A Big Night for a Small Church

Peter & Joe
UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Joe Cherry

Last week we invited the group Repairers of the Moral Breach to the UU Society in Cleveland, and it was a wild ride.


So often we UUs talk about interfaith work, and I do believe we try our hardest, but there so often feels like so many barriers to doing the work. So many questions about how we can engage authentically and without laying our own agenda over the work that we often stop ourselves before we begin.


I, too, have this concern.


But, when I was approached by the Repairers group I took a deep breath, I did a quick check by email with the Board of the congregation I serve and we were a go!


UU Society Entrance
UU Society of Cleveland, OH

The UU Society of Cleveland is a small church, about 60 people, and having this big, national movement come to us was daunting. We had about 300 people in our church last Monday, and it was definitely not church as usual.


The Repairers of the Breach Team is a well-oiled machine that knows what it needs to put on a good program, and they used their own social media and contacts in media to bring folks from at least 15 different congregations to our church. The result: Historic Black Churches in Cleveland, Historic Liberal Churches in Cleveland, all coming together in a church that had to rent chairs to fit everybody.


As minister, I try to greet every person who comes through our church door with a handshake and a how-do-you-do? I ask for everyone’s name and tell them mine as I welcome them in. It was such a joy to meet so many new people who walked through our “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Are Precious” signs as they approached our front door.


The service was loud and lively. I welcomed everyone to our church, and gave a short history of our ritual of lighting the chalice. I ended our chalice lighting with these words:


This is the 50th Anniversary of the Hough Rebellion/Hough Uprising, and our congregation was there, at 82nd and Euclid. This weekend our Black Lives Matter banner was stolen from the front of our church. Again, we find ourselves in a world in the process of giving birth to a new way of living.


They may steal the sign from the front of our church, but they cannot steal our determination to work for a world more fair and more just.


As we light our chalice this evening, symbol of freedom, assistance and faith, let our hearts become and remain open to one another.


After the lighting of our chalice, I stepped back and stepped out of the way.


The experience of having so many world-class preachers in our sanctuary was electrifying. For an evening, it didn’t matter that we hadn’t had enough chairs. It didn’t matter that people had to sit in Fellowship Hall (the basement) watching the events upstairs via live feed. It didn’t matter that our air conditioning wasn’t up to the task of 300 people alive together.


What mattered was that we were alive, together.


Photo Gallery of the Event:

James Forbes
Rev. Dr. James Forbes
Traci Blackmon UCC
Traci Blackman, United Church of Christ
Stories of Witness
Stories of witness
William Barber II Telling Truth
Rev. Dr. William Barber II
closing prayer
Closing prayer



RevJosephMCherryphoto2Rev. Joe Cherry is a giant history nerd and unapologetic evangelist for Unitarian Universalism. When he’s not out sharing our good news, you can find him engrossed in research at the Western Reserve Historical Society, practicing his clarinet, or in his basement quilting studio.


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.

Faithify Tips a Quarter Million

Faithify The following is an interview with the FAITHIFY entrepreneurs Rev. Sue Phillips and Hilary Allen.


Over $250,000 has been pledged on faithify.org!  Congratulations, thank you, and did you see that coming?

H: Thanks! We’re jazzed about it! And it probably means the next $250,000 is out there too. Honestly, we didn’t quite know what to expect. We were pretty sure if we built FAITHIFY, the people would come. There’s still more work to do for folks to know that FAITHIFY is an option for them, and for the day when our people no longer have to say to each other, “we don’t have money for that.”


Give us the latest stats…

Total pledges ($): $258,315$2500000

Total pledges (#): 2,417

Total people who have pledged: 1,935

Project success rate: 77%

Projects exceeding their goal: 71%

Projects to date: 67

Average $ raised: $5,834


How did the idea for FAITHIFY come about?

S: Crowdfunding hit the mainstream about three or four years ago. Around that same time, folks began thinking about how our UUA might act more like an App Store-type platform than the center of a traditional hub-and-spoke denominational model. Starting a crowdfunding site felt like an awesome experiment in carving out a different role for our UUA. As field staff we were uniquely able to access a wide range of resources, and the Mass Bay District board jumped at the chance to help support a movement-wide project.


H: Crowdfunding puts people directly in touch with each other. They don’t need an institution to disburse resources. They don’t have to wait until a funding cycle is announced. What FAITHIFY provides is the structure for people to be in relationship, and then it gets out of the way for us to do what we naturally do, which is support each other.


What has surprised you?

S: I’ve been surprised that crowdfunding sites don’t actually have crowds. The vast majority of traffic to all crowdfunding sites is driven there by project owners. The FAITHIFY crowd — the people who browse the site without arriving with a specific project in mind — is growing. But slowly.


What has challenged you?

H: Turns out, it’s incredibly challenging to have a great website that is easy to use. We have had a heck of a time finding a good technical partner for site design and development. I have a lot more respect for amazon.com and even my local library’s website than I did before FAITHIFY. It takes a lot.


What has been most satisfying?

S: Seeing the boldness and aspiration of 66 projects, most of whom have raised a lot of money to see their ideas come to life. The videos, the pictures, and the stories on the site are so cool. Those people and projects just knock my socks off. Also, working with Hilary. We have a great time thinking, planning, dreaming, and laughing together. This whole project has been a blast except for the (rare) moments when we have to breathe into paper bags because we think the site is going explode.


H: People frequently convey their gratitude that FAITHIFY exists and that they can be a part of it. I find it satisfying when I can help people connect to something larger than themselves.


What makes this platform uniquely UU?

H: When people post their projects on FAITHIFY, they have to speak to how they claimed and are claimed by Unitarian Universalism. This includes things like reflecting UU values or being affiliated with a congregation or UU organization. It’s exciting that this way of talking about associational and covenantal relationship has caught on within Unitarian Universalism – showing up most recently in the new Covenanting Communities status.


What is next? What can people expect at General Assembly? How can people get involved if they aren’t going to General Assembly?

S: FAITHIFY will be all over General Assembly.  Our goal for GA is to keep spreading the word that this marvelous platform exists where folks can go check out creative, interesting, and fun ideas in the world of Unitarian Universalism. Plus we’ve got major swag, people!


H: Though, being in Portland is not essential because most of the FAITHIFY action will be happening right on faithify.org, so folks can stay informed them about how projects are doing on their goals. We’ll also be sharing highlights through our Facebook and Twitter accounts (like/follow us!).



Sue & Hilary SelfieYou two have other jobs besides Faithify — what are they?

Rev. Sue Phillips is always dreaming and scheming about architectures of interdependence. She is also our UUA’s New England Regional Lead.


When she’s not working on FAITHIFY, singing sea-shanties, or rooting for the last remnants of House Stark, Hilary serves as staff of the New England Region with a focus on Innovation and Growth.


Magical Mail Month

mailI love mail.  I love writing letters, stumbling across the perfect card or postcard to surprise a friend with, or creating a thoughtful gift or care package.  I love that moment when the mail truck pulls up in front of my house when just for a minute, anything seems possible.  There might be a letter from someone I haven’t heard from in a while.  There could be a picture of a friend’s new baby.  There might be that book that I ordered, or maybe there is a check I didn’t know would be coming.  The mail is in the mailbox for no longer than 10 seconds before I stop whatever it is I am doing to go outside and retrieve it.  It really is one of the highlights of my day.


I have fond memories of writing and receiving letters.  From exchanging letters with close friends who moved away, to receiving cards and care packages when I went off to college, to hearing from family and friends when I was serving in the military, the practice of writing letters or sending mail has been near and dear to me for as long as I can remember.


Magical Mail Month began in March 2014 as a way to get through the end of a harsh New England winter by using letter writing as a spiritual practice.  It soon turned into a form of ministry that permeated several aspects of my life. Morning coffee became a time to send a note to a distant friend; staff meetings were started by writing thank you notes to volunteers and leaders; grocery shopping was now an opportunity for my kids and I to leave anonymous love letters and notes of encouragement underneath the boxes of cereal or crowns of broccoli.


During Magical Mail Month, you might send notes to congregants you haven’t seen in a while just to check in, thank you notes, or invitations to community members to join you in worship or other events.


You might look through the newspaper for examples of people/organizations that have stood on the side of love and send them a thank you note.


You can write notes with Unitarian Universalist quotes or messages of hope and leave them in library books or in mail2random places while running errands.


No matter how you choose to participate, Magical Mail Month has become a way to spread the Love and Grace of Unitarian Universalism out in the world.  You are invited to join the fun from March 1-31, 2015 for the second annual #magicalmailmonth.


Here are some resources to get you started:

Love Letters to Strangers, a TED Talk

CLF’s Prison Letter Writing Ministry

The World Needs More Love Letters



ksKimberly Sweeney serves as the Multigenerational Ministry Director for the New England Regional Staff Team of the UUA.  If that doesn’t pan out, she’s pretty sure working for the post office would be a solid plan B.


Grace Under Fire

Sometimes growth occurs in unexpected and not always desirable ways. Take the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mountain Home, Arkansas, for example.

Mountain Home is a quiet little town tucked away in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. With two massive lakes, three rivers and beautiful mountain scenery, it ranks as one of the country’s top vacation and retirement destinations. In fact, Where to Retire magazine named the area an ‘Undiscovered Haven’ and perennially ranks it as a Top 100 Retirement Community in the United States.

Organized in 1981, the UU Fellowship is led by the Rev. Alice Hurley, lay minister. In June of last year, Rev. Hurley published a letter in the local paper letting the community know that they welcome everyone at their church regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Referring to the pending decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage, Rev. Hurley wrote in part:

“Once the state ensures everyone is represented equally, then individuals are free to choose, within the bounds of law, whom they befriend and what organizations hold their loyalty or membership. Individuals can be open to learning about different people and cultures, choosing to be inclusive and tolerant of their neighbors in a community, or they can choose to be insular and discriminatory. We at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mountain Home choose not to discriminate. Our Fellowship Hall is open to all truth-seekers, regardless of race or sexual orientation. Please feel free to visit our fellowship and consider becoming part of our family. We respect the right of people to choose their marriage partners for themselves, and are happy to perform, for members or non-members, commitment ceremonies and same-sex marriages, as soon as the state of Arkansas realizes it cannot discriminate and must ensure that all of its citizens are equal under the law.”

In response to this letter, the following note was sent to the President of the congregation, Mr. Bill Rhodes (warning: this letter contains hateful language and violent images):

Grace Under Fire


In addition, the church windows were shot out around the same time although Rev. Hurley isn’t sure that the two incidents are related. The church sits by a traffic light, she points out, and teenagers with a BB gun might have “just popped off a few shots.” Regarding the letter, Rev. Hurley thinks it was just somebody blowing off steam. She wished that that writer would get in touch with her. “I’d arrange for him to have five to ten minutes of time to speak at our service Sunday. We’d be happy to listen to him. I won’t say we’d agree with him, but we’ll listen.”

Rev. Hurley told me recently that the benefit of all this was an increase in membership following the publicity associated with the letter and the shooting. As she put it, “On the bright side, after all the fuss died down, we went from an average attendance of 15 to 25! And four of those have signed the membership book. We had been looking for a way to get our group known in the community; this isn’t the way we would have preferred, but it did bring in new members and most of them were young people.”

Growth in our congregations occurs not just in the number of people who fill the chairs on Sunday, but in our commitment to our principles; in exercising grace under fire; in standing up for what one believes in; for being a beacon of love and tolerance in one of the best retirement communities in the United States. Thank you, Rev. Hurley and the good people of the UU Fellowship of Mountain Home, Arkansas, for reminding me why I love this faith so much.


markMark Bernstein is a member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region of the UUA. He hopes someday to retire in Mountain Home, Arkansas.


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.

A Call: People Get Ready

Vanessa Southern

The following sermon was proclaimed at the 2013 General Assembly’s Service of the Living Tradition.  There is a video of the full service with the sermon starting at 1:21. I do encourage you to experience the whole worship and turn up the music for a special treat!

If after experiencing this inspiring invitation to live Unitarian Universalism large, into this new Awakening, this Age of Spirit, you’d like to share ideas and strategies and experiments, please join the FaceBook conversation at Unitarian Universalists Exploring Congregations & Beyond.

You can also give to Faithful Risk, which honors former UUA Moderator Gini Courter’s commitment to creative Unitarian Universalist ministries in and beyond congregations. Your donations to Faithful Risk will help support UUFund, a Unitarian Universalist crowd funding platform currently under development that is itself an entrepreneurial ministry to our movement.


Standing at the Edge: The Next Great Awakening

The Rev. Vanessa Southern


Imagine, I am standing on the edge of a ledge off the back of a boat that is rocking in pretty decent waves. I have 8 pounds of weight strapped around my waist, and another 40—they tell me, though it feels like more—strapped to my back. My size 12 feet are now even more absurdly large because they are covered in flippers, so I look like a redheaded Donald Duck. Only I can’t quack because they stuck some tube in my face and told me to breathe through it while the mask that covers my favorite breathing orifice, my nose, and my eyes, despite the instructor’s best preventative measures, is fogging. So, I can’t walk, or breathe the way I’d like to, and the world is getting misty, which might be nice and atmospheric except that they are also now telling me to hold on to my mask and regulator and jump…like this [show fingers splayed] which as we all know is crazy. No one jumps like this. At the very least it is inelegant but at the moment, I have lost all dignity already and I am only concerned, truth be told, about survival.

So is my Lizard Brain. Do you know Lizard Brain? It is that part of our brains that has been around since wooly mammoths whose job it is to keep us alive and warn us of danger. Lizard Brain has come for a chat.

Actually, mine is in a panic. First she tells me to step back from the ledge, as if I am someone on the 8th floor of a New York apartment building about to take my life. Then she asks why I don’t just take all this ridiculous stuff off, and instead just enjoy a little sun. When I don’t listen she gets more hysterical: She wonders aloud sarcastically why they don’t just put a noose around my neck too. Finally, she tries the pastoral approach. She tells me I don’t have to be embarrassed about bailing on the birthday gift of a dive lesson. That a good friend will understand.

I listen. I take it in. Then I cover my face, like the instructor tells me to, and I jump. And a whole new world opens up, one just below the surface of what I know and trust.

Why am I telling you this?

It is relevant, I think, to this train that’s coming. The one that we don’t need a ticket for that requires us to drop some baggage before we get on board. I’m telling you because think we are standing at the edge, preparing to leap into a world beyond what we know and trust.

I am talking, my friends and colleagues, about the religious revolution that seems headed our way. Diana Butler Bass, writer and professor of religious studies, calls this moment “The Great Turning”. William McLoughlin, historian of religion and former professor at Brown University fifty years ago predicted the signs of what he called the “Fourth Great Awakening”.

What they are saying certainly makes sense of things we are hearing and seeing all around us. It makes sense of all the cultural changes and upheavals that Peter Morales has been calling to our attention; that Fred Muir explored in last year’s Berry Street Lecture; that the Pew Survey on Religion found ways to quantify; and Faith Formation 2020 put into lists. It makes sense of all the changes that so many of our lay and ordained leaders are already wrestling to incorporate into their sense of what we must become.

You know the facts as well as I do—

  • Mainstream denominations are on the decline;
  • The “nones”—those who, when asked to identify their religious affiliation, answered “none”—the “nones” are on the rise;
  • Increasing numbers of people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” (maybe some of you are among them);
  • More and more families and marriages, like my own, are made up of folks of mixed religious and racial and ethnic backgrounds, and
  • In the rising generation of adults 18-35 these trends are growing fastest.

When asked why they reject “religion” this growing cohort of people, when they do, reject it because they associate it with words like narrow, judgmental, homophobic.

“The Age of Belief” or Dogma is out, says Harvard Professor Harvey Cox. Enter: “The Age of Spirit.”

Cox and Bass, leaders of the Emergent Church Movement and others, say increasingly people are looking for a more direct experience of the divine; one unmediated by religious leaders or staid ritual or dusty doctrine. They bring to their spiritual and religious lives an ethic informed by a world that has grown smaller and more clearly interdependent; a world in which differences of race, gender and sexual orientation blend and brush up against each other all the time. Where they gather they want professed truths to be visible and in action. They are tired of religion getting in the way rather than paving it.

In this future, increasingly shaped by the radical democracy and full and open participatory influence of the internet, if people don’t find a community they like, they will make their own; in one great flash mob of religiosity.

The religious wave washing over us is made up of people who have no innate love of institutions. Why would they? In the last decade alone we have watched institutions launch the war in Iraq without proof of weapons of mass destruction. Institutions allowed the bundling of sub-prime mortgages that collapsed the economy into which many people entered for the first time looking for jobs that were not there. And religious institutionsfought and split over the rejection of gay and lesbian clergy. Religious institutions protected priests over children.

In other words, in this new world, congregations whose mission is just to maintain the congregation, and denominations whose de facto mission is simply to keep the bureaucracy alive, are out. What is in are communities alive to spirit, people gathered who question, doubt, struggle, live with ambiguity, serve directly, are ecologically minded and affirming of the pluralism across all real and supposed differences. These are the only communities this cohort of adults, growing in size and strength by the year, will join and offer its allegiance to.

Perhaps you are thinking as I was when I read all of this, this is great!!!! Perhaps under your breath you just started singing: “We are who you have been waiting for!” It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? We love questions and doubt too, you want to scream out. “Deeds over creeds, baby! We are with you.” We live pluralism and interfaith dialog, some of us in our own homes. Some of our best ministers and lay leaders, let alone friends, lovers and children are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and queer folk.

In fact, this year, I co-officiated at the first same-sex wedding at West Point Chapel—for Unitarian Universalists Penny Gnesin and Sue Fulton. How about a shout out for them and their work on behalf of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It was a moment in history. And looming right beside the joy was the sadness that the Defilement of Marriage Act—that’s what DOMA stands for doesn’t it?—that DOMA still stood as law, still stands. And so soldiers and their wives and husbands are still second class citizens in the military if their partners are of the same sex. Though their blood—pardon the image—still runs as red, white and blue.

But we were there and in places like that this year all over the nation. In statehouses and city halls, hanging banners and demanding the nation make good on its promissory note again—the one that promises equality and justice for all. We don’t want religion to get in the way either. We want it to pave the way and we are working to make it so.

We get this wave of the future, this Age of Spirit because we have been swimming in it, dancing with it, wrestling to live it for years, decades? Maybe centuries.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean our work of preparing ourselves for the future is done.

Cox and Bass say this Age of Spirit may be a little more chaotic than we are used to. It may be more like the early stages of all faith traditions, than it will be like the age just past with its doctrines, and procedures and institutional focus. “In the beginning,” writes Andy Stanley, the founder or Northpoint Ministries in Atlanta, “In the beginning the church was a gloriously messy movement.” Not bound by creed or hierarchy, the early church was bound by a pretty clear mission, which was figuring out what it meant to live the teachings and example of its founding prophet, Jesus, and how to usher in “the coming of God’s Reign of Shalom”—of peace, of justice and love.

This awakening will be about going back to those basics—about being focused back on core mission, and being willing to question whatever inherited patterns get in the way of serving and being alive to it. “Be married to mission,” says Stanley, and date everything else. Date everything else!

What might that mean? Does that feel intimidating to you? It does to me. It involves lots of uncertainty about what we lose and what we gain. For some of us it will mean sitting with a pretty chatty Lizard brain warning of all the dire possibilities that come with each risk or change.

But it is also exciting.

And it might just be fun.

I knew one person who was the most alive-to-life spirit-filled person I have ever met. If she had a mission that would have been it, and very little got in her way of living it. No norm, no convention was more important than responding to what life demanded of her in a moment. So, taking road trips with her meant paying the tolls for the people behind you. Going to lunch with her meant sending a piece of cake or pie to the person across the restaurant who looked like life had just caved in under them. Almost nothing was completely routine with Toni around.

The quintessential Toni moment took place at a stop light. We were out running some errand when a song came on the radio. It was a song that we loved and loved to dance to. So, we were trying to do so but the car seemed too small for all this joy and right about then we pulled up to a red light. Before I knew what was happening, Toni turned up the music, opened the door, unbuckled her seat belt and out she went out into the street to dance. Hair flying, smile across her face, she danced and people driving by honked, others joined her from inside their cars. Laugher and joy erupted all around.

The mission was to be alive to life, spirited-filled. Everything else took its rightful, auxilliary place.

I am not saying that we have to dance in traffic, you and I. I am saying there are times we might want to throw off what holds us back especially if it is getting in the way of what spirit and mission require of us. We are a pretty flexible lot but even for us radical innovations will, with time, become traditions, and traditions with more time often become fossilized artifacts. Sometimes we have to get back to basics, then risk and experiment, take a chance we’ll look foolish, be a bit incompetent to become more alive to what it looks like to live those commitments for this age, and in our case for the “Great Turning” that is upon us.

The good news is I think we are already doing this. Already grounding ourselves pretty clearly in core mission and taking risks.

  • As we speak we are preparing to leave a headquarters with a stately address, so we can have the offices with 21st Century technology and accessible space that speak to our future more than our past;
  • We have been asking and answering what it means to Stand on the Side of Love and keeping that core piece of witness front and center;
  • We are talking this whole GA about the glue that holds a non-creedal community together across difference and through chaos, namely the covenantal promises we make to one another;
  • We are experimenting with reaching beyond our walls and using technology to broaden our embrace;
  • We are opening our eyes to what interpersonal skills and cultural competencies we need to be truly welcoming in this pluralistic, multicultural world;
  • And some of our ministers, particularly newer minted ones, are doing all kinds of great experimentation. Some have started coffee houses with justice programming, and small house church communities, and one newly gathering community is talking about meeting in a tent, amidst an urban community garden. These ministers and lay folks are casting off some inherited patterns to see what new ways of being together might invite to dwell among us.

And I would bet your church has a few examples you could throw in. My own church just passed a mission statement that says we are “a radically inclusive religious community that feeds the human spirit and heals the world.” As a result of that this year our theme for the year will be “Living the Mission Impossible” and in October I expect we will rip up a mortgage on a property next door. It is a property the powers-that-be said we didn’t have the ability on short notice, to buy, but spirit and mission told us we had to. $2.5 million dollars pledged in record time and paid off in two years. Spirit is a powerful partner.

What will it take for us to step into this revolution as full partners and participants? No one really knows. It’s emerging. It’s a paradigm shift of some kind; an adaptive change. But I can think of a few things it will mean.

  • Surely it will mean abolishing stinginess. Big missions don’t happen on starvation budgets. And on average we give 1 ½ percent of income to our congregations. Really? That is unworthy of us. We need to stop pretending we are just careful with our money and just get crazy generous.
  • Second, I think we also need to admit that no perfect form of governance alone will create a congregation or an Association that does great things. The best assurance of great things is people gathered in the spirit of collaboration and trust. So we need to make that a given and not spend too many years hammering out the governance structure… Even as we do good organizational development;
  • Lastly, you and I have to become great experimenters in our laboratories of religious life. We have to be like 1000 R & D departments, reporting in daily from our congregations and community ministries about where our experiments brought faith more alive and where they have failed. We have to laugh and tell stories of our victories and wipe-out-face-plants and be pioneers of the spirit; entrepreneurs of soul and service. Married to mission, dating everything else. We must do this to be partners and co-creators of the next great awakening.

Emerson told us not to any take second hand truths, but generation after generation we take two truths as our own, and these two give the living tradition its continuity.

First, is a commitment to a Love that refuses to honor false and constructed boundaries between us. This is the love that banished hell from religious imagination, then put us to work banishing it everywhere else. The expanse of this Love’s embrace will, in the end, be the best judge of the worth of our living.

Second, and related, is the Unity we affirm beyond all divisions real or imagined. Interdependent web of all existence, injustice anywhere as a threat to justice everywhere, all creation woven into one garment of destiny. Ecologically, theologically, politically, economically, this is the reality we seek not to forget. That we are one. Remembering it breaks us wide open generation after generation to both deep pain and great joy and wisdom.

Love and Unity. These are our enduring mission.

Some day we will have to answer for these. What did we make of them? How did we serve them? To this dream and purpose you and I are married.

Which is why we find ourselves standing here, facing these waters. It is why we have awkward new gear strapped on our backs, and even though some old habits are working a bit against us, we are preparing ourselves to leap.

Because a train is coming, my fellow pioneers of this faith. Love and Unity wait to take their rightful place front and center on the human stage. Spirit wants to claim the age. It is a Great Awakening for which we have been preparing for a lifetime. And for this, we are asked to leap just beyond the surface of what we know and trust. “This is the time,” writes poet Sonia Sanchez, “for the creative human being.”

Before you dive the instructor tells you there are two things you have to remember. Only two.

“The first is just to remember to breathe.” “Breath” that word so close to spirit. That which anchors us to life and its call.

“The second thing to remember,” he says, “is never to dive alone.” “Once you are in, you can take my hand,” he tells you.

So you reach up to secure the mask, walk to the edge, and you do that crazy leap they tell you you must. When you land, he reaches out and you take his hand.

Breath and that hand will be what makes the scary possible. And so the adventure begins.

The rest, the rest is still Unwritten.



vanessa-pinkGuest blogger Rev. Vanessa Southern, the minister of The Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ, is the consummate Congregations & Beyond minister.  Read more about her ministry for examples you might want to try out yourself!

Holy Coffee Making

Close-up of young woman holding mug of coffeeI love to make the coffee at church – I go and get real half-and-half and fancy sugars.  I’ll get the juice with less sugar and more anti-oxidants (super juice.)  I’ll make the coffee and pray into it. And as people are standing around after church talking about the sermon or the details of their week, I peer out from the kitchen and watch my prayers get sipped up into bodies and spirit. I watch the real half-and-half delight them, hoping that they will in turn make a decadent decision in the world and go beyond what is necessary.  I watch for the juice mustaches of children hoping that their blood-sugar levels will remain stable so they can share what happened in Sunday School with the adults in their lives rather than melt on the way home.  I tend to these little details knowing I will not see the results.  But I remain faithful to the suspicion, the hope that they have made a difference.  Coffee duty is one of my cherished spiritual practices.

We live through each other.  This is humanist immortality, which I find more potent and knock-me-to-my-knees awesome than a promise of eternal afterlife in a heaven-place.

Enjoy the Peter Mayer video to Holy Now

Lyrics to Holy Now
by Peter Mayer

When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle
Everything, Everything
Everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now



Tandi Feb 2012Tandi Rogers also likes to make coffee for herself as a meditation while listening to Peter Mayer’s music to prepare for holy work.






Peter MayerPeter Mayer began playing the guitar and writing songs when he was in high school. He studied Theology and music in college, and then spent two years in seminary. After deciding that the priesthood wasn’t for him, he took a part-time job as a church music director for 8 years, while performing at clubs and colleges, and writing and recording his music. He has nine CDs to his credit, and has sold over 70 thousand of them independently. And yes, he is Unitarian Universalist.


Congregations & Beyond Sweet Spot

C&B Sweet SpotCongregations & Beyond” is a concept that Peter Morales introduced to us a little over a year ago.  There’s a study guide.  There’s a video.  There’s  a Facebook group dedicated to exploring the concept and keeping the conversation going. This blog has posted on it before.


And yet, there are many of us still trying to wrap our heads around it.  We’re still wondering what our home congregation might look like in a Congregations & Beyond context.  So today, we’re going to use a different part of our brain.  Get out the markers and/or crayons.


  • Draw a big circle on a piece of paper.  Draw a big square overlapping it like a Venn Diagram with a corner of the square smack in the middle of the circle.


  • In the circle list the things that your congregation does that people consistently show up for? What creates a lot of buzz and energy?  Where is your joy? Also list the things that your congregation does together that make you go, “Dang, I feel UU to my bones when we do that!” (That’s what the light green lettering in the circle allude to — don’t hurt your eyes trying to read it.)


  • In the square list the three most exciting places to be in your wider community. And then list the three places that break your heart.


  • That overlapping place in the middle is the Congregations & Beyond Sweet Spot. Go there!


If your congregation has a choir that blows the roof off with energy and beauty, and you live in a city whose homicide rate breaks your heart… Perhaps your congregation is called to start a community-wide Peace Choir, show up at places of violence and sing that space back into grace.


Maybe you have a youth group that shines with spiritually mature natural leaders, and your schools are littered with a bullying problem… Perhaps your congregations trains, supports, and commissions them to be peacemakers within that system


The possibilities are endless.  It requires that we collectively show up in authentic and aligned ways, and be in dynamic relationship with the wider community.  You may be a Congregations & Beyond community and you didn’t even realize it.


And here’s an offer.  If the leaders of your congregation commit to doing my little art exercise above, and you still can’t see your Congregations & Beyond Sweet Spot, contact me for a consultation.  I see possibilities and abundance all around.


Tandi Feb 2012Growth Strategist Tandi Rogers’ office looks more like an art studio with room for work.  She delights in color coding data and maps with demographics.  Venn Diagrams have a special place in her heart.  And she travels with colored markers.

MeetUp in Action: congregational example

Skagit MeetUp


When considering an online solution to communicating with the members of the small UU fellowship in Mount Vernon, WA, we decided to use MeetUp.com.

The congregation is very small, semi-rural, and far-flung.  We wanted to create more community-building activities, classes, etc., both at the church and in the towns where members live, but it was hard to get people together for anything besides Sunday morning activities.  Also, we wanted to empower all members to suggest and initiate activities without having to wait for leadership to come up with them!  Another factor was that there is a digital divide:  many older members are not active online.

Many people recommended Facebook to us, but we wanted to explore other solutions that would help us with our main concern, community-building, and that would not require a lot of maintenance.

MeetUp.com turned out to be a quite good solution.

Because MeetUp is designed specifically to get people together in person, there is a minimum of chat and a maximum of planning.

It is extremely easy for any authorized person (an Assistant Organizer) to announce an activity and get a reading of how many people are interested and likely to attend.  I made every MeetUp member who was also a member or friend of the congregation an Assistant Organizer.  Activities can be planned far in the future or on the spur of the moment.

I found it necessary to have a small training to get the non-digital-savvy folks to sign up.

The Organizer has total gatekeeping power.  What we decided to do in Skagit was to set it up so that anyone from the public can see what’s going on, but only people who are known can join the group.

Because MeetUp is geared toward improving the quality of events, attendees can rate the events afterwards, make comments and suggestions, and post photos.

Because MeetUp has no ads, it costs $15 a month.  It’s easy for members to set their email preferences and the like.  It was EXTREMELY easy to set it up and it looks quite nice.

A real bonus is outreach:  if someone is looking at MeetUp for activities in their neighborhood, or looking for Unitarians, they will easily find the church.  To try it out, browse to “MeetUp.com” and enter “Mount Vernon, WA” and “Unitarian” – or just browse MeetUps near Mount Vernon.  You will find Skagit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

When I left Skagit UU Fellowship and started serving South Fraser Unitarian Congregation in Surrey, British Columbia, I was delighted to see that they already had a MeetUp group:  http://www.MeetUp.com/surreyunitarians/.  The MeetUp page has been directly responsible for attracting at least one wonderful new couple that has joined the congregation.

MeetUp pages look AWFUL if no one is maintaining them – but very simple to update – easy to plug in the next worship service, suggest outings and activities, and list the upcoming events of the congregation.  Best practice is to make everything look fun and attractive, and include photos.

I would be more than happy to explain MeetUp to anyone who is interested.  It can be a real boon to a congregation – almost like having an extra staff person. Amanda will take questions in the comment area or you can contact her directly.



Amanda headshot Guest blogger Rev. Amanda Aikman is the Consulting Minister serving South Fraser Unitarian Congregation