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

  • LEGACY OR RENAISSANCE: SMALL CONGREGATIONS ON THE EDGE
    #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
  • SUCCESS IN SMALL CHURCHES: HOPE IN UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM’S HEARTLAND
    #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

Hospitality

  • THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICE OF WELCOMING ALL
    #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
  • BRINGING ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSION MINISTRY TO YOUR CONGREGATION
    #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
  • WE MET ONLINE! GREAT VISITOR EXPERIENCES START WITH GOOGLE
    #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

 Outreach

  • OUTREACH 101: JOIN OUR CAUSE, NOT OUR CLUB
    #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
  • INNOVATING IN COVENANT: EMERGING MINISTRIES REACH OUT
    #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

  • UU MODELS OF PARTNERSHIP AND MULTI-SITE 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
  • LIVING THE PRINCIPLES: THEME-BASED PROGRAMMING FOR ALL AGES
    #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
  • INNOVATION AND INSPIRATION FOR UU STEWARDSHIP
    #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
  • ANNUAL GIVING: THE BACKBONE OF CONGREGATIONAL STEWARDSHIP
    #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.

Partnership across the River

Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker
Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker

The sister Unitarian Universalist congregations of Augusta, Georgia and Aiken, South Carolina straddle either side of the Savannah River. But the fact that they are in different states hasn’t stopped the spirit of collaboration that has existed since they were formed within months of each other in the early 1950s. The Aiken Unitarian Fellowship was formed first in 1953, and after Unitarians in Augusta decided to start their own fellowship in July of 1954 they carpooled their children to Aiken (18 miles away) for Sunday School until 1956; in 1958 Aiken children began to travel to Augusta for Sunday School.

All the while there was joint participation in cluster and district events, and Liberal Religious Youth retreats; but in 1974 the Aiken Fellowship disbanded and the deed to its property was given to Augusta. The funds were used as collateral to obtain a building loan for the Augusta campus to expand.

In the early 2000s the Rev. Dan King, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, supported UUs in Aiken in reestablishing their own congregation. The Augusta board facilitated financial arrangements until the Aiken congregation could handle them.

Several years later, the Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church decided to pursue the goal of becoming a minister-led congregation. As a lay leader of the Augusta congregation, I occasionally spoke at Sunday services in Aiken. I then had the honor of serving as a half-time minister of the Aiken church during my internship years. I was ordained by both congregations before being contracted by the Augusta congregation as its full-time Developmental Minister in 2013. My Minister’s Study is in the office block built with the funds donated by the Aiken Fellowship. The 60-plus years of collaboration between Aiken and Augusta has made me the minister I am today.

The Aiken congregation is in its second year without a minister; its leadership felt it needed to do something to further its mission and maintain its energy and credibility in the community. So last year the Aiken board proposed to the Augusta board that the two congregations (Augusta has 150 members, Aiken 60) explore ways to work together in partnership to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the larger Augusta-Aiken area. Going forward, we have agreed to assist each other internally within our congregations, and to promote our shared values in our communities. Our liaison team met for the first time in July, and our boards had a joint potluck and consultation with our Southern Region Congregational Life Staff member, the Rev. Carlton Elliott-Smith, in September. He challenged us to ask what we can do together that we can’t do separately…and that has opened up lots of possibilities!

In addition to training Worship Associates for both churches, swapping occasional speakers (and me) for Sunday services, and both social justice committees staffing a joint stall at the Augusta Pride festival, we are stepping up collaboration in the coming year to include a joint women’s croning ceremony in December and a new Coffeehouse series, which will be organized by a joint committee and held at the Augusta campus. We also will be off to The Mountain Learning and Retreat Center for a joint congregational retreat in April 2016.

The attitude of respect and the potential for partnership we now share were summed up by a statement both boards composed at the end of their September gathering:

Increasing our level of cooperation, we commit to:

Communicate openly and often through our liaison team;

Identify what we can do together;

Charge the boards to turn those opportunities into action.

 

____________________________

gayeRev. Gaye Ortiz, a native of Augusta, Georgia, serves as Developmental Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta. She adores her five grandchildren and great-grandson Oliver, and she believes that the Atlanta Braves will one day again win the World Series.

By the Numbers: where’s the growth?

Last week I posted the global growth numbers. This week let’s look at UU membership growth trends by congregational size breakdown…

 

(Edited to explain size catagories)  In the following graphs I use 7 different catagories instead of the traditional 4 or 5. The reason is that congregations behave differently and have different needs depending on their size (and other variables.)  The primary audience I prepare data analysis for are practitioners in the field, mostly Congregational Life staff.  And those front-line growth experts that serve and support our congregations use the following size catagories:

 

Fellowship/Tiny (0-60)
Small Pastoral Congregations (61-160)
Midsize Pastoral Congregations (161-300)
Awkward/Transition Congregations (301-400)
Program Congregations (401-600)
Large Program Congregations (601-800)
Corporate Congregations (800+)

 

Yes, you read that correctly. There is a category I call “Awkward” — it’s the hardest size to breakthrough. A couple years ago I asked leaders of congregation in that 301-400 bracket if the name was offensive. Most laughed and said, “no, it’s actually pretty accurate.”  There is a Facebook group for the two smallest categories called “Small & Mighty.”  There are just somethings that only congregational leaders in your size category will understand.  It’s good to compare notes, share ideas, learn from the challenges and celebrate the blessings.

UUA Growth Trends ten years

This is a ten year span we’re looking at.  Here’s the raw data:

Fellowship/Tiny: -12.6% (13,991-12,223)

Small Pastoral Congregations: -2% (36,729-36,007)

Midsize Pastoral Congregations: -3.3% (43,894-42,451)

Awkward/Transition Congregations: -6.5% (19,907-18,609)

Program Congregations: 4% (17,578-18,286)

Large Program Congregations: 11.3% (11,205-12,471)

Corporate Congregations: 20.7% (13,726-16,565)

 

Now watch what happens when we look at a three year span:

UUA Growth Trends three years

Here’s the raw data:

Fellowship/Tiny: Small Pastoral Congregations: (13,170 – 12,223)

Midsize Pastoral Congregations: (43,059 – 42,451)

Awkward/Transition Congregations: (19,188 -18,609)

Program Congregations: (17,855 – 18,286)

Large Program Congregations: (12,241 – 12,471)

Corporate Congregations: (18,283 – 16,565)

Don’t panic about our largest congregations.  The majority of them got real about what it means to be a member of their congregation and “cleaned the membership books.”  I see this as a strong sign of organizational maturity.

 

These two graphs really hit home what a difference the time span you’re looking at can make.

 

______________________________

Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

Blessing the Backpacks

Blessing Backpack Sandwich SignInspired by Full-Week Faith, created by Karen Bellavance Grace through the Fahs Collaborative, First Parish Church of Groton decided to hold a Blessing of the Backpacks. Here are some nuts & bolts, in case you don’t want to reinvent the wheel:
Don’t Do It the Night Before School Starts: We scheduled it for two nights before. Many families hadn’t seen each other since June. We had at least one new family who came so that their child could meet peers and have them be familiar faces on the first day of school.

 

Include Dinner: We planned it so that folks could eat (pizza; we asked for donations, but the church covered some of the cost) and then go home in time for the littlests’ bedtimes. We did ours 4:45 – 6:00pm. This may need to be adjusted based on your community’s rhythms.

 

Outreach – Early and Often: We had a save the date in June, but knew few would remember. Article in summer newsletter. Public Facebook event. We specifically asked some congregants to talk it up on their Facebook profiles, both to increase knowledge about the event and excitement. In the last two weeks, we upped activity on Facebook around the event. Use of visuals on social media is a must. For us, the most widely shared visual was a photo of our Main Street sandwich board, which ended up being shared over 1,700 times on Facebook! Go figure.


Inclusive Language:
Since we were using school as a reference (“school is just about to start”) we were sure to reference those who are homeschooling. We also decided that to invite as much multi-generational participation as possible, we also included the School of Life – thus making it clear that anyone could receive a blessing.Welcome

 

The Actual Thing

  • We did it outdoors. Sidewalk chalk to keep kids and adults busy as we prepared to start. Kept kids joyfully occupied, parents happy.
  • Marked the end
    of the summer by singing a silly camp song — enough of the kids knew it so they took over leading it.
  • Asked youth to sing and we assigned official blessing duties to the Coming of Age class.
  • We blessed not only backpacks, but all sorts of items including invisible (AKA forgotten at home) backpacks, briefcases, gym bags, cell phones, wallets, and shoulder of humans standing with us.
  • We handed out talismans — a HUGE hit: combining symbols of peace, or beads that said “UU” or the name of our church (our church initials, “FPCOG”).

Talisman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are the words of our blessing:

Even when you are away from First Parish, you carry the heart of Unitarian Universalism with you wherever you go.

May you feel curiosity all your days.

May your imagination catch fire.

May you find courage when it is necessary.

May confusion lead to better questions.

May you feel compassion toward those around you, and they towards you.

May you feel heard and seen; may you hear and see others.

May you speak up for those who are not heard, who are not seen.

As your spirit’s home, we are made stronger when you share what you learn. We ask you to bring what you learn of the world back to this place. If you agree, say – “we will.”

Table for backpacks

You are welcome and encouraged to borrow any part of this –change it up to make it your own. My only request is that if you are going to use the words of our blessing in print (hard copy or online) that you attribute them to me, Karen Johnston.

 

____________________

Karen G. Johnston is the Intern Minister at First Parish Church of Groton from 2014–2016, serving in a part-time capacity as she finishes her Master of Divinity studies at Andover Newton Theological School.

By The Numbers: but are we growing?

it’s Friday!  Time to snack on data. I’ve been deluged with the question — But are we growing?!

 

Now, dear ones, you know that there are many indicators to growth. Impact is really the growth I’m most interested in.  We’re working at fine tuning some data collection at the UUA to better measure impact. Until then, we classically measure by membership.

 

Most other traditions count Average Sunday Attendance, but for us that’s still soft data. Why? Because we’re still getting the hang of it. About ten years ago Religious Education Enrollment was also soft.  Today, it’s much more reliable.  In a couple years I think the majority of our congregations will be sending a solid count of everyone in the building on Sunday (or your other main day of all-gathered worship–whatever worship means to your community.)

 

So, are we growing?

15 year trend

Don’t get distracted with the squiggly line – On a larger scale it looks like a flat line growing by 1% over 15 years.

 

Interesting fact — Currently we have 1043 active congregations world-wide. 2% of our member congregation and 2% of our adult membership are abroad.

member RE ASA

 

This represents active congregations for the year indicated belonging to US regions and CLF.

 

Religious Education is dropping significantly. And this is a ministry we are known to do well. Your Congregational Life staff and the Liberal Religious Educators Association are alarmed, too and trying to figure out what this means for us. When I was with my research counterparts in August we were all wringing our hands about the decline in children and youth.  It’s everywhere.

compared to other religions

The yearbook with the above data only comes out every-so-often. This is the most current data we have available.

 

I see opportunity.  Many folks are leaving main-line Protestant traditions because of their behind-the-times stance on gay marriage and other liberal issues.  We’ve got that. In spades.  My question is how welcoming will we be to folks coming from other religions who don’t want to leave all their religious language and practices at the door? Will we make room? Will we be open to be transformed ourselves by expanded community and increased diversity in beliefs?  May we make it so!

 

_________________________

red glassesRev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

What if membership was a spectrum?

Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President
Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we have a traditionally operated under a model of church that doesn’t acknowledge the changing social norms about religion. Historically, we’ve only kept track of one aspect of involvement in church life, “membership”, which typically means signing a congregation’s membership book and making an annual pledge. But in reality, people interact with faith communities in dozens of different ways beyond the traditional notion of membership, often deepening and stepping back over the course of their lives. If we truly believe that everyone in our faith movement matters, whether they are official members or not, it is clear we need to re-conceive what it means to be connected to Unitarian Universalism.

We created a spectrum to help congregations see that there are distinct levels of belonging to our faith communities. Together, as leaders in the UU Association of Membership Professionals and as UUA staff working on outreach, we offered a workshop at 2015 General Assembly about how to engage the whole spectrum.

 

Curious Individual

These are the people who know us and are in sync with our values, but not involved in our programs or ministries. Some examples would include those who participate in community activities related to a UU group, follow UUs on social media, share UU content, read UU books, see and/or support UU social justice actions.

Welcomed Visitor

Those who are involved with UU programs or ministries at a basic or fluid level, and may or may not identify as UU, are at this stage. They may attend events hosted by UU congregations, go to Sunday services occasionally or participate in UU community-oriented ministries and programs (e.g. day care, lecture series). Sometimes they have a friend or family member who serves as a tie to the congregation.

Succeeding in the first two stages (outreach)
  • Pay attention to how you show up virtually (website, social media, Yelp/Google/search functions, news media), so you look as beautiful from the outside as you do from the inside.
  • Create multiple entry points that don’t revolve around Sunday morning (get creative! Get passionate!) AND pay attention to visitor experience at all of these entry points.
  • One transition between welcomed visitor and connected friend is the traditional “pathway to membership,” but support is needed for all transitions.
Connected Friend

After attending services several times, those who attend a one time or low commitment activity outside of services have become a connected individual. This gives them better opportunities to meet people and start building relationships. Having several easy opportunities, like a Circle Dinner, one time small group, helping set up at an event or serving coffee give new folks a way to meet others without making a big commitment.

Engaged Individual

When a person gets involved in a regular activity, such as an affinity group, small group ministry, religious education teacher or serving on a committee, they have engaged with the community. All of these programs require ownership in one way or another, an expectations of regular participation and, in many cases, opportunities to share spiritual journeys with each other.

Integrated Leader

At the final stage in the spectrum, individuals emerge as leaders. We have found that as someone steps into the role of a leader they are more than simply engaged with a community, but they are also integrated. And by being integrated they are changing the community. They put their own personal twist on the programs they lead and that is a deeper level in involvement then just showing up, even on a regular basis. You become an integrated leader when you are willing to put your efforts into making the community better. Some examples would be a committee chair, small group leader or religious professional.

Succeeding along the spectrum (welcoming and membership development)
  • Make sure facilitators and leaders of groups know how to welcome newcomers at each stage as people enter the spectrum at different points.
  • Have training in place for leaders to ensure they have healthy boundaries and motives consistent with the mission of your congregation.
  • Have a tracking system in place to know where people fall on the spectrum. This will be an invaluable resource for recruiting for programs and volunteer opportunities, discovering emerging leaders, as well as those who need assistance in connecting.
  • We need to understand that there will be people who move both directions on the spectrum, and even leave our path. We want to support them in their journey and leave room for them to comfortably return should their path bring them back.

 

Looking at these stages calls us to pay attention to how we help people move from one stage to another. Again, most of us will move up and down the spectrum over time, but transitions between stages will always be important for religious leaders to support (the transition of “bridging” from youth to young adulthood is a great example). We hope this model will inspire UUs to think differently about their faith, from outreach to curious individuals all the way to spiritual enrichment for our integrated leaders. It can even include non-congregational groups, conferences or ministries. Embrace the full spectrum!

Additional Resources

Notes from 2015 General Assembly Workshop

Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals

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Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President

By the Numbers: another serving of pie

Last week I introduced some numbers from a high balcony.  Let’s break down those numbers into regions.

2015 UUA cong by region

And now membership by regions…

2015 UUA membership by region

 

Is this what you expected? Anything surprise you?

 

Next week I’ll show you some growth trends…

 

____________________________

Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

It Starts And Ends In Love

The following post by Rev. Cynthia Cain was first featured by Standing on the Side of Love.

 

Dedication of Black Lives Matter sign on August 23, 2015. Sign was defaced 10 days later.
Dedication of Black Lives Matter sign on August 23, 2015. Sign was defaced 10 days later.

Not long after I returned from the events in Selma, marking the 50th anniversary of the historic march it became clear to me, even though I was an interim pastor at the UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore, that there was a compelling need at this time for a renewed civil rights movement, and for liberal congregations like ours to speak out and stand up, and we could no longer stand by in silence. Most important among the narratives and images that I brought back from Selma were the words of Mark Morrison-Reed, when he told us that it all begins with relationships; the powerful teachings of Opal Tometi, one of the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and the warmth, affection, and tenderness expressed by the families of James Reeb, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Clark Olsen, and Orloff Miller.

This great love, a love for humanity, for justice, for goodness, a genuine faith and a passion for what is best in humanity permeated the time we spent together. Walking toward that bridge amidst a throng of thousands, holding the hand of my adopted boy Seth, a child who lives with autism, I felt that day part of a great sacrament. I felt that a promise was made, to carry that spirit of love back to every town and city from which we had come.

Walking toward Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma 50th Anniversary march
Walking toward Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma 50th Anniversary march

Soon, we formed an Anti-Racism Task Force. We talked about what we might do: study, have forums, outreach, a partnership with a mostly Black congregation. I knew that other UU congregations had put up banners saying, “Black Lives Matter,” so I threw out the query, almost as a kind of provocative idea: Would you suggest we post a sign? How about protesting by the road if there were an incident in this community? It was a surprise, then, when the team members, unanimously, said, by all means. And since this team consisted of some of the founders and most highly respected members of the congregation, we stepped out, with Love. It wasn’t just an idea, but something I felt deeply embodied in these ten or twelve people: they meant it.

I was out of town when the Board unanimously approved the sign. I was at General Assembly when the task force planned and held a beautiful vigil for the victims of the massacre at the AME Church in Charleston the Sunday after the shooting. But I had returned by August 23rd when we had an afternoon ceremony, attended by new allies and friends in the community, to dedicate our sign. The relationships we had begun to build already showed.

The entire afternoon was about love: for me, the image that captured my heart was that of a young, African-American boy from the neighboring AME congregation to which we had sent flowers after the shootings holding hands with an elderly Black gentleman, the father of one of our members, as we sang, “We Shall Overcome.”

I believe that we lived into our best selves that day.

 

Children from St. Paul AME & UU Congregation at Sign Dedication
Children from St. Paul AME & UU Congregation at Sign Dedication

Yes, we have been viciously attacked on Facebook and threatened. Yes, the sign was defaced, scrawled over with white paint by vandals. Yes. We hung it back up after we found it could not be cleaned. Each decision we have made has been to respond with love, not fear. If your congregation has, or is interested in, putting up a banner check out this resource page on The Power of the Black Lives Matter Banner.

I refuse to listen to the messages of hate and scorn. I refuse to listen to the rhetoric that calls “Black Lives Matter” a hate-filled, cop-hating movement. For us, they are three words that send a signal to the world: we care, immensely, and we intend to live into these words with actions that show it. Indeed, our task force has worked diligently to build relationships with law enforcement, and to learn more about their challenges as well.

Task Force members & Rev. Cain with Atlantic City officers on weekly walks through the neighborhoods of AC. We have joined the ACPD & community organizers all summer.
Task Force members & Rev. Cain with Atlantic City officers on weekly walks through the neighborhoods of AC. We have joined the ACPD & community organizers all summer.

I sincerely believe that it is the nefarious design of institutional racism in this land, in which all white people are complicit, that has kept many of us from deep and genuine encounters with people of color. And it is only through proximity, and through building relationships, in which we listen, and open our hearts to love, that this will begin to be reversed.

I have learned this: as you build genuine relationships, you will stand up. As you make a stand, and take a stand, genuine relationships will follow. But you have to show up, and show up, and show up. This isn’t a flirtation, or a whim. White people, even liberals, have deceived, let down, and disappointed People of Color, and Black people specifically, in organizing for racial justice throughout history.

Don’t go in unless you intend to stay in relationship. And once you know, really know, the truth, you will never be complacent again, until all are free.

I feel so blessed to be a part of Unitarian Universalism in this time, when we are awakening to the new Civil Rights movement, and when we can be the people who show up, and stand, and move, with Love.

deface

Our sign (two sides) on Pomona Road across from the entrance to Stockton University. We replaced the sign with damage after it could not be cleaned, feeling that was a “teachable moment” and people needed to see how far some were willing to go to shut down this conversation. We are currently planning forums with a primarily Black Methodist congregation in AC.

 

Join our “cause,” not our “club”

CauseWe know that religion is changing in America, but in those changes there’s a hidden trend. Did you know that what attracts people to a congregation or religious community and what keeps them there are different things? What attracts people is the opportunity for meaning-making, and what retains them as members is the community and friendships they build. People don’t come because they are in search of friends or a community, per se, they come looking for spiritual deepening for themselves and their family and only then may they find a community which enriches the meaning-based experience and makes them want to come back.

This is clearly demonstrated through research. In his book “American Grace,” sociologist Robert Putnam digs through mountains of data to identify some key trends in American religious practice. Here’s a quote from his book: “Americans may select their congregations primarily because of theology and worship, but the social investment made within that congregation appears to be what keeps them there.” (pg 174).

You can see this dynamic at play within Unitarian Universalism, most recently in the multicultural ministries Sharing Project. This survey of UUs from marginalized groups (gender identity, race, ability, etc.) asked why respondents first decided to attend their congregation and then why they continued to attend. The top response for the decision to attend was “I wanted to deepen my spiritual life,” and the top response for staying was “I love the community of people”(page 15, or the 23rd page of the PDF).

Ok, you say, fascinating point, but what am I supposed to do about it? Simple: when you talk about what your congregation offers, think “join our cause” instead of “join our club.” Show what your congregation does, how it helps people live better lives and make a better world, instead of only talking about what a great community you offer. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a congregation say “all are welcome” (including UU, UCC, Catholic, even conservative evangelical!), well, I’d have a lot of dollars but no idea what I would be welcome to spend them on. It’s great that you’re not turning people away, but what are you actually offering them? Seriously, “all are welcome” at the movie theater, but I’m still not going to the movies unless I know what’s playing.

The key to successful outreach amid the changing religious landscape, particularly with the unaffiliated or Spiritual But Not Religious sets, will likely be to speak to why people would want to show up in the first place, not just what can keep them there year after year. Describe what we offer for learning, yearning and working for our values. We can’t assume people are already looking for a church on Sunday mornings, because in fact we’re competing for their time and attention against sleeping in, talking a walk, soccer practice, Facebook and brunch. We have to focus on what we DO as UUs, not just who we are.

To help you think “cause” over “club,” check out the values of the UU brand identity – boldness, compassion, reverence – that are geared towards the most active and authentic spiritual elements of our faith. They’re a departure from the pastoral, supportive, caring community connection values that we’ve often described in the past, but they’re well-positioned to help you get to the heart of our faith movement’s drive to advance our values in the world.

 

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cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach, total data geek and trend-spotter, as seen in his presentation Future of Faith.

Covenanting Community Highlight: Commitment Ceremony

Sacred Path is a UU religious community in Indianapolis, Indiana that was welcomed into relationship with the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Covenanting Community.

 

“Love, above all things, is a commitment to your choice.” ―Rob Liano

 

commitment-sacredpath brighterAs we enter our fourth year together, Sacred Path held a ritual of commitment over Labor Day weekend. Sitting in a circle, we began by naming and honoring our ancestors: those who helped bring us to this place and time.

 

Our prayers were silent, spoken, and sung.

 

We lit candles and honored the ministers who have served faith communities we have been a part of in the past.

 

We lit candles for each of the Unitarian Universalist congregations in the central Indiana area.

 

We lit candles for our individual spiritual guides and teachers, sometimes speaking their names into the space, sometimes silently honoring their influence in our lives.

 

We named parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. We named ministers, nuns, teachers, and entire congregations. Some of us named authors, philosophers, and theologians as well as familiar intimates. We named those who lovingly guided us as well as those whose lessons came through difficulty and hardship, all of whom helped us to grow.

 

Before the ritual, each adult, young adult, and youth was invited to bring with them a small token symbolizing their commitment to the community to be left on the altar. People brought stuffed animals, books, cds of music they had recorded, stones, geodes, beads, feathers, pinecones, shiny boxes, poems they had written, and even glitter glue!

 

When the time came, one-by-one we approached the altar in the center of the room and shared our commitments with the community. Sometimes our commitments were named confidently others more softly. Sometimes they were silently placed on the altar along with the tokens.

 

In the next round, we honored our commitment to self for the next year. One-by-one we approached the altar again, sharing our commitments to self-care and growth. Each person received an item from the altar that spoke to them in a special way, while the community bore witness to these commitments and agreed to gently hold one another accountable to them.

 

Finally we honored the joys and sorrows the community had shared over the past year, embodied in the strings of many colors wrapped around a prayer stick made of rosewood that a member had offered for this purpose shortly after last year’s ingathering.  We sang in gratitude then processed outside to burn the stick in a sacred fire, sending its prayers skyward. We concluded by singing, “Spirit of Life.”

 

Afterward, we held a feast outdoors under the stars and the canopy of trees that rises over the land we hold sacred in this time, knowing it is made so by the many who have walked and worshipped here in past generations.

 

We invite everyone in the larger Unitarian Universalist community to keep Sacred Path in your thoughts and prayers this next year. We know all too well the inherent risk in starting something new. It would mean so much to us to feel the supportive energy of others enveloping this emerging ministry!

 

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lori-photo-squareLori Stone Sirtosky has served as a lay leader with Sacred Path since its inception in 2012. For her day job, she wrangles the technology needs of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalism’s congregation without walls. The biggest lesson she has learned in working with innovative and emerging ministries is to breathe. Whatever you are dealing with today, rest assured, another seemingly big scary thing is coming down the pike, and you will survive it, too.