About the Author
Tandi Rogers

Covenanting Communities

cropped-lucy-stone-0077-copy
Lucy Stone welcome table, a Covenanting Community

 

During the last year, the UUA Board of Trustees and UUA staff have been up to something pretty cool. Though historically the only way to become an official part of the UUA is through a congregation, we’ve been working on a new way for independent groups of Unitarian Universalists to be in relationship with the wider movement. In March, the Board created a flexible new status for those groups called “covenanting communities.”

What is a “covenanting community?” It’s a community that claims and is claimed by Unitarian Universalism, borrowing a turn of phrase from our friends at Faithify. A covenanting community is NOT a member congregation of the UUA, nor is it an interest or affinity group of UUs who are already members of congregations. Covenanting communities are the primary ways that their members or participants connect to Unitarian Universalism.

Covenanting communities can look and feel very different. That’s actually the point. We want people to imagine new ways of living out their UU faith and values, and to feel like they can do that while still being a recognized part of the UU family. Covenanting communities may look like Sacred Path, which used to be an emerging congregation before deciding that the covenanting community status suited them better.  Or they could look like Lucy Stone Cooperative, an intentional living community grounded in UU values that is exploring the covenanting community status to see if it fits with their mission.

The development of the covenanting community status started out with a pilot project last fall. This pilot project reached out to UU groups who might be interested in the covenanting communities status see what might be a good way of structuring this relationship. Through those conversations, we learned what’s really important to uphold (connection to UU principles and the wider movement) and what’s ok to leave to full-fledged congregations (bylaws, voting at General Assembly, size requirements).

It also turned out that, even though some of the groups we approached about the covenanting communities status weren’t interested, just having a conversation with local leaders about their goals and their UU identity was valuable. Some even decided to restart the process to become full member congregations. This just highlights the need for supportive, ongoing relationship between all levels of the UU faith movement.

The best part about the covenanting communities status is that it is a part of an entire system of support for emerging ministries. Not every group connected to Unitarian Universalism will want to become a covenanting community, and that’s ok. What’s important is that there are now more ways than ever for people to express their faith in covenant with the wider UU movement.

The first round of covenanting communities will hopefully be recognized at General Assembly this year, so stay tuned! And check out other articles on emerging ministries on this blog.

 

 Application and more information: Covenanting Communities Fact Sheet.

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cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach and has been working closely with the UU Board on the development of this new status. He is also known as the Future of Faith Guy.

Announcing (new and improved!) UUA Support for Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoThere are so many ways to be a Unitarian Universalist religious community today! And these diverse communities provide more possibilities than ever to live our faith in the world.

 

Emerging Ministries are any new group or project that is grounded in Unitarian Universalism and brings people together in covenanted and intentional ways.  New congregations are emerging ministries and so are campus ministries, multi-site ministries, intentional housing cooperatives, missional communities, prison ministries, military ministries and more.  They are emerging within congregations, beyond congregations and in between congregations.

 

These new ministries are all moving in the same direction: toward covenanted UU living. These groups and projects are like diverse vehicles – cars, bikes, scooters, vans, and skateboards – moving in different lanes depending on the form and function of their ministry.

 

However, there is no magic road map or GPS that can chart the perfect path for these groups. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) knows we need versatile responsive support systems to get these new endeavors ready for the journey.  A cross-department, cross-regional team of UUA staff is ready to maintain this multi-lane highway toward UU living and is set to staff the tune up stations and rest areas along the way. We can help vehicles figure out which lane is right for them, connect them with experts who have made similar journeys before, and support them in raising the money they need to make this trip.  We’re also working on making it easier to get on this road by adding on-ramps such as contacting your regional staff or checking out our Emerging Ministries webpage.

 

For example, a skateboard might ramp on through the Church of the Larger Fellowship and get into the Meeting Group lane and then through experience with an on-line group coaching webinar realize they want to switch lanes to explore MultiSite options. The highway is about resourcing projects and groups in their early development and getting them the connections, perspective, community of pioneers (convoys, if you will,) and tools the need to realize their vision and answer the call of their wider community.  An integrated, dynamic support system will make it easier for innovators to get what they need. We will live into a refreshed expression of our congregational polity and covenant in the way these ministries will be connected through learning communities and peer support.

 

In the short term, the Congregational Life, Outreach, and Ministries & Faith Development staff groups of the UUA have joined together to inspire, support and sustain emerging ministry efforts.  By mid-fall of 2015, this comprehensive network of support will include programming such as: Innovative Learning Circles, online material sharing systems, a centralized online “hub” for UU emerging ministry efforts, and a Congregational Life Emerging Ministries Coaching Team. In the initiative’s second year a Mentor Program will connect established ministries to emerging ministries to amplify synergistic learning, connection, and sustainability. We will also add lanes to the highway and improve capacity.  In the third year our attention turns to a proactive ministry-planting strategy for the UUA.

 

Over the course of the next couple weeks we will feature different aspects of Emerging Ministries Highway on this blog: overview of preliminary UUA.org resources, introduction to the Emerging Ministries Regional Coaches, preview of the General Assembly Emerging Ministries Laboratory.

 

Support for Emerging Ministries is made possible through generous gifts from UUA President’s Council members and friends like you. Thank you!

Emerging Ministries final
Video about UU Emerging Ministries by Rev. Erik Martinez Resly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multi-site Pioneers

sheshmapThe idea of congregations coming together to gain strength, support and resources from one another is not a new concept. Witness the experience of the Sheshequin congregation and its congregational neighbors.

Founded in 1808, the “Old Sheshequin Church”, located in Northeastern Pennsylvania, just south of the New York border, was an early pioneer of Universalism in this rural and conservative region, said by some historians to be the “mother church” to six other Universalist congregations it helped to plant in the area.

But beginning in the great depression of 1870, the church began to struggle. In fact, church records from 1884 lament that “the society is dead and has not enough vitality left to get up a respectable funeral.”

But just a few years later, the church began collaborating with other congregations in the area, most notably Athens and Towanda. From 1895: “There has been quite an awakening from the Rip Van Winkle sleep of the Society, and some young blood has been added, which it is hoped will redound to its good. Bro. G. A. King, aided by Rev. G B Russell of Athens and Rev. Leonidas Polk of Towanda, held a series of meetings during the winter which resulted in increasing membership and interest. Twenty nine persons were baptized and received into full membership in January.”

Whatever came out of those meetings helped to revive the Sheshequin Society and, in 1896, the church record indicates that “our prospects are favorable for success.” The congregations in this area continued to collaborate and share ministers over the years, as part of an alliance called the “North Branch Association.”

Today, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Sheshequin, located in Athens, PA, stands as a proud religious community “dedicated to service, spiritual growth, and ethical living.” It is also a testament to the power of congregational collaboration.

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Historical information provided by Rev. Darcey Laine.

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markMark Bernstein is a member of the Multi-Site Midwife Team and believes that in an earlier life, he attended several meetings of the North Branch Association.

 

Does Your Congregation have Good Data Hygiene?

hand washingI used to think it was primarily the problem of smaller congregations with no professional staff support. The challenge I’m talking about is folks who have their UUA Directory information way out of date.   Everything from basic contract information to key leaders to websites — the stuff other congregations and leaders need in order to reach out to each other.

 

But you know what?  Congregations and leaders of all sizes have muddy, murky, outdated information in the UUA Directory. And it doesn’t need to be that way!  It’s time for Spring Cleaning, people!

 

So, here is how to check your information and update:

 

Run, don’t walk, to the congregational search or professional leadership search on the UUA website.  Is your information current?  If so, find some (fair trade, organic) chocolate and celebrate.

 

If the information is not quite right, find out who in your congregation is in charge of updating information and gently nudge, perhaps some chocolate as a reward.

 

Updating Your Congregation’s Information:

 

If you have address and website changes or questions about your listing or if you have Congregational Elected Board and Staff changes, or a change in minister, please contact the Congregational Data Administrator in Information Technology Services at data_services@uua.org, or (617) 948-4654. You can provide these changes via email or requests instructions for your congregation to manage this data online.

 

Updating Your Congregation’s Individual Member Data and Leader/Staff List: Every congregation is responsible for maintaining its membership list using a MyUUA account. This is how the UUWorld magically appears in members’ mailboxes.)

 

Individuals who have already been authorized as data updaters for the myUUA system may log in to their personal user accounts to make these data changes. First-time users must begin by completing the myUUA registration process. Note: The process for registering a new account and becoming authorized in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) system as a Data Updater may take a day or two.  Once you have this online account enabled with data-updating permissions, you can keep the membership list accurate for UU World mailings.  Also, please be sure to review the Leaders and Staff page to be sure we have current, accurate email addresses for all your leaders and ministers.  Although we do not publish email addresses online, they are crucial for UUA staff to stay in touch with these individuals about congregational business.

 

Keeping your information updated is part of each congregation’s responsibility as a member in our Association.  Staying connected is a big part of our congregational polity — not “you can’t tell me what to do” or “bugger off.”  But rather radical interdependence and responsible communication.  We show our love by showing up.  Please show up with good spring, data hygiene.

 

Mutuality Movement

Mutuality movement flowerI have been looking for ways to bridge contemplative mind and body practices, Unitarian Universalist Principles and values (especially around social justice), and find a meditation structure that would interest our youth and young adults. In my Fahs fellowship research, I conducted a survey of UU religious professionals and volunteers to understand how they are using meditation in their current setting and how they envision the role of contemplative practice (mindfulness meditation, compassion practice and etc.) in their congregations.

 

The survey results show that there is a need in our congregations for practical meditation practices, that are easy to teach, and that seamlessly integrate into the lives of participants and programs of the congregations. The results also show that there is also a need for a tool to both cope with and respond to traumatic events that arise in our communities.

 

In the course of my research, this country was jolted into an awareness of the plight of African-American men in our all too often racist and violent country. In response, I co-created a course held currently being held in Berkeley, CA around bringing the wisdom of Buddhist practice to the issue of the African American experience of racism.  What we have found in this series of courses is that many well-meaning white people are feeling discouraged by the revelation that racism and oppression are still alive and real for Black people in this country. They want to take action but many are dissatisfied that many years of scholarship in critical race theory and years of racial justice work has, as of yet, not been able to effectively uproot racism in this country. I listened deeply to people who expressed the hope that spirituality, especially, body-mind meditation practice might offer an opportunity to non-violently and effectively respond to social ills.

 

As a results of my Fahs research and pulling from my Buddhist training; I am developing a community of youth and adult practitioners, who will simultaneously develop their own meditation practices while learning to lead meditation instruction in their communities. The project, Mutuality Movement, culminates in individuals and communities who are spiritually mature and prepared to carefully engage in the practice of solidarity activism.

 

Mutuality Movement

Mutuality Movement is a contemplative response to the Black Lives Matter movement that provides tools for youth and young adults to affect change through the practices of solidarity and meditation. Acknowledging the youth leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement, Mutuality Movement trains youth and young adults to lead public meditation sessions, focused on the development of compassion while offering a non-violent opportunity to publicly resist systems of injustice. Mutuality Movement also encourages the development of covenant groups or sanghas, whose primary practice will be to respond non-violently to the problem of racism in America.

 

Rooted in Buddhist meditation, it is compatible with Unitarian Universalism in teaching mutuality in praxis. Mutuality being that understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings and the resultant covenantal commitments to be in supportive and advocating relationships with our fellow humans. This program offers the opportunity to expand our faith beyond the walls of our congregations and into those communities in need of a sacred commitment from justice-oriented and faithful individuals.

 

If you are interested in hearing more please contact Rev. Scott through the Mutuality Movement website (scroll to the bottom of the page to submit your contact information.)

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JamilThe Rev. M. Jamil Scott serves as the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno and is a 2014 Fahs Collaborative contemplative education research fellow in collaboration with Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary. He is completing his Divinity studies at Naropa University and is an ordained Buddhist minister by the International Order of Buddhist Ministers. Rev. Jamil is  active in faith based social justice work with the organizing group Faith in Community and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Multisite Ministry – The Opposable Thumbs of our Evolving Future

Opposable thumbsI was fascinated in my college biology studies by the phenomena of vestigial attributes in animals – traits that have lost all or most of their ancestral function. Naturally the vestigial features of humans such as our appendix, wisdom teeth, tailbone and goose bumps were the most interesting to me. I wondered about the random turns on our evolutionary path that caused these attributes to become functionless, and pondered what natural selection had in store for our future.

 

It’s been with considerable consternation that this concept of vestigial attributes leaped back into my mind in observations of UU congregational life – specifically around practices of our congregational polity. For much of our modern history UUs have allowed the covenantal practice of congregational interdependence to atrophy while nurturing congregational independence as if it were the path to advanced development.

 

Whereas in biology vestigial traits result from chance evolutionary occurrences, conscious or semiconscious choices of church leaders determine which vital attributes of our religious heritage remain essential for a vibrant faith movement and which become historical tokens. For too long we’ve made unwise choices in our preference for the independent agency aspect of our polity, while neglecting the more adaptively sound and life-giving ways of covenantal interdependence. Through our siloed habits of we literally risked taking our faith movement on a path toward an evolutionary dead-end.

 

Fortunately, recent years have seen a renewed appreciation for ways of interconnection among congregations. Most encouraging to me are developments in multisite ministry – formal or permanent types of congregational networks that organize for increased capacity and outreach. On the Unitarian Universalist Multisite website and Multisite UU Facebook page you can read and hear stories of existing and emerging multisites. There are congregations becoming better together around shared staff, shared programs or themes, creating partnerships with emerging groups, merging into multi-campus churches with a common mission, and more. With growing interest in such bold experiments new forms of congregational networks are appearing.

 

For congregations long removed from substantive connection with other congregations, multisite ministry can seem a huge stretch, if not downright threatening to an accustomed way of being church. While formal multisite ministry isn’t meant for all congregations, meaningful covenantal relationship with sister societies is for everyone.

 

What do your congregational leaders know about the initiatives, hopes and concerns of your nearest sister congregations? What do their leaders know about your congregation? What if your boards met to get to know one another and left committed to helping further a hope or address a concern together?

 

What would it take for yours and neighboring congregations to belong to each other?

 

For grins let’s return to analogies from human evolution. I’ve got my holy wager on old habits of isolation becoming vestigial and the ways of robust interdependence like multisite ministry becoming the opposable thumbs and large brains of our faith’s future — adaptations that align our values and resources to raise our capacity to transform lives.

 

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Joe SullivanWhen he’s not idling away his time comparing congregations to animals and rocks, Joe Sullivan serves our Association as a member of the New England Region staff team and a member of the Multisite Support team of UUA field staff.

Military Ministry: Serving Wholeness in Congregations and Beyond

Military_Ministry-300x300I’m writing to you in my role as Endorser of Military and VA Chaplains, to encourage you to take the opportunity of Memorial Day this year to do more than light a candle or lay a wreath in memory of those who have died in service to our nation.  I believe that we as Unitarian Universalists have left out our veterans, service members and their families largely through benign neglect.  Yet our veteran population is hurting, and in need of the kind of transformational religious community we offer.  Our soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and “coasties” (and their families) are an amazing, diverse, largely young adult population who could benefit from our brand of faith – one that by and large isn’t available behind the barbed wire.

 

The UUA has created a free online curriculum called the Military MinistryToolkit to help create an open and welcoming space for this population. Welcoming military members and veterans is not in conflict with advocating for peace.  In fact, deeply engaging with the moral and spiritual issues related to our collective war-making is arguably only done authentically in relationship with those who have born witness to war.  Many of our veterans have deep religious and theological questions to work through, and our open approach to religion is a potentially life-saving, heart-healing opportunity – if only we would more fully explore the culture, issues, and realities of military experience and life, and be more intentionally welcoming.

 

I ask you to consider attending the workshop Military Ministry: Serving Wholeness in Congregations and Beyond, Thursday 6/25/2015, 1:15PM – 2:30 PM, if you are attending General Assembly, or simply jump in and use the Toolkit in your ministry setting where possible.  If you need support, feel free to reach out directly.  You can also view a recorded webinar on utilizing the Military Toolkit.

 

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sarah lammertSarah Lammert, Director of Ministries and Faith Development and Official Endorser

 

The Theology of Dragon Age

I am a very good assassin. Oh, and mage, archer, and sword-wielder. I can sneak around, plunder booty, plant traps and pounce on enemies with the best of them. As long as I don’t have to go head to head with a quick-reflexed middle-schooler, I stand a chance of kicking some serious hiney.

 

I played Pong, PacMan, Asteroids, and Tetris long before the high-def graphics and complex controllers of modern video games. I’ve made uneasy peace with the blood-spattered, first-person shooter world of today’s games. What I’ve never made peace with is the misogynistic, often outright racist and almost always exploitive storylines of modern games, where women are tiny-waisted, big-busted trophies when we appear at all.

 

But then I happened upon the world of Dragon Age, where women are diplomats, generals, villains, warriors and loyal companions. They are all wearing clothes, all the time. There are also beings with a stunning array of skin color, gender expression, accent, talent, variety of evil, and level of spiritual maturity. There are people with wicked strong bodies hidden under tough armor with short hair and women’s voices.

 

Inquistion

 

It’s no wonder that the latest version of Dragon Age just won special recognition at the GLAAD Media Awards.

 

Bioware, the creators of Dragon Age, have done something all congregational leaders can learn from. They’ve taken a platform which is at best mono-dimensional and at worst offensive and made a thoroughly engaging world of rich diversity. By avoiding assumptions about the kinds of lives players want to create and by not setting technical limits on that imagination, the creators allow players – and our identities – to roam free in the game space. They’ve abandoned the dominant culture of gaming and retooled it to reflect more of who more of us are.

 

As congregational leaders we could think of ourselves as creators of playful platforms where we remove barriers to imagination and participation and give our people lots of ways to experiment and roam freely. People are so hungry to play in worlds that reflect who we want to be and how we want our world to be! Our churches can be those worlds.

 

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Sue's blog postRev. Sue Phillips may or may not have spent an entire weekend doing “research” for this article. She wouldn’t dream of boasting that she is a level 19 rogue with 200-defensive point armor who can crush malevolent spirits with paralyzing spells.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Got the Power?

powerChurch consultant Thom S. Rainer recently published two articles about church bullies. While I appreciated Rainer’s advice about this kind of misbehavior, I struggled with the word “bully.” Such a loaded term.

 

In order to address a problem strategically, it needs to be described in language that feels fair and doesn’t add fuel to the fire. As an alternative to naming bullies in your congregation, I encourage you to consider who has power. A simple definition of “power” is the ability to influence. Power isn’t inherently a bad thing, of course. In fact, much of the time (most of the time, hopefully), it’s a very good thing! In thriving congregations, power is abundant.

 

We all have power. We can use our power well, we can deliberately cultivate it in ourselves, and we can appropriately empower others. (I’d like to think I do a lot of this!) At times, we might misunderstand or misuse our power, hurting the system or damaging relationships in the process. (Been there, done that.) And sometimes we simply fail to utilize our power in the most productive way. (Guilty of this, too.)

 

Here are five types of power found in organizations:

  1. Authority that accompanies one’s role (authority is a right)
  2. Ability to reward or punish
  3. Unique expertise or information
  4. Connection with others in power
  5. Earned trust and respect

The five types of power are neutral. Learn to recognize them in yourself and others, and pay attention to how people use them. Whom do you associate with each type of power in your congregation? When have you witnessed people utilizing their power so that your congregation could live out its best values and fulfill its mission? Which types of power do you hold? Which would you like to hold?

 

Okay, back to the topic of Rainer’s articles. From Nine Traits of Church Bullies, a bully is someone with an agenda who seeks allies (individuals or groups) to help them push it. This congregant will often have an enemy: a person, program, or process that is interfering with their agenda. Maybe you have a picture in your mind of someone like this in your congregation, past or present.

 

Remember, displeased and demanding people only cause chaos and division if they have some form of power in the system. Without power, they don’t gain traction and they’re just a thread in the tapestry of your congregation. If you have a congregant who has an uncomfortably loud voice in congregational matters, who is intimidating others with their intensity or going to lengths to get their way, think about which kind(s) of power they are using. Simply by articulating the nature of someone’s power, you should begin to see your way toward resolving the difficulties they are causing.

 

Keep your own power positive by avoiding inflammatory language. I recommend reframing Rainer’s Nine Ways to Deal with Church Bullies as ways to address a congregant’s misunderstanding or misuse of their power.

 

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JanJan Gartner serves as UUA Professional Development Specialist. Her mission: to liberate and leverage the potential of congregational staff! Jan telecommutes from her home near Rochester, NY. She is a joyful soprano in the choir at First Unitarian Church of Rochester.

Theme Based Ministry

theme

Thanks to a fruitful collaboration between Congregational Life staff and the Faith Development Office, a series of web pages about THEME BASED MINISTRY are now online at uua.org. http://www.uua.org/re/themes

Why do theme based ministry? http://www.uua.org/re/themes/why-do-theme-based-ministry

Who is Doing Theme Based Ministry? http://www.uua.org/re/themes/how-do-we-do-theme-based-ministry

Help with Theme Based Ministry http://www.uua.org/re/themes/help-theme-based-ministry

Testimonials http://www.uua.org/re/themes/congregational-examples

Share YOUR stories – we’re particularly looking for “testimonials from congregants – email themebasedministry@uua.org

Many thanks to all on the Congregational Life team: Scott Tayler, Beth Casebolt, Tera Little, Phil Lund, Kim Sweeney, Karen Bellavance-Grace, Maggie Lovins and Pat Infante and in the Faith Development Office: Jessica York and Pat Kahn.