Covenanting Communities

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Application and more information: Covenanting Communities Fact Sheet.

______________________________

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multi-site Pioneers

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

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

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

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

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

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

float

Historical information provided by Rev. Darcey Laine.

____________________

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

 

Does Your Congregation have Good Data Hygiene?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Updating Your Congregation’s Information:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.

 

_____________________

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.

 

_________________________

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.

__________________________________

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.

 

 

____________________

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.

 

________________________

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.