One piece of my job is working with new Unitarian Universalist emerging ministries. There are many ways of becoming a Unitarian Universalist group, including becoming one of the newly formed Covenanting Communities. See
It is an honor and a privilege to work with these folks. Prior to my coming on the the Southern Region’s congregational Life staff, I was a creating a new congregation in upstate New York.
As with any ministry, there is so much work at hand. It is my job to help emerging ministries to focus. I have four areas that are critical in their formation.
The first is spiritual depth. Because there is so much work facing these folks, their own spiritual life will diminish unless they are intentional about tending to it. This involves self-care. I encourage all them to be diligent about their own daily spiritual practices, and pay attention to balancing family and friends, their work, and their congregational commitment. But beyond self-care is going deeper into the Unitarian Universalist faith. If they are going to create a Unitarian Universalist, covenantal faith community, they must know what that means in a deep way. As leaders, they must grow in depth in order for the community to grow in size. They, therefore, must live with each other in a covenantal way.
The second is Unitarian Universalism. In order to be able to grow this wonderful faith, we must understand our theology and heritage. We have values that have stood the test of time. We must know what those are and how others have sacrificed for them in order of us to have the privileges that we enjoy. We have a life saving and giving faith. We must be able to understand that relationships and how we behave (covenant) affects how we interact with the world. Our world is hurting and broken. We must know ourselves so that we can be in relationship with others who are different from us in order to search for wholeness.
The third is purpose. It is critical for new groups to have a sense of coming together for something larger than themselves. It is so easy to create the “church for me.” So many people get seduced into thinking that this is their opportunity to create the congregation that they have always wanted with the kind of worship that they like, etc. This is the thinking that will kill it. There must be a sense of creating a space for those that we have not thought about yet. I like to think that when the martians find us they will say, it’s those UUs that have it going on! But we must be creating something special for others, not ourselves. Having a purpose beyond themselves must stay central. I ask things like how are you changing the world? And I expect real answers.
And, lastly, generosity. While each of the others leads nicely into the next one, generosity needs to be the lens through which they view everything else. Questions I might ask are: How are you being generous with yourselves? How are you being generous with Unitarian Universalism? How are you being generous with your local community, and how is that helping to define your purpose? Many well established congregations ask me how they can become generous. That is much harder to do later, but at the beginning you can tend to generosity and feed it. If you become a generous people from the beginning, it becomes part of your culture and your values.
These are the things that I hope to get into a groups’ DNA as they are forming. If they can get these four things right, what could be more joyous? Really, in one form or another, isn’t this what we want for all of our congregations? How are you doing in these four areas? Let me know. Please add your news in the comment section.
Kathy McGowan, Congregational Life Staff, is one of seven field staff on the Southern Region team. She lives in the triangle area of North Carolina with her son and two cats. She has been a Unitarian Universalist since the mid-eighties and has a deep love of this faith tradition. In addition to her work with new and emerging congregations, she focuses on intercultural sensitivity and is the primary contact for the congregations in Virginia and North Carolina in the Southern Region of the UUA. She is excited to be coaching groups on how to live out their Unitarian Universalist faith in a deep and covenantal way. KMcGowan@uua.org
Kathy and Tandi, Thank you for this post about the filters through which Kathy hopes to nurture and evaluate the various emerging ministries in their various forms. I lead the group of UUs and others who gather around the topic of a plant-based lifestyle as a spiritual practice and an embodiment of the 7th Principal (see http://www.facebook.com/uuveg ) and the Ethical Eating statement of conscience. I recently had a man contact me and say how thrilled he was to have found us– he has been a vegan for years, but only became a UU 7 months ago and was feeling very alone in his congregation as a vegan. Finding our group may be a very important anchor for helping him stay in his congregation. (He’s given me permission to share our conversation if you want to see it in more detail).
Your post has given me some good ideas for guiding the topics of generosity, spirituality, purpose and UUism in the group. We care deeply about being connected to the UU universe, and while we may not be meeting as a worship group we are still a valid emerging ministry and we value Kathy’s role tremendously. Thank you for sharing your “filters” and please, keep the good communication coming.