StoryNetI am a story junkie.


More of a listener than a talker, I am happiest when my friends and family are telling me a bit of their past or an anecdote from their day.


I’m voracious reader of books and articles. The feel of turning pages is yummy! Fiction to Biography. Travelogue to Rhyming Couplets. Anthology to Annotated Version. Give me the details. Paint pictures in my mind. Layer on the backstory – or don’t – I’ll make it up for myself…


I gobble up rich television dramas and documentaries. I get pulled into the characters lives as though they are my neighbors. But even more, I love podcasts.


I love hearing from the household names and the forgotten folks. Real stories. Tell me what matters to you, what shaped you, what pulls on your heart, and what has given your soul wings. Stop me in my tracks. Make me drive past my exit, cause I am lost in your words.


Who’s with me? Snap Judgement, The Moth, 99% Invisible, Story Corps, and Fresh Air. RadioLab, Welcome to Nightvale, and of course, TED Talks! We love us some stories, because stories tell us who we are. Stories let us see ourselves in new ways and let us try on adventures. We are hard wired to make meaning from these stories – to make meaning in our lives.


How do we make meaning in our Unitarian Universalist story? How do we make sure everyone gets to add their perspective and memories to the record? All folks have a story to tell, and we want to hear YOUR stories!


StoryNet is a story collecting and sharing project from The Fahs Collaborative and Meadville Lombard Theological School that is launching at General Assembly!

Share a powerful story of when your participation in our faith has let you to think, love, or act in new and bold ways.

We have a portable recording studio ready to gather Unitarian Universalist stories of faith and witness. Individual stories will be archived and shared on an interactive online timeline of our collective UU journey. So add your voice!


How can you take part?


  1. Check out more information on our website.
  2. Think about the stories you want to tell.

3. Come to the StoryNet at Booth 400 in Exhibit Hall during General Assembly.

4. Sign up for a time and show up for it.

5. Start talking!


Special Star Interviewers will be there! We want to hear from all sorts of UU’s – so invite people who you know have a great story to share.


Not going to GA this year? No Worries! StoryNet is an ongoing project that will travel. This summer StoryNet will be at Ferry Beach RE Week and Star Island LRE Week. Look for announcements of where StoryNet is traveling in the Fall and beyond.


I can’t wait to hear your stories!



HalcyonRaised on Betsy Tacy, Car Talk, blank journals, and The A Team, Halcyon Westall looks for a story in just about everything. This led to a passion for history and a search for patterns everywhere which have been a perfect fit in her work as a religious educator, most currently as Assistant Director of The Fahs Collaborative. You will find her at Booth 400 during General Assembly – where an iced coffee would be greatly appreciated.

Flipped: Hybrid Leadership Training

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

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

2014-02-08 10.22.11

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

For more information about H-UULTI, and to register, follow this link:


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

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

Claiming Emma

We love our Famous Unitarian Universalist Lists, don’t we?  Alcott, Dickens, Potter, Revere all have United States postage stamps, and that can feel like a stamp of approval.

Stefan Jonasson says on his personal blog: “Emma Watson set Unitarian Universalist hearts aflutter with hope and speculation (a couple months ago) when she came out as a Universalist, leaving people to wonder whether she had been quietly lingering in one of our congregations. Goodness knows, we like to imprint the names of famous Unitarian Universalists on our t-shirtsperhaps even tattoo them on our torsos, if we’re into that sort of thing — so I braced myself for a new wave of name-dropping and celebrity admiration in our congregations.
“Now perhaps you’ve been living in a bubble on the edge of the known universe and have no idea who I’m talking about. Emma Watson is the gifted young actress who came to fame as the character Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. As Hermione, she was the smartest character in both the books and the movies who wasn’t actually on the faculty of Hogwarts Academy — and she seems equally intelligent, thoughtful and charming in real life.
Interviewed before the release of the movie Noah, in which she portrays Noah’s adopted daughter, Emma Watson said, “I already, before I did the movie, had a sense that I was someone that was more spiritual, than specifically religious.” She then continued, “I had a sense that I believed in a higher power, but that I was more of a Universalist, I see that there are these unifying tenets between so many religions.
“Well, as it happens, these sentiments are commonly found in Unitarian Universalist congregations — and the sense that there are values that cross the traditional boundaries of religion, values that we might call universals, is strong among us. So strong, in fact, that many people today mistakenly imagine that that was what Universalism was always about. But as it turns out, that notion of universalism is a later development that emerged as an earlier understanding of Universalism — one that was concerned with the Christian doctrine of salvation, but little concerned with other religions at all — grew and prospered and, for all intents and purposes, won the argument … and therefore came to dominate most of the mainline and liberal churches, whether they called themselves Universalist or not. If you want to find an old-line Universalist today, you’re more likely to come across them in the United Church of Canada or an Anglican parish — or even a Lutheran congregation. But there was a day when an accusation of Universalism could have caused a scandal in any of these churches.”

So what if we claimed Emma as a sibling in faith?   This was discussed at some length on some of the UU Facebook laboratory groups like the UU Social Media Lab, UU Bloggers Workshop, and UU Growth Lab.  Many felt that the approach to claiming someone as Unitarian Universalist when they public espouse universalist spirituality or identify as universalist is a misappropriation. It is a violation of religious freedom, a violation of the claimed individual’s religious freedom to do so. One lab member said, “It is worse than offensive to say that someone was a UU but didn’t know it.”

What is that urge to claim about? Another lab member said, “I think it’s basically an attempt to aggrandize and justify ourselves by identifying ourselves with well-known people, as if to share in their reflected glory… It’s one manifestation of a regrettable attitude of self-celebration and self-congratulation that I think is too present in much of UU culture. I think it both inhibits our personal spiritual growth and makes us look shallow and self-absorbed to outsiders.” Ouch. And yes.  I wonder where might be better find an authentic source of self esteem?

Stefan is less harsh on us as a people, and chalks it up to the human craving to reassure ourselves that we are not such a peculiar religious minority after all.   We often undermine ourselves by getting caught up in esoteric history.  Again, Stefan:

“Historic Universalism is misrepresented when those who study our history superficially—even our ministers and scholars—then manufacture a revisionist story based largely on wild speculations emanating from reading the dictionary definition of Universalism with a few pithy anecdotes added for texture.  We are then too often left with a story that is divorced from history and mostly sentimental in nature, while missing the core teachings of our Universalist heritage: (1) that whatever else God may be or not be, God is love — and that even if we reject belief in God at all, we can still believe in the power of love; (2) that no individual or tradition possesses the whole truth, but that each grasps a piece of what is true, perhaps several such pieces; (3) that all people are somehow sacred, whether we call this an inner divinity or simply human dignity; (4) and that the same fate—whatever it may be—awaits us all.”
There are a number of celebrities articulating core universalist teachings (Pharrel Williams and Emma Watson), but I’m not adding them to our ranks until they claim us. And they probably won’t in the near future, if at all. However, I take this as a healthy indication there is a powerful universalism bubbling up in the greater culture – a reminder that out faith lives so much larger than self-identified-UUs or the walls of our institutions. The work of our tradition/ our people is to be in relevant, authentic relationship with the rising up of universalism.

Where do you see universalism rising up in your wider community? How could you/we be in a more dynamic relationship with universalism?


Tandi smilingRev. Tandi Rogers is starting a campaign to invite Pharrel Williams to be a future Ware Lecturer.  She doesn’t want to claim him so much as partner with him and continue to be inspired.  He makes her happy.

Perhaps the Most Important Bridging Step

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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


Spiritual Care of Religious Leaders

Last week was the Unitarian Universalist Association staff’s last All-Staff Meeting at 25 Beacon Street. We’d been wrapping up final details of our big move across town and ramping up for General Assembly in Providence. A combination of excitement and weeriness was pervasive.  In those moments it is good to remember that we are people of faith and free-fall into spiritual care.  Rev. Harlan Limpert, the Chief Operating Officer of the UUA offered up this prayer at the end of our meeting, sending us out into the world to grow this good faith.





Hilary Allen

Hilary Allen is Director of Congregational Development for the Northern New England District. She believes in the power of prayer, and while she’s delighted to offer this one to community, she really needed it herself. She is Project Manager for FAITHIFY, a crowdfunding site for UU ministries and continuously works to keep her eyes on the long now. Come fall she will be the New England staff lead for Growth & Innovation.



Growing Edges in Unitarian Universalist Humor

jester door knockerEvery time a Unitarian Universalist congregation posts UU jokes on their website, in their newsletters, or Orders of Service, your Growth Strategist does a face-palm and whimpers a little bit.  I find these jokes to be self-deprecating, and not in an ironic way, but in a stale and tiresome way.  It sends the message that we as a UU People don’t take ourselves seriously, that we don’t believe we matter, that we have low self-confidence or worse, distain for ourselves.  We use this kind of humor to poke fun at ourselves before someone else can.


And others do.  We can count on Garrison Keillor in his weekly Prairie Home Companion show to regularly gird an embarrassing stereotype of tradition. Many of the characters in The Simpsons are negatively neutral to openly hostile toward Unitarian Universalism.  Stephen Colbert pokes us on The Colbert Report, which admittedly is my favorite of the three.  Somehow I find it more digestible coming from these social commentaries because it’s clearly satirical.


There is a difference between having a sense of humor and going out of your way to make fun of yourself.   And then there is satire…  Satire uses sarcasm and irony to effect political or social change, or to prevent it.  It’s a literary court jester.


The Onion is one of the most read American satirical rags.  Sometimes it’s so close to reality, I have to check to see if it’s The Onion. And sometimes an article from a news source is so outlandish, I have to check to see if it’s The Onion.


And now we have a Unitarian Universalist version called The Beacon.  Stefan Jonasson suggested we might call it The Bunion (Beacon + Onion.)  The writer(s) of The Beacon are anonymous. Usually I like my social commentary with names attached. However, I’ve found the inaugural addition to be open-spirited, Beacon Coverspiritually mature, and nuanced. I suspect the writer(s) are missional leaders with institutionalist hearts.  In other words, I am certain that the authors are prophetic court jesters who love our faith tradition very much.  I want to hear what they have to say even if it makes me squirm a bit.


Please do read The Beacon from cover to cover. Share it with other UU leaders.  (Notice I am not suggesting you post this on your website for seekers to find when looking for clear markers of our faith and your community.) Please do talk with other UUs about the messages within the humor. Do you see yourself and/or your congregation in there? Is the Beacon nudging you to consider change?  What rubs you in a raw way?  There’s wisdom there, too.


Good satire pokes us gently through a cheeky caricature and invites a fresh perspective. The caricature allows us to hold the commentary at arms’ length as we digest and accept and then embrace it as an invitation to healthy change and growth.


Today I give thanks to the Court Jesters.


tk in snow on Common 0114Growth Strategist Rev. Tandi Rogers likes knock-knock jokes very much, especially ones about planets and bugs, but can’t actually tell a joke to save her life.  She leaves that to her 5 year old.  He’s in charge of telling. She’s in charge of laughing.

Growing and Evolving: Ten Years of Religious Education Credentialing

Sara Cloe CREETen years ago on this very day, the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC) conducted its first interviews and awarded credentialed status to three pioneering candidates in the Religious Education Credentialing Program (RECP)! Helen Bishop and Gaia Brown were credentialed at what is now called the Master Level, and Michelle Richards at the (now) Credentialed Level. (Michelle went on to receive Master Level status in 2013.)


Think about it – how many programs from a decade ago are still around today? The RECP’s staying power has depended on our ability to keep the program fresh, relevant, and useful. Over the years, it has adapted and evolved in order to meet the changing needs of professionals and congregations, to better assure the quality and consistency of the evaluation process, and to improve the experience of both the candidate and the Committee. This spring, the RECC will consider what’s changing in faith formation, in Unitarian Universalism, and in the professional world – and then reflect on how to respond to those changes through updates to program content, structure, and expectations.


As the program has grown, what hasn’t changed is its commitment to fostering excellence in professional religious education leadership. The Religious Education Credentialing Program was established, back in the early 00’s, in order to nurture the call to religious education as a profession, to provide a comprehensive path for professional development, and to articulate and uphold professional standards and guidelines. It remains true to these purposes.


The Religious Education Credentialing Program offers a rigorous, meaning-filled process by which religious educators deepen their knowledge, reflect on their own faith development, and demonstrate their skill across competency areas deemed critical for effective religious education leadership. Our Credentialed Religious Educators aren’t the only ones gaining from the program, however! Through the RECP, religious educators become stronger staff teammates and collegial partners in their own congregations, as well as educators and modelers for colleagues in other congregations – thus their program participation benefits many other professionals. And the profession, as a whole, has been elevated because of the program’s intentionality in identifying competencies and establishing standards.


Ultimately, what matters most? Not the religious educators. Not the profession of religious education. No, it’s about the children and adults who have stayed better connected to their congregations, and whose faith has been further formed, because of religious educators who attended to their own professional growth by pursuing RE Credentialing. Thus, it’s safe to say that the Religious Education Credentialing Program has enriched the lives of thousands of Unitarian Universalists. Has it touched yours?



Jan Gartner“Well-equipped professionals and healthy staff teams are essential to congregational vitality!” proclaims Jan Gartner, who began serving as UUA Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders in July 2011. Jan oversees the Religious Education Credentialing and Music Leadership Certification Programs, provides support for staff transitions, advocates for sound employment practices, and champions intentional continuing education both for individual professionals and for staff teams.

What Congregations Can Learn From The 12th Man

SeahawksYes, I’ve drunk the electric green and blue Kool-Aid.  I’ve gone belly up to Seahawks mania out here in the Pacific Northwest.  And while the pronoun is not my preferred, I am the Seahawk’s12th Man.  And while the metaphor is not perfect, I have come to understand that there is so much congregations can learn from the 12th Man.  I want a congregation full of number 12 jerseys standing in the pews. And if Skittles end up all over the sanctuary carpet, so be it.


First of all, Seattle didn’t make up the 12th ManThe concept originated at Texas A&M in 1922. Seattle readily recognize this and the Seahawks will end up paying a breathtaking amount of money to Texas A&M for the use of the title. We made the model ours by adding Seahawk quirk and noise.   We don’t have to be the clever ones to make everything up.  We are fine adapting the best of what works.  Congregations, take note about the adapting other ideas, but don’t get caught up in lawsuits over it.


In this metaphor I’m thinking of the 12th Man as the congregational members.  The board of directors and key volunteers are the players on the field.  The head coach is the minister. Specialized coaches are other key staff.  Work with me here.  It’s not perfect, but don’t get hung up on that or you’ll miss the lessons.


  • Our job as 12 is to cheer our team on and create a vibrant, buzzy culture where success can flourish.
  • We do not assume we know more about football than the players and coaches who have been practicing and preparing and have special training.
  • We do not jump to the conclusion that because our tax dollars and our ticket fees help play for the coaches and players salaries we should get to vote on the plays.
  • We do not email the players with suggestions on how to play. We are not Armchair Quarterbacks. That is not our job.  We cheer.  We make a joyful, booming noise.
  • We do not pout at the coach’s choice of plays and suggest to the other 12th Men around us that we could do a better job at coaching.
  • We do not run on the field.  Even if we tried out for the team and were not picked this round.
  • If our team is down and the strategies seem unclear from our view in the stands, we do not throw our water bottles on the field.  We do not boo.
  • We do not call our beloved #25 a “thug” because of impassioned outbursts that don’t hurt anybody. We know there is so much more to #25, and we stand by him.
  • Texas A&M’s 12th Man example taught us, we stand for the game, symbolically ready for coach to put us in. We stand ready to serve if called upon. And until that time comes, we cheer until we are hoarse and our face hurts from smiling.  We shout and whoop to make sure our coach and team knows we’re right behind them through thick and thin.


I want that culture in our congregations, too.  I don’t even like football, but I’ll wear the #12 and shout for my team, because in the Pacific NW it’s become less about a sport and more about a unified community.  We are all the 12th Man, whether you’re wearing a silk Seahawk tie or your earplugs are neon green or the number 12 is drawn in the mud on your truck.  The 12 is about coming together to cheer on something larger than us.  I want that for our faith tradition.


So please pay attention to the 12th Man this Sunday during the Super Bowl.  And don’t worry if the Seahawks don’t win the game.  We’ve already won.



Loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium Seahawks-13Rev. Tandi Rogers has enjoyed walking around around Tacoma feeling more connected through the common number 12. Come Sunday afternoon she will be covered in Seahawk bling and making a joyful noise.  On Monday she will be hoarse.  A special thank you to Susan Tusa, former president of Tahoma UU Congregation in Tacoma, WA who helped her write this piece.

The Magic of Empty Chairs

When I was little I used to think my Gramma Erma was magically.  She had the magic power of profound hospitality.


I learned to cook from her.  She taught me to pray into the food so that it nourishes the bodies and souls of those who will play their part of our intertwined lives.  I do that in my current ministry.  Those administrative, sometimes tedious pieces that make the machine run, I pray into those.  Those strategies that I start to form into plans to pass on to those building our faith, I pray into those and then wish them well in the capable new hands that may see them into fruition.


Gramma Erma also kept an empty chair at the dining table because you never know who will show up hungry. And you know what? More often than not we had an unexpected visitor join our feast.  And then she would add another chair. It was such a giddily anticipated ritual during the holidays – who was coming? What stories would they bring?


And yet, I hear this sometimes from leaders in congregations…  “We don’t need to grow.  We need to serve the people in our congregation better.”


Here’s what I want to say to folks who are harboring this notion… We are a covenantal faith tradition.  That covenant requires growth as a religious imperative.  We are a faith tradition with radical Universalism at our core, which requires a joyful invitation. It requires we pull up an empty chair and anticipate someone hungry or ready to serve or both in one.  And when they come, it requires we look deeply in their eyes and say, “We’ve been waiting for you.  Welcome home!”


In some youth circles there is a rule called Robbie’s Rule.  Robbie Seager is now a young adult and the inspirer of Robbie’s Rule.  The rule requires that in any circle an accessible place be kept open for the next person coming.  The circle doesn’t know who that person will be, only that they will surely come. And when they do, another space will be made available… and so on.  I can testify that this norm changes hearts, minds, and expectations.   It is the embodiment of my Gramma Erma’s hospitality and the Jesuit Radical Hospitality.


This year, please try this.  An empty chair, any empty place with the spirit of invitation swirling in and out of the open spaces throughout the circle.  Whether you are in a coffee hour huddle or a parent discussion group or a social justice planning session.  Keep a space open, even if it is symbolic.  At committee meetings and at board meetings, keep a chair open knowing that our own place is time-limited, transient. Others are coming who will sit in the place we once sat.


Every morning recite this prayer given to my home congregation by the Rev. Ken Jones.  I think it exemplifies our covenant beautifully.


I light this chalice (of my life) in deep respect for the mystery and holiness of life;

With honor and gratitude for those who came before;

With compassion and love for those who dwell among us;

And with hope and faith for the generations yet to come.


This year, consider using this prayer as a reminder that we are not alone. Once people are seated, pull a chair up.  Pull a chair up for that person yet to come.  Pull up another chair for the elders who came before.  And consider saying a prayer for the next person sitting in your chair.


May this year be filled with magic and radical welcome.


Tandi mouth 513Rev. Tandi Rogers prays into the social hour coffee at church when she makes it.  And loves to watch people drink it up along with the coffee bean juice.  Think about it.  If you’ve ever had coffee or tea or soup made by Tandi, you’ve got her prayers swirling around your system.

An Innovative Learning Circle of Your Own…

Innovative Learning Circle logo“What is the magic behind the Innovative Learning Circles?”  “How can I start one in my area?”  I get these questions more and more as word is getting out about the success of Innovative Learning Circles.


The purpose is to bring innovative leaders together to spark, inspire, and cross-pollinate each other.  Let’s be honest.  Being an innovator can be isolating and lonely.


Innovative Learning Circles is a cross between small group ministry, video conference, and case study. We meet monthly at a consistent time for an hour and a half by video (if you do not have a camera for your computer you will receive one in the mail.)  The regular agenda looks like this:

  • Chalice Lighting
  • Check-in
  • Shared Case Study
  • Reflection and/or feedback
  • Take-Away (What nugget of wisdom or observation are you taking away)

Each group has a question they explore. Some of the questions the Innovative Learning Circles I shepherd are exploring are:


  • How can leaders navigate challenges to plant Unitarian Universalist communities that meet the needs of the 21st century?
  • What experiments might be replicable in other Unitarian Universalist settings?
  • How can campus ministry programs reach beyond their identified UU group and make an impact? How can Campus Ministry impact area congregations?
  • How can leaders adaptively shift congregational systems to break open and make way for concepts in the Faith Formation 2020 (John Roberto) training?
  • How can small congregation focus on health and lower their walls for bigger impact in the world?
  • How can prison ministry programs reach beyond their identified UU group and make an impact? How can prison ministry impact area congregations?
  • How can leaders use worship to shift congregational systems to meet the needs of the 21st century?


So, if you were gathering your own circle, what question would you like to explore?  Who within your community or perhaps in the surrounding, larger community would you like to learn with?  This is a great opportunity to meet your counterparts or peers from other UU congregations in your cluster.


What kinds of challenges could you explore together?  This is the outline for the first meeting:

  • Chalice Lighting
  • Check-in
  • What you need from this group? This experience?
  • Sharing: What are challenges we deal with that other positions/leaders just couldn’t understand.  What do we wish the board/minister/UUA/<fill-in-the-bland> understood? What are challenges we might explore together?
  • Reflection and/or feedback
  • Take-Away (What nugget of wisdom or observation are you taking away)


Those questions about challenge are where the gold is.  Those will be where the “case studies” come from. Each participant takes turns giving a “case study,” which is a story or description about a challenge related to your ministry.  It’s almost always about an adaptive challenge – one that won’t go away. Some guiding questions:

  • What is the current situation? Where do I want the situation to be?
  • Who else is involved? What are our roles and responsibilities in this situation?  What part have I played?  Not played?
  • What is within my control? Outside of my control?
  • When things change a bit, what happens to the rest of the system?
  • What do I need to learn?
  • What do I need to let go of in order to embrace something new?
  • Who else needs to be involved to make possible adaptations stick?


The group listens with pastoral and wondering ears, not “fix it” ears.  It takes great vulnerability and trust to reveal a challenge one isn’t sure about.  And that is where the real learning happens.  It is an affirming process.


An Innovative Learning Circle lasts between 7-9 months.  There’s an opening circle, a case study session for each participant (between 5-7 people is recommended), and then a closing circle.


In the closing circle, the final session, we take time to capture the over-all, meta-learnings from our sharing. Were there patterns in each other’s stories? Is there feedback we need to give to our regional staff (or other resource people) about what we’ve learned?  Might a workshop or training come out of anything you’ve learned together? The final go-around is gratitude from each other. Hold up each person and allow circle members to tell then what they’ve learned and appreciated from their presence.


This model is still in beta.  I use a virtual model, because of geographic challenges, but a face-to-face format would be lovely.  What makes it an Innovative Learning Circle is the guiding question, the gathering of innovators, and the sharing of the challenge stories. Feel free to experiment! And let me know what works for you. I’d love to hear from you!


Tandi mouth 513 Tandi Rogers facilitates eight different, virtual Innovative Learning Circles during the third week of every month. At the end of every Innovative Learning Circle she bursts out of her office and says, “These may be the most important thing my office does for growth! Wow! That was amazing.”