Home: Beyond in Congregations

phillip phillipsI have a song in my head.  The best ear-worm I’ve had in a long time. It was firmly planted there a week ago. I recently attended the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association‘s Institute for Excellence in Ministry, which is a week-long learning and worship explosion of goodness for ministers.  The Opening Worship featured a melody I knew within the first couple of bars and I was both delighted and in a state of disbelief.  The song was Home by Phillip Phillips.

The choir started singing and as people recognized the song, we leapt to our feet.  Before long we became a mystical, musical mass bouncing to the beat. The song is easy to catch on to.  Those in the congregation who did not know the song before now picked it up quickly and belted out the lyrics.  When the line “just know you’re not alone” came along I watched as people reached out to touch each other, hug each other.  A year ago when I first heard the song, I just knew this could be an anthem for our religious communities.

Where did this song come from? Phillip Phillips was the winner of the 11th season of American Idol.  I am not ashamed to say that I voted for him.  Every week. Now, for those of you who are shocked and find it unbecoming that your growth strategist is using this space to talk about a kitschy television show, I will point out that even kitschy America is part of the Beyond in Congregations & Beyond. And sometimes it’s the Beyond that fills us with grace and inspiration, not the other way around.  I look for soul-filled, authenticity in the Beyond, and I hug it to myself like a flotation device. Look for it. Bring that kind of Beyond into your Congregation.

And so I commend this song to you. Sing it in your congregations.  Sing it brightly (as per the musical instructions) and sing it loudly.  Sing it as a prayer of gratitude and a plea to the Universe.

by Phillip Phillips


Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home


Download the sheet music to Home here.   More contemporary worship music can be found through internet searches.  The Unitarian Universalist Musician’s Network has their own database of composers and I encourage you to also check them out!


Tandi Rogers is the Unitarian Universalist Growth Strategist and is anxiously anticipating the top ten of this year’s American Idol. And she wishes that Jason Shelton would audition.



AWAKE Ministries

The following is from a recent press release put out by Reverence John Crestwell, Lead Minister of AWAKE Ministries. He can be reached at jcrestwell@uuannapolis.org.

New Ecumenical/Interfaith Service

“AWAKE” to Launch

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


The Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis has created a new, weekly worship service to build a more connected society that transforms lives and begins Tuesday, March 12, 2013 6:30-8:00 p.m. The AWAKE service has been developed primarily for younger families, couples or singles of color and the almost 20% of Americans who currently categorize their religious affiliation as “NONE.” Although these people may not worship or feel engaged at the church where they were raised, they still have a need for community connection and to be affirmed, inspired and grounded so they can reach their full potential.

“This is our faith’s conscious, deliberate and determined effort to attract and support the fast-growing religiously-unaffiliated and people of color communities,” stated John Crestwell, Lead minister of AWAKE Ministries.

AWAKE believes that all humans have a purpose; that we all must manifest our greatness in life. This weekly event will motivate people and help them gain the skills, mindset and support system they need for success in the 21st Century as mothers, fathers, singles, professionals, and as involved members of society.  The services will be spirited with music provided by a live band featuring Juan Brown, Sr. The AWAKE Singers, featuring local artist Johnelka Stafford, will sing selections from many music traditions.  Healing touch will be available for those in need. Life Coaches will be available to help attendees grow their emotional/social literacy/life skills. The preaching will be simple, practical and emotive. Attendees are encouraged to dress casually in jeans and sneakers.

AWAKE will be led by the Reverend John Crestwell who has been a minister for eight years after receiving his Masters from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.   Rev. John also has an undergraduate degree in Mass Media from Hampton University. He is committed to working to advance the place of underrepresented and marginalized communities.

About the Awake Worhsip Service

The new, AWAKE service is a weekly worship service held on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. It was created to connect people from many religious paths to a modern, spiritual community. Thoughtful and inspirational themes are presented by ministers, life coaches and friends using practical real-life situations and knowledge that affirms, elevates and empowers a person on their spiritual path.

About Awake Ministries

AWAKE is a Unitarian Universalist ministry created to share our faith’s spirit and values with those who have historically been untouched by its powerful and transforming messages of generosity and hope. AWAKE is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis and focuses on reaching out to and partnering with people of color, youth, young adults, and other under-represented, and often marginalized, members of our communities.

The ministry has many components, including:

• Mentoring programs

• Prison ministry

• Spirited weekly worship

• Life coaching

• Digital/social media

About the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis exists to create the Beloved Community by empowering and inspiring all souls to live bold and compassionate lives.  The UUCA celebrates diversity of belief and is guided by seven principles. The congregation is a place to nurture spirits and put faith into action through social justice work in local communities and the wider world.  AWAKE Ministries is possible because of the generous support of members, the UU Funding Panel and other individual donors.

AWAKE on Facebook


UUCA youtube page

UUCA Ministers blog

John on facebook


AWAKE Drive-Time Msg

GA Worship Service


Courageous Love Awards

Remember our previous post about sending out thank you cards to people living our faith out loud in the world?  The Standing on the Side of Love’s Courage Love Awards is in that very same spirit, but on steroids!  Please get your congregation involved in a way that builds love, spirit, and energy.  Cultivate gratitude and joy!

If your congregation just isn’t in a place to embark on such a venture, don’t let that stop you!  Encourage your local ecumenical or interfaith council to participate. Call a family meeting and give your own awards out on behalf of your family!  Perhaps you could bake chalice and heart cookies to send along with the award.  Or gather a group of justice-love-minded friends together and declare yourself an unofficial Council of Witness to Courageous Love. Perhaps including a Standing on the Side of Love shirt with the award. Do you get the idea?  Then share your stories of Courageous Love.

The following information is taken from the Standing on the Side of Love website.

The Courageous Love Award is for individuals or organizations that have exhibited courageous love and touched hearts. Presenting a Courageous Love Award is an opportunity to reach beyond your core social justice folks, and to engage your whole congregation or community in social justice work. It is also a chance to uplift others; strengthen and support partnerships you are already developing; and to join together with joy and with purpose those who have shared values.

When thinking about whom you might honor, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How might you start new partnerships or strengthen existing ones?
  • Is there someone you wouldn’t normally honor, who is outside your group, who might be a good recipient?
  • Is there someone who has inspired a local movement for love?
  • Is there an organization or individual who has faced oppression, discrimination, and prejudice with grace and inspired determination?
  • How might you present a Courageous Love Award in a way that will help stand on the side of love with marginalized communities?
  • How might you present a love award in a way that will reach beyond National Standing on the Side of Love Month and strengthen your whole social justice program?
  • How might you make this intergenerational and involve families and your religious education program?

Need some more inspiration? Check out our courageous love map, see how congregations have honored people in the past, and download our list of ideas for celebrating courageous love!

Click here to download a copy of the Courageous Love Award certificate.

Looking for more ways to celebrate the Thirty Days of LoveTake a look at our resources page.




Belonging to Religious Community

Rev. MacPherson at the 2011 GA banner parade with daughter Dianna and grand-daughter Erin.

I’ve been inspired by regular conversations with The Rev. David Hicks MacPherson, whose name may be familiar to you, since he is the author of numerous compelling books, including his most recent, Reclaiming Universal Salvation (2011).  The recipient of the Clarence R. Skinner Award in 1961, he has been one of our faith’s prophetic voices for more than half a century. This post is an excerpt from his insightful essay, “Belonging to Religious Community.”  In the face of accelerating sociological and technological change, the challenge of creating meaningful religious community is a pressing concern for Unitarian Universalists.  David’s words are timely, so we want to share them with you here.  The following is the first installment of this minister’s wise words.


We must reach out as missioners of our faith in Universal Salvation.  We must use whatever means are available to preach, teach, and witness for the good news.  How many people, in the communities where we know exist, even know of our presence? What happens when our youth move to another community?  Are we creating missions not only among the middle and upper classes but among the oppressed in our communities? The word and deed is the same – missions!

To become real missioners we will have to set up new programs to train both laity and ministers. These programs must include good doses of theology, language, and culture including the stories that have created our diverse cultures both here and around the globe. The actual missions must be carried out in our local congregations, on the web, and by door-to-door canvassing.  I walked across the streets, knocking on doors, and found that there is no better way to keep evolving my own personal faith than explaining our religion to others.  We need to make a practice of identifying ourselves as Unitarian Universalists as we act a work, in the community, and on issues of social justice.  All this will give us a good start on missions!

Henry Nelson Weiman once said that religion is the “Ultimate Commitment.”  Just ask yourself, what is my Ultimate Commitment, and how do I live it day by day? Then ask what the Ultimate Commitment is of those whose acts have brought us closer to the day of peace, liberty and justice for the whole human family. And what is the real commitment of those who act for greed, personal glory, and let the devil take the hindmost? They did not achieve their ends solely acting alone. They had to organize. They had to have a team.  We UUs must learn that lesson, and put it to work for the realm of heaven to come as the beginning of humanity’s great adventure.

Yes, joining a UU congregation is much more than a personal opportunity.  It is an irreplaceable necessity if our mission to transform the world is to become the accepted reality of this human adeventure.

In the ceremony for New Member Welcoming, which I have written, are these words, “Joining ourselves to and with the members of this congregation should call forth deep motives and commitment. For this group of people is the visible sign of the ideal community of love and life in which, and toward which, the whole body of humanity is ever bound. With our doubts, fears, pettiness, and laziness as well as our courage, insights, patience, and determination we are the existing proof that humanity can achieve a world growing toward peace, though it be composed of separate and often differing personalities.”

Amen. Das es ist!


In this season of light, love and miracles, may we each reconnect to our Ultimate Commitment and recommit to co-creating heaven on earth, toward peace, liberty, and justice for all. May we be reminded that we are bound to the whole body of humanity.


Guest Blogger

The Rev. David Hicks MacPherson lives in Ashland, VA and is the Minister Emeritus of The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, VA. He is a fifth-generation “Unitarian” Universalist and a first-generation Unitarian Universalist. He graduated from Tufts College and from Crane Theological School at Tufts. He helped start and build up congregations and meeting houses in Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. He received the Clarence Russell Skinner sermon award, a Universalist Biennial sermon award, as well as the Quillen Hamilton Shinn Award.

Messaging the World: The Unity Story

In Part 1 of this blog entry, I explained the tremendous power of social media to permit anyone to broadcast to large numbers of people. It is a greatly useful too, but – like any medium – the message and its targeting is essential.

While many Unitarian/Unitarian Universalist social media campaigns appear to be aimed at existing members of our movement, my primary purpose in using social media has been evangelism. (I make no apologies for that word. I believe it is my moral responsibility to make our transformative faith visible and appealing to all who might benefit. We have very good news and we are obligated to share it.)

I want to inform the world about Unitarianism and interest them in giving it a try. To do that, I have needed to think hard about who I am trying to reach and about the sort of messages and language that will catch their interest, speak to them, and inform them – not a small challenge, particularly for a medium like Twitter where messages are limited to 140 characters.

I serve a Unitarian congregation in London, England. The United Kingdom – like most of Western Europe – is a rather secular place. Only 5-10% of our population participates with any regularity in a religious community. 40% proclaim that they are not theistic. ‘Church’ and even ‘religion’ have, to a great extent, become words that causes people to turn away. Religion is understood to be irrelevant at best and a cause of division, hatred, and violence at worst.

The first step in my communication strategy has had to be to gather an audience of the sort of people I want to reach. This works somewhat differently between social media tools, but generally, the approach is to ‘follow’ or ‘friend’ the people you want to reach and hope that they then reciprocate. If they do, then you have someone listening. If they don’t, no harm done. You can always ‘unfollow’ or ‘unfriend’ them! Follow, unfollow, rinse, repeat. Do this 160,000 times and you should have 16,000 followers on Twitter, as I do. Not complicated, just a lot of work!

Who to follow? I choose people based on their interests. This is easily done by watching what people say in their posts or tweets and what they say about themselves in their profiles. I have sought out people who are passionate about social justice, interested in spirituality, and people who proclaim themselves atheists. The last category may seem a bit odd, but in fact, the proud and even angry atheists are at least interested in the subject. As Elie Wiesel wrote “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” The angry atheists may well be more interested in hearing about religion than the ones who don’t give it another thought.

The next step is to consider what to say.

The vast majority of UK residents think they know what ‘religion’ is. They are convinced it is dogmatic, boring, socially conservative, and exclusive. My goal has been to challenge that mindset in an engaging, eye-catching way – remembering that my message has to somehow stand out amid the torrent of messages that appear at every moment.

I have used messages that challenge what is expected of ‘religion.’ Not all have been effective, but together, they help to create an impression of a faith community that is very, very different from what most people expect:

  • Celebrate!: Scotland to be first part of UK to legalise gay marriage buff.ly/OohcaZ
  • Gay Marriage A ‘Dangerous Experiment’ Says Catholic Church In Scotland buff.ly/LOWAva <True. Love is always dangerous!
  • A inclusive faith community without intolerance in North London: New Unity bit.ly/KGHFz0
  • I’m so disappointed we didn’t get Unitarian condoms to give out at Pride #lgbt #WorldPride2012
  • We are proud to practice a very “queer” faith. Unitarians in North London. new-unity.org. #lgbt #WorldPride2012
  • A loving spiritual community without dogma in North London: New Unity buff.ly/LIOlgo
  • Our banner for World Pride parade this Saturday: “Unitarianism – a very queer religion” #lgbt #pride
  • A loving spiritual group without hate in North London: New Unity bit.ly/KGHFz0
  • A radically inclusive faith community without certainty in North London: New Unity buff.ly/LIOlgo
  • A radically inclusive spiritual group without conformity in North London: New Unity bit.ly/KGHFz0
  • Salvation Army Rep: Gays Should Die goo.gl/mag/rS2Tz
  • My congregation is getting hate tweets from US right-wingers. We must be on the right track! new-unity.org
  • The water we drink has more than a million molecules/L of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed… Everything is holy.buff.ly/PzoV7w
  • What you call ‘I’ is an arrangement of atoms continually exchanging with other living things. How can we think we are alone?
  • I consider a faith to be “true” to the extent that it makes us more compassionate, connected, and justice-seeking.
  • I am surprised at how many people can’t imagine religious/spiritual atheism. My congregation has lots! new-unity.org
  • Dear God, Do you exist? If so, will you please @reply me? I await your #word.
  • Dear God – Did you get my tweet? Surely an all-powerful deity can get onto Twitter, no?
  • God is not responding to my tweets. Has God blocked me? 🙁 #deargod
  • #Unitarianism – a religion unlike others. Leave judgement & homophobia outside. Bring your reason in with you! BBC:buff.ly/MrdNZJ
  • Spirituality – conformity = Unitarian. BBC: buff.ly/MrdNZJ
  • Where can atheists meditate, do yoga, pray, sing, love, discuss, support, and do social justice in N London? new-unity.org
  • I am a deeply religious nonbeliever – this is a somewhat new kind of religion. – Einstein sounds Unitarian!goo.gl/nnrDv
  • Unitarianism = #religionforatheists (and others too)ht.ly/9YPo7

Some of these may be shocking or even blasphemous. They need to be edgy in order to break through two challenging barriers: the high volume of social media messages and the widespread assumption of what ‘religion’ is and is not.

Many of these messages have been seen and repeated (retweeted) by others. Many have driven traffic to my congregation’s web site. We have been at least modestly successful at getting Unitarianism known by more people, changing minds, and even at having more newcomers show up at a Sunday service.

These messages are intended for an urban British context. Your context is almost certainly different. The key questions are the same: Who is your audience? What is your message? How can you say it so they will pay attention?



Guest Blogger: Andrew Pakula is the minister of New Unity in London, England.  He also writes for the blog Throw Yourself Like Seeds.

Messaging the World: Social Media

Social media is a new way of communicating that has turned the traditional broadcast communication paradigm on its head. Social media permits anyone to be broadcast to the public – something that in the past was a privilege limited to wealthy individuals and corporations.  Beginning with blogs and then moving to the more agile, fast-moving media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and more, social media has created all kinds of new opportunities to communicate with people all over the world – people we know and total strangers.

It has become so easy to send messages to all sorts of people that we are now nearly inundated in an ocean of messages. Some people want to tell us to buy something. Some want to tell us what they think. Many just want to tell us what they’ve seen or even what they had to eat.

As Unitarians or Unitarian Universalists, we are people who love and benefit from a faith tradition that we know can be transformative and welcoming for so many people the world over. Most of those people have not even heard of us! Most of those who have heard of us lack any realistic sense of who we are or what our movement is about.

Social media presents a new opportunity to communicate with some of these people in the larger world. Many of us have tried to take advantage of this new media and we have done so with varying degrees of success.

Because of its easy, we are easily tempted to forget some of the basic rules of communication. Primary among those are three:

  1. Know who you’re trying to communicate with.
  2. know what you are trying to tell them.
  3. Know how to get your message heard.
Who is your audience, what is your message, and how can you say it so they will pay attention?As I have watched various UU/Unitarian social media communicators, I have often seen messages that appear intended to reach existing members or friends of our congregations. They use insider language, talk about things that only we are likely to know about, and are put in the sort of language that UUs/Unitarians tend to use. If the intention of those messages is to reach non-UUs/Unitarians, those messages are poorly considered indeed. We can’t reach anyone if we don’t speak their language and address their interests and needs.There is nothing wrong with trying to communicate with other UUs/Unitarians. The intention may be to communicate about events, strengthen our shared purpose, build enthusiasm, enhance a feeling of community, etc. On Friday, I’ll talk about how my congregation and I have used social media to try to reach people who have no idea who we are!
Guest Blogger: Andrew Pakula is the minister of New Unity in London, England.  He also writes for the blog Throw Yourself Like Seeds.

Acts of Gratitude and Witness As “Congregations & Beyond”

The Pop Culture Conversation (covered in the most previous blog post, which inspired some very interesting comments) also inspired an act of gratitude and witness that I hope you will pick up and make your own.

The Pop Culture Conversation asked the questions, “Where in American popular culture is most exciting? Does Unitarian Universalism have a place there? And what could that look like?”

A handful of us continued the conversation with the questions, “Who in American popular culture is most exciting? How do they live out the ideals of Unitarian Universalism? How can we cheer them on and support them?”   The group’s collective lightbulb went on simultaneously.  I ran down to the UUA Bookstore and picked up five Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts and a package of chalice-bearing notecards.

President Peter Morales was delighted to be involved with our mission.  He wrote encouraging messages to the following people, which we folded into our care packages along with his business card and information about Unitarian Universalism.


Rachel Maddow, Host MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and author: “Thank you for standing on the side of truth, which is core to our faith tradition.”


Melissa Harris-Perry, host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry” and author: “Thank you for standing on the side of truth, which is core to our faith tradition.”


Ami Bera, Congressman for California’s 7th District and a self-identified Unitarian Universalist: “Congratulations, and thank you for your service, for standing on the side of democracy, which is core to our faith tradition.”


Ben Haggerty, hip hop artist Macklemore who debuted hip hop’s first popular song about gay rights, Same Love: “Thank you for courageously and creatively standing on the side of love, which is core to our faith tradition.”


Stephen Colbert, political satirist, writer, comedian, television host, and actor. He is the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report: “Thanks for the great publicity!”


 The Office of Growth Strategies encourages you to do the same in your part of the world. Who in your community is most exciting/courageous/loving? How do they live out the ideals of Unitarian Universalism? How can you cheer them on and support them?  Imagine the messages you could send if you printed up your own cards with a lovely chalice on the front representing your congregation and on the back of the card your congregation’s name,worship address and times, website, phone, and an email contact.   Maybe you’ll bake cookies for a sector of city workers who have been putting in overtime to ensure the safety of your town. Maybe you’ll send pizza to the next board meeting of another congregation whose justice work you admire or send their justice committee Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts. Please send us your ideas in the comments and/or stories of what you’re already doing to thank and witness to goodness in your community.
Tandi Rogers is the UUA’s Growth Strategist.  She once sent thank you notes to all the featured writers for YES magazine. Five of them wrote back to let her know they were Unitarian Universalist, too!


Pop Culture: Go There!

Headquarters staff at the Unitarian Universalist Association were gathered around the big table in the library over pizza and discussing pop culture.   The lunch topic questions were, “Where in American popular culture is most exciting? Does Unitarian Universalism have a place there? And what could that look like?”

People mentioned various environmental causes.  There was a lot of energy around the TED Talks. Electoral issues. Voter registration. Public school reform.  School boards. While these were good ideas, I wondered if the folks gathered (some of our best minds) were too nerd-leaning to really know base, pop culture. I was thinking more along the lines of getting Jason Shelton to try out for American Idol.

Interestingly Stephen Colbert had just mentioned the us on his show earlier in the week.  There we were in the middle of pop culture, and it wasn’t our intentional effort.  The Simpsons and Garrison Keillor regularly mention us. And not always in favorable light, rather in sarcasm caricature. Search either of their names and “Unitarian” and up will pop entertaining and frustrating evidence.

I had the opportunity a couple years ago to talk to one of the writers on the Simpsons team.  He’s the brother-in-law of a Unitarian Universalist minister.  I puffed up self-righteously and asked how he could in good conscience make such fun of our faith.  He chuckled and said, “I am in a position to get Unitarian Universalism into the pop culture light. That’s my job.  It’s your job to change the public’s opinion.”

So how do we do that? How can we start acting like the vibrant, transformational religious community that we are, out in the public square?  Rather than showing up unintentionally on radio and late-night shows, where could the voice of Unitarian Universalism be, shining light on justice and love?  I’m not talking about showing up and waving the banner of your congregation.  I’m talking about showing up in popular culture and important public conversation in a way that represents Unitarian Universalism.

Please tell me in the comments, “Where in American popular culture is most exciting? Does Unitarian Universalism have a place there? And what could that look like?”


Tandi Rogers is the UUA’s Growth Strategist.  She voted for Philip Phillips on American Idol and dreams of Macklemore providing the worship music at General Assembly.

Study Guide for UUWorld Article: All Souls in New London, CT

Congratulations to the  All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London, CT, for being the newest UUA Breakthrough Congregation! Each year the UUA’s Office of Growth Strategies recognizes a handful of congregations that have “broken through” barriers to achieve exemplary goals.

New London is highlighted in the fall 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 All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation.  We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders.

Questions for Discussion and Deeper Study

In the article, the people of All Souls New London were praised for inviting people into the “heart of their space.”

 Questions for Discussion:

  • What does this phrase mean to you? How does All Souls New London accomplish this?
  • In what ways does your congregation invite the community into the “heart of your space”?

The people of All Souls New London engage in “deep listening” as a way of showing respect for their minister, their leadership, and each other.  It has also helped them to manage conflict among members of the congregation.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How well does your congregation listen to the needs, wants and hopes of others in the congregation?  What will you gain by enhancing the practice of “deep listening”?
  • In your own congregations, where do you see opportunities to practice deep listening?
  • How is conflict managed in your congregation?  What “cultural shifts” need to occur in order to manage conflict better?
  • What is the relationship between deep listening and trust?  How can learning to listen deeply help equip us to resolve conflicts when they arise?

 Rev. Patierno spoke about All Souls’ decision to invite the Homeless Hospitality Center to move into their church building as the congregation prepared to move into its new space in a renovated former auto dealership.  She noted the urgency she felt, “We couldn’t take six months for elegant small groups.”

Questions for Discussion:

  • When did you last take a leap of faith into action for something you felt was the right thing to do?
  • Have there been times that your congregation has taken swift and decisive action? What called to your leaders in that time?
  • Are your congregational leaders empowered to make quick decisions to serve urgent needs?
  • What kinds of situations in congregational life require the elegance of small groups and long conversations?

In its new and accessible building, the All Souls’ Religious Education classes have big airy windows and “the layout makes the religious education program a central part of the church.”

 Questions for Discussion:

  • Draw a map of your church’s main building – what is located at its center?
  • Does the layout of your church building reflect what is central to your congregational mission or identity?
  • Does the architecture of our church buildings communicate unintended messages to families?  To elders? To children and youth?  To visitors? Try to walk into your church with fresh eyes and discern what those messages might be.

All Souls has high expectations for its members, including “pledge, participate and show up.”

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the expectations for membership in your congregation?  How are the expectations communicated?
  • How well do people adhere to the expectations for membership?  How can this be improved?

“Who are we? All Souls!  We are! All Souls!”

Questions for Discussion:

  • If your congregation ended worship with a group cheer, what would it be?
  • What would be the impact on your congregation if your ended each worship service with a rousing cheer?

This study guide was a group effort by:

  • Mark Bernstein, Regional Consultant for Growth Development with the Central Eastern Regional Group
  • Karen Bellavance-Grace, Director of Faith Formation with the Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay Districts


What Is Congregations & Beyond?

The following is a response to a common question we get in the Growth Strategies Office.  It is written by Intern Stefani Rupert who is working on an Asset Map of Congregations & Beyond.  If your congregations makes an impact beyond your membership, we want to hear from you.  Please send your story to growthresources@uua.org.


Some of you might be asking “What is this Congregations and Beyond stuff?”

  • Is it all the stuff that congregation do in service of the larger community?
  • Is it all the practices and community gathering outside of traditional, physical congregations?”

Congregations and Beyond, I believe, comprises all that. This is because the initiative is a broad one, a visionary one, and a spiritual one.  It digs at the very nature of our hearts and our love, and it asks us to think about how we want to and how we can best live spiritually in the contemporary world.  Congregations and Beyond asks of us: “How do we conceive of ourselves as Unitarian Universalists?  What is the core of our spirituality, and what are our aims, relative to our position in the wider, evolving world?  How do we want to practice our faith?”

Congregations and Beyond encourages UUs to continue to find delight and solidarity in their congregations, and to guide Seekers to congregations insofar as that may benefit them.  Congregations will forever be central to Unitarian Universalist spirituality, as these are places of community and joy and covenant.   But in today’s evolving world– in a world full of new possibilities for service and travel and diversity and connectivity and conversation– UUs may find different ways to practice and to connect.  Some of these UUs may not regularly attend church, and some may go every weekend.   That does not matter: each of them is being invited to think deeply about her practice, how much she might live inside congregational walls alone, and how much she may wish to expand her spirituality to different realms.

The point of Congregations and Beyond is to recognize the vast depth and potential thrumming beyond congregational walls.  We UUs may reach into that world however we desire.  Certainly some of us may be(come) home church or small group ministry practitioners, but others of us may remain in our home congregations.  Regardless, all of us may decide to reach out to the wider community in new and bold ways.

Congregations and Beyond of course acknowledges that this kind of service already occurs in virtually every congregation.  What this initiative aims for in these cases is solely to highlight the importance of these efforts, to demonstrate that UUs are already significantly engaged beyond congregations, and to encourage even more radical engagement outside of congregational walls.   One congregation might always provide day care for local youth, but what if it decided to host spirituality discussions at the public library?  To open new doors as a community center?  To network among immigration justice advocates on Twitter?  Or to publicize podcasts to the broader community?

The Congregations and Beyond initiative is, when it comes down to it, the simple endeavor to explore UU spirituality beyond congregational walls, however that might be appropriate to each individual’s life, spirit, and mission.   This may be through new forms of UU connectivity.  It may also be through new forms of connecting with the wider world.  Or it may even more likely be (based on the bold aspirations and life and love of Unitarian Universalists the world over) a synergistic endeavor to engage and to live faithfully both.


Guest Blogger ___________________________________________

Stefani Ruper is a UUA Intern working on a Congregations & Beyond Asset Map. If your congregations makes an impact beyond your membership, we want to hear from you.  Please send your story to growthresources@uua.org.