Pop Culture: Go There!

Headquarters staff at the Unitarian Universalist Association were gathered around the big table in the library over pizza and discussing pop culture.   The lunch topic questions were, “Where in American popular culture is most exciting? Does Unitarian Universalism have a place there? And what could that look like?”

People mentioned various environmental causes.  There was a lot of energy around the TED Talks. Electoral issues. Voter registration. Public school reform.  School boards. While these were good ideas, I wondered if the folks gathered (some of our best minds) were too nerd-leaning to really know base, pop culture. I was thinking more along the lines of getting Jason Shelton to try out for American Idol.

Interestingly Stephen Colbert had just mentioned the us on his show earlier in the week.  There we were in the middle of pop culture, and it wasn’t our intentional effort.  The Simpsons and Garrison Keillor regularly mention us. And not always in favorable light, rather in sarcasm caricature. Search either of their names and “Unitarian” and up will pop entertaining and frustrating evidence.

I had the opportunity a couple years ago to talk to one of the writers on the Simpsons team.  He’s the brother-in-law of a Unitarian Universalist minister.  I puffed up self-righteously and asked how he could in good conscience make such fun of our faith.  He chuckled and said, “I am in a position to get Unitarian Universalism into the pop culture light. That’s my job.  It’s your job to change the public’s opinion.”

So how do we do that? How can we start acting like the vibrant, transformational religious community that we are, out in the public square?  Rather than showing up unintentionally on radio and late-night shows, where could the voice of Unitarian Universalism be, shining light on justice and love?  I’m not talking about showing up and waving the banner of your congregation.  I’m talking about showing up in popular culture and important public conversation in a way that represents Unitarian Universalism.

Please tell me in the comments, “Where in American popular culture is most exciting? Does Unitarian Universalism have a place there? And what could that look like?”


Tandi Rogers is the UUA’s Growth Strategist.  She voted for Philip Phillips on American Idol and dreams of Macklemore providing the worship music at General Assembly.

Study Guide for UUWorld Article: All Souls in New London, CT

Congratulations to the  All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London, CT, for being the newest UUA Breakthrough Congregation! Each year the UUA’s Office of Growth Strategies recognizes a handful of congregations that have “broken through” barriers to achieve exemplary goals.

New London is highlighted in the fall 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 All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation.  We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders.

Questions for Discussion and Deeper Study

In the article, the people of All Souls New London were praised for inviting people into the “heart of their space.”

 Questions for Discussion:

  • What does this phrase mean to you? How does All Souls New London accomplish this?
  • In what ways does your congregation invite the community into the “heart of your space”?

The people of All Souls New London engage in “deep listening” as a way of showing respect for their minister, their leadership, and each other.  It has also helped them to manage conflict among members of the congregation.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How well does your congregation listen to the needs, wants and hopes of others in the congregation?  What will you gain by enhancing the practice of “deep listening”?
  • In your own congregations, where do you see opportunities to practice deep listening?
  • How is conflict managed in your congregation?  What “cultural shifts” need to occur in order to manage conflict better?
  • What is the relationship between deep listening and trust?  How can learning to listen deeply help equip us to resolve conflicts when they arise?

 Rev. Patierno spoke about All Souls’ decision to invite the Homeless Hospitality Center to move into their church building as the congregation prepared to move into its new space in a renovated former auto dealership.  She noted the urgency she felt, “We couldn’t take six months for elegant small groups.”

Questions for Discussion:

  • When did you last take a leap of faith into action for something you felt was the right thing to do?
  • Have there been times that your congregation has taken swift and decisive action? What called to your leaders in that time?
  • Are your congregational leaders empowered to make quick decisions to serve urgent needs?
  • What kinds of situations in congregational life require the elegance of small groups and long conversations?

In its new and accessible building, the All Souls’ Religious Education classes have big airy windows and “the layout makes the religious education program a central part of the church.”

 Questions for Discussion:

  • Draw a map of your church’s main building – what is located at its center?
  • Does the layout of your church building reflect what is central to your congregational mission or identity?
  • Does the architecture of our church buildings communicate unintended messages to families?  To elders? To children and youth?  To visitors? Try to walk into your church with fresh eyes and discern what those messages might be.

All Souls has high expectations for its members, including “pledge, participate and show up.”

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the expectations for membership in your congregation?  How are the expectations communicated?
  • How well do people adhere to the expectations for membership?  How can this be improved?

“Who are we? All Souls!  We are! All Souls!”

Questions for Discussion:

  • If your congregation ended worship with a group cheer, what would it be?
  • What would be the impact on your congregation if your ended each worship service with a rousing cheer?

This study guide was a group effort by:

  • Mark Bernstein, Regional Consultant for Growth Development with the Central Eastern Regional Group
  • Karen Bellavance-Grace, Director of Faith Formation with the Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay Districts


What Is Congregations & Beyond?

The following is a response to a common question we get in the Growth Strategies Office.  It is written by Intern Stefani Rupert who is working on an Asset Map of Congregations & Beyond.  If your congregations makes an impact beyond your membership, we want to hear from you.  Please send your story to growthresources@uua.org.


Some of you might be asking “What is this Congregations and Beyond stuff?”

  • Is it all the stuff that congregation do in service of the larger community?
  • Is it all the practices and community gathering outside of traditional, physical congregations?”

Congregations and Beyond, I believe, comprises all that. This is because the initiative is a broad one, a visionary one, and a spiritual one.  It digs at the very nature of our hearts and our love, and it asks us to think about how we want to and how we can best live spiritually in the contemporary world.  Congregations and Beyond asks of us: “How do we conceive of ourselves as Unitarian Universalists?  What is the core of our spirituality, and what are our aims, relative to our position in the wider, evolving world?  How do we want to practice our faith?”

Congregations and Beyond encourages UUs to continue to find delight and solidarity in their congregations, and to guide Seekers to congregations insofar as that may benefit them.  Congregations will forever be central to Unitarian Universalist spirituality, as these are places of community and joy and covenant.   But in today’s evolving world– in a world full of new possibilities for service and travel and diversity and connectivity and conversation– UUs may find different ways to practice and to connect.  Some of these UUs may not regularly attend church, and some may go every weekend.   That does not matter: each of them is being invited to think deeply about her practice, how much she might live inside congregational walls alone, and how much she may wish to expand her spirituality to different realms.

The point of Congregations and Beyond is to recognize the vast depth and potential thrumming beyond congregational walls.  We UUs may reach into that world however we desire.  Certainly some of us may be(come) home church or small group ministry practitioners, but others of us may remain in our home congregations.  Regardless, all of us may decide to reach out to the wider community in new and bold ways.

Congregations and Beyond of course acknowledges that this kind of service already occurs in virtually every congregation.  What this initiative aims for in these cases is solely to highlight the importance of these efforts, to demonstrate that UUs are already significantly engaged beyond congregations, and to encourage even more radical engagement outside of congregational walls.   One congregation might always provide day care for local youth, but what if it decided to host spirituality discussions at the public library?  To open new doors as a community center?  To network among immigration justice advocates on Twitter?  Or to publicize podcasts to the broader community?

The Congregations and Beyond initiative is, when it comes down to it, the simple endeavor to explore UU spirituality beyond congregational walls, however that might be appropriate to each individual’s life, spirit, and mission.   This may be through new forms of UU connectivity.  It may also be through new forms of connecting with the wider world.  Or it may even more likely be (based on the bold aspirations and life and love of Unitarian Universalists the world over) a synergistic endeavor to engage and to live faithfully both.


Guest Blogger ___________________________________________

Stefani Ruper is a UUA Intern working on a Congregations & Beyond Asset Map. If your congregations makes an impact beyond your membership, we want to hear from you.  Please send your story to growthresources@uua.org.


Glowing Chalices

The UUA Growth Strategies Office purchased ten thousand glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoos to pass out at General Assembly and to make available to congregations and Unitarian Universalist groups.  If you attend a camp or conference this summer, you may see these tattoos as fashion and religious statements.

Someone asked me how these (on the surface) whimsical tattoos could possibly be a growth strategy.  I suggested they wear one visibly, go out into the wider community, wait for someone to point to it and ask, “What is that? What does that mean?” and then come ask me that question again.  How many of us wear symbols of our faith on a regular basis putting our elevator speech to the test? And honestly it was just plain, old fun to see each other’s chalices glowing in the dark during times the plenary hall got lights were dimmed and to see the creativity of place selection!

The temporary tattoos dispelled the myth that we don’t know how to testify and put our faith out there demonstratively.  The temporary tattoos gave people the  ability to try out a chalice tattoo as if our religion was worthy of permanence and mattered enough to commit all-in on skin.  People wanted to have fun.  They wanted to represent and be identified as Unitarian Universalists. And they sure did, all over Phoenix.

People of all ages sought them out in almost a frenzy.  I was surprised and delighted. Elders, babies, youth, middle agers, people in tie-dye, people in suits, all rocking the glow-in-the dark chalices.  Biceps, wrists, cheeks, ankles, anywhere skin showed. When people asked for a tattoo I’d in turn ask how they grow our faith and then engage in conversation and soak up their stories of living Unitarian Universalism.  It was inspiring and uplifting. People wanted to claim our chalice, or perhaps be claimed.

Please send pictures of you sporting your chalice tattoo so it may be shared on Growing UU Facebook.  Please share your glow-in-the-dark chalice tattoo stories in the comment section.  We’d love to hear.

General Assembly: Grounds for a Growth Spurt, Part 3 of 4

We’ve been reflecting on the shift that just happened at Justice GA. So many are reporting a difference.  As a faith tradition, we seemed to have gone through a collective growth spurt.  This is the third in a 4-part series featuring examples of how we experienced and observed health and transformation.



Incarnational/ Faith in Action

Check out the video:  Thousands of Unitarian Universalists protest Sheriff Arpaio’s ‘Tent City’ jail


Orange Polos

When I work with a congregation on growth I will often ask them, how do people outside know you’re Unitarian Universalist?   take a moment and think how you would answer that.

For those of you who have never been to Phoenix in late June, let me tell you. It is hot. Really hot.  Three digits hot. The City of Phoenix set up a water cart on the street outside the convention center where city workers in nice, orange polo shirts handed out fresh, cool water and constantly reminded us to stay hydrated.  I found this so welcoming and caring that I stopped to tell one of them.

“It’s a pleasure!  We’re so glad you’re here.”  The sincerity with which he declared this caught me off guard.

“You are? We’re Unitarian Universalists.  Do you know who we are?”

“Oh yes!  I looked you up. I know what you’re about.” He put a hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eyes, and continued, “I know who you are.  I’m really glad you’re here.  It makes a difference. You make a difference for me.”

Yes, I invited him to church on Sunday to hear Rev. John Crestwell’s message. And every time we saw each other we’ve wave and say, “see you on Sunday!”

  • If you asked a random person on the streets of your town what difference the Unitarian Universalists make in your town, what do you think the answer would be?
  • What keeps you from inviting people you meet throughout the day to your religious community?


Crushed Ice

I bought a soda from one of the food court eateries in the convention center. The woman behind the counter noticed my empty water bottle and cheerfully offered to fill it with ice and fresh water.

“It’s so important to stay hydrated out there!”

“I can’t get over how nice and hospitable people of Phoenix are!  What is your secret?”

She laughed. “I think most of us come from somewhere else, and we remember what it’s like to be new to a place.  We want you to feel like you’re welcome, like you could stay.”

“Thank you.  I will take that with me.”

  • What does it say about your religious community from the manner in which you welcome visitors?
  • Remember back to the moment you first walked through the doors of a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  What would have made a positive difference to you in the way you were or were not welcomed? What can you do to better welcome the visitor, the pilgrim?


Yellow Shirts

I bought a t-shirt from the Puente Movement that said, “Arrest Arpaio, Not the People.” And I wore it to the airport.  Through security.  I have to admit, I really wasn’t thinking about the consequences, and that is part of my white privilege and responsibility. One agent from the Transportation Security Administration stared at my shirt, and brought me into the reality of Arizona and other places.  The TSA agent who looked at my id glanced at my shirt and then quietly leaned in toward me.

“Are you one of the Yellow Shirts?” I gulped.

“Yes, I am.” I stood a little straighter.

She almost whispered, “Thank you for coming and being here.  It makes a difference. A lot of us are too scared to say anything.”

“We’ll keep coming back, m’am.” Our eyes locking. We nodded to each other as I moved on through.

  • How do you wear shirts or make statements that others might not be able to, because your privilege allows it and demands it?
  • How do you show up for people who are too afraid to show up themselves?
  • How do your partners in your community know that you are Unitarian Universalist by your actions?


Those are some examples.  How else did you experience and/or observe growth spurts at General Assembly?  Please share your thoughts in the comments and include your name and congregation.

General Assembly Growth Opportunities

For those of you getting ready for General Assembly 2012 by pouring over the program and plotting out your educational experience, we’d like to point out some workshops that might give you some tools and/or paradigm shifts to aid congregational growth.

UU World will provide timely reports and articles on their GA Blog, illustrated by some striking selections from their Photostream on Flickr. Follow UU Worldon Twitter for up-to-the-minute news during major GA events.

We also recommend downloading the GA Mobile Ap. And for those of you staying at home who would like to participate virtually, there are events being live-streamed.


Organizational Maturity

How to Build Meaning-Full Social Justice Ministry Teams

Thursday, 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 224 B

It takes more than passion to save the world. Learn how to build sustainable, theologically ground ed, strategically based Social Justice ministry teams that will engage your whole congregation. Explore a method for developing or focusing your concerns about immigration, ARAOM, peace, poverty, the environment and more.  Rev. Joan Montagnes


Organizing 101: Recruitment & Leadership Development

Saturday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 125

In this interactive workshop, we’ll focus on why people must be central in justice work and learn a framework for assessing who’s in your activist crew to help you do effective and spiritually grounded recruitment and leadership development, two key and often-neglected pieces of our justice work in congregations.  Rev. Cathy Rion

Spiritual Vibrancy


Beloved Conversations: Transforming Church Culture on Race & Ethnicity

Thursday, 10:30 am – 11:45 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 232 AB

Race and cultural identity continue to be determining factors in our society. Even so, there exists a sense of “stuckness” and fatigue around the work of building Beloved Community—especially for people of color. Come experience an alternative approach that engages the arts, deepens compassion and strengthens multicultural competency.  Rev. Kate Lore, Dr. Mark A. Hicks, Rev. Bill Sinkford


Getting Unstuck: New Directions for Congregational Life: Theology

Thursday, 10:30 am – 11:45 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 120 D

Congregations play a crucial role in shaping a just world. William Schulz will explore the theologies that inspire us to take up the soul expanding work of social justice and sustain us through the challenges. Provost Sharon Welch and Meadville Lombard students will respond.  Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, Dr. Sharon Welch, Debbie Cole, Nathan Hollister


Building Beloved Community as Radical Practice

Thursday, 3:15 pm – 4:30 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 124

Beloved Community as envisioned by people of faith such as Dr. King is bold, transformative and inspirational for justice ministry. Join us to consider justice making as the practice of love and explore how this powerful vision can integrate our desire for spiritual integrity with our hope for social transformation.  Rev. Deborah Holder, Meck Groot


Getting Unstuck: New Directions in Cross-Cultural Partnerships

Friday, 3:15 pm – 4:30 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 226

Mark Hicks, Lee Barker and Shawna Foster will lead in a celebration and exploration with congregations that are creating authentic, transformative cross- cultural ministries. We will explore both the joys and challenges that accompany living at the frontlines of our multi-racial, multicultural and theologically diverse world.  Dr. Mark A. Hicks, Rev. Dr. Lee C. Barker, Shawna Foster


Understanding & Developing Multicultural Competencies in Congregations

Saturday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 222 BC

Learn how identity work is essential for building our capacities to create a fair and just world! Through panel presentation, resources and experiential learning, participants will engage with six identities— class, ethnicity/languages other than English, race, gender identities, abilities, affectional orientation. For religious professionals and lay leaders. LREDA Integrity Team  Rev. Natalie Fenimore,  Jennifer McAdoo,  Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, Janice Marie Johnson


Building Cultural Competence in Congregations

Saturday,  10:45 am – 12:00 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 229

For many, “cultural competency” is a theory or a hope. In this workshop, clergy from three congregations share examples of the steps members took toward establishing multicultural ministries. Lessons learned, challenges met, and the resulting surprises and rewards as their congregations continue to grow and deepen in cultural competence and spirit.  Rev. Jacqueline Duhart, Rev. Kathy Huff, Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube

Faith in Action


Congregational Based Community Organizing: Raising Our Prophetic Voices

Friday, 3:15 pm – 4:30 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 222 BC

Congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs) are organizing the interfaith community and partners, and making gains for migrant, racial, and economic justice across the country. Current campaigns include stopping mass deportations and incarceration, austerity policies, and corporate control of our democracy. Learn about how these organizations work and how to get involved.  Rev. Lydia Ferrante-Roseberry, Rev. Linda Olson Peebles, Rev. David Carl Olson, Audra Friend


Effective Congregational Immigration Ministries

Friday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 227 AB

Congregational leaders from Iowa, California and Georgia share experiences with developing and sustaining effective immigration justice ministries. Presenters discuss strategies for public witness, partnering with community organizations, justice immersion trips, engaging youth, and more. An NDLON organizer addresses how these partnerships have strengthened the immigrant rights movement.  Rev. Anthony David, Sally Hartman, Bob Lane, Amy Moses-Lagos 

Associational/ Partnership


Crossing the Faith Border

Thursday, 10:30 am – 11:45 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 222 BC

Our justice work takes us out into the world where we often are working with people of different faiths. How are we called, as UUs, to celebrate this religiously pluralistic world? How can we work interfaithfully more effectively? What tools do we possess for building interfaith leadership across the generations?  Abhimanyu Janamanchi,  Janice Marie Johnson, Jessica York


Partnering Congregations and Community Organizations

Saturday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 231

How do I connect my congregation with community groups leading campaigns for justice? What are the steps to building meaningful relation- ships between congregants and partner groups for  B. Loewe, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, Felipe Findley








Looking Back At The Next 50 Years

The Closing Worship of the Pacific Northwest District Assembly, which was also the 50th Anniversary Celebration, included a reflection looking back at the next 50 years.  Young adult Chris Jenkins and youth Elizabeth Hitchcock of the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship shared a the following compilation created by the assembled  youth and young adults…

During our District Assembly the Rev. Dr. Tom Chulak gave us knowledge of our past. Moderator Gini Courter gave us hope and ideas for our future.  And we, the high school youth and young adults have our own ideas as to what the next 50 years hold… (more…)

Study Guide for UUWorld Article: Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, UT

Congratulations to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden (UUCO), Utah, for being the newest Breakthrough Congregation! Each year the UUA’s Office of Growth Strategies recognizes a handful of congregations that have “broken through” barriers to achieve exemplary goals. UUCO’s embrace of multigenerational worship and religious education for all ages has drawn attention from across the UUA. UUCO has also become a sanctuary for LGBT youth and a community hub for social justice work.

UUCO is highlighted in the summer 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 Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, Utah.  We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders.

Cora Webb passes a collection basket at UUCO.

UUCO prides itself on having truly multigenerational worship, with children and youth participating in multiple roles throughout the entire worship service. (more…)

Mosaic Makers: Vital Multicultural Congregations


The following is an excerpt from the full and dynamic report which can be found here.

Mosaic Makers: Leading Vital Multicultural Congregations conference (February 17-19, 2012) was exhilarating, energizing, meaningful, and deeply informative. The event grew out of the Multicultural Growth Consultation (March 2011) and was a by-invitation gathering for congregations that are deeply engaged in the work of building intentional multicultural community. (more…)