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, 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 .



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.

“What now?” What’s next?”

A version of this question has reached my inbox no less than 5 times in the last month. Something is in the air…

So, East Cupcake UU is at the point of asking, “What now?” and “What’s next?” We want to ask questions of the congregation the answers to which will reveal:

our identity

our vision

Got any ideas? Or resources? This isn’t a “create a mission and vision statement.” It is really about identity and passions.


chaliceThese are questions I use for both myself and for group work when wrestling with purpose, identity and vision…


1  Why are we here? (Starting with the whole congregation — what is the purpose of East Cupcake UU? If working with a specific group go even deeper: What is the purpose of <the specific team/ task force/ committee> within the context of the bigger purpose?)


2  Where have we been? (What has the past ministry <or program/ curriculum> looked like? Produced/impact? What were the successes and how did you know you succeeded?)


3  Where are we now? (Where is the joy — where do people show up? When and where do people feel most Unitarian Universalist?)


4  Where do we want to get to? (What has changed culturally over time? What do our people need to be vibrant, healthy Unitarian Universalists in the 21st century — both as individuals and as stewards of our faith tradition? What abilities, knowledge skills, cultural competencies, experiences?)


5  How shall we get there? (What learning and development actions do we need to undertake? What resources will we need to do perform them? How shall we overcome obstacles and to resistance to change?)


6  How will we know if we have arrived? (How do I measure achievement of goals? How will we know when we’ve made the desired impact? How will we celebrate?)


Two Harvard academics, Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson, suggests that “enduring success” has four categories:

    • Achievement – accomplishments;
    • Happiness – feelings of pleasure or contentment about life;
    • Significance – a positive impact on people you care about;
    • Legacy – establishing your values or accomplishments in ways that help others find future success.

7  What’s holding us back? (What’s stopping us from doing what we want/need to do? What do we need to let go of?)


8  Who can help us? (Who can teach/mentor/ partner with us? From whom can I learn?)


And if your group is a heady bunch, have them do an art project with these questions.  (Of course, you knew I’d take it there.) For instance…


Light a chalice

We light this chalice with deep respect for the mystery and holiness of life.

With honor and gratitude for those who have gone before

With love and compassion for those who dwell among us.

And with hope and faith for the generation to come.

~ Rev. Ken Jones


Big Questions. Go through the questions together and with someone keeping notes on big paper hanging in the room.

Candle Reflection Creations. Then process individually by making reflection candles. Spread out glass pillar candles (Catholic stores care them) (one for each person plus another to keep blank to symbolize the people yet to come), a bunch of paper and art supplies and magazines (to cut out pictures.) and then invite people to find a representation for each question and what it brings up for them. These then get glued onto the candle in a way that makes sense to the individual.

Sharing. Next share candles in small groups of 2-3s.

More Sharing. Come together for an all-share — what came up?  What do we need to add, change, subtract from the big paper?

Adding the Flame. One person lights their candle (use a long taper candle) from the chalice, and then passes the flame to the next person. Hold hands and take a deep breath. Admire the beauty and the collective whole that holds and sustains us.


Take courage friends.

The way is often hard, the path is never clear,

and the stakes are very high.

Take courage.

For deep down, there is another truth:

you are not alone.

~ Rev. Wayne B. Arnason


Tandi Feb 2012

When in doubt Rev. Tandi Rogers goes to the questions, the community and the art supplies.

Why UU Military Ministry?

Gathered at the first-ever retreat for UU military chaplains in February 2011 were: (from left, front row) Seanan Holland, Bret Lortie, Sarah Lammert, Cynthia Kane, Chris Antal, and Xolani Kacela; (back row) David Pyle, Azande Sasa, and Rebekah Montgomery.
Gathered at the first-ever retreat for UU military chaplains in February 2011 were: (from left, front row) Seanan Holland, Bret Lortie, Sarah Lammert, Cynthia Kane, Chris Antal, and Xolani Kacela; (back row) David Pyle, Azande Sasa, and Rebekah Montgomery.

My dad is a veteran. He was part of the occupation of Germany in the early 1950s. I have been aware of my father’s military service since I was a small child. He shared funny stories of military life and talked about how much he learned about people from other cultures and places. He rarely talked about how he felt to be stationed in a place where war had destroyed so much and where the monstrous evil of the Holocaust had transpired, but, all of those experiences left their mark on him.

Our congregations are full of people touched by military service. They are veterans who count their service as a formative part of their lives and their identity. They are parents, cousins, siblings, spouses, and children who care about active duty personnel and worry about their well-being. All of these people have rich stories to share—and they might like to share them with us, if only they felt their stories would be welcome. Many of them have insightful perspectives on war and peace, on the role of the military in our nation, and on the thorny questions of power in our interconnected world. Some have spiritual wounds that need pastoral care and compassion. Unitarian Universalist military ministry is about offering safe space for all of these people.

Unitarian Universalist military ministry is also about reaching out into your community. There are people currently serving in the military who long for a free-thinking, justice-seeking, inclusive faith tradition like ours. They may be young adults facing spiritual crisis when their childhood faith no longer serves. They may be career military people who have not found a religious tradition that fits their understanding of what is sacred. They may be people seeking a faith community that embraces them and their same-sex partners. There are people who would welcome our help to find Unitarian Universalism.

If your congregation is exploring how you might begin or strengthen your outreach to military personnel and veterans, you may want to investigate excellent tools recently produced by the UUA. The Military Ministry Toolkit, available online at no charge,includes six 1-hour workshops and a 23-minute video to share with congregational leadership. We’re very excited about this resource! You can find out more about it and ask any questions you may have by attending a webinar:

November 2014: Military Ministry in UU Congregations
Tuesday, Nov. 18 at 1 pm Eastern
or, Wednesday, Nov. 19 at 9 pm Eastern
Presented by Gail Forsyth-Vail with Shawna Foster, a military veteran and the military ministry coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship.

To register, email Specify the date/time of the webinar you wish to attend.



Gail Forsyth-Vail 2014Gail Forsyth-Vail  is Adult Programs Director in the UUA Faith Development Office, a position she came to after many years serving congregations as a religious educator. She is passionate about creating ways for people to connect their own lived experience to the depth and richness of our Unitarian Universalist tradition. She loves learning things, meeting people, telling stories, and being part of a terrific extended family!

UUA Common Read

Proclaiming Prophetic WitnessThe discussion guide for the 2014-2015 UUA Common ReadReclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square by Paul Rasor, is available now to download for free.

The discussion guide is offered in two formats: a single, 90-minute session or three, 90-minute sessions. In addition to offering a framework for exploring and testing Rasor’s ideas, this discussion guide suggests books and resources to help apply his insights to specific social justice issues-which may include ones nearest to your heart or to your congregation’s justice ministry.

Reclaiming Prophetic Witness, published by Skinner House, points out a growing misconception that conservative Christianity is the only valid religious voice in our national social policy. The book includes insights from our liberal religious theological heritage, and calls us to prophetic, faith-based justice work. Rasor explores the forces and tensions that have weakened our prophetic witness in the last quarter century. He also makes a strong case for the necessity of a liberal religious presence in the public square to complement and strengthen secular voices raised for social justice.

Purchase your copy of Reclaiming Prophetic Witness today. Buy in bulk and save: bulk orders of 5 to 9 copies receive an automatic 10% discount and orders of 10 or more receive an automatic 20% discount.

We hope you will join Unitarian Universalists from all over in sharing this Common Read and in reclaiming the practice of prophetic witness.


Why participate in the UUA Common Read?   A Common Read invites participants to read and discuss the same book in a given period of time. A Common Read can build community in our congregations and our movement by giving diverse people a shared experience, shared language, and a basis for deep, meaningful conversations.

Equual Access: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Interfaith flyerOctober is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  Today, 70% of people with disabilities are not employed, even though polls show that most of them would prefer to work. Incredibly, this is about the same percentage of unemployed persons since the early 1980’s when I began my work in the field of disabilities.

The Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, of which the UUA is a member, in collaboration with the American Association of People with Disabilities, has published a document on ways that congregations can help to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  Click on the picture in the upper left corner to be directed to that helpful article.

Unemployment is an affront to one’s dignity, self-worth and ability to achieve a satisfactory quality of life.  We have to do better for people with disabilities whose dreams of gainful employment are still just that.  Thanks for your help.



mark bernsteinMark Bernstein is the UUA staff liaison to Equual Access and a Congregational Life Staff with the Central East Regional Group


behave yourselfI hear these laments all the time.

“We can’t get young adults to join our congregation.”

“We have a congregational covenant, but there still seems to be a lot of conflict around here.”

“I can’t get anyone to serve on the Board of Trustees.”

“Our fund drive came up short again. No one wants to talk about money.”

These are some of the realities of congregational life. In their struggle to deal with them, leaders often ask the question, “How can I get people to change their behavior?” The answer, many of us think, comes down to more information and changing attitudes. We reason that if we can just give people the right information; if we can get them to think differently, then they’ll come and visit, they’ll readily volunteer, they’ll get along, they’ll contribute generously.

Well, social scientist Jeni Cross, sociology professor at Colorado State University, tells us that this reasoning is incorrect. She debunks two of the myths of behavior change, that education changes people’s behavior and that in order to change behavior, you have to change people’s attitudes. Instead, Cross contends, the most effective way to change behavior is to change behavioral expectations or to reinforce existing social norms. To put it simply, people are more likely to change their behavior if they see others doing it.

So, for example, if you want people to be more ecologically responsive, you won’t get them to do it by appealing to the need to save the planet. They’ll be more likely to respond if you display an ad showing George Clooney or Katy Perry tossing a plastic water bottle in a recycling can. If people are going to toss a dollar bill into the guitar case of a street musician, they are more likely to do so if they see other people doing it. We are more likely to change our behavior if we see that it is part of the social norms in the context of that situation.

In our efforts, then, as leaders in our congregations, it is not enough to just provide information. It is not enough to inspire and challenge and motivate potential and current members so as to change their attitudes towards the congregation and Unitarian Universalism in general. We need to do more. We need to change the expectations of their behavior. We need to create new social norms.We need to change the culture so that people respond because they see everyone else doing it.

So how do we do that? Hey, I’m not saying this is easy. But here are some things you can try in response to the lamentations I listed above. What they all have in common is that they are intended to demonstrate or reinforce expected behavior rather than relying on information or inspiration to get people motivated.


Can’t get young adults to join…or even to visit?

  • Post pictures of young adults on the home page of your website engaging in various activities related to congregational life.
  • Include one or two quotes from young adults on your website talking about life as a member of your congregation.
  • Encourage young adults to serve as greeters. Nothing is more impressive to a young adult visitor than walking into the building and being greeted by a young adult.

Got conflict?

  • Make it a practice to read your covenant at every Board and committee meeting and every other event at which members congregate (of course, make sure the covenant is short enough so that you’re not taking half the meeting reading it).
  • Look for fellow members who are living out the covenant and publicly and privately thank them for doing so.
  • Publish a story in each issue of your newsletter profiling a member who embodies the tenets of the congregational covenant.

No volunteers for the Board?

  • Publish a list of all past Presidents in the history of the congregation. Let your congregation see what a distinguished list of leaders it represents.
  • Ask current and past Board members to talk about their positive experiences in service. Either publish their comments in your newsletter or ask them to do a testimonial during a worship service.
  • At least twice a year, during a worship service, ask all members of the congregation who are in volunteer positions (any position) to rise. Chances are it will be a very large majority of those in attendance. You and the members of the congregation will see that serving others is more of a social norm than you might think.

Need to fill up the coffers?

  • Ask people to give live and written testimonials on why they give and how the congregation makes a difference in their lives.
  • Publicly acknowledge people who do pledge during the fund drive, with a ribbon that they can attach to their nametag (I PLEDGED FOR (CONGREGATION)) or by putting their names on a display that is shown prominently in the lobby for all to see.
  • Throughout the fund drive, continuously make the congregation aware of how many people and what percentage of the congregation has already pledged. You want members to see that pledging is the norm. Everybody’s doing it, so why not you?
  • Consider a “Pledge Sunday” where all members of the congregation are asked to step forward and drop their pledge in a ceremonial basket as part of the worship service.

None of these strategies is a quick fix. Effecting behavior change means changing the culture, and changing the culture takes time. Our congregations are not speed boats. We are more like big ocean liners and it takes a lot more time and effort to turn an ocean liner than a speed boat. So, we need to continue informing and educating. We need to continue inspiring and challenging. But we also need to be demonstrating and encouraging and reinforcing positive behavior. And where do we begin? With you, leader. Behave…Yourself.



mark bernsteinMark Bernstein is Congregational Life Staff with the Central East Regional Group. He always behaves himself and has never been on either a speed boat or a big ocean liner.

What Are Your Intentions?

The following guest post ran on the front page of the Pacific Northwest District website.  We thought it too good and timely to not share. An important part of growth is knowing when to tune out, slow down, and just be still.  ‘Tis the season.


RelaxWhen I returned from sabbatical July 7, District Executive Janine Larsen asked if I would be willing to write an article about relaxation. I had just finished fourteen weeks of it – surely I could do that! Problem was, I was too relaxed. Now after a full re-entry into my work, I can better reflect on how I actually achieved that elusive state.


I had no idea that the first step to full relaxation would be such a chore. But I am blessed with the best co-workers and boss in the world. I detailed my tasks for the duration and they jumped in and did them, as well as their own jobs. The amount of time it took me to prepare was daunting, but it netted me fourteen totally fret-free weeks. I am indebted to them all.

As a military brat I was familiar early on with the term R & R. I didn’t know what the letters stood for when I was a youngster, but I understood what R & R represented. Is that what my sabbatical would be? Why not. I was ready for a little Rest and Recuperation, thrown in with a little Recreation and Relaxation. (That second R always threw me.)

Rest. Instead of answering a 6:00 alarm, at home I could wake when I wanted and listen to entire Morning Edition pieces! I could loll in the shade by the pool in the sunny south, chill on a balcony overlooking the Potomac, and enjoy the scenery via a nearly-empty ferry in San Francisco.

Recuperation.  What did I have to recuperate from? I couldn’t think of a thing. That was before I quit using a computer keyboard all day long for over three months. Who knew the twinge in the wrist would go away?

Recreation. At home I could accomplish my errands by taking deliberate walks instead of stopping off en route from work. My travels with family and friends were filled with activities, but all were intentional. Even if someone would suddenly spring a change of plans, a simple change of attitude on my part turned it into serendipity instead of resentment.

Relaxation.  It dawned on me that this is not a distinct state. Relaxation is actually a combination of the previous three R’s – listening to Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne all morning; avoiding the computer; walking; biking; cooking; reading; kayaking; sewing. The key for me was keeping my activities intentional and accepting that intentional did not preclude spontaneous.

I recall a seminar from several years ago where the leader asked the group to list the demands that encroached on our time. Among the many responses were Facebook, other social media, aging parents, young children, cell phones, computers, Internet, work email, personal email – and one person even said 24-hour news channels! We then discussed suggestions for managing these demands. I waited and waited for the obvious, but it never came. So I offered, “Just about everything on Power_On_Off_Switch_redthe list has an off button.” Silence. Befuddled stares. It was added to the list. No discussion, except from those who said it was impossible. I thought at least one person might approach me after the session to say they were glad I mentioned that. Nope.

There are always forces trying to keep us from relaxing. The key is intentionality. Overwhelmed with new emails each time you glance at your computer or phone? Change the settings. Retrieve the messages only when you intentionally go get them; don’t have your new mail automatically retrieved. TV chattering away in the background? Turn it off until that show you really, really want to watch is on. I hear people complain of being inundated by Facebook posts. Can’t refrain from constantly checking? Cancel your account. As hard as it is to believe, life still goes on. (Trust me on this.) Be intentional.

John Lennon may have had a little chemical assistance in mind when he adapted existing lines for Tomorrow Never Knows, but the message is still pretty basic: “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream…”  No chemicals required.



Diane BrinsonSince 1994 Diane Brinson has served as District Administrator for the UUA’s Pacific Northwest District and believes there is no better place to work. She adores living with her husband, Randy, in their 1910 Seattle bungalow and being in the same city as their two grown children. Diane declares that when the time arrives, her epitaph should come from a P.G. Wodehouse short story in his description of the barmaid in the Goose and Grasshopper: “She was a well-nourished girl with a kind face.”

A Case for Evangelism

beach beaconI woke up this morning and my first thought was, I just don’t get it. I don’t get any reluctance to evangelize our faith. Remember proselytizing is different from evangelizing. Proselytizing is trying to get someone from another faith to change theirs to yours, evangelizing is just spreading the word about your faith so others are informed and can know. The world is at such a perilous place.


We have come so far in so many ways but unless we take great strides in making bigger advances to help the planet and unless we all can somehow turn the tide of fundamentalism and fear, we are in danger of the future that not only faces seven generations but maybe even ours.


That is why I don’t get it. If we truly believe in the power of this faith to change lives, if we truly try to practice the principles listed on our hymnals and websites, if we truly feel that our historical and theological lineage of love infused with reason, deeds over creeds and a desire for a just, kinder and more compassionate world, why is there anyone not wanting to grow and sing Unitarian Universalism from the highest mountains and the tallest peaks.


I say this in part those in our congregations struggling with growth. People who in their lives are clearly working for a better world but in their congregation don’t want to lose that “feeling of community.” That comment always sounds the same way to me, “now that I have found it, and it works for me, I want it to keep working for me the way that I like it.” This comment always strikes me the same way, well if you have found it and it is so important to you, how could you not want that for others who need it too?



And others need it. Others need to feel a part of a community that stands up, on the side of love, against the forces of marginalization and oppression of otherness. Others need to feel a part of a community that examines their own tendencies toward privilege and oppression as difficult as that can be. Others need to stop being others and belong to a community that encourages wholeness and bringing your full self to the table even when that challenges our own liberal understandings of tolerance, acceptance and unconditional love.


So that is what I woke up and just couldn’t understand this morning as I face this start of another congregational year. If your congregation is starting your year this week, next week or you will be starting soon, I wish you the best as we all navigate these tensions and as we work together, constantly and sometimes it seems, endlessly, to balance our own desires for the community that wraps us in the comforting blanket of familiarity, verses the loud, visible and vital proclamation of what this faith does and can do to help us all build a better world.



David Miller for blogThe Reverend David A. Miller is the minster of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito in Solana Beach, California.  Reverend Miller is a graduate of the Claremont School of Theology receiving a Master of Divinity degree with an emphasis in Social Transformation.


He participated in one of the Innovative Learning Circles this past year, exploring Congregations & Beyond experiments.

Become an Outreach Beta-Tester’re looking for a few brave Unitarian Universalist congregations for a little project – and by little, I mean potentially transformative for the future of our faith movement (not to oversell it or anything). Intrigued? Then you might want to join our team of beta-testers for the UUA’s new outreach efforts.


In the Spring issue of the UU World magazine, Rev. Terasa Cooley explained the new branding and outreach efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Recognizing the shifting landscape of religion in America, religious leaders of all kinds have realized it’s not enough to preach to the choir anymore. For the UUA, outreach started with a new look and feel, including an updated logo and some better ways of explaining what is so powerful about our faith to those who aren’t already “in the know.” A study guide has also been in the works, which will be made available to the beta-testers. These outreach efforts have uncovered some invaluable insights about our faith and its potential to reach new audiences, but much of this potential still remains in theory. It’s time to take the next step and to put that theory it into practice.


Over the next six months our beta-testers will explore how the UUA’s new outreach approaches can help congregations learn about the signals they send off, find their niche in their community, and represent an emerging shared identity of the wider faith. And the exciting part is… we don’t know exactly how this will turn out. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some pretty good guesses, but the truth is that our beta-testers will be co-creating, playing, discovering and experimenting with us to figure out how to leverage the key insights of the UUA’s outreach efforts to grow our faith and its impact in the world.


Click here to sign up to become a beta tester congregation. Beta-testers will attend a kick-off webinar at the end of the summer, receive a three-session study guide and get connected to other beta testers to form a learning circle. Congregations will learn about the UUA’s branding and outreach efforts and then identify one area of their congregation to apply those outreach strategies. Any UU congregations (or other UU groups, if you’re interested!) are welcome to join, as long as they can commit to the process.


Join us in the lab of faithful experimentation! For questions, email



cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the new UUA Director of Outreach starting July 1, 2014. The Growth Office could not be more excited to be working with him in this new way!