

Click on the picture above to be taken to the 1 1/2  minute video by Rev. Erik Martínez Resly

 

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joansmallRev. Joan Van Becelaere is the Central East Regional Lead and lives in “partnership” in Columbus Ohio with her spouse, Jerry, and three cats – all named after different Hebrew Bible prophets.

“I’m Lost, But I’m Making Record Time” Part II

StewDev BlogIn our previous blog post, we introduced the concept that it’s hard to know where you are going if you don’t know where you are, and that a number of key statistics about your congregation can go a long way in helping leaders understand where they are, where they are going, and what they need to prioritize in communicating with the congregation.

 

There are statistics that I believe leaders should know if they are to understand their congregations;17 data points and 1 more to ignore. As we noted in the previous blog posting, almost every congregation has the first 10 of these data points readily accessible. Not enough leaders and members consult them sometimes, but they are easy to generate. The next 7 take a little effort to generate, but the returns can be impressive for congregations of just about every size. And one more data point often mentioned should, in fact, fall by the wayside.

 

Here again is that list of 18 data points. We elaborated earlier on the first nine; now let’s develop the second half of the list. It’s a bit of a long post to complete the list, but its worth the time and consideration:

 

  1. Membership
  2. Sunday Attendance, RE Attendance (Adult and children’s RE)
  3. Percentage of Budget Provided by Pledges
  4. “Average Cost per Household” to run your church
  5. Percentage of Members Pledging, if your bylaws do not ask a pledge of all members
  6. Mean and Median Pledge
  7. Number of Pledge/Contribution Waivers
  8. Percentage of Households/Members that are not Pledging
  9. Percentage of Pledging Friends
  10. Pledges that have not Increased or have Decreased over the past 2 years: Not everyone will or can increase a commitment every year, but looking for patterns of stagnation or reduction is prudent, and facilitates shaping more relevant and focused communications with those members. Sometimes this profile emerges because of other problems or issues – sometimes its just because no one asked them to consider an increase this year.
  11. Number of Pledging Units Self-Declared as Fair Share Donors: If the stewardship and leadership teams are not making wide use of the UUA’s Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide, a valuable tool to help members and friends think about their commitments is going unused. The pledge form should specifically ask if this commitment is Fair Share, the numbers tracked, and the Fair Share Givers recognized and celebrated. See our guide for more.
  12. The Quartile Distribution: This analysis and data set depicts how giving is distributed among the congregation, and how vulnerable the congregation may be to disruptions if a few larger donors change. There are always fewer large donors and more small donors, but how much of a spread exists between those groups is important. For a further discussion, see our blog.
  13. New Pledgers (first 2 years): Know the number of and by name households of new pledgers and ensure they receive specific appreciation and encouragement, especially in their first two years. Be aware also of the mean and median of these new pledges. Congregations that are clear about pledging up front tend to find new pledge rates very closely match more established pledger rates. Those that are less clear usually do not enjoy this result.
  14. Families Active in RE and Their Distribution Among Pledges and COR Populations: Why RE families in particular? They are often young families, with less to contribute. True, but they also represent the future of our movement and of your congregation; ensuring they understand the importance of a financial commitment, consistent with their means, is an important part of being a part of the congregation builds lifetime habits early and helps everyone understand we are not owners, but stewards – we are called upon to support what we have been given and to pass it on in good shape to those that follow us.
  15. Where is your Board in Fair Share Giving and Quartile Distribution? Elected congregational leaders should be expected, as a part of the position description to be Fair Share Donors and to make a substantial commitment as defined by their capacities. This is simply leadership by example; if the leaders are not willing to step up, why would anyone else?
  16. Percentage increase/decrease in total pledges/mean/median on last 3-5 years: Look for trends and patterns over time. Many factors may affect a given year, but trends over multiple years are indicative of where the congregation is and where it is likely to go in the near term.
  17. When was the last time you employed Visiting Stewards, with good training? The evidence is clear that in general no stewardship engagement approach matches the effectiveness one on one conversations with Visiting Stewards. It’s also true that without good preparation, such visits can be much less effective, and uncomfortable for both parties. Take the time and resources to prepare Visiting Stewards well; not only will immediate results be better, but the sense of stewardship conversation will deepen and new leaders will emerge from such engagements.
  18. Wrong! — How Much of a Pledge goes to “UUA dues?” This data point up often, and it’s often more harmful than useful. We do not pay “dues;” clubs and fraternities do that. We make contributions to resource the work the Regions and the UUA do in our name. Congregations sometimes ask that a pledge be at least at the level of their per member contribution to the UUA. This makes our contributions to the UUA into an outside burden. Being a member of this association is an integral part of being a UU – don’t treat it as something outside our community. And encouraging pledges at this low level also assures that whatever funds are contributed do not support the congregation locally in any way. Don’t make this data point a benchmark – it’s a part of our commitments to each other globally, not an accounting tool.

 

Like this blog post? You may find more at our website. You are welcome to sign up for stewardship updates at the blog. Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.

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BillBill Clontz has been a stewardship consultant with the Stewardship for Us Team, supporting the UUA. for over five years. He brings over forty years in leadership development and coaching, organizational effectiveness, and strategic planning to this work. He has over 25 years of active participation in UU church leadership and stewardship and 15 years of business development and portfolio management as a corporate officer, including working with nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations. Bill has served in his own congregation in a wide range of positions and he is a regular presenter at UU Regional conferences and the UUA Annual General Assembly. His focus as a stewardship consultant over the last five years has been empowering congregations to have successful stewardship environments, leadership development, and the growth of our movement.

Supporting Older Adult Faith Journeys

Brooksby Village visit to UUA 3[1]In October, I was one of several Unitarian Universalists who took part in a Future of Adult Faith Formation Symposium organized by Lifelong Faith Associates. The topic exploration was organized around the four “seasons” of adult faith formation: Young Adult, Midlife Adult, Mature Adult, and Older Adult. While I left with many things to mull, the most important insights I gained were about faith development for older adults. At the symposium, we recognized the presence of two distinct generations who are now “older adults”: The Boomer generation and their parents, the Builder Generation. The generational experiences and preferences of the two groups are very different, as are the spiritual, emotional, and physical challenges each group faces.

Looking back, I am surprised that that was such a revelation to me. I’m living it, right now. I am a Boomer and qualify as an older adult by all definitions used by experts. I also have varying responsibilities for care of three parents in their late 80s. I feel the spiritual challenges of my own stage of life, as I wrestle with professional and personal legacy and what comes next for me, while also coming to terms with physical limitations I did not have a couple of decades ago. At the same time, I am acutely aware of the spiritual challenges that face my parents’ generation: the need for connection and community, the time required to take care of health and wellbeing, the dance of independence and safety/support, the deaths and losses that come with great regularity. And I live the truth that not just challenges and losses, but also strengths and gifts come with aging: richness in wisdom, experience, and perspective; stories of ethical, moral, and faith commitments honored over the course of a lifetime, and ability to take the long view of situations.

Both the challenges and gifts of older adults are very present in all of our congregations. Some may be struggling to organize faith development opportunities for this group, while others have a thriving ministry to older adults. The UUA has organized a set of web pages with resources for older adult ministry. These pages will not only help congregations and groups find the resources they need for ministry to and with older adults, but also offer resources and guidance for older adults themselves and for those who love them. Here you will find links to curricula, books, videos, programs, and websites with useful information. These are the topics:

Take a look! These pages are working, living documents. We’ll keep it fresh with new photos of older UU adults (that YOU will send from your congregation or group!) and with new resources as they become known to us. Please feel free to send along suggestions- and photos!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2016- may your spiritual journey be a rich one!

 

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Gail Forsyth-Vail 2014Gail Forsyth-Vail is Adult Programs Director in the Faith Development Office at the UUA in Boston. She has been a religious educator for almost 30 years, through all seasons of adulthood: as a young adult parent, as a schedule-crazy mid-lifer, as a mature adult parenting teens and young adults and building a career, and now as an older adult caring for parents.

 

 

 

Faith Forward

Spiritual Practice class photoNewcomers to First Unitarian Church of Dallas arrive at our doors seeking a path. The Unitarian Universalist tendency to tell people they can believe whatever they want and get involved in whatever they want is both overwhelming and insufficient. Visitors from other religious traditions as well as the unchurched want to know how to become part of the congregation, both as members and as leaders. This led us to examine the state of our existing adult membership and ask these questions:

  • Can our adult membership explain what it means to be a church member?
  • Do they have a deep understanding of our church and its role in the community?
  • Are they involved, connected, and excited about church leadership and service?

We learned that we had work to do on how we integrate new people into our church community, and how we develop and deepen the connection of our existing members.

To address this need, we developed the Inquirers Series, 8 rotating sessions about our church and Unitarian Universalist history and practices. Designed for visitors and newcomers looking for a general introduction, these sessions are also appealing to current members who just want to learn more about our church.

Inquirers participants also build connections with each other. They learn that they are not alone in their questions, and many are moved with the realization of all that Unitarian Universalism embodies. It is the first small group a visitor encounters, and serves as a bridge to deeper small-group involvement later. Sharon Thompson, our Director of Membership & Hospitality, says: “I have seen the time between first visit and joining decrease, and our new members are more firmly grounded in the faith, in their convictions and in their support. Prior to Inquirers, we would have 30+ individuals that had indicated they wanted to join, remaining on the list of declared members for over a year without completing the process and joining. Now the membership process is generally complete in 30-60 days.”

Growth in numbers isn’t everything, however, and “signing the book” is not the end of the membership process. We’ve seen these new members connect more quickly and easily at church, becoming engaged within our walls and in the wider community. They understand what it means to be a member of a community. And many find their first service opportunity as a greeter, offering a friendly face for other newcomers.

Yet we found that once people completed the 8 sessions, they wanted more. “What’s next?” they asked. Our answer is “Faith Forward: From Visitor to Leader.” Faith Forward is a comprehensive program for member integration, faith development, and leadership development which helps congregants strengthen their Unitarian Universalist identity, deepen commitment to the church, encourages spiritual growth, and develops church leaders. It is not adult religious education, nor is it a curriculum. It is a path of modular sessions designed for faith development and connection-building and is facilitated by lay leaders with staff support.

One facilitator, church member Rev. Lyssa Jenkens, says: “Faith Forward provides a very intentional and well-developed process of faith development for any member or friend. It fills a yawning gap in UU adult religious education where we often provide a beautiful buffet of classes and activities with little or no guidance regarding what constitutes a healthy meal as opposed to one that is tasty but has rather limited spiritual-nutritional value.”

In addition to the Inquirers Series, we now offer:

  • Inquirers Series (8 weeks)
  • Roots (1 class)
  • Beyond Inquirers (5 weeks)
  • Spiritual Practice (13 weeks)
  • UU History 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Theology 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Elevator Speech (3 weeks)

More sessions will be developed around UU history and theology, leadership, polity, and evangelism (sharing the good news of our faith!).

Do these issues around adult faith development and connection sound familiar? At the same time that our members were looking for more, other congregations began contacting us about sharing our membership process, so we decided to pilot the program with a few of them during the 2015-2016 church year. We look forward to learning how Faith Forward works in other Unitarian Universalist congregations, and adapting it for wider use in the coming years.

If you’d like to receive updates about Faith Forward—to find out what we learn from the pilot, gather tips on faith development and hospitality, and stay updated on how to get program materials for your congregation—visit this site, where you can share your interest and contact information.

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headshot cropped largeRev. Beth Dana is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX, where she works with a great team of ministers, staff and lay leaders on this exciting new path for adult faith development and membership. She is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, originally from Albany, NY. After bouncing from coast to coast, she landed in the middle! She has crossed the thresholds of many UU congregations over the years, learning lots about welcome and hospitality in the process.

Becoming a Multi-Everything Faith

multi ballWhen I was asked to do a presentation for my start-up at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu in 2011, I immediately thought of a growth strategy that didn’t just involve numbers and finances (the typical holy grail for most congregations), but a deeper and more sustainable spiritual growth that may eventually lead to growth in membership and financial generosity. I called it my “multi-everything” strategy. Here are my top three:

 

  1. Multicultural Growth. When I was pre-candidating, I heard the typical desire to attract more people of color into our predominantly white congregations. Most “technical fixes” have been tried and I told them calling a minister of color will not magically solve their problems! I talked about a shift in culture by becoming more welcoming to all cultures. Not just to those who have a different skin tone, but to younger families, to those serving in the military, to those who may be houseless. Shifting congregational culture is about learning to speak languages and crossing borders until we experience holy discomfort.  

 

True confession time. Yesterday, I went to a megachurch (over 9,500 worshippers) that was diverse in every sense of the word. To be honest, I was turning green with envy that their play, their singers, AND the folks sitting next to me represented every color under the rainbow. While we may differ theologically, I found myself nodding when one of the associate pastors said that “Here in this place, we practice radical acceptance because we are family and we are a community.” Their pastor had an especially profound experience he shared openly during the sermon about being in recovery and it’s OK to be who you are and belong to the church. Not once did he mention multiculturalism. It just was. This is when I realized we Unitarian Universalists need to stop chasing after multiculturalism as if it were an idol. What we ought to focus on instead like this megachurch is a common mission that we can all connect with and relationships that are genuine instead of a superficial window-dressing to make ourselves feel good as liberals. Stop talking about people of color and forget the curriculum. Just be and think about why you’re there to begin with.

 

  1. Multifaith Growth. What the shooting in San Bernardino taught us and what Islamophobic statements by certain political candidates have shown is our country’s fear of what we perceive as the “other.” Some still think America is a “Christian nation” and the only place we can find people of other faiths is by hopping on a plane. How about walking next door? Religious pluralism exists in our own backyard. As a community organizer (interfaith organizer to be exact for the UU Legislative Ministry of California), I’ve come to realize that if we are to build Beloved Community, we need to use the materials we can find on our own turf. Neighboring faiths is not just a curriculum our children go through as part of their religious exploration, but it’s a way of life our adults need to learn as well. In Hawaii, we won marriage equality in large part due to the efforts of Unitarian Universalists reaching out the progressive Christians, who reached out to Buddhists who reached out to the Jewish community. We are in this together, and our values bind us together to create a larger ripple in the community we live in.

 

  1. Multisite Growth. The concept of satellites, mergers, and covenantal communities that extend beyond the walls of brick-and-mortar congregations are at least a couple of decades old now. They’re no longer part of the “emerging church” movement, but an emerged reality we all have to contend with in the ever-shifting landscape of American religious life. Yet, when we UUs talk about establishing another site, our reason more often than not has to do with either a split from congregants we don’t get along with or we don’t want to be bothered driving 45 minutes to church on Sundays. We love being with like-minded people and the kind of community we want to build seems more insular rather than inclusive.

 

A more compelling reason for me is because there is a hurting world out there and someone has to save our environment and heal the lovelessness and injustices that we all face. The more we focus on simply conducting insular worship “serve-us-es,” the less we are able to live out our “services” to our community. It’s really not about our needs and what’s in it for me, but what’s in it for the common good. Becoming multisite (in the broadest sense of the word) allows the church to fulfill its call to transform lives.

 

I think this three-prong multi-layered approach is still a pretty darn good recipe to spread our Unitarian Universalist faith. I call it the architecture of “multidependence.” Tune in to a future blog to find out what this structure looks like.

 

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JonipherThe Rev. 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.

Gingerbread and Engaging Space

Boston Towers Gingerbread Boston Society of Architechture Imagine No traffic Boston Small

On my way to work in Boston I walk past the Boston Society of Architecture.  Its storefront is attractive, but hasn’t been overtly noticeable to me until this holiday season.  I do see people through their big windows meeting or gathering on their ground floor during mornings or evenings. They make this room available for free for use by the public. And people seem to take them up on their offer. And in the process learn a bit about the Boston Society of Architecture.

 

One night on my way home, I noticed a line forming down the block to get in to an event there. The event was the 4th Annual Gingerbread House Design Competition.

 

Every year the Boston Society of Architecture develops a theme, a competition, a reception, opportunity for positive press, and new traffic through their public space on the ground floor. Do you see where I’m going with this?… What if your congregation opened up your public space during the holiday season–

 

Oh, what?  You don’t have a space made available to the public to drop in?  Let’s start there. What if your congregation had a public space where people could drop in for quiet sanctuary from the bustling world?  You know, like other traditions do. Especially in these violent times, people crave a designated holy place to go and light a candle and just “be” in a space where other people of faith gather. I just ask that you consider this. If this makes you nervous, I encourage you to engage your local Catholic church and ask them how they do it.

 

Back to gingerbread competitions. The connection to architecture and gingerbread is playful and relevant. What could that be for your UU community? And maybe it’s not for winter holidays. Perhaps a celebration featuring Peeps sculptures in spring is your thing.

  • Playful, idea-connecting, values-promoting competition
  • Reception for the public
  • Press releases that weave in the mission of your UU community
  • Intentional community engagement

Bottom line, reimagine space you have access to and how it can be in proactive, relevant engagement with your wider community while promoting your values and mission.  Be playful, playful is so attractive! If you need a thought partner for this kind of adventure, count me in!

 

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Tandi red shinglesRev. Tandi Rogers is the Innovative & Network Specialist for the UUA. Exploring the streets of Boston during the winter holiday season has been an unexpected joy.