Passing the Flame

Ignite the Moment by Stuart Williams

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

 

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

 

The blog’s original mission read:

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Readers craved tools, examples, and stories.

 

 

Growth and data topped the topic chart.

 

 

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

 

My top 10 favorites (in no order):

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Happy New Year!

___________________________

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

The Myth of the Perfect Match (or the importance of being disappointed)

 

match logoIn the summer of 2011, I did something I said I would never do — I joined Match.com.

 

A lot of guys knew exactly what they wanted: A woman just as comfortable climbing Mt. Everest as she is at an Inaugural Ball. Someone who is not religious, but has the Buddha’s equanimity and Jesus’ capacity for love. Someone who can travel to Europe with no checked bag and no emotional baggage. I was tempted to post that I have all of my own teeth.

 

Match.com reminds me a little of the ministerial settlement process or the search for a home congregation. There is talk of chemistry and the right match as if the right match means it will all be smooth sailing.

 

Fortunately, in that summer of Match.com, I had completed nine years of ministry with our congregation in Ventura, California and they had taught me a bit about love and what it takes to make a relationship work.

 

What sustains a ministry or a marriage or a friendship or a membership in a congregation are things like respect, patience, forbearance, generosity, flexibility, forgiveness, a sense of humor, and, when all else fails, sheer will power.

 

Decades ago, a loving friend listened to my harangue about the incredible stupidity of the general public and then turned to me and said, “Don’t you just hate it when the world doesn’t live up to your expectations?” Well yes, I do. And I also hate how I put my unrealistic expectations on the world and some of the people I love the most, including myself.

 

It puts me in mind of the guy rescued after decades of living alone on an island. The rescuer asked him about the three buildings on the island. “That one on the left is my church and the one on the right is my house.” “But what about the one in the middle?” the rescuer asked. “Oh,” the man said, “that’s the church I used to go to.”

 

When the going gets tough, when we are disappointed, when we are not feeling the love is exactly when the true test of any kind of relationship emerges and when we have the opportunity to deepen our connections if we will take it. When we are disappointed, we have a chance to look at our own expectations and our deepest longings. When others are disappointed in us, we have the chance to lean into their pain and learn new ways of going forward.

 

I think of this as so many ministers and congregations are beginning new relationships this fall or simply beginning a new year together. As we prepare for a great church year, may we resolve to love ourselves and one another through the disappointments. Let us resolve to begin again in love and repeat as necessary. This is the way of transformation. It will not be smooth sailing, but we have places we need to go that we cannot go alone.

 

______________________________

JanRev. Jan Christian serves as Congregational Life Staff in the Pacific Western Region, and lives on the central coast of California with a guy she met on Match.com in the summer of 2011.

Faithify Reaches $500,000!

This week, FAITHIFY, the Unitarian Universalist crowdfunding site, passed the $500,000 pledged mark. In plain speak that means that over 5,000 people pledged their gifts of over half a million dollars to campaigns created by everyday UUs. Each of our funders demonstrated their love for Unitarian Universalism in one of its myriad manifestations on faithify.org.

They love the soulful music or worship of their local congregation.

They love the gift that Unitarian Universalism is to the life of a young person they know.

They love the hands and hearts determined to shape our world into a place with more love and less hate.

This is #FAITHIFYLove.

 

faithifylove1Each of the over 130 campaigns that have run on FAITHIFY represents a labor of love. To start a crowdfunding campaign you need to articulate your unique response to the question: How am I called to live our faith? You need to risk sharing your vision for faithful living with the wider movement and invite others to support you on that journey.

This is #FAITHIFYLove.

 

#FAITHIFYLove inspires UUs to act on their dreams!

#FAITHIFYLove unites strangers in our movement together!

#FAITHIFYLove invests in our faith at the grassroots!

 

What is the power of #FAITHIFYLove?

  • faithifylove2#FAITHIFYLove is 83 funders making it possible for 15,000 people to register to vote in North Carolina.
  • #FAITHIFYLove turned $710 into over a 100 #BlackLivesMatter lawn signs to be prophetically displayed outsides homes in Hartford, Connecticut.
  • #FAITHIFYLove is the 31 campaigns that did not meet their goals, but kept on going.
  • #FAITHIFYLove is 159 people responding to a call for solidarity from our indigenous partners from Lummi Nation and funding an anti-extraction Totem Pole Journey.
  • #FAITHIFYLove is an individual Unitarian Universalist hearing of a congregation suffering and coming to their aid, the only connection between them our shared faith.
  • #FAITHIFYLove is the power of what happens when we come together, risk together, pool our money and talents together. It is the power of saying “Yes!” to our dreams. It is the power of a movement that has our back.

 

To celebrate this milestone FAITHIFY is launching the #FAITHIFYLove contest. We want you to share on social media stories and pictures that showcase what #FAITHIFYLove truly is. Enter and you could win a $50 FAITHIFY gift card.

 

Spread the #FAITHIFYLove

 

neil-barron_sean


Sean Neil-Barron is the project manager of FAITHIFY, who loves the crowd so much he is contemplating spending an entire day crowdsourcing his every movement.

 

Growing in Spirit

One of the most exciting areas of growth I’ve seen in our tradition has been in spirituality. When I first became involved with Unitarian Universalism in the mid-90s, spirituality was a somewhat unfamiliar concept to many of the people in our congregations. But toward the end of the twentieth century, more and more resources became available to help familiarize UUs with the idea spiritual growth.

One book in particular was enormously influential for me and many others: Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life, edited by Scott W. Alexander and published by Skinner House Books. It’s still in print today and is available online at inSpirit: the UU book and gift shop.

In its pages, you’ll find a wide variety of approaches to spirituality, which is only fitting given our tradition’s long appreciation of the many spiritual paths offered by the world’s religions. What really interests me, though, is that a number of the essays in the book were written by UU ministers who are also trained spiritual directors.

Two of those authors, Erik Walker Wikstrom and Christine Robinson, have gone on to create a number of resources that have helped move personal and communal spiritual growth into the forefront of our movement.

One of my favorite resources from Rev. Wikstrom is Spirit in Practice, a ten-session Tapestry of Faith Program for adults which “was created to help Unitarian Universalists develop regular disciplines, or practices, of the spirit—practices that help them connect with the sacred ground of their being, however they understand it.” And as with most Tapestry of Faith resources, it’s available free and online!

Rev. Robinson and her co-author Alicia Hawkins have “reimagined…small group ministry” by developing a small group format which “offers readings, journaling suggestions, and thought-provoking exercises to help participants prepare for the spiritual practice of sharing in community.”

There are three books in this Deeper Connection Series, each with fourteen gatherings: Heart to Heart, Soul to Soul, and Listening Hearts. All three are available from inSpirit.

Back in the nineties, it was sometimes difficult to explain to people who had never explored their spirituality just what that might entail. Now with resources like Spirit in Practice and the Deeper Connection Series, our congregations can be places were everyone—newcomer and longtime members alike—can experience spiritual growth together.

 

Phil Lund


Religious educator, minister, spiritual director, and wannabe geek dad, Phillip Lund is a congregational life consultant with the MidAmerica Region of the UUA and co-creator of the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

bar

 

“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.

__________________________

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!

 

_________________________________

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.

 

 

 

Traditions: For Now, For Ever, and For Never

rainbow treeI remember the Christmases of my childhood. I remember the tree that my mom always thought was too big, and my dad thought could be a little bit taller. I remember the ginormous colored lights, the clumps of tinsel, the handmade ornaments, and the special glass ones that my mom hung at the top of the tree, far out of my reach. It was a special and magical time of year, but my memories mostly include stories of Frosty, Rudolph and Santa. It was more a celebration of Santa and gifts than anything resembling my family’s faith.

 

This time of year is laden with traditions we must navigate in our homes, families, and congregations. Some of these predate us; others may be newly formed. There are traditions we look forward to which bring us joy, some we practice because “this is the way we’ve always done it,” and some we have such mixed feelings about they set our teeth on edge. We have accumulated traditions over some many years. Ending or changing them can be hard and complicated, especially in community.

 

As a parent, I have held the tension between the over commercialized focus of the season in our culture, and the desire to honor the spiritual and religious aspects of this time. When my kids were small, I felt a strong desire to make this season more for them than the commercialized version I had been brought up with. I had to think hard about the traditions I had been a part of, and the new ones we would establish. I wondered how we could bring more Unitarian Universalism into our traditions.

 

We started with the tree. I told the story of how Christmas trees came to be in our country, and the story of Rev. Charles Follen . We spent time creating ornaments reflecting the 7 principles. We wanted to be able to look at our tree and be reminded of our faith. Using language from the Spirit Play curriculum, each ornament represents:

Kim ornaments

  • Red gift: Respect all
  • Orange heart: Offer love
  • Yellow flame: Yearn to learn about ourselves, each other, and the mystery
  • Green fir tree: Grow in our understanding of what is right and true
  • Blue bell: Believe in our ideas and act on them
  • Indigo dove: Insist on liberty, justice and freedom for all
  • Violet world: Value the earth, our home which we share with so many others

 

We’ve made and shared about 100 sets of these ornaments over the years. I like to imagine families hanging each one and reflecting on their faith as they prepare for the season. I like knowing that this tradition of my childhood has been adapted to feel like an expression of my faith.

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we draw on our many sources, including Christian, Jewish, and earth-centered teachings. Many congregations will honor these teachings in some way this month by celebrating Christmas, lighting the menorah, holding a Winter Solstice service, and more. Of course, our families will have their own time-honored traditions to share as well.

 

Our congregations are helping families to establish traditions and bring their faith into their homes. At First Unitarian Church in Worcester, MA, families are provided with t able tent conversation starters for each day of Advent to encourage dialogue and reflection.

 

Click here for a PDF template of table tents you can print and use for Advent.

table tents

Ralph Roberts created a page a day Advent calendar “offered in the spirit of holding up and delighting in the ways that our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors had a foundational role in many of the winter holidays and the innumerable ways they’re celebrated by people everywhere.”

 

advent boxesIn my own home, our Advent calendar is filled with words from a magnetic poetry kit. On the first day, my teenagers opened the door expecting to find chocolate, but instead were greeted by the word: LOVE. Despite the initial reaction of “Our mom is so weird,” they have been excited each day to see what the word is, take a picture of something that reminds them of that word throughout their day, and then share it and reflect upon it together at the end of the day. (It’s hard being the kid of any religious professional.)

 

These are traditions that work for my family right now.  I invite you to think about the ways in which Unitarian Universalism could play a role in the celebration of your own traditions of celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Solstice.

 

It’s taken some time, but I know that I am getting better at practicing what I preach. When traditions no longer meet your needs the way they once did, it’s okay to say thank you, acknowledge that they were indeed meaningful and important, then move forward and make new ones. This is as true in our homes as it is in our programs and congregations.

 

As you make your way through this season, I hope you are able to find comfort in traditions new or old, and experience the love and grace of Unitarian Universalism.

__________________________

ksKim Sweeney has ruined Thanksgiving by not cooking a turkey, saved Christmas with a $6 magnetic poetry set. And turned the month of March into it’s own holiday (Magical Mail Month).  When she is not busy annoying her teenage daughters, she is serving the New England Region of our UUA as their Faith Formation lead.

Emerging Ministries: 4 critical formation areas for Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoOne piece of my job is working with new Unitarian Universalist emerging ministries. There are many ways of becoming a Unitarian Universalist group, including becoming one of the newly formed Covenanting Communities. See

 

It is an honor and a privilege to work with these folks. Prior to my coming on the the Southern Region’s congregational Life staff, I was a creating a new congregation in upstate New York.

 

As with any ministry, there is so much work at hand. It is my job to help emerging ministries to focus. I have four areas that are critical in their formation.

 

 

The first is spiritual depth. Because there is so much work facing these folks, their own spiritual life will diminish unless they are intentional about tending to it. This involves self-care. I encourage all them to be diligent about their own daily spiritual practices, and pay attention to balancing family and friends, their work, and their congregational commitment. But beyond self-care is going deeper into the Unitarian Universalist faith. If they are going to create a Unitarian Universalist, covenantal faith community, they must know what that means in a deep way. As leaders, they must grow in depth in order for the community to grow in size. They, therefore, must live with each other in a covenantal way.

 

The second is Unitarian Universalism. In order to be able to grow this wonderful faith, we must understand our theology and heritage. We have values that have stood the test of time. We must know what those are and how others have sacrificed for them in order of us to have the privileges that we enjoy. We have a life saving and giving faith. We must be able to understand that relationships and how we behave (covenant) affects how we interact with the world. Our world is hurting and broken. We must know ourselves so that we can be in relationship with others who are different from us in order to search for wholeness.

 

The third is purpose. It is critical for new groups to have a sense of coming together for something larger than themselves. It is so easy to create the “church for me.” So many people get seduced into thinking that this is their opportunity to create the congregation that they have always wanted with the kind of worship that they like, etc. This is the thinking that will kill it. There must be a sense of creating a space for those that we have not thought about yet. I like to think that when the martians find us they will say, it’s those UUs that have it going on! But we must be creating something special for others, not ourselves. Having a purpose beyond themselves must stay central. I ask things like how are you changing the world? And I expect real answers.

 

And, lastly, generosity. While each of the others leads nicely into the next one, generosity needs to be the lens through which they view everything else. Questions I might ask are: How are you being generous with yourselves? How are you being generous with Unitarian Universalism? How are you being generous with your local community, and how is that helping to define your purpose? Many well established congregations ask me how they can become generous. That is much harder to do later, but at the beginning you can tend to generosity and feed it. If you become a generous people from the beginning, it becomes part of your culture and your values.

 

These are the things that I hope to get into a groups’ DNA as they are forming. If they can get these four things right, what could be more joyous? Really, in one form or another, isn’t this what we want for all of our congregations? How are you doing in these four areas? Let me know. Please add your news in the comment section.

 

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Kathy this oneKathy McGowan, Congregational Life Staff, is one of seven field staff on the Southern Region team. She lives in the triangle area of North Carolina with her son and two cats. She has been a Unitarian Universalist since the mid-eighties and has a deep love of this faith tradition. In addition to her work with new and emerging congregations, she focuses on intercultural sensitivity and is the primary contact for the congregations in Virginia and North Carolina in the Southern Region of the UUA. She is excited to be coaching groups on how to live out their Unitarian Universalist faith in a deep and covenantal way. KMcGowan@uua.org

What if membership was a spectrum?

Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President
Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we have a traditionally operated under a model of church that doesn’t acknowledge the changing social norms about religion. Historically, we’ve only kept track of one aspect of involvement in church life, “membership”, which typically means signing a congregation’s membership book and making an annual pledge. But in reality, people interact with faith communities in dozens of different ways beyond the traditional notion of membership, often deepening and stepping back over the course of their lives. If we truly believe that everyone in our faith movement matters, whether they are official members or not, it is clear we need to re-conceive what it means to be connected to Unitarian Universalism.

We created a spectrum to help congregations see that there are distinct levels of belonging to our faith communities. Together, as leaders in the UU Association of Membership Professionals and as UUA staff working on outreach, we offered a workshop at 2015 General Assembly about how to engage the whole spectrum.

 

Curious Individual

These are the people who know us and are in sync with our values, but not involved in our programs or ministries. Some examples would include those who participate in community activities related to a UU group, follow UUs on social media, share UU content, read UU books, see and/or support UU social justice actions.

Welcomed Visitor

Those who are involved with UU programs or ministries at a basic or fluid level, and may or may not identify as UU, are at this stage. They may attend events hosted by UU congregations, go to Sunday services occasionally or participate in UU community-oriented ministries and programs (e.g. day care, lecture series). Sometimes they have a friend or family member who serves as a tie to the congregation.

Succeeding in the first two stages (outreach)
  • Pay attention to how you show up virtually (website, social media, Yelp/Google/search functions, news media), so you look as beautiful from the outside as you do from the inside.
  • Create multiple entry points that don’t revolve around Sunday morning (get creative! Get passionate!) AND pay attention to visitor experience at all of these entry points.
  • One transition between welcomed visitor and connected friend is the traditional “pathway to membership,” but support is needed for all transitions.
Connected Friend

After attending services several times, those who attend a one time or low commitment activity outside of services have become a connected individual. This gives them better opportunities to meet people and start building relationships. Having several easy opportunities, like a Circle Dinner, one time small group, helping set up at an event or serving coffee give new folks a way to meet others without making a big commitment.

Engaged Individual

When a person gets involved in a regular activity, such as an affinity group, small group ministry, religious education teacher or serving on a committee, they have engaged with the community. All of these programs require ownership in one way or another, an expectations of regular participation and, in many cases, opportunities to share spiritual journeys with each other.

Integrated Leader

At the final stage in the spectrum, individuals emerge as leaders. We have found that as someone steps into the role of a leader they are more than simply engaged with a community, but they are also integrated. And by being integrated they are changing the community. They put their own personal twist on the programs they lead and that is a deeper level in involvement then just showing up, even on a regular basis. You become an integrated leader when you are willing to put your efforts into making the community better. Some examples would be a committee chair, small group leader or religious professional.

Succeeding along the spectrum (welcoming and membership development)
  • Make sure facilitators and leaders of groups know how to welcome newcomers at each stage as people enter the spectrum at different points.
  • Have training in place for leaders to ensure they have healthy boundaries and motives consistent with the mission of your congregation.
  • Have a tracking system in place to know where people fall on the spectrum. This will be an invaluable resource for recruiting for programs and volunteer opportunities, discovering emerging leaders, as well as those who need assistance in connecting.
  • We need to understand that there will be people who move both directions on the spectrum, and even leave our path. We want to support them in their journey and leave room for them to comfortably return should their path bring them back.

 

Looking at these stages calls us to pay attention to how we help people move from one stage to another. Again, most of us will move up and down the spectrum over time, but transitions between stages will always be important for religious leaders to support (the transition of “bridging” from youth to young adulthood is a great example). We hope this model will inspire UUs to think differently about their faith, from outreach to curious individuals all the way to spiritual enrichment for our integrated leaders. It can even include non-congregational groups, conferences or ministries. Embrace the full spectrum!

Additional Resources

Notes from 2015 General Assembly Workshop

Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals

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Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President