Last week I took a quick trip to Boston to attend Terasa Cooley’s good-bye party and to meet, in person, with several colleagues who normally are only in my zoom room on my computer screen. The weather was beautiful – cold, clear and crisp – which prompted me to spend time doing what I love best to do in Boston, walk around the city.
One morning I walked up to our old UUA headquarters at 25 Beacon Street to see what was going on. “25” and the other two buildings that the UUA sold on Mt. Vernon Street and the former Eliot-Pickett Houses, were covered with giant “tents” out front, with a back hoe digging dirt and many construction workers scurrying around. I took a peek inside 25 and saw that the main staircase has been torn down and much of the ground floor, as I remembered it, had been cleared away. As I walked across town to our new headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street, I remembered with fondness walking up those stairs to see the MFC in 2000 and imagined all the lives that were touched and changed in the place the UUA used to call home.
It has been less than two years since the UUA headquarters have moved. The area has changed a lot and the many cranes and construction workers in our new neighborhood predict more change is on the way. I love the modern feel of our new headquarters and the opportunities they provide for easier collaboration, more productive meetings and new ways to connect today while remembering our yesterdays.
“24” and 25 provide a metaphor for the work we must do as ministers in the future; a future that has virtual cranes digging up many of the practices and foundations of our past, while building up new expressions of community and spiritual practice all around us. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that my walk through the streets of Boston and UUA office history prompted my ponderings about the future of our work and our faith. The weekend before my trip I was at the third intensive of our Beyond the Call – Entrepreneurial Ministry program learning new ways to finance and market innovation; and the importance, practices and “how tos” of cultivating and nurturing the eco-systems to sustain innovators and the organizations they lead.
We’ll be sharing the highlights of our third intensive in a webinar sometime in March. Our guest speakers inspired and challenged us in many ways but one phrase stuck with me, especially while I was walking around the streets of Boston. Greg Jones, the former Dean of the Duke Divinity School who worked closely with Greg Dees the “father” of social entrepreneurship, talked about “traditioned innovation” (https://www.faithandleadership.com/content/traditioned-innovation) as a practice for those of us in religious leadership. The cranes of sociological, cultural and religious change are all around us digging up the old and building the new. We stand, hopefully, with one foot in tradition and one foot in innovation dancing back and forth as fast as we can.
In these days of change, challenge and opportunity I pray we each have the wisdom and humility to continue to learn how/when to stand in each stream knowing that our spirits and our people need both waters to thrive. And, most importantly, we reach out to each other so we don’t need to swim in these choppy waters alone.
Rev. Don Southworth is the founding Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association. He lived in the corporate world before ministry where he spent ten years in parish life before joining the UUMA in 2009. He’s a bit on the old side of life but fights through his crumedgeony ways as much as he can looking for pockets of innovation and radical change that provide the main hope for religion in the 21st century.