Equual Access: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Interfaith flyerOctober is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  Today, 70% of people with disabilities are not employed, even though polls show that most of them would prefer to work. Incredibly, this is about the same percentage of unemployed persons since the early 1980′s when I began my work in the field of disabilities.

The Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, of which the UUA is a member, in collaboration with the American Association of People with Disabilities, has published a document on ways that congregations can help to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  Click on the picture in the upper left corner to be directed to that helpful article.

Unemployment is an affront to one’s dignity, self-worth and ability to achieve a satisfactory quality of life.  We have to do better for people with disabilities whose dreams of gainful employment are still just that.  Thanks for your help.



mark bernsteinMark Bernstein is the UUA staff liaison to Equual Access and a Congregational Life Staff with the Central East Regional Group

Parting Wisdom from Don Skinner of InterConnections

InterConnections pictIn 17 years of working with InterConnections, which published its last issue in August, I’ve learned a few things about congregations by talking to the people in them.


At the top of the list is how we welcome people. Welcoming may be the most powerful thing we do. It’s so powerful that nearly every person I talk with who has been a “come inner” to Unitarian Universalism can actually name the person who welcomed them when they stepped into their first UU building. I know I can. Thank you, Harry Burkholder, for being there that Sunday in Costa Mesa, California.


I’ve learned from all of you that welcoming works better if it’s not delegated to a few people, but if everyone does it. Welcoming is also made easier if we remember that visitors––I like the term “guests”––are a friendly lot. They’ve pretty much all been to our websites before they visit. They know what they’re getting into. They’re ready to like us. They’re just wanting to find out how welcoming this particular congregation is. They’re looking and listening for the hum and the buzz of the place, and watching how their children are made welcome. (And if the bathrooms are clean that’s a bonus!)


One of the themes of InterConnections has been the power of one person to change a congregation. For good or ill. One person can plant an idea and then gather support for it. One person can encourage someone else.


One person in a congregation can also kill an idea or discourage someone else. We need to listen to cranky people, and to love them, but we need not be intimidated by them or let them tear down what the rest of us have built. We need to have enough respect for the rest of the congregation to stand up to individuals who would create conflict.


Congregations have changed since InterConnections started in 1998. They’ve taken up small group ministry in a big way. Many give away Sunday collections, spreading their values throughout their larger communities. They’ve learned to do Joys and Sorrows and Water Communion better.


When InterConnections began there were fewer ways for congregational leaders to get information and talk with each other. Now there are email lists, blogs, Facebook laboratories, webinars, and other tools. We hope you will also continue to dig into the InterConnections archive. You’ll find both inspirational and how-to stories about all aspects of congregational life. You truly don’t have to reinvent the wheel. That InterConnections archive is available on UUA.org.


If I could recommend one book of all the books that InterConnections has mentioned over the years it would be this one––Articulating Your UU Faith, by the Rev. Barbara Wells and the Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove. That’s because I believe that one reason we aren’t growing is that many of us still aren’t comfortable explaining our faith. If we were, we’d talk it up more with neighbors, coworkers, and others, and then invite them to church. It matters that we share this faith so that it can change other peoples’ lives as it has changed ours.



Don-Skinner_400x400Don Skinner has faithfully produced InterConnections for 17th years!  (Let that sink in. 17 years.) Tandi considers him the first Innovation & Network Specialist. You can still read previous articles in our Archives or search InterConnections by topic or keyword.

May Be Even Better Than “Minister of Abundance & Possibilities”

Superwoman lunchboxIf you saw Scott Tayler’s announcement yesterday for my new job, you will understand why I am giddy like a schoolgirl on the first day of school. I even considered getting a new lunch box just to celebrate the transition. I thought “Growth Strategist” was a pretty awesome title, but “Innovation & Network Specialist”? Come on! It’s sparky and spicy.  I think it may be even better than “Minister of Abundance & Possibilities,” which I’ve been lobbying for for years.


And have you noticed the new mission of Congregational Life: “Serving Interconnection, Innovation, and Impact”?   I find it irresistible. I think it captures how we’re in a time where surrendering to the greater co-conspiracy of creativity and new models of church is essential to faithful work. As I think about how my new job will support this mission, here are some of the things I’m most excited about:




I have been so happy with the evolution of Innovative Learning Circles. For those of you who have not participated in one, they are on-line learning communities of leaders exploring adaptive challenges in a covenanted format that provides safe space to bring one’s whole self – the questions, doubts, vulnerabilities, passion and innovative ideas. I took the feedback from participants seriously and kept massaging the process and trying new things. It’s now ready to hand off to new facilitators (Congregational Life and Headquarters staff.) I will move into a coaching role to support the spin off of multiple learning circles.


I will also devote new attention to connecting leaders through digital media, looking at redundant and duplicated systems, and how we can best coordinate and compliment what is working. This will include social media, web presence and on-line learning. For much of this work I will be joined at the hip to Carey McDonald, Outreach Director and Sarah Millspaugh, Faith Outreach Strategist. They are very focused on UUA-wide web-presence branding and alignment, and it just makes sense to join forces!




Innovative and new models of doing church is another area of my work that has my heart. I will support our regional multisite support staff team, as well as be on a Congregational Life and Outreach collaborative team effort to develop more comprehensive and robust support services for our emerging congregations and emerging “beyond” communities. I have been so impressed with the open imaginations, commitment, and passion of Congregational Life staff to create cultures and capacities of permission-giving and experimentation and authentic hospitality and dare I say, evangelism. The possibilities are endless and this team knows it and is ready to grow it. Holy “Yes!” is swirling all around!




I will still be conducting data gathering and research projects for our UUA departments, as well as the UUA Board in their discernment to create policies and pathways easier for the next generation of Unitarian Universalist leaders. I am increasing my attention to data gathering and research for your Congregational Life staff team. Scott and the Congregational Life staff are committed to impact assessment. Does the data check our assumptions so we can plan better and do better? Are we doing what we intend to do, making the impact we intend to make?


What a time to be doing this ministry! What are you willing to surrender in order to embrace innovation and experimentation? How can we refresh our embodiment of congregational polity? How are you living out congregational interconnection in a radical and creative way? I am incredibly thankful to join hands with all of you as we leap into these important questions and new possibilities!




Tandi close up brick wallRev. Tandi Rogers has been playing J. Cole’s’ song Coming Home loudly as she color-codes (virtual) file folders for her new job. She feels great coming home to the staff team in which she started at such an ground-breaking time in our institutional ministry.

New Position Supports Innovation and Collaboration

Tandi close up brick wallI am pleased to welcome Rev. Tandi Rogers to the Congregational Life staff. Her new role will be Innovation & Network Specialist. This comes in the midst of reorganization at our UUA to enhance our support for growth, outreach and innovation. Rev. Terasa Cooley, our UUA’s Program & Strategy Officer, will soon share more details about the changes we are pursuing in a follow-up blog post. Today, I want to focus on Tandi’s new role.


Previously, Tandi served as our UUA’s Growth Strategies Specialist, partnering with Rev. Stefan Jonasson, Director of Growth Strategies and Large Congregations, to make up our UUA Growth Office. Together, they have given our congregations and our UUA many gifts. As researchers, they have helped us understand and adapt to current and coming trends. They’ve brought a new rigor to assessing the impact of our services. And most importantly, they’ve inspired and equipped us to be more bold in pursuing new models of doing church.


Although we face tightened budgets and the retirement of Stefan Jonasson, we are committed to continuing this emphasis on research, rigorous assessment and innovation. To accomplish this, we are pursuing a networked approach to our growth services. Instead of continuing a Growth Office with a new director, growth strategies and support systems will now be developed and implemented through cross-departmental teams. Tandi’s work will focus on these systems of heightened collaboration. In particular, she will help us:

  • develop deeper partnerships between field staff and headquarters departments,
  • ensure an expanded and more integrated approach to supporting “Congregations and Beyond” efforts,
  • assess programming to make sure we are helping congregations adapt to 21st century challenges, and
  • offer research support throughout our entire system.

More simply put–and as her title suggests–we are asking her to help all of us stay connected and focused on innovation.


All those familiar with her work know that Tandi is the perfect person for this job. She has a passion for teamwork and a wonderfully creative mind. The entire Congregational Life staff and I are thrilled to have her as our partner. And we look forward to all the ways she will help us partner with you.



Scott Tayler close upReverend Scott Tayler, Director of Congregational Life, our UUA.

Congregational Life Mission:  Serving Interconnection, Innovation & Impact


behave yourselfI hear these laments all the time.

“We can’t get young adults to join our congregation.”

“We have a congregational covenant, but there still seems to be a lot of conflict around here.”

“I can’t get anyone to serve on the Board of Trustees.”

“Our fund drive came up short again. No one wants to talk about money.”

These are some of the realities of congregational life. In their struggle to deal with them, leaders often ask the question, “How can I get people to change their behavior?” The answer, many of us think, comes down to more information and changing attitudes. We reason that if we can just give people the right information; if we can get them to think differently, then they’ll come and visit, they’ll readily volunteer, they’ll get along, they’ll contribute generously.

Well, social scientist Jeni Cross, sociology professor at Colorado State University, tells us that this reasoning is incorrect. She debunks two of the myths of behavior change, that education changes people’s behavior and that in order to change behavior, you have to change people’s attitudes. Instead, Cross contends, the most effective way to change behavior is to change behavioral expectations or to reinforce existing social norms. To put it simply, people are more likely to change their behavior if they see others doing it.

So, for example, if you want people to be more ecologically responsive, you won’t get them to do it by appealing to the need to save the planet. They’ll be more likely to respond if you display an ad showing George Clooney or Katy Perry tossing a plastic water bottle in a recycling can. If people are going to toss a dollar bill into the guitar case of a street musician, they are more likely to do so if they see other people doing it. We are more likely to change our behavior if we see that it is part of the social norms in the context of that situation.

In our efforts, then, as leaders in our congregations, it is not enough to just provide information. It is not enough to inspire and challenge and motivate potential and current members so as to change their attitudes towards the congregation and Unitarian Universalism in general. We need to do more. We need to change the expectations of their behavior. We need to create new social norms.We need to change the culture so that people respond because they see everyone else doing it.

So how do we do that? Hey, I’m not saying this is easy. But here are some things you can try in response to the lamentations I listed above. What they all have in common is that they are intended to demonstrate or reinforce expected behavior rather than relying on information or inspiration to get people motivated.


Can’t get young adults to join…or even to visit?

  • Post pictures of young adults on the home page of your website engaging in various activities related to congregational life.
  • Include one or two quotes from young adults on your website talking about life as a member of your congregation.
  • Encourage young adults to serve as greeters. Nothing is more impressive to a young adult visitor than walking into the building and being greeted by a young adult.

Got conflict?

  • Make it a practice to read your covenant at every Board and committee meeting and every other event at which members congregate (of course, make sure the covenant is short enough so that you’re not taking half the meeting reading it).
  • Look for fellow members who are living out the covenant and publicly and privately thank them for doing so.
  • Publish a story in each issue of your newsletter profiling a member who embodies the tenets of the congregational covenant.

No volunteers for the Board?

  • Publish a list of all past Presidents in the history of the congregation. Let your congregation see what a distinguished list of leaders it represents.
  • Ask current and past Board members to talk about their positive experiences in service. Either publish their comments in your newsletter or ask them to do a testimonial during a worship service.
  • At least twice a year, during a worship service, ask all members of the congregation who are in volunteer positions (any position) to rise. Chances are it will be a very large majority of those in attendance. You and the members of the congregation will see that serving others is more of a social norm than you might think.

Need to fill up the coffers?

  • Ask people to give live and written testimonials on why they give and how the congregation makes a difference in their lives.
  • Publicly acknowledge people who do pledge during the fund drive, with a ribbon that they can attach to their nametag (I PLEDGED FOR (CONGREGATION)) or by putting their names on a display that is shown prominently in the lobby for all to see.
  • Throughout the fund drive, continuously make the congregation aware of how many people and what percentage of the congregation has already pledged. You want members to see that pledging is the norm. Everybody’s doing it, so why not you?
  • Consider a “Pledge Sunday” where all members of the congregation are asked to step forward and drop their pledge in a ceremonial basket as part of the worship service.

None of these strategies is a quick fix. Effecting behavior change means changing the culture, and changing the culture takes time. Our congregations are not speed boats. We are more like big ocean liners and it takes a lot more time and effort to turn an ocean liner than a speed boat. So, we need to continue informing and educating. We need to continue inspiring and challenging. But we also need to be demonstrating and encouraging and reinforcing positive behavior. And where do we begin? With you, leader. Behave…Yourself.



mark bernsteinMark Bernstein is Congregational Life Staff with the Central East Regional Group. He always behaves himself and has never been on either a speed boat or a big ocean liner.

Become an Outreach Beta-Tester

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-beta-image8735071We’re looking for a few brave Unitarian Universalist congregations for a little project – and by little, I mean potentially transformative for the future of our faith movement (not to oversell it or anything). Intrigued? Then you might want to join our team of beta-testers for the UUA’s new outreach efforts.


In the Spring issue of the UU World magazine, Rev. Terasa Cooley explained the new branding and outreach efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Recognizing the shifting landscape of religion in America, religious leaders of all kinds have realized it’s not enough to preach to the choir anymore. For the UUA, outreach started with a new look and feel, including an updated logo and some better ways of explaining what is so powerful about our faith to those who aren’t already “in the know.” A study guide has also been in the works, which will be made available to the beta-testers. These outreach efforts have uncovered some invaluable insights about our faith and its potential to reach new audiences, but much of this potential still remains in theory. It’s time to take the next step and to put that theory it into practice.


Over the next six months our beta-testers will explore how the UUA’s new outreach approaches can help congregations learn about the signals they send off, find their niche in their community, and represent an emerging shared identity of the wider faith. And the exciting part is… we don’t know exactly how this will turn out. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some pretty good guesses, but the truth is that our beta-testers will be co-creating, playing, discovering and experimenting with us to figure out how to leverage the key insights of the UUA’s outreach efforts to grow our faith and its impact in the world.


Click here to sign up to become a beta tester congregation. Beta-testers will attend a kick-off webinar at the end of the summer, receive a three-session study guide and get connected to other beta testers to form a learning circle. Congregations will learn about the UUA’s branding and outreach efforts and then identify one area of their congregation to apply those outreach strategies. Any UU congregations (or other UU groups, if you’re interested!) are welcome to join, as long as they can commit to the process.


Join us in the lab of faithful experimentation! For questions, email outreach@uua.org.



cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the new UUA Director of Outreach starting July 1, 2014. The Growth Office could not be more excited to be working with him in this new way! 

Flipped: Hybrid Leadership Training

H-UULTI GRAPHIC with new uua logo and colorsLay leadership in a UU congregation can be a lonely journey.  Often leaders have to find their own way through the maze of challenges and obstacles that confront those who are out front and in charge.  But leaders don’t have to go it alone.  Both regionally and nationally, UUA staff are developing innovative ways to get leaders the information, inspiration and skill building they need to be successful in their roles.

One such effort in the Central East Region is H-UULTI, a year round community for leaders.  A brainchild of the Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant for CERG (Central East Regional Group), this comprehensive program includes online seminars, on-demand resources, virtual peer learning groups (called Process Circles) and local on-site in-person get-togethers (known as Communities of Practice.)  This combination of virtual and in person experiential learning results in a “flipped classroom” experience where participants learn online and then share their learning in person with other Unitarian Universalist leaders.

2014-02-08 10.22.11

This fall, H-UULTI (which stands for Hybrid – Unitarian Universalist Leadership Training Institute) will offer a variety of courses facilitated by experienced regional staff.  Courses include Healthy Leadership, Leading Change, Trends in American Religion, UU Identity, Theological Plurality and Marketing and Communication, among others.  The goal of H-UULTI is to help liberal religious leaders deepen connections, grow innovations and enhance their communities’ impact on the world.  And, with H-UULTI, leaders don’t have to do this alone.

For more information about H-UULTI, and to register, follow this link: http://www.cerguua.org/HUULTI/


mark bernsteinMark Bernstein is the Regional Consultant for Growth Development with the Central East Regional Group. He never likes to go it alone and believes that the H-UULTI Leadership School will transform the world as we currently know it.  He is also not prone to exaggeration.

CERG offers many excellent growth resources. Please check them out! Thank you, Mark, for so generously serving our faith.

Perhaps the Most Important Bridging Step

SynergyIt’s the season of Bridging Ceremonies.  Bridging is the milestone launching youth in (young) adulthood.

One of the most important things we can do for our youth is to support them into adulthood, to keep them connected to Unitarian Universalism, and continue to minister to them as they become adults. Resources for Bridging from Youth to Young Adulthood can help you succeed in this ministry. There’s a Bridging: A Handbook for Congregations by Gail Forsyth-Vail and Jessica York. A Bridging Handbookway to find new young adults who have moved to your area is through Bridge Connections, which is an information Hub of who is transferring where.

I randomly called 10 congregations and asked if they offer membership to youth when they become adults either when they turn 18 or at the congregation’s Bridging Ceremony.  The 10th call affirmed that they did. The ones prior to that did not. I stopped my survey there, because of the despair.  Really?!  I think I found one of our leaks!

It’s personal for me, because I have young adults in my family. One of them is Bridging in June, both at our home congregation and at the General Assembly Synergy Worship Service.

My son’s awesome youth advisor asked me for suggestions for his Bridging gift.  He already has UU swag. He has a couple Layout 1chalices.  He has a chalice necklace.  He has plenty of books (many swiped from my library.)  Standing on the Side of Love wear is part of his wardrobe.  You know what I want him to have when he launches?  An enthusiastic invitation to full membership into our congregation.  I want a UUWorld subscription* to follow him to his next residence and the knowledge that even though he is going to be “away” for some years, his home congregations anchors him, is there for him.  I want our congregation to send him a card or care package every so often.  Or to check in periodically so an update can be posted in the congregational newsletter or pastoral care e-blast.

I want that for my child. I want that for all our newly launched adults.



*A note about UU World subscriptions.  Every household that has a UU member gets a subscription to this fine magazine, IF their name and contact information is passed on to the UUA. When someone moves from a UU household (i.e. young adults who may move away to the military, a job, school) they can receive the UU World if they are a member of a congregation and their contact information is updated.  Or that congregation can simply buy them a year’s subscription.

When I’ve explained this to congregations I sometimes get push back with how difficult it is to keep addresses updated.  Yes. Religious community, striving toward wholeness and inclusivity is mighty hard, and sometimes tedious work.  And it matters. Surely someone in your congregation will see this as the ministry it is.


Tandi Headshot GARev. Tandi Rogers wonders — what if this is the year. What if there is an unexplainable, joyful spike in membership due to us actually inviting our Bridgers into full congregational membership?


Restorative Circles

I love circles.  They are my favorite shape, with spirals coming in a close second.  I write important notes on circle-shaped paper.

I also love community. And strong, healthy community can often be found in circles.  Restoration can be found in circles.

The San Francisco Unified School District created a manual with the Center for Restorative Processes:  Teaching  Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles, which I highly recommend to you.  For two reasons:

  1. Although this manual was written for youth, consider what your congregation could be like if the adults participated in such circles. (If you really want your mind blown, imagine a new congregation planted using these circles! UU Community of Restoration…)
  2. Let it sink in that many of our youth and young adults participate in such programs at school and in other venues. They often come to our congregations equipped with mad skills that older adults didn’t have access to growing up.  But we can if we turn to our youth and young adults to teach us and lead us.  Make way for these gifts to be given and received.

The manual explains “Restorative Practices build community and can help set things right when the integrity of the community is challenged by harmful behaviors.”  Who doesn’t want that in our religious communities? Now, the manual was written for school classrooms.  It needs translation.  If you are at all interested in translating this manual (and other such resources) into an explicitly Unitarian Universalist resource, please let me know: trogers@uua.org!

Circle Guidelines

Page 16 of the manual unpacks these guidelines.

Couldn’t your religious community use some restoration? Some tools for hard conversations?  Counter-intuitively, I get excited when a hard, authentic conversation is about to be had, because if we remain open to that potential transformation, deep faith formation will happen. Please, go there.  Release that power.


Circle NoteGrowth Strategist Rev. Tandi Rogers now has Harry Chapin’s song All My Life’s a Circle playing in her head. And she doesn’t mind.




Making Unitarian Universalism Facebook-Legit

According to Susanne Skubik Intriligator, UUA’s Online Strategist, when enough people indicate an interest in a topic, Facebook generates an “interest” page for that topic and populates it with Wikipedia content. Right now, there’s a Facebook interest page called “Unitarian Universalism” that describes our religion. It’s unowned, and is liked by 23,000 people. (Linked with similar “Unitarian Universalist” page).


You can help that page be a real page, linked to a real UU religious organization.

Why does this matter to the growth?   It’s important because it gives people a link, from an unaffiliated Wikipedia-filled FB page to the actual UUA feed. It’s not instructive. It’s not about institutional control. It gives the general public more direct information about how to learn more about our movement.  And guess what?  You can add to it!

Are you ready and willing to give it a try?



Laughing Tandi for DialogRev. Tandi Rogers wants people who are seeking communities of progressive, covenantal faith to call home or to call partner to find us.  Most any means necessary.  The more creative and collaborative, the better.