Messaging the World: The Unity Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next step is to consider what to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Messaging the World: Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Advertising

The Office of Growth Strategies recently received a request…

Hi Tandi,

This coming <insert date here>, I and my nearest colleagues, Janice Doe  in East Cupcake and Juan Moe in West Cupcake, are going to hold a three-church “UU Revival” in Central Cupcake at a community college ballroom. Our aim is to bring spiritual refreshment and renewal to our current members and also make ourselves very visible as a faith community…….very open and very welcoming. The service will be focused on both of those intents.

We are wondering if there might be any type of grant support for us within the UUA. We can do this on a shoestring, of course, as none of us have money in our budgets for this first event. We plan to have that going forward with what we hope will be an annual event. Where additional support would be helpful is with more expensive items such as local print and other media advertising.

This was our response…

So glad you reached out!  While there isn’t any financial support, I can tell you that folks are reporting much more success using free social media and relationship.
  • Create an attractive, electronic flyer, upload to your congregation’s Facebook page. From there, people will be able to share.  Pictures on FB are more viral than mere text posts.  Encourage your congregants to post on their personal pages.  Make a FB event (using the electronic flyer) and invite a blanket of people.
  • Also consider creating a MeetUp event.
  • Make sure the event is posted on community calendars and the calendars of organizations you have a natural affinity/ partnership.  Often cities have a community calendar on their government site and the local papers.
  • Send a press release to the local media.  Sell them the story. (Your District Staff may be able to help you craft an attention-getting angle.)  Send a press release to college radio stations and see if you can get someone interviewed.  Young adults may be especially interested in a UU Revival.
  • Feeling especially creative?  Make a YouTube video invitation and send that out far and wide.

The Unitarian Universalist Association website offers more tips on Communication, Public Relations, and Social Media.

Growing & Learning By Example

As a Growth Strategies Specialist with a religious education orientation, I encourage learning through experience and relationship.  By this I mean piling a group of leaders from your congregation into your car to go experience another Unitarian Universalist congregation and break bread with their leaders. This relational experience embodies President Peter Morales’ call to “Get Religion, Grow Leaders, and Go Beyond Borders.”

Please consider getting outside your paradigm as to what Unitarian Universalism is, as expressed within your home congregation. The very dynamic nature of Unitarian Universalism requires us to hold our faith lightly, not tightly, and be open to its diversity and ever-progression.

Even before you print out directions for your road trip, contact the comparable leaders from the congregation you are visiting.  If you’re the president and are taking a worship associate and religious educator and the newly appointed canvass coordinator, then call ahead and arrange to meet with their president, canvass chair, some worship associates and religious educators. Ask for a tour of their facilities. Ask to see their guiding documents.  What do love they about their role? What do they struggle with? Offer to take them to lunch and continue the conversation.

Start paying attention the moment you look up the website to the destination congregation in order to glean directions and contact information for leaders. Take in the whole experience of driving up to the building and then being greeted. Pay attention to the response of all your senses in worship and fellowship. How is it different than your home congregation? How is it the same? How does this inform your understanding of Unitarian Universalism? What might you like to try in your own congregation?

For those of you crying out, “But we don’t have another Unitarian Universalist congregation within reasonable driving distance!” please reach out to any liberal religious community within reasonable driving distance!  Sometimes we can learn more from other faith traditions more than our own.

Another option is to experience other congregations through the following video series. You can process the same questions while watching the videos as would on your in-person experience. And you can contact the leadership from those congregations to set up a phone or video conversation to tap into their wisdom and experience.

  • Breakthrough Congregations – These short videos highlight congregations that have achieved significant and sustained numerical growth by breaking through an obstacle in the areas of spiritual vitality, organizational maturity, faith in action, and/or associational growth.
  • A Religion For Our Time series: These short videos highlight inspiring work in congregations, including innovative projects relating to worship, religious education, social justice, membership, and fellowship.

May this be the beginning of a supportive and collaborative relationship!

Take courage friends. 
The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. 
Take courage. 
For deep down, there is another truth: 
you are not alone.  ~ Rev. Wayne Arnason

 

 

Staffing For Growth: Finding the Right Balance

When adding staff, it’s important for congregations to strive for balance. For instance, the gifts and talents of an associate minister should ideally complement those of the senior minister. It is also important to strike a balance between maintenance positions, which serve the needs of current members, and growth positions, which expand the congregation’s ministry. Yet another need is to balance relationally motivated staff with task-oriented staff.

In a nutshell, maintenance positions tend to support the administrative needs and organizational infrastructure of a congregation. Such positions include administrators, bookkeepers and other office staff, of course, but they may also include positions like pastoral care workers and parish nurses—even membership personnel, if their work is focused more on administrative than programmatic responsibilities. These positions are often task oriented and those who fill them tend to meet their responsibilities on their own, assisted by few volunteers, if any. They serve existing members, for the most part, and help to keep the institution on an even keel.

By contrast, growth-oriented positions are more likely to serve both newcomers and existing members equally well. They nurture the spiritual development of congregants and focus more on organizing programs and ministries than sustaining the institution itself. They typically have a more relational focus and, ideally, most of these positions seek to organize volunteers in support of the mission and ministry of the congregation. Growth-oriented positions typically include ordained ministers, educators, community organizers and membership directors (especially when they function like “cruise directors”).

In real life, almost any position can lean in either direction. Sometimes ministers get trapped in institutional maintenance, while at other times administrators find themselves ministering to significant numbers of congregants and newcomers. Every growth-oriented position has a certain element of maintenance that goes with the job, while every maintenance-oriented position will also contain a growth imperative. The important thing is to get the balance right and, overall, to emphasize serving people over simply taking care of business.

The staffing needs of a church are not met simply by complying with a formula, however sound. Staff must be empowered with the authority necessary to accomplish the goals developed for their positions. This can be a growing edge for some Unitarian Universalists. It can be especially challenging when staff assume tasks and responsibilities that formerly fell to committees.

Staff also function best within an environment where the lines of authority are clear. The ideal staff is one that functions as a team, where goals are shared, communications are clear, and working relationships are collaborative. But all good teams have leaders and the natural team leader in any size of congregation will almost always be the minister—or senior minister, in the case of congregations with more than one.

However we may feel about the increased reliance on paid staff in our churches, there can be little doubt that the quality of congregational life is enhanced by an adequate, balanced, well-trained, fairly compensated and strongly motivated church staff.

Staffing For Growth: A Simple Formula

“How much paid staff does our congregation really need?” This question comes up repeatedly when I work with the leaders of congregations of every size. Each congregation’s needs are a little different, and the available resources vary as quickly as changes in the economy, but there are benchmarks that congregations can aim to achieve.

In the past, churches relied on a cadre of dedicated volunteers to meet their staffing needs. But congregations today are finding it difficult to recruit, train and manage the number of volunteers they need to do all that needs to be done. I often hear people wax nostalgically about the good old days when there was a volunteer for every job and a job for every volunteer. The simple fact is that lifestyle changes have reduced the time available for volunteering.  And Unitarian Universalists have been affected by these changes more than most!

As congregations deal with a shrinking volunteer pool, they also face increased expectations for service by both members and the larger community. Individual positions may grow so large that it is no longer reasonable to ask a volunteer to fill them, nor may it be practical or possible to break a position up into “volunteer-sized” pieces. Even when church programs do rely heavily on volunteer staffing, such as in the case of religious education, the task of coordinating and training calls for a paid professional. There is a greater need for specialization, along with the training and skills that specialization demands. Each of these factors, along with others, point to the need for increased staffing levels in most congregations.

In his book Staff Your Church for Growth, Gary McIntosh observes that churches follow one of three policies for staffing, whether or not they are even aware of it. The most common strategy among churches is to staff for decline. The next most likely approach taken by churches is to staff for maintenance. It is comparatively few churches that intentionally staff for growth.

Encouraging congregations to be intentional about their staffing strategies, McIntosh offers a simple staffing formula. If a congregation is staffing for maintenance—that is, looking after the people who are already there—it needs the equivalent of one full-time program professional for every 150 active participants (i.e., average attendance, including adults and children), assisted by one full-time support person for the first program professional and one half-time support staff position for each additional professional. (This staff complement does not include custodial staff, since the caretaking needs are largely determined by the size of the facility rather than the size of the congregation.) If a church wishes to staff for growth, the basic formula remains the same but the ratio shifts to one professional for every 100 active participants.

Interestingly enough, churches that are well staffed usually find that their volunteer pool increases! We can speculate that this is because the quality of the volunteer experience improves when there is adequate staff to coordinate and support the work of volunteers.

Checklist for the New Church Year

The following was first published in InterConnections Tipsheet. We highly recommend spending some time perusing the many topics of interest in this on-line resource.  It is a gold mine!

 

All Souls welcome at our newest Breakthrough Congregation All Souls UU in New London, CT.

As late summer approaches so does the surge of church shoppers that many congregations experience. Here are tips to make sure your facilities and programs are prepared for them.

• Many of us can still remember the name of the person who greeted us on our first visit to a UU congregation. Go over greeting practices with greeters. Hold a role-play practice if necessary. Visit other congregations in the area and see what you can learn from them.

•  Can visitors easily identify which door to enter from the parking lot? If not, add some signage. Also consider posting a greeter in the parking area or on the sidewalk outside the front door.

• Make sure your bathrooms pass the smell test. Add a basket with a few band-aids, feminine products, safety pins, diapers, and baby wipes.

• Check out the sound system, making sure it works properly. If you offer electronic aids for those who need hearing assistance, make sure that they have fresh batteries and that someone knows how to operate them.

• For Coffee hour, give one or two people the job of monitoring the room to make sure that visitors are connecting with members and to facilitate that process. Set up a laptop or other device that will continually show a brief video of congregational activities. It will give introverted visitors something to do if they are overwhelmed by conversation.

• Think about providing milk or half-and-half for the coffee rather than the powdered dairy substitute.

• Be prepared with a list of small groups and upcoming programs that guests can connect with as a next step.

• Have guests fill out an information sheet so that when they return next Sunday you can call them by name. Remember that most of them will have already checked the congregation out online and are already prepared to like you.

 

Guest Blogger__________________________________

Don Skinner is editor of InterConnections,  a newsletter for congregational leaders, and is a member of the Shawnee Mission UU Church in Overland Park, Kansas. You may email him at interconnections@uua.org and follow InterConnections on FaceBook.

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

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

New London is highlighted in the fall edition of the UUWorld, which will be hitting Unitarian Universalist members’ mailboxes at any moment. The following study guide is intended to accompany the article about the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation.  We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders.

Questions for Discussion and Deeper Study

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

 Questions for Discussion:

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

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

Questions for Discussion:

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

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

Questions for Discussion:

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

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

 Questions for Discussion:

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

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

Questions for Discussion:

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

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

Questions for Discussion:

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

This study guide was a group effort by:

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

 

The Ship is Sinking

The following is the first in a two part series and was first published on July 19, 2012 in the Blue Boat, a blog of the UUA Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministries.

 

3,174 individuals came together this June for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s first ever Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ. After Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law was passed, the 2010 General Assembly delegates were given the option to boycott or answer the call of our partners in AZ to come, witness, and work for justice. As you have probably guessed, they voted to put the Justice in this year’s Justice General Assembly (GA).

Standing on the Side of Love with our partners in AZ, we attended a witness event at Tent City, participated in a citizenship fair, attended workshops on anti-racism, the prison industrial complex and immigration, and voted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Doctrine is the notion that those Europeans who were ‘exploring’ were able to make the land they ‘found’ their own and rule over its non-Christian people. Our partners had asked us to look into The Doctrine, it’s history and how it is affecting us today. This concept from hundreds of years ago is important to us today because it is how our own country was founded, and it’s legacy lives on in how we have treated and still treat Native Americans, as well as new migrants to this land.

As congregations, communities and a denomination, we have thought and talked about how this affected and affects our nation. We are even taking action to change this thinking and the legal and daily injustices it creates.

Yet, there seems to be silence around how this affects our own religious movement. What is our relationship with the land we ‘own’? With those who are newly joining our religious communities? With those who are passing through?

How is this land a product of the privilege we have as a denomination, and how does our use of it exclude others? What does our land and our buildings indicate to others about our theology? about our class? about our wealth? about the lifestyles of those who come inside our walls?

I have had a countless number of conversations with local congregations who want to do campus ministry to “get more young people in the pews on Sunday morning”. I try and explain that campus ministry, like many other ministries, is an outreach ministry. The goal is to extend one’s congregation beyond it’s walls, not try to fit more people into them. It’s certainly met with different responses, some folks understanding and others having a harder time shifting paradigms.

We as the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations are certainly hung up on the physical walls of our congregations.  We sometimes fail to reach out to those who want to be part of our community but can’t or don’t want to come inside our box.  Of course the Unitarian Universalist Association has institutionalized this mentality by designations of who is counted as a member of a congregation. This then equates to what they are expected to contribute in the Annual Program Fund to be counted as full Fair Share congregations. This is a practice that is being reviewed to encourage out-of-the box growth.

These and other revisions are pushing us into new ways of thinking, and many communities are already doing this work. Much of this good work was given national attention last February, when President Peter Morales wrote a white paper Congregations and Beyond. He describes how congregations must remain the base of our movement, and if we are to truly become the religious movement of our time we must be in places other than local congregations. This paper spurred a meeting of UU leaders and UUA staff that was open-source and interactive through the facebook page. There is now a team of UUA staff responsible for serving as a hub to share what is being done already, and support growth.

Indeed, many young adult communities have always existed in the ‘beyond’, and many congregations are pushing further into the beyond every day. Increased national attention towards the good work already occurring and a larger movement towards the beyond will enable our faith to be the religion of our time.

Additionally, the 2012 General Assembly of Delegates passed an important amendment to the bylaws toexpand the definition of a congregation by simply taking out the qualifiers of “fellowship”, “parish”, and “local”. What does this mean? It means that spaces such as the Church of the Larger Fellowship, an online community that has long been a pioneer in new ministry, is no longer simply a de facto inclusion. Does it also leave room for camps, conferences and campus ministry groups?

I’d like to think so. And I’d like to think this a right step in being a denomination that recognizes why it has put so much value in land – and why it can no longer do so.

Directly following General Assembly, I attended the Global Chaplains in Higher Education Conference, which gathers once every four years. I attended a workshop called “Learning from the Spiritual, But Not Religious Voices” by Tom Sherwood of the United Church of Canada.

In this presentation, he spoke about how the small campus groups the attendees are working with is really the direction religious groups need to be going in, citing a decline in attendance of worship among all religious groups in Canada and an increase in personal prayer. He also added that these groups are actually more authentic to the original Christian tradition (and I would add to many religious traditions).  In the time of Christ, there were small groups that traveled together, not large regional temples. He left us with two pictures analogies that are a bit dramatic.

 

The traditional church:

 

The small group, typical of young adult and campus ministry groups:

Now, I do not think that our congregations are all ships destined for sinking, but I do think that if we believe they are the one-size-fits-all answer to religious community, we will sink as an Association. We needaccessible vansbicycles built for ten, and something cute and sporty to speed in the carpool lane with. We need to recognize that some people want to stay in the van forever, and some may just want it to get to the ship. All are welcome.

I’m not asking for a Unitarian Universalist Doctrine of Expansion where we pull everyone off the streets and into vans, just that we end our territorial isolationism, support the vans we have on the road, put some more out there, and invite people along for the ride, wherever they may be in their journey.

 

Don’t leave this topic on a critical note, check out the motivational and liturgical response on Thursday.

 

Guest Blogger 

  Kayla Parker is the Campus Ministry Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association.

General Assembly: Grounds for a Growth Spurt, Part 1 of 4

We’ve been reflecting on the shift that just happened at Justice General Assembly (GA.) So many are reporting a difference.  Did it feel different to you? As a faith tradition, we seemed to have gone through a collective growth spurt.  This is the first in a four-part series featuring examples of how we experienced and observed health and transformation.

Organizational Maturity

Alignment. In times of system change it serves the organization well to align around the purpose and values. Having such a clear directive, a clear purpose for gathering (Justice!) demanded a tight alignment in everything we did.  There was no wiggle room for anything but relevancy toward Justice in the programming.  Worship and music all lead toward justice. The Ware Lecture was justice-based.  Our Plenary was steeped in justice.  It required doing things differently. It was not business as usual. This Justice GA required a discipline that was at the same time freeing.

 

  • What did we gain from trying this new way of doing and being at General Assembly?
  • What did we miss from precious General Assemblies that we might bring back in a fresh way?
  • What didn’t we miss from previous General Assemblies that we might be ready now to let go of?
  • What would a year of such focus and alignment look like in your congregation?

 

Differentiation.  In times of system change it serves the organization well to clarify and differentiate each person’s role around the purpose.  Not only were roles clearly differentiated and supported, but also they were color-coded! (As a former teacher, I have a soft spot in my heart for color-coding things.)  If I had a general question, I looked for the folks wearing orange. If I needed to find a Right Relationship Team member to help you through a struggle I looked to a person in a neon green shirt.  If I needed a Youth Caucus Staff member I looked for hotpink bandanas; Youth Adult Caucus Staff member I looked for blue bandanas. If I needed to share thoughts with a UUA Board member I sought out the long-sleeve purple shirts. And at the vigil if I needed help of any kind I looked for the well-trained folks in purple t-shirts.  With roles clarified I didn’t have to waste time and energy bleeding into someone else’s role or trying to figure out what was going, who was in charge of what. My color shirt? I wore a Standing on the Side of Love  yellow shirt, and my job was to show up, witness, and spread love.

 

  • How does your religious community decide what roles you need to live out your purpose?
  • How are people in these roles prepared to succeed?
  • How does the congregation know who is in what role and how to utilize their specialty?

 

Those are some examples.  How else did you experience and/or observe growth spurts at General Assembly?  Please share your thoughts in the comments, including your name and congregation.