Future of (Our) Faith

Future of Faith picCarey McDonald is one of those innovators and collaborators growing our faith beyond silos and traditional boundaries who I love to dream with. Whenever I’m in Boston we set aside a chunk of time to play into the following questions:

1. “If we were in charge …”  and then we excitedly spill out possibilities with no regard to our current authority or resources at our disposal. Note that the “what” of our charge shifts at our creative whim. Sometimes we’re in charge of the UUA. Sometimes we’re in charge of the world.

Sometimes the imagination playground is inspired by a book we’ve both read.  Last year Carey turned me on to American Grace by Robert Putnam, and that still makes appearances in our conversation.

2. “However, we aren’t in charge.  And we still can …” is the second, perhaps most important part of our exploration. We get real with what is our current authority and responsibility and “our work.”  Accessible resources magically sparkly with new and variant possibilities. Partners within and outside our system become apparent.  Strategies begin to take form.  We both come away feeling energized and inspired by our partnership.

I encourage you to seek out a partner to try these questions within the context of your leadership.  Don’t go to the most obvious partner in your system. But do find someone who is also passionate about growing our faith and is clear in the mission of your community.

Sometimes Carey and I try ideas out with each other that aren’t quite word-ripe, or we show each other pieces that we’re just putting the finishing touches on.  Future of Faith: Unitarian Universalism and the Millennial Generation is a presentation that is stunning and smart and right on. Carey’s been thinking about the Future of (Our) Faith for a long time.  This presentation brings it all together!  (Note: there is no sound and you move the presentation along with the arrows at the bottom.)

Please tell us what jumps out at you in the comments. What excites you? Gives you frown lines? And feel free to share the presentation.  I think this would be a great piece to show at a board meeting or staff retreat.


cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the mind behind Future of our Faith.  Carey joined the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in the summer of 2011. He most recently worked as the staff director for a statewide advisory body, the Ohio School Funding Advisory Council, where he has focused on education reform, educational equity and “closing the achievement gap.” He has also worked as a budget analyst, policy advisor and legislative aide, and has considerable experience in political campaigns and organizing. Throughout his varied career, Carey has focused on creating a world more just through a community more loving, and is excited to bring that inclusive approach to the helm of the Youth and Young Adult Ministries Office.

Carey is a seventh-generation Unitarian Universalist who was active as a youth with Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU). He is formerly a member of the Ohio-Meadville District Youth/Adult Council, was active as a youth in Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), and served three times as a delegate to General Assembly. Before moving to Boston, he was an active young adult in his congregation in Columbus, Ohio, as a member of the Young Adult Covenant Group and chair of the church’s Annual Budget Drive. He also has served in recent years as a lay member of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Carey has a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics from Pomona College in Claremont, CA. He lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston with his wife, Sarah.

Running (and Playing and Dancing) the Church

DREs rule pict bigIt all started with a Facebook message from my board president.  He thought I might find an article interesting.  Boy, did I. Written by Rev. Erik Wikstrom, the title alone was pretty provocative: “What If the Director of Religious Education Ran the Church?” He explained his purpose like this: “I’m hoping that others might stop for a minute…and say to themselves (and anyone who happens to be around them. Huh. I never thought about it like that. I wonder . . .”


I knew beyond a doubt that neither I nor my board president wanted me “in charge”, but the question led my mind into other areas, as the author intended.  How might the unique competencies of faith development professionals, given free reign and responsibility on Sunday morning, change how we do church?


I linked to the article on my Facebook wall, and the wondering conversation Wikstrom desired was off to an exciting start there. Many weighed in, and the ensuing conversation was inspiring: religious educators went into rapid-fire-dialectical/stream-of-consciousness mode about the Sunday experience of their dreams. I was asked to facilitate a graffiti wall at the LREDA Fall Conference–the annual gathering of the Religious Educator tribe– so the conversation could continue there. The “wall of appreciative inquiry” I installed there attracted many replies. The responses were fascinating:


What if DREs were in Charge


Trained as a sociologist, I tend to organize replies into broad categories that help me understand raw data better. I see a desire for more fun and creative process in responses like “increase glitter budget line” and “pipe cleaners and play-doh at board meetings”.  I see a desire for radical hospitality in responses that mention adults “taking joy” in children’s normal behavior, even during worship.  I see a prophetic vision of a church renewed and inspired, alive and responsive to its congregants, where dance and play and stories are no longer seen as appropriate pedagogical strategies for children only, but the birthright of humans across generations, a profound, dynamic way of doing and being that opens us up and kindles the divine spark we each carry within. I see a call for church as a sacred place to come together, to be strengthened and emboldened, a kind of spiritual medicine, vaccinating us with joy and compassion before sending us back out to our greater mission–the work we are called by our faith to do,  in a broken, beautiful world outside the church walls.


I think that what religious educators might know better than anyone  is that “religious education” means “to bind up and send out”–that church is a waystation where we are fortified and connected, made ready for our shared journey in the world, as a people of faith.


But as a DRE, I might be biased.  I wonder…what do you see in the replies?  How might they spur a conversation by those responsible for “doing church” where you are?  How might we be changed by our willingness to wonder, share ideas, and keep this conversation going?



JoyJoy Berry is a religious educator from the rural South who has somehow landed in a big suburban church outside Philadelphia. A proponent of Missional UUism, she has a passion for engaging, hands-on faith development in and outside the church, believing Forrest Church was right: ““(O)ur hands will not be clean until we get them dirty… until we roll up our sleeves and match our words with deeds.” Her personal faith practices include vermiculture, mandala-coloring during long meetings, baby-snuggling, and belly-laughing.

Beauty and Play as a Growth Strategy

haikuIf you are friends with a religious educator who went to the Liberal Religious Educator’s Association Fall Conference this weekend, you may have seen pictures or read Facebook statuses about “Play Stations.”

Imagine a hotel conference room with tables along the perimeter filled with art supplies and Play Station Explanations. And an invitation to gather with your colleagues from all over the continent and play.  It was an invitation to finally receive the blessing of creating as faith formation for oneself, rather than the people you serve.

What are Play Stations? Play stations are reflective activities that include elements of play and wonder and creativity. You know the connection between creativity and playing with the Creator.  You do this all the time for other people. And now this is just for you. Enjoy.

Why on earth is the Growth Office investing in such a thing? Because religious educators are the natural incubators, inciters, and keepers of our faith formation and identity.  A spiritually mature, fed, and centered religious educator is essential to healthy growth of every kind. One of the best way to do that is playing in the safety of peers.  Let the play begin!

1. Welcome Station

On Hold Envelopes: On a slip of paper write down any should, obligations, responsibilities and such that need to be put on hold for the weekend.  Slip them into the envelope. Write your name on the envelope and place them in the basket for safekeeping. The envelopes and obligations will still be there if you would like to retrieve them after our weekend together. Or not.

Muck Dusters:  These have magic magnetic powers.  If you come with any ick residue from interactions or tight schedules or any karmic challenge, ask a colleague to dust you off.

Medicinal Bath Salts for Spiritual Detox: if your residual spiritual exhaustion or toxicity level are beyond the magic of the Muck Duster.  You may need these.  Sprinkle these special salts in bath water and soak for a very long time.  Imagine the spiritual toxins being pulled out of your core. And as you pull the plug on your bathtub, watch those nasty contaminations circle the drain. Gone.  You karmic slate is clean.

2. Ball Pit 

Yes, that’s right our very own Ball Pit.  You are invited to dangle your feet in the balls of bliss or you can get right on in there.  Here is the only rule: when two people are ballsgathered they each take turns pulling balls out until they find one with a question and then take turns answering the question.

3. Create and Release Necklace Charms

You are invited to create a charm specifically for a religious educator.  Here’s the kicker – you do not know who it is.  Please make the charm prayerfully and lovingly. What is your wish for another religious educator?  Make it into a charm. A silver jewelry backing will be attached after the charms dry. If you are inspired, you may make charmsmore than one. These will be gathered and then release during a “reverse offering” during closing worship.

4. Faith Formation Haiku (& other forms of poetry)

Reflect back on your year.  Or look ahead.  Or go straight to the core and purpose of faith formation.  Put it into poetry.  Cheeky and irreverent or gorgeously soulful. Write your poem on a blue piece of paper and hang it to create a “rain of poems.”

5. Wall of Appreciative Inquiry

Add to the mural of possibilities.  What if Directors of Religious Education ran the congregation?…

6. Story Stones

Instructions.  Spend a full two minutes writing down all the roles, identities and titles you carry. All the ones you can think of.  From that list circle ten you most identify with. From that ten, narrow it to three. And now decorate a stone with one (two or three if it’s too unbearable to choose) of your very core identities.  During our evening Celebration of Play, you will be invited up to place your stone in the river.

7. Prayer Candles

Please use whatever art supplies you like.  This is yours to take home and use as a personal spiritual tool in your religious work.  I find that tracing paper holds watercolors and permanent marker and crayon nicely and offers a lovely opaque film to glue on.

Guiding questions:  What do you call the Ultimate Source? Whose shoulders do you candlesstand upon? What mentors and companion give you strength and camaraderie for the journey? What is your driving mission and purpose?  What do you want your life story to be about? What three words can be used to describe your core ministry?

8. Soul Cards

Instructions:  Stand before the array of cards.  Think of a challenge you’ve been working on.  Close your eyes and really envision it in your mind’s eye.  Conjure a specific question around this challenge.  Once you have your question, open your eyes and let your hand gravitate to a card.  Take the card and let the image work on you. What do you see?  What possibilities and/or truths are there?  Remember there are chaplains serving and holding us as we work through discernment.  You are welcome to take your card home.  You are also welcome to exchange it for a different one


People crave to make meaning of their world.  Art creation, especially in a safe community of peers, is an important way to explore faith identity bubbling up that may not be word ripe yet. The world needs more beauty.  Consider adding art and play into all aspects of congregational life. It can be an effective way to stretch into multigenerational programming.  Please, try it out and report back.

The Importance of Sharing Snippets of Our Life Journeys

ARAO chaliceLife is stranger than fiction, my Grandma “Miss Em” used to say.


I’m blessed that I, as the single head of my relatively financially fragile household, am able to travel for non-business-related reasons at least twice a year. In the not so distant future, I’m planning to visit South Africa where, for political reasons, I never visited when I had the financial means and now wish I could visit although I no longer have the means. In the near future, I plan to revisit Barcelona, a Compassionate City that I truly love. These days, I visit my relatives in Markham, outside of Toronto, Canada. It’s wonderful being there, learning about the stark and nuanced differences between Canadians and Americans. I visit family and friends in Mexico, to soak up the Caribbean and Mayan cultures of the South Coast and to learn a little more Spanish.


And annually, I visit family and friends at home, in Jamaica. In addition to Kingston, where my family lives, I visit the touristy North Coast and the quiet South Coast. I love being home. Twenty-five years ago, when my daughter was born in New York, my late spouse and I made the commitment to raise our daughter in an environment far more liberal than that of our beloved Jamaican homeland. Our commitment to live abroad has much to do with the homophobic realities of Jamaica, my country.


Mark and I wanted to raise our child to the best of our ability. We compared the differences in our upbringings. We compared our respective aspirational parenting styles. Having dear friends of diverse sexual orientations, we asked each other, “Suppose she were gay…?” I’m proud to note that we jointly took a critical stand. Our daughter would not be raised in Jamaica. We made this decision with our eyes wide open, knowing that life at home would have afforded us comforts that were not ours in the United States. Today, I reflect on the circuitous route that I have navigated and still stand firm in this belief.


My religious path could also not have been realized at home. We have no Unitarian Universalist congregations in Jamaica. Perhaps that will be my ministry in “post-career activism” – a phrase I first heard a few Sundays ago – used by Dr. Leonore Tiefer, my friend of many years at my congregation, the Community Church of New York.


Perhaps, I ask myself, I need to better understand what it is that calls or stops calling Unitarian Universalist folks such as myself who live at the margins in terms of culture, race and ethnicity; ability; or diversity of gender expression and sexual orientation.


As I question my own desire to be of this faith and to work for this faith, I await the responses of a cloud of witnesses responding to the Multicultural Ministries Sharing Project. These responses will be critical in helping us learn of and appreciate needs of folks such as me who live at the margins of identity within the dominant landscape of Unitarian Universalist cultural norms.


The Multicultural Ministries Sharing Project is a groundbreaking project to seek insight into the experiences of Unitarian Universalists who are people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, or otherwise marginalized around ability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and/or race/ethnicity. Learn more! 



JaniceJanice Marie Johnson is the Multicultural Ministries and Leadership Director of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Janice really believes in building Beloved Community, everywhere, all over the world. She is ready and willing to do the hard work of developing relationships all over the world: Barcelona, Bangkok, Cape Town, Rio, Anse Boileau, San Francisco, Berlin, Bali, Milan, Mecca, Playa,  …. Well, you get the idea!

Inheriting the Farm

Harvest timeI come from five generations of farmers who settled on Lake Erie in northern Ohio. I am a product of their stories and ethos and extended family norms.  I learned Universalism from their example. We are all related, laterally and horizontally.  When I left for college my Grampa told me he was delighted in my choice of vocations (teacher) as there are three especially noble paths:  teaching, ministry, and farming.  Two out of three, Grampa.  I can see you smiling in the Cloud of Witnesses.


I have to admit, that I do feel some guilt having left the farm, which I love so much.  I feel I have somehow betrayed my beloved ancestors.  And at the same time, I know they are cheering me on, right there when I need them. Once I moved to the Pacific NW (in the 1990s) I got involved in the movement to save family farms in our region and to connect those farms to local restaurants.  My Grampa was pleased. It was my annual Christmas gift to him.


I spent most of last week in my family in the land of my origin.  My favorite Uncle just died.  I spent time on the farm cleaning and organizing with my cousin, which was really a method of creating space to talk and collectively grieve. It was good.


While sweeping out the barn, long void of animals, now full of abandoned equipment and a fishing boat, I meditated on what might come.  My brother and I moved across country in early adulthood.  My cousin stayed.  We are the only ones in our generation of this lineage. And I am the only one to have children.


My generation is stepping into leadership and decisions once held by my parents’ generation.  My own children, our ancestors’ progenies, may one day inherit this farm.  And by that, I don’t mean just the land. I also mean the stories, the ethos, and the extended family norms, as I did. These will guide them in their life choices and inheritance decisions.  I feel confident that I’ve handed these on properly and strongly.  But what about the practical and technical means of farm stewardship?  I am not currently prepared. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to prepare both myself and my children.


My aunt chose to turn the fertile piece of property handed down to her into a land trust, specifically a sanctuary for ducks.  Absolutely in line with the family values in which it was given. She was prepared to honor the gift in a way that respects both the ancestors and who she uniquely is in the world. I want that ability for my children.  I want that for all of us, whatever we are inheriting from our relations who went before.


In the face of unknowns, how are we preparing our children (of all ages) to inherit our family farms, our family inheritance?   Who owned the land before my people settled there? What is our relationship now? What could it be? What were the challenges and blessings of each generation that tilled the soil? How did they choose the produce and animals to grow? How did they make their living and build community? Who lives in the community now and what is needed for the common good? What will my children need to know of land use management, land trusts, conservancies, savvy reality business options, philanthropy, and investment?


And yes, the family farm is also a metaphor for congregations. I kept my children at arm’s (continent’s) length of their family farm and regret it.  I see many of our congregations keeping our older children and youth at arms length of the actual workings of our institutions, and I think that is a big mistake.  If we truly believe that the youth and young adults will inherit our faith, how are we using the precious time we have with them to create savvy religious and community leaders? What skills, stories, and experiences will they need to pick up where we left off and run? How are we integrating our youngers and leveraging mentors for cross learning and engagement? If you believe your congregation does a solid job in preparing our youth and young adults for their inheritance, please email me.  I’d like to highlight success stories here this year.



Rev Tandi clappingTandi believes that every congregation should offer full membership to youth who go through Coming of Age.  At the very least, explicitly and ceremoniously offer membership to bridging seniors with great enthusiasm and welcome.

Season of Chalice Fairies

Chalice FairyThe homecoming time of year is upon us. The start of the congregational year. Our minds turn to a known schedule and rhythm.  I’ve been especially thinking of the souls who say “yes” to service to our faith in the form of board of trustees. What do they need from you to fulfill their role within the governance structure of your particular congregation?


How many of us actually stop to think… “In my role as a congregational member, how can I support our staff, our board, and our key leaders to do what our congregation has asked them to do in service of our collective mission? What is their work; what is my work; what do I just need to let go of?”


A congregation (let’s call it East Cupcake Unitarian Universalist Congregation) had been in conflict for some time.  At all levels.  The Program Council lost its way. The board liaisons and program leaders were distrustful of each other. The Board of Trustee meetings were filled with defensiveness, offensiveness, and rumored yelling. But the Small Group Ministry was chugging along.


When it was time for the Small Group Ministry groups to determine their service back to the congregation, one group prayed on what the biggest need in the congregation and the group’s greatest gift were and where those intersected naturally.  They came to the conclusion that their service would be to love up the board of trustees anonymously.  They dubbed themselves The Chalice Fairies.


Anonymity was important to them, as they wanted the board to assume that the love could be sent from anyone in the congregation.  The Chalice Fairies divvied up the board members so each member would get a love note and trinket monthly. Each quarter they chose a board meeting to make pie or pizza or root beer floats appear like magic before the board assembled.  Sometimes a suggested chalice lighting and ‘check-in question’ appeared on the table next to the chalice. Each act of kindness had a little picture of a Chalice Fairy (created by a child of one of the group) so the board would catch on that this was an organized effort of people who saw their service and loved them.


The Chalice Fairies got into it, remembering birthdays and affirming votes and decisions. Some of the trinkets sent were:

  • Decorated matches for when their flame went out,
  • Specially blessed bath salts to soak off the muck of difficult meetings,
  • Blank journals with a note to remember that board service is a form of faith formation and an invitation to get in touch with how this service brings one closer to Unitarian Universalism,
  • Prayers from For Praying Out Loud,
  • A little jar of raw honey with a note, “Just as bees each have their roles in the busy hive to make honey, so do you. Please stop to enjoy the honey.”
  • Homemade fortune cookies with particular fortunes tied to the congregation’s mission.


Did this change the board?  Hard to tell just how responsible the Chalice Fairies were for the gradual transformation. There were indicators of delight and astonishment.  The yelling at meetings went away.  As word spread of the Chalice Fairies’ deeds, other key volunteers received little trinkets and notes, much to the confusion of the Chalice Fairies, because none of them claimed the act. And to this day, the Chalice Fairies giggle a little when they see each other.


Consider yourself a commissioned, honorary Chalice Fairy.  Carefully choose and gather others for this task.  Perhaps you will choose to have an initiation ceremony using the Water Communion waters for anointing. Let your love, joy, and creativity be your guide.  And let go of desired outcomes. The original Chalice Fairies report that perhaps the biggest change was in themselves.  They developed a deeper understanding of community and covenant.  And that is my prayer for you.

Note: For this to be joyful and transformative, you don’t have to wait until your board is in dissaray.  This works beautiful when everyone is getting along and dripping in the golden glitter of covenant, too. 


Rev Tandi clapping Rev. Tandi Rogers has a pie baking in the oven for a certain board that is dear to her heart.

Announcing the 2013-14 Innovative Learning Circles!

Innovative Learning CircleAnnouncing the 2013-14 Innovative Learning Circles!  Perhaps you or someone you know might be interested in being a part of a year-long, virtual learning community with other leaders in one of the groups listed below. If this is you, please pop me an email: trogers@uua.org.

All groups follow a 7-8 month, virtual, hybrid model of small group ministryShalem, and case-studies.


  • Campus Ministry Coordinators: How can campus ministry programs reach beyond their identified UU group and make an impact? How can Campus Ministry impact area congregations?
  • Community Ministries:  What impact does a learning cohort make on the impact of community ministries?
  • Congregations & Beyond: What experiments might be replicable in other Unitarian Universalist settings?
  • Emerging Congregations: How can leaders navigate challenges to plant Unitarian Universalist communities that meet the needs of the 21st century?
  • Faith Formation 2020: (prerequisite: taking John Roberto’s training and reading Steinke) How can leaders adaptively shift congregational systems to break open and make way for FF2020
  • Presidents of Congregations: (61-160) How can small congregation focus on health and lower their walls for bigger impact in the world?
  • Presidents of Congregations: (301-400) Using some of Alice Mann’s work, how can leaders help their congregations break through this awkward size?
  • Prison Ministry: How can prison ministry programs reach beyond their identified UU group and make an impact? How can prison ministry impact area congregations?
  • Worship: How can leaders use worship to shift congregational systems to meet the needs of the 21st century?

These groups are already filled:

  • UU Membership Professionals: How do membership professionals impact the health and vitality of congregations and beyond? What is the role of Membership Professionals in the 21st century?
  • UU Funding Program: What impact does a learning cohort make on the impact and fulfillment of strategic plans?

Each month, starting in November, we will report back some of the “gold nuggets” of learning from the various groups.  So stay tuned for some rich, community learning!


Laughing Tandi for DialogTandi Rogers is a former enthusiastic school teacher and has simply switched classroom venues.

Dog Poop and Congregational Adaptive Change


compost and poopMy city composts.  I love it.  I have the big compost bin out on the side of my house so the neighbors and area lawn care people can also use it. It’s great!


Except the people walking their dogs put their little plastic bags of doo-doo in the compost bin as well.  This is a problem.


So I think, maybe the Dog People don’t understand that this is a compost.  I will educate them!  And so I make a nice laminated sign explaining that this is not a garbage can, but a compost bin.  My sign had “No Dog Poop Allowed!” in big, bolded letters.  I felt proud of my sign and was sure the problem was solved.


But nooooo. Little plastic bags of dog doo-doo showed up in my compost bin the very next day.  The offender even had to look at my sign while opening up the lid!  I was filled with resentment and righteous anger and even hostility.


I did not like how I was feeling about my neighbors one bit. I looked at someone walking their dog and glared, wondering if they were the one defiling the compost. Not good energy at all.


I took it to prayerful meditation to surrender the anger.  I knew rationally the Dog People were not out to get me.  I’ve had the privilege of being owned by a dog before… remember back… So I walked around my neighborhood trying to get in the mindset Dog People.  I learned that only garbage-like receptacle within a three-block radius was my compost.  Just as the neighborhood needed a compost bin, we also need a Dog Poop Receptacle!


Off I went to a home improvement store where I bought a modest-sized bin that has one of those lids where you step on the lever and it pops up. After all, if you’re walking a dog, you most likely have a dog leash in one hand and a plastic baggy in the other hand.  I Poop containerno longer felt resentful of the Dog People.  I felt a joyful love of them. I wanted to help them.  I took the new receptacle home and decorated it with the words “Complimentary Dog Poop Baggy Container.” And I placed it right next to the compost.


Yes, I sat by the window and watched to see what happened.  The very first Dog Person, stopped, read the container, chuckled and then put their plastic baggy in the desired container.  Joy! Success!


I am happy to report that there have been no instances of plastic baggies in the compost.  I have received a thank you card and a sweet post-it note on the Complimentary Dog Poop Baggy Container.  I’ve seen people stop, look at the container and either laugh or scratch their head. At first the neighbors seems curious about me every time we crossed paths. Now there is a sweetness between me and the Dog People.  I take care of them.


And here’s where the Adaptive Change comes in.  My poorly placed Technical Fix was putting a sign on the compost.  “If only they knew better, their behavior with change.” That honestly rarely works.  I knew it was an Adaptive Challenge when the plastic bags continued to show up in the compost.  When the problem continues even after you think you’ve fixed it, then you know it’s an Adaptive Challenge.  I needed to learn something and change something about my response to challenge.  I got creative.  My Adaptive Response was a fancy container with imaginative, playful signage. (I find playful, creative joy helps tremendously with Adaptive Challenges.)


Now it’s your turn.  What is the “dog poop” in your congregation?  The problem that doesn’t seem to go away even when you put a detailed, explanatory sign on your compost?  How can you reframe the issue? What do you need to learn? What do you need to change in your own behavior? What is your equivalent to walking around your neighbor to get see what’s really going on? And finally what is your Complimentary Dog Poop Baggy Container?



Tandi Feb 2012Tandi Rogers compulsively sees connections between religious community and wider world everywhere she goes. Her quirks are working for you.


2013 Growth Kit

Growth kitStefan Jonasson and I handed out Growth Kits at this General Assembly.   Little envelopes that said:

2013 Growth Kit

Change your script,

change your story.


A growing congregation is a learning congregation. Nothing dampens innovation more than “We’ve always done it that way.”

Try instead to say, “I tried that before and this is what I learned. Perhaps it will work this time. How can I be supportive?” It is better for everyone’s spirit, including your own.  Be kind and encouraging with each other!  Hold hands when taking leaps of faith!

On the inside of the envelope is a button.


And on the back of the envelope is a warning:

Warning: enclosed is a pin that could cause revolution within your community.

May you take the spirit of the Growth Kit into your congregational leadership and lead a revolution of spiritual generosity, making way for innovation and experimentation!



Tandi Feb 2012Tandi Rogers will admit that she used to say, “But we’ve always done it that (my) way.”  And she wants you to know that there is hope for learning a new way and surrendering to new leadership styles and visions.


Innovative Learning Circles

Innovative Learning CircleWhat would happen if we gathered some of our religion’s best, innovative leaders together from around the Association to spark, inspire, and cross-pollinate each other?  This was the question behind the experiment Innovative Learning Circles.  The break down of the experiment was this:  5-6 leaders gather virtually for a monthly hour-and-a-half-long meeting over a span of nine months starting in September.

Similarly to small group ministry there was a group agreement as to how to be together and what could be shared outside of the group. Most participants were familiar with the model and very little adaptation was needed.

We experimented with various kinds of videoconference software to see what served our purposes best. I am eternally grateful for the patience (and humor) of the groups, as some of the early products were disastrous. Most of the groups settled into (free) Google Hangout or a paid-for version of Skype.

Two flavors of Innovative Learning Circles emerged:

  • Think Tank Groups wrestled with questions I would bring from the UUA Leadership Council or around a specific and timely issue. These groups developed respect and affection for each other, and I watched them reach out to one another outside the groups.  These groups were quick to share resources and problem solve.
  • Case Study Groups took turns each telling their story, a specific incident, or issue they were working on. These groups went deep with each other, risked vulnerability, and helped keep each other accountable in a way that humbled me.  Before someone shared I would ask what kind of feedback they would like to receive, further deepening the trust and allowing us to practice showing up effectively and lovingly.

I sent out questions or articles ahead of time, but the format for all the groups was very similar:

Chalice Lighting


Question or Case Study

Reflection and/or feedback

Take-Away (What nugget of wisdom or observation are you taking away)


A couple things we learned:

  • The more time zones involved, the more complicated it is to find a common day and time.
  • Closed FaceBook groups keep each circle in contact throughout the month and was used to varying degree.
  • Don’t under-estimate basic introductions and sharing descriptions of ministry settings. The cultural differences between geography, size, and setting were fascinating and enlightening – and often assumed until we stumbled over them.
  • Asking each individual what his or her “Take Away” is was key to over-all learning and often unveiled another layer to group dynamics. I kept a notebook of “Take Aways” for each group and highly recommend that practice.  Going back over the year not only recorded growth, but we sometimes would go back to a concept or quote that was gold.
  • There seems to be a corollary between structure and depth of sharing. A set time and a set agenda provide the safety and predictability for a group to focus on the intimate relationship between themselves.


I believe this initiative is replicable, and I encourage you to borrow as you are so inspired! Please consider starting a version of Innovative Learning Circles in your congregation, geographic area or virtually by affinity/ leadership role.

I will share some of the Take Aways in coming blogs…



Tandi Feb 2012Tandi Rogers is a Credentialed Religious Educator and former classroom teacher. She cherishes how the teaching and the learning never stop, the classroom just keeps expanding.