Host a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room!

Elephant in the roomI am so proud to be part of a denomination that is focusing much of its social justice energy on the Movement for Black Lives. How proud? Proud enough to have hosted a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room with my own congregation along with our county’s Interfaith Network.


She’s big, she’s blue, emblazoned on the side of her body in bold letters is the word  RACISM, and she cannot be ignored. She’s heading out on a coast to coast tour, and she would love to come to your community. There are lots of ways to use her.


This is how we did it: At our local Gay Pride Festival this summer, we set up some comfortable furniture (and the giant pachyderm) and simply invited people to talk to each other. Some white people wore blindfolds that said “White Privilege”, a literal way to experience being blinded by white privilege while trying to understand racism.  


elephant-solidarity-22When the Movement for Black Lives called for a national day of action focussed on law enforcement on July 2, we answered the call by bringing the Elephant to our local police station, displaying signs to passing cars with messages in Solidarity. Many were uncomfortable with this action, maybe a bit too “edgy”. Ultimately it resulted in an ongoing positive dialogue that helped build relationship with our local police department.


That’s what’s happened locally, and my local action has been inspired by what’s happening denomination wide. At Portland’s 2015 General Assembly, the Movement for Black Lives was a focus through the whole week, ending in the dramatic final plenary session where we struggled to agree on the wording to the Action of Immediate Witness titled “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement”. I was privileged to participate in the die-in where more than 200 of us were in the street, closing a busy intersection for 4 ½ minutes representing the 4 ½ hours that Michael Brown’s body was left lying in the street in Ferguson. It has not been a part of my Unitarian experience to be involved in nonviolent direct action to such an extent. I know it has been part of our history, but I’ve only been a Unitarian for 15 years!


I couldn’t make it to the Columbus GA in 2016, but I followed it online. And there was Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost at the Closing Worship, leading thousands of Unitarians singing “Get Ready. We Comin’”, and yes yes yes, I felt the Spirit.


If you feel it too and would like to bring that Spirit into your community by hosting a Community Conversation about the Elephant in the Room sometime in the next twelve months, follow the link to sign up!



This is an Action-in-a-Box project of The Backbone Campaign in collaboration with SURJ, and soon, Unitarian friends across the country! The “box” will be shipped to you with everything you need to stage a successful Conversation on Racism event. Click here to express your interest, explore dates and get your questions answered And feel free to contact Jo Walter with questions
The #BeyondDenial Racism is the Elephant in the Room Action-In-A-Box is a terrific tool to engage in transformative dialogue on racism and white privilege, how racism continues to seep into the structures of society and manifest in our communities, engage the larger public to make commitments to do racial justice work, and practice showing up as better allies in the movement for racial equity.



Jo Walter is a lay leader of the Kitsap Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bremerton, WA

That’s Camp. That’s Church. That’s faith.

quuest-indoorsLast week I was the only adult of color on a 16+ person staff for QUUest church camp in CO. There were 14 youth of color at high school camp.


Being the only staff Person Of Color (POC) during this week of violence, protest, and grief was the toughest challenge of my professional life.


I’ll say this: The choice between white fragility and solidarity really matters.


We had 14 young people of color who were terrified that they or family members or friends might be the next hashtag, and we had folks who seemed more concerned about the camp schedule/their idea of what camp ought to be.


The POC high schoolers spent a lot of time in POC-only space last week. It was hard and healing.


At first the group feared gathering. It’s unusual for them to be around other POC, and they worried about dividing the camp. Quickly they saw that it was most important for them to *take care of themselves* and be in community. They ate, laughed, grieved and sang–together.


They got close not just through mourning Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the officers in Dallas, but through seeing that they are not alone. It was life-changing, life-affirming space. They found and made home.


I was the lone adult POC supporting them. Luckily several of our white adult/youth staff members helped. Predictably, that wasn’t true of everyone.


As the schedule kept changing, as tragedy and need to process kept “getting in the way,” though several were supportive and helped the schedule shift, some folks expressed frustration–with me, with the prospect of losing camp traditions, with the POC-only space, and more.


I badly want white UUs and other progressive folks to know and see that carrying out white supremacy isn’t always obvious. It can look like never asking “How can I help?” or “How are you holding up?” It can be never asking “I wonder how this black person is handling two black persons’ murders.”


It looks like responding to a white person’s statement of “next year Kenny can’t be the only POC on staff” with “beware of affirmative action,” like there aren’t fifty other wonderful religious professionals/young adults of color we couldn’t pay and have join us.


If you take nothing else from this status, take this:


I’ve attended camp since I was four. It means eeeeeverything to me. We can get stuck on whether to sing Rocky Raccoon or I Wanna Linger at Bridging, or whether it’s Good Friends or Dear Friends (it’s obviously Good Friends ‪#‎SWD4lyfe) or whether moving talent show/coffeehouse back a night messes up the flow of camp, or who knows what else. I say this as someone who *loves* traditions.


Camp, and church, and faith, are about showing up for people when they need us. It’s about finding compassion even through our frustration. It’s about loving hard and saying “how can I help?” It’s about letting people cry and weep and holding them as they do.


I barely made it through this week, friends.


I called and texted UU adult POC like Elizabeth Nguyen (UUA’s Leadership Development Associate for Youth and Young Adults of Color) and Jamil Scott (Director of Religious Education serving First Unitarian Society of Denver) in tears over and over because I didn’t think I could be what the youth of color needed and because the killings brought such grief.


Alicia Forde (UUA’s Professional Development Director) drove two hours on one night’s notice to spend Friday with us so I wouldn’t be alone and so the youth could be with a minister who shared their experience.


That’s camp. That’s church. That’s faith.


If we’re not doing that for each other–supporting others when we’re less directly affected, and sitting together in hard times, and driving or moving to be there for each other–then I have to ask: what’s the rest of it even for?


I fail at this all the time. I’ll fail at this tomorrow no doubt. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.


To my UU and human families: I love you. To my POC UU fam: as we’ve said and sung to/with each other so many times this summer, I need you to survive.


May we demand more of one another, be kinder to one another, and remember why we gather.




Kenny Wiley is a UU World senior editor and director of faith formation at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church in Parker, Colorado. His writing has also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, and Skyd Magazine.

Sophia Fahs Sunday 2016

SFS meme 1[1]So many of us are longing to be a part of an authentic multigenerational community. A place where children, youth, adults, and elders share, learn, worship and grow together. We believe one of the most important ways to build multigenerational community is through worship.

Sophia Fahs Sunday 2016 Here Together: Developing Multigenerational Communities Through Worship is a resource that is free online for you and your community. It is a video course on all the aspects of planning, creating, and celebrating worship to include everyone!

The Fahs Collaborative brought together a team of musicians, ministers,and religious educators to create a “best practices” learning course, to help you create great, multigenerational worship. This includes videos, resources, reflection questions, and music. Sophia Fahs Sunday highlights multicultural diversity, multiple learning styles, and the best of what we know about faith development.

Watch the videos on your own, or invite your team of planners to watch the videos together and discuss them together. It’s all about Collaboration!

Find Sophia Fahs Sunday 2016 Here Together: Developing Multigenerational Communities Through Worship and information on other Fahs Collaborative projects here.

SFS meme 2

Tops Picks for Growth at General Assembly

uua_ga2016_logoAre you looking for new ideas to grow your congregation? General Assembly is just around the corner, and there are a dozen workshops on growth to choose from.

Here’s a list, sorted by topic for you to mark in your Program Book or Mobile App.

Small Congregations

    #210 Thursday, 10:45am – 12:00pm E160
    Some small congregations are realizing that the way they’ve been operating is no longer sustainable. What’s next? Is it time to move towards a holy death? Or are you ready to make a vibrant new start with radical re-envisioning? How can you decide which choice is your congregation’s? This workshop will provide a framework and examples for both paths.
    Megan Foley & Rev. Mary Grigolia
    #410 Saturday 3:00pm – 4:15pm CC C226
    Small churches, the heartbeat of our faith, are uniquely positioned to innovate and experiment with new ways of being healthy, vibrant, and relevant – if they put mission and covenant first. Learn to identify your small congregation’s gifts and plan strategically for innovations to grow new possibilities for our faith.
    Rev. Megan Foley & Karen Bellavance-Grace


    #228 Thursday 1:15pm – 2:30pm CC E162
    Many congregations have mastered the process involved in opening their doors for newcomers but are they opening their hearts? What would that welcome look like in our greeting, programs, and emerging ministries? We will consider together how our spiritual baggage could be preventing us from truly being welcoming to all.
    Marie Blohowiak, Rev. Tandi Rogers & Tina Lewis
    #330 Friday 3:00pm – 4:15pm CC C223-225
    Heard the buzz about the Accessibility & Inclusion Ministry (AIM) Program for congregations? Wondering how to bring this new ministry to your congregation? Learn how to form an AIM Team to widen the welcome to people with disabilities. Become an AIM Congregation – moving ever closer to the beloved community.
    Michelle Avery Ferguson, Rev. Barbara Meyers, Michael Sallwasser & Suzanne Fast
    #432 Saturday 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC Union Station Ballroom A
    From the first online search to an in-person visit, emotions are a key part of what makes a visitor stay or go. User Experience (UX) approaches uncover the emotions we’re evoking to create positive and integrated experiences. Learn how to apply UX to your congregation to improve the visitor experience.
    Sarah Gibb Millspaugh & Carey McDonald


    #317 Friday 1:15pm – 2:30pm CC C223-225
    Religion is changing, and just preaching to the choir ain’t gonna cut it. Learn how to reach out to your community as an extension of your congregation’s mission, get the tools you need to move forward, and hear inspiring outreach stories from congregations like yours.
    Carey McDonald
    #422 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC E161
    Emerging ministries are new endeavors that are grounded in our faith and formed by covenant.
    How do some of these innovative ministries fulfill our UU mission in the world? Come learn
    from the stories of a new campus ministry, a network of interdependent communities and a forming congregation.
    Kevin Lowry, Rev. Nathan Hollister &Lori Stone Sirtosky

Innovative Ministries

    #328 Friday 3:00pm – 4:15pm HR Union E
    We’ve featured various models of congregational Partnership & Multi-site over the years: branches, yoked, mergers, etc. This year we’re highlighting Clusters and Partnerships just starting their covenantal relationships, at the beginning of the continuum of collaboration. Especially useful for lay leaders discerning deeply partnering with other UU communities.
    Joan Van Becelaere & Rev. David Pyle
    #352 Friday 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC Hall E
    Many of us are seeking new ways to support multigenerational faith formation in our congregations. Living the Principles is an engaging full-year, theme-based program for congregation-wide exploration of the Unitarian Universalist Principles. This workshop equips professional and lay leaders to use this program, with free online materials, in your congregation.
    Ellen Quaadgras, Ann Kadlecek & Halcyon Westall
    #358 Friday 4:45pm – 6:00pm HR Delaware CD
    This workshop will equip lay and ordained leadership for effective stewardship in our congregations and our Association. This will be a “flash” presentation of the most innovative and successful fundraising ideas. We will close with an inspiring word from Peter Morales.
    Mary Katherine Morn
    #420 Saturday 3:00pm – 4:15pm HR Delaware CD
    This workshop will equip lay and ordained leadership for effective stewardship in our congregations and our Association. This panel of on-the-ground congregational staff and volunteers will discuss their greatest successes in annual fundraising.
    Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, Rev. Trisha Hart & Rev. Peter Friedrichs


ReneeRev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. As program manager for Leadership Development, she is responsible for providing consultation, programming and training material (including webinars and videos) on various aspects of congregational growth, leadership and congregational dynamics. She writes for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Blog Growing Vital Leaders and tweets at @Vitalleaders.

Growing in Spirit

One of the most exciting areas of growth I’ve seen in our tradition has been in spirituality. When I first became involved with Unitarian Universalism in the mid-90s, spirituality was a somewhat unfamiliar concept to many of the people in our congregations. But toward the end of the twentieth century, more and more resources became available to help familiarize UUs with the idea spiritual growth.

One book in particular was enormously influential for me and many others: Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life, edited by Scott W. Alexander and published by Skinner House Books. It’s still in print today and is available online at inSpirit: the UU book and gift shop.

In its pages, you’ll find a wide variety of approaches to spirituality, which is only fitting given our tradition’s long appreciation of the many spiritual paths offered by the world’s religions. What really interests me, though, is that a number of the essays in the book were written by UU ministers who are also trained spiritual directors.

Two of those authors, Erik Walker Wikstrom and Christine Robinson, have gone on to create a number of resources that have helped move personal and communal spiritual growth into the forefront of our movement.

One of my favorite resources from Rev. Wikstrom is Spirit in Practice, a ten-session Tapestry of Faith Program for adults which “was created to help Unitarian Universalists develop regular disciplines, or practices, of the spirit—practices that help them connect with the sacred ground of their being, however they understand it.” And as with most Tapestry of Faith resources, it’s available free and online!

Rev. Robinson and her co-author Alicia Hawkins have “reimagined…small group ministry” by developing a small group format which “offers readings, journaling suggestions, and thought-provoking exercises to help participants prepare for the spiritual practice of sharing in community.”

There are three books in this Deeper Connection Series, each with fourteen gatherings: Heart to Heart, Soul to Soul, and Listening Hearts. All three are available from inSpirit.

Back in the nineties, it was sometimes difficult to explain to people who had never explored their spirituality just what that might entail. Now with resources like Spirit in Practice and the Deeper Connection Series, our congregations can be places were everyone—newcomer and longtime members alike—can experience spiritual growth together.


Phil Lund

Religious educator, minister, spiritual director, and wannabe geek dad, Phillip Lund is a congregational life consultant with the MidAmerica Region of the UUA and co-creator of the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction.

Study Guide for UUWorld Article: Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County (Media, PA)

Congratulations to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County (Media, PA), for being the newest UUA Breakthrough Congregation! Each year the UUA’s Congregational Life Office recognizes a handful of congregations that have “broken through” barriers to achieve exemplary goals.

The UU Church of Delaware County is highlighted in the current 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 congregation. We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders.

Picture from


Questions for Discussion and Deeper Study


The UU Church of Delaware County has a culture of saying “yes” and is described as a “congregation that puts themselves on the edge” in bold ways.

Questions for Discussion

  • In what ways does your congregation says “yes?”
  • How might a culture that encourages innovative thinking help leaders and members deepen their own spiritual growth?
  • What is the boldest action your congregation has taken in support of its mission? How did it feel to take a bold step forward and what did you have to “leave behind” to move forward?

Delaware County has an innovative “Growth through Service” program that integrates volunteer service opportunities with faith development. Congregants develop individual goals for spiritual growth and are matched with volunteer opportunities to help them meet those goals.

Questions for Discussion 

  • What are some of the ways that your congregation connects volunteers to service opportunities?
  • Is there a process by which congregants can articulate individual spiritual goals and do you see a connection to service within your context?
  • How might such a program help your congregation reimagine the way in which leaders are trained and developed?


At UUCDC, several volunteers identified a target group, young families, and sought permission from the leadership to develop social opportunities for connection that evolved into several small ministry groups.

Questions for Discussion 

  • As you think about your congregation, are there groups or ministry areas that are ripe for connection through small group ministry?
  • Is this something you can imagine happening in your congregation? Why or why not?


UUCDC has raised its expectations for members in a number of ways including asking for an increased financial commitment, the Growth through Service program and an overall culture that values “showing up.”

Questions for Discussion 

  • What areas can you think of where higher expectations could help your congregation live its mission more fully?
  • How receptive is your congregation to change and how might leaders prepare the congregation for this work? What might be a first step to raising expectations?




Photos from the UUWorld pages on Flickr.


pinfanteThis Study Guide creator is Patricia Infante, Congregational Life Staff with the Central East Regional Group. CERG offers many excellent growth resources. Please check them out! Thank you, Pat, for so generously serving our faith.

By The Numbers: Religious Education breakdown by size and age

Today on the Unitarian Universalist Religious Educators‘ FaceBook page there was a thread that caught my eye about congregational certification.  Specifically the Religious Education Enrollment part of certification.


Joy Berry, the Director of Lifespan Religious Education serving the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, NC, ponders, “Anyone else wondering why, if RE for all ages is a best practice, we aren’t asked any question about lifespan RE?”


She goes on, “What might we learn if we gather data on the number of adults enrolled in RE? As a % that can be compared to the membership and to children and youth in RE. For DREs in search who are considering lifespan positions, it might be really useful to know the relative size of that element in the program. And for settled DREs, to be able to quickly compare numbers for adult RE across years (like I just did to see we had a sizable increase in children and youth RE) would be great.”


When we analyze the certficification numbers, (children and youth) RE Enrollment is analogous to adult membership. In this case think of adult membership as “adult enrollment.” Think about it, just because you’re registered in a book doesn’t mean that you actually show up consistently, right? I think those can stand together rather well.  The Average Sunday Attendance is the figure that captures everyone actually gathered.


Over 50% of our congregations responded to the Faith Communities Today Survey. In that survey the interfaith consortium ask congregations to break their religious education programs down by percentages: senior adults (65+), adults (50-64), adults (35-49), young adults (18-34), youth (13-17), children and preteen (0-12.)


The following are charts from those figures and are broken down into these sizes of congregations:

Fellowship Congregations (0-60) – 80 in this size responded
Small Pastoral Congregations (61-160) – 159 in this size responded
Midsize Pastoral Congregations (161-300) – 97 in this size responded
Transition Congregations (301-400) – 20 in this size responded
Program Congregations (401-600) – 22 in this size responded
Large Program Congregations (601-800) – 12 in this size responded
Corporate Congregations (800+) – 5 in this size responded


The following pie charts are the averages of the congregation that responded.


RE fellowship


RE Small Pastoral


RE midsize pastoral


RE Transition


RE program


RE Large Progarm


RE corporate

Joy wonders, “what might we learn if we gather data on the number of adults enrolled in RE, as a % that can be compared to the membership and to children and youth in RE. For DREs in search who are considering lifespan positions, it might be really useful to know the relative size of that element in the program. And for settled DREs, to be able to quickly compare numbers for adult RE across years (like I just did to see we had a sizable increase in children and youth RE) would be great.”  Yes!   Measuring such things can help break down assumptions or flag things to pay attention to.  Over time you can measure change and then change course accordingly.


Our FACT survey didn’t ask for either a membership/enrollment or Average Sunday Attendance percentage breakdown by age.  It would be nice to be able to compare and see which groups may be underserved. It’s also good to keep i mind that these figures come from people in congregations self-reporting.  It’s soft-data.  But it’s a start.


More figures from both the FACT survey and congregational certification will be coming out in about a month. A team and I are working on publishing a report based on the UUA Board Monitoring Report of our Ends.


Tandi Feb 2012Metrics and analysis are a small part of Rev. Tandi Rogers’ portfolio, but it’s one of her favorites.  She’s grateful that this year she gets to team up with Michelle Rediker, Carey McDonald, Heather Bond, and Annette Marqui to report out. That’s simply a formula for more fun!


This Here Is Some Radical Polity

The subject of the email was:  “If we set a date, it will happen”.


It was sent to a small group of Canadian Young Adults who’d been talking in pockets and clusters for a while about how to “do Church differently”. This was back in 2012, when I was peripherally aware that the Top People of Unitarian Universalism had started holding big meetings talking about this stuff.


We knew we were not Top People of Unitarian Universalism. We were a small group that cared, meeting to hang out for a weekend in a Church basement and talk. No pre-planned agenda, no facilitators, no real plan beyond the basics of food and sleeping space. Funding would be accomplished by “do what you can”. So would cooking and dishes.


Friday night, we planned the weekend—we planned any topics or activities or worships that we wanted to make sure happened, and drew up a chore list.  Then, we got on with the stuff.


We sang a lot, and joked a lot, and prayed together and sometimes cried. We talked about a lot of things, including the question of what types of sustainable religious communities might thrive in the future. At some point that weekend, something clicked and we realized we were a sustainable religious community ourselves. We met all the criteria—deep connection, meaningful worship, fiscal responsibility (we covered our costs and had lots left over to donate to organizations we were connected with).  Some of us continued meeting by Skype for a couple of years.  There were other smaller retreats, and another larger one again last year.  This community has been a deep and profound part of my spiritual life and my formation as a UU. Connections I created there have nurtured my work and my life in profound ways, and have fed the work of UUism in Canada.


As a movement, we talk about thinking big. We also need to think small. We need mini-ministries. We need to encourage and equip people to create communities and experiences where they are and with what they have. We need to make sure our people understand that you don’t need to have a seminary degree or a big budget to make things that are real. The Gathering (as it became called) was sustainable but not self sufficient. It drew on connections created over decades in congregational and regional programming, and on donated church space. It also gave back to those groups in the leadership, connections, and enthusiasm it generated. Also, money. It turned out to be a reasonably effective fund raiser.


More than that, it interconnected us. People who were disillusioned with some aspect of their home church got a second wind. People with no home community for their UU identity had a place to explore and worship and grow. People from different groups collaborated and shared ideas. We built trust and connection and foundation. We got out of our silos.


This here, I found myself thinking as one group came in from a snowball fight while another sat in deep discussion and a third practiced a song for worship… is some radical polity. This here… this is something we need.


Communion Song
Click to hear The Communion Song, one of the many creative, spirit-filling happenings of The Gathering
Liz jamesLiz James is a seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School, in training to be a Lay Leader Extraordinaire.  She believes that Unitarian Universalism in the future will need a diverse and talented group of us—lay, ordained, and other professionals—passionately serving a variety of calls.  Liz is an animated speaker, a Facebook overlord, and an expert in thinking outside the box. Way outside the box. Sometimes she forgets where she put the box.  Some of Liz’s writing can be found at

Meaning Makers

“The closest UU congregation is far away and I don’t have a car”

“There’s no UU group at my college”

“I work the brunch shift Sunday mornings but I still need spiritual community”

“I miss the peer connection of youth group.”

“I was raised UU, now I want to go deeper into my faith.”


Have you ever heard an 18-24 year old Unitarian Universalist say anything like that?  I know that I have heard, read and seen statements like these time and time again in my role as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Our emerging adults are hungry for connection and faith formation even as they face many obstacles to staying in or finding new UU community.  There are many ways to address this un-met need, from shifting our larger culture toward true multigenerational engagement to helping individual bridgers navigate the transition out of youth culture.


One brand new way our office is trying to help is with a program called Meaning Makers. Meaning Makers is a yearlong spiritual development program for emerging adults that combines in-person retreats, virtual small group ministry and mentorship.  The first class of Meaning Makers will meet June 6th-9th at UBarU Ranch in Texas.  From there they’ll meet monthly online to discuss the themes in the young adult meditation manual Becoming and also meet individually with a UU mentor, closing the year off with another retreat in June 2017.  They’ll explore what integrity looks like for them as they move into adulthood; who they are and how they can live their UU faith in the world.  


The application to join the program is due February 29th so spread the word!  I am so excited to see how this experiment works and what these emerging adults will bring to the experience. Thanks to the generosity of UUA donors, support from the Southern Region of the UUA and the fundraising work of UBarU this program should be accessible to a wide variety of folks including those with limited financial resources.  I cannot wait to be surprised by what questions and resources bubble up as we embark on this journey together.


Meaning Makers


GonzalezMilliken_AnnieRev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken is a lifelong UU from the midwest and serves our faith as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She currently lives in Boston with her partner Lucas, their baby daughter Moira and two housemates.  A firm believer in both traditional and new ministries, she is a member of First Parish Dorchester, founded in 1630, and The Sanctuary Boston, created a few years ago.

Faith Forward

Spiritual Practice class photoNewcomers to First Unitarian Church of Dallas arrive at our doors seeking a path. The Unitarian Universalist tendency to tell people they can believe whatever they want and get involved in whatever they want is both overwhelming and insufficient. Visitors from other religious traditions as well as the unchurched want to know how to become part of the congregation, both as members and as leaders. This led us to examine the state of our existing adult membership and ask these questions:

  • Can our adult membership explain what it means to be a church member?
  • Do they have a deep understanding of our church and its role in the community?
  • Are they involved, connected, and excited about church leadership and service?

We learned that we had work to do on how we integrate new people into our church community, and how we develop and deepen the connection of our existing members.

To address this need, we developed the Inquirers Series, 8 rotating sessions about our church and Unitarian Universalist history and practices. Designed for visitors and newcomers looking for a general introduction, these sessions are also appealing to current members who just want to learn more about our church.

Inquirers participants also build connections with each other. They learn that they are not alone in their questions, and many are moved with the realization of all that Unitarian Universalism embodies. It is the first small group a visitor encounters, and serves as a bridge to deeper small-group involvement later. Sharon Thompson, our Director of Membership & Hospitality, says: “I have seen the time between first visit and joining decrease, and our new members are more firmly grounded in the faith, in their convictions and in their support. Prior to Inquirers, we would have 30+ individuals that had indicated they wanted to join, remaining on the list of declared members for over a year without completing the process and joining. Now the membership process is generally complete in 30-60 days.”

Growth in numbers isn’t everything, however, and “signing the book” is not the end of the membership process. We’ve seen these new members connect more quickly and easily at church, becoming engaged within our walls and in the wider community. They understand what it means to be a member of a community. And many find their first service opportunity as a greeter, offering a friendly face for other newcomers.

Yet we found that once people completed the 8 sessions, they wanted more. “What’s next?” they asked. Our answer is “Faith Forward: From Visitor to Leader.” Faith Forward is a comprehensive program for member integration, faith development, and leadership development which helps congregants strengthen their Unitarian Universalist identity, deepen commitment to the church, encourages spiritual growth, and develops church leaders. It is not adult religious education, nor is it a curriculum. It is a path of modular sessions designed for faith development and connection-building and is facilitated by lay leaders with staff support.

One facilitator, church member Rev. Lyssa Jenkens, says: “Faith Forward provides a very intentional and well-developed process of faith development for any member or friend. It fills a yawning gap in UU adult religious education where we often provide a beautiful buffet of classes and activities with little or no guidance regarding what constitutes a healthy meal as opposed to one that is tasty but has rather limited spiritual-nutritional value.”

In addition to the Inquirers Series, we now offer:

  • Inquirers Series (8 weeks)
  • Roots (1 class)
  • Beyond Inquirers (5 weeks)
  • Spiritual Practice (13 weeks)
  • UU History 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Theology 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Elevator Speech (3 weeks)

More sessions will be developed around UU history and theology, leadership, polity, and evangelism (sharing the good news of our faith!).

Do these issues around adult faith development and connection sound familiar? At the same time that our members were looking for more, other congregations began contacting us about sharing our membership process, so we decided to pilot the program with a few of them during the 2015-2016 church year. We look forward to learning how Faith Forward works in other Unitarian Universalist congregations, and adapting it for wider use in the coming years.

If you’d like to receive updates about Faith Forward—to find out what we learn from the pilot, gather tips on faith development and hospitality, and stay updated on how to get program materials for your congregation—visit this site, where you can share your interest and contact information.


headshot cropped largeRev. Beth Dana is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX, where she works with a great team of ministers, staff and lay leaders on this exciting new path for adult faith development and membership. She is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, originally from Albany, NY. After bouncing from coast to coast, she landed in the middle! She has crossed the thresholds of many UU congregations over the years, learning lots about welcome and hospitality in the process.