Military Ministry: Serving Wholeness in Congregations and Beyond

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Who’s Got the Power?

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here are five types of power found in organizations:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Theme Based Ministry

theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-Site Ministries: Community Dinners

I love to cook. For me, it’s an art form, a means of sharing my caring with others, and a meaningful spiritual discipline. My idea of a perfect vacation is traveling the BBQ competition circuit and my all-time favorite book is Supper of the Lamb by Episcopal priest and theological chef, Robert Farrar Capon. So when I read the story about Community Dinners in Seattle, my inner ‘Julia Child’ cheered.

Community DinnersCommunity Dinners is a church in five locations that has not only moved out of its four walls but completely reinvented what it means to do and be ‘church’.

Seven years ago, the Westminister Community Church, like other urban congregations, faced declining attendance and wasn’t sure about its continued survival. They reacted by digging back into their roots and asking themselves: “What would Jesus be doing with his time if he actually lived on the corner of 145th & Greenwood?” (the location of the old church.). They came to the conclusion that they, like Jesus, should be investing their time to help lift the lives of people in their surrounding community in a more meaningful way.

They wondered what might happen if they went back to a first century model and provided a welcoming, open, and free dinner table with warm food, friendship, laughter and inspiring conversation “to encourage the heart of our neighbors.”

What happened is that one dinner gathering each week in one location has now become 5 dinner gatherings each week in five different neighborhoods in the city. Attendance is growing from around 200 on a Sunday morning at the old church to nearly 1000 each week at the different dinner gatherings combined. Their goal is to host 27 different gatherings each week, one in each of Seattle’s 27 neighborhoods. The old church building is now rented to a school.

A typical dinner begins with a reading and a prayer followed by conversation during dinner and more conversation with those who stay afterwards. Local musicians often provide instrumental music during dinner and different visual artists provide color.

Continuing to ask “What would Jesus be doing with his time,” they have added a housing construction component to the food, music and art. They are now engaged in a project to build affordable housing units throughout Seattle.

Community Dinners’ website says: “We are on a mission to bring lift to Seattle neighborhoods by gathering around weekly dinner tables, talking about inspiring topics, building low-income housing, and helping people back to a meaningful and sustainable life.”

Their website also notes: “Community Dinners has changed us. We left our comfortable building and….as our neighbors have become our friends, we have found that many people in our community are struggling to find housing and employment. Our commitment is to transform the most broken pockets of our community through dinner gatherings, housing and job creation solutions.”

Community Dinners asked “What would Jesus be doing with his time” and found an answer. Is it too much for us to ask “What are we Unitarian Universalists doing with ours?”  “What would Love do?”

 

You may also be interested in this May 2013 article about this special congregation.

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joansmallRev. Joan Van Becelaere faithfully serves our Association as the Central East Region Staff Lead

Your Website is Your Front Door

When I was a minister in a vibrant, busy congregation there was always something more caring and time-sensitive to do than sit down and write for the congregation’s website. Because the website had no clear deadline (like sermons and newsletters and pastoral care) it stayed at the bottom of my to-do list for years.

 

What I didn’t realize then, and what I know now, is that our websites must be high priority. And it’s not enough to simply keep them functional and up to date. They are where we tell the world who we are, what we do, and why it matters.

 

People’s experience of our websites form indelible first impressions. In the minds of online visitors:

  • If our websites are wordy and sparse on people, we are wordy and sparse on people.
  • If it’s hard to find what you need on our websites, it’s hard to find what you need from us.
  • If our websites are full of insider language and graduate-level language, we are too.

It can take a lot to undo those first impressions.

 

Instead, let’s show how our congregations are welcoming, warm, and accessible. Let’s show that by looking at our site with “outreach glasses” – using the lenses of the people we want to reach. Wearing those glasses involves thinking about what the people are looking for when they come to our sites. Each comes for a reason, whether they’re seeking emotional information or technical information.

 

Here are some congregations that are doing a great job answering the kinds of questions that website visitors bring:

 

Who are Unitarian Universalists? What do they stand for?

 

Sacred Path: A Unitarian Universalist Church, a small congregation in Indianapolis has a very engaging, highly visual way of answering these questions. Explore their About section to see what I mean.

 

First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY, a large congregation, has a wonderful explanation of Unitarian Universalist beliefs and values, with their original words and theology. It’s a story a visitor wants to be part of.

 

What are the people like? Could they be my people?

 

Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, a small congregation in Pittsburgh, shows their personality and values throughout the site, presenting themselves as engaged, warm, friendly, bold, and edgy.

 

How can I get involved in something meaningful right away?

 

First Parish Unitarian Universalist, a midsize congregation in Needham, MA, has three columns of highly accessible and attractive information on their homepage. Site visitors get a quick sense of what’s going on and how to get involved.

 

Allegheny UU Church’s section What You Can Do for Justice shares accessible ways for newcomers and committed UUs alike to work for change.

 

These are just a few of the excellent websites built by our diverse and dynamic congregations.

 

I invite you to join me in looking at your website with “outreach glasses.” Look with the lenses of someone who’s spiritually progressive, someone whose ideas about the sacred don’t fit neatly into any creed, someone who wants to make a difference in the world – yet is not familiar with Unitarian Universalism. Take a look, and talk about what you see.

 

 

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SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.

The Proof is in the Making of the Pudding

The MLUC Mission Task Force with their Proposed Mission Statement
The MLUC Mission Task Force with their Proposed Mission Statement

Very often, when a congregation takes on the task of creating a new mission, it is the process more than the product that is most valuable. At the Main Line Unitarian Church (MLUC) in Devon, PA, the process proved to be not just valuable, but spectacular.

Several months ago, the congregation began hosting listening groups in which members shared their hopes and dreams for the congregation and the values that were most important to them in being a part of their spiritual community. That information was carefully and lovingly crafted into a proposed mission and accompanying narrative by a Mission Task Force commissioned by the Board of Trustees. On Sunday, March 15th, “Mission Sunday” at MLUC, the proposed mission was unveiled with great fanfare (including a drum roll) at each of the two services. The presentation of the proposed mission was met with sustained applause by those in attendance.

Following the services, approximately 50 members of the congregation stayed to share their reactions to the mission. Meeting in small groups, they responded to “appreciative inquiry” questions intentionally designed to elicit positive responses. And it did just that. Rob Williams, one of the Task Force members, spoke of “the positive reception from our members, and how quickly the inquiry groups jumped in to share their deep emotional reactions and expectations for the church rallying around a new mission.”

The actions of the Mission Task Force and the members of MLUC highlights the importance and the benefits of the mission process, a process that is not just a means to an end, but an end itself. In this case, a very happy ending.

 

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markMark Bernstein is a member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region of the UUA. He is on a mission to highlight successful mission processes in our UU congregations.

MultiSite Ministries: opening imaginations for all of us

branchOne of the many things I like about our Unitarian Universalist models of MultiSite Ministries is that it opens my imagination of what possible in any congregation.  MultiSite Ministries is simply defined as “one congregation in many locations.”  Sometimes MultiSites come together when multiple congregations start sharing staff and other resources. Sometimes a cluster of congregations will start cooperating on a social justice issue and live into other ways of cooperating, and then before they know it they’ve become one people in many locations.

 

Jonipher

 

In this video (click on the picture), Rev. Jonipher Kupono Kwong of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu explains how the clusters of UU communities in Hawaii have come together to grow deeper and broader in their faith.

 

Where do you see possibilities for your congregation’s collaboration and broader community impact in this story?  Regardless of what your congregation’s path might be, we hope that sparks of what we’re learning about MultiSite Ministries can live in your congregation’s imagination of possibilities.

 

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Tandi cedar shinglesRev. Tandi Rogers firmly believes that MultiSite Ministries is a significant expression of our congregational polity in the 21st century. Radical interdependence.

 

 

The Real UU Superpower

Pict for Sean's blog

As a young Unitarian Universalist, I am often consigned a secret power that might one day save the church. Two women once approached me at a conference where I spoke about adapting congregations for the twenty-first century. They looked at me with deep expectancy and told me I needed to come back to their church, because there were only old people like them and they needed my ideas.

 

Many other young people in our movement get asked the same question: how is the church going to survive now that everything around us is changing?

 

The question is accompanied by a look of deep and earnest longing that stems from a deep love of our faith and points to a gut-wrenching fear that this may be the last generation in our religious movement.

 

It’s not that I don’t have answers to this question. Believe me, my generation and I have some pretty detailed ones. But when we focus on finding out “THE Answer” from “the RIGHT People,” we completely miss the most faithful way to address the question: “How do our churches enhance and deepen their relevance for our specific time, in our specific neighborhoods and in the lives of those we serve?”

 

The answer can be found in religious communities that consciously live the cycle of practice and learning and embed this cycle into the heart of their culture. The learning leads to experimentation that leads to reflection that leads to deeper learning.

 

Because living this cycle may feel like being in a hurricane, one useful way to keep steady and consider all the moving parts is to remember congregations need to go up, out and in. UP, OUT and IN are touchstones for movements that can build contemporarily astute, contextually adept and spiritually confident faith communities for the twenty-first century.

 

UP

 

Harmony UU, a congregation north of Cincinnati, knew their liberal message would strike a chord in their community. They also knew it was a waste of energy to put on four worship services a month for a community that could – between soccer practice, work and guests – only make an average of two services a month. They responded by creating only two services a month and repeating each service once. Imagine their relief at freeing up valuable leadership and volunteer time for the work of the church!

 

Harmony UU is a perfect example of what it means to go UP: learning from social trends about current phrasings of life’s eternal questions. In their case, becoming contemporarily astute meant learning what structures could provide deep and meaningful engagement about the twenty-first century question “Who can I become?” rather than the twentieth century question, “Who am I?” Congregations must go UP to get the ten thousand foot view of our social landscape so they can answer the deepest spiritual needs of our time.

 

OUT

Many churches would not be missed by their neighborhood if they suddenly disappeared. Not so for New Hope Community Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The congregation learned that one of the biggest barriers for residents in this low-income neighborhood was affordable transportation. So the congregation opened a community bike shop and provides quality, affordably priced bikes to their local community.

 

New Hope Community Bikes is an example of a church going OUT: learning from and then adapting to their context. Going OUT means understanding the context of those who live in your church’s neighborhood so that if your congregation suddenly disappeared, your neighbors would feel the absence.

 

IN 

 

Rev. Jen Crow detected a yearning in her congregation. Members told her, “We’ve done Building Your Own Theology and we want the next step, the one before seminary.” So she and her team put together the UU Wellspring Program, a ten-month program of deep faith formation.

 

Going IN means forming deep and grounded spiritual leaders. Inward movement allows members to experience the transforming power of faith grounded in our history, enlivened by our living tradition and held in the trusting hands of religious communities. Faith Formation happens most deeply in relationships of mentorship and accompaniment where we can reframe the everyday realities of our lives within Unitarian Universalist values and traditions.

 

Do you notice what all of these stories have in common? They require deep listening within a unique place. These congregations entered the cycle of practice with open minds, hearts and hands – a cycle of learning, not of searching for a silver bullet, a specific program or people with superpowers. Our true super power – the power that will let our faith continue to bless our world – will be found in living into the cycle of learning remembering these touchstones as we live our faith together boldly.

 

This article was first published in the New England Region newsletter (Feb 2015.) 

 

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SeanNeil-Barron2014Sean Neil-Barron is the Ministerial Intern with the New England Region of our UUA. Sean is a proclaimed covenant nerd and geeks out thinking about the ecosystem of Unitarian Universalism.

The Caveat of Membership

Mark's churchThree times per year First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City (“The 1UC in OKC” as we like to call ourselves) holds a new member welcome as part of our worship service. These welcomes usually occur early in the service, the Sunday after we hold our “Path to Membership” course—which is offered either as three weekday evenings over three weeks or a half day Saturday,

 

The ceremony acknowledges the covenantal bonds that connect the congregation with new members affirming their intent to stand with the members of the church and existing members acknowledging every new member changes the church. During this ceremony, we also “open” the membership book to others in the congregation who have been attending for a while and think that this is the right time for them to make a commitment.

 

After we have opened the book, welcomed new members and acknowledged our covenantal bonds, we do one more thing that lifts up an important part of church life. We offer the new members, and the existing members, something of a warning. “Churches are not perfect,” we tell them. “Neither are the members who fill its pews, staff its committees or work to bring to life the vision we hold in common.”

 

What does this mean? We tell them that, “If you hang around this church long enough, one of two things—and likely both—will happen to you. Eventually you will disappoint the church or the church will disappoint you.” I used to tell people that eventually the church would “break your heart or you will break the church’s heart” but I softened the
language at the urging of some our longer-term members—but the sentiment remains. It is entirely likely that at some point, the church will fail you or you will fail the church.

 

“A time may come when the church doesn’t do something that you believe is important. We may fail to act on an issue or even act in a manner opposite of what you would desire. At the same time it is possible that you won’t do something that the church asks of you or you will not do it in the way that other church members hope and expect.”

 

This is quite natural, we tell them, and while it is sad, it is part of being imperfect people banding together in an imperfect way to create an imperfect institution. The most important part of this message is what comes after this warning. We tell them, “It isn’t that what happened isn’t important (pardon the double negative). It is, but what is more important is what happens next. If our covenanted community stands for anything, it stands for being together, through our imperfections and working to improve our church and world with every opportunity. If we can live in this kind of community then the church we build together, new and old, is alive.”

 

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MarkThe Reverend Mark W. Christian serves the “1UC in OKC,” aka First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City. When asked how long he has been there, Mark answers “Somewhere between 14 and 57 years.” He returned to lead the church he grew up in back in 2001. Mark has a long list of UU leadership positions serving as a Congregational President (before going to seminary), Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Chapter President, on the SouthWest Unitarian Universalist Conference Board (twice now), on the UUMA Exec as Secretary and as a Ministerial Settlement Representative. He takes great pride in the 1UC’s youth programming and community organizing work.

Interview with Carey McDonald: the UUA.org launch

Carey in conversatioTandi interview with Carey ADid you know that a fabulous, brand-new website for the UUA is almost here? I sat down (virtually) with UUA Outreach Director Carey McDonald to talk about the project.

 

TR: So, tell us, why is the UUA working on a new website?

 

CM: Well, as anyone who has gone to UUA.org recently can tell you, our site could use a refresher. And UUA.org is really the front page of Unitarian Universalism – it’s the first thing that shows up on Google searches, it gets over 1 million visitors a year and 90% of those visitors are finding our site for the first time. So improving UUA.org is a key part of reaching out to new audiences.

 

UU leaders all over the country also use the site every week for worship resources, religious education curricula, and more. We’re making the site simpler, cleaner, and easier to navigate and better features so that these professional and volunteer leaders can do their jobs better.

 

Overall, we’re creating a stronger foundation for the future of our online work and ministry. Our new site is on a great, open-source platform called Drupal that will make things possible which we never could have imagined on the current site.

 

TR: Wow! Sounds like a lot of work to make it happen.

 

CM: No doubt! Every staff group in the UUA has been updating their pages, and the Web Team in particular has been working all out for months.

 

The project is happening in three phases, with the first phase planned for February with the launch of the new site. We’ll be adding features, retooling menus and other things in the months after launch in Phases II and III.

 

TR: So what can we expect when the new site is launched for Phase I?

 

CM: The first thing you’ll notice is our awesome new design, bringing the UU brand identity to life. There will be a great new homepage featuring people, stories and congregations, and updated info for first time visitors (our “who,” “what” and “where”).

 

We’ve got a new site-wide theme-based tagging system that will help us connect content and resources that have always been limited to their own silos – Worship Web submissions, General Assembly workshops, UU World articles, Tapestry of Faith activities and more.

 

Finally, look for a bunch of great new pieces on Worship Web, which is one of the most heavily-used sections of UUA.org.

 

TR: What’s your favorite part about the new site?

 

CM: It’s so much more visual, so much more personal, it’s telling the story of our faith in a compelling way. Right now, our site is basically an enormous filing cabinet. The new UUA.org has so much possibility for dynamic content, connection and inspiration. It’s really going to make UU’s proud for this to be their homepage.

 

TR: I can’t wait to see it!

 

CM: Well, no IT project is perfect right off the bat, but remember our February launch is only the beginning! We look forward to hearing from our users and continuing to improve their experience as we envision what is possible on the new site. We always talk to congregations about the importance of having a great web presence, so we’re trying to practice what we preach. As soon as we go live, you’ll be the first to know, Tandi!