Mission in Black and White

Rev. Peter Friedrichs of the UU Church of Delaware County (Media, PA)
Rev. Peter Friedrichs of the UU Church of Delaware County (Media, PA)

Stephen Covey wrote…”your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.” So too in our congregations, a mission statement must be more than a plaque on the wall or an accessory to adorn your website home page. It must be the solid expression of your vision and values, to be lived out in everything you do and aspire to do.

The challenge is finding ways to make the mission statement a living document and to keep it out front so that members of your congregation see it and feel it and experience it all the time. My home congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania, has found a unique way to do this.

Our mission statement, Engage in Loving Community, Ignite Personal Growth, Serve with Integrity, forms the outline for the agenda in each Sunday’s Order of Service. We begin by “engaging in loving community” through morning songs, recitation of our covenant, greeting our neighbors, call to worship and chalice lighting, and a brief presentation from a member of the congregation on what engages them about our congregation and our Unitarian Universalist faith.

Next comes “Igniting personal growth” which includes the reading, a personal reflection related to the sermon theme by the worship associate, stones of joy and sorrow, the pastoral prayer, the singing of Spirit of Life, a period of sacred silence, and the sermon.

Finally, we honor “serve with integrity” by asking the congregation to take a few moments to reflect on the questions, “How have I lived out my Unitarian Universalist values and principles this past week? and “What are my intentions for the week ahead?” We then share one open service opportunity and invite the congregation to serve in this capacity. The service ends with the offertory, a closing hymn and a benediction.

Our order of service, then, enables us to live out our mission statement every time we come together to worship. Of course, living our mission requires more than following the order of service every week, but it serves as a wonderful, concrete reminder of who we are and what we stand for.

For more information about our worship service and its relation to our mission statement, please contact the Rev. Peter Friedrichs, Lead Minister, at minister@uucdc.org.



markMark Bernstein is a member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region of the UUA and has been a loyal and loving member of the UU Church of Delaware County for over 21 years.   He has never met an order of service he didn’t like.




Covenanted Community Life


We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.
– We Look with Uncertainty by Anne Hillman


Doorway by Vladimer Shioshvili
Doorway by Vladimer Shioshvili

January 1, 2015 ushered in the invitation to cross, yet, another threshold into uncertainty with the hope of something new and more alive with mercy, love, justice, and equity.

Someone shared a reflection piece by Parker Palmer in a Facebook post over the holidays. Palmer, founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a world-renowned writer, speaker and activist.

Parker, inspired by Anne Hillman‘s poem, offered these personal reflection questions to consider as we cross this threshold from 2014 to 2015. He offered the questions as a living practice. I was drawn to the questions and wondered what it might be like to consider these questions in small groups in our congregations.

  • How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
  • What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
  • How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?
  • Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
  • What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

Unitarian Universalism invites a faith journey of transformation, both personally and collectively when we dare to learn how to love and build Beloved Community. I wondered how we might live into new realities if we were to embrace these questions, together, as a Unitarian Universalist discernment practice this year. Let me know if you take the plunge!



Jeanelyse_192Jeanelyse committed to Unitarian Universalism after exploring world religions, metaphysics, Taoism and reclaiming her Christian roots. She delights in interfaith service and dialogue and is committed to building Beloved Community. A graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry, Jeanelyse is dedicated to personal and social transformation manifested through engaged-faith practices and covenants that inspire missions of love and justice. She serves Unitarian Universalism and liberal religion in the Pacific Central District and the Pacific Western Region. Jeanelyse is an amateur gardener, is awed by nature and is married to Bob Adams, educator and UU lay-leader. Together, they enjoy four adult children, a teenage grandson and a rescue dog named Lady Jane. Jeanelyse may be reached at jadams@uua.org

“So we made a video!”

WESIt’s like a church…but, you know, different. It’s an un-church. The whole thing started in 1876…

Like any non-traditional religious community, the Washington Ethical Society struggled with how to describe ourselves. How could we let seekers out there know who and what we are? We had words to explain our history, to share our statement of purpose, but what we really wanted was for people to see what it felt like to be with us on Sunday morning. To understand what a “vibrant humanistic congregation” felt like, looked like, sounded like.

So we made a video! Actually, we paid just under $250 for a hip, young video editor (Glenn) to film us on a Sunday morning—from greeting people as they walked in to gathering upstairs to Sunday School—and to create a snapshot of the Washington Ethical Society. We’d seen videos he had done before, and knew that his style was organic and home-y feeling, focusing on the little details and catching quiet moments as well as the sense of energy in a room. We asked him to try to capture the diversity of our congregation, both in terms of people and in terms of activities…and we said NO TALKING HEADS!

And that’s what we got. Glenn filmed from about 10:30am through the start of our 11am service, finishing up around 11:30. He uses a hand-held camera only; most people didn’t even notice when he filmed. We did post signs on the entrance doors letting people know they were being filmed, and we offered a “no filming” seating section. We opted not to tell members ahead of time about the filming, because we didn’t want people staying away to avoid being on camera. In retrospect, it might have been a good idea; we did have to edit the video after it was created to remove images of children without photo release forms.

With that minor slow-down, though, the whole process was very quick. We got the video days after filming, and it presented just what we wanted: a glimpse of what it looks and feels like to be at WES on a Sunday morning. My favorite parts are seeing congregants saying hello to each other and laughing together during the greeting time – noticing the energy and excitement our children bring into the space – and the Sunday School poster that the filmmaker captured near the end, which speaks so well to what we’re trying to do here. I was impressed with how Glenn focused, without much instruction, on our most important moments, like the candlelighting and the children’s story, as well as catching the sweetness of a child walking around with his Sunday cup of tea. My hope is that seekers, checking out our website for the first time, will see those moments and get a real sense of who we are—and then come and check us out for themselves!


Click on the picture to go to the video!



Amanda-Poppei-webAmanda Poppei is the Senior Leader of the Washington Ethical Society, a 300 member congregation in Washington, DC that is a member of both the American Ethical Union and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Her very favorite part of every week is opening the door on Sunday morning to welcome people in…followed in a close second by joining the children in stealing extra cookies during coffee hour.

Multigenerational Ministry – Including Youth in Leadership

we are UUAt the Unitarian Universalist Association, we are committed to including and advocating for youth across the denomination. To help us do this work, the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries created “Youth Inclusion Guidelines” for UUA staff to identify ways and strategies to include youth at UUA events. Some models of best practice follow; if you’d like to develop your own best practices for including youth in your congregation please contact your district/regional staff or the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Each local faith community should develop its own safety and inclusion guidelines reflecting its unique situation, context, insurance, and state and local laws.

The 2009 Youth Ministry Working Group Report cast this vision for youth ministry in Unitarian Universalism:

“In the world of our dreams, our faith communities are multigenerational, multicultural sacred spaces in which vital connections are made among peers and across generations. In the world of our dreams, our faith communities are life-giving and affirming places in which people with different life experiences are valued. In the world of our dreams, our faith communities appreciate every age as a unique and essential part of the larger whole, without whom the congregation would be incomplete.”

Multigenerational ministry can be practiced in a number of ways, and we have identified best practices to include youth in the work of the Association:

  • We understand that youth who participate in multigenerational UUA events are peers of the participating adults in terms of inclusion in discussions, conducting business, or valuing their contributions.
  • If possible, it is helpful for youth to serve in groups of two or more on UUA committees or other leadership bodies to avoid isolation of being a sole youth.
  • All members of committees and leadership bodies should think about how to serve youth, rather than leaving it to youth themselves to raise concerns.
  • Adults should always be conscious of how their behavior is welcoming or exclusive for youth, even outside of formally scheduled events. This includes language and explicit references, smoking, drug or alcohol consumption (never appropriate at youth-specific events), etc.

These are just some of the practices identified for the Unitarian Universalist Association to better serve the youth of our faith. At the Associational level, this means programs like the Youth Observer to the Board of Trustees, Luminary Leaders, Summer Seminary, and youth serving on UUA Committees.

Check your congregation’s Safe Congregations policy for a good place to find the work your congregation is doing to create a healthy, safer community. After looking that over, you might want to ask yourself these questions:

  • How do you include youth in your congregation?
  • Do they serve on committees, the Board, or the pastoral care team? Do you have youth on the Worship Team?
  • Are their opinions valued at congregational meetings; at Board or RE Committee meetings?

Scroll down and tell us how your congregation engages with and supports your youth leaders in the comments.


Note that the UUA has “in-house” guidelines for multigenerational events. You may access that newly-updated document here for ideas as you create your own guiding documents: Youth Inclusion Guidelines for the UUA- Updated 6.19.14.



Bart FrostBart Frost serves as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the UUA. As a raised UU, Bart’s passion is creating opportunities for younger leaders in our faith to share their skills with the world. When not at 24 Farnworth St working for the UUA, he is usually in New Orleans (where his partner Amelia resides) snuggling his two cats (and being harassed by the third) while watching hockey.

Regional Staff Dedicated to MultiSite

MSM webpageHave you caught the MultiSite Ministry buzz?  Did you pass on the links to the most recent blog posts on to your congregational leadership teammates?  You know the posts —  the theological grounding and context and the other blog post of the MultiSite Ministries website overview. And now are you wondering “What’s next?!”


It may be time to call your Regional MultiSite Ministry Coach.  These are Congregational Life staff dedicated helping midwife new connections and possibilities. They meet regularly as their own learning community in order to better serve you, and they facilitate Innovative Learning Circles with leaders pioneering this powerful and emerging form of religious community and connection. Additionally they are available to help you discern your community’s path and help connect you to other resources, including other congregations.



New England Region


KBGKaren Bellavance-Grace
I served multiple roles as a lay leader, and as a professional religious educator where I cherished finding ways to connect families with our faith. Now as a regional field staffer, I find such hope in working with congregations answering the deep call to collaboration.
(413) 388-4737 kbellavancegrace@uua.org



JoeJoe Sullivan
I am a member of the New England Region staff team and currently serving through June 2015 as Northern New England District Executive. Multi-site ministries offers creative options for living our covenantal faith adaptively, vitally and sustainably in the 21st Century.
(603) 228-8704, jsullivan@uua.org


Central East Regional Group


markMark Bernstein
I am member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region (CERG) of the UUA.  I believe that we are “better together” and am excited about the prospect of congregations collaborating to strengthen our Unitarian Universalist faith and its influence in the world.
(610) 639-3389, mbernstein@uua.org.


joanRev. Joan Van Becelaere
I am a member of the Central Eastern Regional Group (CERG) Congregational Life Staff Team.  I have a passion for helping congregations and Unitarian Universalist groups of all sizes,  realize their full potential and ability to be a force for good in the world. And I strongly believe this happens best when we are working together as teams of congregations – collaborating with one another, inspiring one another, supporting one another – so we might all thrive in the midst of changing times.
303-641-5896    jvanbecelaere@uua.org


Southern Region


kennThe Reverend Kenneth (Kenn) Gordon Hurto
I am a member and Lead Executive of the Southern Region – UUA Congregational Life staff. I have served our ministries for over 40 years, in congregations small and large. I am deeply committed to the “second half” of the Cambridge Platform which reminds us that free, autonomous congregations are also accountable to each other for guidance and support. Multisite ministries recognize this in full: we are indeed stronger together than we are apart. If we hope to transform the culture, we need to build on each other’s strengths to be both efficient and effective.  (239) 560-5628 , khurto@uua.org


carltonRev. Carlton Smith
I serve our UUA’s Southern Region on the Congregational Life Staff Team. I live in my hometown in Northwestern Mississippi. Most of the past 20 years I have been a parish minister, serving congregations in Greater New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Greater Boston and Northern Virginia. I see multi-site ministries as vital components of our tradition’s evolution.


Mid-America Region


doriDori Thexton
I have been serving Unitarian Universalism for over 30 years – in two congregations before becoming part of the field staff team. I am passionate about growing our faith and anything that will help congregations do that.  I believe that multi-site ministry models offer an endless variety of options for congregations seeking partnership, diversity, strength and vitality. Engaging congregations in exploring multi-site opportunities is an exciting next step in my efforts to support growth.
(414) 774-4199 , dthexton@uua.org


Pacific West Region


kenRev. Ken Brown
I have been on the Congregational Life Staff team for 15 years, and a Unitarian Universalist minister for over 40 years.  I serve the Pacific Southwest District in the Pacific Western region.  I have been working with the multi-site model for at least a dozen years because I see it as the best way to spread our Unitarian Universalist Faith.
(818) 370-2390, kbrown@uua.org


Director of Congregational Life

ScottRev. Scott Tayler
I have seen firsthand how congregational partnerships create stronger staff teams, increase program impact and take advantage of economies of scale. But ultimately this is about more than organizational efficiency. It is a way of finally having our organizational systems reflect our theology. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that a holy creativity and power arises from deep interdependence. Breaking out of our congregational silos and staff isolation makes us not only more efficient, but more imaginative. And what the church of the 21st century needs most is imagination. Watching us shift from an “association of independent congregations” to an “association of networked congregations” not only gives me hope, but also has renewed my call.


Call them early, and call them often.  This team is here for you, wherever you are on your MutliSite journey!


MultiSite Ministries: Setting the Table of Context

Q: The box: Is it for thinking outside?

  1. Box? What box? I don’t see a box.
  2. I like knowing where the parameters are, thanks. It’s cozy in here.
  3. The box can be a safe place, but I can think inside other boxes, maybe….
  4. I’m pretty comfortable outside the box, or even expanding the box to a bigger box.
  5. I can think out of the box. As long as I can keep my box for later.


MSM webpageBelieve it or not, your answer might provide insight into how prepared your congregation might be to enter the interconnected, interdependent world of Multisite Ministry.


The question comes from a playful quiz you will find on Unitarian Universalist Multisite, our new website chock full of helpful information for congregations (and beyond!) considering intentional collaboration and deep connection.


Just what kind of information might you find there? I am so glad you asked. Allow me to set out a Table of Context for you.


Where In The World, homepage

Wondering where you might find some real life UU congregations working together to magnify their ministries? For a quick peek, look at the map on the home page – it’s an up-to-date list of existing and emerging multisite locations. Click on one of the markers to learn who is involved and where they are located.


What in the World, part one, Our Theological Grounding

What is this thing called Multisite Ministry? Surf on over to “Our Theological Grounding” for a quick explanation of Multisite Ministry as an expression of our interdependence. Want to dive deeper? We’ve got you covered. Continue on to Our Unitarian Universalist Vision of Multisite to learn more about our core assumptions and guiding vision.


What in the World, part two, Variety is the Spice of Life

Ready to move from theory to practice? Visit this page to learn about some broad categories of multisites – merge/network, partners, branch/campus, and yoked. Could you see your congregation in any of these scenarios?


Who in the World, True Stories

If you want to know more about who is living into this interdependence, check out real examples of each type of multisite model on the Variety is the Spice of Life page. And if you’re wondering if you could see your congregation joining the club, click on the buttons that say “You might be ready to….if” – and invite others in your congregation to do the same – we’re pretty sure it will lead to great conversations!


How in the World, Resources and Readiness

We’ve lined up great resources for you – books, videos, websites, learning communities, funding resources – we’ve tried to think of everything. Oh, and of course, our Multisite UU Facebook page (please, please, go there now and join us!!!).


Who in the World, part two, Your Multisite Support Team

These good folks are your regional connection to multisite ministry support. From sea to shining sea, we’re here for you, and want to hear from you.


Why in the World?

Why ‘Multisite Ministry’? Three words:

Interdependence. On Purpose.


This post is the second in a series. Yesterday, Scott Tayler posted The Gift of MultiSite, which explained the opportunities and UU theological grounding of MultiSite Ministries.


KBGKaren Bellavance-Grace serves the Multisite Ministry Support Team from her home base of western Massachusetts. Her inner English major is very grateful for Tandi Rogers’ great phrase, ‘Table of Context.’ She had way too much fun learning how to make internet quizzes, and hopes to have more chances to put that knowledge to use.

The Gift of Multisite!

MSM webpageIt’s my honor to announce a new resource from our UUA: The UU multisite webpage. For those of us new to the multisite movement, a quick definition is in order. Multisite, to put it simply, involves multiple congregations or covenanted communities sharing staff, programming and mission to have greater impact and reach than any of them could have on their own. Over the next couple of days, members of our UUA’s Multisite Support Team will lift up various aspects of the new website to tease out that definition in greater complexity. Today, I have the wonderful job of simply saying thanks.


First of all, thanks goes out to the growing number of adventurous UU congregational leaders who are currently doing multisite ministry. Their creativity, boldness and bravery is rightly celebrated on the website. What may not be as apparent is the fact that these trailblazers have now made a UU learning community possible. In the past, we UU’s had to go outside of our faith to learn about multisite models. Now, with over a dozen UU multisite experiments in place, we can now turn to each other for wisdom, support and inspiration. That is a tremendous gift. And through this website and our UUA’s multisite support team, we are making that gift more widely available.


Second, I want to say thanks for the compassion of this effort. Again, this may not be readily apparent as you search through the site, but I don’t want us to miss it. Our current way of doing church leaves many religious professionals serving in greater isolation than any of us would wish. When you are a singular parish minister or RE leader, you must play to weaknesses not only your strengths. Think of that old line: “Having to be everything to everyone.” Additionally, many of our congregations can only offer part-time positions. This leads to frequent turnover as staff leave for full-time work elsewhere. More worrisome, it leaves staff working under the economic stress of insufficient income. Multisite models allow congregations to address all of these challenges. Isolation and playing to your weakness are eliminated when two or three congregations combine resources to enable larger, more versatile teams that can share the work more strategically. Part-time positions are eliminated as congregations join to create more attractive and sustainable full-time positions. This is not just about institutional effectiveness. It is also about us taking the burdens on our staff more seriously. It may sound odd, but I see multisite as not only a more efficient model of church, but also a kinder model. And this most surely is a great gift.


MSM ball networkFinally, I want to give thanks for the way multisite invites us to embody our theology more deeply. Interdependence lies at the heart of our faith tradition. Regardless of how each of us articulates the holy, all of us share the belief that the holy arises when disconnection is healed. Power, impact, grace, creativity, genius: these all emerge as the ties between us grow stronger, as the web of connections among us increase. Our faith movement excels at applying this insight to personal relationships. But when it comes to applying it to our organizational relationships, we’ve got some work to do. Institutionally, we exist largely as a sea of siloed congregations and covenanted communities, rather than a web of networked communities. The pioneering leaders experimenting with multisite congregational models see this clearly. At the heart of their work lies a profound desire for our congregational systems to finally reflect—and tap into the power of—our theology of interdependence. It is a desire I know all of us share.


Indeed, there’s a phrase that I am hearing used more and more: “building the architecture of our interdependence.” I love that phrase. There is something wonderfully and uniquely Unitarian Universalist about it. It boldly suggests that what makes a congregation a Unitarian Universalist congregation is not the size or beauty of its building’s architecture, but the richness of the architecture between it and its sister congregations. Multisite is not the only way to build this sacred architecture, but it is prophetically challenging each and every one of us to find our own way to contribute to the work. It is shining a new light on the holy space between us. And for that, we can all be grateful!



Scott TaylerRev. Scott Tayler is the Director of Congregational Life of our UUA. Prior to that he served as Co-Senior Minster to the yoked multisite of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua, NY.

UUA Publications Update, December 2014

New Titles


OWLOur Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Grades 7-9 Second Edition

By Pamela M. Wilson (UUA Faith Development Office),

A sexuality education program for youth that models and teaches caring, compassion, respect, and justice. A holistic program that moves beyond the intellect to address the attitudes, values, and feelings that youth have about themselves and the world.

Maintaining the OWL values and assumptions established in the first edition, the second edition introduces new content, activities, perspectives, language, and resources for today’s young teens. New topics include body image, social media/internet, bullying/bystander responsibilities, and consent education. Popular activities and discussion topics remain, and users have more options for alternate activities and multi-media resources to accommodate their participants’ specific needs and interests. A new chapter offers suggestions for including youth with special needs in OWL programs. The second edition is comprised of twenty-five ninety-minute workshops in a new order that will make it easier to plan OWL programs that suit participants’ increasing comfort and schedules.

Pamela wilsonPamela M. Wilson has taught sexuality courses in several universities, staffed national sexuality training initiatives, and written or co-authored more than sixteen curricula. She served on the Board of Director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., and Answer at Rutgers University.





Assembled, 2014 Select Sermons and Lectures from the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (Skinner HouseGA sermons Books),

The theme of this year’s GA was “Love Reaches Out,” inviting Unitarian Universalists to consider ways that we can carry our faith beyond the walls of our bricks-and-mortar congregations and engage in new ways of sharing our beliefs and values with the wider world. We gathered in Providence, Rhode Island, to talk about the future of Unitarian Universalism and the opportunities of challenges of liberal religion in the twenty-first century.

This eBook includes the Berry Street Essay by Rev. Lindi Ramsden, the Fahs lecture by Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, the Ware Lecture by Sister Simone Campbell, and sermons from the Service of the Living Tradition (Rev. Rebekah Montgomery) and the Sunday morning worship service (Rev. Mark Stringer).



Anne FrankAnne Frank and the Remembering Tree by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso.

Illustrated by Erika Steiskal (Skinner House Books)

Bestselling children’s author Sandy Eisenberg Sasso tells the story of Anne Frank and her sister Margot and their time in hiding from Nazis in the Secret Annex. By narrating the story from the perspective of the tree outside the Annex window, Sasso offers an age-appropriate way to open a conversation with even young children about hate and persecution. “Nature gently conveys how life continues despite loss. I wanted little ones to find hope in the possibilities of new beginnings without being afraid,” Sasso, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, explains. The book, written for ages 6-9, is co-published by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Skinner House Books. The museum, the largest children’s museum in the world, is the first U.S. recipient of a sapling from the tree and houses a permanent exhibit called “The Power of Children,” about Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White.

Here is a video about the Secret Annex.

sandy SassoRabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso is an award-winning author of thirteen books for children, including God’s Paintbrush, The Shema in the Mezuzah (winner of a National Jewish Book Award), and Creation’s First Light. There are more than half a million copies of her books in print throughout the world.

Erika Steiskal grew up in Ohio and received a BFA in illustration from the Columbus College of Arts and Erika SteiskalDesign. Her book and editorial illustrations have appeared in Spectrum, 3×3, and Communication Arts, and her work received a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles. She lives in Seattle.


Recent Reviews


where two worldsWhere Two Words Touch: A Spiritual Journey Through Alzheimer’s Disease

By Jade C. Angelica. Reviewed in Tikkun Daily on November 3, 2014.

Where Two Worlds Touch has earned glowing reviews in ForeWord Reviews, Science of Mind Magazine, Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, U.S. Review of Books, National Catholic Reporter, Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, and Dementia.




Trending in the UUA Bookstore


The following have been particularly popular in the month of November:





Growing Religious Exploration, One Sunday Night Supper at a Time


A scene any UU would recognize: members and friends gathered for refreshments and conversation after the service concludes.


But look around. Do you see the parents of young children? Oh, they’re there. They just aren’t engaging in the way you are or in the way they’d like to be. (And the way that’s necessary for a church to grow.) Instead, they’re cleaning up the juice that their daughter spilled. Fetching a cookie for their son who is hungry and cranky. Trying to put the infant to sleep by swaying from side to side in a quieter part of the fellowship space.


Last year, my small church, Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Hendricks County (located outside of Indianapolis, IN) had a typical RE attendance. After services, parents often appeared flustered. If they were new to the church, the setting was even more overwhelming, and they often didn’t return. I understood. With two young kids of my own, I faced the same challenge every Sunday — it is nearly impossible to meet new people and make meaningful relationships while at the very same time parenting small children. Parents lacked the opportunity to make essential connections.


In January, I became the part-time Director of Religious Exploration. I wanted to address this struggle for meaningful interaction among the parents at our church.


So we formed a new group for mothers with young children, called Sunday Night Supper Club. SNSC is a potluck dinner held at the church on the third Sunday of each month. Moms share food and fellowship, telling stories about our children, ourselves, our journeys, serious things, and silly things, and loosely follow the church’s theme for the month. Things that are hard to talk about after church while chasing toddlers and some things that are hard to talk about, period. Because we meet on Sunday nights, we aren’t distracted by children. (Childcare is provided for those who need it.)


I quickly realized this group’s potential. The camaraderie and conversation elevated my mood and made me a better parent, wife, and UU. The trust among the group grew quickly in a way that was remarkable.  These moms were finding a place to laugh, cry, share and find support in ways that many may have been lacking (and didn’t even know we were missing something).  So I invited some other moms from outside the church. I reached out to the mothers in the cooperative preschool my children attended. And they reached out to their friends.


They came, either online in the Facebook group or in person to SNSC.

Slowly, several began coming to UUCC on Sunday mornings too.

Then they brought their spouses.

And then their children.

And then they began bringing their friends, both to SNSC and church.

And then they started signing the membership book and joining committees.


Since forming this group 11 months ago, UUCCHC has nearly doubled RE enrollment. We have 65 enrolled children and youth in RE in a church of only 86 members! Our average weekly RE attendance has gone from the teens to the thirties.  I believe in time, more of these women will also become members.


More interesting facts from SNSC:

  • 47 members of the private Facebook group provide a place of ongoing dialogue and support
  • 1 charity adopted
  • 40 years: the age span among group members
  • 3 group leaders to help maintain focus during meetings and put our ideas into action
  • 4th Sunday of the month, when the newly inspired men’s group meets (intentionally not on the same Sunday as SNSC to allow for childcare where possible)
  • 30 feet: the distance to the top of the high ropes course we conquered to celebrate our church’s theme of Beginnings
  • Infinity. You can’t quantify the friendships formed and the positive changes women are making in their lives because of the support the group provides.


What hasn’t changed? I still don’t bother to get a cup of tea on Sunday mornings. My children still need me. But now I have Sunday nights.


reneeRenee Bowman, part-time Director of Religious Exploration at UUCCHC can be reached at dre@uucchc.org, but not between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month.  (Tandi notes that her UUCCHC boards are a lot of fun to follow on Pinterest.)



Middle Hour

At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, we had a problem: Not enough time together. This isn’t unique to us, many congregations struggle with this… Here are a few symptoms of that problem:

  • We have two Sunday services and Religious Exploration (R.E.) for 6th grade-12th grade only at the first service. Therefore, the majority of the R.E. families only attend at the first service, even for younger kids, and second service only has a few kids for an attempt at childcare.
  • R.E. facilitators can’t go to church when they teach– or if they do, they have to stay at church for three hours. Not feasible.
  • 6th thru 12th grade youth don’t attend worship, or if they do it’s only for the occasional “multi-generational” worship.
  • Coffee hour is crowded and it’s hard to navigate and really connect with people.
  • Adult R.E. happens on weeknights if it happens at all and very few people attend–making that time, finding a babysitter, driving in the dark, are all barriers to attending.


The solution we came up with was MIDDLE HOUR.


In between the two Sunday services we would offer an hour of R.E. and Connection opportunities for all ages: Children, Youth, and

Last week in celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, one of our adult offerings made calaveras, or colorful skulls. Who doesn’t love a little arts and crafts time?
Last week in celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, one of our adult offerings made calaveras, or colorful skulls. Who doesn’t love a little arts and crafts time?

Adults. This means that for many people, including many children and youth, church is now two hours long instead of one. This is important for many reasons, and we have noticed some significant changes even in the short time we’ve been trying this experiment…

  • Families with children can attend either service, because R.E. (Middle Hour) is in between– We’re seeing more families starting to attend the second service.
  • Children have childcare after the first 15 minutes of service so they havemore peer-time and know the kids in their group better (therefore it’s easier to make friends).
    Our childcare offering today was learning about evolution--- the kids observed fossils, and made their own new creatures that could survive in various environments. Childcare is additional to R.E.. Childcare changes week-to-week while R.E. provides consistency with ritual and learning.
    Our childcare offering today was learning about evolution— the kids observed fossils, and made their own new creatures that could survive in various environments. Childcare is additional to R.E.. Childcare changes week-to-week while R.E. provides consistency with ritual and learning.
  • Adult volunteer leaders of the childcare sessions are not the “usual RE volunteers” which expands our volunteer-base and encourages more adult participation with the children.
  • Youth 6th-12th grade are attending worship with their families! They are also starting to volunteer as ushers, greeters, and sound booth techs.
  • Adults have 4 options every Sunday for Adult RE including a “Going Deeper”session each week to dive deeper into the themes of the service, led by the Lay Minister, monthly 7-Principles discussions, twice-monthly Music as a Spiritual Practice with our music director, and a wide range of other options that change on a weekly basis. The enthusiasm around Middle Hour has led to an overabundance of wonderful offerings–whereas last year we struggled to get folks to sign up to lead Adult RE, this year we already have four offerings per Sunday scheduled through the entire year!
  • Since we typically have about 50-60 adults attend Middle Hour Adult RE offerings, coffee hour has opened up, allowing
    Our twice-monthly music offering was Orchestra this week… they are preparing holiday music for our December “Stone Soup” event.
    Our twice-monthly music offering was Orchestra this week… they are preparing holiday music for our December “Stone Soup” event.

    thosefolks who just want to chat with each other more space to do so.


This didn’t happen overnight. It took a year of intentional meeting and communication with the Board, staff, and stakeholders including youth, parents, choir, and others. Lots of organized logistical planning took place.

We decided before undertaking this project to give it four months to let the “wrinkles” fall out before doing any formal evaluation. So

far, informally, the response has been very positive. R.E. attendance and worship attendance has remained steady, there are a lot more youth in services, childcare volunteers and children seem engaged and happy, and people have remarked about the great Adult offerings, especially parents who can now have some adult connection time at church without worrying about their kids!


There are many things vying for our time and attention–It’s nice to have a little time carved out of our week to connect to our values and the people who share them.


If you have any questions about Middle Hour, feel free to contact me at cleonetracy@uuannapolis.org .



christina_leoneRev. Christina Leone Tracy is a preschool teacher, writer, accountant, public speaker, theatre performer, and theologian… Or, you can call her Faith Development Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. In addition to her other roles, Rev. Christina is wife to Brian and dog-mommy to Jester and Zoe.